The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter question

begoniabol's picture
begoniabol

Starter question

Hello everyone. I'm new to this site and also very new to baking.

I'm trying to make a sourdough starter. This is my third attempt. I started it on the 17th of November using the pineapple juice method posted on this site. I used organic whole wheat flour at first, after the 3 days I switched to organic unbleached white flour and fed it once a day (keep 1/4 cup starter, discarding the rest, add 1/4th cup flour, a little less than 1/4th cup water). I noticed it grew a bit after 5 days, however after a while it seemed to have died down. I did notice white fluffy fungus on the side of the container after feeding it once and I immediately discarded all but 1/4 cup of starter and put it in a clean container and fed it again. Since then, activity seemed to have died down. After about 4 days in the new container, the starter got a very bad smell; it smelled of baby vomit. Since then I started feeding it twice a day, but now, about 7 days later it still smells (it smells of strong yoghurt and almost vinegary, is that good or not?) and seems to be hungry a lot (has a layer of water on top). It sometimes seems like it's a bit cloudy under the layer of water; I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Could it be the temperature? I placed it in a towel, because at night the temperature in my house drops to about 16 C. During the day it's around 19,5-20,5 C. I placed the container in the kitchen, near the stove and about 50 cm away from a radiator; I didn't want it to become very hot. I don't have a place where there's a constant warmish temperature.

I apologize for the long text, I tried to be as detailed as possible. Does anyone have tips for me? Should I feed it more? Is it heading in the right direction or do I have to start over?

Thanks in advance!

BaniJP's picture
BaniJP

The thing I immediately notice is that the starter seems to be very wet if you feed it 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup flour. Water and flour have very different weights, so going by volume isn't the best way to go with starters.
Instead, go by weight, flour and water in a ratio of 1:1 is the most common feeding (easy to manage, easy to calculate with).

he fact that your starter is very wet might be also be the answer to some other mysteries: the starter is too wet or the gluten structure is too fragile to hold any bubbles. They just float to the top, pop and the starter doesn't rise.

Also the wetter a dough, the faster it ferments (something to do with water availability), so your starter is hungry again very quickly, which results in a sour liquid (called hooch) forming on top of the starter - a sign that the starter is very hungry.

That hunger also might be the reason for the strong smells. It should smell yeasty, sour (like a light vinegar), bread, earthy...there are many words to describe the smell and every starter is unique. As long as it smells sour and not somehow "bad" (moldy, rancid, etc.). If there is mold, take a piece that isn't affected yet (and discard the rest), it should be fine.

The room temp of 16-20°C is fine, just the right ambience. A constant temperature is not necessary, as long as it's not freezing or sweating hot (like +35°C). 20-25°C is kinda the sweet spot, but a few degrees more or less is totally fine. Overall, the colder it is, the slower the fermentation, the warmer, the faster.  

There are other factors that affect fermentation rate, but lets get into that once your starter is active.

For now, I would just mix 1 Tbsp of your starter with 50 g water and 50 g bread flour. After 24 h, discard all but 1 Tbsp and mix again with 50 g water and 50 g flour. Repeat this for 4-5 days and if your starter doesn't show any activity then (should significantly grow in size, bubbly and/or frothy and smells like described above), you might need to start over.

Hope this helps :)

 

begoniabol's picture
begoniabol

Hello BaniJP,

Thank you so much for your fantastic advice! I will weigh the flour and the water from now on and feed it once a day. Hopefully there will be some good results.

I already thought it was too watery when I added the 1/4 water to the mixture, which is why I reduced it a little so the starter would become more like a porridgy paste. My instinct told me it looked better.

Should I keep the tub wrapped in a towel, or is that unnecessary?

I will keep you posted!

BaniJP's picture
BaniJP

I don't think it's necessary, as long as it's covered with a lid, cloth or similar, it's enough.

Looking forward to your updates!