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I have no idea what I'm doing, HELP!

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jusenkyoguide's picture
jusenkyoguide

I have no idea what I'm doing, HELP!

 Yes, I am a newbie on both is board and in making sourdough, and I really need some help.

On a recent trip back home to the States I got a hold of two packets of Mister Baker's San Francisco Sourdough Starter to see if I couldn't get it going here in Japan and get a taste of home. I followed the directions as stated, let it sit for two days and then took a look to see what I had.

I did have yeast like bubbles, but the whole thing smelled rotten, not sour, but rancid like rancid beer. I carefully poured it into a jar and stuck it into the fridge for a day.

Yesterday, after looking at this site and a few others, I thought that it might be hungry, so I stirred the liquid back in and added more flour and water and let it sit. A few hours latter, I did have yeasty like bubbles and yeast like smell, but it didn't double at all. I stuck it back in the fridge and in just checking it, I have quite a bit more of that foul smelling liquid and a large, white, mass that looks suspiciously like wet flour.

So please tell me, is it supposed to be doing that? Is there any hope for it? Should I use up my second and last packet? I admit that my entire experience with sourdough has been eating it. While I've been baking bread for a bit, it's always has been using active dry yeast and proofing that, so please start off with the basics.

Thanks ahead of time for any and all help!

JG 

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I do hope you're not following the instructions that came with Mr. Baker - what you're doing is a recipe for trouble. Sourdough starter is a living thing, and it hasn't been bred for speed like bakers yeast. It's far more fragile than bakers yeast.

 

Your goal isn't to put it in the fridge. If your goal was to store it, you could have kept it in its foil pack. Your goal is to revive the packaged starter so it will be healthy enough to make good bread with.

 

To revive a starter requires regular feedings until it is going well. I feel that it takes 2 or 3 days ro really revive a freshly prepared dry starter, like the Friends of Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail starter. And it takes closer to a week for ones that have been dried longer. King Arthur gets around this by shipping a fresh and wet starter. It just gets up and goes, unlike most dried starters.

 

To revive these starters takes no less than two feedings a day at room temperature. And each feeding should be in the ratio of 1 part water to 1 part flour by weight, or about 2 parts water to 3 parts of scooped flour, or 1 part water to 2 parts of sifted flour. Each feeding should be enough to double the starter in size.

 

In your position, I'd take about 1/4 cup of starter add 1/4 cup of flour and 3/8 cup of white flour. I'd use white flour because it has lpwer bacterial and yeast counts than whole grain flour and because you are trying to revive a culture, not start one from scratch. Using a cleaner flour gives the starter you are reviving a better chance to revive.

 

About 12 hours later, I'd discard half the starter and repeat the feeding mentioned above. If your starter has already started bubbling, I'd save rather than discard the starter. You can use it for pancakes, waffles and other goodies.

 

There are two major reasons a sourdough culture won't thrive. One is a lack of vitality, and this feeding regimen will help restore that. The other is a starter that is too liquid can not rise. Many people use 1 cup of water to 1 cup of flour and this is too thin a batter to rise well. It is also so thin that the starter will burn through the food in the feeding too fast. I don't suggest such thin starters to beginners. MANY of the problems people have with sourdough starters comes from such thin starters.

 

If your starter won't double in size after a few days, I suggest a more agressive feeding schedule, feeding it 3 times a day and enough to triple it in size. To a 1/4 cup of starter add 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cup of flour. This usually gets a sluggish starter roaring in a day or two.

 

After a starter is going well, it is still developing and maturing. How long this continues is up for debate. Some say a month, some say 3 months. It will not mature and develop in the fridge. In the fridge it just slowly dies. By all means, use it to bake.

Whenever I want to bake, I stop discarding starter and keep doubling it until I have enough to bake with. I wait until the starter has doubled in size and use it before it starts to collapse again. Then I go back to the discard and feed routine.

 

Some people think it's wasteful to discard starter. It's less wasteful than not discarding starter. If you keep doubling the size of your starter in 10 days you'll have a swimming pool full of starter. In 14 days, an olympic sized pool. And 12 hours after each, you'll have two pools full. It's less wasteful to discard, especially if you save the starter and use it.

Of course, feeding twice a day is a hassle. Once you starter is doing nicely, you can refrigerate it. Feed it one last time and refrigerate it at once. Starter seems to refrigerate and freeze better if it is fresh rather than mature.

 

If you take your starter out of the fridge to use it, you could be looking at a weak and sluggish starter. If it's been in the fridge less than a week, you can probably just use it, but I prefer to always feed up the starter over a period of several days to make sure it's really healthy. MANY of the emails I get at sourdoughhome.com are from people who don't make sure their starter is healthy, one time their bread rises well, the next time it takes 3 days to rise and tastes awful. My mantra is "it takes a consistent process to create a consistent product" and part of the consistent process is getting the starter into a known healthy condition before you start making bread with it.

 

Hope that helps,

Mike

jusenkyoguide's picture
jusenkyoguide

Thanks! I'll give 'er a go and see if it works or not.

JG

Fear the Shinikame!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I think Mike made a typo, he ment 1/4 c starter, 1/4 c water, and 3/8 c flour (paragraph 5)  but I'm sure you figured it out.   I'm over in S Korea and my starter is stable ... been here 3 weeks now.   I hope you enjoy the site.   Your starter will be up and running soon.

If you find something you want to get back to, click on the "add to favorites" at the topic bottom (first entry) and it will appear under your account.  Makes things easy to find again. 

Mini O

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

One thing to keep in mind is that these flakes you bought are merely starter that's been spread thin and allowed to dry then crunched up. One needs to presume this Mr Baker's starter was actually good and active at the time they flaked it, of course, and hopefully that it isn't many many months old. Otherwise, all it wants is to get wet again and fed. 

If, for whatever reason, your second packet of starter flakes fails, don't hesitate to send in for Friends of Carl's http://home.att.net/~carlsfriends/ Oregon Trail Starter. It's about $1 (probably needs a bit of wrangling on your part if you're in Japan but still easy and cheap) and fires up pronto. There are also instructions on their site for getting the starter flakes to rejuvenate that you may want to read over and perhaps apply to your current flakes. With that and Mike's advice above, you should be just fine.

--------
Paul

jusenkyoguide's picture
jusenkyoguide

I found the Friend's of Carl's site when I first started seriously considering making sourdough (Given that I just can't find it here), but two things stopped me. One, I was, and am, after the San Francisco bread; and two, Japan Post would go bananas if I attemped to have what ammounts to a live bacteria culture from another nation shipped into Japan. I had to wait till I went home for a visit before I could smuggle the ones I got in (Don't tell customs. ~_^ ).

So far, it hasn't risen yet (After the second feeding), but I'm getting much less hooch (I'm assuming that's what that smelly liquid is), and said hooch is clear as opposed to dirty. Of course, today was rather cool and since Japanese homes are not climate controlled, it might have just been too cool today for growth. I'll see what it does tomorrow after I feed it this evening.

Thanks again everyone.

JG 

Fear the Shinikame!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

While you are waiting in this beginning phase it wouldn't hurt it to stir it a few times, like every few hours, just to keep them beasties circulated.  It does deflate the bubbles  and you can't rely on doubling to know what's going on.  The best indicator is the fine foamy bubbles and the sour smell (aroma) coming off the starter.  When you first feed it, it should smell like wet flour, then after about 4 to 6 hours, it starts to change.  If the starter is liquidy it might not rise very much, if hooch appears, then it is long past feeding time.  If it still smells like flour and water, give it more time.

I hope you are using bottled water, because chlorinated water can cause problems.  One indication of chlorinated water in the starter is that the bubbles form in the top 1/2 inch (next to the air) and nothing is going on below it, in fact, hooch is at the very bottom of the starter and not on top like where it normally forms.  Should this happen, switch to bottled water or let water stand 24 hours before using.  Just a thought.

Mini O

Marni's picture
Marni

My first thought when I read your post was to suggest visiting sourdoughhome.com which belongs to Mike Avery.  His advice will be expert. 

I just wanted to note that in his comment:

"In your position, I'd take about 1/4 cup of starter add 1/4 cup of flour and 3/8 cup of white flour."

I'm sure he meant 1/4C starter, 1/4C water and then 3/8C white flour.  It was a typo, but since you mentioned you were a real beginner, I thought it might be confusing.

Hang in there, once your starter is really going it will be more durable and you'll be surprised at how easy it is to maintain.

Let us know how it goes.

Marni

jusenkyoguide's picture
jusenkyoguide

Well, I'm trying Mike's agressive feeding idea now. After three days of 1/4 cup water and 3/4 cup flour, I didn't get a rise. I'm still getting a clear liquid on the top, but it no longer smells rotten and the ammount is much less. From time to time, I will get some fomy bubbles, but nothing spectatular and it really isn't doubling. In terms of smell, I no longer smell yeastiness, but I think I'm getting a somewhat sour smell. My wife however says that it puts her in mind of wet plaster.

Now, it's been a rainy weekend here with rain all week and a temp of around 23 c. My kitchen is barely over 25 so could that be the reason? I think it's still alive as I get some condensation on the plastic wrap, but...

JG 

Fear the Shinikame!

josordoni's picture
josordoni

JG - are you really using 3/4 i.e. 0.75 of a cup of flour, rather than the 3/8 i.e. 0.375 of a cup of flour mentioned in the post above?

 If so you I wonder if you are possibly overfeeding for the time in between your  feeding, as this is twice the amount of flour mentioned?

jusenkyoguide's picture
jusenkyoguide

Sorry, I was a bit confused there. I WAS doing 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup flour, NOW I am saving a 1/4 cup starter and adding in 1/2 cup water and 3/4 cup flour.

Sorry for the confusion.

JG 

Fear the Shinikame!

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

You can safely cut that in half: use two tablespoons starter (30g) to 1/4c water (60g) and 3/8c flour (60g). Making and feeding twice as much starter doesn't give you any advantages.

And I'd recommend getting into the habit of weighing rather than volume measures. It just makes things more consistent.

And here's a little tip to avoid needing to weigh your flour for each feeding: Get out your scale and a box of sandwich bags then measure your 60g of flour into a bunch of bags so you have it all pre-measured for the rest of the week. Then feeding time is a breeze: take 2 tablespoons of old starter, plop it into a fresh jar, add 1/4c water - a measuring cup is fine here, 1/4c water is always 60g - stir, then add a baggie of flour, mix, lid up and put aside. Put the rest of the old starter in your Pancake Starter Jar (or whatever you do with the extra) and you're done.

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Paul

josordoni's picture
josordoni

I am totally confused with halves quarter and eighths too...

Hopefully the starter will be the one thing NOT confused any longer! LOL