The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Did my starter die?

Marni's picture

Did my starter die?

Did my starter just die without clear cause?  I used it last week to make the 1,2,3 recipe suggested by another poster and it was fine.  I fed it as usual and it turned a light beige/yellow  color and got a bad, yogurty smell over the next 12 hours.  I fed it again and it did not rise.  It has been out on the counter the entire time.  I have been feeding it at about 12 hour intervals, keeping it at just under 100% hydration- a bit thicker. It's fed King Arthur AP flour with occasional additions of whole grain rye.   I get little bubbles and the sour smell has left, but the good yeasty smell has not returned.  It doesn't rise at all.

I tried baking with it yesterday and now have three very large hockey pucks.

I've had this starter for about eight months with no problems and great results.  The only difference in its care is that my house has gone from around 75-78 degrees to about 68-72 degrees during the day.  But the test loaves yesterday were proofed in my warmed microwave and baked under a cloche (with added steam - kind of the belt and suspenders approach) and had imperceptible oven spring.

I'm grateful for any suggestions.


SourdoLady's picture

A healthy starter will not just up and die in a week's time. There is something else going on. What kind of water are you using? If it is city water, maybe your water treatment plant added too much chemicals for it. If they use chloramines, it can be especially bad for wild yeast. Was your starter originally made with wild yeast or commercial yeast?

suave's picture

I don't think it has died, but the temperature drop could certainly be responsible for the behavior you observe.  Yeast prefers higher temperatures, in the 80 F range I believe, so going down to 70 and below will certainly slow it down.  Find a warm spot, or let the starter ferment longer, or cut the amount of flour you use to refresh.  It is also my personal empirical totally non-scientific observation that room temperature starter gets used to its environment and feeding schedule and doesn't take well to abrupt changes.  It doesn't die, but for some time doesn't behave quite right either.


fancypantalons's picture

Well, judging from the smell you described, I'd bet you just have an imbalance in the microbe populations (possibly due to the temperature fluctuations, although who really knows).  An overproduction of lactobacilli would explain the "off" smell.  I'd start giving it rye or wheat as part of the feeding schedule over the next few days to a week, in order to help restore the yeast-to-bacteria ratio.  Other things to try are to increase the feedings a bit (instead of 1:2:2, go with 1:3:3 or so), which should help increase the ph (overproduction of bacteria might have resulted in a starter that's overly acidic), and to increase the hydration to a little over 100% (I've found this really jumpstarts the yeast in my starter if it's looking a bit sluggish).

Marni's picture

Thank you all for your responses.  I really want it back up and usable, we're almost out of bread!

Sourdolady- I use city water that's filtered through my home reverse osmosis filter. It is a very high quality system, but maybe it doesn't get eveything out.  I'm going to check.  The starter is totally wild, made following your instructions posted on TFL.  Thanks!  We've all been enjoying it!

Mike - I did try moving the starter to a warmer spot yesterday.  No change.  I'm going to try again today.  Even though I'm in Los Angeles, the night temps. get down to the 50's and my house is cold.  We like it and haven't used any heat yet, but maybe the starter needs it.

FancyPantalons- I was wondering the same thing, I'm going to get a new bag of rye flour and try that.  Whenever it seemed tired ot sluggish in the past, the rye or whole wheat perked it up, but this seems beyond sluggish.  Definitely worth a try though.

Thanks again for your help. Any more ideas are very welcome, I don't want to start over again. 


Wild-Yeast's picture

Having your starter head south can really ruin a busy schedule especially for anyone that's become dependent on the lifestyle of the Pain au Levan...,

1.) 77 dF is ideal.  Find a place where the cat(s) likes to sit and use it.

2.) I would recomend adding organic whole wheat.  A little rye will provide essential nutrients is OK but the organic WW will have a more pronounced effect on restoring it. 

3.) Adding a little vitamin C or pineapple juice is a good idea.

4.) Aerate the mixture.

5.) Cover well and keep out direct sunlight.


Marni's picture

My starter seems to be quite well now.  I'm not sure what slowed it down or what revived it, but it rose beautifully last night and looks rarin' to go.

My best guesses are the drop in our house temperature as the main cause, and also for it's revival.  Its been in the low 70's here and then yesterday it went back up to the upper 70's and today the low 80's.  (yes, that's November in LA)  I have also been feeding it a little more.  Then last night I gave it almost all whole grain rye with just a little white.  It responded like crazy. 

I often add whole grains to the mix, so I'm still not sure why it flopped.  I'm just so glad it's okay.

Thanks again for all the fast, helpful advice.