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Sourdough starter not rising - help!

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So, I decided to try starting my own sourdough starter from scratch last Saturday, using King Arthur whole wheat flour and water. It's quite cold in my kitchen these days (under 65 degrees), so I let the flour and water mixture sit for 24 hours in my oven with the light on. I got lots of bubbles and a nice fermented smell, so I began a feeding regimen (50 g each water and flour to 50 g starter, twice a day). This also included a gradual shift from WW flour to AP flour (Heckers unbleached).

I've been feeding pretty consistently for the last 10 days, and while I am still getting plenty of bubbles and a yeasty smell, my starter absolutely WILL NOT RISE. I've researched a bit online, and a couple of sources say that 100% hydration starter is sometimes too wet to rise, so I have done a couple of feedings at only 66% hydration, and still, nothing. Do any of you experienced sourdough bakers have any thoughts? I thought perhaps my oven was too warm, but when I take the temperature of the starter it's usually right around 75 degrees, which seems about right. Any tricks you can recommend? I have been meaning to go get some rye flour to see if that might help, but at this point I wonder if it might not be better just to start over.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer!

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  1. Be patient.

    I've started two or three from scratch and I don't think any of them have truly been able to reliably raise bread in less than a month.

    If your starter smells good you can use it for a flavoring rather than a leavening.

    10 Replies
    1. re: kengk

      Wow, a full month? I don't know if I have the patience to keep up the twice a day feeding for a month. Will the starter continue to mature if I stick it in the fridge and just do a weekly feeding, or do I need to wait until it reliably doubles before starting the fridge regimen?

      1. re: biondanonima

        That is why I have started two or three, I get tired of fooling with it.

        Forgive me for asking but when you feed it you are throwing out half the starter?

        You could try feeding one part flour and one part water to one part starter, by weight.

        You have probably looked around on the sourdough home site?

        1. re: kengk

          Yes, I am throwing away half at every feeding, and until a couple of days ago, I was feeding one part flour to one part water to one part starter at each feeding. I decided to do two parts flour to one part water to one part starter for the last couple of days, just to see if the lower hydration allowed for more of a rise, but no dice.

          I've read quite a bit on the sourdough home site as well as a few others - lots of great info, but no answers to this specific problem.

          1. re: biondanonima

            Based on my limited experience, it sounds to me like your starter will live. You already have ten days invested so I would give it at least a little while longer.

            1. re: biondanonima

              Have you come across anything about pineapple juice? From the fog that is my memory I seem to recall reading that some people add it to adjust the enzymes or ph or something like that.

              1. re: kengk

                Yes, there was a bit of info on using pineapple juice, both for the added acidity and the sugar. However, most of what I read indicated that it should be used only at the beginning and not during the feeding process. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try it, though - I could divide the starter in half and feed half with the juice for a few days to see what happens.

          2. re: biondanonima

            I never did a twice a day feeding. Maybe you should just leave it alone, in the back of the fridge for awhile, forget about it, then take it out and mess with it some more.

            1. re: wyogal

              Agreed. You are feeding too often, and not allowing enough time for the new flour and water to ferment. Nothing can ever get going that way.

              Read more here:
              http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/233

              1. re: maria lorraine

                Actually, the twice a day feeding has worked out just fine - I think my problem was that the starter was too warm. Once I moved it from the 85 degree area of my oven to a 75 degree area, it started rising beautifully.

                1. re: biondanonima

                  Good to know. I think if you feed it less often, you'll have a greater depth of flavor in your bread -- you need to give the lactobacilli and yeast more time to create flavor. If you're interested, check out some of the great breadbaking websites
                  that go into starter microbiology.

                  If your base starter is only 2 ounces or so, as you mentioned elsewhere, you probably don't have enough microbiological oomph to get a colony going. So I'd feed less and increase the quantity of starter also.

                  In regards to fermentation temp, the temp changes the flavor of the bread or whatever you use your starter for.

                  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.

        2. I haven't had much luck in the past with this either. Coincidentally, I stirred up a fresh one this morning, so I will be curious if my results are similar to yours. Let's compare notes as we go, shall we?

          16 Replies
          1. re: sandylc

            Yes, lets! I also ordered some Oregon Trail starter, thinking that I might try growing that one either simultaneously with my own, or as a replacement if my own should fail, so I'll let you know how that works out!

            1. re: biondanonima

              Since you have been recently researching this; what is the current opinion on whether or not a bought starter eventually morphs to the local yeast?

              1. re: kengk

                I have wondered about this, as well. One option might be to beg/borrow/steal some starter from a local artisan bakery. But the whole point of making it in your home is to have your OWN personal starter that you collected yourself....

                1. re: kengk

                  From what I've gleaned, the yeast you end up with in your starter does not come from the air, but rather from the flour itself, so any morphing that occurs happens due to the flour you use in feeding and/or the specific qualities of your water, etc. I am far from an expert, though, so perhaps someone with more experience can weigh in.

                  1. re: biondanonima

                    The last time I euthanized a starter I swore off them. As my mother said "too much sugar for a nickel".

                    Just started another one. It shouldn't be such a chore now that I'm retired.

                2. re: biondanonima

                  Me, too! Am doing the KA starter, but am using the 7 pts. bread flour/1 pt. whole wheat suggested by a CH.
                  Will be making the bread sometime in the next week or two.

                3. re: sandylc

                  Well, I have a bit of an update - I did a little measuring of temps last night and found that my oven, with the light on, is around 73-74 degrees in the corner farthest from the bulb, but above 80 degrees near the bulb. So, I fed my starter 50/50 water (slightly warmed) and flour (using WW flour for about 1/8 of the total flour), mixed it up and put it in the oven, as far from the bulb as possible.

                  This morning, I had lift! Not a ton - it rose about 25% as opposed to the 100% I'm looking for. However, this seems to be progress! I am thinking perhaps my temps were too warm before, as I had been placing the container fairly close to the light. It bubbled a little bit when I added water this morning, too. I think I'll stick with the project a bit longer before sticking it in the fridge.

                  1. re: biondanonima

                    Thomas Keller says that two weeks is what it takes to get sourdough with full strength. It is his method that I am using. Except I've decided to throw in some home-ground rye and whole wheat for one or more of the feedings. I'm only on day two. He likes 75 degrees.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      I think 75 degrees is the key - my starter was HUGE this morning! It was at the 150ml mark when I put it in the oven last night and almost up to the 350ml mark this morning. I think it was just too warm closer to the oven light - now that I have it in the corner farthest from the light, it's doing much better. I am still using about 1/8th WW flour with every feeding, but I think i will stop that tonight and see if it continues to double on plain white. Hopefully I can stick it in the fridge on Monday (which will be two weeks plus a couple of days) and start a once-a-week feeding schedule.

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        Very good!

                        We keep our house at 70-72 degrees in the winter so this will give me an excuse to warm it up a bit. I hate being cold.

                  2. re: sandylc

                    My new starter is bubbling nicely, has yours come to life?

                    1. re: kengk

                      I just started it on Thursday, and it was already bubbling a bit and had grown some on Friday! Much better than any of my previous attempts.

                      Does yours smell nice? I have had some bad smells in the past, as well...this one smells very good so far.

                      1. re: sandylc

                        Yes, it smells good. Not very strong but a nice fermented yeasty smell.

                        Somewhat off topic but we occasionally drive past a Red Star yeast plant and the smells that come out of that place will turn your stomach. It's like nothing I've ever smelled before but one of the worst things I can think of.

                        1. re: sandylc

                          I don't have a sense of smell (weird I know) but my husband says my starter smells really good - yeasty and beer-y were his words. I baked my first loaf with it yesterday - the flavor was really good, but I was pressed for time so I added some instant yeast for a quick rise, which negatively affected the texture. I think the starter would have done the job, but I only had a couple of hours so I needed quick action.

                          Now that mine is two weeks old and doubling at every feeding, I put it in the fridge. I'll report back when I take it out for feeding next weekend.

                          1. re: biondanonima

                            Great...very encouraging..

                            1. re: sandylc

                              This is encoraging. I just posted details to my starter issues this morning. Having same issue as you were with no rise. Lots of bubbles but no rise. I hope I can post a success story as you have!

                    2. Which rising do you mean, the rise after adding the flour or the rise when adding it to bread?

                      My suggestion would be to stop removing 'extra' starter until it starts to get too high in the container. Then only remove what's necessary for a bit. Keep as many organisms as possible for reproduction.

                      I know Silverton always halves the starter and double feeds, but it hasn't been my experience that it is necessary while building up a mother. In fact, I've killed at least 1 or 2 starters working too hard to do it 'right.'

                      Do you leave it open to catch additional organisms?
                      Is the heat stable (too hot can be as bad as too cold)?
                      Is your water good? Tepid when you add it?
                      Are you using wood or plastic to store/stir it?

                      Cool temps at the beginning can mean a slow growth start, even if you've fixed it recently.

                      Finally, sometimes there just aren't a lot of organisms in the air and on the flour (warm flour, right?) when you start and it takes a lot longer than a week or 10 days to build up a good starter.

                      If you don't have the patience, leave it in a warm corner and feed it once a day...or when you remember. It will build up in time. They aren't really as fussy as people make out, but they can be weak at first.

                      You'll know its ready for use when it bubbles the minute water is added to it, and it foams and rises within 30 minutes of adding the water/flour. They're really fun to watch.

                      1. Hi,
                        I've been baking very successful sourdough loaves for the last eight years. I learned everything I know from the books of Maggie Glezer. Fortunately you do not have to buy her books, because she allowed the sourdough recipe to be posted online: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/2390...

                        Glezer uses rye flour for creating a starter, because rye is inhabited by a particularly large amount of the bacteria and molds that create a good sourdough starter. After your starter is going well, you can switch to wheat flour. Some bakers keep separate starters for wheat and rye loaves. I don't bother; I use the same starter for both, and both come out well.

                        My first starter lasted less than a year. I was less careful than I should have been with weights and volumes, so it stopped working. My second starter is now close to 8-years-old and going strong.

                        You should be aware that this is a firm starter. This means that you do not have to refresh it daily; it will live happily in your refrigerator for long periods. But you will have to refresh it for several days in a row before you can bake with it. I hadn't baked for about two weeks, and it took two refreshes to get it ready for may bake today.

                        You will need a fairly accurate scale. My scale weighs to a precision of 2 grams.

                        You should also be aware that while you can have a yeast loaf ready for the oven in 3-4 hours, a sourdough loaf takes a good 8 hours of rising. That said, I cannot buy commercial bread anymore, because my homemade bread is just so much better.

                        I'll be glad to offer any help you require.

                        1. My new starter is going very nicely, it almost doubled overnight and as I sit here and look at it it has risen a good bit in the past hour.

                          Previous starters were all done with AP flour from the beginning. Whole wheat seems to have definitely sped up the process this time.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: kengk

                            Rye flour (just a small amount from the Whole Foods bulk bins) will really get it going. It has more of the yeasty beasties that colonize a starter. You can begin a starter with rye flour, then gradually switch over to whatever flour you like. However, it does add a depth and roundness to whole wheat bread.

                          2. I take back what I said about a month. This is apparently the "Little Starter that Could".

                             
                            11 Replies
                            1. re: kengk

                              Gorgeous! Did that loaf have any yeast in it, or was it starter all the way?

                              1. re: biondanonima

                                All sourdough. 4 oz starter, 7 1/2 flour 4 1/2 water.

                                I'm curious to see what the crumb looks like. It feels light in the hand so I think it will be ok.

                                1. re: kengk

                                  Your starter is 100% hydration? Did you knead or do a no-knead thing?

                                  1. re: biondanonima

                                    100% hydration starter.

                                    Mixed the dough about 7.00pm yesterday and let sit on the counter for a couple hours.
                                    Gave it a stretch and fold in the bowl with a spoon.
                                    Put in the refrigerator until about 7.00 am today.
                                    Let it warm up for a couple hours and gave a stretch and fold on the counter.
                                    Rested twenty minutes and shaped.
                                    Let rise until about 4.00 pm and baked at 450 degrees.

                                    1. re: kengk

                                      How long did you bake it for? Did you test for temp?

                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        I think the total might have been 20 or 25 minutes. I set the timer for 15 to start and then hit the snooze button another time or three. I've never tested temperature on any bread.

                                        One thing I do is preheat the oven as hot as it will go, 550, and then turn it down when I put the bread in and hit the steam pan with water.

                                        1. re: kengk

                                          Ha....in the Bouchon Bakery book, they want you to buy some non-igneous rocks and some heavy chain to heat in a pan in the oven to pour water over for the steam. Not sure I'm going to go that far!

                                          1. re: sandylc

                                            I did my loaf in a dutch oven, a la the Lahey No-Knead method - it worked really well, although I don't always love the heavy bottom crust I get with this method. Did you brush the top of your loaf with anything to get that beautiful color, or is that solely from the steam?

                                            1. re: biondanonima

                                              A heavy spray of water from a spray bottle, until the water is dripping off.

                              2. re: kengk

                                That is beautiful.

                                1. re: kengk

                                  Beautiful loaf of bread.

                                2. That is a lovely loaf! FWIW I employ the imprecise approach. The hydration ratio is thin enough I can stir it with a fork. It gets fed when I pull it out to bake bread, at least once a week. I try to keep the volume of starter at about a quart, enough for four loaves as big as yours. Feedings are usually chiefly KA bread flour or AP with a little WW and/or rye now and then plus a little sugar. It stays out on the counter, gets stirred down a few times to keep it in its container, and goes back in the fridge when it stops rising.

                                  1. I made a batch of enriched sandwich rolls yesterday. This has been an interesting diversion but I'm tired of my new "pet" already. Maybe go all out on a two pound boule tomorrow and then go back to instant yeast.

                                    Used my regular recipe from the Bread Bakers Apprentice (page 266 if you have the book) and substituted 12 ounces of 100% starter for the yeast.

                                     
                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: kengk

                                      A low-hydration starter will live quite happily in the back of the fridge on very little care. (mine routinely has to survive weeks between feeds!) Or spread it smooth on a sheet of parchment, air-dry it and toss the flakes in a jar in the cupboard - you can rehydrate it whenever you want to and not have to start over. But it's a shame to get such a great starter going and then toss it!!

                                    2. biondanonima, sandylc; did you ever get your starter to raise a bread?

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: kengk

                                        Yes I just made a really nice loaf last night. Let the dough rise for twelve hours, turned it over and let it rise again and then baked. It was awesome!! Starter is doubling nicely with each feed now.

                                        1. re: Kellym7

                                          Very good.

                                          I baked some rolls this morning. Did the final rise overnight for ten hours and they were a little over proofed. Next time I'm going to do the first rise overnight and shape in the morning and let rise during the day so I can watch them.

                                          Starter is rising more than double in four hours now.

                                        2. re: kengk

                                          Not yet - my husband declared a carbohydrate moratorium a couple of weeks ago, so mine is now living in the fridge, waiting for a rainy day. It seems to be doing fine, though - I've been feeding it once a week and by the end of the week in the fridge, it is bubbly and well-risen and generally happy looking. I think I can manage to keep it alive this way indefinitely - a feeding every couple of weeks is no problem.

                                          1. re: kengk

                                            My starter is now two weeks old and it is not doubling. More like 1 1/2 times. Not sure what to do - our house is cool - this might be part of the problem. A website about sourdough said to bbe patient and it would eventually get there. Maybe I should just try a loaf and see what happens - what do you guys think?

                                            1. re: sandylc

                                              How cold is your house? Mine seems to be happy with 72 or so during the day and a little cooler at night.

                                              You can always throw some yeast in there with the sourdough starter. Most of the King Arthur recipes have some yeast.

                                              1. re: kengk

                                                We're 68-70 during the day and 67 at night, generally.

                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                  That could well be what is slowing it down. Maybe park it on top of your refrigerator or just find a slightly warmer nook in your house. I kept mine for several days nestled between our router and modem because it was a degree or two warmer.

                                              2. re: sandylc

                                                Add rye flour (more yeasty beasties than other flours).
                                                Leave your starter on top of the frig or on the counter.

                                                67 -70 F. is a bit too cool to get the lactobacilli and yeast going. Try 75 to 80 F., along with the rye flour.

                                                You can buy just a touch of rye flour in the bulk food bins at Whole Foods and other health food stores.

                                                Don't expect it to double in a single day while you're still establishing the colony of yeasty beasties -- they need to gather enough strength in numbers. Which means, don't feed it more than a couple of times per week -- every time you take out starter, you're reducing the colony of beneficial yeasty beasties you're trying to grow.

                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                  +1.

                                                  There's a significant difference in my starter activity from ~65F winter temp to 75F or more in summer.

                                                  But also, two weeks is pretty fast to expect a fully developed and functional starter. Patience!

                                            2. Not true that 100% hydration starter doesn't rise. I use that hydration with mine and it will at least triple in volume after a feeding.

                                              1. IMO you could stand to do a bit stronger feeding. I like at least double the weight of flour to starter, so with 50g. starter I would feed AT LEAST 100g. each flour and water.
                                              2. As has been said, it takes at least a month or two to get a usable starter.
                                              3. twice a day is overkill, IMO. Do as above once a day. When it's doubling in volume within 8-10 hours, you're set.
                                              4. Screwing around with altering the flours you use will only make getting a stable, usable starter take longer.

                                              I keep mine in the fridge between uses. IME there's no reason to maintain a routine feeding. If it's been a while, it may take two feedings to get it back to vigorous, but I find that preferable to worrying about weekly feedings if I'm gone or too busy to bake.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: splatgirl

                                                I keep my starter at 100% hydration as well, and it has no problem doubling in an hour or hour and a half, and quadrupling in two or three hours. I live in a tropical climate, so no doubt the warmer temps help with the speedier rise.

                                                I tend to go with 50 grams starter, 50 grams flour, 50 grams water for a refresh and have no problems with it. BUT mine is an established and reliable starter.

                                                I also keep mine in the fridge between uses. I refresh once before I make bread, twice if it's been a couple of months or longer.

                                                The discard from refreshing all the time in the beginning? I use those for cakes, pancakes, and whatnot. No sense in throwing away perfectly good stuff.

                                              2. I made sourdough bagels this morning. Haven't made bagels in two or three years so my shaping skills are rusty but they tasted very good in spite of their gnarly appearance.

                                                 
                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: kengk

                                                  Did you use baking soda in your water bath? It really helps with even browning and a shiny caramel finish.

                                                2. So, I made the Bouchon Bakery Pain de Campagne bread with my 2-week-old levain, and WOW! It rose beautifully, and had great taste and crumb. I'm hooked.

                                                  Just did the math and it's about 68% hydration.

                                                  EDIT: Ooops, more like 3 weeks old?

                                                  12 Replies
                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                    WHOOOOOHOOO! I was wondering how you and the doughbaby were doing and looking forward to some follow up. Great to hear!

                                                    1. re: splatgirl

                                                      Yeah!!!!! So cool.....now looking for the perfect glass storage device for the fridge.

                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        I keep mine is a pint size glass canning jar. It has only touched the lid a couple of times with 8 oz by weight of starter.

                                                    2. re: sandylc

                                                      I just broke out my starter for a refresh and am thinking about making a loaf - care to paraphrase this recipe?

                                                      1. re: biondanonima

                                                        OOPS! Just saw this - out for the day.

                                                        This is greatly paraphrased and actually changed a bit as well; he wants you to buy rocks and chains for the steam setup, for one thing.

                                                        If your starter isn't 50% hydration, adjust the water in the recipe to compensate.

                                                        Pain de Campagne, revised, from Bouchon Bakery

                                                        459 grams AP flour
                                                        32 grams rye flour
                                                        25 grams whole wheat flour
                                                        1/8 t. instant yeast
                                                        169 grams liquid (50% hydration) sourdough starter, fed
                                                        322 grams 75-degree water
                                                        2 t. fine salt

                                                        Blend the flours and yeast together in your stand mixer. Add the starter and the water, then mix on low with the dough hook for 3 minutes. Add the salt, then mix on low for 20 minutes.

                                                        Place dough in a spray-greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. After one hour, dump out the dough onto a lightly floured board. Stretch it out in one direction, then fold it like a letter into thirds. Then stretch it in the opposite (90 degree turn) direction and fold it into thirds again.

                                                        Put it back into the greased bowl, cover it, and let rise for one hour again. Stretch and fold again. Wait another hour and stretch/fold again. Cover and set aside to rest for 20 minutes.

                                                        Find another big bowl and line it with a floured cloth. Turn out the dough onto a floured board, pat out the big bubbles, and stretch it around into a tight ball, pinching the loaf closed on the bottom.

                                                        With the pretty side up, use a dough scraper to press two deep indentions in each direction, almost all the way through the loaf. Place the loaf indention-side-down in the floured cloth. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let proof for 2 hours.

                                                        Heat the oven with a stone to 460 degrees. Gently turn the loaf over onto a dusted peel and and slide the loaf onto the stone, then do whatever you like to do to put steam in your oven. I throw about a half cup of cold water into the bottom of the oven.

                                                        Bake for 30 minutes or to an internal temperature of 200 degrees.

                                                        Good luck!

                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                          Thank you so much for this recipe.

                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                            You are very welcome! I hope my paraphrasing did justice to this VERY long recipe......

                                                          2. re: sandylc

                                                            Thank you Sandy! I actually went ahead and threw together a no-knead dough last night, which is currently working on its second rise, but I will bookmark this one for future use. It sounds fantastic!

                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                              Thank you for the recipe! I just have a quick question... by 170g liquid starter, 50% hydration, do you mean 85g flour and 85g water? I have always thought of that as 100% hydration, as there is 100% the weight of the flour. A true 50% hydration would be pretty stiff, and not liquid, wouldn't it?

                                                              1. re: ohmyyum

                                                                OMG, that's what I get for hurrying! Yes, 100% hydration - I hope everybody sees this! I'm usually pretty detail-oriented; I am clearly getting old :-(

                                                              2. re: sandylc

                                                                Does the original formula have the 1/8 tsp. of instant yeast?

                                                                1. re: kengk

                                                                  Yes, all of the Bouchon levain recipes seem to use a bit of instant yeast. Once I get things going, I'll try it without.

                                                          3. Brief report on the results of my first loaf raised entirely with starter! I mixed 8oz of starter (100% hydration) with 8oz of water and 11oz of flour last night, added a generous teaspoon of salt and stuck the whole mess in the fridge for about 10 hours. I took it out this morning and let it sit on the counter (probably 60 degrees) for four hours, then stuck it in the oven with the light on (75 degrees) for another two. It looked quite lively at that point, so I turned it out and did a few folds with another ounce of flour, shaped it into a round and let it rise again for another three hours.

                                                            At that point, it looked as though it had increased substantially in volume (although it hadn't really gotten higher, given that the dough was pretty wet), so I put it in a cold dutch oven (lined with parchment), added a spritz of water, covered and stuck it in a cold oven. Turned the temp to 425 and baked for 40 mins covered and 25ish mins uncovered. When I tested the temp, it was 210 internal, so I pulled it and let it sit on a rack for an hour.

                                                            Unfortunately, the crust was not as done as I would have liked and softened up a lot after cooling. I stuck it back in the oven for a few minutes to recrisp, but eventually got impatient and sacrificed some crispness for immediacy :)

                                                            Delicious! The flavor isn't terribly sour, but it's much more complex than the usual no-knead. I think putting it in the fridge overnight was unnecessary - I could have just left it at room temp, since it's cool in my house. You can see the large, uneven bubbles in the attached photo.

                                                            Next time I'll probably try a slightly lower hydration and a bit longer bake time for a crisper crust, but overall I'm thrilled with this first attempt. My starter has earned its keep!

                                                             
                                                            7 Replies
                                                            1. re: biondanonima

                                                              That looks great! Very nice crumb. You might get a better crust if you preheat the Dutch oven and the oven. Or, just preheat your oven and a baking stone and throw your risen loaf on there. My oven spring was surprising - it tripled in height.

                                                              I read something about sourness - the amount of sour taste has something to do with the temperature that you grow your starter in.

                                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                                I usually do preheat the oven and DO, but lately I've been finding that I get too thick a bottom crust that way. I also read somewhere that starting in a cold oven results in better ovenspring, but I don't know if that held true with this loaf.

                                                                I think I read something about the sourness being affected by the starter's growth temperature as well - I may take my starter out and leave it at room temp for a few days before my next attempt. In this case, I pulled it out, fed it once and left it in the oven with the light on (around 75 degrees) for about 8 hours before using. Perhaps a couple of days at room temp would add more sourness.

                                                                1. re: biondanonima

                                                                  I've commented above how fermentation temperature affects flavor. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8895...

                                                                  To reiterate, a starter colony is mostly two kinds of lactobacilli,
                                                                  and a yeast. The lactobacilli do most of the work in making the bread rise and giving the flavor.

                                                                  The two lactobacilli function at different temperature ranges, and give off different types of acid. One type of LB gives off acetic acid, the acid in vinegar. It's sour. The other type of LB gives off lactic acid, the acid in milk. It's milder, creamier in flavor.

                                                                  So the temperature at which you keep your starter and allow your bread to rise (the proofing temperature) changes the flavor of the bread.

                                                                  The first type of lactobacillus -- the kind that gives off acetic acid -- favors a temp below 82 degrees F.

                                                                  The other type of lactobacillus -- the kind that gives off the milder lactic acid -- does its thing above 82 F.

                                                                  [Paraphrasing from Debra Wink:

                                                                  ]

                                                                  So, with a lower temperature you will have a more acidic (sour) loaf.
                                                                  Higher temperatures yield a milder flavor -- more lactic acid.
                                                                  A longer fermentation time means more acid overall.
                                                                  At higher temperatures, acid is produced more quickly (meaning, reduce your fermentation time if the temp is higher).
                                                                  A wetter dough (higher hydration) favors acidity.
                                                                  Low hydration will slow the activity of the lactobacilli, so adjust your hydration upwards if your starter has lost its oomph.
                                                                  Whole grain flours generally result in more acetic acid and more total acid. I'd never start a starter without rye flour.
                                                                  Yeast stops activity at 85 F.

                                                                  So, an ambient air temperature thermometer allows you to more precisely dial in the flavor you like.

                                                                  I'm not that precise. But the serious bread bakers I've consulted prefer a starter and proofing temperature that is right on the cusp -- 82 degrees -- for a flavor that's both tart and creamy.

                                                                  Here's a previous long post of mine with more tips and links:
                                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5995...

                                                                  Hope all this helps. Bread baking is SO FUN.

                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                    So THAT'S where I read it! Thanks.

                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                      "The other type of lactobacillus -- the kind that gives off the milder lactic acid -- does its thing above 82 F."

                                                                      That, right there, explains why my starter is SO mild. My room temperature tends to be around 30-35C, which I believe is around 86-95F.

                                                                      1. re: LMAshton

                                                                        Ouch! You must be melting.....

                                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                                          For the last ten years, yes.

                                                                          Finally, though, I have a kitchen with A/C. Or, more accurately, a really really small apartment with no separation between the kitchen and livingroom, so when the A/C is on, the kitchen is reasonable. Yay! And really, this brings me an unreasonable amount of joy. :D

                                                              2. Boy, what a lot of replies you've in a few days. But sourdough starter is one of the passionate subjects, and 'tis the season for firing the oven.

                                                                I haven't noticed anyone mentioning that whole wheat is probably not an ideal starter foundation, especially if "rising" is a concern for you. More typical is a mixture of good bread flour and perhaps some rye (better light than dark rye, I believe).

                                                                In any case, if you have a bubbly, yeasty-smelling starter, you've got all you need. A bread's rising propensities do not depend at all, in my experience, on the hydration or main ingredients of the starter. Rising is determined by gluten-formation in the final dough. Wet or dry starter, its only job is to send those natural yeasts into a well developed dough. Then in baking, you just bake it off until the crust is dark and the internal temp is where it should be for that recipe.

                                                                1. Okay, I'm totally confused!! According to King Arthur Flour Co., starter should approximate "pancake batter," but a couple of posts here on CH say starter should be about as thick as drop bisquit dough. I get lots of bubbles and my starter swells a bit, then drops back to where it was before I fed it. I made bread yesterday with 2 week old starter. The bread came out beautifully but it wasn't sour at all. I do not have a scale (and can't afford one right now).

                                                                  My starter came from an online recipe of flour, water, 1 pkg yeast and some sugar.

                                                                  I put the ingredients in a plastic bowl and only use a wooden spoon to mess with it. I fed it daily, dumping 1 C and adding 1 to 1 flour and tepid water. Like I said, lots of bubbles but the starter is at the same level as at the beginning. Am I brain dead or what??

                                                                  Maybe I should stick with making soup - I'm a soup meister and great with other foods. I just do NOT understand baking but am stubborn and I really want to accomplish this.

                                                                  Can someone tell me, in simple terms, measurements in cups or measuring spoons??

                                                                  Thanx all.

                                                                  16 Replies
                                                                  1. re: caiatransplant

                                                                    You bring up several things. But it sounds to me as if you're already succeeding.

                                                                    My take:
                                                                    --wetness or dryness, works either way. In the finer points, there might be some variation in the hydration preferred by specific lactobacilli, but if your bread rose and you did not add extra dry yeast, then your starter is viable.

                                                                    --Not all sourdough tastes sour; sourdough really names a technique rather than a flavor. If you started with a packaged starter, then you can expect it to change over time as local yeasts begin to take over the specific yeast sent to you commercially. Thus the flavor will change and might get more sour with time.

                                                                    --if your starter is quite wet, it might not rise at all. Bubbles matter, rising does not. A drier starter (like bisquit dough) can rise significantly, because the flour has enough density to create gluten strands. If rising is something you desire, start using half as much water as flour in the feedings and see what happens.

                                                                    ---Cups, etc:
                                                                    12 ounces starter (ab 1 1/3 cups)
                                                                    34 ounces flour (ab 7 cups)
                                                                    18 ounces cool water (ab 2 1/4 cups)
                                                                    1/2 cup raw wheat germ (optional)
                                                                    5-6 tsp. coarse Kosher salt

                                                                    1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                      Thanx Bada Bing. I feel much better now. My starter was not from a kit but home made from an online recipe. Another question - I'm out of all purpose flour. Can I use bread flour to feed the starter? I don't particularly care whether the starter is thick or batter thin, as long as it works. Thin is easier to feed, I think. I've kept your post in my recipe file for referral. Thanx again!!

                                                                      1. re: caiatransplant

                                                                        Bread flour is fine for feeding. Some authorities I've trusted such as Peter Reinhart have also suggested keeping things as pure as possible. Use a scrupulously clean spoon or when stirring in, and prefer unbleached and unbromated flours. I think he even recommends organic flour, but that is especially at issue in establishing, rather than maintaining, the starter.

                                                                        In my experience, a solid starter is pretty tough stuff and can take a lot of variation in moisture levels, time left out at room temp, time left idle in the fridge, etc. It's like a living creature, and sometimes it's wide awake, sometimes it's a little drowsy, sometimes it's in deep sleep or even coma. So you just treat it according to its status when needed.

                                                                        For example, if I have used my starter in the last week, then I figure I can get it up and running overnight and ready for starting a dough the next day. If I haven't touched it for two months, I count on 3 or 4 days of wake-up time through successive feedings.

                                                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                          It's best not to use chlorinated tap water. Bottled water, spring water, etc., is better.

                                                                          And, any flour will work, but rye flour works the best to get a starter going or reinvigorated. You can gradually add in any other flour after the starter gets going.

                                                                          I prefer organic flours -- more flavor and more microorganisms to populate the starter.

                                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                            Yes, I agree about water. As we have private well water (tested), I haven't had to keep water treatment in mind.

                                                                      2. re: Bada Bing

                                                                        Different starters have different personalities - sourness o lack thereof, ho fast they rise, and so on. San Francisco sourdough is known for being very sour. My sourdough is more appropriately called wild yeast - it isn't sour at all. What you get will depend on the specific strains of yeast and bacteria in our starter.

                                                                        1. re: LMAshton

                                                                          Yes, my starter began about 15 years ago and got going with organic red grapes with stems on. It has been terrific all these years but never what one would quickly call "sour," although it definitely has a depth of flavor that sets it apart from commercially yeasted recipes, even those with long fermentation. People go nuts for it.

                                                                          One thing that's always interested me about the sourdough is how much more slowly it stales than yeasted breads.

                                                                          1. re: LMAshton

                                                                            Microbiologists have performed extensive analysis of starters from all over the world, and discovered they are all quite similar in their micro-organisms. Two lactobacilli mainly, and a smaller amount of a wild yeast. It's mainly the lactobacilli that do the work of providing flavor and rising. The yeast do very little.

                                                                            The microorganisms come from the flour, not from the air, or from grapes or pineapple. Certain flours have more micro-organisms than others, like rye flour, for example.

                                                                            What really changes or enhances bread's basic flavor is the activity of the colony of micro-organisms, the temperature at which it's held or used, and the flavor of the flours used to make the bread with the starer.

                                                                            BTW, San Francisco's sourdough is sometimes myth or faked: vinegar or another "souring" agent is added to create a fake sourdough. You really have to know which bakeries are doing the real thing, and which ones aren't. To be sure, there is such beautiful bread in the Bay Area, though. And the flavor is often only faintly sour, with a slight tang that reads more as depth than sour.

                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                              Thanks for the clarification. I've never really know how or if to distinguish yeast from lactobacilli--always left me scratching my head, because I know that yeast isn't bacteria, but... ANyway, when the bread turns out great, I was not driven to search for answers.

                                                                              That said, it is often noted that when people take a genuine SF Bay Area starter elsewhere, it won't taste the same a year or so later. I wonder if that's a yeast or a lactobacilli issue?

                                                                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                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 the microbiological analysis of sourdough starters all over the world that I mentioned 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. Read Michael Ganzle if you're curious.

                                                                                As to why the starter changes, you have to look at all the variables: flours used, water, temperature, and viability (whether the starter is a thriving colony of yeasty beasties or something weaker).

                                                                                Bakers often don't realize they're growing a colony of living organisms, and learning when to feed vs. when to leave them alone so they can gain in number before decimating their flock is key.

                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                  So I didn't need any grapes and stems at all to get my starter going long ago? Interesting! I'll look into Michael Ganzle.

                                                                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                    Nope.

                                                                                    I've seen organic grapes in some starter recipes, but that's only because of a lack of understanding of where the magic yeasty beasties in a sourdough starter come from.

                                                                                    The lactobacilli and yeast in the starter are actually from the flour or whole grain. Debra Wink, the bread microbiologist has written, "The particular varieties of yeast and lactobacilli [on grapes] have never been recovered in any sourdough starter that has been examined from any place in the world."

                                                                                    There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Lactobacilli and yeast strains. Each is specifically adapted to grow on a particular thing. Grapes have yeast and lactobacilli on them but they are specific to grapes, just like certain lactobacilli are specific to yogurt. Other lactobacilli and microorganisms are specific to cheese.

                                                                                    That's why, when beginning a bread starter, it's important to use lactobacilli and yeasts that are *already* adapted to growing on grain.

                                                                                    That's why I keep recommending using rye flour (buy a small amount from the bulk food bins) to begin a starter. Rye flour
                                                                                    or rye berries already have the greatest quantity of the specific lactobacilli and yeast that you want in a starter. You get the fastest, most stable results using rye flour to begin your starter, and you can gradually switch over to other flours once you have a thriving colony of microorganisms in your starter.

                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                      Rye flour wasn't available where I lived when I started my starters. I used plain white flour and stood water and had success anyway. Rye can enhance the starter's ability to get going, but if you don't have it, it's not a huge concern.

                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                        I shelled out for Whole Foods organic grapes with stems for nothing! ARRRGH! ;)

                                                                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                  maria lorraine, I read somewhere that it is useless to add yeast to a sourdough dough because the sourdough buggies will kill the yeast buggies - I am skeptical of this - ?

                                                                                  Nancy Silverton and the Bouchon Bakery both add yeast to their sourdoughs.....

                                                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                                                    I am not sure the sourdough buggies duke it out with yeast buggies in a kind of microbiological Thunderdome, but the environment of the starter is so acidic it's inhospitable to many yeasts and flora. So yeah, maybe, you could say the starter kills them off.

                                                                                    It's actually miraculous that the sourdough yeast, candida milleri, can tolerate that acidic environment -- few yeasts can.

                                                                                    Combining a starter with commercial yeast is sometimes done -- though they are completely different critters, and produce different flavors. The starter would no longer be sourdough -- more like a pre-dough or pre-ferment then.

                                                                                    My sense is to use one or the other:
                                                                                    Either make bread using the pure starter OR use the Lahey-Sullivan No-Knead Bread method (or Keller's Pain de Campagne recipe you copied below) that uses 1/8 teaspoon of commercial yeast. Both the starter method and the no-knead/Keller "pre-dough" method create beautiful loaves.

                                                                                    Here's something on adding commercial yeast to a sourdough starter from The Fresh Loaf, a great bread-baking website: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/1480...

                                                                                    And another source:
                                                                                    http://cooking.stackexchange.com/ques...

                                                                                    But using both doesn't really make sense to me, from a biology or flavor angle.

                                                                          2. Sourdough is black magic. Even after you have a starter it probably won't be sour enough to satisfy you. If it works, it takes 12 to 24 hours to make a loaf. Even then something will disappoint you about your work. People will offer all kinds of advice. Most of it won't work for you. It's like the quest for the perfect pie crust. Some can do it, most cannot. I know, I've tried this time and again.

                                                                            In frustration I came up with this recipe:

                                                                            ---

                                                                            Faux Sourdough Bread for Bread Machine

                                                                            This makes a loaf of bread that is sour to the taste with a crunchy crust and a soft interior. It is really not as good as real sourdough, but it will hold you until you can get the real thing, and it only takes about 2 hours to make.

                                                                            1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt (thin with a little water if necessary)
                                                                            1 egg, beaten
                                                                            1 teaspoon table salt
                                                                            1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon citric acid (also called sour salt), to taste (Ball brand at Walmart in home canning section)
                                                                            1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
                                                                            2 1/4 teaspoons bread machine or instant yeast
                                                                            3 1/3 cups bread flour
                                                                            2 Tablespoons olive oil

                                                                            Mix first 6 ingredients together in measuring cup.

                                                                            Add mixed ingredients to bread machine.

                                                                            Add flour to bread machine.

                                                                            (To bake in oven see section below**)

                                                                            Select WHITE or REGULAR CYCLE, MEDIUM CRUST and press START.

                                                                            After dough forms a ball, add olive oil to bread machine.

                                                                            After dough has mixed for a few minutes, add a little water or flour as needed to form a smooth ball of dough. It should be a smooth dough ball that holds its shape and not like a batter.

                                                                            Makes one 1 1/2 pound loaf

                                                                            -----

                                                                            (To bake in oven**) Makes a boule shaped loaf.

                                                                            Select DOUGH CYCLE and press START.

                                                                            After dough forms a ball, add olive oil to bread machine.

                                                                            After dough has mixed for a few minutes, add a little water or flour as needed to form a smooth ball of dough. It should be a smooth dough ball that holds its shape and not like a batter.

                                                                            Allow kneading cycle to run for 15 minutes. Remove dough from machine.

                                                                            Place in greased stainless steel mixing bowl forming a dough ball, cover and allow to rise about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until it is doubled in size.

                                                                            Bake in uncovered stainless steel bowl, at 350-F for 50-minutes or until center of bread reaches 200-F.

                                                                            Makes one 1 1/2 pound boule shaped loaf

                                                                            1. I just made a loaf of freshly-ground 100% whole wheat bread with my own levain, along with dabs of olive oil, honey, and salt.

                                                                              Wow. What beautiful open structure and lightness for an all- whole wheat bread.

                                                                              Here is the link to my inspiration:

                                                                              http://www.sourdoughhome.com/index.ph...

                                                                              Enjoying a slice toasted with kerrygold butter right now.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                                                Sounds like a perfect moment.

                                                                              2. Every time I use water (filtered), my starter never rises. The only time it rises is when I use potato water. After boiling potatoes, I make ice cubes with the water. Then I pop a couple in the microwave, just enough to warm them up to melt. Then and only then will my starter get bubbly enough to actually rise. Which is what I did last weekend. This weekend I forgot about the potato water and used plain water. Once again, epic fail.