The Fresh Loaf

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Can't tell if starter is ready for baking/fridge - everything seems right except it doesn't double

Õunake's picture
Õunake

Can't tell if starter is ready for baking/fridge - everything seems right except it doesn't double

So my starter is (almost) exactly 2 weeks old. I started it with 100% WW flour and have since been feeding it with 50% WW + 50% AP in a 1:1:1 ratio (100g each of starter, flour, water) twice daily. It went through the expected surge of activity on day 2, then seemed rather dormant on days 3-6 but it did have small bubbles and a sour smell and taste. From day 8 to now its daily cycle and look have been very consistent - it has bubbles visible on the sides and top, the top is very bubbly, kind of frothy even when it's time to feed it, it smells like apples and tastes pleasantly sour (the bubbles and taste/smell are at peak intensity at feeding time; they're a bit more faint when the starter is at its max height). It reaches its maximum at 7h after feeding and then falls. Thing is, I've been measuring the rise (in addition to using a rubber band around the jar) and it only ever goes from 35mm to 58-60mm, so only about a 70% increase, not fully doubling. Everything else seems spot on and has been happening like clockwork twice daily for almost a week now. I also did the float test a couple of days ago and it did float at first and then sank after a little while. It's being kept at room temperature which is around 24C right now. I've researched this a bit and some people have said that starters don't absolutely have to double, some do more than double and some never quite reach that point, also the width of the jar might have something to do with it (while I wouldn't describe mine as wide or anything the ones on the KAF and TPL starter guides do seem narrower). Basically, I don't really know where to go from here. How do I know when my starter's ready to be maintained in the fridge on a once-weekly feeding schedule? Should I keep doing what I've been doing, add in some rye flour, change the jar/feeding ratios/something else? As far as baking goes, I guess I can just try and see what happens, the first loaf is unlikely to be anything good anyway, but I'm more confused about how to go on with the maintenance part.

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

You are doing fine, and your starter sounds to me like it’s right on track.  Keep up with what you are doing, and it will get there.

 

One thing that I would suggest is that after it peaks, give it a stir.  This redistributes the yeasts and any uneaten foodstuffs.  It’s almost like doing a feeding, but without diluting the colonies of yeasts and bacteria, which allows them to create a larger overall population.  After giving it a stir, you should notice a second rise.  If you don’t get a second rise, then your yeasts are consuming all the available food, in which case you should either add an additional feeding to your daily routine or increase the feeding ratio (go for 1:2:2).

 

As for when will it be ready to bake with, you may be able to go for it now, just keep in mind that an under active starter will take longer to bulk ferment your dough, so recipe times will need to be adjusted.  Personally, I would wait, especially if your starter still has a somewhat liquid-y consistency.  At some point, as if by magic, your starter will become thicker (it’s consistency reminds me of whipped pudding).  When it reaches this consistency, it should be ready, for sure.

Õunake's picture
Õunake

Thanks for your reply :)

So I tried mixing the starter after it peaked and you're right, it did have a second rise, almost as high as the first one even. So am I right to assume that by doing this and therefore hopefully creating a bigger population, that population will eventually cause the starter to double in 4-6h like it should? 

I'm not sure what the consistency of whipped pudding is like, and consistencies are difficult to describe anyway, but at its thinnest (at feeding time) it's thick enough that when dropped off a spoon I can make a figure 8 and have it hold and be visible for a few seconds before melting into the rest of it.

Another question... is it OK to reduce the size of my starter right now, go from 100g of starter/flour/water to 50-75g each (keeping the ratios), or should I wait until it's fully developed? It's producing 400g of discard every day and while I love trying out new discard recipes (not a fan of just throwing it out), that's still a lot and at this rate I'm going to double in size before my starter will :P

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

You are correct in the assumption that stirring will create a larger population density, which in turn will bring a larger inoculation of yeasts to the mix when you do your next feeding.  And after a few feeding cycles, this should greatly affect the speed at which it rises.

 

As for the consistency, yes it is very difficult to describe something like that with just words.  My starter (Randolph) started out as a kind of runny liquid, kinda like a thin plain yogurt.  He would bubble, but any bubbles he created rose to the surface and popped, and because of this he never showed much sign of actually rising.  And then one day, out of the blue, his consistency changed.  This was maybe a little bit after he was three weeks old.  I have to think that some chemical change happens that allows the flour in the mix to start producing some gluten structure (or more likely, it’s that something changes that stops hampering gluten structure).  With this change, any bubbles Randolph created were now becoming trapped in the mix, with small-to-medium sized bubbles showing along the sides of the jar, and this greatly increased the amount of rise we could attain.  Dipping a spoon into him at his peak is now like dipping a spoonful of that light & fluffy thick Greek yogurt.  It forms a clump on the spoon and stays there, rather than forming a puddle on the spoon and dripping over the sides.

 

Lastly, yes you can reduce the size, as long as you maintain the same ratio.  Many bakers keep a very small starter, and scale up its size only when they need enough for a bake.  I had very good results with Randolph, only keeping 10g for each 1:2:2 feeding.  Just remember that when you decrease your starter’s size, you will want to start keeping it in a much smaller jar, so that you can detect how much it’s rising.

400g of discard?!?  Holy crow, that’s almost a double batch of  sourdough waffles every day!  My family likes them, but not that much lol!  Here’s an interesting note regarding the discard you keep in the fridge for other recipes:  if you only have 50g of discard, and you need more than that for a discard recipe, pull it out of the fridge the day before and feed it however much you need to bring it up to the amount you need.  By the next day, you’ll have the amount of discard you need.  Just because it’s discard, that doesn’t mean that it’s not still starter 😁