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Did I ruin my starter with Wild Hive flour? What went wrong?

sammyg's picture

Did I ruin my starter with Wild Hive flour? What went wrong?

I've been baking artisan bread (using Ken Forkish's recipes) with a Levain for a few months now and haven't really had any problems until yesterday when I think I may have ruined my starter with some new flour.

Before today I've been exclusively using King Arthur flour. I wanted to experiment with some local grain (I live in New York City) so I picked up this stuff called Wild Hive Flour. The two flours I picked up and used are labeled as such :

1.) "All Purpose Flour - Stone-Ground Soft White Winter Wheat with 100% of the wheat germ intact

2.) "Whole Wheat All-Purpose Flour - Stone-Ground Organic Soft White Winter Wheat with 100% of the wheat germ intact"

I have no idea what "stone ground" and "white winter wheat" mean, but I'm guessing that's where I went wrong. Are these not equivalent to good ol' KA All-Purpose and Whole Wheat? 

So, what happened when I used these flours to feed my Levain? Basically my Levain turned into a soupy runny mess after feeding it and so did the dough I tried to make with it.

Here's exactly what I did :

- I store my Levain in the fridge while not using it daily.

- The day before mixing my dough I took out 200 grams of my Levain bring it to room temp and then added 100 grams of Wild Hive whole wheat, 400 grams of WH white, and 400 grams of 95 degree water.

- 24 hours later my Levain was runny and liquidy. Definitely not as thick as it normally is at this point. Still I re-fed the Levain with this recipe : 100 grams of Levain, 100 grams of WH wheat, 400 grams of WH white and 400 grams of water at 85 to 90 degrees. 

- 12 hours later the Levain was extremely liquidy like a potato soup or something. At this point I knew something was wrong. I mixed the dough anyway (804 grams of WH white, 26 grams of WH wheat, 50 grams of rye, 216 grams of Levain, 684 grams of water), folded it four times (it had a very sticky and not slack consistency) and 12 hours later it was a liquid mess. Un-shapable. Tossed the whole thing in the garbage


I did save 300 grams of the liquidy levain and threw it in my fridge, but is it ruined at this point? Is there anyway to bring it back? Also, what the hell happened? Is this flour not suitable as a KA replacement using Forkish's timings? If not, are there any other New York local flours? None of my fancy local grocery stores have anything but the big brands. KA works great, but everyone says the local stuff is always better.

EDIT : I think I revived my Levain pretty good by going back to a normal feeding schedule. It took at least 3 feedings though to get it there. Also, I feel like it still might be a pretty active Levain as I'm still having issues getting a good dough (in fact last night I ruined another dough by letting it bulk ferment too long (even though I followed the Forkish recipe)).



AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

Can ruin a starter. I would suggest taking a little of what you have left and feeding it your regular flour but this time making it a low hydration and seeing what happens.

Do you build 100s of grams Forkish recommends and discard a lot each time?

sammyg's picture

Yes I do exactly as Forkish recommends each time.

What exactly does low hydration mean? 1/2 of what Forkish usually reccomends for reviving a Levain?

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

I'm not in favour of building 100s of grams using a little then discarding a bucket full. When I follow a forkish recipe I build up to whatever is needed. But that is another matter. 

A high hydration is 100% which is equal amounts of flour and water by weight or higher ratio of water to flour. 

Lower hydration would be a higher ratio of flour to water. 

Since your starter is very liquid now and you would like to test it to see if its ok then take a small amount and feed it, for example, 100:80 of your regular flour to water to thicken it up. Then see what happens. 

Don't do too much. Use a little as store the rest in case you need more troubleshooting.

Say 20g starter + 100g regular flour + 80g water. 

Let us know what happens. 

kalikan's picture

low hydration would be when you do not add as much water to your starter as you add flour. Forkish's starter is 80% (for every 100g of flour, you would have 80g of water). So maybe try 50%?

Personally, I would have simply tried to feed starter with KA flours in the same ratio as before to see if it thickens up. I think word "soft" in the flour name might mean it has less protein and would simply have less gluten. If that's the case, maybe try using high gluten flour when feeding starter instead of regular all purpose (bread flour of even KA's Sir Lancelot).

P.S. For what it's worth, I'm a beginner just as you are, so take my suggestions above for what they are. Abe's been at it for much longer then me...

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

My computer is about to go kaput and I'll have to recharge. Im leaving it in Yours and Dobie's hands. 

Only way forward is to test. 

Gnite my friends. 

kalikan's picture

Don't know what Wild Hive flours are - never seen them in stores (I'm in NYC as well)... As Abe suggested - try feeding starter with KA flours and see what happens, I don't think you stand to loose much at this point.

As a suggestion, Whole Foods in NYC sell Farmer Ground flours and it seems like a few people here on the forum recommend them - I personally haven't tried them yet (I keep eyeing their High Extraction Whole Wheat flower, but want to see if I can get it in anything larger then 2lb package that WF sells them in).

sammyg's picture

I'll try to revive and will report back. Glad to know I probably don't have to start a whole new Levain.

I actually bought some Farmer Ground Whole Wheat (I didn't see White) at Whole Foods a few hours ago to use on my next batch (although I will stay away for this revival attempt).

dobie's picture

If I remember correctly, soft white winter wheat is lower in protein than hard winter wheat which is lower in protein than hard red winter wheat. The amount of protein correlates directly to the degree of gluten structure. If I remember correctly.

So, it might just be lower protein equals lower gluten structure equals a wet mess. I'm sure someone more knowledgeable will chim in.

I agree with AbeNW11, take your reserve and feed it as you had been with KA.

I would suggest doing a search in this forum for home milling or home grinding grain if you really want the best 'local' stuff.

Remember, Forkish is running a bakery and (in my opinion) is not as sensative to home baker's needs and wants as he is projected to be.

Don't worry, I'm sure you'll recover.

Oh, and always bake rather than toss. It's part of the learning process. What can you lose?


sammyg's picture

Literally I poured the dough on my counter and it spilled off like a thick soup. Not sure how you bake that.

drogon's picture

add baking powder, pour into rings in a hot griddle/frying pan...


sammyg's picture

those look awesome!

drogon's picture

Is my initial thoughts.

Stoneground means just that - the wheat grains ground between 2 stones. One is fixed, the other rotates. The side-effect is that you get everything - which is good - you also get more natural yeasts from the wheat bran, so I'm thinking that it's basically made your starter over active, it's bubbled the flour up, the gluten has gotten over stretched and gone "flop" - welcome to goo land.

Also it's possibly lower gluten as suggested by dobie - does the packet say how much protein? You're aiming for 12-14% ..

I'm sure the starter in your fridge is fine. Goo or not. I'd take 50g of this, add 100g flour + 100g water and see what happens - check it every hour. After 4-5 I'd then use it to make bread with. Add it into 1000g flour and about 550g of water (15g salt) - make it kneadable, but not too sticky, and take it from there.

So yes, give it another go - this time watch the starters and the fermenting dough and be prepared to shorten the ferment/proofing times... It's only bread - make it up as you go along ;-)


sammyg's picture

This sound about right to me as I was noticing that my Levain was growing really fast at first. After about 10 hours on the first feeding it looked a lot like it normally looks at 24 hours. Same thing with the dough, it rose to the right place pretty quickly, but then when I woke up it was a gooey liquid mess.

I wish Forkish had warned me about these tricky stone ground flours, but whatever. Live and learn.

PetraR's picture

It is very difficult to ruin a starter, so do not worry.

Go back to your regular flour and feed your starter at 80% hydrateion for a few times and it should be back to it normal soon.

Right now I am using a 80% hydration starter which is 100g Starter , 100g flour and 80g water, it is a bit easier than kneading a 50% hydration starter.

I do not know why Forkish does mix up such large amount of starter just to discard most of it.

I have always 100g of starter in my jar to feed with 100g flour and 80g water and then I take out what I need so that I have the 100g left in my jar to feed again as before. 

No waste.

pmccool's picture

It isn't necessarily a problem, so long as you know what you are dealing with. Soft wheats (red or white, winter or spring) are softer than hard wheats because they contain less protein.  Typically, the flours they yield are used for pastries, biscuits and other baked goods where tenderness is important.  Flour made from soft wheats is not able to absorb as much liquid as flour made from hard wheats; it's that lower protein content again.  You have experienced this attribute first hand. 

What to do?  Well, there's always pies and scones and biscuits and cookies to make.  If you want to press ahead with bread, you certainly can.  Bakers have, and still do, make wonderful breads using lower-protein flours.  Just understand that the dough will be more extensible and less elastic.  It won't want to hold its shape as well as dough made from higher-protein flours.  And the finished bread will not be as chewy, either. 

I would start by only using 2/3 of the water that you are accustomed to using with the KA flour.  If the dough seems a bit dry, add more water in small (5-10g) increments until the dough is at the desired consistency.  Then proceed with the rest of the process as you usually would.  

Your starter, by the way, isn't hurt at all.  It just needs more flour and less water to get it back to the consistency you want.  


ciabatta's picture

AP flour does not contain the wheat germ, while whole wheat flour does. So on top of what Paul said about the lower protein (= lower gluten) you also have a lot more oil (wheat germ is high in oils) in there from the "100% wheat germ intact."   I bet it's really flavorful though.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I would thicken up part of the starter/dough (same thing now) until it resembles starter consistency as you know it.  Adding something very absorbent is also a possibility like rolled oats or chia seed is also an option.

Use as soon as it thickens, or under 30 minutes into a sourdough recipe you're familiar with.

If you want to continue with the soft flour in making a loaf....  Adding fresh flour and yeast,  letting it rise only one time is your key.   Add more soft flour & less water to double the very fermented soft flour starter/dough you already have.  Sourdough cultures are rather aggressive to soft flour, fermenting fast and falling apart fast.  So it is important that soft flours don't go through long ferments, I would even add extra yeast (2% of new flour weight) if the sourdough can't raise the dough without getting too sour tasting.   As soon as you've mixed up the dough and developed the gluten while kneading,  tasting and adjusting salt.  Give the dough a 10 min rest and then shape into your final loaf to rise only once to almost double.  Keep a sharp eye on it and preheat the oven.  

yozzause's picture

Hi Sam

I think Paul has hit the nail on the head, Different flours have different abilities to absorb water  and gluten strength has a lot to do with doughs ability to take more water and also to hold their shape especially free formed breads.

When i first started the sour dough quest i was meticulous weighing the starter the flour and water in equal quantities to maintain it,  however with the vagaries of different flours even the same flours from different bags or batches, i am happy to add the water to the starter mixing with my hand to a feel consistency and then adding the flour to again a feel consistency, however i hasten to say im doing this usually twice a day 4 or 5 days a week, i'm also discarding 50% after adding the water as it easier to pour off.

I think if you follow the instructions and it feels to sloppy then add a bit more flour to bring it to the consistency you are used to, making a note of any rectification will also help for future reference.     

Kind regards Derek