The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter Sluggish after Frozen

  • Pin It
erina's picture
erina

Starter Sluggish after Frozen

Hi all,

I froze my starter to preserve it somehow when I was away.I now am trying to revive it, but it looks sluggish. I have fed it with Ehanner method (doubling method), twice a day, with no sign that it is active. So far it smells great and bubbles a bit (very little), but no rise whatsoever.

Has anyone encountered the same problem? And how do I get my beloved starter back? I miss it... :-(

-E- 

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Remember, refrigerating or freezing doesn't preserve the starter, it just slows its death.  Freezing is, I think, more of a shock to a starter than refrigeration, though it can help with longer term storage. 

When freezing or refrigerating a starter, three predictors of success are the hydration of the starter, the freshness of the starter and how long the starter is stored.  A thicker starter fares better than a thinner starter.  I usually shoot for about 60% hydration - or thick like window caulking compound. 

 

A freshly fed starter survives better than one that is mature. I feed my starter a number of times so I know it is vibrantly healthy, feed it one more time and put it into the fridge immediately.  I haven't frozen a starter, so this is conjecture and reading of Dr. Sugihara's papers.

The length of storage is also important.  I have kept a 60% hydration starter in the fridge for over a year with no hooch forming and good revival.  However, I don't suggest this as good practice.

 

When reviving a refrigerated or frozen starter, you need to dilute the acidity and feed it heavilly.  If your starter is sluggish after you thaw it, and my usual suggestion of doubling it twice a day isn't quite making it, I suggest tripling the starter three times a day.  This usually revives any starter. 

 

I would take a tablespoon of the starter, add about 1/4 cup water, stir vigorously, then add 3/8 cup flour and stir again.  This feeding starts things out and really dilutes the acidity.

 

8 hours later, I'd add 1/2 cup water and 3/4 cup white flour. 

 

From that point on, every 8 hours, I'd discard 2/3 of the starter and add another 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cup of white flour. 

 

I suggest white flour because it has a lower number of yeast and bacteria cells on it than whole grain flour.  You are trying to revive a weakened starter, not start a new one.  So, the lower critter count is very important.

 

My experience is that if the starter hasn't revived in 2 days, it isn't going to revive.  You might try again with a fresh sample of your frozen starter.

 

When your starter is going, you might notice it is a bit bland.  The rapid feedings tend to favor the yeast, you need to bring the bacteria back into balance with the yeast.  So, go back to two doubling feedings a day, but let about 5% of the flour be whole grain flour - either wheat or rye.  This is about 1 tablespoon in a cup of white flour.

 

A few of the artial whole grain feedings and your starter should be happy again.

 

Mike

 

erina's picture
erina

Thank you, Mike for your clear explanation.

For some reason, before you opened my eyes, I was under the impression that freezing a starter will indefinitely keep it in a dormant state and that we will be able to use it later.

When I thawed my starter, which was 6=about 60% hydration, it was full of hooch and looked greyish on the top. It was only frozen for 4 months, but I guess it was not smart to freeze it.

My attempt is at the third day now. I woke up and saw that the starter shows a tiny sign of hope, although now that you said 2 days is the benchmark, I might just start a new one if today it still looks dead (sigh).

Thanks,

-E- 

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

oops

erina's picture
erina

Mike,

The starter is back to life!

Thanks for your time to explain to me what to do...  I fed it artisenal grain (plus a pinch of diastatic malt) and now it bubbles like crazy, although not as active as your starter in the bucket :-). 

-E- 

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

That's great!

 

As to the stuff in the bucket, if you keep feeding yours, it'll get that lively too.  Remember the lesson of the sink though.

 

Mike 

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

I keep my starter (flour and water originally) in the fridge.  When I want to use it, I take it out and put it on top of the fridge after stirring it.  (Very warm up there.)  It grows beautifully.  I take out a cup, put it into a bowl with some warm water and flour, and leave it out overnight, the rest goes back into the fridge.  Next day, I take out 1 cup from the bowl, and put it back into the container in the fridge, and proceed with mixing up the bread which rises, by the way, in a couple of hours.  It works terrifically well without any extra feeding, and I only use it occasionally.  Is it because I make bread more than once a week, not just sourdough?  God knows I am not complaining, but why should my sourdough be so strong and healthy and active without all the feedings?

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

The original poster froze her starter, and did so when it was already weakened.  Not a good thing.  So it took some serious work to revive it.  The best time to refrigerate or freeze a starter is immediately after it is fed.  Feed it enough to make sure it's happy, feed it one more time and then refrigerate or freeze it.

 

All starters are different.  Some are more vibrant than others.  I've been dealing with literally thousands of people through the sourdoughhome web page.  And, by and large, happy people don't write letters.  Many letters have a strong, "WHAT DO I DO NOW?" tone to them.

 

I've looked over these notes and as a result take a very conservative view of how to handle starters.  Many, if not most, hobbyist starters are on the ragged edge of death.  And this is due to the starters not being fed often enough.

 

Also, I ran two bakeries for about 4 or 5 years and I put a lot of emphasis on consistent results which may well be more important to me than you.  If it takes bread 6 hours to rise instead of 4, it's probably no big deal for you.  For me it meant deliveries were late and customers were upset.  If the bread is a little more, or less, sour this time than last, it's no big deal for you.  For me, it means customers were upset and it would impact sales at farmers markets and health food stores for weeks.  So, my mantra of "it takes a consistent process to create a consistent product" is very important to me.

 

Between the upset people and my own preferences, I suggest feeding a refrigerated starter up for 2 or 3 days before using it.  If your starter hasn't been in the fridge long, say less than a week, you can probalby just pull it out of the fridge and use it.  After that, things get scarier.

 

Mike

 

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

That's all.  No criticism meant.  I've read a lot about sourdough and was terrified at first to try it at all.  It was this site that got me thinking that maybe I should give it a whirl, and I've got to admit that the first attempt was off-putting in that my starter did nothing even after days of throwing some out and feeding and keeping it warm, etc.  The second one took off and hasn't stopped despite the fact that I don't feed it all the time, and it's gone from being fed organic ww flour to all-purpose unbleached.  So I am just curious as to why one worked and the other didn't.  I've used it a couple of times where it took more than 4 hours to rise, but it was cooler then; maybe the warmer, muggier days?

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Eliphino!

 

More seriously, I don't know what you did either time.  And this sort of thing is why I strongly suggest beginners just get a a known good starter.

 

Mike