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Feb 11, 2013 11:11 AM

Help with sourdough starter. Bubbles no but no rise!

I have read post and searched the Internet for hours. I find some similar situations but still not sure what to do. Unfortunately I started most of my research after I started having "possible issues" I used the first recipe I found which is unlike any other I have seen since I really started looking. The recipe called for:

2 cups all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (optional)**
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active-dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F.)***

Day one lots of bubbles stirred it a few times about 12 hours in I fed it by removing one cup of the starter and putting in one cup all purpose flour and one cup of water.

Still good bubbles but no rise.

Day 2 stirred it on occasion fed again with one cup whole wheat flour and one cup water. In the evening did the same thing but went back to all purpose flour.

Still stirring on occasion.

Day 3 the aroma is not as strong and smells good, but still no rise starting to show a little bit of hooch. Stirred again to mix in hooch took out 1 cup and this time mixed whole wheat and all purpose flour. The starter seems a little thin so i did one cup of the mixed flour and 3/4 cup of bottled water. ( all previous water was tap) Bubbles started right away. I put the container in the oven and turned on the oven light. The level is slightly below my mark. I guessing maybe it has fallen slightly. It's a very large container so I don't think 1/4 cup of less water would be that noticeable 1/8 inch below my mark. Not sure what else to do. I am sure it's alive as I have bubbles. The thermostat in the house is usually set between 68 and 71 so maybe it's just too cool. I will see if putting in the oven makes any difference.

Please tell me what else to try! Am I just being impatient or do I need to try something different.
Like many others here, I have invested lots of time (and flour) in this and hope I don't want to have to abandon it.

Note. Container is heavy glass and I only use a wooden spoon.

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  1. That is nearly 200% hydration, way too thin to be able to rise.

    5 Replies
    1. re: kengk

      Kengk is right - when a starter is that thin, the gas bubbles that would cause a rise in a mixture with some gluten structure will simply rise to the surface and pop.

      Once you get the consistency right (I've been growing a 100% hydration starter recently, which is thick enough to allow a rise), you'll need to experiment with temperature. 68 is probably too cold. I had mine in my oven with the light on for a week and wasn't getting great results, but I think it was too close to the light (too warm, in the mid-80s). Once I moved it to the far corner (where the temp is 75ish), I started getting a reliable rise; however, this also coincided with my starter's two-week birthday, so it could have just been that I needed to be more patient.

      BTW, I'm not an expert, but from what I understand, what you are growing is not a sourdough starter if you use commercial yeast to start it. A true sourdough starter is made by feeding the wild yeast that naturally live on whole grain wheat or rye flour. There are several of us who have been posting on this topic lately and I believe we all started with just water and flour (or maybe fruit juice and flour).

      1. re: biondanonima

        Yup to just water and flour and nothing else - I've started a few sourdough starters this way with no problems.

      2. re: kengk

        equal parts water and flour is 200% hydration? On my last feed. I used 1 cup flour to 3/4 cup water. What should I do on the next feed. Only add flour? or what ratio should I use? I don't have a scale so I can only go by volume.

        1. re: Kellym7

          A cup of flour weighs between 4-5oz (depending on how packed it is) and a cup of water weighs 8oz, so equal parts by volume is around 200% hydration, yes. If you must do volume, use half as much water as flour.

          1. re: Kellym7

            The other thing is that, to create a starter, you don't *have* to use so much flour and water. You can start a starter with a heaping tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of water. Or half that, really. There's no point in starting a starter with two cups of flour.

        2. There's another very recent thread about getting a starter going here. Agree that your hydration is way too high. I also don't think you're seeing hooch, but simpy separated water and flour.

          Sorry to burst your bubble, but three days is nowhere near long enough to get a good starter going. Mine took almost a month. I did mine at room temp of mid-60's.

          My first suggestion would be to start feeding by weight, not volume. You just need a basic digital scale. You do not need to be wasting a lot of flour at this point. My feeds in the beginning were in the area of a few tablespoons or so of flour.

          My next suggestion would be to get cosy with - there's an amazing forum there with some really helpful people who will hold your hand through the initial phases and beyond. Also tons of 'getting started' info.

          It's a labor of love but well worth it!! Be patient!!

          5 Replies
          1. re: tacosandbeer

            no worries no bubble bursted! As I initially posted I did most of my research after I went with the first recipe I found which used active-dry yeast. Thats probably what got my starter going a bit faster than some. I wouldn't use it again but just didn't want to abandon what I have if i didnt have to. I was watching Top Chef and they were given a challenge using a 31 year old starter. I just decided I wanted to start one! I will check out the forum you suggested and post there as well.
            Thanks for your comments and guidance. I will start feeding with 1 cup flour to 1/4 to 1/3 cup water to get less hydration and see what happens.

            Should I feed without throwing out any of the starter or should I continue to throw some out. Flour is cheap so Im not too concerned with the cost just want to get this going.

            1. re: Kellym7

              I threw part of mine away at every feeding - if you don't, you're going to have a TON of starter very quickly. I was working with a small amount, though - I only kept 1-2 oz and fed at a ratio of 1 part starter to 1 part flour to 1 part water, so I was only throwing away about 2-3 oz of flour per day. Even so, I hated to waste it!

              1. re: Kellym7

                That's what got me started - some program where they were using a generations-old starter that had been passed down and shared all over the world!! I thought to myself - how cool would that be?? My poor starter lives in the fridge now and might come out every couple of weeks for a feed and to get used. But it's almost 8 months old! And it is amazing to think it began with nothing but some flour and water.

                If you can't get hold of a scale, when you're feeding, you're looking for a pretty stiff consistency - almost what I would mix up for drop-biscuits or cobbler topping. It won't be pourable. And you need to throw out, like biondanima says - otherwise you'll be wrestling gallons of starter within a week. Mine lives in an 8oz jam jar. I think using a bigger jar made me think I didn't have 'enough'. But when I am ready to bake with it, it only takes me about 36 hrs to double it up to the amount I need for baking. (This is when I feed without discarding, but like I said, that is when I am bulking it up to use it.) Then I save about an ounce's worth, and it's back to the little jar in the fridge!

                1. re: Kellym7

                  Either throw out or remove to use elsewhere. You can use the waste flour/water mix to make cake, pancakes, waffles...

                2. re: tacosandbeer

                  Mine took a couple of weeks before it was ready to make bread, but I also live in a tropical climate where things rise faster. It was much better at rising bread at a month than two weeks, though.

                  I also heartily agree with going with weights over volumes. And thefreshloaf. Great website.

                3. You can make pancakes with the discard.

                  1. Is the reason for the dicard just to control how much starter you have?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Kellym7

                      Yes, most instructions I have read say to double the starter every time it is fed. If you throw out half and add the same amount back the starter stays the same size.

                      If you double it without discarding (or using it) you will soon run out of money and space.

                      1. re: Kellym7

                        I remember reading a funny post on NOT discarding. Two feeds/day, starting with just 1/8c of starter = by day 7 evening feed, if your starter is reliably doubling between feeds, you will have...

                        ... 128 gallons of starter!!

                      2. Just found out the recipe is from King Aurhur's flour. They have a chat on the website so I chatted with a baker and was told to feed tonight with just flour and no water. They said just stir in enough to get to a pancake batter consistency. I will post tomorrow and report if I get any rise tonight.