The Fresh Loaf

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Rye sour starter from Stanley Ginsberg's 'The Rye Baker'

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

Rye sour starter from Stanley Ginsberg's 'The Rye Baker'

Hi!

I am following the instructions on pages 36, 37 of Stanley Ginsberg's The Rye Baker for the starter sour to the letter:

  • on Thursday I mixed 70g Bob's Red Mill Dark rye with 70g water at 104F° (using a yoghurt thermometer, whose tip did not touch the pan's bottom) etc in this jar. Everything very clean (I think). Left the lid closed - but not sealed with the clip - in the kitchen out of direct heat and light but with the ambient temperature around 68°/70°F; no draughts
  • on Friday I discarded all but 70g (although that did mean half, I measured precisely) and added the same mixture of 70g Bob's Red Mill Dark rye with 70g water; by then there was a nice healthy sour smell
  • on Saturday the same; still a healthy sour smell
  • but by this morning (day 4) the smell was not exactly 'moldy', nor rotten. Perhaps it is what Ginsberg calls on page 37 (first paragraph) more 'intense' :-)

Could I be doing something wrong, please? Should I persevere, or start from scratch and store in the fridge each day?

TIA!

Abe's picture
Abe

Persevere and carry on. Starters can go through an array of smells at this early stage. Continue with what you've been doing and don't worry. 

If Stanley himself describes this smell then why do you think it's gone wrong? 

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

You're encouraging :-)

The smell is qualitatively 'different' today from the second and third days. It is certainly more 'intense'.

Could it be rotting; I was using filtered water from the door of the freezer, not tap water. Bottled?

Will it work in the fridge?

Abe's picture
Abe

Starters can smell a lot worse believe you me. I won't list the various smells that a young starter can give off. Sounds like yours is quite mild. Keep the starter warm and carry on with the feeds. See what happens in the next few days. Don't be put off as it's quite normal. 

A starter can have a leuconostoc stage which is bad bacteria but the good bacteria will see to them! The only thing that can go wrong is introducing bad bacteria by cross contamination but everything you've explained sounds usual. 

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

Thanks very much, Abe; I shall do just as you kindly suggest :-)

How would I make sure to avoid cross-contamination, please?

One of the reviews of the book on Amazon suggested that bottled water was preferable (no chlorine).

As far as I can see, the only things I might have done wrong were regarding temperature (it's certainly not too cold where it is); and not closing the lid tightly (which surely encourages airborne yeasts)?

I'll persevere.

Abe's picture
Abe

You're doing fine. Clean utensils and using a water source that you know isn't chlorinated. Some tap water is fine. I use water which has been boiled and cooled but having said that my starter also responds well to the local tap water.

My pleasure Mark. 

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

Thanks. I'll stop worrying and let it do what it wants for another few days :-)

If it were chlorinated tap water, what would the 'symptoms' be?

Today's is definitely a different smell!

Abe's picture
Abe

So symptoms would be no bubbling up and it'll fail to turn into a starter. As long as you see activity then don't worry. Warmth and patience is the key!  

Your starter will test your patience. Don't give up. Even if you experience a period of quiet after earlier activity. If that happens then skip a feed of two and then carry on when it perks up. But if you keep it warm it should go from strength to strength. 

Whatever you do don't toss tthe starter. If you run into any trouble just pop back here. Take heed of what Mini says. 

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

I came down to feed it yesterday and it had doubled in size!

Was spongy and stir-able - just like 'regular' (wheat) dough that had risen nicely.

I was heartened by that. Just that today's smell was not a truly floury one.

More like milk that's 'gone off'; just had another sniff!

But I shall be patient and warm it.

Thanks so much to you and Mini!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

or it will take weeks at 70°... too cold.

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

I have the Brod & Taylor proofing box; any good? I wouldn't want to leave that on for days, though. Would I?

Wrapped in a blanket?

So it's certainly not that it's over-warm, then; should definitely not be refrigerated.

Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

That proofer doesn’t use a lot of energy and can be left on for days. As Mini says there are lots of options, but if you have it and really want to dial in a consistent temperature, it will do a great job.

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

Thanks, Edo!

It's sitting nicely on top of the fridge atm.

But if I did use the proofing box, I'd stick to 75°F…

In line with Mini's advice, it's also taking a rest.

Now that I've learnt not to worry about the milky smell - and thanks to all of your encouraging advice - I'm not worrying :-)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

way to warm the starter is to use a heat source you already have.  Look for spots near water heaters or above refrigerators or stereo systems or computers.  Put a dish under the starter to control any sudden overflows should the starter get  super active and tossing a towel over the starter can be a good idea depending on the location.  

I have a chimney from a gas furnace that runs behind one of my kitchen cabinets.  The little bit of warmth from it is my favourite spot for warming starter or levains and yes, a towel helps steady the temperature.  I find my radiator too hot unless I place a cork trivet under it.   

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

Thanks, Mini - top of the fridge seems a likely spot; ours is always warm there :-)

It really does smell like milk that's begun to curdle. Or yoghurt.

Perhaps that's the LAB?

And it really is doing rather well? Just so different from days 2 and 3!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

 Don't stop now, you're half way there.  Starter goes thru a number of aromas to become a working starter.  Also when fed, you will notice certain aromas changing as the culture ferments and grows.  Yes, you are picking up on the LABs soon the yeast start to grow.  You may have lost a day or two with cool temps so if you skip a feeding about now, it may help.  

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

Thanks again, Mini!

Shall follow your advice (and Abe's).

Your encouragement very much appreciated :-)

Abe's picture
Abe

Yoghurt and Sourdough Starters have lactic acid producing bacteria. A good sign your starter is maturing nicely. 

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

Yes, thanks! I should have made the connection.

Thanks to your help, it's fermenting away nicely, I believe!