The Fresh Loaf

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SD Starter - Starting or flopping?

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

SD Starter - Starting or flopping?

Well, it's day 6 and I have no idea what's going on with my little buckaroo. I stir it up, dump all but 1/4 cup, add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, stir it up again, and all it does is make a layer of hooch after a few hours. I could swear that it grew to about 3 times its size on day 4, but I'm basing that on the residue on the sides of the container. I never actually saw it grow. I've kept a closer eye on it since then, and all it does is bubble some -- not a lot -- and form a layer of hooch. If it grows, it does it in the 10 minutes I'm not looking. I believe it's not growing at all.

I have no idea why it won't show more activity. I started out following S. John Ross' instructions, feeding once a day. On day 4 I switched from rye flour to KA AP flour. That may have been a mistake. I also upped the feeding from once a day to twice a day, and now I just get hooch quicker than I did before.

I'm going to continue journaling about this in just this one blog entry, using the comments below to update it. The performance isn't worth a new blog entry every day.

Comments

bwraith's picture
bwraith

An easy test is to make moe of a dough out of it. At 1:1 by volume, it will be too thin to rise.

Take 1 tsp of starter, mix with 2 tbsp water and 3.5 tbsp AP flour. Mix into a thick paste or soft dough. The amount of water absorbed by flour varies over a big range, so you can adjust the flour if it is still more of a batter than a thick paste or soft dough.

The dough should rise at this consistency but how far and how fast is a function of the temperature, details of the flour, shape of container,  how much you mix it, and so on. Around room temperature, I would expect it to rise in less than 12 hours, maybe closer to 6 hours at warmer temperatures and if it's doing very well.

Bill

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

Thank you so much for taking the time to help. Am I correct in assuming I need to feed it first and give it a little time to process before I do this?

rbw

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

rbw,

I'm not very familiar with liquid starters, so I don't know just when in it's life cycle your starter might be at its peak strength. Ideally, you might do what I'm suggesting above a few hours after it has been fed, which is when it should be gaining strength or getting to its peak, depending on temperature. If it is long after the starter has peaked, then the starter will be in a weakened condition and may take a while longer to rise than it would if you do it when the starter is at peak strength.

Bill

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

Thanks, Bill, this helps a lot. I'll get started right now (have to feed it first) and post the results here once I have something.

rbw

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

rbw,

Thinking about it a little more, I would suggest using more like 2 tsp of starter, which may require you to use more flour with the 2 tbsp water, like maybe 4-4.5 tbsp of flour to get a very thick paste or a soft dough consistency. The reason for this is that your wetter starter contains less flour in a given volume than my typical firmer starter. To get a reasonable feeding ratio (old starter flour to new flour), you should use a little more of your starter than I would with my firmer starter to match the amounts of flour.

It will work either way if the starter is healthy, though. It will just take somewhat longer with the lower amount of wetter starter for the dough you make to rise.

By the way, what I described is the typical feeding routine I might use for a thick paste or soft dough consistency starter, feeding it at about 70F every 12-24 hours. The feeding rate is closer to every 24 hours at 70F and every 12 hours at 80F using the routine below of 1 tsp starter with 2 tbsp water and 3.5 tbsp flour, (well, what I normally do is by weight: 5-10g of starter, 20-25g water, 25-30g flour).

I don't know if someone is listening who maintains a wetter starter, e.g. the Silverton starter, they may be able to say what is their typical feeding ratio, feeding frequency, and temperature to maintain a wetter starter.

Bill

Marni's picture
Marni

I just wanted to say I commiserate with you and your starter saga.  I tried twice before my third try worked- all using the same method (one with different flour) so go figure.  But it did finally work and yours will too. 

Marni

blberman's picture
blberman

in your attempt to grow a sourdough starter. I started with one of the Gold Rush sourdough starter packets and followed the instructions. The result was a soupy, think pancake like batter that bubbled up nicely on day two, but then went flat and makes nothing but hooch just like yours. I tried making a small dough ball as Bill suggested, and it never rose in 24 hours, so evidently I don't have active yeast growing. I just baked the dough for the fun of it and it tasted vaguely sour, but mostly it was just a dense roll of flour and water.

Anyhoo, I just dumped all but 1/2C of it and I'll try adding 1C water and 1C flour to see if I can revive it. If this fails, I will probably try the firm starter method "Glezer":

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/2390/firm-starter-glezer-recipe

 

Good luck to you rbw!

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I looked at your pictures and saw that there was a plastic film and then the lid. Your starter need to breath. I would dump a good half of the starter, feed it some flour and water in a thick paste, clean the jar, rinse it in hot water then put the starter in it and make sure the lid is not placed properly so air gets in. If it doesn't bubble in 12 hours it really isn't happy and I'd start over.

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

Thanks everyone for your interest and your encouraging comments!

Bill, you are, as always, a veritable font of knowledge. I have noticed that when you've taken an active role in other people's discussions about their sourdough woes, they've suddenly turned it all around and their little yeastie beasties have done well. I'm counting on your mojo to rub off over here!

Marni, your 3rd, and successful, sourdough attempt was a true inspiration for me, and I was so glad when you reported that it rose a loaf of bread. I have high hopes for mine.

blberman, I know how you feel. It's very frustrating. I tell ya, I shadowed other discussions, thinking all I have to do is what these other folks are being advised to do, and it should work. But it wasn't that easy. I'm glad I blogged here about my troubles, instead of just keeping a journal at home, because the help that's coming in is great!

Janedo, thanks for the input, but those aren't my pictures. I haven't posted any pictures of my starter because I'm one of those rare 21st century creatures without a digital camera. My starter is in a plastic container with a cheesecloth cover. The container has straight sides so I can measure growth, if only there were any!

And now I'll tell you all what happened since late last week. I fed the starter one more time, with 1/2 cup rye flour and a little less than 1/2 cup water. I wanted to make a thicker starter to see if there was any growth or not. I put the container where I could see it all the time, and it never did anything. Nothing, nada, zip.  Finally, knowing I had a busy couple of days ahead of me, I put it back on top of the fridge and figured I'd clean it out as soon as I got some free time, and start over again later.

Well, today I peeked at it, out of morbid curiosity more than anything else. The top is drying out, which I figured would happen with the low amount of water I used with the rye flour. It really soaks up the water, you know? And I've had nothing covering it but cheesecloth, and the humidity has been really low for us, so I'm not surprised about the top drying out at all. It's not hard and crunchy, but it's a lot drier than the starter underneath that top layer.

BUT... underneath the crust, it's bubble city! Big bubbles, not those teeny tiny bubbles from day 3. It even smells yeasty! I'm looking at it now. There's a very thin layer of hooch on top that has formed just within the past couple of hours. And I do mean *very* thin. It was forming a fat layer of hooch in very little time before. This is much thinner, maybe 1/8" thick. The bubbles below the surface are still there. The last time it was fed was Friday night at 6pm. I'm not sure what happened.  Perhaps it's shy.  Perhaps it's a lone wolf.  ;)  Whatever, I'm just so glad that something good is happening!

I'm now going to dump most of it, especially the dry top, and I'm going to feed it another 1/2 cup of flour and water. I don't know when it's going to be kosher to introduce AP flour in again, but for the time being, I'm going to feed it rye since that seems to have done the trick.

And now, my dilemma...

I was really hoping it would be established by now because I'm going out of town for several days starting Wednesday, 2 days from today. Based on its earlier non-performance, I was figuring I'd start another starter when I got back home next week, but now it's looking like this one is going to pull through. Should I take it on the road with me? None of my friends will accept the responsibility of feeding it while I'm gone. I'm certain the temp in my truck won't get above 75 or 80, because I just won't tolerate that sort of thing. I'm looking at a 5 hour drive each way, and other than that, it would be in my daughter's apartment. Your thoughts?

rbw

 

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I don't know what I was looking at then, but I have the excuse of being new!

One thing is that I wouldn't put it in plastic, that's a sourdough no no. Ceramic or glass.

I would recommend giving it a good feed, letting it develop a few hours, then putting in the fridge covered with a hard top with a tiny hole to breathe. A mason jar with the lid just sitting but not fixed is perfect. For three days absence he should be fine. 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

rbw,

My approach to storage is to feed it and put it in the refrigerator immediately. There is some theory to suggest a culture should keep better if it is refrigerated fairly soon after feeding. The reason you hear that advice in some books is that there are scientific studies showing that yeast cells die more quickly at low temperatures if acid levels are high.

Some food-safe plastic containers should be OK with sourdough, but I agree with Jane that if you have a choice, a glass container is the least likely to have problems with the acids in sourdough or leak any unwanted chemicals into the culture over time. 

I used to use loosely fitting lids, just as Jane mentions. However, for the last year I've tightly closed the lids on my starter jars, particularly ones left for months at my parents cabin in Montana, where I visit every few months. The reason I did it was concern that the starters would dry out over time if not air tight. It didn't seem to make any difference, for what it's worth.

Bill

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

Jane, no problem. Your excuse is a good one and should serve you well for at least a couple of months! :) And my I just say, welcome to the Fresh Loaf!

Bill, thanks so much for all your help. I understand the idea behind putting a freshly-fed starter in the fridge. I read about it somewhere here and it does make sense. I'm hoping this one is established enough to do that, though I suppose that going into cold storage is basically slowing everything down, so when I come back and put it back to room temp, I'll probably be about where I am right now. Or is that just me, living in denial? :)

So I've got to get rid of my plastic container? Bummer. But you've only got to say "unwanted chemicals" once and I get it. Thanks for the tip, both of you.

On a side note and totally off-topic (forgive me), but you did bring it up... Montana, Bill? Oh, I'm so jealous! First Mark of the Back Home Bakery in Kallispell, and now you. Can I ask where in Montana you go? I spent a few weeks there one summer, backpacking through the western side of Glacier National Park with my daughter, and I've never seen any place more pristine or beautiful! I yearn to go back, but man, it's a loooong drive from south Texas, and flying with gear is next to impossible nowadays. But one of these days I will make it back up there. It's a magical place.

rbw

 

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I'm really not familiar at all with "the American way", but anyone here who has a liquid or thick starter and doesn't use it every day will always keep it in the fridge. It can live quite happily in a sleep-like state for at least a week, then brought to room temperature and fed, bread making starting when the starter is in full activity. You'll might end up a step backward but at least it won't die!

Interesting info Bill. Doesn't the starter die if it's just left with no air un an air-tight jar? Would you close it tight if it's a starter that is being fed and used regularly? I guess maybe one difference is that I feed ALL my starter every day and not just a portion for making one bread. That way I can make bread, then a cake, some pancakes, etc and the starter is ready. And because of that I leave the lid so that air can get in because an active starter needs to breathe.

I know some people who had sluggish starters and they kept them in plastic containers. When they changed to ceramic/glass, the starters livened up. Something going on there! I never thought about the chemical leakage, yuck!

Anyway, good luck with it!

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Jane,

I don't know if a starter needs to breathe, but here is what happened in my case.

About a year ago, I found some good cylindrical, glass, squat jars with plastic lids. At the time, I had read differing opinions here on TFL regarding whether to use a tight lid or not on a starter. So, I tried maintaining one starter with a tightly screwed on lid, and one with a very loose lid for a few days. It seemed to make no difference that I could tell. I've gone through numerous cycles in the refrigerator and out on the counter with the same glass jars mentioned above, and I've screwed the lid on fairly tightly for a good year now. I know there are some TFL people who know the biochemistry and could probably help explain all this. Maybe it's just that my lids leak, but they are fairly tight and have a plastic gasket that ought to seal fairly well.

On the side of giving oxygen to a starter, it's commonly recommended to periodically stir a new starter. The suggested reasons are to mix in some oxygen and to mix potential airborne unwanted organisms down into the hostile acid environment of the culture to kill them. So, maybe getting some oxygen does help. It's also commonly recommended to stir up and aerate old starter with water before adding new flour when feeding a starter. There again, the implication is that oxygen helps. I do those things, but then I also do put the lid on tight on my starters, both when maintaining at room temperature and when storing in the refrigerator, and the starters have been healthy for a good year doing it this way.

The longest I've left a starter in the refrigerator was in my parents cabin in Montana, where some starter sat for 6 months between a summer  visit and Christmas last year. It was tightly lidded, and oops, it was in a plastic food storage container with a screw on lid, the only thing I could find when I needed to store it away before leaving. Six months later, I was able to revive it and bake a perfectly fine loaf 36 hours from the time I removed it from the refrigerator. The way I stored it was to feed it about 1:3:5 (starter:water:flour by weight) and put it in the refrigerator. I've repeated this cycle a couple of times, now. Just this morning I baked a sourdough loaf here in Montana using a 3 month old starter I last fully refreshed on Christmas. I first fed the starter at about 7PM day before yesterday, made a levain at about 6PM yesterday evening, and baked bread this morning at about 7 AM. Yes, I did set the alarm a few times and wake up and fold it and shape it during the night, hehe. There was snow coming down last night and skiing to be done during the day today.

Bill

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I find that really fascinating! Thanks for the info. It just goes to show how common beliefs can be wrong. Now I'm going to do a bunch of tests to publish on my blog. I'll probably bug you with questions.

 My dad was born in Great Falls Montana. While you are in snow, I'm watching spring arrive with flowering fruit trees and temps as high as 70°F. My husband would much rather be in the snow. He'd love it over there. 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Jane,

I'll be curious to know if you find the same thing or not about using a tightly sealed lid. I think it's OK to tightly seal the lid, but maybe it's just that my lids aren't as good as I think they are.

They have beautiful wildflowers in the mountain meadows here in the spring, but I rarely manage to be here then. My dad's side of the family are all from Montana, and my brother was born in Butte.

Bill

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

Hey guys, I'm happy to report that my little buckaroo is flourishing! As you suggested, Bill, I thickened him up and he's bubbling like mad. I feel good about leaving him in cold storage for a few days now. Then again, he's doing so well, I may take him with me and bake some fine sourdough while visiting the girl child.

I want to thank everyone for all your help and encouragement. And my little buckaroo thanks you, too! :)

rbw

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

rbw,

It was probably fine all along. It's just that a very wet starter doesn't rise, so it's harder to judge how active it is, unless you have some experience with wet starters and can recognize the aroma, foaminess, consistency, and whatever mysterious things an experienced wet starter expert might look at when judging the health of that type of starter. I'm glad to hear it's rising in dough or paste form.

I've had luck traveling with starter, but I hear you can run into trouble hand carrying it with all the security concerns. I've put a tiny extremely dry dough ball in a tightly sealed miniature jar in my suitcase, and it survived for a couple of days on and off planes and cars. This was during the summer, and the weather was hot. The starter was exposed to some very warm temperatures for hours, but it revived quickly nonetheless.

Bill

 

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I was thinking about it yesterday because I'm doing some liquid sourdough experiments and I think that when we start a baby starter we tend to look all the time and judge the appearance, etc. The experiment I'm doing is to just leave some flour and water and see what happens. After 3-4 days I feed it, no matter what the appearance is, and then feed again a day later. Every single time the starter works. I don't add honey, I don't stir at the beginning, just flour and water. Really interesting. And so, to go to what Bill was saying, it was probably fine all along but when we aren't sure what to look for, it just looks soupy and useless... but it's there.

Thats' a great idea to make a firm starter to bring on holiday. The rest you can just leave in the fridge and while you're there do the method of taking part of the dough from the bread for the next starter. Hadn't thought about that. Bill, you're full of good ideas!