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nanetteb

Sourdough Starter - Hows, Whys, Whats

332 posts in this topic

What happened to my starter?

I had a great starter going, had it in the fridge for awhile, brought it out, fed it for a week or two (daily), and then one day fed it with whole wheat flour. (I was out of AP) Since then (probably a week or two?), I've fed it with AP. It's not as active as it was - bubbles come, smells okay, but it's not frothy, nor does it have bubbles actively rising to the surface & breaking. I do have bubbles - but they're not "bubbling", if that makes any sense. It smells okay, but just doesn't get "puffy". What gives? I did dump out a good bit of it, and did replenish with plenty of AP flour.....what happened?

Thanks!

My guess is you changed the viscosity since the wholewheat adsorbs a different amount of water, Just keep feeding the AP, and let if ferment in a warm place and it will come back

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Ooh. I think that's a good guess. Hrm. I did notice that my starter seems a bit thicker, and when I fed it today, I added a bit more water. Also, I'm in the middle of making a loaf, and the dough seems heavier in texture, too. Grrr. Can't blame the starter, though - my scale went nuts in the middle of weighing my flour. *sigh* So, I think I've got too much flour in there. Anyway...thanks for the "guess"! ;)


~Lisa

www.TheCakeAndTheCaterer.com

Bloomington, IN

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I recently began a new starter, after years of not having one. It's the right time of year for bread baking. I asked my husband what kind of bread he wanted me to make a few weeks ago, and he said, "Sourdough." I had to explain it wasn't that simple.

But not that complicated, either, at least not the way I do it. I'm fascinated by how people will use so many things for a starter, and wonder if anyone here has made different kinds and compared the end result? I've always just made a starter with water, flour, and a bit of yeast. I don't think the yeast is "cheating" because it loses its potency soon enough and is replaced by all the wild yeasts in my kitchen.

I was talking to a chef the other day who was a recipe tester for Reinhart, and she said that making sourdough starter with grapes was a stupid idea and that you had to use raisins. There seems to be a lot of chauvinism about this whole sourdough issue. I make good breads with mine, but I'm just making them for me.

Oh, and my old starter was always named Ethyl, for obvious reasons.

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Last year, before graduating and moving away from Berkeley, I collected two sourdough starters from bakeries that I loved and had special significance for me during my years there. I abided by the instructions for feeding and kept them alive for a few months, but after moving again, I had all but abandoned them in the back of the fridge. As expected, both seem to have the greyish appearance and a pool of liquid. I have read in a few places that it is possible to revive a starter after long periods of inactivity, but before I do that, I have two questions:

1. What would be the best procedure to bring them back to a healthy vibrant state? Should I just follow the instructions from each bakery for normal feeding until it appears back to normal, or is there a special treatment for neglected starters?

2. Once I have revived them, would they return back to their original states, or somehow be morphed into something different? Has anyone else had similar experience with reviving starters and remembers the qualities it had before and after?

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Last year, before graduating and moving away from Berkeley, I collected two sourdough starters from bakeries that I loved and had special significance for me during my years there. I abided by the instructions for feeding and kept them alive for a few months, but after moving again, I had all but abandoned them in the back of the fridge. As expected, both seem to have the greyish appearance and a pool of liquid. I have read in a few places that it is possible to revive a starter after long periods of inactivity, but before I do that, I have two questions:

1. What would be the best procedure to bring them back to a healthy vibrant state? Should I just follow the instructions from each bakery for normal feeding until it appears back to normal, or is there a special treatment for neglected starters?

2. Once I have revived them, would they return back to their original states, or somehow be morphed into something different? Has anyone else had similar experience with reviving starters and remembers the qualities it had before and after?

Just follow the normal instructions.

1, To un-seperate the hooch (liquid) stir them back together, or just use starter from the lower part

2. A lot of acid and other by products will have accumulated in the culture that you may not want to carry over. I would revive them bu taking only a tablespoonful of starter to ssay 100g (4oz) of flour and 40z of water. Stir togeher and leave covered in a warm place (27C/86F) for 12 hours or until active, then use as fresh starter,

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Last year, before graduating and moving away from Berkeley, I collected two sourdough starters from bakeries that I loved and had special significance for me during my years there. I abided by the instructions for feeding and kept them alive for a few months, but after moving again, I had all but abandoned them in the back of the fridge. As expected, both seem to have the greyish appearance and a pool of liquid. I have read in a few places that it is possible to revive a starter after long periods of inactivity, but before I do that, I have two questions:

1. What would be the best procedure to bring them back to a healthy vibrant state? Should I just follow the instructions from each bakery for normal feeding until it appears back to normal, or is there a special treatment for neglected starters?

2. Once I have revived them, would they return back to their original states, or somehow be morphed into something different? Has anyone else had similar experience with reviving starters and remembers the qualities it had before and after?

You could just mix the stuff up and refresh as usual. But if I were you, and I had a culture that had been sitting around inactive for some time, I'd want to give it a wash first, maybe even for several days in a row, before starting back up as usual.

The way you'd do that is to mix what you have very thoroughly, dump everything except 1 cup of the culture (or keep some in reserve just in case), add a couple cups warm water (roughly 80-85 degrees) and mix thoroughly, then dump everything but one cup once again, feed as usual (I use 3/4 cup water and 1 cup flour), stir very vigorously once again and then proof for 6 to 12 hours.

I learned this from Ed Wood's Classic Sourdoughs, and it works beautifully. If I'm on a baking hiatus, for example, and the culture's been sitting for awhile, or even if I've simply been refreshing and baking as usual over the course of many months, the culture often becomes more overpowering in flavor or more acidic or more sour than I'd prefer, and so I routinely wash my culture to restore it to a softer, lovelier, "breadier" smelling thing. And actually, I'll repeat that procedure for several days in a row before I simply go back to refreshing as usual. Don't despair if the culture appears weak for a couple of weeks. That's normal.


Edited by devlin (log)

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I read through the first 3-1/2 pages of this thread and decided I had to post before reading further.

I created a starter in August of 2007, two apartments ago, using the much loathed organic grape method. I didn't know any better at the time and, hey, it worked, so didn't think much of it. I used it in various failed attempts at sourdough no knead bread. Failed, primarily, because the starter was never particularly vigorous, I didn't refresh it terribly well before using it and didn't proof the final loaves long enough. I managed to feed it once every few weeks, primarily because I had named it (Froderick) and was attached to the idea, but rarely used it. Until this week, the last time and only time I had successfully used it, in fact, was almost a year ago for pain au levain breads from Jeffrey Hamelman's book.

Fast forward to this week. We moved here around three months ago, and Froderick naturally moved with us. By now, he was this frightening looking mess in the back of the fridge, long ago separated and topped with a very brown hooch. I hadn't fed him in many months, at least six. I kept thinking of it, but put it off until this week. I figured he was probably long dead, but when I opened the container and it smelled perfectly good, I decided to try reviving him. I poured off all the hooch and scraped off all the beige material from the tops and sides of the container, leaving behind less than an inch high thickness of creamy colored, thick, dry paste, nothing like the thick, elastic levain I left behind. (I had long ago converted him from liquid to solid.) I added equal amounts (unmeasured, the first time around) of bread flour and bottled water, mixed, and put him back in his now clean container, proofed in the microwave in which I had just boiled some water.

Imagine my surprise when, just a few hours later, some signs of life seemed to emerge. After a day, when it was clear he was still kicking, I fed him again. And again. And now, just three days later, he is more vigorous and active than ever. I mean, seriously so. I mixed the basic sourdough bread recipe from The Bread Bible, expecting to wait the full 3-4 hours for the final proof, as RLB suggests, and returned to my loaf two hours later (also in the microwave) to learn that it had already overproofed. I baked it anyway, expecting a large hockey puck, but it was surprisingly edible and full of holes. I refreshed it again today, with the expectation of replacing the failed loaf (I also mixed up some Cook's Illustrated no-knead bread last night, with yeast, just in case.) It looks like I didn't need to. It's not a perfect loaf, but it has great crust and the perfect amount (for me) of sour flavor.

Today's refreshment rose to more than double in less than three hours. Is that typical? I was so amazed at how active this starter has suddenly become that I questioned my husband as to whether or not he took pity on me and secretly added commercial yeast to the mixture. Fortunately, he has no idea how to even do that, so I guess it's all Frody and the alchemy of sourdough. So freaking cool.


Edited by abooja (log)

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I found that my starter had peaks and valleys for about 9 months of regular feeding before now when it is completely stable as long I do my part. Work toward consistency and that means dumping or baking - I vote for the latter which may turn into a side business.


Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM

A recent write-up in Dorado magazine

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I found that my starter had peaks and valleys for about 9 months of regular feeding before now when it is completely stable as long I do my part.  Work toward consistency and that means dumping or baking - I vote for the latter which may turn into a side business.

One of my starters has been going strong for about 18 years now. It always seems to revive quickly and is very active. It hasn't sat in the refrigerator for longer than about a month or two between uses. What I have found is that it has become less sour over the years. I have a second starter that I just started last fall and it is very sour. I wonder if the sour-producing Lactobacilli die out with long term maintenace and refrigeration.

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I was bound and determined to have a sourdough starter going by the end of this month. I'd tried 3 times before with no luck, so I decided to go with a recipe that someone else started.

The first day you mix together 1/4 cup rye flour with 1/8 cup water and set it on the counter. The second day you mix another 1/4 rye flour and 1/8 cup water. The third day I did 1/4 cup rye flour and 1/8 cup water again. This is all without discarding anything. After the third day, I left it alone until I started to see bubbles. On the 5th day I discarded all but 1/4 cup of my starter and mixed 1/4 water and 1/2 cup flour (a mix of 1/4 rye and 3/4 unbleached bread flour. I kept on with the rye/bread mix until I was getting good growth, after which I started feeding only unbleached bread flour. It's been about 3 weeks total since I started and I've been baking bread for about a week. I can control the sour with how much starter I use, how it's built up for use in the bread (stiff, paste, or liquid), how much I use in the recipe (I've been making up my own recipes as well), and how long I let it rise for the bulk ferment.

On my blog at http://mentalexperimental.org you can see the fruits of the first couple of my labors. The breads I've made so far with this starter have turned out to be incredibly tasty.

You can imagine how happy I am with it.

You don't really need high temperatures to make a good sourdough. My temperatures are 70F and lower in this kitchen in the winter. Rye flour works very well. I've never mixed commercial yeast in with it. My favorite bread is this one, which my boyfriend has been using for sandwiches at work all week.

Coming to sourdough has been a challenge, but it worked out well in the end. I have a happy, healthy starter now. :)

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I have a plain starter and a rye starter in residence in my fridge that are well established. As a firm believer in frugality, I cringe when it is time to feed, and the discarded starter ends up on the compost pile, or ANOTHER batch of pancakes!

I know it's only a nickel or a dime or so - but I would really like to use the good stuff to better effect.

Am I correct in assuming that I can just adjust the flour and water quantities in a quick bread recipe, and use the quantity of starter for flavor? Should make a wicked good blueberry muffin.

Do you have any favorite ways of using up this precious stuff?

Thanks in advance.

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One of the most important things to understand about sourdough is that there is no reason to maintain a starter that's any larger than around a quarter cup. All you are doing is perpetuating the culture.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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My answer is to bake more :) If you want to address frugality or moral issues then sell your daily bakings and donate the money to a good cause, or find a non-profit that can use the bread to feed kids or something. OR to answer your question more directly, I toss a bit of mine in waffles on most Sundays. Okay, I've helped you with a tablespoon of the stuff, the other 10 gallons is for someone else to deal with.


Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM

A recent write-up in Dorado magazine

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I regularly make muffins, banana bread and sometimes waffles with old or refreshed sourdough starter. All are very good on their own merits--really, I'm not just saying that.

I usually maintain less than 1/2 cup of sourdough starter in the fridge. I typically only build enough starter to make bread once a week or so, plus a little extra to store for the next batch. I haven't thrown out any starter in a very long time (since I first built the starter).

I personally don't see the need for endless builds and refreshing. I find my results are perfectly acceptable and predictable using 1-2 week old starter. It only takes longer for the initial build and mixed dough to rise.


Edited by sanrensho (log)

Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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So, if you only keep half a cup of starter, do you just use that amount to make a preferment and then build it into a loaf?

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So, if you only keep half a cup of starter, do you just use that amount to make a preferment and then build it into a loaf?

You really have to refresh the starter before building it into a preferment...so the 1/2 cup you keep in the fridge comes out, most of it is poured off, and then you can refresh it with 8 oz. flour and about 8 oz. of water. It's ready in maybe 6 or more hours. Or, it may need to be refed, depending on how often you use it.

Now you have active starter to use as you wish.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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So, if you only keep half a cup of starter, do you just use that amount to make a preferment and then build it into a loaf?

Yes, 50 g starter + 175 g water + 175 g flour (400 g total) the evening before. My house is unusually cool so the refreshed starter (preferment) is usually ready in about <18 hours to build into a loaf.

I build 375 g into a loaf and have less than 25 g refreshed start as leftover. I can either refresh that again to build extra starter for baking, or stir in a small quantity of water/flour and let the starter slowly refresh in the fridge for next week's bake.

So I usually have two containers in the fridge--my starter, and extra starter reserved for muffins, quick breads, etc.

Also, my standard challah recipe is commercial yeast-based but uses old sourdough starter--RLB's new favorite traditional challah. Another excellent use for extra starter.


Edited by sanrensho (log)

Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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I think it is best to think of your "storage starter" as though it is an envelope of yeast.

Maintain the smallest amount possible. I keep mine at around 25 grams each of flour and water. When it comes time to refresh the starter, I empty out the entire jar. The small amount that remains clinging to the sides is more than enough to inoculate the fresh flour/water mixture and perpetuate the culture (in fact, this creates optimal conditions for yeast and bacterial growth).

When you want to make some bread, you can then make up whatever amount of "starter" or "chef" or "biga" or "sponge" or "pre-ferment" or whatever it is that you want to have and is specified in the recipe you are using. Then just toss in a tablespoon or so of active culture from your "storage starter," wait until the new "starter" or "chef" or "biga" or "sponge" or "pre-ferment" or whatever becomes active, and proceed as regular. The tablespoon of "storage starter" is analogous to putting in a pinch of commercial yeast to make a "starter" or "chef" or "biga" or "sponge" or "pre-ferment" or whatever.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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My concern with using that small an amount of starter would be that the lactobacilli wouldn't be able to produce enough acid to make the final loaf sour. Do you find that that's the case?

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sanrensho: Feeding your starter by adding a small amount of flour/water to a larger amount of pre-existing starter is actually the worst possible thing you can do for both perpetuating the starter culture (this will eventually encourage other yeast and bacteria more tolerant of the low pH to take over the culture) and also for optimum growth/health characteristic of the microflora you are taking care of. You want to feed by high dilution. The amount of "new food" you put in should be equal to at least 5 times the weight of the "old starter" you hold back -- and preferably more.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Then just toss in a tablespoon or so of active culture from your "storage starter," wait until the new "starter" or "chef" or "biga" or "sponge" or "pre-ferment" or whatever becomes active, and proceed as regular.  The tablespoon of "storage starter" is analogous to putting in a pinch of commercial yeast to make a "starter" or "chef" or "biga" or "sponge" or "pre-ferment" or whatever.

This is an excellent analogy, and exactly the approach I use.

The only difference for me is that I always build a little extra preferment to reserve as my storage starter, and also feed again when it goes into the fridge.


Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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My concern with using that small an amount of starter would be that the lactobacilli wouldn't be able to produce enough acid to make the final loaf sour.  Do you find that that's the case?

You can use the "storage starter" to make a larger amount of any kind of starter you want.

Let's say your recipe calls for two cups of starter. That's way more than you have in your "storage starter," right? No problem. Just mix together the amount of flour and water you would need to make two cups of starter (according to the proportions specified in the recipe you are using) and put in a tablespoon of your storage starter. This will inoculate the flour and water mixture with the microflora from your starter culture. Keep in mind that sourdough contains something like 10,000,000 to 1,000,000,000 microorganisms per gram of dough. So that tablespoon contains a lot of your starter macroorganisms. Wait for the flour/water mixture to become nice and bubbly (and you can speed this process up by putting it in the oven with the light turned on) and you now have two cups of active "starter." Now you may proceed as usual.

One great advantage to this method is that it allows you to use a much wider variety of sourdough recipes. One thing I find is that sourdough recipe books often have widely different instructions for how the starter should be constituted and used. So, if you're using a Nancy Silverton recipe and you don't happen do constitute your starter exactly the way Nancy does hers, it's difficult to figure out how to make her recipes work. My way, you can make up a "one time" batch of Nancy's starter, inoculate it with your starter culture, wait for it to activate, and proceed with the recipe without any guesswork.

Personally, I don't often bother with this step. I just make the dough with a very small inoculum, and let it rise for a really long time.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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sanrensho: Feeding your starter by adding a small amount of flour/water to a larger amount of pre-existing starter is actually the worst possible thing you can do for both perpetuating the starter culture

I think you misunderstood me. I always shoot for a low percentage of inoculant (less than 20%). I learned that here, possibly from one of your posts.


Edited by sanrensho (log)

Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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