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Sourdough Starter - Hows, Whys, Whats


nanetteb
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In that book, quoting work by M.J.R. Nout and T. Creemars-Molenaar (Chem. Mikrobiol Technol Lebensm 10:162-167) on the stability of two dutch wheat sourdough starters consisting of Lb. sanfrancisco and Saccharomyces exigus against ordinary bakers yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae they showed that the bakers yeast had disappeared in two fermentations. In another study the same authors could denmonstrate that a mixed initial sourdough population of Lb. plantarun, Lb brevis, Lb buchneri, Lb cellobiosus and the yeast Torulaspora delbrueckii was reduced to a microflora consisting of Lb. sanfranciso and Torulaspora delbrueckii after 7 weeks and 20 dough refreshments, even though Lb. sanfranciso was not present in detectable quantities initially.

The conclusion is that a mature sourdough culture is pretty stable stuff, but the exact behaviour and flavour will depend not only on the culture but also on many other factors, including the local temperature and feeding regime, flour ash content, oxygenation, dough and stiffness.

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"The conclusion is that a mature sourdough culture is pretty stable stuff, but the exact behaviour and flavour will depend not only on the culture but also on many other factors, including the local temperature and feeding regime, flour ash content, oxygenation, dough and stiffness."

Voila, there you have it! nice work jackal10!

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Double thanks from me! This thread started right when I was trying to get some education on this subject.

Edited to ask (after reading your post again)...

I'm kind of drawing the conclusion, and I don't know if this is correct, that regular maintenance and care will preserve the integrity of the culture. This makes me assume that neglect would cause the cultures to "morph" -- whether for better or for worse is subjective. I am only asking because I have been known to neglect my starter, and resurrect it, and have been doing so for a few years. I make really nice bread with it, but who knows how much it has changed from its origins.

So, for example, if you brought back an Italian culture that you picked up from a friend in Naples, and took very good care of it, it would remain an Italian culture (most likely) indefinitely. But put it in the back of your fridge and forget about it for a few months, then freak out and feed it and pray over it to bring it back to life, and you may very well have lost your original Italian culture but still have something that is very nice and makes great bread.

So, I guess I'm asking if I am correct in assuming that in order to preserve the consistency of the original culture, you really need to make a commitment to take proper care of it. Is that right?

Edited by takomabaker (log)
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OK, this is why I made post #2 on this thread. With all due respect, if your culture morphs (seems to me to be inevitable) then what's the matter with that. In the end if the bread is good then so what? For the record, SachCerv is in all levains based upon the above cited research iirc.

Which led me to make post #7 re: myths. People like to perpetuate myths (I am a guilty party) to add charm. Saying that you made a starter in France sounds a lot better than saying you made your starter in say, Robinsville, NC...

thoughts jackal10 and others?

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I do agree with you about the fact that if you have a good starter that makes a great product, then it doesn't matter where the cultures originated. I have been tempted to order some cultures from websites that sell "authentic" cultures from France, Italy, etc. for as much as $20. I'm just wondering if it is worth it, considering the fact that (as you stated) a good starter is a good starter no matter where it is from; and even if there is a discernible difference between a mail order Italian starter and the starter sitting on my counter right now, if there will still be a difference three months from now.

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I don't think you can say that neglecting a starter will make it change its characteristics faster. If anything being kept cold in the fridge will slow down reproduction, and make the change slower. However build up of acidity and waste products will also affect the composition, but then you don't know how the original was maintained. For example one baker I know, who made very tasty sourdough, just chucked a lump of today's dough into an unsavoury bucket of ancient dough under the bench, and used that next day to start the next batch.

Unless you can reproduce exactly the conditions of the original, including the same flour composition, micro-nutrients in the water, ambient organisms in the bakery, and the same temperature conditions and feeding regime, then your starter and bread flavour will be different.

Personally I'm not a fan of keeping the mother culture in a tub on the counter and refreshing it everyday unless you are baking everyday. Unless you refresh completely starting from a small inoculation I think you build up too much acidity and side products for a happy starter, and the rapid continuous growth must lead to more changes.

For home use I think you do better keeping it in a jar in the fridge, using a small amount to inoculate the preferment sponge, fermetn that for 8 -12 hours at 80-85F and when the jar is looking a bit empty to ferment up a completely new batch from a small inoculation (say 10g mother to 500g flour and water).

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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That's very helpful, Jackal, because one of my biggest issues is "dumping" starter. Which is necessary, I know, but it still bothers me. I get kind of attached to it. I do neglect my starter sometimes (once to a point that I was surprised it was not completely gone), but for the most part I try to treat it nicely.

I usually do keep it in the fridge and let it go dormant. I take it out about 3 days before I use it and feed it regularly to get it going. I've been baking a LOT lately. I'm going to be supplying bread and desserts for a local restaurant that is opening so I've been doing some experimentation.

Do you ever freeze starter?

Edited by takomabaker (log)
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My KA is pretty consistent. I've tried a bunch of different KA flours, just to experiment. I've tried artisan, European artisan, French milled, Italian, etc. and I really do enjoy experimentation. But honestly, most of the time I just reach for KA unbleached AP and I'm pretty darned happy.

In school, with the exception of the occasional use of cake flour, we used KA unbleached for everything from croissants to brioche. I've found it to be a consistently decent flour.

I don't know about you guys' flour, but my flour is a different milling every batch! probably from different wheat...

(i like to argue, i know)

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...Do you ever freeze starter?

Yes, with mixed, mostly bad, results. It doesn't really like to be frozen. It will come back, usually, but it takes quite a while.

In his very good ECGI course on sourdough, Jackal10 advocates a method of preserving the culture by just drying it and putting it in a jar. I have used this method a few times for preserving my culture and for making it easier to share with friends and it works pretty well. I have also noticed that most cultures are sold in dry form. Anyway, dried cultures bounce back a lot faster than the frozen.

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When I lived in Southern Arizona many years ago ..I collected juniper berries and used them to make a really good sourdough starter ..it took a long time to cultivate it ..but I had nothing but time then so it was fun and worth the efforts...I just dropped like 9 berries in a jar with 1:1 of whole wheat flour and water and waited...I was at a high altitude and it did not take much activeyeast to get really good results there...

...I have since moved to the Puget Sound area of Western Washington ..and sadly not too long ago my starter met its demise ... I was wondering if anyone would be willing to share some good methods of making good sourdough starter by gathering somehow their own local yeast? ..what besides juniper berries does it collect on? ..or should I just leave the jar open someplace to find it's own ( I am afriad it will just be gross if I do that) ? ..and really..is it worth the effort? or should I just save myself the trouble and just buy or beg a starter that has already been proven?

thank you so much in advance for any advice or info you can share about this subject

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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You seem to already have the experience of getting a starter to work – maybe the answer is how long have you got? Sometimes natural starters can get going right away and then it’s only 1-2 weeks before you can start baking.

I guess it doesn’t help if you want to make bread for this weekend.

If you buy a live starter there is some debate about whether it starts of OK, but then adapts to your flour, temperature and feeding regime. Certainly Clayton in his Book of Breads, claims that what was a classic SF sourdough starter ended up as a mid-West (or wherever) starter in a very short time.

From my experience, taking a starter fed with organic flour available in the UK for a vacation over in Paris, by the time it had fed on French T55 a few times the behaviour was quite different, not only in time to maturity but also in the way the dough behaved. On returning to ‘home cooking’ on UK organic flour, it took a few days to settle down again and become predictable.

Of course, you could always buy deactivated sourdough powder – all the flavour without the hassle.

On a more caring note, I agree with you that growing your own sourdough is a big time commitment. I cared for my last starter for almost two years, having taken it with me on many journeys to many different countries. It passed away a few months ago with a bad case of flu or some other disease. I haven’t had the emotional courage to start another.

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On a more caring note, I agree with you that growing your own sourdough is a big time commitment. I cared for my last starter for almost two years, having taken it with me on many journeys to many different countries. It passed away a few months ago with a bad case of flu or some other disease. I haven’t had the emotional courage to start another.

thank you for the empathy ..I just know my yeast went back to the days of the wild wild southwest so when it died a little piece of me did as well :sad:

on impulse I ordered some "authentic" San Franciso starter off a site someone rec someplace else on this vast board....and maybe I will do both ..use it and also just see what happens ..then I can compare .. ...other than working all the time I have nothing else to do but collect yeast right? Who knows maybe I can start my own NW legacy? :raz:

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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I would love some advice on this, too. I tried to start a sourdough starter last week. I even named him: Clovis le Sourdough Starter. I followed directions I found online, which seemed simple: 1c of bread flour, 1c warm water; feed every 24 hours by discarding half and replacing with another 1/2c of bread flour and 1/2c of warm water. This was left to sit, uncovered, on my counter; my kitchen is slightly below 70F but it's not terribly cold either.

The day I baked my no-knead bread, I thought I had achieved success, as Clovis was bubbling vigorously and had quite a nice foamy top. I suspect he caught some of the instant yeast from the no-knead. However, I fed him, and the next day he had turned into a lump of flour at the bottom and some icky looking water at the top; I stirred him together, fed him again, and the same separation occurred.

I suppose it's time for a new strategy, eh? I'll be watching this thread avidly.

Jennie

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I would love some advice on this, too.  I tried to start a sourdough starter last week.  I even named him: Clovis le Sourdough Starter.  I followed directions I found online, which seemed simple: 1c of bread flour, 1c warm water; feed every 24 hours by discarding half and replacing with another 1/2c of bread flour and 1/2c of warm water.  This was left to sit, uncovered, on my counter; my kitchen is slightly below 70F but it's not terribly cold either.

The day I baked my no-knead bread, I thought I had achieved success, as Clovis was bubbling vigorously and had quite a nice foamy top.  I suspect he caught some of the instant yeast from the no-knead.  However, I fed him, and the next day he had turned into a lump of flour at the bottom and some icky looking water at the top; I stirred him together, fed him again, and the same separation occurred.

I suppose it's time for a new strategy, eh?  I'll be watching this thread avidly.

The separation is normal. Although I am not sure if you got it right, a healthy starter does separate at rest. I think the liquid, which I believe some people call, hooch, is made up of some type of alcohols and whatnot. Anyway, just stir the stuff in before using it.

If the layer of liquid, however, is not at the top, but rather in the middle with starter on the bottom and a layer of foam on top, it could be contaminated with something. Also be on the lookout for strange colors (pinks) and bad odors (not sure what to smell for, but I hear you'll know when you sniff it).

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After a long period of not beeing able to care for my baking hobbies, I just started up again. I started a new sourdough culture two weeks ago, and had my first real atempt today :-)

Go on! Create your own starter. That way it's more personal, and more fun when it works ! :-) Also remember to share you experiences on this forum :-)

Edited by glennbech (log)
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So it may not be too late for Clovis? I believe I last fed him on Saturday, so he may have died anyway. Here is a photo of what he looks like right now:

gallery_7863_3000_784914.jpg

As you can see, the liquid is on the top, not in the middle. There is no off smell, but I'm recovering from a cold... still, I've smelled fermentation gone wrong, and I think I'd notice it.

Jennie

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Jenny mine looked like that a lot over the years I would just stir it up well ..then scoop half off and refeed it with equal parts flour and water .leave it openish for a day to catch more yeast maybe? ..Clovis is ok if there is no gross smell I would think!

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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many recipes for starters call for soaking ORGANIC* grapes and/or organic raisins to get some wild yeast from the skins. soak the fruit and then use that water as the liquid for your starter.

i'm sure there are other food products that also collect wild yeast. i would think the grapes would work quickly and efficiently, rather than waiting for wild yeasts in your kitchen to seed a plain water/flour mixture.

*must be organic because you can really wash the grapes before you soak otherwise you destroy the yeast as well

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I would like to find something that just grows out here like the juniper berries did in AZ and has yeast all over it ...that way I could dream about the ancestry of it and make up stories ... like I did the AZ yeast....

sadly the only junipers I find around my neighborhood smell like cat pee so I dont want those!!!

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Wow, I didn't realize sourdough starter was so complicated. I just stirred some water and flour together, left it uncovered for a couple days, started dumping and adding some more flour and water, and it's happily brewing away atop my refrigerator. Baked a long-ferment loaf of french bread yesterday for our Mardi Gras potluck at work - it was delicious. Haven't NAMED my starter, which is odd, because I name my car, my computer, several of my kitchen implements. Perhaps this weekend I'll sit down with "The Creature" and have a chat with it. Wait a minute, I HAVE named it -- I do refer to it as "Feeding the Beast".

Also, in a related question -- I have heard that you can schmear some starter out on wax paper, let it dry, and even mail this dried starter material, and reconstitute it with some flour and water. After all, the gold miners used to carry dried starter around their necks in a bag to make bread with. Yeast is pretty hardy as I've noticed.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

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what if I left it outside for a while with cheese cloth over it? just to catch some wild yeast that way? does anyone think that would work?

I've always done something very similar... I put a heavy paper towel (Viva is my first choice) over the top of a mix of flour (rye + AP, usually) and water, secure it with a rubber band, and sit it on my kitchen windowsill. Even before I tackled "real yeast bread" I was making sourdough... and it tastes different every place I've lived (Memphis , Florida, and now Virginia.)

I've never heard of adding juniper berries or anything like that, though... is this to add flavor, or just to augment the growth of yeast?

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