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  • #1 by ButteredPizza on 11 Aug 2018
  • What are some techniques to increase starter's strength and/or activity, if possible?

    I'm on my nth sourdough starter in last 2-3 years (lost actual count).  At the moment, the starter is about 6-8 weeks old.  Fed every 12 hours for ~3 weeks straight.  Ambient temp has ranged 76-82F, using filtered water with pH of 6.7 and TDS of about 250ppm.  Current starter on central milling organic type 85.  I've tried different flours in past starters, including 20/50 or 50/50 mixtures of bob's red mill rye, whole wheat, KAFs, etc, or even just plain hodgson mills white flour.  Currently, on a 1:2:2 feeding (20g starter, 40g water 40g flour) it takes about 8 or so hours to double and 12 hours to peak.  This seems.. slow... based on what I'm seeing on the interwebs.  I've tried slowly increasing feeding amount to improve the ratio, it just takes longer.  My neopolitan pizzas end up a bit gummy, and breads would get poor rise in oven, I'd get an okay crumb but bread weight always hefty not airy and light.  A few years back I had great results, no clue what my troubles are.

    I have been looking for more "scientific" approaches to improving a starter, the internet research ends up being mostly anecdotal or not very helpful with "here's how I feed my starter and here's how I listen to the dough and it is great".  My dough is silent, and my starter is wimpy :p

    Thank you for your time and review.
  • #2 by vtsteve on 11 Aug 2018
  • How does it smell and taste when it's peaking?
  • #3 by Brent-r on 12 Aug 2018
  • I don't know if this will get much support from those with more experience but in the last few weeks we've been using methods in Ken Forkish's book and used a mix of whole grain and unbleached sifted in one tub, and nothing but unbleached sifted in the other and it seems that the one with partial whole grain content rises fast and farther in the jar.
  • #4 by HansB on 12 Aug 2018
  • I don't know if this will get much support from those with more experience but in the last few weeks we've been using methods in Ken Forkish's book and used a mix of whole grain and unbleached sifted in one tub, and nothing but unbleached sifted in the other and it seems that the one with partial whole grain content rises fast and farther in the jar.

    Yep, whole/rye in the mix makes mine very active.
  • #5 by ButteredPizza on 14 Aug 2018
  • How does it smell and taste when it's peaking?
    Tastes sour, made cheeks pucker - cannot tell if it is acetic or malic.  Maybe has slight ferment taste.  It smells like soured dough - similar to how buttermilk smells compared to milk.

    Brent-r: in past iterations, I have used various combinations of flour, including whole wheat, rye, home-milled grains, etc.  I do not recall timing/feeding of the starters, I believe they were a bit faster.  Those all had different issues, though, I could never get any reasonable final product (bread or pizza).  At the moment, I'm using an 85 extraction flour (bolted), which is sort of a hybrid between white and whole.  I had extra that I did not plan to bake with, so thought I'd try it.
  • #6 by vtsteve on 16 Aug 2018
  • Since we can't sequence your culture... try this: the ambient temp is a little high for 2x feedings at 100%, in my experience. If you don't mind another experiment, try splitting the starter and feeding one half 3x/day at 100%, and the other 2x/day at 60%. A couple days of this should suffice. Whichever one seems to be doing better after a few days, switch the feeding schedules and see what happens.

    Even though you're using "filtered" water, have you tried it with bottled for a few days?
  • #7 by ButteredPizza on 17 Aug 2018
  • Okay, I'll give it all a go.  I had tried bottled water a while back with no change, I can try it again.

    Questions:
     - three times a day feeding: 7am, 1pm, 7pm, 1am, 7am... etc ?
     - what innoculation for the two variations?  I've been using 50%

    I ran out of the specific flour I'd been using last night, and had to switch over to the only flour I have on hand at the moment... pizza flour I use (central milling organic 00).  This morning it's full of bubbles, barely rose at all, and had same consistency as typical 100% starter.  This barely rising characteristic with new flour seems very consistent with my attempts at using the starter for baking.  I'll get some more "normal" flours this weekend at the store, give it a couple feedings, then try your two experiments.

    Thank you for the help and your time!
  • #8 by vtsteve on 17 Aug 2018
  • Okay, I'll give it all a go.  I had tried bottled water a while back with no change, I can try it again.

    Questions:
     - three times a day feeding: 7am, 1pm, 7pm, 1am, 7am... etc ?
     - what innoculation for the two variations?  I've been using 50%

    Use 3x 8-hour intervals: 7AM, 3PM, 11PM

    Feeding 1:2:2 is fine. Good luck!
  • #9 by ButteredPizza on 19 Aug 2018
  • The every-8-hour is looking well now 5 feedings in - I haven't done the 60% version yet.  I had planned to take the starter with me to the office during the week for the 3pm feeding, but just realized temps there are 68-72 so it will likely be slower than at home.  Hmmm.. just convert it to 60% in the monday morning feeding and go from there?
  • #10 by ButteredPizza on 23 Aug 2018
  • If I were to make a larger version of the starter at 60% hydration, no salt, and assuming it doubles in 8 hours and peaks at 12, at what point should it be baked?  The sensory metrics such as what's it feel like, what's it smell like, how many bubbles, etc, have not worked for me.  This will help me get a rough starting point.
  • #11 by vtsteve on 24 Aug 2018
  • Are you talking about baking a chunk of ripe starter to calibrate yourself? Why not add 1.8% salt and make a real dough instead?

    Generally, baking at 1.5-2x original volume gives good results, but baking a gob of starter probably won't--it'll have a weak, webby internal (lack of) structure, and it needs some strength/elasticity to push against to get the best oven spring... think trying to inflate a balloon until it's tight, vs. blowing up a plastic bag with a hole in it).

    I'm going to the post office tomorrow today. :)
  • #12 by ButteredPizza on 24 Aug 2018
  • Yup, trying to calibrate a rough estimate of total fermentation time.  From what I've gathered, total fermentation time is "when it's ready to bake".  That's way too baking by zen for me, so I'm looking for some empirical target!
  • #13 by Heikjo on 24 Aug 2018
  • Yup, trying to calibrate a rough estimate of total fermentation time.  From what I've gathered, total fermentation time is "when it's ready to bake".  That's way too baking by zen for me, so I'm looking for some empirical target!
    You could get a pluviometer to more closely monitor fermentation status. It's got lines and numbers to accurately tell how far it's gone. You can use other people's experiences on how far it should rise, and from there experiment. Or put the dough in a container where you can easily see its expansion, but this can be difficult since it expands in three dimensions.
  • #14 by vtsteve on 24 Aug 2018
  • You could get a pluviometer to more closely monitor fermentation status. It's got lines and numbers to accurately tell how far it's gone. You can use other people's experiences on how far it should rise, and from there experiment. Or put the dough in a container where you can easily see its expansion, but this can be difficult since it expands in three dimensions.

    That' where the poppy seed test comes in:  https://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=26375.msg433518#msg433518
  • #15 by Heikjo on 24 Aug 2018
  • That' where the poppy seed test comes in:  https://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=26375.msg433518#msg433518
    Interesting, haven't seen that one before. Does it work no matter what size the dough is?
  • #16 by vtsteve on 24 Aug 2018
  • Here's the post that introduced/explained it:  https://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,6914.0.html

    No surprise, resident mad scientist November and Peter are involved...   :-D

    I miss November...  :'(
  • #17 by ButteredPizza on 24 Aug 2018
  • That was fun research.  Poppy seeds and pluviometers!  I will give these a go, thanks!

     - also, the hidden humor in some of the posts made my day, going to be snickering all weekend  :-D
  • #18 by ButteredPizza on 25 Aug 2018
  • I'm not sure what to make of this.  Monday changed starter to 60% hydration, and fed twice a day.  Initially was a 1:2 ratio (starter:flour), but it smelled very strong after the first two feedings and subsequently every day I increase until I stuck with this: 10g starter, 30g water, 50g flour.  See picture what it looks like after 12 hours - it more than doubled volume-wise.  This is using WF bulk organic unbleached flour (it's super cheap).

    Friday night I used the sourdough starter timetable here, and estimated 1.5% for 17 hour ferment based on my ambient temps.  3% salt, 62.5% hydration, 00 flour (central milling).  I made my own "pluviometer" spy glass.  Ended up using 2%, which was about 5g (it's like a teeny tiny nubby) See picture of both bulk and spy glass.  No rise, but lots of bubbles?  -- edit: I just noticed, it's very hard to see the bubbles in the spy-glass version due to the small picture.  Sorry.  They are there. Tiny and many.

    This (Saturday) morning, I made a bread recipe, 2% salt, 15% starter (80g), 65% hydration.  See picture of overpriced fancy from local farmer's market former jam homemade pluviometer spy glass after 12 hours.. very little rise.  Flour was WF organic APF (which is malted).  Lots of bubbles, minimal rise.  Sorry, no bulk picture, it is in a stainless steel bowl.  I have baked bread with former starters at this stage, a few hours earlier, and a few hours later, and all were dense-ish.

    My ambient temps last night dropped to about 76F and this morning by 10am they were around 80F.   
  • #19 by TXCraig1 on 25 Aug 2018
  • Interesting, haven't seen that one before. Does it work no matter what size the dough is?

    It does not work so well if you use a container that constrains the dough in the horizontal axes thus forcing the dough upwards. You need 3D expansion for it to work.  I suspect it doesn't work all that well on slack dough's either.
  • #20 by vtsteve on 25 Aug 2018
  • I'm not sure what to make of this.  Monday changed starter to 60% hydration, and fed twice a day.  Initially was a 1:2 ratio (starter:flour), but it smelled very strong after the first two feedings and subsequently every day I increase until I stuck with this: 10g starter, 30g water, 50g flour.  See picture what it looks like after 12 hours - it more than doubled volume-wise.  This is using WF bulk organic unbleached flour (it's super cheap).

    Friday night I used the sourdough starter timetable here, and estimated 1.5% for 17 hour ferment based on my ambient temps.  3% salt, 62.5% hydration, 00 flour (central milling).  I made my own "pluviometer" spy glass.  Ended up using 2%, which was about 5g (it's like a teeny tiny nubby) See picture of both bulk and spy glass.  No rise, but lots of bubbles?  -- edit: I just noticed, it's very hard to see the bubbles in the spy-glass version due to the small picture.  Sorry.  They are there. Tiny and many.

    This (Saturday) morning, I made a bread recipe, 2% salt, 15% starter (80g), 65% hydration.  See picture of overpriced fancy from local farmer's market former jam homemade pluviometer spy glass after 12 hours.. very little rise.  Flour was WF organic APF (which is malted).  Lots of bubbles, minimal rise.  Sorry, no bulk picture, it is in a stainless steel bowl.  I have baked bread with former starters at this stage, a few hours earlier, and a few hours later, and all were dense-ish.

    My ambient temps last night dropped to about 76F and this morning by 10am they were around 80F.   

    It's a tough angle, but that last photo looks like it rose and fell and is starting to break down (it's got that slack, wet look on top). How did the dough feel? Did you do any stretch-and-folds? Twelve hours is really long at your temperatures; most of the sourdough breads that I do are 2.5 hr. bulk and ~2 hr. final proof.

    You've got a lot of moving parts in this post, and I'm getting whiplash from all the flour changes (my problem).   :-D

    Can you get yourself a nice 5# bag of King Arthur all-purpose (red bag) and stick with it for a week for *all* tests? I don't have a WF within 2 hours, so no access to their flour (or CM by name, either). If it smells super strong, feed 3x instead of two. I only keep 20-30g, my feeding is ca. keep 5g, feed 10+10 for 25 total (I don't usually weigh for maintenance feeds, but I've been doing it for about 8 years and it's pretty close).

    You should be getting a crunchy envelope in a few days... :)
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