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Stiff starter (50% hydration) failure

Dough Hacker's picture
Dough Hacker

Stiff starter (50% hydration) failure

In December, I started experimenting with building a stiff sourdough starter. It has been a failure.

I started by first making a 100%-hydration starter using fizzy raisin yeast water and Bob's Red Mill organic AP flour. The raisins are mostly organic Flame raisins with some of the Monukka variety, rinsed to rid the oil. I let that starter sit for 2 days. Then, using 16g of that as seed starter, I began a daily refreshment regimen of 16g starter (discarding the dryer outer skin), 16g AP flour, and 8g raisin water. I would knead the dough into a boule (about the size of a medium egg) and place it in a lidded jar.

On a handful of occasions it was able to yield 60% rise; and a few times, 2X rise. But most of the time the dough ball hardly budged. I kept the jar a few inches from a heater grate (gentle gas type that sits under a grate in the floor). My kitchen was consistently around 67ºF, with the last 2 weeks up to 71ºF; that's where I do the mixing and kneading.

The past two or three weeks, the starter dough hardly budged, smelled quite vinegary, as did the raisin water. The inside had a pasty consistency (like peanut butter) with insignificant signs of activity (tiny voids) if at all. Today I sampled a raisin out of the water, and it was still plump and sturdy and tasted no more acidic than a weak Granny Smith apple.

On this the 64th day of this regimen/experiment, I saw no progress and just discarded everything.

What went wrong?

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

And you particularly want to begin with yeast water enroute to a sourdough starter then perhaps see the yeast water through till it's fully fledged before moving onto flour. 

Fill a small jar with 1/4 organic raisins (we're more concerned about preservatives than a little oil so while it's best to have 100% organic raisins with nothing added often it can't be avoided however do not wash as you want the natural yeasts... it'll still work) and 3/4 water. 

Leave in a warm place for 3-5 days and it's ready when all the raisins are floating and it's bubbling. If you out your ear to it you'll hear a fizz. 

Once it's ready make a 50% hydration piece of dough using the yeast water. Now you can use this to leaven your bread but if you want sourdough then from here onwards keep on perpetuating the piece of dough using flour want water refeeding each time after its peaked. Eventually it'll turn into a fully fledged sourdough. While you're waiting use the yeast water, and discard from the off-shoot dough for that matter, to bake with. Look up 'Swiss Farmhouse Bread Community Bake' for a lovely recipe. 

This will allow you to begin baking in 3-5 days albeit it won't be sourdough for a bit longer. Alternatively you can go down the traditional sourdough route of just flour and water from the start.

Dough Hacker's picture
Dough Hacker

The raisin water I made and used during this entire experiment did become fully fledged all the 2 to 3 times I made it, and it did take 5 to 7 days each time to form bubbles and for the raisins to float even though I always rinsed the raisins with warm water. The fizzing would last for about a week, and I'd continued using the raisin water until finished while making the next batch.

I thought I'd use raisin yeast water because I made it once last year to make a 100%-hydration starter, and it rose more than 2X after only 21 hours, and it made the best loaf of bread I've ever made in the 2 years that I've started making bread.

I kept in the fridge some of the better discards from this 50%-hydration experiment. Not sure how useful that will be.

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

Then stick to yeast water. It can be perpetuated too just like a sourdough starter. No need to start afresh each time it runs out. To refresh just replace the raisins, top up with water and inoculate with a bit of the old yeast water. Within 212-24 hours it'll be active again and ready to use.

Once you have a yeast water going again then as a side experiment recreate that 100% hydration sourdough starter again. Keep it at 100% hydration and re-feed every time it peaks. Once you get a very steady, stable and predictable rise from the starter then you can keep and use as a sourdough plus keep it at any hydration you wish. Might be easier to get it stronger while it's 100% hydration if only when it comes to mixing.