Author Topic: The Italian starters are here!  (Read 23030 times)

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Offline Arthur

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #50 on: November 25, 2006, 01:45:37 PM »
After 3 hours things are starting to happen.† I took it out of the proofing box to snap this picture.† Afterwards I mixed vigorously (like the instructions suggested).  I guess it's obvious that I don't have much to do today  :-\

« Last Edit: November 25, 2006, 01:56:21 PM by Arthur »


Offline Arthur

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #51 on: November 26, 2006, 09:43:51 AM »
24 hours later....I think I'm contaminated  :-\    What do you think?

The smell is not really bad or good - just like wet cardboard (can't really think of anything else).


Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #52 on: November 26, 2006, 09:56:21 AM »
Contamination and washing are par for the course. In my case, contamination was always accompanied with hooch in the middle and a bad odor - kind of like foot odor (not that you would know what that smells like. As a reference point and for your ongoing education is sourdough activation, go to your nearest YMCA and find someone who has been playing basketball all day in dirty socks.....). If your starter doesn't smell bad, maybe you don't have contamination. You may want to feed it a few more times. Of all of my starters, Camaldoli has the most pleasant aroma.

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Offline Finnegans Wake

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #53 on: November 27, 2006, 03:55:43 PM »
Arthur, I'm sort of new to the starters, but I think your photo series looks fine, nothing to necessarily indicate contamination.  I've had mine going for about a month and a half now, and take them out of the fridge on weekends to make them happy. 

I even mistreated them badly recently, not feeding them for close to two weeks.  The hooch layer got really thick, and I took them out and fed them... But had to make room in the fridge and off the counter due to turkey day.  So into the garage they went, ~38F at night for two days.  Oh, they were pissy after that.

Really, a lot of it is intuitive, I've found.  You just get a sense of how happy they are, and your nose is a great indicator of that happiness.  I have the Camaldoli, the Ischia, and the French, and I was afraid there could be contamination between the various starters, and I'd wind up with three identical ones unwittingly.  But my nose says otherwise.  The French remains the mildest, the Camaldoli has almost a sweetness to it, and the Ischia is my workhorse. 

I never made a proofing box, but found a seedling starter mat heats the starter well enough.  When the starters are really grumpy, I'll get them back to happiness by literally sweetening the pot a bit, giving them about 1/2 - 1 t. honey, depending on how grouchy they are.  After that, straight feedings.  Just started proofing a pizza dough from the Ischia, and despite the abuse, by morning it was bubbling with zeal.

Just be patient, don't freak out, and allow yourself the insanity of anthropomorphizing them slightly, letting them seem to have personalities.
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Offline Arthur

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #54 on: November 28, 2006, 09:56:55 AM »
I think it was contaminated so I washed it over 2 days (probably 3 times) and then I got the hooch back on top.  Now I'm continuing with the activation steps (by mixing, adding flour and water).   I don't think much is happening and it starting to seem like the hooch is going back to the middle   :-\

Offline Finnegans Wake

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #55 on: November 28, 2006, 11:06:25 AM »
Maybe a senior member can explain these various layers in more detail.  The Ed Wood book is good, but it lacks pictorials to correlate to the text.

My sleepy starters usually have the bottom layer, the pancake batter consistency, and a layer of hooch on top that can be anywhere from a wispy 1/4" to a growly 3/4", depending on how long I've neglected it.  When I reactivate them, I follow Wood's advice and stir the hooch back in, then pour off the requisite amount, and add flour and water and, as mentioned, a bit of honey if they're really grumpy.  What I have over the next few hours is the pancake batter bottom layer, and the active, fluffy layer on top.

Now, depending on timing of feedings, what happens next can be that either I feed again before much hooch can develop, or the fluffy layer will subside as a layer of hooch grows.  I have had the hooch in the middle, and eventually the fluffy layer goes away as the actuve yeast gets increasingly dormant.  The idea of a layer of hooch in the middle automatically being contaminated is, I think, misleading.  The hooch is a natural by-product, and as the active yeast eats up more and more of its food, it will lose that fluff and add more hooch.  But there is often a period where the hooch is growing in the middle of an active and healthy starter.

Now, perhaps if there were hooch in the middle for a long time, say more than a day or two, then I might think that the top layer is somehow off.  But there seem to be cycles to the feeding and hooch, and I've had that hooch in the middle and simply revived the starter and used some of the dump off in successful doughs (the few I've done so far).

Perhaps someone could clarify the idea that hooch in a middle layer is always bad.
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Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #56 on: November 28, 2006, 11:15:53 AM »
Perhaps someone could clarify the idea that hooch in a middle layer is always bad.

The only thing I can say is that hooch in the middle was always accompanied (eventually) with a very bad odor. I washed, the hooch in the middle and the bad smell went away, and the starter then activated as expected.

Bill/SFNM
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Offline Arthur

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #57 on: November 28, 2006, 01:25:12 PM »
Yep, I got the hooch back in the middle.  The instructions say that once you wash the starter you should continue washing the starter until you see activation - so I'll guess I'll go back to the washing until activated since washing seemed to "work" for me - i.e., less smell and hooch on top.

Offline Finnegans Wake

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #58 on: November 28, 2006, 01:52:49 PM »
I guess I don't necessarily see hooch as a bad thing per se.  It's a by-product, so it indicates your yeast is eating and producing waste.  If you let it go a while, the hooch level will show you that there's been a lot of by-product and it's time to feed again, but the hooch just means something's working.

And the layer on top seems to me to be the active layer.  I think of it as almost being a big pool, where the fishies come to the surface to frolic and feed, and after a while they sink down to the depths to snooze.  The fluff layer is frolic, the hooch is their waste, the bottom is sleepy yeast and the flour/water that's been processed.  Maybe I'm wrong.
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Offline Arthur

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #59 on: November 28, 2006, 05:15:26 PM »
OK, here's where I'm at and I'm looking for advice.    I fed the starter about 10 hours ago.  In 2 hours I will probably feed the starter again (then 6 hours, 4 hours, 4 hours...).  The instructions say to continually wash every 6-12 hours but I'm not sure I should do that.

I have 2 jars that with the same starter and look and smell the same.  It smells a little sweet but there's still a scent of gym sneakers.




Offline Arthur

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #60 on: December 03, 2006, 04:18:31 PM »
My starter is activated.† †I was lucky enough to get Ed Wood to help me through it.

If you go through this Topic from the start many posts where right on the mark - especially Bill/SFNM.

Here are a few things I can add to those who are starting out:

- I'm pretty sure that a hooch in the middle/bottom really does mean that it is contaminated.
- Perform enough washings that the hooch goes away (for me it was 3-4)
- The total number of days for me from start to activation was about 8-9.† This is more than what's said in the instructions but probably because mine (and it sounds like many others) required washings.
- The most difficult thing to understand for me was the expected smell.† †When it was contaminated it had a poor smell - not horrible for me and that's why I was confused.† Now smelling the activated culture I can see what a "good" smell is like.† The final activated culture smells like...well...yeast or beer yeast or fresh bread or (if you've ever eaten some of this) fresh multi-grain bread.† I only used Caputo flour and water to feed.

« Last Edit: December 03, 2006, 05:17:31 PM by Arthur »

Offline Finnegans Wake

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #61 on: December 04, 2006, 01:49:42 PM »
You got Ed Wood's book to help you, or Ed hisself?

My three had been out of the fridge for Thanksgiving, and per Wood's section on washing I think the experience was not good for them.  They had been grumpy, revived well, then all three developed a weird skin on the surface.  I was going to go through the washing process, but when I plucked the skin off, the batter below seemed fine.  So I simply did a normal feeding, pouring off all but a cup of each and then adding flour and water.  Voila.  They were back and running in no time, happy as clams.

I think there's a different smell to each culture, and I wouldn't say it's exactly like beer or yeast or fresh bread.  There is a sourness to it, that's what it's producing and that's why it's named what it is.  But I think you can tell a lot about the culture by the smell, including what I've characterized as happiness or grumpiness.

Incidentally, I was going to make chicken parm Sunday but decided to use up two refrigerated pizza doughs instead.  It just seems that each new attempt gets better and better.  Previously used a combo of parchment paper and cornmeal to transfer to the stone, but I had to slide the pie off the paper after a minute so it wouldn't burn.  I had also stretched with a wet-finger method, and it didn't get as thin as I liked. 

Sunday, I went back to rolling out on a floured surface.  This enabled me to really get the dough thinner, I'd say it's thinner than 1/4", and the surface flour helped with browning at my oven temp of 550F-575F.  Nice rise, nice crust ratio of chew to crunch, nice interior bubble.  They're starting to like a lot more like the pics of pies posted here.  If Santa brings me the digital camera I've asked for...

Oh, and the French culture made a superb pain au levain.  Really tasty, and I even got a nice rise despite having to retard the dough in the fridge longer than recommended due to my work sched.  Probably my best loaf and best pizza doughs yet.  And I can't bake for sh**!!!  Well, it's starting to look like I can after all...    ;D
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Offline Arthur

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #62 on: December 04, 2006, 03:05:02 PM »
Actually Ed himself (via email).   He was nice enough to help me out.

As for the smell mine doesn't smell sour (yet?) but it has a "nice" smell as the term someone else used.

I used to use cornmeal but then I switched to just flour once I got better at using my peel.   The key is to build the pie on one surface with flour and then transfer to the peel with a minor amount of flour.

Offline abatardi

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #63 on: December 31, 2006, 12:57:00 PM »
So I had ordered these starters a couple years ago... the first time I activated them was a huge pain in the ass (used oven light method) and they never really got going.†

I finally decided to try again, and built a proofing box this time and to try and help prevent 'contamination' in any way possible (because it seems like everyone on here had the culture contaminated at some point, including me in my first go) I boiled all the tools like you would if you were going to can tomatoes or something (jar, lid, tongs, spoons, etc) and cleaned out the inside of the cooler/proofing box.† Didn't think this would really help as I figured contaminants would come from the air but I figured it couldn't hurt either.

Here are some pics (this is the Camoldoli starter):

proofing box
http://www.mongee.com/camoldoli/IMAGE_248.jpg

temp:
http://www.mongee.com/camoldoli/IMAGE_247.jpg

at 16 hours:
http://www.mongee.com/camoldoli/IMAGE_249.jpg

at 24 hours after first feeding:
http://www.mongee.com/camoldoli/IMAGE_251.jpg
http://www.mongee.com/camoldoli/IMAGE_252.jpg

this morning, 36 hours:
http://www.mongee.com/camoldoli/IMAGE_254.jpg

I fed it one more time this morning and have some of it in a 2nd container now as well... It looks good to me but I wanted an expert opinion.† Like I said before I never really got it right.† The smell is pretty sour, as is the taste (I tried a dab on my finger off a spoon I mixed with after feeding).† It's not a bad smell I guess, but it's not something I'd want to bask in either, heh.†

Anyway I will update progress if something else happens... Right now it looks okay to me (hooch on the top and not a horrible smell) but I think this would be too lucky (activation with no contamination in 36 hours?).† Would appreciate any input though...†

- aba
« Last Edit: December 31, 2006, 01:01:55 PM by abatardi »
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Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #64 on: December 31, 2006, 01:27:43 PM »
The smell is pretty sour, as is the taste (I tried a dab on my finger off a spoon I mixed with after feeding). 

In my experience, the taste of the starter is not much of an indicator. All of my starters have a pretty unpleasant taste IMO.

Bill/SFNM
Sometimes I use big words that I donít fully understand in an effort to make myself sound more photosynthesis. - @itjenlawrence

Offline abatardi

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #65 on: December 31, 2006, 01:32:49 PM »
okay cool, good to know. 
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Offline abatardi

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #66 on: January 01, 2007, 11:36:16 AM »
it's a new year's miracle!  :-P

So last night around 1:30 or so I got home stumbling around drunk but still had the mind to feed my starter that was activating and it looks like this morning it's pretty much done activating.

I had been using the "improved" instructions that got sent out by sourdo with this batch, but those mention nothing of the consistency of the starter.  I had washed the culture yesterday and it looked pretty watery but I put in exactly what the instructions said so I figured it was ok.   Then I remembered a post on here where someone had mentioned that another member's starter looked watery as well and to thicken it up as it needed some body to actually rise... So I ended up adding another half or 3/4 cup of flour to get the consistency a lot thicker and I think that is what made the difference. 

So these pics are taken about 7 hours after last feeding... One container looks like it rose more than the other, but that one was also closer to the heat source in the proofer also. 

- aba
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Offline abatardi

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #67 on: January 03, 2007, 02:44:24 PM »
well here is a pie and some bread I made with the starter.  I am having some problems with this oven (I moved to a new place and this oven is different).  The temp is getting up there but on the clean cycle the oven is heating using the bottom element instead of both like my last oven... so it is hard to get heat on the top even though I'm getting to about 750 on the stone.  I ended up taking a hearth kit and turning it upside down over my pizza stone on the bottom shelf to try and trap the heat but it's not working that well...  So this may be as good as I'm going to get with this setup.. 

Anyway, pics are below..  Pizza was not the greatest but the bread was pretty good.

- aba
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Offline Arthur

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #68 on: January 05, 2007, 10:33:12 AM »
Great job.† Wow, you do a lot of baking in a day!

Did you find that your pizza dough rose at all when using the starter?† 25%; 50%? in how many hours?

Your bread looks amazing.  What that using the no-knead recipe?

Arthur.

Offline abatardi

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #69 on: January 05, 2007, 08:37:59 PM »
You know to be honest I should've paid attention more with this... It was just on a whim and I didn't really keep track of anything, just kind of threw everything together until the dough looked good and gave it an overnight counter rise.  It did rise, just not sure how much.  Of course the one time I don't pay attention it comes out decent.  Maybe I just discovered the secret.  Don't give a crap, and your bread will come out good just to spite you. 

That wasn't the no-knead bread, that was actually some left over pizza dough that I just made into a circle and cut the top up on and threw it in the oven while it was cooling down.  I want to try the no-knead stuff though, maybe in a couple days.

- Aaron
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Offline mrbthree

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #70 on: January 06, 2007, 03:32:37 PM »
I just want to share that I made my first batch of dough with the Ischia starter and what a joy it is to taste bread and pizza made from this 200 year old starter. A gift that will last a lifetime(if I don't screw it up and kill it); the same goes for the Camaldoli starter. Many thanks, Marco.
I don't have a camera at this time to take photos, nevertheless, the bread has a wonderful aroma and flavor just I had imagined.
I really need a hotter oven to make good pizza with this dough, but the flavor came through wonderfully, even though the dough consistency suffers from the low oven temp.
If you have been hesitating or riding the fence about whether to get into the Italian starters, let me encourage you to go ahead and do so. I have not been disappointed by any means. Patience is the key, along with temperature control. Marco offers excellent advise in this forum as to handling these starters; follow his recommendations and you'll be fine with it.

Toodles, gs
 

Offline yongjoo

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #71 on: February 01, 2007, 11:16:35 PM »
Just got my Italian starters today and will begin activating this weekend. I have a whole bunch of questions, but after reading all the material and forums, I have one big question. How do you know the cultures are finally activated?

Offline Bryan S

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #72 on: February 02, 2007, 12:45:59 AM »
Just got my Italian starters today and will begin activating this weekend. I have a whole bunch of questions, but after reading all the material and forums, I have one big question. How do you know the cultures are finally activated?
I use 1/2 gal Ball Mason jars, and you will know when they are active. The culture will climb up the sides of the jar and maybe, just maybe try to blow the lid off. You'll see the tell tale signs of the culture on the sides of the jar or whatever vessel you use to store, feed and them in.  ;)
Making great pizza and learning new things everyday.

Offline yongjoo

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #73 on: February 02, 2007, 10:23:02 PM »
Thanks. Just picked up 1 quart mason jars, and will be picking up my styrofoam cooler tomorrow from a friend. Try finding a styrofoam cooler in the middle of winter, not the easiest thing.  :pizza:

Offline Bryan S

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Re: The Italian starters are here!
« Reply #74 on: February 03, 2007, 12:32:59 AM »
Thanks. Just picked up 1 quart mason jars, and will be picking up my styrofoam cooler tomorrow from a friend. Try finding a styrofoam cooler in the middle of winter, not the easiest thing.  :pizza:
Wal Mart usually has them. I just used a cardboard box lined with a bath towel and a heating pad set on low beneath the towel. Put the stater in and closed the lid of the box and added some weight to keep it closed. Temp held a steady 84-86 in there.  ;)
Making great pizza and learning new things everyday.