May 17, 2014 - 3:21pm
Not enough yeast in starter?
When my starter was 1 month old, I could make bread that had great oven spring and a lovely crumb. The taste was mildly sour.
My starter is now about 2.5 months old and it seems to have taken a turn for the worse. The bread I'm getting now has hardly any oven spring and is dense. The taste is more sour than 5 weeks ago, but it's not overly sour.
I fear that my starter doesn't have enough yeast anymore to raise bread sufficiently, but this is just speculation on my part. How do I fix my starter so that it can raise my bread again? I keep my starter at room temperature (around 67-70F). After it has peaked and just barely collapsed (which is about every 12-14 hours) I feed it 1:4:5 (10g S: 40g W : 50g AP Flour).
Thanks for any help.
Hi Mary, your loaves in March had 73° F room temp. Try using warm water when feeding the starter or double the starter amount to 20g with your overnight feeds when temperatures drop. I have a large styrofoam cup that helps me keep the starter warm now that I've turned off the heat in the house.
I will make sure my water is warm (approximately 85F) for my next few feedings. I'll let you know how it turns out. Thanks Mini!
or up to 80°F only if you want to push it. If you get the starter to peak and starts to measurably fall back at or before 8 hrs, then slip in an 8 hr feeding for one day. Then when you return to your room temp it should be more vigorous for the 12 hr feedings. As room temps warm up with seasonal changes, drop the starter inoculation back down to 10g. Use a little bit more or less starter to inoculate depending on fluctuations in temperature. :)
.... hence my current request for info. I think many things can affect oven spring - even a change of flour. I suggest you repeat your last bake but instead of your starter, use a small amount of dried yeast. If that gives you the spring you're looking for then you'll know that your starter culture is deficient.
Hi aroma, I added 0.3% instant dry yeast to my Tartine basic country bread and I got a good rise and oven spring. So I do believe that my starter culture is not strong enough to raise bread.
.... what to do now? How do you revitalize your starter - perhaps the experts here can help.
is build your starter differently before making bread dough with it. Check out this discussion:
That thread is filled with so much helpful information! In addition to carefully monitoring my starter maintenance, I will try a 3-stage build for my next bake. It's a little more work than doing a single levain build, but it'll be worth it if my bread will rise again.
when building my rye starter back to full strength and 66% hydration for storage in the fridge for up to 6 weeks as i bake one or two loaves out of it each week.
Depending on how much storage starter I want to end up with I pick a row. In each case the 1st and 2nd feedings have the same amount of water and flour and last 4 hours throwing nothing away and are done at 76-82 F. If, for some reason, the starter cannot double in volume after the 2nd feeding then that amount is tossed and the 2nd feeding repeated again. If it doubles after the 2nd feeding within 4 hours then the 3rd feeding is done where there is much more flo0ur than water to get the hydration down to 66%. When this starter rises 25%, it is refrigerated for storage.
I use this schedule to build levains from it over the 4-6 week period. If I want things to go faster or be more sour or both, I might double the seed amount.
The same thing happens here too. If the levain can't double after the 2nd feeding in 4 hours, it is tossed and repeated. I refrigerate my levain for bakes from 1 - 2 days after it has risen 25% after the 3rd feeding to increase sour and flavor.
Hopes this helps.
The room temperature in my house is rarely above 74F so the doubling might not happen in 4 hours for me, but I will watch closely to see how long it takes.
in AZ,thekitchen rarely gets to 65F. Ij ust put it on a heating pad set to low or medium depending on if i put a towel on the pad first. The key is to make sure that the levain is at its peak, or slightly past it, when it goes into the mix. mine peaks in 2 hours after the 2nd feeding or even 1 hour after the 3rd feeding sometimes.
I don't have an electric heating pad but I do have a microwaveable back wrap. I think it's filled with beans or rice or something like that. That might work as long as I remember to rewarm it every once in a while.
with the starter or levain added after warming is another great,and small place to keep them warm and happy, so long as you remember to take them out when rewarming the water - unlike what i did:-)
As a number of (much) more astute bakers than me on this site have pointed out in the past - if your kitchen is too cool, a simple but inventive way to up the ambient temperature of your starter is to place it in the oven with the oven light on. If the starter sits on a baking stone, it will heat up over the course of very few hours and you will have heat from above ( the bulb) and below (the stone). It is quit amazing how warm the oven can get with just the light turned on.
My room temp for the past 2 days has been under 70F. Today I put a thermometer in my oven with the light on to see how warm it gets in there... 76-77F. I just have to remember not to preheat my oven without taking out my starter!
My wife turned the oven on and baked my leavain, which would not have been so bad except it was covered with a shower cap that melted all over the bowl.
Perhaps it isn't the starter? It could be an issue of under proofed or over proofed dough or perhaps you are baking from a different batch or type of flour?
I haven't changed my flour so I can eliminate that as a factor. I don't think I'm under or over proofing because I've been carefully watching the dough at every stage and checking the visual cues. But I guess I can't rule out the proofing just yet. However, for now I will focus on the starter health and see if that makes a good loaf. Thanks 30 chickens!
30 Chickens: Now that my starter is recovering nicely, I will focus on my proofing times. I didn't believe that it was possible with my mild room temperature to overproof my dough, but after reading a lot of TFL posts about overproofing, I think I might be guilty of it. Thank you for bringing it up.
Update as of Tuesday May 20: I've been feeding my starter twice a day (1:4:4). It seems to double 6 or 7 hours after feeding. And it peaks and collapses back a bit at around 12 or 13 hours after feeding. I feed it at that point.
I made 2 batches of dough today. One with a 3-stage build for 120g levain (using dabrownman's levain table) and the other with the "typical" 12 hour single build 20:50:50 = 120g.
Both doughs seemed to handle and develop the same throughout the bulk fermentation and shaping. Both boules are now shaped retarding in the refrigerator. I will update again after I bake them tomorrow.
This was my main problem. As i slept the dough would proof to 120% in 12 hours.
skip one feeding (just stir the starter every 4 hrs or so after the 12 hrs is up and whip in some air) reduce and continue feeding twice a day. I would feed it for the night, skip the morning feed, and during the day you can just stir it. Then when evening rolls around, reduce and feed 1:4:4 and see what it's like in the morning.
Hi Mini, I did as you suggested. I skipped a morning feeding and just stirred the starter during the day. Then at night I did a 1:4:4 feeding. About 7 hours after that feeding, it had tripled. I'm not sure what else to look for. What does skipping a feeding do for the starter?
in the starter and encourages more yeast growth.
Yes, I've heard that one before. I guess I should have mentioned that.
At least the cat wasn't in there drying out from the last rainstorm. (that was a joke!)
When I was living in the dormitory during college, there was a common living room with a small kitchen for the 50 residents on the floor. We decided to preheat the oven to bake some cookies. A horrible smell came from the oven about 15 minutes later. Another resident had put his wet shoes in the oven to "dry off" after a storm.
Forgot they were in there and preheated the oven. Smell was something awful.
But how did they taste? ;-)
Take a desk lamp with an incandescent light bulb. You now have a starter warmer.
67F won't kill or reduce your yeast. Your starter is 2 1/2 months old so there's likely plenty of yeast in there.
Like I mentioned yesterday, I made two batches of dough using the following formula. Both were treated identically throughout the entire process except for the levain build. One batch with a 3-stage build for the levain (using dabrownman's levain table) and the other with the "typical" 12 hour single build for the levain.
235 grams AP flour
170 grams water
6 grams salt
105 grams levain
Total: 516 grams
I did the finger poke test to check for overproofing (since the 18 hr retardation might have been too long for such a large % of levain in the final mix). The dent held for a second and then came back almost the entire way, but I could still see it a little bit. I don't know how accurate the poke test is when the dough is cold. Both boules held their shape nicely when I turned them out of their proofing bowls.
The flavor of both loaves were pretty much the same, but you can see the difference in oven spring and crumb . The 3-stage levain bread was far superior to the one made with the single build.
Those loaves really did come out quite different from one another.
What a dramatic difference. Your documentation of it is wonderful, too.
I think I need to try dabrownman's build myself sometime soon.
I did a 3 stage build leavin for a Desem - amazing really - still one of my favorite breads. These are both fine breads but possibly a tinge over proofed - say 95%? I would try it againwith a little less proofing or a little less levain.
I started a 3 stage build yesterday, refrigerated for 24 hours 1 hour after the 3rd stage feeding to bring out more sour. I'm doing an experiment to see if i can get a 2 hour bulk ferment in before shaping, doing a bulk retard of 12 hours and then warm up, shape and proof using a levain that is 9.85% of the total flour and water rather than the usual 20%.
At 20%, I had to cut out the bulk ferment and bake shaped cold out of the fridge. I want to see how the flavor and spring changes using PR's methods.
Nothing like a good bread experiment! Well done and
I used 105 g levain which is 52.5 g flour. Flour in the mix is 235 g.
52.5. + 235 = 287.5 g flour in final dough.
52.5 is 18.3% of 287.5.
So my prefermented flour would be 18.3%, right?
"the levain is 36.5% of the total flour weight" or "18.3% of the flour is prefermented". You are right. And I also have to check twice what was ment.
don't have much use for this number since the hydration of the flour is not considered and the hydration is as important than the flour in my book
I use % of flour and water in the preferment compared to total flour and water in the dough. In your case the levain weighs roughly 20% of the total flour and water (105/510). That's the usual amount that I would use for dough that has no bulk ferment and will be in the fridge for a shaped retard of 8-10 hours. Otherwise it over proofs substantially and the reason for this weeks experiment.
Total levain this week is 75 g and the total flour and water is 761 g = 9.86% less than half our normal. i hope to add a 2 hour bulk counter ferment, 12 hour bulk retard, 2 hour warm up and a 2 hour counter proof after shaping to our normal routine. Won't know till Friday lunch time how it all works out.
A quick question - Did you bake the 3 stage bread first or 2nd?
I cannot bake 2 loaves at the same time with my oven set up. So I knew that one loaf would be baked first while the other waited about 45min to an hour. To account for that, I mixed the 3-stage first, then 1 hour later I mixed the single stage. This way both doughs would have been proofed for the same amount of time.
So to answer your question, I baked the 3-stage first. But they were really baked at the "same" time.
(edited for clarity)
is that when I bake 2 loaves one after the other the 2nd one either has an advantage of a hotter oven and stone and better steam, Or it is disadvantaged by having a less hot oven, stone and less steam. My 2nd pizza is always better than the first but usually the first bread is better than the 2nd. Why this is so I don't know. Hard to get everything the same if not baked at the same time but we do what we can to make it so.
I agree that the first is always at a disadvantage.
that when I bake 2 loaves one after the other the 2nd one either has an advantage of a hotter oven and stone and better steam, Or it is disadvantaged by having a less hot oven, stone and less steam. My 2nd pizza is always better than the first but usually the first bread is better than the 2nd. Why this is so I don't know. Hard to get everything the same if not baked at the same time but we do what we can to make it so.
The first time I posted this, by hitting save, the whole site blew up and it tossed me off saying the web page was not available and that I would be directed back to the home page in 5 seconds. It never redirected me so I navigated back manually and re posted using cut and paste from the clipboard.
So the site loses stuff it says it will keep ...and keeps stuff it says it lost? I'm very confused now:-)
The site has been making comments disappear lately. But I guess in your case it's duplicating them. :)
emkay: Your loaves had good rise when the starter was 1 month old. Any idea why your loaves stopped rising as much 1 1/2 months later? Was that mystery ever solved?
Mini explained it best in http://www.thefreshloaf.com/comment/296022#comment-296022. I am now trying to keep my starter between 72-80F. And I will only feed when it has peaked and fallen back.
will reduce yeast numbers dramatically over a period of days or weeks depending on the temperatures and the feed amounts. Letting the starter reach peak and letting the acids build will help yeast maintain their strength. Anytime the starter seems like it's slowing down, let the starter reach peak and fall back or even skip a feeding allowing the acid to increase and at the same time allowing yeast to multiply under ideal conditions.
Regularly allowing the starter to eat through all the given food, say once or twice a month for example will lower pH raise acids and encourage yeast activity. This can be done in a number of ways, refreshing the starter before using, saving part of end starter after builds (specifically builds aimed at improving yeast numbers) or when replacing the refrigerator "mother" letting the starter go through several complete feed cycles (rising and falling back) before refreshing, waiting for evidence of gas production before returning the starter to the refrigerator. Depending on the temperature and hydration, and the amount of food, it can take from a few hours to a day or two for the yeast to raise the total acid levels (lower the pH) of the starter to maintain and protect itself.
Maintain the starter to have some sour, how you build and raise the dough for a recipe will determine how sour the bread will taste. But it is a good idea to have the starter more on the sour side than not. A sour tasting starter will not always produce a sour tasting bread but you can be sure a starter is in a healthy state when acids are being produced.
You are the "starter whisperer" , Mini! Thank you for helping me get my starter back on track!
to know to keep my long stored starter, 6 weeks with no maintenance, well in the fridge. I would add that whole grains, especially rye and wheat are great for these long stored starters for flour. Attaining a 66% hydration, or even less, after peaking after the previous feeding, will also give the starter enough food to last out the 6 weeks.
I think you have to add David Snyder, Andy, Phil and Josh to the list for sure and probably quite a few more like Ian
I actually whistle to my starter. :) Don't know if the sound waves help. Can't hurt.
Do you have a list of references? I would love to get a technical book on starter maintenance.
"Do you have a list of references?"
You must be new around here. Mini Oven IS the reference! Well, at least, one of them. Come to think of it, a list would be nice. Here's my partial list, in no particular order...
1) Mini Oven
Feel free to add to this list, of course. I have a short memory for names.
emkay: another question for you (sorry for so many questions),
How much time do you allow between your final starter refreshment and mixing your dough? Apologies if you've stated this and I missed it.
Hi mixinator, No need to apologize for asking questions. :)
I'm not sure if you mean (1) how long after I feed my starter will I use that same starter to begin building my levain or (2) how long does it take to build my levain.
#1: I never use a freshly fed starter to build my levain. I use a starter that has peaked and fallen back which takes at least 12 hours after feeding for me.
#2: I take a small amount of my starter that has peaked and fallen back and then build my levain in a single stage over 12 -16 hours (single inoculation) or in 3-stages over 12 hours per dabrowman's levain build table (3 progressive inoculations). Some formulas (like Chad Robertson's Tartine breads or Ken Forkish's FWSY) use a younger levain which ferments for less than 8 hours.
These are very general guidelines. The schedule will vary if you keep your starter in the refrigerator, it's really hot in your house, or if you want a different flavor profile (more/less sour), etc.
Hope this answers your question.
Hi emkay -
I meant (1). You're certainly getting a good rise with the 3-stage build. It's still not clear to me why your loaves went from having a good rise to a not so good rise in a month and a half, assuming you were doing everything the same. Your very first loaves with good rise were before MiniOven's advice to raise the temperature and skip feedings. I wanted to rule out that you were using the starter too soon after refreshing, but you say it's about 12 hours.
You start with a liquid(?) starter, build a firm levain, then make your dough? Is that correct?
I went from getting a good rise to a poor rise and checked everything I could think of. I thought it might have been the flour as I had just switched brands. Turns out I had to rework my measurements as my dough seemed a little underhydrated. Out came the measuring cups and the digital scale and yes, I needed to use more water.
I'm not sure why my starter did so well early on and then stopped working so well. But it's most likely the lower room temp in my kitchen. I 've been keeping my starter at 100% now. I build my levain to be a stiff or liquid one depending on the recipe I plan to bake.
Here is some interesting information about yeast and temperature from Dr. Trudy Wassenaar:
At emkay's original room temperature of 67 - 70 F, yeast will grow and multiply, just not as fast as at higher temperatures, according to Dr. Wassenaar. This calls into question whether temperature alone caused her loaves to rise less at 2 1/2 months. She was getting a good rise after one month, suggesting that her starter had a mature yeast population at that time.
I think with a starter one shouldnt just consider the temperature where the yeast grows best, but also the temperature at which the lactobacilli grow best. While both living in a symbiosis, they still compete for some of the food.
Both, within the range you posted, grow more, the warmer it gets. But: Yeast growth compared to lactobacilli growth seems to be best at 24°C to 26°C. Fermenting at a higher or lower temperature will result in more lactobacilli compared to yeast.
Ganzle's research and data on SD cultures looking at the symbiotic relationship of LAB and yeast clearly show that the both LAB and yeast are both reproducing at low temperatures down to 36 F per this chart based on the data. It is just slower than at room temperatures. Long low retards (36 F) and high temperature final proofs (92 F) will give you a more sour bread since LABS reproduce significantly faster then yeast at those temperatures and the reason I keep my rye starter at 36 F for 6 weeks and do a long retard on bread dough to get the most sour bread i can. The best temperature for yeast is 82 F and best for LAB is 92 F or so.
If you do'lt want sour then do everything at room temperature where yeast reproduce nearly as fast as LAB and,sine there are more yeast. The bread will ferment and proof faster with less LAB meaning less time and less LAB to make sour. This is the process used by Forkish and Robertson to get their very mildly sour SF style SD bread.
adri: Agreed, but the mystery is why her loaves didn't rise as much after 2 1/2 months. The ambient temperature wasn't low enough to kill the yeast.
It didn't kill the yeast, but maybe the proportion of the MOs shifted towards lactobacilli?
If my starter gets weaker I keep it at 26°C for some feeding cycles. Usually it comes back very quickly.
What also could have happened is a shift from heteorfermentative to homofermentative lactobacilli. In most starters it is not just the yeast that produces the CO2.
to consider; mixi, you touched on the subject, is the hydration.
Going from a liquid starter to a stiff one takes more time to mature the starter. That might be "the lag" in the process mistaken for low activity, and indeed it is low activity. I've found it takes a few days for the yeast numbers to come back up and usually in builds so making a stiff starter from a liquid one should be done well in advance of making a firm starter recipe. The low hydration coupled with slightly cooler temps will noticeably slow fermentation.
Even on the countertop, one has to carefully evaluate the liquid starter with the room temp. A very cool night will do more damage than a warm baking day if you are unaware that the starter needs more time to mature before using and feeding. That is why large very wet starters do well in a cold kitchen, the acid level is maintained when only part of the starter is used. The high hydration helps the yeast numbers rebound before the next baking day.
There is an old but good method of wrapping the firm starter until the inside pressure increases, hanging up the inoculated ball of starter until it was ready. It has been talked about and played with in the archives along with firm starters vs liquid ones many times over. Try looking under "switching to a firm starter" or "pate fermente" or "old dough method" or "ripening a firm starter" and see what comes up.
This thread is an excellent one too:
adri: even if LABs reproduced at a higher rate due to the lower temperature, the yeast are still there -- we know they haven't been killed off -- and it's yeast that makes the bread rise. Temperature affects the reproduction rate. She apparently had a mature yeast population when she first started baking and got good rises.
Mini Oven: hydration could play a role, but in her o.p. she made no mention of converting from a liquid starter to a firm one. She got a great rise with the triple levain but that doesn't explain why her starter or some other factor caused the poor rises 2 1/2 months in.
So far we have no evidence that starter temperature was the culprit -- a mystery indeed.
not so sure... we do have evidence that warming the starter did increase speed of rising, a sign that the yeast numbers were improving. Over the time period, the temperatures dropped but not the time of feeding or the amount of food.
reason the starter was great and then went to less than what it was a month and a half later was that it was allowed to get below peak performance with a combination of reasons and circumstances. The temperature may have been different, the hydration different, the feeding and schedule somehow different. It doesn't really matter though.
The reason i do what i do with starters and levain using the 3 stage build is that I want my starter full strength and as sour as possible and I want my levain at peak performance levels since it makes bread rise as best as it can and it springs better in the oven if it only proofs to 85% before going in the heat and Mega Steam.
The 3 stage build ensures that no matter what the temperature or hydration the levain is it will be at its peak when put into the autolysed dough. If it fails stage 2, then stage 2 is repeated. There is never a time when I don't know if the levain is ready to do what I want it to do. The retarding of the starter and levain is to promote sour. I want to inoculate the dough with as many LAB and as few yeast as possible. Few yeast means it takes longer to ferment and proof the dough giving the LAB more time to make acid and more LAB to begin with means there will be more acid too.
So the 3 stage build, for me, is just a way to ensure that the levain will perform at its peak and do what we ask it to do - make a good loaf of bread that rises properly -and tastes great.
I baked another loaf of bread to see how my starter was doing. I didn't have time to monitor a 3-stage levain build so I did a single 12-hour levain build. I chose Hamelman's Vermont sourdough because I had success with it before my starter woes began. And I've also had a recent failure where the loaf turned out like a dense pancake.
I did a 2.5 hr bulk fermentation with 2 stretch and folds at room temp ( 72-73F) and then shape retarded in the refrigerator (40F) for 19 hrs.
From looking at my photos, can anyone tell if it looks overproofed? I always seem to retard my shaped loaves for 15-20 hours since that fits my schedule, but if it's too long then I might have to decrease the length of retardation or decrease the amount of levain or both.
To me it doesn't look overproofed but just perfect.
The goldish colour needs sugars. An overproofed loaf wouldn't have those sugars.
I'm still new at this whole bread thing and still trying to determine if my loaves are properly proofed or not. Thanks adri!
Can't really say too much about it other than to say your starter is back to being it's old self and making a bread rise like it should. Well done and happy baking
dab: Thanks for all your help. My starter thanks you too!
Bread looks awesome. Well done
Thank you ghazi! I'm just happy that my starter can make bread again.