The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Fooled by weak starter?

BXMurphy's picture
BXMurphy

Fooled by weak starter?

I understand that a "strong starter" is one that doubles in four hours after a one part starter, one part water, one part flour feeding (1:1:1).

I like to feed my starter once every 12 hours when I am actively baking. In order to do this, I run it at 3:35:40. It's beautiful! I love my starter.

This thing triples and falls like clockwork at 23°C (73°F). But if 1:1:1 rises in four hours, shouldn't a 1:2:2: last for eight hours and 1:3:3 last for 12 hours?

I'm effectively doing 1:13. I think my starter is strong and healthy but am I being fooled? Should I be shooting for a doubling instead of a tripling?

I am going to try different things but... what do you think?

Murph

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

To me this sounds like a very healthy starter.

Math of ratios vs time is non-linear, since it's an exponential process (until a certain point). Check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exponential_growth#Water_lily

Or a different formulation of the same problem that I heard at school: if starting with double the size of the plant, how long will it take to cover the pond?

The basic idea is that halving or doubling the inoculation only offsets the time to peak by a fixed time - not doubles, or halves it. This is a big simplification for the real world (I'd be curious to see how wrong it is, actually, someone must have measured time to peaking at different inoculations? the issue is that peaking of the starter is not the same as reaching the stationary phase though...), but that's the reason why your math is off.

Addition: remembered, foodgeek has done this experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvYpp_66nZ0&list=PLL03Y2G6kvdtv8p4tYJ86IzddJJkWJoz6&index=39 It looks to me like with his starter at those conditions from 1:1:1 to 1:5:5 each increment of feeding ratio prolongs time to peak by approximately one hour.

BXMurphy's picture
BXMurphy

THAT'S what it is... I forgot about the exponential growth aspect.

Thanks, Ilya! It was driving me NUTS - not to mention aggravation - trying to keep up!

It was funny, too. I couldn't weigh less than a couple of grams of carryover starter for my feedings because everything is so sticky. I just kept increasing the amount of new flour. Until one day last weekend.

I used the starter straight out of the refrigerator. It was in a new cup so there was not much stuck to the sides of the cup. Being cold and very sticky, everything came out of the cup except the merest crumb.

"That'll teach it!", I thought.

The crumb had maybe a total of three yeast cells in it. I gave it a gram each of water and flour. I gave it a couple of grams each the next day. And worried for a few more days.

Sure, I pinched off some of the dough from the bread I was making but sure enough, those three yeast cells became millions just like the grain of rice example you showed me in the link you sent.

But you're pretty sure that's yeast and not bacteria throwing off enough gas to raise the starter?

Murph

 

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

I'm glad my comment was helpful for you :)

I don't see why it wouldn't be yeast. It's sour, right? Maintained at room temperature or slightly above? Can't really be anything else...