Please Help my starter! I feel like I've tried everything with no luck!
First, apologies. I know this forum gets a million posts just like this one every day but I truly do believe I have tried almost every trick in the book and am fresh out of ideas. I'm no stranger to baking bread regularly with commercial yeast but this is my first foray into sourdough.
I have been trying to get my starter going for 14 days now. I initially started it using 50g water and 50g just White Bread Flour (I know I know... It's blasphemous not to use Rye but I rectified that later). Around Day 3 I started discarding 50% and feeding once a day with another 50g each of flour and water. I never got any hooch or otherwise obvious signs of it being hungry so I stuck with the same volume of flour. It seemed to be going fine for the the first 5 days... Getting nice and bubbly and rising a little but it never doubled. The most it rose was about a third around day 7. Then no more than that. It was a quite loose pourable texture and also developed a sudden pungent parmesan cheese like smell. See Pic:
Everything I've read (which is a lot) suggests that the smell may be an indication that the pH is off. Various sources also suggested that perhaps the hydration was too high given that it was only white flour which absorbs less water, leading to looser texture and thus might be letting the gasses escape before it can double in size.
So I tried the following troubleshooting steps:
- Switching to a 1:2:1 ratio to thicken the texture and give it a chance to trap more gas and left it longer between feeds to give it a chance to eat up the flour.
- I tried a test loaf with it and it was woefully bad. A heavy gummy brick with virtually no fermentation.
The starter still only rose by a third despite being very thick and the bread failed so I'm guessing this means the yeast activity isn't vigorous enough yet(?) The strong cheesy smell dissipated though.
- Next, in order to get more yeast activity going I tried introducing some good quality wholegrain stoneground Rye Flour for 50% of the flour content in my feeds. Same feeding schedule as before. I went back to a 1:1:1 ratio as the previously thicker texture was just a pain to mix and I figured that as I was adding the rye, it would absorb more water and make the starter less watery anyway.
5 days later with daily feedings of rye, white bread flour and water, still nothing. Barely any bubbles. No hooch, no obvious signs of fermentation. Smells marginally sour, but it's not even rising at all now.
I'm so frustrated. I would also like to add that I've ruled out water chlorine by checking the water quality reports for my area and it's very very low; basically a trace amount.
I have also invested in an thermometer and a heating pad to ensure the starter is kept at a constant 24°c and still nothing after 4 days of sitting on it. Only a couple of tiny bubbles.
Please help. I'm trying my best and have no idea what I'm doing wrong. Any advice at all would be appreciated.