The Fresh Loaf

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Basic starter question

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cdnDough's picture
cdnDough

Basic starter question

I've finally gotten a rise out of my stiff dough levain (from Leader's book titled "Local Breads").  The trick was to raise the room temperature from 76F to 80F.  I've switched now to 'refreshing' the starter and/or preparing for baking.  One point from the book isn't too clear to me.  Once I have refreshed the levain and let it ripened for 8-12 hours it says I can either use it right away or store it in the refrigerator for 1 week (before refreshing again).  My question is if I do refrigerate it, can I use it straight from the fridge to make bread or do I need to repeat the feeding and spend another 8-12 hours preparing the levain prior to using it?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

In the first 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator, use it straight and after standing longer, it might be better to to repeat the feeding and wait the 8 -12 hours. If you decide to wait out the week, pay attention as days go by for any hootch or signs that the starter is underfed.

Remember your starter is full of little beasties eating and multiplying and dying. A mature or ripe starter is at the peak of live beasties, and food is used up and their numbers will soon start to dwindle as they die off. Cooling slows them down but doesn't supply them with more food to multiply so use them when they are at their best.

 

Storage: If you want to store them for a longer time and don't plan on using them in the first 4-5 days, then take out a tablespoon, mix with about 50g water and add flour to make a very stiff dough. Then tuck them right away into the refrigerator and leave them alone for 5 days or longer (up to two weeks is average, longer can happen.) Give them a jar about twice their size.

This 5 day stiff dough that gradually softens to goo, can then be used at will by taking out a tablespoon at a time and refreshing for recipes until it is almost gone or looks like it needs feeding. (Refreshing takes 8-12 hours at 75°F) Better not to wait until it looks bad and better to make the next firm starter after a refreshing.) Mine sits in a coffee mug with a plastic cover/rubber band right next to the eggs.

Firm Starter: As a rule... The more flour you feed your beasties, the longer they take to mature, the longer the food lasts and the longer the storage time. Temperature plays a big role. (Naturally there is a limit to the amount of flour, but crumbs just holding together, is the limit, I think.)

Mini O

cdnDough's picture
cdnDough

 If you decide to wait out the week, pay attention as days go by for any hootch or signs that the starter is underfed.

Another newbie question... what are the signs of an underfed starter?  Leader's instructions for stiff levain read:

"... Let the levain stand to ferment at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours, until it has risen into a dome and doubled in volume.  It may already have begun to deflate... Uncover the levain and pinch off about 1/2 cup, or a piece the size of a tennis ball (125 g).  Uncover the dough, add the levain piece, and sprinkle on the salt.... Cover the remaining levain and store in the refrigerator, refreshing it at least once a week following the instructions on pages 114-15."

After taking 125 g out, I didn't really have that much left.  I scraped down the sides of the jar and put the gooey mass into the fridge.  Today being Friday, I plan to refresh on Monday night and bake again on Tuesday.  I hope I've done this right!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Doing good. That works just right. Don't forget to save just a spoonful to keep going. :)

oops almost forgot the Q ..."How do I recognise an underfed starter?"  Well, it starts to smell more like beer or alcohol, starts to separate and a liquid forms on top of the starter and gradually gets darker with age.  It stops rising and producing gas.  That about sums it up.

I haven't seen one in so long my memory is getting fuzzy. lol 

Ya never wanna starve a starter. Give it food and time to multiply and it will be happy.

Mini O

Patf's picture
Patf

with a related question - I've bought Maggie Glezer's book and am going to follow her sourdough starter diary. It's all very clear, except: do you put the jar of starter into the fridge after feeding it daily? Or at room temperature? Or in a warmplace?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Good question. This is what makes up the balancing act known as "growing a starter." Understanding the starter, that "it" is a "they" and "they" are a living group of organisms that feed on flour, helps you to understand them and meet their needs. And these needs do vary. We also like them to meet our needs, speed up and slow down their activity (retard) as we fit them into our schedules.

The two main beasties we want to develop have different but overlapping requirements.

If you are just starting a starter (love that play on words) it is good to keep it at room temperature, between 65 and 76 for good overlapping activity. And then, because you're promoting the yeast, you need a larger jar too!

Cooling the starter or staying in the 60's °F range, promotes the lacto beasties and slows down the yeasty ones more. Many times the starter appears to be slow to rise (yeast) but the lacto beasties are working like crazy. The yeasts just take a little longer. If the temperature rises, the yeasts work like crazy. If you happen to have the ideal temperature (and this may also vary) for both lacto and yeast beasties, then they will multiply and stabilize much sooner.

Once the starter is well established, then the attention shifts more to promoting the lacto beasties, at least with a firm starter. They require less room and a smaller jar if kept in the refrigerator because you are supressing the yeast, just be aware that if you warm them up, they may need lots of room to expand especially if there is any food left in the starter. This refrigerator starter is cold and beasty lopsided and loaded with lacto beasties. (It was developed using starter, refreshed and put back into the refrigerator with no time to mature at room temperature.) Taking a spoon of it and mixing it with room temperature water and then adding food, warms the beasties up and the lacto and yeast beasts multiply. Leaving this to stand and mature to start a loaf of bread. The yeasts were there all the time, they were just supressed. If the starter becomes sluggish or the yeast population has dropped too low to raise a loaf, then maybe conditions to promote the yeast should be made. This can be done by refreshing the starter a few times at room temperature or adding food that the yeast thrive on. Add warmth and they really multiply. Many times, the recipe allows this to happen naturally buy building the starter in stages that take anywhere from 4 to 12 hours each depending on temperature and ratio of beasts (starter) to flour.

Water also plays a role. Lacto beasties do not move on their own so they require stirring, and yeasty beasties move around looking for their food. More water also tends to speed up movement, and movement in turn speeds up multiplication. Deprive them of water, they also slow down. When concentrations of beasts are low, like when first creating a starter, it is important to stir it and promote their multiplication. The yeast beasties have the upper hand so I tend to cater to the lacto beasties, which like it cooler (and to complicate matters, also like 104°F or 40°c, the higher of the overlapping zones) and like to be moved around. Raising the temperature gives the yeasty beasties a chance to catch up so they can balance flavor and raise the dough. At higher temperatures, the beasties are also using up food fast and this will affect your rising times and give you shorter times to work.

By controlling the temperature & food, you control the speed of multiplication. Multiplication is essential because with more fresh yeasts beasties, more gas is produced that raises the dough. The more lacto beasties, the more flavor and bennefits from their work.

So there are many ways you can manipulate your starter to meet your needs. Where you put your jar of starter depends on you and the beasties. What you want them to do. It may sound complicated at first but it is really quite simple. It all comes down to temperature and food and when you want them to go to work.

Mini O

Soundman's picture
Soundman

MiniOven,

I just found this thread and your post and found it spot on. A really comprehensive explanation to a complicated subject. Nice going!

I will refer new posters to it in the future.

Soundman (David)

cdnDough's picture
cdnDough

Thanks for the great replies folks!  Very reassuring.

Patf's picture
Patf

many thanks, Mini. I think I follow that, it makes sense, The method seems to be very much trial and error, and I'm looking forward to the experiment. Pat.