Questions related to Wink's Pineapple Juice articles
My starter is stuck, but not in the usual place. Please help me get it back on track
My starter is 9 days old today, and has appeared to be stuck in the "dead phase" since about day 3.5. I get a small amount of bubbles, but no rise. The consistency of the starter is similar to pancake batter when first fed, transitions to clumpy & sticky (what I assume is the gluten formation but I'm a beginning baker so no experience), and then transitions to liquidy. All of this has happened very predictably for roughly 6 days now. I can vary how quickly it goes through these phases based on the amount I feed, with smaller feedings (2:1:1 for example) being faster to reach the liquidy stage faster than bigger ones (1:1:1 for example).
I've split my culture and tried bigger feedings, smaller ones, less hydrated ones. They are all almost the same, with the exception that bigger feedings progress through those phases slower than smaller ones. I've been recommended to keep my starter warmer than my house's temp of 70F(21C), so I've been attempting to do so altho I don't have a great way to do that. I bundle the containers up under a blanket with a bottle of warm water and let the temp slowly drop until I refresh it again. I'd say the average temp has been about 75F(24C), but occasionally I've misjudged the warmth of the bottle and it's gotten up to 85F(29C) (that's the air just outside the culture container, so I don't think the culture itself has quite reached that high) and overnight it falls as low as 68F(20C). Altho I see small changes, nothing seems to cause any move towards more bubbles or rise. I've read that sourdough starters are surprisingly resilient, and I'd have to agree that mine seems quite determined to stay exactly in this apparent balance it has reached. But it's the wrong balance!!
And this is the source of my frustration. If I knew I was making progress towards the goal, I could happily wait it out. But every single sign I see indicates there is no progress.
In Debra Wink's pineapple juice solution articles, she mentions that her "starters sort of liquefy the day before yeast starts to grow." My least fed version of my starter (2:1:1 1x/day) has been liquefied for at least 3 days (when I started keeping notes on that detail) and I think 1 or 2 days before that. It has not progressed to the yeast phase despite the fact that to follow the pattern, it should have done so several days ago.
Debra Wink did us all a huge favor figuring out the science behind the apparent dying off and dead phase many people see in their starters around day 2 or 3. And now people know to just wait it out and soon enough it'll progress to the next phase. Yeast will move in and bubbles will reappear. But that's not happening for me.
In her description, she says Phase 2 is where you are likely to get stuck: "There probably won't be much gluten degradation, and it may smell a little different, but it shouldn't smell particularly foul unless started with plain water. This phase can last one to three days or more. If it is going to get hung up anywhere, this is the place it usually happens, especially if it is put on a white flour diet too soon." But that's not where I am. And I am using 50/50 WW/unbleached AP flour, so the white flour diet is not an issue.
Phase 3 she described like this: "The starter will become very tart---an indication of more acid production by more acid-tolerant bacteria. The gluten may disappear and tiny bubbles become more noticeable. These are signs that heterofermentative lactobacilli have picked up the baton. Once a starter becomes really sour, it usually transitions right into phase four." This is clearly where I am. My starter is definitely very tart and has been for days. Gluten has been predictably disappearing for days. There are tiny bubbles, but very few. They are not becoming more noticeable.
In her article she talks about the need to activate the yeast that is in the flour. She speculates this is tied to pH, but is unsure if this is actually the activating mechanism. That article is quite a few years old. Do we have any more definitive science on the answer to this question? Because it sounds to me like that's where I'm stuck.
So I'm really at a loss for what to do next. I've tried feeding less often, in smaller ratios, in bigger ratios, with less hydration. The only thing I can think of that I haven't tried is making a very high hydration culture and seeing if that does anything.
Any help would be greatly appreciated!