The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Kind of strange?

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Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

Kind of strange?

After developing a really great starter the last 4-5 months, something sort of odd (I think) has been happening as of late.

Normally, when I want to make a loaf or two of bread, I take out my mother starter, let it come to room temp, remove one cup (I keep two cups of the mother total), split that one cup into two 1/2 cups, and refresh each of them with feedings of 1/2 cup each of bread flour and bottled water, then feed the mother, and let all sit out and ferment for 4-8 hours (sometimes more, depending on whether I go out for a while, want a more sour loaf, or whatever comes up at the time)

When the time comes to prepare the dough for my loaves, I have two cups of refreshed starter for two loaves, and the mother goes back into the fridge. 

Well, last week, I removed the usual cup of starter, fed the mother, but this time put the whole cup of 'discard or refresh for a loaf or two' all into one container and let it sit out without feeding it.  At first I was going to ditch it, as I wasn't going to make any loaves this time, but for some reason, I decided not to ditch it - and set it in a warm place, then forgot about it for about 12 hours.

When I realized it was sitting in my turned off oven, I just couldn't throw it out, even though it looked pretty inactive, so I decided to use the whole cup of non-refreshed starter in a loaf of bread, and see what happened.  Lo and behold, the dough rose like crazy, and I ended up with a big, fluffy loaf, with a decent, albeit irregular, crumb and perfectly sour, delicious, flavor.

Ever since that 'experiment', every time I take out the mother to feed, I've been doing the same (which is great, as it saves on flour), and I'm still getting fantastic loaves.  What gives?  I always thought it was of major importance to refresh the amount of starter you remove for a new loaf (??). 

I know there's a reasonable explanation, as in, once that non refreshed 'discard' gets mixed with the bread flour, water, and eventually salt, it's getting a huge feeding, hence the rise, but doesn't this go against the 'cardinal' rule that a starter must be refreshed before starting a new loaf?  I'm happy, but a little perplexed!

Non refreshed starter loaf

crumb

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Just guessing, but maybe the starter is underfed and possibly not being allowed to reach full strength before being stored in the refrigerator each time. That could explain why it would become much stronger if fed and left to rest at room temperature for a longer time.

I'll stick my neck out and suggest this modification of your process. Sorry if it ends up causing problems in any way.

Remove starter from refrigerator and allow it to warm up for a few hours, then take 1 cup for use below, discard the rest.

Split starter into 3 equal amounts of 1/3 cup each.

Feed each third with 1 cup water and 1 cup flour and allow them all to sit for 12 hours at room temperature.

Use the first two for loaves.

Take the remaining now fed and risen starter and feed it 1/3 cup water 2/3 cup flour, mix well and refrigerate.

You can adjust the amount of flour and water to get the consistencies you would like, but the basic idea is to feed the starter, making it thicker at the same time, before you store it in the refrigerator. It will keep better and remain stronger if fed to a thicker consistency and refrigerated immediately.

The feedings at room temperature after you remove the starter from the refrigerator are wetter, to match your current style. However, you could also mix to a firmer consistency, and it will be easier to see the progress, since the starter will rise better if it is more like a thick paste than a liquid.

Overall, what I'm suggesting the following:

  • Feed at a higher ratio, increasing the volume each time by 3 to 5 times.
  • Allow time for all the starter to be used, whether going into a loaf or going back into the refrigerator, to recover to full strength by leaving it all out at room temperature for 12 hours.
  • Feed, thicken and store mother starter in the refrigerator after it has reached full strength at room temperature.

It's also not a bad idea to try repeating the room temperature feeding for the mother starter every 12 hours for a couple of 12 hour cycles until you're sure it is fully refreshed and active. Doing that this time and then once in a while in the future will ensure that the mother is brought back to full strength periodically.

There are ways to reduce the amount of starter you store, so that you accomplish the above and also don't have to throw out much or any starter, but that's another involved discussion.

Bill

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

Bill,

 Thank you so much for your informative reply.  You're right, I do have a more liquid starter, and I should have realized that thicker starters are stronger.  However, I always leave the mother out, after I feed it at room temp, until it reaches full strength before putting it back in the fridge.

That said, I'm going to try your method, even though I've gotten good results from my starter thus far.  This is because it can always be better, and I do want a thicker starter.  I'm excited to do this, as it makes complete sense. Keeping exactly 2 cups at all times, using equal amounts of flour and water, obviously isn't going to strengthen my starter...So, is there a way to really strengthen my mother starter, while keeping it at one cup instead of two?  I always hear it's best to keep a small amount of the mother -- even though that's 'another discussion'? :)

Thanks again!

~Lisa~

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Lisa,

It's not so much that a firm starter is any stronger than a liquid starter. In fact, per unit of flour, a liquid starter should be about the same as a firm starter, plus or minus all kinds of individual variations from one individual starter to another.

The reasons for making it a little firmer in the refrigerator is that it will keep better firm, especially if placed in the refrigerator right after feeding so the acidity isn't so high. Other than that, it doesn't matter that much, but I just think it's a little easier to monitor the activity of the starter if you can see it rise, which you can with a thick paste. A very thin paste or liquid starter won't rise, even though it may be very active. You can still become familiar with the less obvious signs, like foaming, aroma, and so on of a liquid starter and manage it just fine, as you have done.

One thing to be aware of is that the times will stretch out some with firmer starters. You need to let the starter warm up longer out of the refrigerator and let the starters themselves rise longer after feeding. However, if you use lower feeding ratios, you should really feed it a couple of times in a row with less time in between to fully refresh, so the total time isn't that much different either way. The reason the time is about the same either way is that, basically, the organisms in your culture have to grow at room temperature for some total amount of time to reach maximum concentration, whether you do it in one big feeding or several smaller feedings. However, it's fairly standard advice here and elsewhere that the minimum "reasonable" feeding for long term health of a culture is something like a tripling of the volume of the starter. If only tripling the starter, it makes sense to feed at least twice and maybe three times every 24 hours at temperatures in the mid 70s.

The reason for my suggestion to increase the feeding ratio is that just doubling a culture is on the edge of being  enough to sufficiently dilute the acids that build up in the culture for long enough to allow the culture to really bounce back.

The reason I suggest feeding the culture after it is fully refreshed and then refrigerating immediately, is that the culture will die off much faster in the refrigerator if it is ripe and acidic. It's better to fully revive it, then reduce the acidity of it by feeding it and drop it in the refrigerator. If it is firmer and just fed it will weaken much more slowly in the refrigerator than if it is thin and very ripe and acidic.

As far as "frugal methods", I'll give you an example. I keep only about 50g of starter. I use about 1-2 tsp of starter and feed it with 2 tbsp water and 3-4 tbsp of flour to get a thick stirrable paste. You can feed it every 12 to 24 hours this way. However, it's quite different from your method.

I feed it that way at room temperature and to refresh it out of the refrigerator. To put it back in the refrigerator, I take something like 1 tbsp of starter, feed it the same way and put it in the refrigerator immediately.

Then, I just build up the amount of start I want for a recipe, by not throwing out as I feed at room temperature during the refreshment phase, about 1 day before incorporating the starter into an intermediate levain or a dough. You can make just about any practical amount of starter you want in one or two days with a little planning, since starter grows so fast.

There are lots of ways to do these things, though. A great place that summarizes some sound, well tested ways to do all these things is Mike Avery's site, http://www.sourdoughhome.com. He has been a frequent participant here. My methods vary in the details here and there, but the principles are much the same. In fact, that's where I spent a lot of time when I was getting started with sourdough.

As I mentioned before, good luck with it, and sorry if any of my suggestions go awry. If you try some of these things, maybe it would be good to do any testing on the side and maintain your normal routine. Then, if you decide you like the results you can go ahead with changes, but if something goes wrong you still have your current method.

Bill

GrapevineTXoldaccount's picture
GrapevineTXolda...

never discarding, but recently I had noticed the edge was wearing off of my mother.  It was time to kick her in the pants and get her moving.  I made the choice to discard half of her at three separate mixings, feeding her rye, wheat, and then rye.  It really perked the lady back up and now she's energized. 

I love bwraith's suggestions.  Earlier today I made the choice to feed and refrigerate immediately.  Tomorrow is yard day so it will be Sunday before I work with dough again, but I'm definitely going bwraith's direction.  I've been disposing of my flours into the daily bread simply because I had maintained such a large amount and couldn't face the compost pail, much less the compost pile.  I believe it was Mike or Floyd that had cautioned me of using too much starter, but I didn't heed the advice.  It is against my nature to literally throw out food, I simply recycled it.  NOW that I know not to make so much to begin with and to simply take what I need and refresh I can catch up on my sleep.  Oh who am I kidding, I'll be dreaming of my next fold and bake.  lol.

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

Bill,

I'm going to take a portion of my starter, and try your method(s).  I'll let you know how they pan out.   Thanks so much, again, for the great advice.  Also, I've read through sourdough home many times.  He's got great recipes too!  His sourdough pizza dough and NY rye are marvelous.

Grapevine, wow..it really is hard for me to dump parts of my starter in the trash, hence why I was pleasantly surprised that I could make a loaf without even refreshing the discard.  Yes, it'll never be as perfectly chewy and textured as one made with refreshed starter, but it's still pretty good.  That said, I've also made waffles, pancakes, pizza dough etc..with it, but those I refreshed first.

However, I'm definitely going to reduce the amount of starter I keep.  2 cups is way too much, and I'm using too much flour to feed it several times or once a week, depending on whether I'm baking or not.  My starter has gotten a little thicker, as I had started adding 1 cup of flour plus 2/3 cups of water, instead of equal amounts of each, but tomorrow, I'm going to start playing with Bill's method.  I had no idea that feeding the mother at room temp, letting it ferment for several hours, then feeding once again right before covering it and putting back in the fridge, would make a stronger starter.  I always thought it had to sit at room temp for hours, after every single feeding!

BTW, I just looked at my starter in the fridge, and since it's a little thicker than it was, I can see the rise and lots more bubbles. :)  Regardless, half of it is going bye bye, probably into another loaf (since I'm not sure I can trash it just yet..LOL)  while half of the other half is scheduled for major experimentation, thanks to Bill.

~Lisa~

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Lisa,

You make some very nice bread, I agree with MiniO. So, don't let our advice throw you off the methods that already work. However, I do think the one main thing to focus on and test out is to feed at a little bit higher ratio than just doubling the culture each time. Even a factor of three should make a significant difference. I prefer a factor of 5 to as much as 20, but that's because I like feeding only once every 12 to 24 hours and sometimes leave it on the counter for days rather than storing in the refrigerator.

MiniO had a very good point above. I was just reading her post, too. Be sure that after you feed the starter, that it goes through the whole life cycle of high activity followed by settling down to maturity. With a thick paste, the life cycle is obvious visually, as the starter should rise by about 3x, maybe more, reach a peak, flatten out and get bumpy on top, and then collapse. Once, it has flattened out and is bumpy on top, you can let it sit for quite a while. I feed mine after it has flattened out and rested for a few more hours, usually. If I'm going to use it in bread, I try to use it right around the time it is flattening out. The aroma will intensify as it approaches the peak and continue to intensify after that for a while.

If you maintain your starter more wet, well - I haven't done that enough to be good at describing the signs of progress of the life cycle - but my understanding is that you can tell from the foaming and the aromas and the bubbles in it where it is in that basic lifecycle. The process should be much the same, but it will progress a lot faster when wetter.

MiniO, the theory behind feeding it one more time and putting it in the refrigerator is that it dilutes the acids, not so much for any real feeding itself. There are some studies showing that the yeast cells in a sourdough culture die off very quickly particularly when they are exposed to a combination of cold and acid. By feeding it, you reduce the acidity. If you let it rise again for too long, even in the refrigerator, the acids will build up again. I think in Lisa's case with a larger amount of culture, it stays warm long enough to show some activity in the refrigerator before it gets nice and cold. In my case, the 50g of starter gets cold so fast, you don't see much activity, although it may bubble a tiny amount over the course of the next day or so.

This is just an example, not that I advocate this as a general practice, but I keep a sourdough culture at my parents cabin in Montana in the refrigerator there. I make it there to visit about once every 3 to 6 months. The culture has been fine doing what I described above - take the well refreshed, mature, active culture that is ready to be fed, feed it to a very thick consistency (I mean really dry, like 50% hydration by weight) and drop it immediately into the refrigerator. I have been able to take it out, let it warm for about 10 hours, feed it once at a high ratio, let it rise for another 12 hours at about 80F, and put it in a levain. Very good bread was baked about 36 hours after removing the culture from the refrigerator, even when it had been there undisturbed for 6 months. While I'm there for usually about 1 week or sometimes 2 weeks, I leave the starter on the counter and feed it every 12 hours, something like 5 grams starter, 20 grams water, 25 grams flour - the flour a mix of whole rye flour and Wheat Montana AP. By the end of the week, the starter seems very healthy and then I feed it more like 10g starter, 50g water, 100g white flour, and immediately put it in the fridge.

Bill

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is working (not feeding the aged portion of starter before adding to a loaf) because the starter mother was half "ripe" when put into the fridge. The cold temperatures brought the yeast more or less to a halt. Good so. Some believe it should stand out until it peaks, others not. It does stand to reason that it lasts longer in the fridge if the yeast hasn't eaten all the food. Letting it warm up and ripen before using is working for you. You do need to store more starter that way. Why?

Why is it working? Because it is like the first step "starter refresh and let double before mixing" is done a week earlier and retarded. This method now reduces your waste because your've pre-measured for your next week's recipe and actually reduced the amount of starter that you use, but the mother starter stays the same at one cup, right? It does seem that your starter is strong if those long standing out hours don't wear it out. Important to let your mother starter also warm up and peak before feeding and storing again. 

If you find it taking gradually longer to do so or weakening then Bills tips will speed up your starter and strengthen it. 

That's a beautiful loaf by the way.

Mini O

swtgran's picture
swtgran

Lisa, for years and years, before I came upon this site, I took my quart jar of starter out of the fridge, let it come to room temp, took out what I needed for my recipe, put back in a mix of flour and water equal to what I took out, stirred it really well, waited about 45 minutes, stirred it again and put the jar back in the fridge. 

I think I am going to go back to that method since there was less waste and it worked just fine.  Don't know why it works.  It was also the instructions on the recipe I started out with, so that is what I always did.  Terry 

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

Minio and Bill..thanks so much for the nice comments about my bread.  That said, as you can see above, I get more of a rustic loaf, even though it was shaped into a boule and left to rise in the fridge in well floured (overly floured, actually, as you can see on the crust my loaf) banneton.  When I refresh the 'discard', I get a more uniform loaf.  However, I'm a terrible slasher!  I use a super sharp razor blade, but I always end up wanting to make a pretty design, and end up ripping it a little..lol. I need to stay 'simple' until I get it down pat.

To get back on topic, I mentioned above that the non-refreshed starter doesn't give me a loaf as chewy and well textured as one made with a refreshed starter.  Actually that's not the case, as the rise, flavor, texture and chewy factor are there, but the loaf itself and the crumb are both irregular, but as I said above, it's rustic, and rustic is also a good thing.  As a matter of fact, the last 'discard' I used without refreshing, was left out for 24 hours, and the loaf rose even more, and obviously it was a little more sour, but in a good way.

Bottom line is..I see no harm in keeping my original pancake batter 'consistency' starter, but at one cup, and using Bill's methods to make a thicker starter to also keep on hand, using small amounts to build for each new loaf.  I have plenty of Cambro 1 qt containers (and empty, sterilized spice jars) so it'll be great to have choices. 

Also, when it comes to more liquid starters, you <i>can</i> gauge it by the foaming and smell.  Lots of little bubbles, and a fresh bread scent is what I usually get after feeding the mother and letting her sit out for several hours.  I do let her peak, then settle down, before giving her a stir and putting her back in the fridge.

One question though, I saw that Grapevince mentioned adding rye and/or whole wheat flours to strengthen her starter.  I've been feeding my mother, and refreshing amounts to make loaves, using only bread flour and bottled water, from day one.  Would this effect my starter in a negative way since it's used to one kind of flour?  Then again, since I'm keeping 1 cup of mother starter, I can afford to experiment with three different batches of the discard, and see what happens :)

Finally..Terry, this is why I'm holding onto a portion of my original mother starter.  It's already tried and true, so no need to change anything.  Using Bill's methods, I'm going to see if I can make it even better, with the cup I remove, using his different methods.  This way, I can't lose.  At least one out of three will probably give me a nice, thick 'paste like' starter to play around with..and if it doesn't work out (although it'll take a few hours to days to know it) at all, I always have 'mom' to come home to. :)

~Lisa~

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Lisa,

One reason people use some whole rye or whole wheat in their starters is that whole rye and whole wheat, particularly organic flours that may have been very minimally processed, should have more "organisms" in them per unit of flour. At least, the idea is that there may be more of the right types of yeast cells, in particular, in whole rye and whole wheat flours. So, if you sprinkle in a little whole wheat or whole rye flour, you may be inoculating your starter with fresh organisms.

Beyond that, the higher ash content and whatever else may be in those flours may result in different flavors or other qualities to the starter.

I've tried sprinkling my starter with whole rye and whole wheat at various times on and off. It certainly didn't harm the starter. Maybe you could try it somewhere along the way as part of trying out these new variations, avoiding any problems with the one you have until you see the results.

Bill

 

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

Bill,

Thanks to your advice, I now have two great starters.  One a cup of thick paste starter in which I add part KA organic rye, part KA white wheat, and part bread flour in equal amounts plus less bottled water, and my original thinner mother starter (pancake batter consistency), which I've reduced down to 1/2 cup.  It's definitely strengthened quite a bit (foamy, larger bubbles), and the paste starter rises like crazy!  Thank you so much for your methods and ideas! 

I'm going to be having a field day baking breads now..LOL

 

~Lisa~