The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter became stiff and takes long to rise

Ameliaclute's picture

Starter became stiff and takes long to rise

I created my starter using all purpose bleached white flour, and while feeding with this flour, my starter was easily pourable yet not rising almost at all. Granted, it was still quite new (about a week), so this could be part of the rising problem. However, I switched to feeling with unbleached whole wheat flour and the starter almost instantly began rising much more. However, the starter still takes ~8-10 hours to reach its full doubled peak, and it is extremely stiff and not pourable. It has never passed the float test. However, as you can see, the starter (which in the picture has been fed with whole wheat) is very bubbly when doubled. 

My hypotheses are these: the white flour absorbed very little liquid, yet was too processed for the starter to ferment. The whole wheat flour is unprocessed and therefore gave the starter something to ferment, yet it absorbs a lot of liquid and therefore takes a long time to rise because it's so stiff. I still don't know why it won't pass the float test. 

Should I continue using WWF and increase the hydration to something like 105%, or try another type of flour, or something entirely different? Thank you!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

both are fermenting, the main difference is that whole wheat absorbs more water than refined flour so the weight of the water is less of a problem for the whole wheat to raise when gas bubbles rise.  Whole flour does contain more nutrients but good ol white flour is also food.  The big difference is the hydration of the starter.  If you are feeding with refined white wheat, reduce the water and it will rise also.  Go ahead and try it.  Make the starter thicker, more dough like when feeding and mark the level. Then sit back, both of you comfortable and watch the rise.  

As far as how long it takes to rise, that will vary with the age of the starter.  Now that it is actively consuming the flour, increase the ratio of flour for the amount of starter.  This will encourage more yeast.  More yeast, faster rise.  With each feeding, you will notice the starter peaking sooner until it becomes constant.  You may also notice temperature affecting the rate of fermentation as well as time of day the starter is fed.  It is easy at this stage in the starter existence to bend the feeding schedule to your needs.  Feed enough flour to raise the starter to peak and tack on a few hours after for the starter to rest before feeding.  

Example.  A feeding of 1:2:3 takes first 10 hours to peak, then with consecutive feeds 8 hours and eventually down to 6 hours to peak.  Wait until 8 hours to feed again (feeding 3x a day) or give more flour with the next feeding, say 1:4:5 (s:w:f) so peaking takes longer. It ferments and peaks and smells wonderful at 9 hours, tack on a few hours wait so that you can feed it while watching the morning coffee drip.

 This would put feeding the starter on a 12 hour maintenance schedule, roughly.  At night, if temps drop in the kitchen, don't be too surprised if it takes a wee bit longer to peak in activity. You can adjust the feeding amounts more or less (flour) to peak and rest for your schedule.  Be flexible, the bugs surely are.  There is plenty of food for the beasties unless your temps go up into the 80's°F.  You may get a second rise and peak on the starter after the first peak.  The starter is fine and from here it looks healthy.  

The starter looks great.  Got a bread recipe in the works?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

...well...having a thicker starter does have its advantages.  You have actually learned about your ww flour and when sticking to recipes that ask for 100% hydration starters, measuring is easier.  You will have also noticed that a all pourpose wheat starter is more wet and contributes more water to a dough recipe than the ww starter would.  You will also see that a 100% hydration AP starter rises less than a 70% hydration starter (1:2:3).  (Bubbles can rise faster and break on the surface.)

Your starter or starters are just fine, I wouldn't change anything if I didn't have to.  Also pay attention to other indicators of fermentation in the starter as it ferments.  Volume is only one indicator.  Flavour will change, aroma, color changes occur (usually brighter, lighter) bubbles on the bottom and up the sides of the container, and pH will change.  Train yourself to be in tune with these other signs of activity. 

Tasting the starter (and spitting it out, please) can tell you a lot about the starter as it ferments.  You can taste the changes from wet flour to fully ripe and mature starter.