The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

When to Use Starter in Cycle

dennis's picture
dennis

When to Use Starter in Cycle

I'm completely new to sourdough. I have a rye based starter which is 2 and a half weeks old now. It is clearly very active and more than doubles in size post feed. But I am wondering when is the right time in its cycle to use it for baking. When I feed it at 10pm and go to bed at 2am it has begun to rise but it is not until I get up at 8am that it has doubled in size. It stays like that, maybe growing a little more, until I stir it down and feed it again next evening. When is the best time to bake in this cycle? And should I take starter for use without stirring or stir then take some starter? I'm not sure either if it makes a difference if I am following an ambient or retarded method? Any advice would be welcome, thanks.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

and that is when the starter has peaked. There will be a range for a starter from young to mature. But both will be used when the starter has reached an optimal strength after feeding When young it'll produce a sweeter flavour. The more mature it gets tangier it'll become. I'm not talking about from when you made your starter but rather from each time its fed. However when young it'll still be active enough to leaven the dough. When overly mature it'll begin smelling alcoholic. One way to tell when it's mature enough to use is if it floats when a bit of starter is dropped into a glass of water. But it's not always fool proof. Getting to know your starter and the way it behaves will come with time but is a good way to judge when it's ready. How does it look, smell, how much has it risen... etc. But for now peaking! is the best way forward.

If you are weighing your starter then stirring down is not necessary. If you're going by volume then stir down.

dennis's picture
dennis

So a good measure for now would be using it at any point after it reaches peak growth - earlier or later depending on desired taste - but not beyond it smelling alcoholic or beginning to fall?

I guess I could change the time at which I feed it, as it clearly peaks while I am asleep. I haven't yet refrigerated it and have been feeding at 10 with a view to refrigerate at 2am in order to follow Vanessa Kimbell's retarded basic sourdough formula - I already tried the ambient method. I'm assuming it should have peaked at the point of refrigeration, which it hasn't so far. It seems very healthy though - it just over doubles in size each day after feeding, albeit slowly.

Thanks for your reply.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

should be fine but not much more then that. It'll be called a mature starter and will give a tangy taste. You could experiment with the feeding ratio so that you can catch it at the right time. You can even prepare your starter a day before and then refrigerate till ready to use. EDIT: But when doing this don't wait too long as it'll store in the fridge but will carry on albeit slowly. So young starter - peaked but not more. Then use within a day or two. If young then a bit longer. If peaked then sooner. It's also about knowing your starter and while there are rules to follow when first starting out you've got to know the rules in order to break them. So you will find differing ideas and experiences and while our starters are unique they will be following the same guidelines/principles.

I am familiar with Vanessa Kimbell and her recipes but I follow my own starter maintenance and prep even when following her recipes. I have a schedule I like. If using within a day or two then refrigerating when peaked works. Whether that's what she means in he method I'm not sure.

dennis's picture
dennis

Regarding Vanessa's method - in her new book she gives two schedules, one for ambient and one for retarded. The retarded schedule suggests feeding at 6pm and refrigerating 4-5 hours later for use in the morning, when the schedule continues. She does, of course, make clear that every kitchen, oven, starter, flour etc. are different but for newbies like me it is something to roughly follow. And it is so useful. Actually, the whole book is very good indeed.

I didn't know I could feed and then refrigerate for use later on the next day. I think that would be a good option for me. I suffer terrible insomnia so flexibility time wise is useful. My lack of experience and knowledge had me assuming I had to pick up the schedule first thing.

Many thanks for your advice. I'm looking forward to getting started with my next effort.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

will have it's own unique characteristic. Some starters peak quickly, some more slowly. It also depends on how warm it is so following a recipe by the clock isn't the best way. Wholegrains and white flour will ferment at different speeds. Different types of wheat and grain too. So there's a bigger picture to take into account.

A starter should be able to peak in about 6 hours and this shows its healthy and active. But then again if someone has a starter which peaks in 8 hours it doesn't mean it isn't good it's just a good indicator that it's suited to a longer ferment recipe. It's a guide and learning the characteristics of your starter will help you produce a lovely loaf.

Either way the principle is the same. Use when it's firing on all cylinders. The basic principle to follow is to feed it and use when peaked. Now you can play around with these times as there is a range (there always is). From when it becomes good to use (a young starter which will be sweeter) till mature (more tangy). when it becomes too mature and it has past it's peak then it will start smelling alcoholic and should need feeding again. Catching a starter at different points from young to mature will produce a different flavour profile.

To create flavours one can refrigerate the starter. This slows down the yeasts - extending the optimal time to use - and allow the bacteria time to do their thing and therefore creating more acetic acid and therefore a more tangy bread.

It seems to me she is refrigerating her starter when it just begins to become viable to use (so it's young) and further extends this time by refrigerating it to create more flavour. I find using when peaked even if it takes longer and will produce tang and then refrigerating also works and as long as it's used within a day or two it'll work as well.

jcope's picture
jcope

 

To be honest, I've never really noted a difference in the outcome, either in terms of flavor or dough behavior, based on the maturity of the starter.  I would however think you would want to be relatively consistent in using either a young or a mature starter each time just so you can get consistent results.  I'd go with a more mature starter, as it is not diluted by fresh flour.  Whether you catch it before, at or after peak probably won't make a lot of difference.

If you want to take some guesswork out of the process, or at least be free from having to check on the starter to figure out when to start mixing ingredients...

If you have:

  1. Smartphone with timelapse photo software.
  2. Digital thermometer.

Feed the starter and put it next to the digital thermometer.  Set the phone to do a timelapse of the starter so you can observe how long it takes to peak for a given temperature.  If you can control the environment you can do this for a range of temperatures.  If you can't, you can just average the temperature readings you see.

My rough rule of thumb:

  • at 65F, the starter is mature in 8 to 12 hours. 
  • At 52F the starter is mature in about 24 hours.
  • In the refrigerator the starter is mature in 4 to 5 days.  I let it warm up for an hour or two to finish up before I use it.
dennis's picture
dennis

Currently mine is in the kitchen which is approx. 70F. I have been feeding at night - but have disturbed sleep so often check if downstairs - and I think mine takes about 6-8 hours to peak. I probably need to experiment a bit but it seems from what yourself and Lechem are saying that the timing is not quite as critical as I thought. 

Based on how long I think my starter takes to peak I could either feed just a little earlier and pop it in the fridge overnight if getting started in the morning or if I plan on using it first thing I could probably just feed at bedtime and leave it out overnight.

Thanks to all for your advice.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

so watch out for the "faking out maneuver."  :)

Some rye starters will dome and peak and stay peaked a long time, long after their insides deflate and fall.  So what you can do is when you think it has peaked, carefully poke the top of the starter and see if it will deflate or is hollow underneath.  If not, then it is just coming to peak.  

dennis's picture
dennis

That's interesting, thank you. I'll check that when I feed it shortly because mine never seems to fall.