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Sourdough Starter - Hows, Whys, Whats


nanetteb
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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.

This is my experience as well. The starters I have made have all been extremly hard to kill off, even in the beginning. With my current starter, I even forgot to feed it over the weekend during the first week. It got left on the kitchen top, even with no lid on. After coming home from skiing, on sunday, I just stired the separated starter togehter, discarded about half, and added equal amounts of flour and water.

Also notice that I used the term "about". I have also found that making sourdough starters are not a very scienfidic process. During the first days, I usually discard "about" half, and add "aproxemately" equal amounts of water and flour to it :)

I might have gotten lucky though. This is only the 3'rd culture I've started :-)

Edited by glennbech (log)
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I started my sourdough starter back around the beginning of November using the recipe in Amy's Bread Cookbook. Rye Flour and spring water. I now have two starters on the go. One I feed with rye and the other with bread flour. I was so excited when I made my first loaves of Sourdough without the additional of commercial yeast.

Ann

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why buy a starter? If I accidently kill mine I just pick up some more for free from my local bakery. Starters are also very dependant on place and local, so if you want something unique to your house, take the time to make it yourself (be aware that it takes 2-3 weeks for it to get to a respectable strength and robust enough to be very useful)

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why buy a starter?  If I accidently kill mine I just pick up some more for free from my local bakery.  Starters are also very dependant on place and local, so if you want something unique to your house, take the time to make it yourself (be aware that it takes 2-3 weeks for it to get to a respectable strength and robust enough to be very useful)

I started my first here in Jakarta, it was active and very lively after 3 days and I made my first Sourdough Bread on the fourth! just equal quantities of water and plain white bread flour, twice a day, throw half and make up the loss with the same ration of flour and water again. Best bread I have ever tasted!

No berries, fruit, or love involved, just flour, water, local airborne yeast.

"Don't be shy, just give it a try!"

Nungkysman: Food for the Body and the Soul.

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I have to say the starter I mentioned at the beginning of this thread the one I had that I brought here from Arizona and just passed away... stayed alive and produced tons of wonderful baked goods ..was over 24 years old! ...I never had to start another one just kept feeding it ..so that is why I was so upset when I finally lost it ....it was "vintage" sourdough starter ....so vintage I had never looked to see how to do this! I will just mix some flour and water up and see what happens ....

Juniper berries in the AZ had a visable coating of white powdery yeast on them ...it worked wonderfully to just drop those in to the mix the yeast bubbled and it worked pretty quickly from what I remember ..but again it was forever ago...

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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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.

That's an absolutely normal looking sourdough starter after it sits for awhile with no use. If you use it every day (or feed it every day), it won't separate, but if you feed only every several days or once a week or less, then you get the separation. As somebody noted above, simply stir the stuff on top (the "hooch") into the rest and feed as usual.

You're keeping it refrigerated between uses, yeah?

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After all this talk about starters I feel I must give a shoutout for Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter!

Not that it's anything special -- it's just easy for a beginner (like me!) to drop a SASE in the mail and have a 160 year old "strain" of starter show up at your house, ready to roll!

So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money. But when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

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After all this talk about starters I feel I must give a shoutout for Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter

Not that it's anything special -- it's just easy for a beginner (like me!) to drop a SASE in the mail and have a 160 year old "strain" of starter show up at your house, ready to roll!

My question would be: Is it still the same strain after 160 years?

With the wide variety of natural wild yeasts in the environment, all of them evolving to suit their particular climatic and environmental conditions, unless the starter had been held in laboratory standard sterile conditions it is quite likely that there has been contamination by other local yeasts many many times over during that 160 years.

"Don't be shy, just give it a try!"

Nungkysman: Food for the Body and the Soul.

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I've made starter a few times - using both the grapes method and the flour and water method. Both worked, but both were pretty feeble. I recently bought a couple of starters on line and the difference is like night and day in the strength of the starter and the quality of the bread. I would not go back to trying to raise my own from scratch.

Edited by rickster (log)
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I think one of the things with starting your own starter is that most methods indicate a particular number of days. Although I was discouraged, I kept going, and bingo! The 4 or 5 days was really 10 or 12 for me, but it did work.

I started mine in the late fall, when the windows were shut and the furnace was on, and I'm curious whether it would have "taken" faster had it been summer and the windows open.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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started mine in the late fall, when the windows were shut and the furnace was on, and I'm curious whether it would have "taken" faster had it been summer and the windows open.

The instructions for revitalizing the starter I bought required keeping it at 85-90 degrees for 48 hours, which is a lot hotter than I usually would do. Also, I keep my house pretty cold, but I kept this starter in my dishwasher, which sits on a heating vent and gets pretty warm especially whne it has been down to zero here in Chicago in the last few weeks. That might be contributing to the success too.

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ok I have a question after the first 24 hours does it have to be fed every 12 exactly? I dont remember doing this so dilligently when I did it years ago....but I work 12 hour shifts so that will be impossible actually ...does it matter if the time span is not exact? I hope not ..because nothing I do is exact!

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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ok I have a question after the first 24 hours does it have to be fed every 12 exactly? I dont remember doing this so dilligently when I did it years ago....but I work 12 hour shifts so that will be impossible actually ...does it matter if the time span is not exact? I hope not ..because nothing I do is exact!

The temperature is actually a little more important than the feeding schedule. I usually try to feed it every 8 hours, but I don't sweat it if I'm a little late or early. However, I try to keep it within 1-2 degrees of my target temperature.

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The temperature is actually a little more important than the feeding schedule. I usually try to feed it every 8 hours, but I don't sweat it if I'm a little late or early. However, I try to keep it within 1-2 degrees of my target temperature.

thanks I have it on a heated floor with a table and blanket over it ..the thermometer is reading 85 consistantly so I think I am ok ..if the feeding schedule is no big deal I will not sweat it and feed it just before I go to work in the morning and right when I get home that should keep it content I think!

I can already tell there is a completely different smell in each jar after 24 hours they all smell of some fermentation and all smell kind of good actually

they also all have some bubbling going on ..although so far the purchased starter is way ahead on all levels it was so tempting to just take a plop and toss it into the one I just started with water and flour to give it a boost ..but I controled myself!!

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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Ok I take back what I said about McNeil my wild caught yeast starter ...well last night when I went to feed him he had bubbled up and filled the jar ..the San Francisco had not bubbled at all and the Yukon while it had bubbled up a bit only went half way up the jar ...I fed everyone one time and this morning McNeil was oozing all over the place ...and when I opened the jar it was still bubbling... I would say now the wild caught yeast is the most active for sure!!!

So since I have to go to work and can not try it I stirred it down and put McNeil and Yukon in the fridg and poor San Francisco is sitting alone trying to activate it smells really good but not bubbling yet ...

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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Hope I'll not be flamed for this but here goes :-) Im asking to see clairy, so my intentions are good.

Isn't both the bacteria, and yeast in sourdough starters present in the flour? Fresh flour naturally contains a wide variety of yeast and bacteria spores.

How much does the wild yeast present in the air, and local area actually contribute? Im not starting a discussion on sourdough chemistry here, just wondering if I've been sleeping in class :-)

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I imagine you are absolutely right actually .......even so ...it is fun much more fun to imagine that maybe the wild Puget Sound yeast or some of the early pioneer bacteria found its way into my jar over came what is already there and will create pretty much the best bread on the planet. That would be my plan anyway

Hope I'll not be flamed for this but here goes :-) Im asking to see clairy, so my intentions are good.

Isn't both the bacteria, and yeast in sourdough starters present in the flour? Fresh flour naturally contains a wide variety of yeast and bacteria spores. 

How much does the wild yeast present in the air, and local area actually contribute? Im not starting a discussion on sourdough chemistry here, just wondering if I've been sleeping in class :-)

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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From what I gather, most everyone is doing a "wet" starter with almost 200% hydration (equal flour and water by measure, right?). When I attended a class up a KA, we made a "dry" culture with about 60% hydration (water weighed 60% of the flour's weight). Can anyone comment on the advantages/disadvantages of either method? In the class, the culture started in about 5 days, of course I'm sure there's a ton of yeast floating around in their bakery.

I've always maintained two starters, one white and one rye, but they both moved on to the bakery in the sky some time ago. I decided to start fresh last week, and pulled out my notes from KA: 6 days into it, no signs of life. Small pleasant odor from the bacteria, but no bubbles. I usually bake bread once or twice a week, so I'd think I have a fair amount of yeast in the air as well, but.... Is a wet starter easier to get going?

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Can anyone comment on the advantages/disadvantages of either method?

My guess is that from a chemical point of view a wet starter should be preferable as all chemical reactions happens faster in water. I Keep my starter wet, but often use it to make "biga's" (60% hydrated non-salted leavening doughs).

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I think you’ll find that the yeast grows much faster in really wet, >100% hydration starters. Most of the European methods for getting a starter up and ready to go, use 100% hydration (equal water and flour by weight) until the starter is active. Water levels are then reduced after a week or so, to the more usual 60-70% hydration (depending on the flour).

Lower hydration makes the starter easier to control and it can be kept at peak condition by feeding only every 12 hours.

On the other hand, more watery starters are really easy to mix and pour, which is great last thing at night when the thought of kneading dough is not at the front of mind.

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Well, life got in the way and I didn't get to feed Clovis, and he now features a weird spongy-like thing floating in the rather thickened liquid on the top. I'm pretty sure it's not healthy. I will have to pitch him and start over again, with Clovis II. I may wait until after my surgery and recovery, though. I'll be going again for equal weights flour and water at first, and I'll try feeding every 12 hours rather than every 24.

Or maybe I should wait until I move to Michigan rather than trying to move a sourdough starter with me....

Jennie

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I am no bread-baking expert, but I am fairly sure that increasing the hydration of your dough will produce larger holes (think about focaccia, pizza dough, ciabatta, the no-knead recipe). I'm not sure why; I think this is because the dough is more slack and it's easier for the steam to create the holes; also, there is more water to create steam in the first place. Just a guess. Give it a shot and let us know?

Jennie

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I just want to say that after tripping over air and dumping an entire first batch of bread on the floor on the way to the oven...and bursting into tears over having to toss it in the trash ...my second batch was absolutely to die for!!!  I am so excited that in spite of loosing my old starter ..that my new starters are wonderful and very active!!!

Leaving my wife at home three weeks ago with instructions to look after my Sourdough Starter, she emailed me yesterday to tell me that she had knocked it off the shelf and deposited it all over herself and the floor, she told me that it was the worst smelling thing she has ever encountered. I replied asking her if she had remembered to feed it daily and was told, Oh! no, sorry I forgot! She ended up with a four week old sludge over her clothes and the kitchen floor!

How do you all manage when you have to go away?

"Don't be shy, just give it a try!"

Nungkysman: Food for the Body and the Soul.

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How do you all manage when you have to go away?

If the starter is alive, bubbly and happy, you could left it to rest in the refrigerator (4°C / 40°F) by a lot of days.

Mine is (actually three of them) in there for almost three years, being feed randomly between 7 to 30 days. Ambient temperature - 12 -12 – 6 – 6 hours - return to refrigerator.

More a few (a couple, may be each three hours) feedings just before the dough preparation.

You could let dry, process to powder, and store in the fridge for several months, too.

When the starter is alive it is hard to kill it!

Luis

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