The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter Trouble

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

Starter Trouble

I need some help with my starter and starter maintenance. It’s a very slow starter- feeding it 1:4:4 (mature starter:flour:water) and keeping it at 69F it takes 12-14 hours to reach peak (doubled and leveled off-it’s never more than doubled). When I use a levain (at peak and passing the float test) in bread it takes about 7-10 hours to rise 50% in bulk fermentation at 75-80F. That seems like an outrageously long time and I think the problem lies in my starter. I’m not sure how to have a truly active starter that will begin rising immediately, or even within a few hours. Any help would be welcome!

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

What kind of flour are you feeding it?

Have you tried making a new starter?

Whole grain flour such as rye can liven up a starter so you may want to try that. 

Secondly, your starter just could be slow and making a different one just might help. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

It’s 50% fresh milled whole wheat flour/50% unbleached bread flour from a local mill. This is a new starter. I just made it a week ago. Every starter I’ve made over the last few months has done this. I’ve tried 50% rye/bread flour, 50% KAF whole wheat/bread flour, and 50% KAF whole wheat/all-purpose flour. 

I could try another one, I guess. But I’m not sure what the problem is. I had a starter before my son was born that was wonderful- it worked great, I made amazing bread with it. It died when my kid was born because I left it alone too long (things were busier than anticipated) and I haven’t been able to make a good starter or good loaf since. I’m incredibly confused about what I could be doing wrong...

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

Your starter is just a baby! Keep feeding it on a regular basis and give it a few weeks. It takes time for the wild yeast to grow enough so that it rises and falls predictably. 

 ETA- You may want to keep at in a warmer spot and feed it 1:2 :2 rather than the 1:4:4. The yeast  is probably not getting enough time and warmth  to multiply before you divide it and feed it again. Eventually there will be enough of the beasties to do what you are doing now but in the meantime, try what I suggested. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

ive never heard or thought of my starter being too young. I guess I forgot how long it was in my last starter before it was ready to use. It’s been so long since I’ve started over! And I just assumed when it started getting predictable it was ready. 

I’ll try feeding it differently. It’ll be difficult to keep it warmer (temperature has dropped here and we keep our house at 69F) but 1:2:2 is easy and I’ll wait longer between feeds. Hopefully that’ll help it establish! 

Should I wait till it’s completely fallen or continue feeding it when it’s leveled off? Do you think either way will help it establish better? 

Thank you so much for your help! I was starting to panic that I had lost my ability to make sourdough in the year since I’ve stopped! 

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

That area seems to be warmer in most houses. Or you can try the oven with the light on and the door cracked open. 

As to feedings, I am not sure what to recommend. Wait for sure till it flattens out but I don’t think it would be harmful to wait till it is completely fallen. This should be a shorter time since you are feeding it less. 

Once you got it rising and falling predictably on a regular and reasonable basis, check out the No Fuss No Muss starter maintenance on this site. Basically, you thicken the starter, let it rise a bit in the counter and throw it in the fridge. It will keep there for months with the occasional stirring. When you want to make bread, you take a bit and feed that until you have enough to make bread. Super easy and no worries about having to feed the silly thing twice or more times a day, not to mention saving a lot of flour in the process. 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

The starter needs warmth for the yeasts to increase and it can be found in a few creative and easy ways.

Top of refrigerator (already mentioned) as the heat from the coils rises. Surprisingly warm!

Top of a hot water heater

On the counter with a desk lamp pointed at the closed container. Make sure it has an incandescent light bulb and NOT LED!

In a picnic cooler with a container of hot water next to it-perhaps cozied into towels

A commercial proofer like the Brod and Taylor (marvelous contraption developed with the help of TFL!). A bit costly but works so well!  Link:       https://brodandtaylor.com/folding-proofer-and-slow-cooker/

On the counter or in a box with a heating pad on low (like the kind put on sore muscles) and a towel over

In the microwave (if it has a regular light bulb-not LED) with the door cracked open

In the oven with the door cracked open so the light bulb is on.(not the safest in my house-inadvertently cooked a few starters!)

In a Ziploc bag and tucked next to your skin. The 49 Alaska gold rushers did this but then the temp was way below zero-clothes were rarely removed all winter. I don't want to think about what cultured in their starters!

Many ways to warm a starter that don't require much money or specialty items. Use what works for you. If you search "proofing box" or some such key word here on TFL, there have been many and creative posts. Some involving aquarium timers,coolers, plastic storage boxes, etc.

End of the day-your starter needs a little warmth to develop properly. Your bread will also benefit and your time will be better used.

Have fun!

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

Thank you so much! I’ve discovered that if I keep the oven light on for about an hour and then turn it off it’s the perfect temperature (around 75°F). My starter is a lot more active now and it looks like it’s finally developing strength! Thank you again! Hopefully one day I will be able to save up for the Brod and Taylor proofing contraption. It looks really cool