The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough starter questions

Char's picture
Char

Sourdough starter questions

Hi everyone, new to the forums and actually joined specifically to ask this question. I've scoured the interwebs, and can't find this particular issue.

I made a starter from scratch last Sunday, so today is day 6 for it. It has done nothing, and I mean nothing, for all 6 days. No bubbles, no smells, zip, zero, zilch. No signs of fermentation whatsoever. I used KA organic whole wheat flour, mixed 1:1 by weight with reverse osmosis filtered well water (no chlorine in the system). 

First 24 hours, nothing was happening, so I let it go for another 24. Still nothing, so I fed it (no discard, just added to the whole starter) about 20g water and 20g unbleached ap flour and checked again the next day. Nothing. No bubbles, no rising, still smelled like wet flour. The temps here were cool, so it was in a 70-75 F environment. On day 4 I started keeping it in the oven at 80-85 F and didn't feed it, just kept watching for signs of life, stirring 2-3 times per day.

Still, nothing. Last night on day 5, I went ahead and fed 1:1:1 starter:flour:water with a 50/50 mix of UAP and OWW, no discard, was hoping to harness any potential critters that might just not be showing themselves yet. I went ahead and started another starter with 50/50 UAP/OWW this morning just to see if I could get SOMETHING going 

I made a starter 2 weeks ago, it went like crazy for the first couple days like it's supposed to, then went quiet and stupidly I threw it out on day 7 (4 days little/no activity) thinking it was dead. After a bunch of reading I now realize that was a stupid mistake. 

Any insights would be appreciated. Thank you! 

jds's picture
jds

It is really bizarre that you are seeing zero signs of activity so far into the process. Even with the cheapest unbleached AP flour, any new starter I made would at least show some signs of activity during the first week.

 

At this point you have two options: Keep going and hope it eventually becomes alive, or start over. I would probably just start over.

 

I've always followed a process similar to the one described here, although I never used more than 25g of each ingredient as to not create huge amounts of discard. Whenever I use this process to make a new starter, I almost always wake up on the morning of the third day to the starter having doubled, and then it goes quiet for anywhere from a few days to a week, then my starter is ready for actual use once it begins rising again.

berryblondeboys's picture
berryblondeboys

I am brand spanking new to this too, but I would stick with 100% organic flour and I would encourage using organic rye flour blend. My starter goes NUTSO with rye and barely does anything with organic wheat - but it is opposite for some other peope. My starter beginnings were horrible as my source for how to start it (info from a book) were horrible. But I've had someone pointed me here and it's really good... and of course, now I can't find it or trace it, but it's Debra Wink's method. I have looked through things for 10 minutes and I can't find where I read it now! Wah! Hopefully, someone more knowledgable can show you.


DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I think this is the article mentioned that Debra Wink wrote.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1

At any time is it possible that your starter got way too hot? That would kill the microbes.

Dan

berryblondeboys's picture
berryblondeboys

I found these, but someone (possibly you? or Minioven?) pointed me to a picture rich blog or site. I thought I had saved it , it but now I can't find it. It was REALLLLY good. It showed how it grew and collapsed and I'm pretty sure it was Debra Wink? I've read so much, now I can't remember!

Char's picture
Char

Thank you SO MUCH to all who've replied, I am just at stumped as you all. Dan, I though I'd killed my first try (the one I tossed, stupidly) because it got over 90* once, but this one has been VERY closely temperature controlled, it has never gotten below 69*, never above 86*. 

When I stirred it this morning, I did see a couple of very small bubbles, so maybe all is not lost. I did start a second one this morning, just in case I'm just wasting time and flour on this one. But hopefully it will take off. ??

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Char, if you have a bakery around you that does sourdough, I bet they'd give you some of their starter. I'd buy a loaf of their SD, strick up a conversation and ask... I know I'd be happy to give you some in that circumstance.

Also, the bakery could be a great source for milled whole wheat and other grains. Whole rye is like steroids to starters.

Dan

Char's picture
Char

Thank you so much, I was wondering about the rye. I may get some and either try adding it to this one, or just start over *again* and see if something happens. Not sure if I have any bakeries near me that make sourdough or not, will have to do some research 

Grob's picture
Grob

The short answer is you shouldn't be using RO water to get sourdough going.  Sourdough bacteria and yeasts utilize the minerals naturally present in water and RO removes a lot of those minerals.  If you are concerned about chlorine you can leave your tap water out overnight and the chlorine will dissipate. 

Char's picture
Char

Not concerned about chlorine, since we are on a well with a water softener, should I switch to just plain old softened tap water? 

Our water has a strong iron content and sulfer smell, so I usually use the reverse osmosis for any/all cooking, but I can for sure switch to the plain tap water. Thank you! 

Grob's picture
Grob

Yeah, I would try plain tap water, I imagine you will see more activity.  Be patient but if you don't see any activity after 2-3 days then it may be something else.

Char's picture
Char

Thank you! Will feed again tomorrow am and use tap water. 

Benito's picture
Benito

If you use tap water either filter it or leave it out overnight to allow the chlorine to dissipate otherwise it may kill the microbes that you want to grow.

Benito's picture
Benito

I vote for organic rye and pineapple juice.  I like you threw out my first attempt, probably too soon as well after it didn’t seem to be doing anything for a while, I should have kept going and just started another one.

I then started a whole wheat one with pineapple juice using the methods I found here on this site.  It was slow to take off so I started another one with organic rye and it took off like crazy fast at the same time the whole wheat one started to work more of less.  I then had two starters which I’ve kept going now a few months.  Surprisingly despite feeding them the same organic red fife flour, the continue to smell different.

GlennM's picture
GlennM

We are on a well and I use reverse osmosis water all the time with great results. 

 

Maverick's picture
Maverick

Follow Debra Wink's procedures and you will never fail. I have done this one several times, so I speak from experience. Either scroll down to Day one here (then go back and read the rest after mixing the 1st day items):

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10901/pineapple-juice-solution-part-2

or you can go right into it here (but be sure to read the stuff that comes after the actual procedure as the phases are important to know):

http://forums.finecooking.com/print/node/63318?page=2&comment=737624

If you are interested in more scientific information, read Debra's part 1 while you wait:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1

Char's picture
Char

Thanks again to all who've responded, figured I'd give an update.

Yesterday morning, day 7 for the inactive starter, I noticed that a couple of bubbles popped on the surface when I stirred it. Nothing visible from the sides, and no yeasty smells, just wet flour. But figured I'd feed it anyway. 1:1:1 KA Organic WW flour, and used lukewarm tap water (not the reverse osmosis). My new day 2 starter was bubbly with all of the initial fermentation reactions (same flour, from the same bag, and same water. ??!) fed it as well with the same flour and water as I fed the other starter.

This morning the young starter (day 3) was even more bubbly, as I would expect, fed it again.

The old starter (day 8) HAD BUBBLES AND A FROTHY APPEARANCE WITH A NICE, YEASTY SMELL. Color me shocked! 7 days with NO activity whatsoever and now all of a sudden it's fine?! Boy, these things really do have individual personalities. It hadn't quite doubled in size, more like a 25%-30% increase in size. Fed it and will monitor as the day does on and see what it's doing in the morning. 

I'm cautiously optimistic that I might be able to try making my first ever loaf of sourdough bread either next weekend or the weekend after?? Maybe! 

Now I have a follow up question: I have no desire to have to maintain 2 starters, would it be a complete no-no to merge the two? Or should I just pick one and toss the other? Or maybe just use one of them to make pancakes and not save any. I'm probably over thinking it, I'm just so relieved to see SOMETHING happening!

Thanks again! 

Dave Cee's picture
Dave Cee

Although I am only a novice sourdough baker I have read repeated threads devoted to the frustrations of starting and/or maintaining a healthy starter culture. I am blessed with a virulent strain of starter bacteria which I don't think I can kill. Joking, of course. I keep mine refrigerated and feed about once per 7-to-10 days using bulk white bread flour and purified water. About once per 4-to-6 weeks I reserve a  few tablespoons in a sterile container, sterilize my starter container and replenish my reserved culture with flour and water. It pops every time.

The recurring variable in many of these tales of woe is the water. If you could possibly try bottled or purified water I'm betting that at least some of these starter problems will be solved.

 Best wishes. Dave

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

I think you’re right regarding the importance of purified water.

I maintained a white flour starter for years, developed on my first starter attempt, in the refrigerator using equal volumes of bottled water and flour with some slop of starter in the bottom of my container. 

Also, I didn’t baby my starter. No careful measures, no special feeding schedules, going as long as a month between bakes then bringing it up to speed in a few days before the next bake. I wasn’t even particularly sanitary with it: it was loosely covered by cling wrap on the bottom shelf of the fridge and mixed with a fork out of the drawer. I’d pull it out of the fridge, feed it, and pop it promptly back into the fridge.

And boy did it have great flavor! My wife lived more than half her life in Europe and raved about the baguettes I made with this starter.

I made 7 starters and never had the problems I’ve frequently read on this forum— poor performance, strange crumb, dramatic loss of flavor, dead or foul smelling starters. These problems have baffled me as I’ve read about them. These experiences are alien to me and I think it’s because people may be using chlorinated water and/or being too conscientious with their starter.

The only two things I did with consistency were: I used bottled water and I didn’t baby it. Never a problem. Always delicious bread.

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

Ah! One thing occurred to me.

The only time I had a slow starter build is when I used frozen flour, which had killed a lot of the yeast in the flour, but it eventually took off as a small fraction of yeast had not been killed during freezing. 

Just putting this out there in case someone finds it helpful during a future search. Glad it’s going for your now.