Author Topic: Starter Problems!!  (Read 3940 times)

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Offline jjdec05

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Starter Problems!!
« on: June 22, 2011, 04:09:35 PM »
So in the past couple weeks, I have been making a lot of bread and pizza.  I thought, "What better way to improve them, then to get a starter?"  So using the Tartine(KAAP flour only) method I tried catching a culture in my kitchen. No luck  ??? and since I have read you only catch a good sourdough 40% of the time (can anyone say whether or not this is true?) , I figured I would just buy one.  I needed some Caputo and saw someone saying free sourdoughs at www.nybakers.com, so I  decided to give it a try. Wanted to get some real experience before I started spending money on sourdoughs. I was anxious to get started once it got here so I jumped in right away. Here is the process I used(following the instructions on the bottom of the starter section on the website):

Step one was to dissolve the dried sourdough in 57g of warm water, and then mix with 57g of flour.  I have been using KAAP flour exclusively for the entire process.
Step two was to let it sit until it doubled. It doubled for me in about a day.
Step three, once it doubled, I added 115g of water, and 130g of flour.  Again it doubled in slightly longer than a day.
Step four, Without discarding any, I added another 115g of water, and 130g of flour.  Nothing happened, but it was supposed to double in around 10 hours! I tried feeding it more, but no luck!

Currently I have it split into two batches trying different things to salvage it with each.  I got one of them, ever so slightly to rise since last night, but no activity in the other. A few hours after I stir them up, you can see some bubbles in them, so I am hopping there is still a chance.  They each way a little less than 300g. 

Any suggestions?  Anything I am doing wrong?  What is a good ratio, starter:flour:water, I should be feeding them in the start, after? Any ideas on if they are still alive given my descriptions? This being my first experience with sourdough, I still have tons to learn so throw any advice you can throw my way will be extremely helpful and much appreciated.  Anyother questions about my processes or anything let me known.

thanks,
JJ




Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2011, 04:37:38 PM »
What did it smell like when it was active? Was it a sour or alcohol sort of smell or a rotten/off sort of smell?

What temperature did you have it at during the process?
"We make great pizza, with sourdough when we can, commercial yeast when we must, but always great pizza."
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Offline jjdec05

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2011, 04:55:11 PM »
Thanks for the response Craig, it was at around 75 degrees.  It didn't smell bad at all, "wheaty" would be the best I could describe it.  I did taste it and it had a sour taste to it. During my Tartine attempt I got the rotten cheese smell, this definitely wasn't it.  It didn't have an alcohol smell either though, I am guessing that would be desire during the early stages?

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2011, 05:34:46 PM »
You're not using chlorinated water, right?

I'd take the one that has some bubbles, split it in half and feed it again 115g water and 130g flour just as you did before. In one half I would use white flour, and in the other, I'd use rye flour. I'd also kick the temp up to 85F. Your oven with the light on might work for this - keep an eye on it though - don't let it get over 90F. Open the door a crack if necessary. Let us know what happens after 24 hours of this.

If the rye works, after it is good and active, gradually switch it over to white flour over the course of a week or so of feedings.

Craig
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Offline yumarama

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2011, 05:50:22 PM »
So using the Tartine(KAAP flour only) method I tried catching a culture in my kitchen. No luck  ??? and since I have read you only catch a good sourdough 40% of the time (can anyone say whether or not this is true?)


No, not quite accurate, although it's decidedly a nice lyrical idea that one goes "hunting" for yeasties. The truth is somewhat less intriguing. The yeasts you want are already on the grain. Boring but true. You can just as well get a sourdough culture growing with a mix that's never left uncovered as covered.

You can see the process here, with full details and tons of pictures from my bread blog:
Yumarama.com: StarterFromScratch
I used two methods side by side, both worked.

Probably the biggest help, as TXCraig has already pointed out, is using whole rye flour which has lots more yeast culture and has had less "process" applied killing less of the spores. The Pineapple Juice method also helps get the pH level down to where the yeasties wake up - they want a specific pH level - and skips the false start that often gets people throwing out what they think is "dead starter".
« Last Edit: June 22, 2011, 05:52:33 PM by yumarama »

Offline jjdec05

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #5 on: June 22, 2011, 09:10:45 PM »
No chlorinated water Craig, first thing I made sure of.

 The situation has improved, albeit slightly.  There was activity in both jars.  Jar one is on its way to doubling, taking some time but it is getting there.  I am letting that one continue until it doubles, hopefully by tomorrow morning.  It hasn't been fed in 2 days and was stirred yesterday. The second jar, which has a very slight level of activity has now been split down again into two, for a total of three jars; confusing, I know but I am experimenting a little with each.  I fed on half 115g of flour, and 130g of water, the other I am going to feed tomorrow once I get rye flour.  Let me know what you guys think.

Hope you got through that okay, it is a bit confusing.  But for feeding,what ratio would you recommend?

JJ

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #6 on: June 22, 2011, 09:15:06 PM »
Your ratio of flour to water is fine. Once healthy, it doesn't matter much. I keep mine the consistency of a thick batter. I don't measure.

CL
"We make great pizza, with sourdough when we can, commercial yeast when we must, but always great pizza."
Craig's Neapolitan Garage

Offline jjdec05

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #7 on: June 22, 2011, 09:19:47 PM »
Yumarama, I have read  about the yeasts been in the grain.  Seems there are a lot of conflicting opinions about that, I'll keep reading.  I read your blog, you have gotten some great results.  I am defiantly going to give a home grown another shot following your instructions in the future.  Besides pineapple juice, any suggestions on lowering the Ph.?

JJ

Online Jackie Tran

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2011, 10:05:55 PM »
JJdec05, the bubbles you see in it shortly after stirring are likely not bubbles from yeast activity when you are in the initial phase of starting a starter.   It is likely air trapped from the stirring that is now rising to the top. 

Once your starter starts to take off, I would recommend discarding half of it prior to feeding.  I think too much acid accumulating can slow down a new and not yet strong starter.  Not sure how accurate that piece of info is but that's how I think of it. 

You are getting great advice from Craig and Yumarama.   I agree that the notion of pulling yeast from the air is a bit of a romantic one.  The yeasts can be cultivated from skins of fruits as well.   Not having pineapple juice, I have also use a bit of lemon juice and that seem to work well.   The one time I tried to make a brand new starter and didn't use the lemon juice, the starter failed.   

When I have reactivated starters from a dry state, it has typically taken 3 days.  A brand new starter from scratch takes me about 6-7 days to get going.  The higher the temperature (between 75-90F) the faster the reactivation, or so it seems. 

JJdec05, there is a  ton of conflicting info when it comes to topics related to pizza and bread making.  I have found that one side is correct and the other side thinks they are correct.   :-D  Only way to find out the truth is to do your own tests. 

Chau


Offline texmex

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #9 on: June 23, 2011, 11:00:48 AM »
Interesting...I looked at many ways to begin a starter, and I keep reading, with so much conflicting info, I feel lucky mine worked right off the bat.  I am ready to try some new varieties, just because it's so danged interesting! Yep, I already found the Yumarama blog last week too. Great info there and all over the web.

  I found this one to work really well the first time, and it uses much less flour and water, plus, I still have not discarded any starter at all.  My starter has a nice sweet fruity and slightly alcoholic odour.

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2010/11/how-to-make-sourdough-starter-day-0.html


Maybe I have no idea how to maintain my starter, but it has not failed me yet, and when I do feed it, it springs back to double every time.  All I do is take the jar out of fridge and stir in 1 oz room temp water (I always use water from my faucet which is heavily chlorinated, and set it out every night to help chlorine dissipate) and 1 oz flour early in the morning straight into the cold starter, and it is doubled in about 2 hours, then I feed it again approximately 2 hours before I want to make dough, then just take out the amount required for the levain, and put the jar back in the fridge.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2011, 12:15:41 PM by texmex »
Reesa

Offline jjdec05

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #10 on: June 23, 2011, 12:00:40 PM »
Craig, I fed the starter last nigh, 2:1:1, threw it in the oven with the light on and it had doubled by this morning and it was the quickest doubling to date, less than 12 hours.  Going to continue on this path, play around with it a little(not to much yet) and see how it goes.  The warm environment definitely helped.  It smells great, I can't get enough.  It has a slight alcohol smell you mentioned before, reminds me of when I open the lid on my proofing containers, one of my favorite smells.  I am going to focus on my current method for the time being, may incorporate some rye or wheat in the next day or two. Thanks for the help!

Chau, never really though about that with the bubbles, but it makes sense. I have been discarding half since my initial problem, and the recent activity has led me to concur with a lower acid level during inculcation being helpful.  I always feel like I am washing money down the drain when I pour out half the starter and I don't even know if it is going to work yet.  Small price to pay since I am not going to be driving  around looking for cake yeast at 5 stores anymore.  I am going to give up on catching one for a while, I am a bit of a purist and can't really get myself to put pineapple juice or anything into a starter whether its effects will be apparent or not.  But at some point I would love to have my own culture, but I'll stick to ones I can buy for now.

Baking and all the components are definitely a challenge, there are so many opinions.  When I was going through Marco's posts a while ago, this really became apparent to me.  But that is probably why I am so enamored with it, there is ALWAYS something to learn and test.

Texmex, Glad to hear your starter is working no problems, I read so many accounts like yours that made me think I would have no problems.  I was mistaken.  Keep experimenting, sounds like you have a solid routine that is working great.

JJ

Offline texmex

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #11 on: June 23, 2011, 12:25:34 PM »
 ;D Glad to see that your starters are not dead!  100% hydration seems to be the best formula, especially when trying to figure out dough mixing equations using starter, but I have read about stiff starter, that's more like a plug of thick dough, and bakers just pinch off a small ball of it.  I need to try that.

This thread reminded me to take some of my starter and dry it out in case I manage to kill off what I already have, or to create something else with maybe some rye when I decide to purchase some more flours.  I have about 2 cups and a half right now,  so I guess I'll dry out a cup of it, then minimally feed the rest of it and throw it back in the fridge. 

I am still not sure if never discarding will make my starter too acidic...since I have found several recipes to use the discard instead of tossing it, I'll always be depleting once my jar fills too much, plus, I haven't had to feed it very much to keep it happily re-bulking. 

I actually made the 400 g levain for Tartine bread and took the 200 g of extra and just tossed it back into my starter jar.  Obviously, I'm just wingin' it.

Reesa

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #12 on: June 23, 2011, 12:28:21 PM »
If it's alive and well, I wouldn't add any rye.

CL
"We make great pizza, with sourdough when we can, commercial yeast when we must, but always great pizza."
Craig's Neapolitan Garage

Offline jjdec05

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #13 on: June 23, 2011, 10:43:10 PM »
Texmex, me too, I now realize that it just needed a warmer environment.  Now it wont stop!  I plan on making some pizza with it in the next few days, once it hits the 100% increase in 4 hour mark.  Can't wait, but the learning process is going to start all over again.  Drying it is a good idea, that was what I was planning on doing incase anything happens.  In terms of acidity, I am the farthest from an expert, but as long as you are splitting it up, no matter you are doing with the halves, then I see no reason that it would be too acidic.  Anyone else have any ideas about this? But wingin' it is the way to go. 

Thanks Craig, I will deff. follow your advice, no rye it is.

JJ

Offline yumarama

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #14 on: June 24, 2011, 12:36:25 PM »
Besides pineapple juice, any suggestions on lowering the Ph.?

JJ

Sorry, I'm a bit slow on the response, JJ.

Debra Wink, a microbiologist and hobby baker, looked into the process and after a bit of trial and error, ascertained that pure pineapple juice was the best choice because it offered the closest acid levels to what the yeast needs. But orange juice would work as well if pure PJ wasn't readily available. I would assume lemon juice too although I haven't seen that one tried; it's acids may be a little too robust but I'm just guessing.

If your starter is doing well at this point, however, there's no real need to fire a new one up unless you just want to try your hand at it. The juice method simply skips over the "false start" part; the end result is the same as the water version once you get past that.

Carry on with what you have, feed it for a couple of weeks to get it good and settled then it will be ready to go in any dough you want to make, pizza or otherwise. It will develop its own particular flavour and character over time but can still do a fine job within two or three weeks of steady care.

A gentle word of caution:

If you put the starter in the oven, BE SURE to tape some sort of note on the oven dial warning everyone your starter is in there. It's happened to enough people that someone goes in and preheats the oven for dinner or whatever and they bake their starter by accident. This is also why you may want to dry your starter every few months - very simple to do and can save your starter's life (sort of) in the event of such an incident or adding it all to a dough and forgetting to keep some back or someone thoughtfully cleaning out the fridge and tossing out that jar of "smelly goo" for you. See the drying instructions here: Drying your Starter and Reviving your Dried Starter
« Last Edit: June 24, 2011, 12:44:29 PM by yumarama »

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #15 on: June 24, 2011, 12:39:25 PM »
Thank you for the link on drying the starter.

CL
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Craig's Neapolitan Garage

Online Jackie Tran

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #16 on: June 25, 2011, 04:00:36 AM »
Lemon and lime juice work as well.  I have used both in reactivating dried starters and both seem to work well although I only use a very small amount.  The amount is so small that it gets diluted out pretty quickly with subsequent feedings.

Drying active starters that you would otherwise dump down the drain is also another great way of sharing the starters with other forum members.  I just spread a very thin layer on foil or wax paper and air dry it.  If you increase the drying temp, be sure not to go too high or you risk killing off the yeast.
« Last Edit: June 25, 2011, 04:02:11 AM by Jackie Tran »


Offline jjdec05

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #17 on: June 28, 2011, 10:32:12 PM »
I will definitely dry some to keep as a back-up.  My starter is doing really well and I have learned a great amount, those of you that have helped, thanks so much!  I am made my first batch of pies with the starter the other day, they came out pretty good.  I think I missed the optimal time by an hour or so, so I didn't get great rise, but the crust tasted good.Still plenty of room for improvement,  I cannot wait to see what happens in the next few months.

Anyone else who has problems with starters or any questions, feel free to ask.  I'll do my best to answers, and if I can't I am sure there is someone who can give you an informative answers.

JJ


Offline davidcwilliams

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #18 on: July 16, 2011, 04:46:04 PM »
Quote
I have read you only catch a good sourdough 40% of the time

There seems to be a LOT of misinformation with regard to sourdough starters.  Most of the issues have been covered by others in this forum.  The one thing I wanted to say was that I believe that if you continue to feed your flour/water combination everyday you WILL get an active sourdough culture eventually.  It's just a matter of time.  But most the time it will happen around a week to ten days.

Good luck and report back.

David

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #19 on: July 17, 2011, 12:56:08 PM »
The one thing I wanted to say was that I believe that if you continue to feed your flour/water combination everyday you WILL get an active sourdough culture eventually.  It's just a matter of time.  But most the time it will happen around a week to ten days.

Just because you can capture and maintain a viable wild culture does not mean it is particularly suitable for bread baking in terms of flavor or leavening. One culture I captured was OK for leavening but the flavor was not very good. Another one was just mediocre in both categories. One a friend captured is awesome. It's a crap-shoot. I prefer to purchase known, robust cultures like those from sourdo.com; you know what you are getting and it is always something good.
 

Offline rpmfla

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #20 on: July 19, 2011, 09:42:09 AM »

and skips the false start that often gets people throwing out what they think is "dead starter".


Good day,

I have been trying to get a starter going, but every time the same process seems to happen. When I read your comment about false start, I thought perhaps this is my problem. I have tried the NY Bakers starter (which comes in crystalline form) twice and also started several of my own. Each time the "birth" goes well and I get the doubling after 2-3 days. The instructions with the NY Bakers starter says 3-4 days, but each time the starter had doubled in 1.5 to 2.5 days. Should I have not fed it when doubled, and does it require more time at "birth"? Was my initial doubling a false start? Each of my starers starts well and then turns to sludge after the first feeding, then separates into sludge and hooch and just sits there. Why does my first feeding seem to kill each one?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Rod

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #21 on: July 19, 2011, 09:56:19 AM »
What kind of water are you using? Do you know its pH?

Offline rpmfla

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #22 on: July 19, 2011, 10:24:59 AM »
What kind of water are you using? Do you know its pH?

I get the 5 gallon bottles of Primo brand water from the grocery...don't know its pH.

Offline yumarama

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #23 on: July 20, 2011, 03:25:12 AM »
The "false start" I mentioned is a process that a brand spanking new starter-to-be goes through when it's being built up from just flour and water. It's a phase where particular bacteria feed on your new flour soup very early on in the starter creation process.

Starters from flakes, on the other hand, are (or should be) fully developed starters, just dried up. It is a revived starter. They skip that whole week or two of battling cultures and let your mixture jump in further into the game. You should see regular yeast activity pretty much right away, no "false start" involved.

So what I'd want to know is what sort of feeding process are you following with your revived flake starter? How often and how much are you feeding, at what ratio? It's possible you may be feeding too little, too much water, not often enough. Or none of the above and it's something else. But we'd need to get more detailed info on your current process to see where and why things may be falling down.

Offline rpmfla

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Re: Starter Problems!!
« Reply #24 on: July 20, 2011, 09:19:09 AM »
The "false start" I mentioned is a process that a brand spanking new starter-to-be goes through when it's being built up from just flour and water. It's a phase where particular bacteria feed on your new flour soup very early on in the starter creation process.

Starters from flakes, on the other hand, are (or should be) fully developed starters, just dried up. It is a revived starter. They skip that whole week or two of battling cultures and let your mixture jump in further into the game. You should see regular yeast activity pretty much right away, no "false start" involved.

So what I'd want to know is what sort of feeding process are you following with your revived flake starter? How often and how much are you feeding, at what ratio? It's possible you may be feeding too little, too much water, not often enough. Or none of the above and it's something else. But we'd need to get more detailed info on your current process to see where and why things may be falling down.

Thank you for the reply. Basically I just followed the instructions that came with the NY Bakers starter (see below). I used Primo bottled water added to the crystals to reconstitute, then added the same amount by weight of flour (I tried King Arthur Bread Flour the first batch and this batch I just used regular KAAP. Then I was supposed to wait until doubled, in 3-4 days. Well this is where I had the first issue...it doubled in a little less than two days. I wasn't sure if this was maybe the "false rise" you spoke of. Anyway, the first time around I fed it per instructions after it doubled (not waiting for 3-4 days). Then after that it just sat there looking like sludge. No bubbles or any obvious activity, and after a couple days it produced a lot of hooch. It seemed to me it was acting as if I hadn't fed it (or maybe I fed it too soon?).

The second batch I just started on 7/16 was doing the same exact thing after the first feeding, so after doing some more research I tried tossing half and adding 1:1:1 of the remaining starter/orange juice/KAAP. This was yesterday around 7PM. This morning it looked great! Nice, consistent bubbles all the way through, and had risen about 3/4 ". The one different element was adding orange juice instead of water.

How to Wake Up Your FREE NYB Starter

    Dissolve the contents of one packet in cup (2oz/57g) of warm (105F/40C) water;
    Mix well with cup (2oz/57g) of wheat or rye flour;
    Allow to stand at room temperature until mixture doubles in volume (this may take up to 3-4 days. There may be some dis- coloration or dark liquid on top of the culture; this is normal. Just pour or spoon it off.);
    Add another cup (4oz/115g) of water to sponge, mix well and then add another 1 cup (4.5oz/130g) of flour;
    Allow to stand in a warm place. The sponge should have more than doubled overnight, and will be very bubbly.
    Feed the sponge with another 1 cup (4oz/114g) of flour and cup (4oz/115g) of water and let stand until doubled, which should be within 8-10 hours at room temp;<
    Your sourdough culture is ready to use or store covered in the refrigerator.
    Feed every 4-7 days by discarding half the starter and repeating step 4, returning to refrigerator when the sponge has doubled in bulk.

« Last Edit: July 20, 2011, 09:24:45 AM by rpmfla »