The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sloth-like starter

CBudelier's picture
CBudelier

Sloth-like starter

I started my current starter, Eleanor, in January. She has always been fed on a1:2:2 ratio for maintenance.  My flour mixture is 60% AP, 30% whole wheat, and 10% rye.   She lives in the kitchen, and the temperature in there is always between 68-72. Currently it's about 76 in there. 

She will always double, but the issue is that it takes 5-8 hours to do so.  I have never been able to get her to triple.    I have tried spiking occasional feedings with some extra rye, but it hasn't seemed to make any difference. 

I have had relative success making bread with her, but again, it takes forever for the dough to rise enough to bake. 

Should I be concerned?  Do something different in feeding her?  Do I just accept that this is her personality and just love her the way she is?

Thank you for any insights and advice! 

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Bottled spring water, with naturally occurring minerals, works best for me.

 

trancer's picture
trancer

This one's a bit difficult to discern;  knowing an accurate starter temperature or even ambient temperature would help.

How long does it take for the starter to come off it's peak?  You say 5-8 hours but by this do you mean that you are raising it to its peak and that it's peak is at that time, or are you stopping it to bake with at that time. 

I find that my starter has a strong peak at 8 hours when kept at 76 deg.  If temperature is at 72 deg, then it does take my starter 2 - 3 hours more to get into a peak zone and will not rise as high (but it still bakes well).

When it's at its peak how does it taste?  How acidic is it?

Things i would try would include:

  • up the temperature to a consistent 76 deg for a couple of fermentation cycles of the starter (e.g. put it in the oven with just the oven light on).
  • Fork the starter and make (and maintain for 4 - 6 feeding cycles) a parallel batch with just AP flour and RYE (Ratio of 9:1...i.e. get rid of the wholemeal) and see how this raises in the same temperature conditions as the primary one.. If it raises more, then it may just be her 'personality' but if it raises the same, then we know there's something else to troubleshoot.

 

dbazuin's picture
dbazuin

Step by step increase the feeding to 1:5:5.  
My starter got a lot stronger after that.  

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

How often are you feeding her?  You mention that she will double within 5-8 hours, but you don’t mention what you do with her after that, or how long you make her wait to get fed after she has peaked.

 

Something that I would recommend trying is to give her an occasional stir.  My theory on stirring is that you are redistributing the yeasts and any remaining uneaten food sources, which kind of acts like doing a feeding without reducing the total yeast cell population.  This should theoretically increase the population of yeasts, so that when you do the next actual feeding you are carrying over a larger inoculation, and should therefore be able to expect a faster and higher rise.

 

I started giving my starter (Randolph) an in-between-feedings stir, and it wasn’t long before I had to move him to a more spacious home, because of how much higher he was rising (triple, and sometimes quadruple!).  I do this stir after he has peaked, and wind up getting a second rise out of him.  I had been using a 1:2:2 ratio for feedings, but now I put the whole starter in my discard tub, which I keep in the fridge.  I then add 30g water to the (almost) empty jar, and shake it to dissolve the remaining starter scrapings.  Then I add 30g flour, and mix.  I estimate that I may have about 5g of starter doing it this way, so we’re looking at roughly a 1:6:6 ratio for feedings now, which generally gets Randolph a triple rise in about 6 hours.  He was nowhere near this strong before I started doing the occasional stir.

 

*Note:  I no longer do the in-between-feedings stir between every single feeding, now that Randolph has become as strong as he has.  I now only do it if I notice that his rise has started to slow down.

Cotch's picture
Cotch

Mr. Immortal, 

How many feedings do you do? I am going to try your advice of a stir in between feedings but I only do 1 every 24 hours, so I wasn't sure if your method requires 2 feedings in 24 hours.

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

A lot of it is going to depend on how old your starter is, what kind of issues are you having with it, what kind of schedule you’re currently following, etc.

 

As for my starter (Randolph), I’ve kind of fallen out of a regular routine, and instead just do a feeding whenever it looks like he needs one, or a stirring if I lack the time or energy to feed him.  I’m actually toying with the idea of Randolph going to live in the fridge now.  He’s old enough, and mature enough, plus I don’t bake often (once or twice a week, if that).

 

If you currently only do 1 feeding every 24h, then my question is:  how long does it take to peak (assuming that your starter is at least to the point where it rises reliably)?

 

If your starter rises and peaks some hours before your scheduled feeding time, then by all means give it a stir after it peaks, and otherwise continue your current schedule as usual.

 

If your starter has not yet reached the point where you are seeing a reliable rise (in other words, still liquidy with small bubbles that float to the surface), again it would probably benefit you to stir it at or around the 12h mark, but to otherwise continue as usual.

Cotch's picture
Cotch

Thanks for reaching out. Right now, he's about 2 months old. Started from the Forkish instructions in Fwsy. After a few weeks, I changed containers because I was storing him in a Cambro 6 Qt, which took up too much space for a starter. A few weeks ago after reading that it was okay to cut down the amount of fresh starter and feedings to avoid waste, I moved him into a ball jar. My current feedings are 15 g starter, 60 g water at 80 degrees, and 60 g of flour (50/50 mix of WW and BF). He is doubling after about 7 or 8 hours. Very small bubbles along the side but not many, and certainly not the nooks and crannies sized holes that I see folks have (ie Joshua Weiss man's photo of his starter). 

I think I'm struggling with one of two issues (or a combination of both). On one hand, I worry that my starter isn't very strong. I've done mostly Forkish and Tartine pure-levain sourdough and most are not really giving me much strength or oven spring. On the other hand, I don't know that strength of the dough is the starter's fault. I'm self-critical so I'm happy to chalk the floppy doughs (think, deflated football) to poor dough handling on my part, but then I look at the yeast boules and hybrid Forkish boules that I've handled really easily, and which have sprung up really well. So that's why I then question whether it's actually my handling of the dough that is causing the problem or something else. Ultimately, since it seems to be only the pure levain doughs that I'm struggling with, I go back to wondering if my starter is strong enough to make the dough rise. 

(I should note that I composed part of this response two days ago and then got sidetracked before finishing it. In that time, I have given a stir around the 9 hour mark and both times got a second doubling.)

 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

It’s always difficult to tell, when we are having issues with getting a bake to turn out properly, what the root cause may be.  It helps to take very detailed notes about a bake, including measurements for ingredients, time, and temperature, along with any other relevant info you can think to add.  

Then, in order to test any theories you may have for what is causing the issues, the notes will provide a way to duplicate your process well enough to isolate whatever your theory is testing.  In other words, choose one and only one thing to try, and your next bake will tell you f trying that thing led to an improvement or not.  But if you change several things (the starter, the handling, the times & temperatures, etc.), you’ll never know which one fixed (or wrecked) your bake.

 

So, having added in a stir to your routine, and having noticed getting a second rise afterwards, you should start noticing either better rises or faster peaks (or both) within the next few days.  I think that alone will provide for some improvement to your bakes.  Keep up the good work, and keep us posted!

Cotch's picture
Cotch

I really appreciate the feedback. I will continue to take notes and test some theories. I'm making a yeasted boule from Fwsy today just to get my mojo back.

Assuming I focus first on trying to make sure my starter is as strong and healthy as could be, do you have any other recommendations for making it more active? Would a second feeding help to create more total yeast after every feeding or is there a natural ceiling to the number of yeast that can live in any starter? (Assuming the same weights of starter, flour, and water).

Also, I should mention that he was built with WW and bleached bread flour. He has been eating WW and non-bleached bread flour now for about two or three weeks after I realized how risky bleached flour was. I've also been giving him tap water that sits out overnight to let the chlorine in my water evaporate for the last week.

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

The strength of your starter will continue to grow In time if given regular attention.  If you pay close enough attention you will learn to read your starter’s signs.  A starter will let you know when it’s time to feed, when it’s time to change the feeding ratio, and so on.  The whole wheat flour is a nice touch, as they bring an additional dose of microorganisms with each new feeding.  Eventually, though, the microorganisms’ native birthrate will far outstrip anything that may be riding into town on the supply wagon.  At that point, the bleached flour should do just fine for your starter.  And of course, you can always switch back if you notice a decrease in activity. 


As for now, I wouldn’t add a second feeding until you stop getting a second rise from stirring.  At that point, you can either start a second feeding, or increase the feed ratio (1:2:2 or 1:3:3).  By doing additional feedings, or by changing the feed ratio, you can tweak a healthy starter until it is predictably peaking on a timetable that fits into your own schedule.

Once your starter is stable, as in rising a reliable amount in a reliable amount of time, the only “ceiling” (in regards to the total number of yeast) is the environment of the starter itself.  When fed a specific amount of food on a reliable schedule with a reliable ambient temperature, your starter will reach an equilibrium, and be capable of hosting only so many yeasts (but it’s a lot of yeasts).  If you change any of the variables, the total yeast population will also change.  It’s a delicate balancing act, but once you’ve reached the balance point your yeasts will be able to do it with their nonexistent eyes closed!

Cotch's picture
Cotch

Thanks again for the great feedback. I will take your advice and keep on feeding, stirring, and paying close attention. I noticed his little bubbles seemed a bit larger today - maybe coincidence, maybe strength. I'm excited to find out. I made a yeast boule today from fwsy and got great shape and spring, so I am thinking my starter needs a bit more time to get his strength up to handle the rigors of pure levain sourdough. Once he's in fighting shape and making springy bread, I'll let you know! Thanks again!!! 

Cotch's picture
Cotch

Sorry, double posted by accident. 

CBudelier's picture
CBudelier

Thank you for all of the advice!     Last night I split Eleanor in two.    I took 5g and added 10g of rye and 10g of water.   The other jar was 5g starter, 8g AP, and 2g rye.     When I got up this morning, both had risen to about double.  The AP/rye combo looked a bit thin and weak, but the all rye looked really healthy.

I took 5g of each one and fed them both 8g AP and 2g rye.  Neither one took off until around hour 4, but then the jar that only got 8g of rye each time really took off!    It pretty much tripled in 6 hours.  The other one didn't go much past double.     Tonight I fed them both 9g AP and 1g rye.   We'll see what happens over night.   I will probably feed her a little more often and add an extra stir or two for the next few days and see if she will speed up a bit!

To fill in previously omitted information:  I only bake once a week or every other week, so I keep about 10g of starter in the fridge.    The day before I want to bake, I take it out of the fridge, let it come to room temp, and then do a typical 1:2:2 feeding, and then about 8 hours later take 10g of that and enough of my lour mix and water to make the amount of starter I need for the recipe plus 5-10g extra for storage.  That sits overnight, and I start making dough mid-morning.    

Once Eleanor finally doubles, she can stay at peak for around 4-6 hours.   I try to mix the needed starter into the pre-ferment during that 4-6 hour window. 

The main reason I asked about the long rise time is that in the past, I've had other starters double, triple, and completely overflow their containers in 2-4 hours under almost identical conditions.  I also keep seeing posts that say normal healthy starters should double within 2-3. 

I apparently just have a gal who likes to be leisurely this time around!

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

It might be worthwhile to leave Eleanor out of the fridge for a few days, until you’ve built her strength up a bit.  After her next peak, give her a stir.  When she peaks again, do a 1:2:2 feeding.  Follow this pattern for a day or two, maybe using Eleanor’s new little sister, and then compare to see if you notice a difference.

 

You may also benefit from picking a rye/AP mix, and sticking to that for a while.  Any time you make a change to the ecosystem you are providing for the microorganisms that live in your starter, they will take a bit of a pause while they adjust to it.  Strength is built on stability.

CBudelier's picture
CBudelier

I have been feeding both Eleanor and her sister (as yet un-named) a 80/20 mixture of AP/rye  at a 1:2:2 ratio every 7-8 hours.   Eleanor has been doubling in around 4 hours, sister not quite double in that time.    I have been stirring them both down at 4 hours, and both will double again in 3 hours or so.     Little Sister started off smelling pretty much like fermenting apple cider and tasted vinegary to start, but that is mellowing out and she is starting to smell more beer-like.  Both are showing more of a bubbly texture throughout.

I just fed both, and am trying Eleanor on a 1:3:3 feeding to see how that goes.   

Are there pros/cons for trying to work whole wheat back into the starter itself vs just adding it to the dough when I bake?

 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

I’m glad to hear that Eleanor and her little sister are doing well.  From what you describe (aroma going from vinegary to beer like) it sounds like they are starting to have a better balance between yeasts and acidifying bacteria.

 

You mention that they are both now doubling in about 4 hours.  Is that their peak, or would they rise any higher if you held off on stirring them?  Keep in mind, with changing Eleanor to 1:3:3, that this will push her peak time back a bit.  This doesn’t indicate that she’s gotten weaker, it’s just that you are giving her more food.  (It might be worth your while to make sure you’re holding off on stirring until you are sure they’ve peaked.)

 

As for the question about whole wheat, I’m not sure if adding it to your starter would help things along or not, now that they’re fairly well established.  They get a pretty decent boost of microorganisms from the rye, but mostly what’s going on in there are the ones you are carrying over from one feeding to the next.  I would think (this is just logic, not experience) that adding whole wheat will cause a day or three of what appears to be weakening, but is really just the starters becoming used to the new ecosystem that you’ve created with the new addition.

 

Lastly, how do you know Eleanor’s “little sister” is not really a little brother?  I’ve looked all over Randolph’s jar, but haven’t been able to find a tail to lift up to check for that.  😜

 

(p.s.  My vote for the little sister’s name is “Rigby”. 😁)

CBudelier's picture
CBudelier

I have been waiting until both of the starters show signs of falling before stirring them down or discarding and feeding.

With the 1:3:3 feeding, Eleanor tripled in just over 6 hours, so I'm happy with the results!       I will probably keep Eleanor as a AP/rye blend for bread, and slowly convert younger sibling to all AP for things like pizza dough and English muffins.

I have been debating whether starter #2 is a sister or a brother, and you're right.....there really isn't any way to tell!   As I was contemplating names, I had thought about calling it Junior.   That led me on the path of calling it JR, and shortening Eleanor to Miss Ellie ala the tv show Dallas.    However, I really like the creativity of Rigby!!  :-)        I will give it a few more days to see if it develops a cool and hippie like aura or becomes ruthless and dominant.    I'll let you know how it turns out!!

 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Listen to some Beatles...  It’ll grow on you 😉

CBudelier's picture
CBudelier

I love the Beatles! 😀