The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Questions from a first timer

Marni's picture
Marni

Questions from a first timer

Hi,

I just found this site a few days ago when I was searching to see what I had done wrong with my first attempt at a sourdough starter.  This site is amazing and you all know so much. I have found I have a lot to learn.

I have been baking bread for almost 20 years (just at home , for my family- I don't like store bought bread), but I have zero sourdough experience.  I have wanted to try this for a long time.  I tried a starter that used potato water and unbleached white and I think I threw it out too soon.  I learned here that it needed to be fed more, I think.  It just looked tan colored, had a layer of liquid on top and smelled neutral at six days with one feeding on day 5. If anyone can tell me what that meant I'll be prepared for future starters.

After disgarding that, I started a variation of one on this site using pineapple juice.  I don't have rye flour, so I used organic stone ground whole wheat.  I mixed it with the same ratio, but after reading some comments decided that it needed more juice to look like "thick batter".  It has been sitting covered with a linen dish towel for about 23 hours. It doesn't look much different except it is drying out around the edges.  I would like to feed it as instructed, but should I remove just the moist parts to a new container.  It is in a pyrex dish.  I did forget and used a metal spoon to measure the juice, but mixed with plastic.

I would really like to get a good starter going and would appreciate any comments or tips.  Thanks.

sphealey's picture
sphealey

=== I mixed it with the same ratio, but after reading some comments decided that it needed more juice to look like "thick batter". It has been sitting covered with a linen dish towel for about 23 hours. It doesn't look much different except it is drying out around the edges. I would like to feed it as instructed, but should I remove just the moist parts to a new container. It is in a pyrex dish. I did forget and used a metal spoon to measure the juice, but mixed with plastic. ===

Generally speaking, you are on the right path. Perhaps I could offer a few thoughts that might help, but overall I would just advise not falling victim to "starter stress" ;-)

It took me four tries to get a starter going from scratch. In fact I had already ordered a sample of starter from King Arthur and was getting ready to throw out the fourth one when it suddenly started rising! A great day.

Pick one method and stay with it for at least two weeks. The methods in Rose Levy Beranbaum's _Bread Bible_, Hamelman's _Bread_, or _The Bread Builders_ are all fairly easy to follow. I would personally avoid the methods that call for 27 feedings per day or other extreme techniques.

Most instructions I have seen call for leaving the first mix standing for 48 hours before the first discard/feeding cycle. The next feeding ususally comes at 24 hours after that, and then generally at 24 hour intervals for a week or so. Reinhart recommends stirring the mix one or more times during the first few feeding cycles including the 48 hour period; he has some reports that oxygenating the mix helps create the right balance of bacteria and yeast.

You don't need rye, or organic whole wheat, or even whole wheat - people have made starters with refined white flour for a long time. Many people report that starters given an initial feeding of whole grain, especially with some rye, grow faster and more reliably. But it is not necessary. Similarly organic flours have a tendency to do better, but aren't necessary.

Go with a consistent measure by weight as recommened in the method you are following. Eventually you will be able to judge your mature, stable starter by eye or feel but the young starter goes through so many changes of density, viscosity, and slippriness that you have to weigh it to be sure.

Finally if you want to get some experience baking rather than growing there is nothing wrong with ordering a starter sample from King Arthur or Sourdo.com. Alan Scott in _The Bread Builders_ recommends this so that people can get started baking faster. I enjoyed growing my starter but I do see his point since I was screaming with frustration after the third try which probably wasn't the best path to enlightenment.

Hope that helps. Just have fun and see what happens.

sPh

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

I think the answers from sPh are right on the mark. In my opinion, the phrase "Pick one method and stay with it for at least two weeks." is the most important message. In other words, relax. Folks have been creating sourdough, intentionally and by accident, for thousands of years. There is no one "right" way.

I've started several of them over time, both wild yeast and from a purchased culture. The only real failure I've had was when one of them turned pinkish and started to smell like really rotten garbage. Pink is not good in saurkraut so I figured it wasn't good for starter either and tossed it. That was one of my wild ones, by the way.

Don't sweat the metal spoon. The reason people recommend against metal is that sourdough is acidic, and, over time, will react chemically with a pitted container, an aluminum pan, or your copper egg-whisking bowl. I wouldn't store sourdough in metal (I use glass) but certainly stirring it with a metal spoon isn't going to take long enough to cause any harm. I do it all the time.

I have to admit that I sometimes get involved with over-tweeking my starter, and can't let a good thing alone. Usually it rewards me by sulking. Then I realize what I'm doing and go back to my original plan, and it responds happily again.

Sure hope your sourdough project turns out great. I won't wish you good luck, because to me that sounds as if I think you will need luck to get a starter going. You don't. Just pick a plan and follow it, and give Mother Nature time to work. She's on your side.

Mary in Hammondsport

 

Marni's picture
Marni

Thank you so much for your advice and kind support.  I really appreciate the help. I was very relaxed about the first try and then gave up - bad move, I now know- so this time I guess, yes I'm a bit tense. I added the second amount yesterday and it is already showing little bubble holes this morning. Very exciting!

Thanks again,

 Marni