The Fresh Loaf

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yeast refusing to hold on

bakebakebake's picture

yeast refusing to hold on

Hi everyone!!

Boy am I happy that I found this site!!  I am having trouble (of course) with what I thought was my first attempt at sourdough starter..

I am using BBA method for Seed Culture, hoping to get to the Barm stage at some point.  I have two questions.  #1) I see here that many say that this method (BBA) is a method for Wide Yeast NOT Sourdough starter.  Can someone clear up the difference for me?  And how does one start a Sourdough Starter?

More Importantly... #2)  Having trouble getting my seed culture to develop according to what BBA says should be happening...  This has been my method and results...

 DAY 1:  4.25oz coarse rye flour & 6oz room temp water (NYC water run through my Brita filter).  Put in plastic beaker, marked height.

DAY 2:  Saw small rise (I think maybe 50% or less-can't quite remember).  Mixed in 4.5oz bread flour & 4oz water.

DAY 3:  I think this is the day that I had a pretty big rise - maybe double, maybe a bit more.  Discarded 1/2 the starter.  Added 4.5 oz bread flour & 4oz water.

 DAY 4:   maybe 50% rise.  BBA said that I should have had at least a double this day, or to allow it to sit out another 12-24 hours - so I left it alone until...

DAY 5:  Still no double, maybe 50% rise - decided to  discard 1/2 and feed again.

DAY 6:  Same - no double, but fed it again.. 

Day 7 - TODAY.  Looks like I had 75% rise, but then it fell back again to 50%.  The past couple of days (I'm getting confused, should have kept a journal) it seems to rise best between when I feed it and maybe 6-8 hours later, then it seems to stall and then falls back by the time it gets around to 24 hours.. 

 AM I STARVING IT?  I've read that many methods discard and feed every 12 hours.  Should I try this?  I'm still waiting for the double rise without falling - then BBA tells me to use 7 oz of this "seed culture" with 3 1/2 cups (16oz) flour and 16oz water to make the barm.

 This that I've made smells a bit sour and a bit bready - not bad, I think that day 3 was the worst smell (and the best rise-was this just bacteria.?

 Sorry for the long post, I appreciate any help that you can give me.  I just fed it for today, may try to feed again in 12 hours.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I've read his approach.  It's one I get lots of questions about on my web site.  To me, he's starving the starter.


Also, he plays fast and loose with standard baking terms, which adds to our tower of babel.  Barm is a largely British practice, in which actively fermenting beer is used as a source of yeast to raise bread.  It is not a sourdough procedure.  Since then, he's commented he wished he hadn't misused the term.  One advantage of a web site is you can correct your errors.


Similarly, wild yeast and sourdough should be synonomous.  If you maintain a culture, it will inevitably become a sourdough culture.




bakebakebake's picture

Thanks for your reply Mike,

 I think that I posted the same question to your website as well.  Here's the progress of the this afternoon (I really didn't expect to have any).  I fed the starter about 5 1/2 hours ago... and I have almost doubled the starter.  I guess today was the day.. and on reflection - I think that I fed it 2x yesterday.

Is it fine to continue with P.R.'s instructions on making the 'barm'?  By that method, I would (tonight or in the morning when I have a 2-3x rise and it "falls easily when I tap the beaker") continue on adding the 16oz flour, 16oz water to 7oz of this seed culture.

I would be ready to bake on Monday or so!! 

So excited!! Thanks for your help..

PS - do you ever teach classes in NYC?  I saw Texas and Colorado..  Could you suggest a place here to get a day or two class on bread baking?


Janedo's picture

It sounds like you have something to go by, it's not a dud! Perfection and failproof sourdough and sd bread does not exist. I have made a lot of starters using different methods. One thing I have noticed is that sometimes around days 3-4, nothing seems to happen. The initial excitement of lots of bubbles subsides and then you get scared because you think it's dead! Very often it isn't. You just keep feeding it and it should gain strength. I have tried a 12 hr schedule and a 24 hr schedule and personally didn't see a difference (at the stage when it was sitting out on my counter) However, I feed it T110 which is semi-whole wheat. May make a difference. I have always seen that it takes on average 10 days to have a strong starter, ready to make bread.

I agree that having two or more starters is always a good idea. A liquid, a firm, a white and a whole wheat or rye. Your protect the others and have a variety of "starting points" to make different recipes. Once your starter is really up and going, the frequence of feeding really depends on the frequency of bread making. Kept in the fridge the starter will slow down and so feedings do too. It can get confusing, but it'll become clear as time goes by. 


Windischgirl's picture

for me to jump in about my own starter issue.

I have a 4-mo old liquid starter--followed Nancy Silverton's instructions but made a half batch, used the grapes and all. This is actually the discards...put it in the fridge into dormancy and then brought it back to room temp about 2 months ago.  It's about 16 oz volume in a plastic container.

I have nice bubbles, a delicious smell and a pleasant tangy taste...but no doubling to speak of.  Never had with any of the starter.  I have been using it for flavor, moisture, and improving shelf life of the bread, and so I typically boost the rise with yeast when baking.

I had it on my counter and fed it daily (2-3 Tbs flour & water, depending on consistency and taste).  Wondering if I was overfeeding it, I put it in my fridge this week. I had not done that previously because I bake 3-4 times per week, so I'd constantly have to take it out, refresh, and put it back in (I'm now switching it up and baking some straight dough and some recipes from WGB).

So: what do you think is going on here?  Is it too cold in my house (indoor temp is in the 60's)? Have I been overfeeding it and are the poor yeasties living in their own discards?  Did the right kind of yeast/bacteria not move in? Something else?


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I don't quite understand.  How can you feed it with 2-3 Tbs  flour & water and have 16 oz of starter?  That would make 3-4 oz max.   Do you keep 16 oz and only feed it 2-3 Tbs?  If so, it's starving!  Or better said... it is quickly choking itself.  Take out a teaspoon of starter (throw the rest away or bake muffins with it) and add 3 tbs water and stir to dissolve as much as you can, then pour it through a small seeve and add flour to form a new refreshed starter.   The beasties will reproduce and multiply.  65° F is cool but it won't stop them from budding, just slow them down a little. 

Mini O

Janedo's picture

I personally never measure the rise in my liquid sourdough. For over a year it was out on my counter top and I baked pretty much daily with it. I fed it once a day but it has gone 1 and a half days without. What I look for is nice bubbling about 5-6 hrs after a feeding. If I feel it is a bit sluggish, I feed it some whole wheat and that seems to make it go crazy and it's back on track.

Now I keep it in the fridge and bring some out when I need it. I also made a portion into a firm starter which I find makes excellent bread. I take it out late afternoon, give it a feed making it like a thick batter and the next morning it's ready to go.

As long as it smells sour when it's hungry and goes bubbly when it fed, there shouldn't be a problem. Have you tried a straight sourdough with it, yet? 

Someone here can give you the measures, but you should probably get rid of part of it and give it a proper feed and go from there. I don't know what the "rules" are. But I find that if it's only fed a bit, it dies down too quickly. It needs proportionally a big feed. Am I making any sense here?


dmsnyder's picture

I may eat somewhere around 1 or 2% of my weight in food each day. Sourdough starters need to be fed more like 200-400% of their weight each day. Maybe more. That is, each time you feed your starter, you need to feed it enough to double it's weight, at a minimum.

As Jane said, the criterion for happiness and health in a liquid starter is lots of bubbles. The surface may be covered with something like foam at the peak of activity. A happy firm starter acts like a dough, which it is. It expands in volume. How fast depends on the ratio of starter to flour, how firm it is and on the kind of flour you feed it, as well as ambient temperature.

A starter will fall back when it has exhausted its food supply. If yours is doing that, you need to 1) refrigerate it before this happens to slow down its metabolism, 2) feed it again or 3) use a higher flour: starter ratio at lower hydration, which will lengthen the time it takes to expand and, thereby, the time before it falls back.

You generally want to use a starter when it is at its peak of activity, but you can get away with less active starter if you are willing to let it take more time raising your final dough. 


Windischgirl's picture

I feel as if I've been clueless about starter...and so really appreciate your input.

But can I place blame?  Please?  (I'm really good at that ;-)

My whole concept of starter got thrown off from day 1.  The book I was working with, Nancy Silverton's, has starter instructions that truly make gallons of starter.  The culture starts with over a pound of flour, and once you get to the build stage, you are feeding the starter over 2 lbs of flour each day...and then throwing half of the starter away.  Logically, this didn't make much sense to me...and we're not even talking the cost of flour,  (in the Philly area, KAF is running about $1/lb right now...and that's at Trader Joe's, the discount place).

I ended up making a half batch, which was plenty--I gave 2/3 of it away and still have vats.  Rather than flush a pound of flour a day, I had been feeding the starter "snacks"...which I now realize kept it alive but NOT growing.  It's now cooling its heels in the fridge and cupfuls are going into straight dough...until I can get it to a more manageable quantity.  I've now done much more reading on starters and realize how unwieldy Silverton's recipe is for someone like me who bakes 2-3 loaves per week.

Mini O, I will certainly take your advice on using a spoonful to start the "mother" but I am not sure I will need to sieve is a liquid starter about the consistency of heavy cream or pancake batter.

David, thanks for sharing the info on yeastie nutrition.  I wish any of the books I had referenced had mentioned that!  If someone had explained that a ratio of flour to yeast was needed to help the yeast survive and explained that tossing excess was a good idea to benefit the colony, I might have been more willing to do it.

To reassure myself that I can actually grow a starter (OK, I had extra pineapple juice left over from a recipe) I began Reinhart's starter from WGB with whole wheat flour, on Sunday.  This actually seemed like a reasonable recipe, with quantities of flour and liquid in the Tablespoons.  I could deal.  I originally had it in a 2 qt glass container, but it looked so forlon there on the bottom of the jar I transfered it to a 2 c plastic container.

Nothing for 3 days, a little stirring of life at 5 pm today, so I fed it the next feeding and went to run errands.  At 9 pm my daughter nervously calls my name.  "Mom?  Is it supposed to look like that?  What is that?"

The lid of my 2 c container was balanced on a lovely head of foam which was spilling over onto the counter.  I took a whiff and could sense my blood alcohol rising.  OK!  Back into the 2 qt container with my happy little starter-to-be.  Saturday's coming and I will have a whole day to mix and rise.

Thanks for reinforcing my hope in my fellow bakers...and in wild yeast!