The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

First starter - kind of runny?

Aloftus's picture
Aloftus

First starter - kind of runny?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading through the forums here and on different websites, so I don’t feel completely in the dark, but I’d really appreciate some guidance from people who actually know what they’re doing. 

I used Maurizio’s starter recipe from The Perfect Loaf. I started it off at night on 9/17, and I got the initial burst of activity that he described. I’m feeding it twice a day now, ~12 hours apart. I use 75g starter, 50g KA AP flour, 50g of KA whole wheat flour, and 125g water at 80F. I keep it in our oven with the light on and the lid placed across the top, but not sealed. 

I guess my question is - am I doing this right? The consistency is a little runny. There was some liquid on the top last night (less this morning), which I poured off before stirring. It smells very sweet - kind of like weird cotton candy. It’s also hard to gauge the rise because my containers are huge - I have better ones coming today. But there have definitely been bubbles, even this morning. 

I’m trying to just chill out about it for now because it’s so young, but I also want to correct any issues. 

Thank you!! 

tarheel_loafer's picture
tarheel_loafer

I’m not an expert by any means, but that sounds pretty wet to me, at 125% hydration. When I did my first starter (a whole 3 months ago) I did 1:1:1 ratio of starter to flour to water for each feeding for the first few days, then 1:2:2, and down to about 1:4:4 for daily feedings. 

Easy science experiment: next feeding, just split it into two jars, and reduce the hydration on the second one. Whichever grows better, keep. 

Btw it may go from sweet to smelling like stinky cheese and feet any day now. Don’t sweat it, it gets better. 

Also fwiw, I kept it in a dark cabinet with a loose lid at whatever my kitchen temp is, mid-70s. I was able to make a preferment and bake bread after 7 days. Although it was a pretty pungent loaf if I’m honest, it definitely still had some weirdness that disappeared over the next couple days. 

Aloftus's picture
Aloftus

Thank you so much! I’ll split it off tonight and see how it goes. 

Brotaniker's picture
Brotaniker

I believe that sourdough starter is something really simple that many over-complicate a lot. Here is how I did it:

Day #1:

Mix 25g rye flour and 25g warm water, leave at (warm ~27°C) room temperature in a covered (not tight sealed glass) glass.

Day #2:

Add 25g rye flour and 25g warm water... same as day #1

 

Day #3:

Add 50g rye flour and 50g water... rest same as day #1

Day #4:

Ready. It can go in the fridge now.

 

After that:

For anything "white" I just mix one teaspoon starter with 100g water and 100g bread flour (to keep the white color) and let the pre-dough stay 12 hours or so warm.

For anything "wholewheat" I just mix 100g starter with 100g water and 100g wholewheat flour and let the pre-dough stay 12 hours or so warm.

Maintenance:

Because I use 100g starter, I now feed with 55g each rye flour and water and let it stay out of fridge for 6 hours or so (till it doubles). I do that according to my baking schedule. Longest no-use period so far was about 2 weeks and it was no problem at all and active as ever.

 

Aloftus's picture
Aloftus

I’m an Olympic-level overthinker...so no surprise that I’m unnecessarily complicating this. 

Thank you for the advice and schedule! 

Anne Ng's picture
Anne Ng

We all overthink when we're trying out new things, so it's okay to overthink a little, and sometimes it can be good, because when you overthink you research and ask for help, right? 

Okay back to your issue, smelling sweet is actually a good thing. The first initial activities and those smells are awful. This means you've got past that phase, congrats! 

There's just one little thing I may suggest: you can alter your feeding time according to your starter. This is a common thing first-timers encounter--the tutorial says 12hr cycle is better than the 24hr cycle, and they did not say if your starter is not gaining height at 12hr or 24hr mark what should you do, so you think okay I should stick to the schedule. I was one of those who overfed my poor little yeasties too. 

Here is a really good how to start a starter post, on day 4 (or when you get past the stinky phase), it says 

you want to make sure your starter has at least doubled.  If it doubles in less than 24 hours, you should still wait until the 24 hour mark.  If it takes more than 24 hours, be patient.  Let it double.  It may take another 12 or 24 hours, or it may take longer.  Again, be patient.  It will double.  Just give it time.  

So try give your starter a bit more time. Let it do its own things. 125% hydration might be a bit high so that the texture is too thin to hold the bubbles, hence not having significant growth. But if you want to stick to this hydration, it's totally fine. To measure if it has activities or not, you can seal a plastic bag with a rubber band on the opening of the jar, and you can get a sense of how much gas it's producing (a very nice advise from Minioven in another post). 

And I do not recommend putting it into the fridge before you get a predictive and active response from a feeding. A mature starter should double in 4-8hrs when kept at above 25C/77F. You can also try some sourdough sandwich bread recipes with hydration rate around 65% as a measurement of whether your starter is able to raise a bread. They are much easier than a real sourdough as requires less experience/equipment (just a loaf tin and a baking tray with wet towels can make fantastic sourdough loaves). 

Happy baking! 

Aloftus's picture
Aloftus

Thank you so much!! Everyone is so helpful. This is wonderful, thank you. 

jey13's picture
jey13

It sounds to me as if your startrer has come up to speed and now wants to be fed more often (like every 6 hours). I say this because you can begin with a nice, thick paste...but the hungry yeasties are eating away, they eat and eat and puff up that starter. Then they run out of food. The starter deflates, and gets runny and, yes, gets that liquid on top. 

So, three things: (1) Definitely use a smaller container where the starter can climb up the sides and show you how it’s growing. (2) Try checking on it every 6 hours. If it has doubled (more or less), and is full of air bubble holes—hooray! Your starter is now on a good, 6 hour schedule and is about ready for bread making. (3) Consistency when you stir that doubled starter should be frothy on top—a little like a very thick foam, and when you stir it, you should see sticky strands—that’s the gluten. After stirring it, it should have the thickness of, oh, say tahini. You can pour it, but it pours out slow. 

If it doesn’t double after 6 hours, and is still runny, simply add more flour for a ratio of, say 1:1.5:1 (ex: 50g starter, 75g flour and 50g water). 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Starters that are too thin display a lot of bubbles and froth, but don’t rise. Thicker starters (like peanut butter or yogurt) will rise the best, double or more. Super thick starters (stiff dough like you’d find in a biscuit or cookie batter) don’t rise much. But they display a lot of air bubble holes, All these, the bubbles on one, the rise on another, the holes in the last, are indications of a healthy, living starter. But the runny one, for obvious reasons, is not the best for bread making. You want thick or stiff.

Another thing: Rye flour, which is in Maurizo’s recipe there, is a very fast grain. It eats away like crazy. Though slowed down by the bread flour, it’s still going to speed things up. Wheat flour, if you decide to use it (as his Levain recipe recommends) is slower, and very thirsty. So you’ll get a thicker starter from it because it sucks in more water than the rye. 

Okay, last: I’m guessing you’re thinking of using Maruizo’s recipe for “beginner’s sourdough.” You should be aware that it’s kinda misnamed. A lot of beginners get a super sticky dough that they can’t shape and a flat loaf (I speak from experience). When I wrote to Maruizo about this, he told me to take the water down 10% and that worked much better. So, I’m going to give you my modified (10% less water) version of that recipe for one loaf (don’t do two just yet!). This modification should help you avoid the super sticky dough problem, but be prepared. It may come out fine, or it may still come out flat (but eatable and yummy). Which means you may have things to figure out. This recipe works for Mauizo, with his flour, in his kitchen, his oven. But to work in yours may require some tweaks. Sourdough is a kind of “create your own adventure.” You tweak the steps till you figure out what works for you.

Also: (1) Know how long it takes your starter to rise. Maruizo’s bread recipe assumes that at 1:4:4 Levain will be ready (doubled) in 4 hours so you can start bread making in the afternoon. But what if it takes 6 hours? Use it when it’s ready, not when the clock says it’s been 4 hours. (2) Maruizo mixes the Levain in after autolyse. Most of us here recommend you mix the Levain in with the water till it dissolves, mix in the flour, then autolyse. It’s a whole lot easier, and it makes sure all the yeasties get infused throughout the dough. 

Less wet “Beginner’s” Sourdough recipe

 

 

95g Levain 

 

310g Water 

 

375g Bread Flour 

 

55g Wheat Flour 

 

25g Rye flour 

 

9g Salt & 20g (about 1 Tablespoon) water just to help dissolve the salt. 

 

 

 

 

Aloftus's picture
Aloftus

I will reread this in greater detail when I don’t have a crushing headache but THANK YOU!! 

Aloftus's picture
Aloftus

Just an update. When I got home from work, things seemed positive. It’s been about 12 hours since the last feeding, and the texture has become thicker and “sticky” - when I went to split the starter into its new jars, it just seemed to want to hang onto itself. There were also some bubbles, and it’s starting to get a faint tang over the sweetness. 

I now have two starters - one at 100% hydration and one at 125%, in Weck jars instead of giant Tupperwares I stole from my mom 🙃. It’s Friday so I’m going to check on them in a few hours and see how things look. 

Thanks for all the help and encouragement, everyone. I feel very excited. :) 

Brotaniker's picture
Brotaniker

Here is another issue with overthinking: For years I thought sourdough is complicated, must be treated very carefully, needs lots of TLC, die with an blink of an eye. 

So I never actually tried it. Now I know it's all false. Just imagine my regret now.

My ignorance got punished with years of yeast breads.

jey13's picture
jey13

It can be “complicated.” Yeast bread recipes are like cookie dough recipes. One size fits most. I’m not saying the yeast dough is as easy to make as a chocolate cookie, infallible or without issues—but compared to sourdough, you can follow the recipe and get, most of the time, what you expected. Because the yeast, if good, is also reliable.

Starter ain’t so reliable. Hot day? It’ll speed up. Cold day, it’ll slow down. One day it doubles, the next not. You may even have to change how you feed it now and then—add more water, or more flour—like you’re doing now. Likewise, how it acts inside the dough can also change loaf to loaf. 

Which, again, isn’t to say sourdough can’t be made “reliably.” Just that you have to figure out your own formula first. For example, I have a unique oven and my sourdough wasn’t going to work until I realized the temperature had to be different than in the recipe. Chocolate chip cookies never gave me that problem. 350 for cookie is 350 no matter what oven. But for sourdough...it would not “oven spring” until I got it right.

Sourdough is not a “one size fits most.” Sourdough is like making your own clothes. You can be shown how it’s done and given a pattern, but you have to make adjustments so that it fits you, in particular. But one thing you’re right about—it’s nothing to fear. All these passionate sourdough lovers enjoy that process. It is an adventure and when you finally figure out your unique formula for making this bread, and it comes out all puffed up and crispy crusted and delicious inside time and again...you’ll feel more satisfaction than you ever did making a more reliable yeast bread. Promise.