The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter: everything but volume

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

Starter: everything but volume

Hey there,

I'm making a second attempt at starting a sourdough culture/starter (the first was a white (unbleached) flour only 100% hydration starter which bubbled nicely, smelt suitably sour but never showed signs of being active enough to increase 'volume' or work in bread fermentation).

This time I started out much as before with a white flour 100% mixture only to switch to an 'organic' wholegrain rye + (same as before) white flour mixture about 3 days in due to lack of activity.

Unfortunately I'm still having the same problem as with my first starter.  There's definitely life.  It's certainly sour and there are bubbles but there is absolutely no volume.  The starter turns to gloop long before any increase in volume can occur.

I've tried different spots in the house (warmer, cooler), tried different ratios of rye to white, tried adjusting 'starter to food' ratio - nothing is improving.  It's currently being fed with 50 g rye, 150 g white, 200g (still spring) water and 50g starter at approximately 12 hour intervals (or whenever it looks bubbly and consistency is heading towards liquid).

My thoughts at this point are that I have a culture dominated by acid producing bacteria and not enough yeast.  The acid or whatever by-products are turning the mixture into goo and destroying gluten long before yeast has a chance to release enough carbon dioxide.  In fact I'm wondering if there's any yeast in there at all.  What should I do?  This is the second time I've tried to cultivate.  Should I give up on this culture? Should I continue feeding it, using it only as 'flavouring'  with instant yeast as leavening in any bread I make?  Or is there something I'm missing...some secret ingredient?

 

Thanks...

 

staff of life's picture
staff of life

I wonder if your starter is too thin--try making it thickly gloppy.  This is a very unscientific recommendation, but I've noticed that my starter won't puff if the ratio of water to flour is too high.

SOL

Oldcampcook's picture
Oldcampcook

From my experience, it does appear your starter is a bit too wet.  I use one portion starter, 4 portions flour and 3 portions water.  It is like a thick, barely pourable pancake batter.

I experiment a bit with dried starters that people send me and those proportions seem to work very nicely for me.

Bob

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

Thanks - I tried making the starter thicker yesterday and it did not do well.  Same sour smell but very little activity at all. Besides which, the 'barely pourable pancake batter' is exactly the consistency that I have from 100% hydration  just after I feed it.

Anyway - it's back to 100% hydration for the moment.  I don't understand what is going wrong with my starter.  This is the second attempt in recent months (I tried one several years ago which went exactly the same way).

Is there something I am doing wrong?  Perhaps I should I sterilise my utensils with bleach or something?

I've already tried switching to spring water and using whole grain + white flour blend. My initial thoughts focused on temperature  but I realise that many people keep their starter in the refrigerator without any problem - and it's not that there isn't life in my starter, there just seems to be v. little CO2 production or any hint that yeast is alive in there (no yeasty or 'sweet' smell, just a fairly overpowering sour smell).

 

Toby 

 

 

Oldcampcook's picture
Oldcampcook

Toby,

 I went back and looked at your procedures. Everything looks fine from what I can see.  What is your feeding SCHEDULE and how old is the starter?

I dont sterilize anything.  Wooden spoons are handwashed and the containers go in the dishwasher.

And all my starters are kept in the frig unless I pull them out to start feeding them beore I bake and they are then just left on the counter. If kitchen is cool, just takes a bit longer to activate.

Where are you located, BTW? Just general vicinity.

Bob

syllymom's picture
syllymom

While I've been baking sourdough bread for year and half now, I'm no expert.  But I thought I'd throw in a thought.  Early on I had read that if flour is irratiated that it can effect the wild yeast.  I don't know how you go about finding out if flour is irradiated but I usually use whole wheat flour for feeding and if I do use AP flour I buy unbleached flour.  Another thought is when feeding do you cover your starter?  I think you are not suppose to cover it or seal it completely.

BTW, if it's any comfort I feel my starter has lost some power too.  I wonder if its the winter climate because back int he summer things were going great to the point I thought "I got this thing licked".  I guess pride comes before a fall.  :)

Sylvia

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

Bob: Feeding schedule is roughly every 12 hours.  I'm basing 'dinner time' on the consistency of the starter and the bubble activity (ie feed as it turns more liquid and bubbles are showing on the surface - please understand it's not frothy, just mildly bubbly...I'll take a pic next time)

The starter has been going for a week now. I've not had the courage to put the culture in the fridge yet because I don't think it's strong enough. 

I'm in the UK (west country)

Sylvia: Irradiated flour - gosh that may well be the case. I know the rye comes from an 'organic' source (whatever that means these days!) - the packaging actually details a method of cultivating starter using just the flour contained within so I guess it must be 'fertile'. I don't know about the white flour.

 I was keeping the culture in a glass bowl covered with clingfilm although I usually leave a gap...however I've just transferred to a plastic container with a loose fitting lid. See if it does the trick.

 

General question:  If my suspicions are correct and there is some imbalance in the microorganisms - can anyone suggest something that would promote yeast growth over lactobacillus?

 

 

 

 

sonofYah's picture
sonofYah

Woeful,

I am not an expert sourdough person by a long shot. However, I can speak from my own experiences with sourdough.

I presently have in my refrigerator a starter that I made from scratch. The basic process I used was to take a cutting of about 4" or so off of the tip of a cedar tree in our front yard. The leafy/needly part. I placed it in a glass of water overnight. The next day, I took the piece of cedar out of the water and threw the cedar away. I used some of the water and enough whole grain rye flour (that had been stored in the refrigerator) to make a thick paste. I covered it and sat it out on the countertop.

After a few days with nothing but tiny bubbles, I put the mixture in the fridge. I didn't want to give up on it yet. However, I didn't have time to deal with it at the time. Needless to say, I forgot about it for a couple of weeks. Got pushed behind some other things in the fridge. LOL. By this time there were no bubbles but there was a layer of hooch on top. I thought, what have I got to loose but a little time and a bit of rye flour. So I discarded most of the mixture and added more well water to the remaining mixture. Again, I added enough flour to the mixture to make a thick paste. Kinda like my mom used to use to hang wallaper. This was in the AM.

That evening, I checked my mixture. Lo and behold I was seeing signs of life. I fed it again. The next morning, it was quite active. I babied it a few days and then stuck it back in the fridge. The other day, a couple of weeks later, I checked it again. It had dried out on the top. Got rid of most and started again. Still active. Back in the fridge. I'll try not to forget my starter this time. LOL

I haven't had time to bake any bread as my wife is in the hospital and we are also in the process of moving. Most everything is packed and stored.

FWIW, I have a quart-sized ceramic crock I usually store my starter in. Sometimes I use small glass jars. Don't need to store much starter. I prefer glass over plastic myself. Just a personal preference.

Hope there may be some clues in there for you. Be patient. Sourdough cultures last a long time. Some people have actually taken the chinking from old log cabins and started a starter.

Gordon in Clyde, TX.

JERSK's picture
JERSK

   I don't think irridiated flour could cause a problem if you have an active starter. I also don't think grains and flour are irradiated. That is something that is usually done at slaughtering plants to kill off micro-organisms. If you have active micro-organisms they are just trying to feed off of the nutrients in the grain. this shouldn't affect the ones you have living. Plus, I couldn't imagine trying to irradiate tons of grain. Temperature, however, does affect sourdough cultures greatly. They can survive at low temperatures, but don't get very active until they are in the 70-80 deg. F range. I live in Maine and my sourdough did fine until it got cooler. I've recently been adopting methods to keep my dough and starter warm when I'm using them. The easiest thing to do is use warm water when mixing it in to your starter and then keeping things insulated. I've used heating pads, putting the dough in a container and then that container in a bowl of warm water. Rising my dough on a heater. Anything basically to keep it in that range.

syllymom's picture
syllymom

It was just something I read (irradiation that is).  I know that produce and spices are irradiated so I thought maybe flour could be too but don't know for sure.... probably not like you said. 

I usually store my starter in the fridge and put it out on the counter to warm up when I want to use.  Our house is set for 70 but could likely not be warm enough to really get them running.  I have started doing the light on in the oven for warming.  My starter does work but it just seems to be taking longer than it did in the summer so like you said it a temperature thing. 

Thanks.

bwraith's picture
bwraith

I gather from the above that you've only been feeding it for about a week. It can take more than a week for a starter to really "start up". It's typical for it to be sluggish for some period of time in the first 5 days or so, and then suddenly one day it will become far more active and start to rise. Your consistency sounds fine. I would say that until it really starts up, you are feeding it at too high a ratio for every 12 hours, especially if the temperature is low.

A typical routine when it is still just beginning to start up might be something like:

10g starter, 20g water, 25g flour every 24 hours at 80F, if you can arrange 80F reliably.

It's no good to overheat it, though.

Or, you could try 20g starter, 20g water, 25g starter every 12 hours at 80F.

At least for me, it's been a whole lot easier to get one started using a temperature close to 80F rather than 70F or anything below that.

Your feeding routine would probably be fine, depending on the temperature, once the starter is really active. I feed mine 5g:22g:28g every 24 hours at 70F right now. In the summer at temperatures around 76F, the same feeding ratio would probably result in feedings closer to every 12 hours.

You have to use lower feeding ratios before it has really become active, though.

Bill

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

Thanks Bill

I'll stick with it and use a lower feeding ratio for the moment.  I guess I should take another look at temperatures.  At the moment my starter is sitting on top of a DSL modem which is the only continuously warm spot I can find in the house and even then it's only barely warm.

(if I don't post in the next few days it'll be because my starter grew too much and covered the modem!)

 

 

 

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Are you actually taking the temperature of the starter all through it? Warm to the touch is probaby too hot. It probably would feel a slightly cool at 80F, since your body temperature is 98.6F or so.  A probe thermometer can be invaluable to make sure you have about the right temperature. If it is too hot sitting right on it, you can put an oven mitt or hot pod between it, or use a cooling rack to elevate it a little above the modem. It's good if you can get a fairly even temperature all through it of 80F.

It will work fine at lower temperatures, too, but expect it to take much longer.

Also, don't block vent holes on your DSL modem, or it may well be the end of your posting career here for a while.

Bill

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

It's off the modem now and back on the table. Thanks!

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Woefulbaker, if your starter is only 6 days old then you are expecting too much too soon, especially if it is being kept in cooler room temps. Give it a few more days. Try to find a warmer place to keep it. It is best to have a lid on it to keep out contaminants, but not a tight lid. Try adding 1/4 tsp. of vinegar to one feeding. Sometimes that will make it take off. The yeast won't start to grow until the pH level is just right, and for that to happen the mixture must become acidic. The bubbles you have been seeing are most likely just bacteria bubbles and not yeast. That is why you don't have the yeasty smell or good activity. Once the mixture becomes more acidic it will kill off the bacteria and the yeast will begin to grow.

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker



Alrighty.  If there still isn't much activity happening in the next few days I'm going to start trying to lower PH w/ vinegar.  Thanks!

bwraith's picture
bwraith

When I'm trying to start one, it seems inevitable to have a couple or three tries going at once. So, you could put a drop or two of vinegar in 10g starter, 20g water, 25g flour in one try and not in the other and see if the vinegar gives it a boost.

Also, a higher feeding ratio and firmer consistency probably would favor the Lactobacillus bacteria, whereas a lower feeding ratio, acid, and higher hydration probably would favor the yeast. So, you could take 20g starter, 25g water, 20g flour in one try and 10g starter, 20g water, 30g flour in another try and wait 24 hours at around 80F and see which one dies better.

Bill

gretchenclim's picture
gretchenclim

Hi, I'm new to the site and am not sure if my question is related to this discussion but don't know how to post a new one. I attempted a sweet yeast starter using instant yeast, warm water, room temp whole milk and all purpose flour. It was fine for first three days (one day at room temp, uncovered and then two days in the refrigerator, covered with cling wrap. On the third day I began feeding it with a mixture of sugar, water and instant potatoes at room temp. It was ok for the first 3 hours but i noticed that there was so much activity and since it was almost midnight, i was worried that the starter would spill out of the bottle (about a gallon volume) overnight and so i put the whole thing in the fridge and covered it with cling wrap. I live in Asia where room temp is low 90s, which might account for all that yeast activity. Anyway, the next day, the starter was sour and had separated. I'd like to go for a second attempt. Any ideas on how I can get this to work? I'm thinking after i feed the starter I should keep it in an airconditioned room?

 

Thanks.
Gretchen

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

Thanks for all the great advice.  I'm happy to say the starter is very much alive and looking/smelling like proper yeasty goodness.  Yes,  the yeasties finally started coming to life! (one  24 hour ferment with a lower feed ratio did the trick) 

I have my liquid 'mother' starter bubbling away nicely and just mixed up some firm starter hopefully for making some bread tomorrow.  Yay!

I'm thinking about transferring some to the fridge but I think I'll still keep a culture at room temperature for a week or so until I can be sure the refrigerator culture stays alive.

 

 

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Whew! Good to hear it's alive.

Think of refrigeration as just storage in between baking sessions. You can leave it in the refrigerator for months, but when you take it out you should make sure it is strong and vigorous by repeatedly feeding the starter at room temperature it until it is stable and lively again before you put it back in the refrigerator.

The best way to store it is to take healthy, ripe culture and feed it to get a firm consistency. Then put it in the refrigerator immediately.

To revive the starter, take it out and let it rise for a few hours. It may not rise much if it has been in the refrigerator for months, but it will probably rise normally if only a week or two old. Then, feed it, maintaining it in the normal room temperature routine, until it shows the usual signs of health and vigor. It could bounce completely back in just one feeding if it has been in the refrigerator for only a week or two. If it is older than that, it may take 2 to 3 feedings at room temperature to become fully active again.

Once it is healthy, you would use some of it to build your levain, sponge, or dough, and at the same time, take some of it, feed it to a firm consistency and put it back in the refrigerator until the next revival and baking session.

A typical feeding to put it in the refrigerator might be something like 10g of starter fed with 30g of water and 50g of flour, then straight into the refrigerator.

Yes, I would feed it at room temperature for a week, if you will be around to do it conveniently. It will help it to stabilize, and also you can become familiar with its habits. Try to time how long it takes to rise by double from a specific feeding and temperature. That way, when you take it out of the refrigerator and start feeding it at room temperature to revive it, you'll know what it should be doing when it is stable and active.

Good luck with it.

Bill

staff of life's picture
staff of life

What a rush to see it grow!  What was it that made it work?  (I'd leave it out on the counter for at least a week too, were I you.)

SOL

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

I left the culture longer (I was feeding at 12 hour intervals and switched to 24) and also decreased the ratio of starter to food.   Right now the starter is pretty active so I may have to start feeding more regularly or increasing the ratio again.   

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I don't know what I've done to my rye starter lately but it loves me. All my reading on rye starters has influenced my technique and my starter seems stronger. I think I've changed the way I read recipes. With each additonal feeding of my rye starter (when preparing for a recipe) I use the recipe's water & flour and place it in a gradually cooler environments (but not yet as cold as the fridge). When it has doubled, bring it back to room temperature by mixing the dough using what is left of the recipe's ingredients.

Example for one loaf:

  • take a tablespoon of the refrigerated starter and add some of the warm water from the recipe, about a 1/4 cup and stir in some of the recipe's flour until it is (with rye until it forms a ball) a very soft dough or batter. Then let it rise on the counter top or in a warmish place.
  • When double, add more water (1/2 cup blending well) and more of the recipe's flour, let rise again but in a cooler location until it has doubled.
  • You can use this now but leave about a tablespoon of this mixture stuck in the bowl, this "left over" will then be fed as your new starter to be stored in the fridge, cover and set safely aside.
  • Now mix the rest of the ingredients following the recipe (if there is any rye flour left mix it in first and then the other flour).
  • When the dough is mixed and left to rest, you can safely take a few minutes to go back and feed the "left over" starter using your favorite method (see Bill's above). or mine.

Mini O

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

Well perhaps I got a bit carried away with my enthusiasm regarding the sourdough culture.  Yesterday I fed the culture (after it had reached yeasty, bubbly goodness) and was shocked to see it doubling in under 6 hours (same with the firm starter I made, hoping to use in baking today)

However the rise was deceptive. It had the distinct smell of bacteria/'bad' microbes - much like the smell I got before this recent 'yeast' explosion, but this time it was with a vengeance...Needless to say I binned the firm starter, took some of the liquid (mother) starter and fed with a higher ratio.  

At the moment it's looking and smelling bubbly and 'bacterial' with just a hint of yeastiness. It would seem my culture is oscillating between two types of organisms.  I'm thinking of adding a small amount of vinegar to push the culture towards yeast...but I'm open to other suggestions, ideas?

 

Toby 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Ok, Toby, not to Q your nose, but how exactly does a bad microbe smell like?  Give me lots of  comparisons.

Mini O

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Toby, why don't you do as Bill suggested and split the starter into two portions, feed one as usual and give the other a few drops of vinegar. It will be a good test to see which gets better results. Or, as Bill said in his earlier post "see which one dies better". Just kiddding--I know it was a typo but I thought it was funny, given the problems that you have been having.

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Sourdolady,

Thanks, yes, I did mean DOES better, not dies better. Sorry about that slip. It certainly has an ominous tone, given the Toby's starter's struggle to come to life.

Bill

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Toby,

Like MiniOven, I'm interested in more detail on the smells. Normally, a starter will smell like flour paste right after the feeding. As the hours go by, the smell changes and generally becomes more intense. With a white flour starter it might begin to have tangy, flowery aromas. Eventually it just becomes tangy and vinegary and very intense. To me, starters fed with whole wheat or rye have a pungent aroma that is not quite as pleasant, especially if you take a deep whiff. A starter that has spoilage bacteria in it would have a noticeably unpleasant smell that would make you want to gag.

If your starter rises by double in 6 hours, depending on the temperature, it sounds like a healthy, normal, active starter.

It's hard to say from afar, but I would be feeding it something like 10g starter to 20g water and 20g flour every 12 hours at a temperature of around 70F. If it's normal, it should be ripe and ready to be fed again in 12 hours if the temperature is around 70 or higher. It would be fairly unusual for it to still be harboring "bad" bacteria at this point, assuming it has been kept somewhere in the 70s F and is being fed and rising normally and repeatedly. If the temperature is warmer, a higher ratio like 10g:40g:40g might be better. You can use firmer or more liquid consistencies and it should still work about the same.

A higher ratio or lower ratio won't make too much difference, once it's healthy, as long as you let rise and become fully ripe before feeding. At a firmer consistency, it will take longer to go through the entire cycle from feeding, to rising, to peaking, to falling and ready to be fed again. It's good to let it go through the entire cycle before feeding again. During the early part of the cycle, the Lactobacillus will grow more quickly, then during the low pH part, the yeast will catch up, as they are more tolerant of low pH conditions. Eventually, both the Lactobacillus and yeast will reach a maximum population, slow their activity, and begin to die off. It's at that point that feeding is good to do. If you stick to routine, it should stabilize in a couple of days, now that it is well started up, assuming there isn't something unusual going on.

Trying a little vinegar may make sense, as suggested by Sourdolady, especially if the starter is still in the immature stage and has "bad bacteria" in it. I'm just a little skeptical of it having "bad bacteria" in it at this stage. Earlier you had mentioned that it had a pleasant smell, even though it wasn't rising that well.

Bill

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

Gosh well hmmm.. smell...

Bill, Minioven - perhaps my descriptions were misleading.  Apologies.

Since I've never had a successful starter before, when in my original post I said 'suitably sour' - I was simply comparing it to what I had before which was, admittedly not particularly great smelling.

 Now that I realise sourdough can smell considerably 'sweeter' and yeastier  (and should do, I assume!) - I refer to this 'previous smell' in less than pleasant terms because I can only assume that they are associated with bacteria.  I base this assumption on what I have read  in various accounts about a 'sudden rise' early on in the cultivation of sourdough.

How can I describe it? Hmm it certainly smells sour...and 'bitter'/earthy -  if that makes any sense.  I'm afraid my olfactory vocabulary is left wanting...but it certainly does not smell in the least bit yeasty or fruity which is how the starter smelt during what I assume to be a period of yeast growth.

Right at this moment the smell is somewhere between the two....sour/bitter and yeasty.  Perhaps of note, the central heating was turned on yesterday during the night which may account for the rapid growth as the house was warmer than it has been of recent nights...

<Can I attach/upload smells with this post?> 

 Anyway I will go ahead and split the culture shortly and see how the little beasties fare with and without vinegar.  

Thanks again Bill, MO. Despite my rocky start and some fretting on my part, I really am enjoying this sourdough adventure!  

 

 

 

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Toby, if your starter is bad the smell would make you gag, as Bill said. If it smells pungent and strongly of alcohol or booze, then that means you need to discard most of it and give the remainder a feeding. The discarding part is very important. Most newbies have a hard time doing it, but it must be done.

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Toby,

As you say, without being able to upload the smells, it's tough to diagnose from afar. However, I wouldn't be too surprised if the starter is fine. It rises reasonably well and consistently. If it's a rye or whole wheat starter it probably should smell a little pungent, maybe about the way you describe it. Also, remember the aroma will vary significantly with ripeness.

Is it possible the yeasty aroma you mention is anything like sour milk or cheese? That's an aroma I pick up fairly frequently in the early stages, a day or two into the process. That aroma isn't what a good sourdough starter ends up smelling like. Sometimes you will get an acetone smell, which is a symptom of it needing to be fed.

Anyway, you might want to feed your starter in a routine manner for a couple of days more. If it continues to double, it probably is fine. If the aroma you're mentioning were coming from a spoilage bacteria, it could not sustain the consistent rising behavior because the spoilage bacteria would have a hard time surviving in the acids that build up in the starter. The typical spoilage bacteria cycle would be to have a very flagrant rise in the first day or two of the starter starting process, when the acids aren't building up quickly enough, accompanied by disgusting smells followed by a day to several days of very quiet, seemingly dead behavior, followed by the emergence of the sour, tangy, sometimes flowery smells with bubbles. At some point shortly after that, it should become fully active, which is what yours sounds like. All told, rye or whole wheat starters don't smell all that great to me, but they don't cause gagging, either. White starters have a pleasant, flowery, tangy, sweet smell, depending on how ripe.

One thing you could try is converting some of your starter to white flour to see how that smells. If you just feed with white flour instead of whole wheat or rye, it should switch over without much trouble if it's healthy. You could then sample the aroma and see if you think it has the nice flowery, tangy pleasant aroma or not. It's just another suggestion, though. Don't worry if it seems like too much to try. I realize we've given you a lot of suggestions.

Bill

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Yes, I know you can keep your starter in the refrigerator for months and still revive it.  The lazy one in me keeps using this approach, not bothering until I want to make sourdough bread.  Well, after reading this thread, I HEREBY RESOLVE to feed my starter weekly, regardless.  Maybe my lackadaisical approach is the reason for my less than stellar results, even though I feed several times before baking.  Maybe my mantra should be FEED FEED FEED (rather than Eat Eat Eat).

Rosalie

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Rosalie,

I don't think it's that important whether you feed it in between baking sessions. Even if you only baked once every 3 months, leaving it in the refrigerator in between shouldn't matter much. I've left my starter refrigerated in the manner described below for 6 months, and it revived fully in a couple of days at 75F.

What is probably very important is making sure to fully revive the starter when you do take it out of the refrigerator. From the other thread you recently posted, it sounds like you deal with a fairly cool environment during the winter, maybe around 60F up to about 70F? If so, your revival routine probably should include some or all of the following: a larger amount of time between feedings, lower feeding ratios,  wetter consistency.

During each feeding cycle, the starter should rise, peak, and ripen sufficiently. If the temperature is low (below 70F), it will help to use a lower feeding ratio and higher hydration, and feed less often to allow full ripening. If the temperature is high (80F), a higher feeding ratio, lower hydration, and more frequent feeding will avoid the starter over-ripening and weakening.

A typical feeding routine at a temperature of 65F might be something like 10g starter, 25g water, 20g flour every 24 hours. A typical feeding routine at 80F might be something like 5g starter, 20g water, 30g flour every 12 hours.

Bill

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Bill, I keep printing out your responses hoping that I'll get it right.  Soon.

Rosalie

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

Just as a note - my starter now appears to be really quite healthy.  I have already made sourdough pitas and I've got some rye/white dough in bulk ferment at the moment. Of note - it's activity is very much related to temperature. 

It has recently developed an interesting aroma of banana in the early stages after feeding.

Thanks Bill, MO, Bob, SOL, Sylva, Sourdoughlady, JERSK.  I'm looking forward to baking with it.

 

 

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Toby,

Glad to hear the starter is healthy.

Temperature is a huge factor in sourdough activity. For example, with my starter using white flour, a levain built with 10% fermented flour to total flour would take  4 hours at 80F and 10 hours at 65F to rise by double.

I'm curious how you've ended up maintaining the starter, i.e. the feeding ratio, temperature, and how often you feed it. Are you still using whole wheat flour?

I would usually associate the banana smell with a starter that is either underfed or fermented at a very warm temperature, although it may also just be a passing phase as it matures. If it is being underfed or fermented very warmly, you may want to consider feeding more often, using a higher feeding ratio, using a firmer consistency, or fermenting it in a cooler spot. As always, the trick is to let it fully rise and ripen, then feed it. If you smell acetone (nail polish remover) in it after it has doubled and had time to peak and fully ripen, then it probably needs to be fed. It's possible the banana smell is related to letting it get too ripe. The aroma would normally become instense and tangy but not reach to the point of having the acetone smell before feeding it.

Bill

woefulbaker's picture
woefulbaker

Current feeding regime: 50g starter 200g white flour 200g water every 12 hours.

(yes I'm trying just white flour to see how it goes.  First feeding seems to have been successful) 

I may decrease the size of the starter or refrigerate soon to save on flour.  Do stiff starters fare better in the fridge than liquid?

Toby

 

 

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Toby,

If you are keeping the starter fairly warm, say upper 70s F, between feedings, then 1:4:4 (starter:water:flour by weight) will work well every 12 hours. However, if the temperature is much cooler than that, you may find it will be better to try 1:3:3 or 1:2:2 every 12 hours, or feed 1:4:4 more like every 24 hours. With white flour, the starter will rise more slowly normally, maybe taking about 20% more time than with whole wheat or rye flour. That seems especially true for me when I use strong bread flour. It should rise, peak, dip in the middle and then collapse. The smell should intensify but not get to the point where you smell acetone in it.

With a 1:4:4 feeding using white flour, the doubling time should be about 4.7 hours at 80F, 5.8 hours at 75F, 8 hours at 70F, and 11.5 hours at 65F. So, you can see that at 70F, if it doubles in 8 hours, and additional 4 hours may not be enough for it to completely ripen, although it might work OK, especially for a 100% hydration or wetter starter. My somewhat firmer starter probably would not ripen as much in 12 hours with a 1:4:5 feeding at 70F, let's say, and I would want it to ferment for closer to 24 hours before feeding it. Anyway, it's something to consider.

Yes, I've had better luck storing starter in the refrigerator for long periods at a very firm consistency, like 50% to 65% hydration, depending on the flour. Generally, firmer starters ferment more slowly than wetter ones.

Also, some sources I tend to trust, like The Bread Builders and Maggie Glezer, both suggest that the yeast organisms in particular will die off much more slowly in cold temperatures if pH is higher and acid levels are lower. That's why it is suggested that you feed it such that consistency is firm and then place it in the refrigerator immediately. The very slow activity will eventually still drop the pH down and turn the starter to a thick, somewhat mushy consistency. Still, I've fully revived that mush straight out of the refrigerator in two feedings after a 6 month storage period. I keep a small amount in storage in my parents' cabin in MT, which I visit only a few times per year. The last time, it had been 6 months, and the starter bounced right back - amazing stuff.

Finally, I use only small amounts, and it seems to me it makes no difference whatsoever in the performance of the starter. It may rise a little differently simply because a smaller sample will have somewhat different mechanical properties, but the internal microbiology and chemistry should be no different whether you use 10 grams or 100 grams or 250 grams. I generally use 5 grams of starter, 22 grams water, and 28 grams white flour in mine. I get the exact same bread rise times and characteristics as I would doing it with 20g starter, 88grams water, and 112 grams flour.

Bill