The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter newbie questions - when to bake?

annamikemc's picture
annamikemc

Starter newbie questions - when to bake?

Hello all! I've been maintaining my new starters based on Sourdolady's instructions posted on this site and I have some questions. I started using one main starter which I have used to make three total - white, rye, and whole wheat. I've been adding my 1/4 cup flour and water daily and tonight is Day 10. After each feeing, they seem to expand within a couple of hours - maybe not double, but maybe grow by about 50-75%, although the rye seems to be less active than the others. But then by morning they've collapsed back down to the original 1/4 cup amount I began with!

This has been happening for about 4 days now. Is this normal? I have not tried any other methods because I like the small amounts of flour this one uses, so I don't have any point of comparison.

They all smell very yeasty (like a poolish, I suppose, although I'm new to all of this) and are quite bubbly. When will these be viable to bake with? Can I use them in any sourdough recipe? They are like thick pancake batter consistency, so I don't know what has to be done to accomodate different types of recipes.

Sorry if these are dumb questions, this is my first venture into sourdough territory!

Thanks!

Anna 

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

this ones for you! Anna..hang in there, she will answer you. She is the one who got me on the road to success.

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Hi Anna, and welcome to sourdough! First of all, how many days old is your starter? Yes, it is normal for it to expand and then fall by morning. It just means that the starter has consumed all the nutrients in the flour and it needs more food. You should probably start feeding it twice a day now that it is active. Once it gets to be about two weeks old you can move it to the fridge and it can go a week between feedings (or longer).

The consistency of the starter is up to you. Some people prefer a liquid starter and some like a firm starter. A firmer consistency will tend to rise to a higher volume. The volume you are seeing is pretty consistent of a liquid starter. In the early stages quite liquid is better to get the yeast going but now that you have achieved that, you might want to thicken it up a bit more. A lot of people like to use equal weights of flour and water, for example: 4 oz. water and 4 oz. flour (instead of 1/2 cup and 1/2 cup). This will make a thicker consistency.

It sounds like your starter is quite active so go ahead and try a loaf of bread. It will continue to get stronger over the next few weeks so don't be discouraged if it doesn't rise as well yet. Sourdough almost always takes several hours to rise before baking, unlike commercial yeast which is ready in an hour or less. This is normal!

As far as recipes go, you pretty much have to adapt for the hydration level of your sourdough. As you gain some experience you will get a feel for how the dough should look. Most generally, wetter is better. Your doughs will firm up a lot as you knead or fold, so in the beginning they should be quite sticky. Look at some of the videos on the site to see what some of the doughs look like while they are being worked with. 

annamikemc's picture
annamikemc

Thanks SourdoLady! Today is Day 13 of my starters. I will start with morning and evening feedings per your advice. It kills me to throw all that away so often, but luckily your guidelines call for much less flour than others! Can I safely scale other starter instructions? It seems so excessive to me to use cups and cups of flour to just throw it away.

Last night we took out some of Whitey (the AP starter - the most active) and only fed him flour to attempt a stiff starter conversion. We'll be making Hamelman's Pain au Levain this weekend...I hope it works! This morning the stiff starter had more than doubled and was nice and bubbly. The "Levain build" in the recipe only needs 2 Tbsp of the stiff starter - will that be enough for a young-ish starter? Can I add more to boost it along, reducing the flour/water ratios called for in the build? Also, the recipe only calls for about 2-3 hrs for the first and final rise, which seems like not long enough from what I've read. Any insight on that? For a 2-week old starter I don't know if that is enough time to rise... Can I add a bit of yeast to help it along or does that just defeat the purpose? :P

Lastly, are there any other websites/blogs devoted to sourdough? I loved your instructions and would like to see more site like it! It really helps to see pictures and be told everything in laymen's terms. I was browsing my ever-growing book library and feel a bit overwhelmed by all of the sourdough information!

Thanks again!
Anna

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

Anna has more questions for you...

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Sorry, I didn't see your post yesterday. If your starters are on day 13 you should be able to bake good bread with them now. After a couple of days of feeding twice a day and seeing good strong activity, go ahead and store them in the fridge.

I wouldn't mess with Hamelman's formula. Your starter should be strong enough to work just fine. The 2 Tbsp. gets mixed with more flour and water and then is left to ferment for several hours. At the end of this time your starter mixture should be very active and full of bubbles.

Your rising time for the bread may differ from Hamelman's recipe. The final rise is the one that is important to get right. Go by how it looks more than how much time has elapsed. If it doesn't look like it has risen enough then give it more time.

There is another site that I spend a lot of time at that has quite a bit of sourdough activity going on. It is also a forum. Here's a link: http://www.recipezaar.com/bb/viewforum.zsp?f=26