The Fresh Loaf

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My starter doesnt eat white flour

Zenserene's picture

My starter doesnt eat white flour



I posted on here a few months ago regarding issues with my starter. I've baked around 30 loaves between then and now and all have been failures. I'll attempt to add as much detail as possible to this post.

I take a time-lapse video of my starter during the day, keep it inside a proofing box, and feed it twice a day (1:8:5 starter:water:flour) I also occasionally measure pH, it's reliably around 5.5 after feeding and around 3.7 after it falls, typically around 4 at peak. I feed it rye flour, and sometimes a 50/50 mix of rye and whole wheat. It rises and falls predictably, tripling in volume at its peak (~6h after feeding kept at 78F), and falling at around 8 hours. I feed it 3 times on weekend days and only twice during the weekdays. Recently, out of frustration, I bought a starter (the KA starter), and was able to make good bread, which was enough incentive to keep trying. I've kept my starter alive purely out of stubbornness, but I can't get it to make anything good. Everything is under proofed, even after bulking for over 8h at 80C, at which point my gluten network starts to disintegrate and I end up with pancake batter. 

Out of desperation, this morning I decided to feed it white KA AP flour instead of its usual Bob's organic dark rye. Because white flour can't hold as much water, I fed it a 1:6:5 ratio, instead of the usual 1:8:5 to reach a similar consistency. I've been watching it throughout the day and took a time-lapse. It's been 10 hours since I fed it and it hasn't grown at all. There seems to be marginal activity and a few small bubbles, but otherwise it's dead.

Do you guys have any idea why this is happening? why can my starter feed on rye very well, act predictably, smell good, etc, but isn't able to feed on white flour? 

Thank you all in advance :) 


 EDIT: Link to pictures and videos of my starter and a few loaves of bread: 
Note: On videos, disregard the little container with the cloth, it's a 3 day-old starter I. 


idaveindy's picture

Perhaps your white flour is bleached.

Perhaps your white flour is unmalted, so there is nothing to break down the starch to simpler sugars.

But if it's really King Arthur AP, it should be unbleached and malted.  

If you store the white flour in something other than the original bag, could it have gotten switched with something else?

Zenserene's picture

Thank you for the suggestions. I do store my flour in a container, but I happened to refill the container a few days ago and I'm 100% certain it's KA AP flour. 

DanAyo's picture

Zen, your feed ration seems way off. 1:8:5 is 160% hydration. The is way too wet. Why not take a bit off your original starter and try a ratio of 1:5:5 or 1:4:5? Either whole rye or white flour should work well. BTW, 5 grams of starter is plenty enough for a healthy starter.

When a starter is too wet the gluten is not strong enough to hold the gas. It won’t rise.

Your pH readings indicate a good starter, at least as far as LAB are concerned. I’d bet the yeast are equally healthy.

Please keep us posted. After all of your perseverance and work you deserve a great loaf…


Zen, if you would have posted this to the regular forum instead of the BLOG, I think you would have gotten more replies.

Zenserene's picture

Hey Dan, 

when I post videos of it it'll be easier to see that this hydration level does work for a rye starter. It is a lot easier to mix and handle, and it rises nicely when it's that wet. I used to keep it at 100% hydration, and because the rye absorbs so much water, it was almost like a dough--really hard to stirr and it was harder to see/gauge rise. 

Thank you for your help! I'll try to post more details and pictures later today. 

idaveindy's picture

Just to cover all the bases, is your ratio 1:6:5 by weight or by volume?

"Everything is under proofed, even after bulking for over 8h at 80C, at which point my gluten network starts to disintegrate and I end up with pancake batter. "

That sounds more like over-proofing. (And I assume you meant 80 F.)

Zenserene's picture

I did mean 80F :) thanks, and yes, all measurements are by weight.

So crumb shots of my loaves look underproofed, with big holes near the top, and gummy small holes/no holes in the bottom (I'll post pictures when I get home and put them on my computer). But that's after a LONG bulk at 80F. If I let it go for longer, it seems to turn into pancake batter fairly quickly. It'll transition from looking under-proofed after 8h at 80F (very little rise, few bublles, not jiggly, etc) to being super sticky and thin at around 10h. Following the Tartine Country Loaf recipe, I check it every hour or so after the recommended 3h bulk at 78-80F, and it really doesn't seem to rise at all. I've experimented with tall jars and taken time-lapse videos to see at what point the dough doubles, and I found that it seems to peak after growing around 20% (If I start with 50mL, it seems to expand to ~70mL max), which takes around 8h. Tartine's country bread recipe states the loaf should rise 20-30% in ~3h, and obviously that hasn't been my experience. The "best" loaf I've baked with this starter was after a 7h bulk and a 2h proof, but that was still super gummy on the inside. 

Also, I find that using bread flour gives me maybe an extra hour before the dough turns to pancake batter, and marginally better results, but still not good. I don't do a lot of shaping, and try to touch the dough as little as possible with 1 coil fold and 2 stretch and folds in the first 2 hours. I also bake all my doughs inside a dutch oven after preheating to ~500F (my current oven really only seems to make it to ~480F). 

Another factor to consider could be my gas oven? At my previous house we had an electric oven, and my oven thermometer read 500F when the oven claimed to be preheated. At my current place we have a gas oven that seems to run cold, and I have to set it to 550F (the max) to make it to ~480F. 

chefcdp's picture

I am unable to keep a rye starter because it rapidly deteriorates into a substance that gives the kind of results in use that you describe for your rye starter or worse.


When I want a rye starter I convert my white flour starter to a separate batch of rye starter. Often it is just a matter of changing the flour to rye for a new jar of start. Sometimes, for reasons that elude me, the starter resists the new flour and it takes a second try - once even a third.


Here is my method:

Take one heaping teaspoon of active AP starter and mix with 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of rye flour. Let that mix stand at room temperature for twelve hours or until it bubbles up (whichever is less).  If after twelve hours the new starter does not appear active, discard all but a Tablespoon and feed with 1/4 cup each of water and rye flour. That should result in an active rye starter, if not repeat the discard and feeding.


Once you have an active rye starter, build the quantity that you need for the levain.  I feed with equal (by weight) parts of flour and water.


If you drink it, tap water is fine. Room temperature is good enough.  I certainly would not try to hustle rye start in a proofer. I only know of water problems with reverse osmosis filters or extremely alkaline water.

Bottom line,  keep your KA starter on AP and make your rye starter as needed.


Good luck to you.


Zenserene's picture

Carlos, I am super intrigued by what you describe. The whole reason I went to a rye starter was because so many people on the internet report better results with it. I used to keep a starter that was 50% rye and 50% whole wheat, it worked very well, and I was so confortable with it that I would use it in regular yeasted recipes instead of yeast (cinnamon rolls, naan, pull appart rolls, milk bread, pizza, etc), always with great results and even better flavor than regular yeast wouldve yielded. I wonder if there's any data on this on the internet, I'll have to spend my afternoon googling. 

I keep going back to the idea that maybe I've "captured" and cultured a type of yeast that simply isn't very good at leavening bread, but not sure if that's even a thing or if it's my overactive imagination. 

I'll try the steps you outlined, thank you! 

chefcdp's picture

I do not have any scientific data, just the observations of starter in my own kitchen.


Although most agree that usually extraneous sourdough “critters” arrive in the flour, it is tempting to think that that my kitchen might be contaminated with some rogue yeast or bacilli. That is highly unlikely because there has never been an adverse effect on my white flour starter.


I first thought that it might be my home ground rye flour, but I get just about the same results with commercial rye . You are right that most praise rye starter for its added flavor and rising ability.


That is all true, but I can not store a rye starter because it quickly turns to foul smelling snot. If I try to use it before it completely degrades, I get similar results to your reporting. Freshly converted to rye starter works great.


Perhaps I have offended the Bread Gods in some manner.


Your post was the first that I had heard reporting problems similar to mine with rye starter. Glad to share my work around.


Good luck.