The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

First Starter Attempt

Bored Baguette's picture
Bored Baguette

First Starter Attempt

So a little over a week ago I tried making my first starter... It seemed to be going fairly well, it probably doubled in size within the first hour, before deflating. However, since that first day, I haven't seen it rise at all. It has developed a sour, beer-like scent, but as I said it has remained at roughly the same level. At first, I assumed it would simply take more time, as I'm just keeping it at room temperature, but now I'm thinking I may have made a mistake. Any ideas as to how I may have messed up?

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Hi, Bored Baguette!

 

Welcome to the wonderful world of sourdough baking, located conveniently at the intersection of cutting edge science and voodoo mysticism!  😂 

 

You are currently experiencing a very common phenomenon, where the reality of managing the evolution of a colony of living micro-organisms doesn’t quite match up to the hype of hundreds (if not thousands) of 5 minute internet videos that promise a healthy active sourdough starter in just 4 easy steps.

 

The plus side is that you are on the right track.  The other plus side is that you’ve come to the right place! If you share some details with us (quantities, flour type, ambient temperature, etc.) we’ll be happy to help you tweak the process.  In the meanwhile, keep going with your starter, as smelling sour and beer-like are definitely encouraging signs.

 

If you are up for a wee bit of not-so-light reading, I highly encourage you to read the two-part article by Debra Wink that deals with the Pineapple Juice Solution.   This article gives a very detailed look into just what exactly is happening inside of a starter as it evolves from being a clump of flour and water to being a thriving ecosystem of wild yeasts and lactic acid producing bacteria.

 

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/10901/pineapple-juice-solution-part-2

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

A few things that I found helpful when developing my starter:

  1. Flour type:  Try to have some sort of whole grain flour, such at rye or whole wheat, in addition to the bread flour or all-purpose flour that you may be using.  Whole grain flours tend to have a higher concentration of wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria, having not been stripped completely of their bran coating.  Steer clear of flours that have been bleached, as these have the least potential for inoculating your starter with the micro-organisms you are trying to encourage.
  2. Water:  use room temperature (or slightly warmed) water that is clear of contaminants or added chemicals such as chlorine or chloramines.  If you are using a municipal water source, this may mean filtering or using bottled water.  
  3. Quantities:  Your best results will come when measuring your ingredients out using a scale, rather than by volume.  “Equal parts by weight” is highly accurate and repeatable, whereas using measuring cups and spoons can give you wildly different measurements depending on a number of factors, not the least of which is the fact that 1/2C water is about twice the amount of 1/2C flour.
  4. Quantities, pt 2:  Most of the videos I watched when deciding I wanted to give sourdough a try talked about starting with a half cup of flour or more, which meant that at least once a day I would be throwing away a lot of flour (they say you can use the discard in other recipes, but this is only true after your starter has fully developed).  You will develop the exact same starter whether you use 10 grams of flour or a pound, but the smaller amount wastes less flour.  A small starter can always be scaled up when you’re ready to use it, and can be stored in a smaller container in the meantime (I use a pint-sized mason jar with a loose fitting lid).
Breadifornia's picture
Breadifornia

One of the most reliable methods I have come across for making your own starter involves making natural yeast water first, then combining the yeast water with flour in equal parts, letting it double, and feeding a few times.  I tried several times with just water/flour, and it was very hit and miss.  With the yeast water method, I've never had any difficulties. A good intro to making yeast water is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8jbrE-BB9U. Good luck! 

Bored Baguette's picture
Bored Baguette

I'll be sure to use them with my next starter. In terms of rescuing, or continuing, my current starter, I used 2 cups of flour. It's what my main source suggested, but looking back it likely was a waste of flour as you said. Regardless, I mixed it with equal parts (by volume) water and a package of active dry yeast. The rest went as I described. Do you have any suggestions other than simply waiting?... And how long should I wait before declaring it a failure?

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

I wouldn’t scrap the one you’ve got going, just reduce it’s size, and continue feeding on the same schedule.  You’ll start to see some action from it before too much longer.

 

What kind of flour are you currently using?  Do you have a kitchen scale that is capable of measuring in grams?

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

As for how to reduce the size of your feedings, simply take 10 grams of your current starter, and to that you would add 10 grams of flour and 10 grams of water.  Mix it up and place it into a small glass container (I use a pint-size mason jar).  Put a rubber band around it to mark its level, so that you can easily tell when you’re starting to see some rise out of it.

 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

I just re-read what you had written...  since you added a commercial yeast, I WOULD scrap that and start over.

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Ok, so let’s get a little more info about your setup, in order to help you start over. 

 

  1. What kind of flour do you have available
  2. Do you have a kitchen scale? (not absolutely necessary, but highly recommended)
  3. What is your water supply like?  City or well, and is it treated in any way that would make it advisable to filter it?
  4. What kind of ambient temperatures are you working with in your kitchen?  Do you have any spot that is relatively warm, and away from direct sunlight?
Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Ok, so let’s get a little more info about your setup, in order to help you start over. 

 

  1. What kind of flour do you have available
  2. Do you have a kitchen scale? (not absolutely necessary, but highly recommended)
  3. What is your water supply like?  City or well, and is it treated in any way that would make it advisable to filter it?
  4. What kind of ambient temperatures are you working with in your kitchen?  Do you have any spot that is relatively warm, and away from direct sunlight?