The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Seed Culture Troubleshooting

JBigger's picture
JBigger

Seed Culture Troubleshooting

Hi Everyone,

I'm Jessica and I'm new here on the forum. I was hoping some of you could help me figure out if my starter just needs more time or if I scrap it and start all over. I've looked through some of the other sourdough forum discussions, but I could still use a little help to figure this out.

I started a seed culture 6 days ago using Ken Forkish's instructions. I've also consulted Peter Reinhart's books too to troubleshoot. I used King Arthurs whole wheat flour and filtered water around 90 degrees F, according to Forkish's book. The temps in my house are around 78-81 F degrees. I've used whole wheat each day for feeding. I started the culture and have fed it in the mornings. In Forkish's book you are supposed to leave the starter uncovered for the first two hours and then cover it until the next morning. So, that is what I've done each day.

Day 1: Doubled in size by the late evening, lots of bubbles (very gassy) smells the way Forkish described (leathery). 

Day 2: Doubled in size by the end of the day (which Forkish said would happen), bubbly and gassy, leathery smell again (Forkish said it would be more of a sour smell at this point, which did not happen)

Day 3: When I woke up in the morning the culture that had doubled in size on Day 2 actually fell and turned into more of a pancake batter consistency, not too many bubbles, but still a leathery smell. I used a portion of the starter and added the same amount of whole wheat and water as before. 

Day 4: Starter did not rise and still had the consistency of pancake batter. So I added the whole wheat flour and less water. 

Day 5: I didn't do anything. Let the starter breathe a few times and then kept it covered.

Day 6: (Today): Still jas not risen and there are no bubbles. I opened up the container, left it air for a while and then decided to keep 1 cup of starter and add 1 cup King Arthur Bread Flour and water according to Reinhart. 

What happened after Day 3? Why did the starter fall and lose its gassiness and become more of a pancake batter consistency? Should I have just started over or was it ok to use this starter and continue to feed according to the schedule?

Any help is much appreciated. Thanks!

phaz's picture
phaz

Pretty normal so far. Right now it's in the process of turning acidic, which helps the yeast. Initial activity most likely due to bacteria we don't want, but that's how it all starts. I would cut back on feeding - we feed when there's activity, no activity, no real need for food. At this stage too much food or too often can dilute things slowing down the process. Just a note - if using volume (you mentioned cups), water is about twice as heavy as flour by volume, so you'd probably want to use 1/2 cup water to 1 cup flour. Things will thicken up and make it easier to see a rise and bubbles. Many start to question the process at this point (mostly cuz things aren't happening exactly the same as it said in the book/recipe/video) and call it quits and start another - only to reach this same point again. If I don't see anything good in 3 weeks, I start over. A week is just to get things started, the best is yet to come. Enjoy!

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Hi, Jessica!

 

Phaz is right.  It all seems to be progressing normally. If you haven’t stumbled upon it yet, Debra Wink’s article “The Pineapple Juice Solution (parts 1&2)” is an excellent read, and explains in great detail the process by which a mix of plain old flour and plain old water transforms into the living breathing microorganism ecosystem that is sourdough starter.

 

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


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

 

Don’t give up on this one.  You’re well on your way.  Something you may want to consider is drastically reducing the size of your starter.  If you have a kitchen scale that is capable of measuring in grams, you should use it to measure out your ingredients, as measuring by weight is much more reliable and repeatable than measuring by volume.  What you are looking to create is a ratio of 1 part starter to 1 part water to 1 part flour, or 1:1:1. You will get the exact same starter if you’re using 10 grams or 2 pounds, so reduce the size and save yourself a lot of waste (you don’t want to be using the discard in other recipes until your starter has reached the point of being alive and active).  Once your starter has matured, it’s easy enough to scale it up to have enough to bake with.  I keep my starter (Randolph) small, using only 10 grams of starter carryover.  He fits in a pint-sized mason jar, and takes up almost no space at all next to our coffee pot.  Randolph took a little over 3 weeks to start rising predictably.  He was pancake-batter thin right up until that point, and then he thickened up.

Lastly, 90f is kind of a high temperature to be keeping your starter.  I would think that if your regular room temp is 78-81f, that should be just about perfect.

JBigger's picture
JBigger

Thank you Phaz and Mr. Immortal. That helps explain things. So far, taking out some starter and adding the bread flour with less water definitely helped. It's bubbly and doubled in size and has an alcohol smell. Only other question is can I still use pineapple juice this late in the stage, or just do what Reinhart says, just stick with it and eventually the lactobacillus takes over. I'll let it sit for today and maybe feed it tomorrow?

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

The pineapple juice would probably not help at this point.  The purpose of the pineapple juice is to reduce the pH of the mix at the start of the process, in effect bypassing the not-so-pleasant bacteria and the beginnings toward acidification that they create.

 

At this point, you need to keep feeding it on a regular basis to provide an environment where the lactic acid producing bacteria can strengthen and multiply.  As they continue to acidify the mix, the mix becomes more hospitable to the wild yeasts.

 

As for your ratio, I would stick with 1:1:1 for now.  As it matures, it will thicken.

JBigger's picture
JBigger

Thanks Mr. Immortal!

That's what I thought. But I'm glad I double checked.