The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Keep going or start over

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Keep going or start over

First time trying to make a starter from scratch.  Used all King Arthurs Whole Wheat for the first 24 hours.  Did a 1:1:1 refeed after 24 hours with a 50:50 mix of King Arthurs Whole Wheat and Gold Medal Bread Flour.  For the first night, I left it in my kitchen which is on the cool side.  So, I moved it into my home heating room for the second 24 hours, which is definitely on the warm side.

I came home from work after 12 hours and I could see where the starter had rose the full height of a quart mason jar and then dropped back to its original volume.  Opened it up and it smelled on the septic side, but not terrible.  Have refed it twice now with 1:1:1 and moved it to a cooler location.  Getting some bubbling, but not much rising.  Still has a "odd" smell, but not nearly as bad as the first go around.  

Should I keep going and will it come around, or better to notch it up as a learning moment and start over?

Thanks for any insight!

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

Now that it's slowed down slow down your feeds to match. Also move it back to the warm place. The first bubbling up sounds like the Leuconostoc stage. These are the quick off the mark bacteria. Sometimes bad hence the smell. But it's a necessary stage. The more it matures the more acidic the starter becomes killing off the bad bacteria to be replaced by good bacteria and yeasts. But now it's slowed down so should your feeding. Go back to once every 24 hours but only if there is activity. It might come to a full stop in which case so do you. Just keep warm and stir. It appears to be sleeping or dead but it's just sorting itself out. This lull can last 1 - 2 or even 3 days. Have patience. Once you see some activity again then start the with the feeds. As it strengthens and quickens so does your feeding schedule. 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Thank you very much!  I was about to throw it out and start over, but you talked me back from the edge.  :-)

The warm area is probably in the 85-90 deg range.  Too warm?

phaz's picture
phaz

All normal. The smell is from the white flour and will go away. It won't do much of anything for about a week so don't be surprised if ya see nothing happening for a while. 

Just add a little flour and water to get a wet dough like consistency and just stir it a couple times a day. Don't add anything unless the consistency changes - it may get thinner. If it does get watery, just as a little flour and water to get that wet dough like consistency again. Enjoy! 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Thank you for the response and advise!

I guess I would describe it as "soupy" maybe.  I posted a short video on YouTube of what it looks like right now.

https://youtu.be/1wIyRqq2zjU

Would you add a little flour and water.  Maintain the same 1:1 water to flour?  Right now, I have 120g of starter, 120g of water, and 120g of flour that I added at 9:30 AM.  How much would you add if not doing a normal feeding?

 

phaz's picture
phaz

Follow as directed, go by the feel of the starter. The feel is more important than grams or ratios as this stage. Get that wet dough like consistency and maintain it until it comes to life. And don't discard.Enjoy!

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Stirred it last night around 10:30-11:00 PM and put it back in the warm location.  This morning, there's a thin layer of liquid around the outer edge of the jar, but the center of the jar looks like it might be getting a little bit of a mound (either that or the edges have fallen) with some small bubbles.

At this point, I'm going to try and decant off that bit of liquid and add a little bit of the King Arthurs to thicken it up.  I would say the consistency right now is closer to pancake batter than it is dough. 

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

If you can then carefully remove it. No need to get rid of the water. Stir it back in and add in some flour to thicken it up. It's very thin. Needs to be quite a bit thicker. Stir well and keep warm. Around 78°F if possible but not a problem if a bit warmer especially while it's so young as it will help it to move quicker. When it matures you'll need to find a cooler place or it'll ferment too quickly and you'll be feeding it very often. 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

No more feeds except for the bit of flour to thicken it up. Only start the feeds again once you see more activity. 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Thank you everyone!  Added 25g of flour.  Woudn't say it's a dough consistency yet.  More of a very thick batter, but didn't want to over feed.  Figured less is better at this point as I'll have time to keep a close eye on it over the next few days and can hopefully time the next feeding better.

phaz's picture
phaz

As already mentioned, get the consistency and maintain it. That's all ya need to know. Enjoy!

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Followed advice yesterday and added 25g of WW flour in the morning and then another 25g of bread flour in the late afternoon to get to a dough like consistency.  Got a thermometer for the room it's in, and the temps are ranging from 77-81 deg F depending on how much heat the boiler is calling for to heat the house/make hot water.

Starting to see some activity as of this morning.  Has increased in level by at least a quarter inch, is developing larger bubbles at the surface, no apparent separation, and smells MUCH better (almost yeast like).

My plan is to leave it alone even though it's been 24 hours and wait until it peaks.  At that point, do I go back to a 1:1:1 feeding, or do I go with something less than that since I'm nursing this starter along? Not sure why it rotated this photo...

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

No harm in the first feed being 2:1:1 and see how it reacts. Then if all goes well wait until it peaks again and try a 1:1:1. Then a 1:2:2. Only move onto the next stage if the previous goes without hitch. Keep it on a 24 hourly schedule unless it's peaking within 12 hours in which case move onto a 12 houly schedule. Should it slow back down then so do your feeds. Once it's on a 1:2:2, every 12 hours and it rises well with consistency then try a levain build of 1:5:5. If that goes well then try your first bread with the levain build. 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Sounds good and appreciate the help.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

It's all about reading the starter which I think you're picking up well. When starting out it's difficult to read a starter as one doesn't know what to expect. Now you've nursed it through the quiet stage it'll become easier. 

Happy Thanksgiving. 

P.s. when trying a levain build you take a little of your starter making an off shoot starter, aka levain, all the while keeping your starter going. So if you need 100g levain then build it something like this....

  • 10g starter 
  • 50g water
  • 50g flour

Use when peaked.

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

I sometimes work with activated sludge in wastewater treatment.  Similar concepts...  Bugs are healthy and warmer temps, they can consume more waste.  If the bugs are unhealthy or temperature drops too much, need to watch your food to mass ratio or unwanted organisms start to show up.  Just need to apply that to starters and get a feel for how they respond.

Thank you again for your help!

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

You have all the expertise needed. Perfectly put!

However don't ever get the two mixed up. One wouldn't want a baked artisanal loaf of sludge 😂

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Yeah...  Definitely wouldn't be the pleasant aromas of a good loaf of bread.  :-)

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy
HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

The fun you could have with that conclusion.  ;-)

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

phaz's picture
phaz

Exactly. I was epa certified for treatment plant operation many moons ago and the principles are about the same. Provide the environment and the food - and let it happen.  

Keep on going and maintain that consistency. When the consistency changes (as it's coming to life it'll get thinner over a shorter period of time) just add food to keep that consistency. 

Knowing a bit (maybe not so much any more - 20+ years can make you forget some things) about activated sludge let me ask you this - what happens when your inflow is greater than the capacity of the system to handle it?

Then, what do you do to get the system up to the task of handling a large inflow? Keep in mind you can't add more sludge.

2 questions - and insight (maybe) to "maintain consistency" - might as well add in "stir regularly". Enjoy!

 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

For the first, not sure if you're referring to volume or nutrient inflow, but for the second I would increase RAS and decrease WAS to maintain F/M.  aka lower my ratio of fresh food to the starter until the starter had enough organisms to handle a full feeding.  ;-)

Got it!

phaz's picture
phaz

That's it - now apply to the treatment facility in your jar.

Ie - too much food = dilution = weak = not ideal

To little = starvation/acid build up = nothing good.

Since we can't readily or easily determine the number of bugs, we have to use what we have available - that's or eyes and our hands. We see bubbles and rising, we feel consistency. Bubbles/rising (what we call activity) shows life, but does nothing to determine how much life. Not that we need to know that, we just want to make sure we have a high enough % to do the job in whatever the time frame happens to be. Not all that different from a operating a treatment facility (I'll use the pc term so as not to offend!). 

An easy way to ensure a good % of bugs, is to only supply enough food to allow a little bit of a rise at the end of the feed cycle. A good feed routine will allow a little rise by the time food is again supplied. Theory being, a little rise at the end of the cycle shows enough food without being to much. 

So as mentioned - stir and maintain consistency. It gets thin/watery = running out of food. It never gets thinner = too much food. Consistency of feel also helps ensure a consistent strength in the starter. And we know consistency of processes equates to a consistency of results. Sounds like a win win situation, and that's always a good thing. Enjoy!

 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Did a 2:1:1 feeding at 12:15 PM.  Volume increased by 50% in a little over 6 hours and was just starting to slump.  Consistency was a little thinner and "pourable" after stirring, but nice and "gooey".

Did a 1:1:1 feeding and we'll see what it looks like in the morning.

Should I keep it at the warmer temperature (78-82 deg F), or should I move it to a cooler location (70-75 deg F) so it doesn't take off overnight and I let it go too long?

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

70-75°F is moving it to a cooler location. For me... If only I can find somewhere that's as warm as 70-75°F. 

I think 1:1:1 overnight is fine anyhow. It's not as if you're catching it at peak to bake with and i don't believe it'll exhaust all the food and go kaput overnight. 

However 70-75°F is quite ample and makes sense to move it to a cooler location (it's still not cold) and give it more time in the morning if it needs it.

Better cooler and longer (you can always move it back to the warmer place come morning) then overly warm and it ferments too fast. But really 70°F ish is perfectly reasonable for a longer ferment. Also, as your starter grows stronger although it prefers warmer temperatures (75-78°F being ideal) it'll cope better in cooler temperatures. All part of the learning curve. When making a starter from scratch cooler temperatures can mean the difference between 5-7 days and up to two weeks. A fully mature starter will do just fine in slightly cooler temperatures. Will take a little longer though. Better to play it safe and be able to wait longer then overly warm and try turning back time. 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Was a little warmer than I thought.  After 5 hours...  Hope it makes it till morning.  :-)

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

Just feed it again when you can. Plenty of life left in it even after peaking. 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Yep...  Looked good.  Smelled good.  Looked like the peak was about the height in the picture last night.  Had dropped back down an inch or so, but was not all the way back to its original volume this morning.

Bumped up to a 1:2:2.  Will see how it goes.

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

Then you can plan a bake. Feed your starter tonight as normal (1:2:2) and from the discard use 15g to build the poolish (bit of a misnomer as it should be called a levain).

Here is the recipe. Enjoy!

Any questions please ask. 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

I see in other recipes a 12-36 hour fermentation period that I don't see in this one.  Any particular reason this one skips it?

Using Active Yeast type recipes, I haven't really worried too much about the quality of the flour.  I see many recipes stress the quality of the flour (like this one).  Should I worry about that this early in my SD baking journey, or learn with whatever I have in the house and refine from there?

Because my family doesn't do a lot of "bread with meals" type eating and nothing more exotic than white dinner rolls, I was going to try and make a sandwich type loaf to ease them into something other than white or WW bread from a bag.  Can this recipe be used for that and just shape it into a loaf versus a ball?

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

This has a 245g of pre-ferment, to 340g flour, in the final dough and doesn't have any refrigeration time. There is a long ferment but that's mostly done in the levain build which forms a high percentage of the recipe. 

If you have a bread flour that's great. If you have an AP flour that's 11-12% protein that'll do to. It's not a very high hydration dough and as long as you get the gluten formation done well it'll be fine. 

Of course you can! Just shape it into a loaf pan. 

This is just a trial mind you. This will tell us the health of your starter. Might turn out fine but often the first loaf isn't perfect. All part of the learning curve. Gotta dive in and make that first loaf some time. Then we'll assess and plan what to do from there. If all goes well we'll talk about refrigerating the starter and maintenance. If not then it'll just need some more TLC then try again. 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Didn't think about the % of starter to dough flour.  The 12 hour ferment is kind of built-in to this recipe with the levain.  Got it!

That sounds perfect to me.  I learn a ton by reading and discussing via forums, but I learn the best when I'm digging in and making mistakes.  :-)

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

First levain didn't turn out very active (picture at bottom of thread), so I added 3x more starter discard from my morning feeding, let it ferment for 3 hours, and continued.  The levain passed the float test, so I went for the first loaf.  

I noticed from the recipe, that they did not include the 15g of starter in the calculation for flour and water totals.  I assume that is because it is so small in relation to the levain and dough.  However, when I took the total starter up to 60g, I recalculated and included that water and flour to maintain 65% hydration.  

First loaf is about to go in the oven.  Ran into a couple of other issues with the dough getting wet while kneading, folding, and shaping, so pretty sure it's gonna be a frisbee.

My question...  Is the starter usually excluded from the % hydration calculation, and should I have ignored it in my recalculations?

phaz's picture
phaz

Technically no. Ignore it - if you're a stickler for such numbers you wouldn't ignore it. Enjoy!

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Well I at least got that part right then.  :-)  Steep learning curve.  Will see how the next one goes.

phaz's picture
phaz

It's simple - all wet is divided by all dry. The only grey area is what you call wet and dry (hard to believe but some have difficulty deciding).

I made this up one day when I was extremely bored, pop in the numbers and if does all the math for ya - how much to weigh, with or without a preferment, hydration for both of needed. I don't weight anything but after playing with it a bit I could see it helping - maybe even understanding bakers math. Also handy for tracking changes.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FYiH3d79ultHUYTsh5cHwFh1kxNHvETg/view?usp=drivesdk

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Thank you!  Will take a look at it.  I am definitely a numbers guy.  :-)

phaz's picture
phaz

I had a feeling

BXMurphy's picture
BXMurphy

Abe,

Thanks for bringing time and temperature into focus.

My last go around with sourdough four years ago ended in frustration as I completely overlooked time and temperature as essential ingredients in a bread.

I was brought up on bread in bags and instant dry yeast if I ever baked anything. This time around is different for some reason. A moment of clarity?

In any case, I have seen with my own eyes how time and temperature have affected my new starter - and later, my levain and dough (Thanks, Mini Oven!).

Time and temperature are essential ingredients. Anybody can bake anything once they learn how to manipulate these two ingredients. You can bake what you want, when you want.

The problem is, getting the rhythm just right. That takes good notes and experimentation but the rewards are well worth the effort.

 

Murph

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Thanks for the insight...

From that standpoint, it sounds very similar to cooking with a smoker.  It's easy to ruin a good brisket by not paying attention to your smoker temp, and you need to have the patience for it to go through the stall and reach the final temp target.  Cranking up the heat to push it through only dries out the beef.  Go slow, keep your temp on target, and it will tell you when it's ready.  Not the other way around.  :-)

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Levain has been fermenting since 7:00 PM.  Plan to try the first loaf tomorrow!

 

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Levain showed minimal signs of activity this morning.  A few bubbles, but had zero expansion in the bowl.  So...  Since this is an experiment and first attempt working with SD dough, I decided to press on with Plan B.  I added another 60g of starter to the levain (starter is showing good activity) when I did my morning feed.  Going to give that 4 hours of fermentation, and then will proceed with the recipe.  Hopefully, there will be enough activity to pass the float test.  Will see how it goes and try again tomorrow.

HeiHei29er's picture
HeiHei29er

Wasn't a complete failure.  Crust was nice and crunchy, and the flavor was good.

Very dense though.

Loaf #1 in the books.  Hoping #2 will be a little better.  :-)