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Jun 6, 2012 08:27 PM

Sourdough Starter and Hooch

I just started a Sour Dough sponged today from a dried Italian strain (Castoldi). It is producing a tremendous amount of hooch quickly like every 2-3 hours. Does that mean it's starving? Should I feed it if it has an inch or two of hooch? Should I put in a less warm area - It's in my microwave probably around 80 degrees.

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  1. Are you planning on using it soon?

    If you are going to use it soon, then just pour off the hooch. You can feed it now, but won't be able to use it until tomorrow.

    If not, I don't see any reason to store it outside of the fridge. Pour of the hooch and pop it in the fridge. Feed every couple days or so with equal weight water and flour.

    Keeping it at a constant 80 degrees without using it could burn out your yeast.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Novelli

      If you're proofing your sourdough starter outside the refrigerator the little critters are going to work much faster to eat up the food in the mix. A starter fed with a 50/50 mix (by weight) of water and flour will often consume all of the nourishment in the blend within 24 hours when kept at the 70 - 80 degree range. The critters begin to die off when the food supply is exhausted - you get hooch. The warmer the temperature, the faster your yeasties will metabolize.
      If you're not going to feed it daily, refrigerate it once it develops into a living colony.

    2. I learn the most amazing things on Chowhound! I opened this thread to learn how to make sourdough starter from booze!

      1 Reply
      1. "Starving"--how much are you feeding it? Be sure you're doing a large enough expansion, meaning feeding it enough relative to the amount of existing starter. I use a 4x rule and keep a 100% hydration starter. So for 100g. of 100% hydration starter, I'd never feed less than 200g. of fresh flour and 200g. water. Your ideal standard hydration for starter doesn't matter as long as you stick to it and you are doing a large enough expansion. I strongly advise against pouring off hooch. It serves no purpose and means the hydration of your starter will be a mystery which makes any sort of accuracy impossible.
        Starter is affected by temperature. The warmer it's environment, the faster it's going to do it's thing and the more it will want to be fed. A new starter will probably do best being fed daily and stored at room temp. After a few weeks it will settle down and can go to fridge storage after feeding. Always feed and allow to double in volume before moving back to the fridge. And perhaps this is stating the obvious, but you will probably want to find a use for all but a bit of your starter before feedings or you'll end up with a huge volume. I use it to make crackers, pancakes, waffles,quick breads or anything that calls for flour and water--just subtract the volume of starter from the rest of the ingredients--another reason it's always good to know the hydration of what's in your jar.

        26 Replies
        1. re: splatgirl

          Thank you everyone.

          @Splatgirl I have been feeding it 3 times a day - but owing to you I see the problem. I haven't been pouring off the extra (and therefore not feeding it enough) - so you are exactly right. Today I poured off 3/4 and w/approx 75% hydration in room temp (which in NYC is around 75ish) it's growing.

          The problem was I couldn't bring myself to "waste" the pour off. Today I made sourdough pancakes with the the pour off and the starter itself came back to life. Every day is a constant struggle between keeping my low carb diet and having delicious sourdough products.

          As for the hooch - I have been stirring it in. Supposedly it's supposed to keep it more sour, I'm not so sure, but I have read interesting data suggesting that the slight alcohol content protects it from certain mold and unpleasant fungi. Any tips for souring it up?

          1. re: splatgirl


            I'm looking for a good book about caring for my starter. Most seem very opinion based. My first starter I didn't feed enough and eventually I killed it. Now I'm doubling it when I feed it. The bad thing about sourdough is how regimented your life becomes. It's like having a dog.

            1. re: j8715

              " The bad thing about sourdough is how regimented your life becomes. It's like having a dog."
              It really isn't. Once it's well established, you can ignore a starter in the fridge for a loooong time and it will still be fine. Worst case it will need two or three feedings before it's lively enough to use again, but unless it's been heated or fed with something besides water and flour, I really think it's impossible to kill a starter. Keep in mind, however, that it takes a few months for a new starter to settle into whatever it's going to be and it's better to err on the side of NOT abusing it at first. My guideline for a starter that is in good shape and ready to bake with is that it doubles in volume in 8 hours or less after feeding. Once it's peaked (doubled), I put it straight into the fridge and consider it bake-ready for a couple of days. Beyond that, I'd repeat the feed before using.

              I completely understand about wasting. Sounds like you've already started finding ways to use your cast off. If you bake by weight, you really can sub it in for flour and liquid called for in any recipe.

              I agree that there's a great deal of dark artish-ness and opinion about sourdough. It annoys me to no end because I am a person that views stuff like growing bacteria as science and thus needs a sound rationale for everything rather than "I just do "x", I have no idea why other than because it's what my grandmother did". OTOH, if it works for that person, then great! Anyway, all the nonsense to wade through makes it really daunting for a newbie or the casually interested. But it's getting better, I think.

              As far as resources, I found and continue to find The Fresh Loaf website useful, but again, there's quite a bit of crap to wade through. In print and sourdough-intense, I really think the Tartine bread book is one of the best yet for beginner-friendly understanding of sourdough AND good formulas. It's a nice combination of recipe and learning to trust your instincts and improvise. Daniel Leader's books are great but more advanced, IMO. Hammelman would be another good one. What Reinhardt has to say about sourdough is not extensive, but anything he does is good.
              As far as playing with the level of sour--that's REALLY sourdough masters or PhD level and IME has as much or more to do with how you manage your dough than your starter. Get comfortable with just maintaining your starter and mastering a basic boule or whatever, then move on to experimenting. There are a bajillion variables. Approach it like science. Take good notes and be a keen observer. Conduct research (aka eat) sourdoughs/true artisan breads everywhere you go. These are the tools I've found most useful. And practice, practice, practice, your number one tool.
              But yes, so much great bread, so few calories between here and too fat!

              1. re: splatgirl

                yes! I totally agree - I made a starter from just flour and water a couple of years ago and at this point it just lives in the fridge and I feed it only every 2-3 weeks (though I admit that there have been some times where I've probably gone a month or even more - when I got married and went on my honeymoon, I came home to find a dried out mass that was my starter. There was a little ball of good looking starter in the middle, so I gave it a try and fed it, and my starter was even better after that). I was obsessive about it for a while but have gotten much more lax as time's gone by. Probably also because I've given some starter now to a number of friends so I can always get some back if I really mess up!

                thanks for this post - it reminded me that I hadn't fed my starter in a long time. I often stir in the hooch and I do think it gives a nice flavor.

                this is my go to mindless recipe for bread (I use a cup whole wheat flour and more water generally):

                I also make some version of this sometimes when I need to feed the starter but don't want to make bread (adding about a third of a cup of oil and whatever fruit I've got around:

                I slice the bread and freeze individually wrapped slices for a nice snack on the go

                1. re: kazhound

                  There's so much data indicating that taking a lax approach produces a more flavorful product. Slow fermentation through refrigeration anda spare diet results in more a more flavorful bread when using traditional yeast and this seems to be the case with sourdough as well. The problem I guess is that there's kind of thin line between "effectively lax" and dead. Ha. Speaking of this phenom - I've decided to name my culture Lazarus in the hopes that if ever need be, it too will rise.

                2. re: splatgirl

                  "Once it's well established, you can . . ."

                  What does well established mean?? This is my problem, lots of vague hints. Same thing with Fresh Loaf, plus a TON of stuff to dig through.

                  The Leader book is on my list somewhere, I had thought it was more recipes, less technique though.

                  The Tartine book looked like more like a coffee table book.

                  Right now I need help handling dough (my bread is tastey, but still pretty ugly) and maybe help with the starter. If I feed it at night, its doubled by morning so it is alive at least. I had trouble waking it up before (how active is ready to bake??). And the whole how much to feed thing. And rise times, mine seems slllllllllloooooooooooooow.

                  1. re: j8715

                    well, when I made mine from just flour and water, I left it on the counter, feeding it twice a day most days for like 2 months. but when it was reliably doubling for over 3 weeks, I threw it in the fridge. I sometimes "wake it up" before use by pre-feeding a portion, but a lot of times like last night/today I just plan for an extra long rise.

                    Sourdough can be really slow. If you're in a rush, you'll have to add yeast, but I try to avoid that :)

                    I'm no expert, but i've had great results with mine. So long as there's real rise action going on and you've got the time, you can bake with it in my book.

                    1. re: kazhound

                      I have been finding a 50% hydration way more effective than a 100% which as I indicated produced hooch within 2-3 hours. I'm imagining this is because of the temperature (but that never exceeded 80 degrees). Has anyone else experienced that anomaly - it really threw me. Now I have moved to the counter top, 50% hydration, replenished at 4x the culture and left the air conditioning on - it's far better environment (but it's so counter-intuitive).

                    2. re: j8715

                      "established" starter: Common wisdom among sourdough geeks, myself included, is that a sourdough starter is a product of it's environment. So if you start with a purchased culture as you have, or say, I send you some of my starter, it will eventually be dominated by beasties that are best suited to your environment vs. whatever it started out as. I am aware of very little actual research to substantiate this theory, however. (microbiology thesis project, anyone?) I have seen it in practice and heard it from many experienced sourdough bakers though. Even me gifting starter to a friend across town, which you would assume would be plug and play (same water supply, same flour), produced a different behavior. And the fact that there are certain very distinct strains of sourdough--San Francisco, for example, that don't exist elsewhere or don't bake the same bread elsewhere.
                      Anyway, "established" meaning settled in and adapted to your environment and presumably stable WRT what lives in it. And meaning predictable (time to peak growth is consistent) and robust enough to get your bread raised.
                      In general, you want to build your dough using starter when it's at it's peak or just before, meaning the number of organisms is highest and most active. Your visual cue is VOLUME. When your starter has been fed and risen as high as it is going to, consider that "peak".
                      I know the Tartine book looks like coffee table fluff, but I think it's great, and I am not someone who has any room in her life for fluffy, mediocre cookbooks. I think it's got the best photos and descriptive info about the dough process and technique as anything out there. The thing with sourdough or dough in general is that it's really about the minutiae and I think the Tartine book is fairly comprehensive in that way. It would be the book I would refer an absolute sourdough beginner to to start with--master Chad's basic boule and you have an excellent foundation to expand upon.
                      You are correct about Leader (though I only have his "Local Breads"). But there's lots to learn from those recipes!
                      There are some great dough handling/shaping videos on YouTube. SFBI are some that come to mind, but there's much more than just those.

                      Sourdoughs are always going to be slower than yeast to rise, so I can't comment on your "slow" without more specifics. Excessively slow is an indication of a weak starter.

                      1. re: splatgirl

                        Ok. I took the Tartine book out of the library. It is indeed both williams sonoma fluff AND highly detailed with instructions. Looks like it confirms what I already thought, sour dough rises much slower.

                        Also, for anyone else in my boat trying to figure out how to fit this stuff into your life (work, man I don't know why bosses even invented it. . . ):


                        1. re: splatgirl

                          <<Common wisdom among sourdough geeks, myself included, is that a sourdough starter is a product of it's environment. So if you start with a purchased culture as you will eventually be dominated by beasties that are best suited to your environment.>>

                          That's a myth -- a commonly believed one, though.

                          A sourdough's place of origin is not important since it's now known that you don't catch lactobacilli or wild yeast from the air to colonize a starter. The lactobacilli and yeast that populate a starter come from the grain.

                          Certainly San Francisco tourism profited from the myth of San Francisco Sourdough. But microbiological analysis of sourdough starters all over the world found that they all contained lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. In fact, the zoo of microbiologial flora found in starters worldwide is fairly consistent, with only minor variations.

                          "Contrary to myth, the species that grow in sourdough starters are not tied to geographic location, but rather to the traditional practices in the different regions... Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis is the species most frequently and consistently found---not just in San Francisco where it was first discovered, but all around the world. And so it deserves special attention." -- Microbiologist Debra Wink

                          The lactobacilli in bread starters come in two main subtypes. Most of sourdough's flavor and leavening come from the heterofermentative type of lactobacillus, which pumps out acetic acid (vinegar, for sourness) as a by-product and favors a temp below 82-85 degrees F. The other type of lactobacillus -- homofermentative -- pumps out the lactic acid (more mellow and complex than acetic acid) and does its thing above 82-85 F.

                          So, a long cool fermentation increases sourness. By controlling the temp of the starter and dough, you control the type of lactobacillus that has the upper hand in fermentation, thereby controlling the final flavor and sourness of the bread.

                          Debra Wink, the co-author on a number of scientific sourdough articles whom I quoted above, sums up things nicely on her great bread baking website:

                          -- more fermentation time generally means more acid
                          -- lower temperature increases the percentage of acetic acid
                          -- lower temperatures produce acids more slowly; higher temps, more quickly
                          -- higher temperatures mean a higher ratio of lactic to acetic acid.
                          -- lactobacilli prefer wetter doughs, so a wetter dough favors acidity
                          -- yeast don't seem to mind low hydration, but lactobacillus bacteria do
                          -- flour plays a big part---whole grains generally result in more acetic acid and more total acid

                          The science is very interesting, if you're into that sort of thing. The bread microbiologist Michael Ganzle has published extensively on sourdough flora. Read him (easily found online), Debra Wink (links above), Peter Reinhart (linked to below).

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            The lactobacilli and yeast that populate a starter come from the grain.

                            so the nature of a starter is a function of the flour as well as the conditions in which it's kept. precisely what I mean by a product of it's environment.

                            Thanks for the informative post!

                            1. re: splatgirl


                              The reason that I explained that location -- San Francisco or otherwise -- plays almost no role in the specific bacteria and yeast found in a sourdough starter was because you used the the word "environment" to indicate **location** in your previous post:

                              "Common that a sourdough starter is a product of it's environment...Even me gifting starter to a friend across town...produced a different behavior. And the fact that there are certain very distinct strains of sourdough--San Francisco, for example, that don't exist elsewhere or don't bake the same bread elsewhere."

                        2. re: j8715


                          What I would recommend is that you make a starter beginning with rye flour or rye berries. It's easy, and takes only a little over a week. A week.

                          Even if you have no plans to make rye bread, begin your starter with rye flour. From my own frequent breadbaking and research, I've discovered that rye grain is the most dependable at getting a viable starter going rapidly no matter where you live.

                          The reason for rye flour is that it's loaded with a tremendous number of the specific lactobacilli and yeast that starters need -- much more than other flours.

                          An easy way to get started is to purchase a few ounces of rye flour or rye berries from the bulk food bins from stores like Whole Foods.

                          The rye starter recipe below walks you through it. It begins with 2 ounces organic rye flour and 4 oz spring or bottled water. Never ever use tap water in starters! It's then fed with 2 more ounces of flour and the same amount of water (100% Hydration). The fermentation should begin quickly. You will see activity and bubbles.

                          After the first couple of feedings, use any type of flour you wish.

                          Rye Sourdough Starter:

                          From the Los Angeles Times, a good article on beginning a starter:

                          Recipe for creating a sourdough starter (good method and feeding procedure):

                          You can also use this method of growing a starter from Debra Wink, the microbiologist,
                          but I've found the rye grain and non-chlorinated water recipe works more reliably:

                          Another extraordinary resource is Peter Reinhart, his blog, his lectures, his books, especially his latest: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.

                          Top Ten Bread Baking Sites, linked to by Peter Reinhart:

                          I'm adding this because I find it presents a powerful allegory on bread and life and death -- magical and spiritual at the same time -- by the talented Peter Reinhart. It's a TED lecture so you know it's excellent -- 18 minutes but worth every moment:

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Wow, I learn a whole bunch of new things from Chowhound every day. Thank you Maria. Can I do something with the discarded starter in the early days? I know that we can use unfed starter to make waffle, pancake, flatbread etc but If the starter has just been living for a few days, what use is the discarded one?

                        3. re: splatgirl

                          @splatgirl - As a Harvard lawyer turned cafe owner and all around analytical type, I completely agree with you - this is absolutely a science experiment. Although there is a certain amount regimentation in baking - particularly baking with soda/powder leavened products - ingredients vary so much that one's senses are a significant component. The weather too is an "ingredient". I laugh a little when people talk about running home to feed their culture - an hour or 3, if you have a vital colony is not going to make much of difference.

                          As far as sourness - I have found a 3 part process - varying hydration and temperature - I was just wondering if you had any personal tips. Part of the problem I think is that there are so many sour additives in commercially produced products that my palate has been spoiled (so to speak).

                          IMHO vis-a-vis bread baking, Daniel Leader's Bread Alone is the best; just going to Poilane was a culinary education. When we opened the cafe, we took a decidedly French tack and concentrated on the operation as a patisserie - and chose the oven accordingly - and not a boulangerie (hence my inexperience with sourdough).

                          I've made effective sourdoughs before - rye and whole wheat flours - but eventually the taste went off. I suspect has something to do with the local flora and fauna. I hope this isn't the case with this strain. I don't know why I bothered to buy it, eventually the type of sourdough will end up NYC anyway. Well, hope springs eternal.

                          1. re: dish

                            My personal pointers are do what is realistic for your lifestyle and circumstances and do what gets you a product you enjoy. Realistically, I don't have the means or desire to control temperature as part my standard procedure. As an occasional experiment, yes, but beyond that I'll take what I get working with ambient and fridge temps. With sourdough there's enough variables that I CAN easily control to keep me busy and interested for a lifetime. And I prefer to do bread in my wood-fired oven, so that's a whole nuther master class. In any case, my homemade is still 1000% better than anything I can get without driving 30 miles. Ultimately I'm in favor of doing whatever gets you baking the most!

                            WRT ferment/rise times: just keep in mind that beyond a certain threshold, the byproducts of sourdough activity will start to break down the gluten in a dough and ruin your efforts. The best visual example of this I can think of is the difference between a freshly fed, risen starter and one that has sat for a week or two. When freshly risen, the gluten in a starter is highly evident--the starter is a cohesive, stringy mass. When old, it's become just a thick liquid--all that sourdough beastie acid "poop" has broken down the gluten.
                            The Detmold thing is awesome and useful. Thanks for posting it. I've already got a homemade arduino controller that I use with a crock pot for sous vide and making yogurt, so DOH! I don't know why I never thought about that as a starter incubator.

                            I bet you are producing some amazing stuff, dish! Dough geeks are the greatest.

                            1. re: dish

                              I just ran across an interesting article on NPR talking about brewing beer and how much the water matters for flavor. Certainly the same would apply to sourdough.

                              1. re: splatgirl

                                Yes, I've been thinking about water (and obviously milling my own flour). There are a couple of minerally types I love - I will test those at some point. I have been going on the theory the NYC has great water. I just pour it through an unbleached coffee filter in an attempt to remove some chlorine and I let it stand at room temperature.

                                I am so jealous you have a wood burning oven. Did you build it yourself or have a master do it? We are in NYC and are limited to apartment working, but by Sept/Oct this year we expect to be living part time in Hawaii - I want to build a smokehouse and a wood burning oven.

                                Given this caveat "When freshly risen, the gluten in a starter is highly evident--the starter is a cohesive, stringy mass. When old, it's become just a thick liquid--all that sourdough beastie acid "poop" has broken down the gluten."

                                Would you say that once there is an appearance of even slight hooch it should be refed? That's been running about every 6 hours or so at room temp. Also, I cannot wait to put the retarding time. I expect mistakes - it the only way breakthroughs are made. Thanks again for all your help.

                                1. re: dish

                                  Again, I lean strongly toward what is realistic for me for day to day. On a good day I pay a little attention to the temperature of my plain tap water it before it goes in, but most of the time not even that. I've had a whole-house filter on my to-get list for a couple of years, so when that happens it will be interesting to see if I can tell the difference.

                                  I built the WFO myself. My guy helped a bit with the ugly parts.
                                  I have a habit of always wanting to have construction projects going (that whole learning by doing thing, I guess), and the WFO holds a place as the best project ever. I had been wanting to build one for about a decade. Now I just need to get going on the cooking fireplace inside so I have a more winter friendly wood-fire cooking venue. The oven really wants to be fully loaded for the best bread results, so that's a lotta bread for personal use--8-10 loaves. I don't have time for that as often as I'd like these days. I do sourdough neo-style pizza dough so that's what my starter is used for most frequently.

                                  I am not very experienced with managing a starter kept at room temp, and definitely not with one that is as active as yours seems to be. Even in my non-A/C'd house in summer, 6 hours post feed would get me peak or a little past, never to the point of separation like that. Is it still stringy and cohesive at that point or like soup? Is it growing in volume and then collapsing before it moves to hooch-y?

                        4. re: splatgirl

                          Hi Splatgirl. I want to say thank you for give us very clear and straightforward explanations of starter feeding and sourdough. I got into the world of sourdough just a month ago, and at first I was confused about so much vague hints and intuition involved in the process.

                          One thing I'm still not sure, however, is how many times I should feed my unfed and refrigerated starter to make it ready for recipe? I don't know what a healthy starter is supposed to be like.

                          I learned about Daniel Leader's bread books from your suggestion. However, the reviews on Amazon didn't seem to be promising. Many complained that the recipes didn't produce good outcomes and there were mistakes in proportion. Did you experience any failure trying recipes from his books?

                          1. re: pearlyriver

                            If it's reliably doubling in volume in 8 hours or less, I'd consider it usable. Likewise, you should aim to construct your dough using starter that is at it's peak, meaning that it's just at the point of having doubled volume or within a short time thereafter.

                            1. re: pearlyriver

                              i haven't tried that many, but the ones I baked worked fine from the leader book.

                              i think the issue might be the volume measurements, the metric measurements worked fine so far. although the one rye bread recipe does look very suspicious. and some of his writing did somehow help me to almost perfect a rye bread. The book has some good Q and A sections as well.

                              I want to take back what I said about Tartine. Some of his suggestions can be very bad ideas, like baking at very high temps, but he makes it sound like it is something to be treated like the word of god. You can only do that with VERY long proof times or the bread more of less bursts. Also he confuses Honoratus of Amiens with Saint Honoratus of Arles, talk about blunders!

                              1. re: j8715

                                I was looking for sourdough recipes and many call for both sourdough starter and commercial yeast. I've made one with success but I don't understand why yeast is added. If sourdough is not to perform the rise, what's its purpose?

                                1. re: pearlyriver

                                  As a crutch, to speed or standardize rising time, to ensure success or whatever. I'm a purist, so I find the practice objectionable but YMMV. Whatever gets you to the loaf you love!

                                  I only own one D.L. book-"Local Breads" . I believe I have found one mistake, but I have by no means baked every formula in the book. I find the non-recipe specific information more useful than the actual recipes anyway, for bread books at least. I almost always look online for noted errata in cookbooks--something I learned to do from knitting books.

                                2. re: j8715

                                  I agree about the baking temps in the Tartine formulas for sure. OTOH, I have no doubt that high temp is better or necessary with a fully loaded oven.

                            2. Here is the process for increased sourness: The DETMOLD 3 STAGE PROCESS.


                              We rigged a crock pot sous vide and I imagine it will work with this (the temperature regulation seems the hardest part).

                              1. Does anyone know if Maltose is the same Non-Diastatic Malt? I am specifically thinking of the type of maltose that you get in Chinatown for Peking Duck.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: dish

                                  making bagels? new yorkers and their bagels. . . man. . . .

                                  answer to your question: it is probably a close substitute if not out and out the same thing. non-diastatic malt is sugar. maltose is sugar. but i've never tried it as i'm not originally from ny and thus can never understand the bagel and its many subtleties. (incase you can't tell, i'm being sarcastic!)

                                  1. re: j8715

                                    Thanks! I have not had a good bagel since 1967 - I swear. Now, even in NYC, the bagels are round bread. I enclose pics of the ones I made yesterday. I used the Chinese Maltose. It seems close which is great because malted barley syrup is like 10x the price.

                                    I've looked at a few brands and (of course) there are no (or very ambiguous) ingredients. The only possibility is that it may not be made from barley - it says "ble" on one, but I am not so positive that absolutely means it was made from wheat.