The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

About to give up and/or sit down and cry!

merlie's picture

About to give up and/or sit down and cry!

I seem to be destined to never make my own starter ! My first attempt was Peter Reinhart's formula from  BBA. That just sat there , was very runny and did nothing. ( for days!) Next I went to my Tartine book and tried Chad Robertson's method. This resulted in it separating and forming a nasty black skin - never did bubble up or look anything like the pictures. Now , having read many posts here on TFL I am about to toss out my third attempt - PR's method from Artisan Breads Every Day with pinapple juice. I used a 50/50 blend of bread flour and WW flour. ( because Chad Robertson made me mix up 5lbs of it ! ) This attempt looked promising - a few tiny bubbles on day 3 - so I added flour and juice as per instructions and waited.....I stirred as instructed and waited......still no bubbling. When stirred there were bubbles inside but it did not  appear " active and bubbly " on the top. Day 7 came and went. I then decided to go ahead anyway just to see what would happen. Converting it to a Mother starter looked good. I formed a nice ball and followed PR's instructions to the letter, loosely covering it with plastic wrap. It could have doubled in 4 - 6hrs but it did not .As the house is a little below 70 degrees at night I put it in the oven with just the oven light on. Imagine my delight this morning to find that it had doubled ! This pleasure was short lived however when trying to follow the next step. ( "knead for a few seconds and form back into a ball ") It POURED onto my counter like a thick batter !!!  I have scraped it back into the bowl - what a mess.....It was much much wetter than a ciabatta dough. Why did it do this to me ??


So....feeling better now I've written it all down. If there is anyone near Armstrong, British Columbia throwing out starter please throw it this way !

Any communication gratfully received - Merlie

cranbo's picture

if your starter doubled, it is alive! don't throw it out!

just start feeding it regularly and all will be fine!

I don't know what hydration you are using for your starter. If it seems too liquid to you, make it more firm by adding more flour. 

Getting the starter to live is the hard part, you've done that, congratulations! Feeding it is the easy part: you can make it more liquid or more firm. Liquid or firm will behave in different ways over time, which you choose is up to you. 

Congratulations, and don't give up!

caraway's picture

Don't know how long you had your starter in the oven but if it was quite warm in there chances are it was over it's prime.  Your 68 degree nights are just fine for starter.  It'll rise a little slower but that's better if you want to get a nice sleep in before it starts to fall and needs more food. If the little critters in the bowl are all played out the starter breaks down and gets runny like yours did.  Also, you might want to check your oven temp with the light on.  Mine gets too hot to leave Pita (my pet starter's name) in there for any length of time.

Don't get discouraged, once you learn all the rules it'll get easy.  And sourdough bread is worth it, both healthwise and tastewise.  : )


LindyD's picture

Mr. Reinhart's instructions in the BBA are quite convoluted, plus, he didn't create the pineapple juice method, Debra Wink did.

I think if you read her explanations, you'll gain an understanding of what's happening and what to look for.

The actual instructions are at the end of her post, but reading the entire thing should prove helpful.

Never give up...

nicodvb's picture

Your starter melted either because there's a lot of enzymatic activity going on or because it  was striken by the now classical "thiol syndrome". Keep in refreshing and all will be fine.

GSnyde's picture

It sounds like your starter is fine, but your expectations were different.

When you feed a starter at 60 - 80% hydration, the consistency is like dough.  But as the starter ripens, it becomes gluey and more liquid.  Sounds like yours is doing well.

Good luck.


merlie's picture

I've added more flour and it is now a tacky ball in my refrigerator and looks like it has even risen a little more. Is it ready to use yet? Or do I feed it the night before using it?

Again, thank you for your help everyone.


Baking Mama's picture
Baking Mama

 Merlie, I have had a starter for 8 weeks now and its alive and fine. Try this recipe & method next time. I know starters can be tricky but this one was my 1st attempt and makes awesome sourdough. The hydration is 65%.

White Wheat Starter
Day 1
125g coarse whole wheat flour
125g bread flour
150g unsweetened pineapple juice
Mix together into ball, making sure all the flour is hydrated. Place in lightly oiled container, cover leave at room temp for 24 hrs.
Day 2
125g bread flour
75g unsweetened pineapple juice
125g day 1 dough
Mix you new dough up then knead in the day 1 dough"old dough" Place in container, cover at room temp 24 hrs.
Day 3-10 Repeat Day2 proceedor.
After day 10 I went to every other day feeding of
125g bread flour
75g water
200g "old dough"
Im at my 4th week and going to only feed every 3rd day except when I need to use it I will feed for the 2 days before using! I also refrigerate my starter to retard, I remove 2-3 hrs before feedings and leave out another 2-3 hrs before placing back in frig.
I hope this help Good Luck

merlie's picture

Hi Baking Mama,

Thank you for the recipe - will try it if my starter fails - but every one tells me it is fine now! 


jcking's picture

I think you guys missed an important clue. Merlie is in Canada I believe. The flour labeling there is not the same as in the U.S. Try the all purp. Different flours absorb liquids differently. I have used the pineapple starter with KA bread flour and found it too wet, so try and coax your starter to be a little firmer, closer to a normal dough mix. I would also suggest adding a table spoon of rye flour on the second or third stage. Yet there is nothing wrong with a liquid levain. You'll need to refresh it more often but if you do a lot of baking it's no big deal.

merlie's picture

Thank you jcking, I had no idea that flours are labled differently in Canada. However my starter now seems alive and well !

Regards Merlie.