The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Troubleshooting my starter

n.grant's picture

Troubleshooting my starter


So this is my first post, so forgive me if I do not follow some of "The Fresh Loaf" etiquette. I have attempted to make a starter a few times now, but have not had much luck. I have been following this starter recipe. My first attempt was with 100% whole wheat flour, and my second attempt was with a 50/50% whole wheat flour and all purpose white flour mixture.

During both attempts, all was looking good up until day 4 or so. Up until then, the gas bubbles kept getting larger each day, and the smell of the starter was quite potent. After that point though, I noticed a very quick decline in the amount and size of bubbles until there were practically none left. In addition to this, the smell went from a strong smell of sourdough, to smelling just like flour again. The texture also changed quiet a bit too. The consistency went from thick and almost like a semi wet cookie dough, that still held its shape (if that makes sense), to a runny consistency, which is almost comparable to a brownie batter. One my first attempt I kept up feeding until day 8 or 9 to see if it would bounce back but to no avail.

I'm not sure if I am over feeding or something like that, as I am very new to this. Again, I have been following that recipe. I have looked at a few others too and they seem to be pretty similar. As of right now, every day that I feed, I keep 40g of starter, and mix that with 40g dechlorinated, room temperature water, and 40g flour. I keep it in a warm (70 degrees roughly) spot, and keep it in a mason jar, covered with a washcloth to keep the moisture in, but to allow for some airflow. 

All advise is welcome. I am very eager to get my starter off the ground!

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Nice to have you on board. 

For a starter to go quiet after the initial bubbling up is very normal! The first burst of activity is from bad bacteria. After which they die off and then the good bacteria and yeasts take hold. This interim period appears quiet but things are happening. Unfortunately you gave up on your starters when you should have skipped a feed or two, or even three, kept them warm and just given them a stir. Once they begin to wake up again then you restart the feeds. Should it begin to go smelly before any signs of life then a small feed, with no discard, should encourage it. A starter needs warmth, time and food. Feed when there are signs of life, keep warm and stir. 

P.s. pineapple juice for the first few feedings will help your starter. Once your starter is viable and rising predictably then switch to water. 

n.grant's picture

Thank you very much with the reply. Luckily I did not throw away my second attempt yet, so I will keep going with it. I did not feed it today, and am excited to see if it bounces back. From all the replies on here, I am expecting it to do so. Everyone on here has mentioned pineapple juice - is it the sugars that help get the starter going? If that is the case, is there anything I can do in lieu of pineapple juice? Would putting a tiny dollop of honey have a similar affect? I thought I read somewhere that the sugars in honey can help a starter proliferate, but cannot find the source. 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

You've caught me on site. It's not the sugars but rather the acidity. The first burst of activity, which can happen quite quickly, is leuconostoc, bad bacteria. As the starter matures it becomes acidic and kills off the bad bacteria (I think, and I know this sounds odd, but the bad bacteria themselves turn it acidic but have to check up on that) making way for the good bacteria and yeasts which favour this environment. Adding pineapple juice just speeds up this process giving your starter a helping hand.

txbubba's picture

I followed the same recipe from The Perfect Loaf modified with the use of pineapple juice for the first four days. After numerous failures this one finally matured and I've been using it successfully for a few months now. I also used it to make the levain for the Field Blend #2 in Forkish's FWSY. Getting past the first 4-5 days is critical. The only other suggestion is to possibly find a warmer spot in your house. Mine did really well when the room temp was 78f.

Scottyrox's picture

i think everyone does the same thing. try the pineapple juice thing. There's a recipe on here, also on YouTube. I used 1/4 tsp vinegar in my feeds after the first week (read that tip somewhere).

My culture did not like to be messed with daily. I realized, that You cannot put a timer on your yeast culture. Times can only serve as guidelines. I only needed to feed my yeast every couple days. give it time to thrive. And I think the couple drops of vinegar when feeding really kicked mine into gear

n.grant's picture

Thank you all for the responses. I will keep going and see if it bounces back. If so, I will be sure to post a picture of my first sourdough loaf! I have gathered a lot of valuable information from this thread.

Vtg79's picture

I also started with just wwf n water, managed to get past the dormant stage & got a yeasty starter which went dormant again when I switched it to 100%apf. Its still dormant and I think the culprit is bleached apf. I set out feeding one portion with a 50:50 mix of apf and wwf which has come back to life. Going to try bread flour instead of apf.

phaz's picture

Switching to an entirely different flour was most likely the cause. I've found, when incorporating a different flour, start with a 50/50 mix at most for a couple days. Then increase the new flour to what you want. I've never had a problem with bleached flour. The starter I'm using now came from bleached ap flour, although I'm now incorporating unbleached - little by little - only took a couple days to get it adapted. I may just be one if those lucky ones though. I've never had a problem with a starter using most any kind of flour - and backyard blackberries once (that one was amazing, I swear it could raise the dead and I had a month or so of sourdough bread with the slightest hint of berry to it - gotta get one if those going again this summer).

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

the starter will take at least two weeks before the yeast show themselves.  Get the temperature of the goop up to at least 75°F if you want to speed it along.  With cool temps of 70°F one can reduce the feeding to every second day or skip several days without any problems.