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sourdough starter help?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
I am trying to make sourdough starter for the first time. I am using the recipe from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baking Apprentice. The instructions call for starting with rye flour and water, then refreshing with wheat flour and water every 24 hours.
After the first rye/water mixture, my dough almost doubled, even though the recipe said nothing would happen. Then 8 hours after the first refreshment with water and bread flour, it doubled again. I wasn't sure what to do, since the recipe said to wait for 24 hours, so I stirred it down and let it sit until 24 hours went by at which point doubled back again. I did the next refreshment and 8 hours later nothing has happened.
Can someone help me understand why my dough rose so great at first and now seems less active? Did I do something wrong?
post #2 of 20
How long after you mixed the rye and water did it double in volume?

The idea of the starter is that wild yeast spores in the air and on certain fruits will slowly build up in your starter and it will become nicely acidic, giving it that characteristic sour taste. If your mix doubled right away something is seriously wrong.

What brand of Rye did you use? Is there anything on the package ingredient list that might give you a clue?

As with all phases of bread making, time and temperature matter a lot. In sour doughs there are 2 kinds of acid - acetic acid and lactic acid. If your starter (or barm as it is sometimes called) is left too long in a warm place, more of the astringent acetic acid will be developed and your bread will be extra sour. Refrigerating the barm will inhibit the acetic acid and allow the milder lactic acid to dominate, resulting in a less sour and (in MHO) a more tasty loaf.

Jock
post #3 of 20
Thread Starter 
It almost doubled in volume 24 hours after I mixed the rye and water. I don't remember the name of the brand, but it was an organic packaged brand I picked up at Whole Foods.

I mixed the entire rye-water batter with more bread flour and water at the 24 hour point and that mixture doubled in 8 hours. But that was the point I wasn't sure what to do, so I stirred it down so it wouldn't overflow the container and left it to complete 24 hours like the book said to do. Then when I took half of that mixture and added more flour and water, it no longer rose--just had bubbles at the surface of the mixture.

After reading many other posts here, I wonder if I should have refreshed it when I saw that it had doubled 8 hours after I first added the wheat flour. Maybe I starved it?

Anyway, I then took about 2 tbsp of that mixture and added more water and bread flour, and it seems to have risen about 50% in 8 hours. Should I be refreshing the mixture more often than every 24 hours if it rises or doubles?
post #4 of 20
There has been great discussion of Reinhart's starter elsewhere on the web. I am a HUGE Peter Reinhart fan and have had no problems with his starters from either Crust & Crumb or The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I also now have a screamingly active whole wheat starter from his next book, all about whole grain baking.

Many people were experiencing what you describe, explosive growth followed by nothing. It does seem though that your starter seems to be showing signs of life. The growth/death thing seems to be caused by a bad bacteria (starters have good bacteria) that grabs hold and dominates. Macy, aka dwink, aka Debbie Wink is a Cyber baking buddy and a microbiologist. She figured out that it was the bad bacteria that was causing the problem. She also figured out that pineapple juice killed the bad bacteria while allowing the good bacteria to thrive. If your starter does eventuall die, start again and use pineapple juice in place of the water for the first 2 days.

If your starter is still showing signs of life, try and feed it every 12 hours or so, making sure to at least double it by weight at each feeding.

Hope this helps,
Kyle
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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post #5 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thank you both for your responses!
Now my starter is doing nothing, so maybe I'll start over.
post #6 of 20
Start ove and use only pineapple juice for the first 2 days. They swear it works.
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
Reply
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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post #7 of 20
I've heard of the pineapple juice trick before but I've never used it myself.

I went home last night and looked up Mr Reinhart's formula. There is a little difference in terminology - what I am calling a Barm, Peter Reinhart calls a Seed Culture. What Peter Reinhart calls a Barm is a seed culture fed some more. It's only semantics.

Anyway, I am confused. Far be it from me to question the master but if the barm/seed culture is covered with plastic wrap, how does the wild yeast get into it to work its magic? I bought a gallon glass jar with a plastic screw on lid from Bed & Bath for my barm. I drilled 3 small holes in the lid for the barm to breathe.

I had that for over 2 years and I was mixing it one day a few months ago with a metal spoon instead of the wooden one I usually use. Yeah, you guessed it, the glass broke and I had to throw it all away. Bummer!

Jock
post #8 of 20
That sourdough gets is flavors and characteristics from the air in which it lives is thought by many to be a myth. Maybe 5-10% of the wild yeast is captured from the environment. The remaining 90-95% comes from the flour.
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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post #9 of 20
Thread Starter 
My original starter is definitely dead, but interesting. It is bubbly and smells sour, but kind of like yogurt or cheese. Not moldy.

I started another batch. I didn't have pineapple juice, so just mixed rye flour and water and 24 hours later it has doubled. I'll let you know what happens!
post #10 of 20
For well over 15 years I kept sourdough starter on my kitchen counter, same batch. Kept it in a cool corner in a stoneware crock with lid, fed it every morning as I made the coffee. Simply added a tablespoon or more of flour and some water. I used for hot cakes, coffee cake, bread, and spice donuts. Never used a metal spoon, as it kills the process. I only stored in refrig if going out of town. By the way, the chemical action in the sourdough provides a type of protein. Ruth Allman wrote a book on the history of sourdough and the gold rushes in Alaska and the Yukon. Kinda' interesting with lots of recipes.
post #11 of 20
Aha! That explains it. Thank you

Jock
post #12 of 20
Interestingly enough, I've always had the opposite problem: my barm doesn't seem to register a noticeable rise at all, nor does it rise when making bread (yet it seems to bubble quite often and when I make bread with it it does rise and give me nice bubbles). Granted, during this time of year the place I live in averages 16 degrees celsius, but shouldn't there be at least some vertical reaction?
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #13 of 20
"nor does it rise when making bread (yet it seems to bubble quite often and when I make bread with it it does rise"

I'm confused :) Does it or doesn't it? You should see a noticable volume expansion when you feed your starter. How are you feeding it, how much flour and water added to how much starter etc.?
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
Reply
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
Reply
post #14 of 20
Sorry, a typo there, it does rise while the bread is in the oven (though only about 80% of my desired volume). As for feeding, I basically try and double the starter with an approximately 1:1 mass ratio of flour to water every several days and stir it into the starter until the mixture is pretty homogeneous (I keep it in the fridge). In addition, even in a firm dough state it doesn't really rise much and just oozes back even after proofing in room temperature for up to 8 hours. Also, it appears some people avoid using metal spoons, what is the sciientific basis behind that method (if any)?
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #15 of 20
I think I may be experiencing some problems too, so thought I'd add my situation to the "mix" so to speak.

I had my starter in a pyrex covered dish in the refrigerator over the winter. Temp is always too cold even with the heat on to do much with it for the last 6 months or so, I think I remember KyleW saying that it will keep in the fridge for at least 6 months.

So, now that warm weather is here, I poured over about an inch of black water and took exactly one cup of the thick viscous starter material and put that into a nice clean new pyrex dish. I added one C of water, and 1 C of the same organic bread flour that I originally used to start the starter.

Not much happened. So after 2 days of leaving it covered on the counter, I took another clean pyrex measuring bowl, took out 1 c of the new mixture, added 1 C of water and 1 c of the flour, stirred, covered and let sit another two days. Not much happened.

So I repeated the process again. Throwing away everything leftover each time except for the 1 cup of newer starter.

Now, the 4th feeding (batch) did have some activity over night, but it probably didn't quite double in volume, and isn't near as bubbly as I thought I remembered from last year when I did a lot of sourdough break making.

Am I on the right track here?

Thanks,
doc
post #16 of 20
Yeah, pretty much. When your barm has been left unattended for an extended period it looses almost all of its potency and needs to be brought back to life. It's a gradual process and I would feed it a bit every day for about a week to get it back up to full strength.

As to the brown or black liquid that forms on top of the old barm, I've heard bakers argue whether to just mix it back in or to drain it off altogether. I drain it off because it is so off putting to look at.

Jock
post #17 of 20
Thread Starter 
I need more help!

I decided to do an experiment, following the Bread Baker's apprentice sourdough starter recipe but substituting the water with tea, juice, or distilled water for the first two days. Here is what happened:

day 1: mix rye flour in 4 different containers with either water, distilled water, pineapple juice, or tea.

day 2: no rise for the juice; 50% rise for the rest.
mixed with flour and more of the same liquid (juice, distilled, tea, or water).

day 3: tiny rise for juice; 200% rise for the rest, with a sustained rise for distilled, but a rise + fall for tea and regular water.
mixed half this mixture with flour and plain water.

day 4: 100% sustained rise for juice with a spongy, bubbly texture, and juice + wheat smell; distilled had >100% rise falling to <50% rise with a wet bubbly texture and sour smell. Plain water and tea were the same as distilled except for both rose <50%.
mixed half of the mixture with water and flour.

day 5: juice rose 10% with a wet and bubbly texture and a juice/sour/wheat smell. Plain water rose <25% and is wet, bubbly, sour-smelling; distilled and tea only rose by 1-2mm and are also wet, bubbly, and sour.

Now I am not sure whether I should keep going, or whether to do so would be a waste of time, energy, and flour. I am frustrated.

Should I just try a different recipe?
post #18 of 20
Cyberfish - It looks like your plain water starter is performing well, why not stick with it? It is tempting to get carried away with this stuff. I ultimately figured out that the goal is not to have a kitchen full of science experiments, the goal is to bake bread. If you keep throwing out and starting over you will never bake bread.

Take 2 ounces of you water starter and add 1 oz of bread flour and 1 ounce of water. Wait 8-12 hours and add 2 oz flour and 2 oz water. You should see a doubling, in volume, after about 8 hours.
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
Reply
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
Reply
post #19 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks, Kyle.
I HAVE been baking, just not sourdough! (last weekend I made two batches of the French bread from Baking with Julia, the French bread made from pate fermente in Bread baker's apprentice, and the pane siciliano; I feel I'm gradually learning the way bread/dough should feel/smell/look with each batch I make)

I ended up throwing out all but the plain water starter because maintaining all four was too much work. I found some additional information on another web site about assessing new starters and appropriate measures to take to enliven less vigorous starters, so I am following that. I may try other recipes, like the Nancy Silverton one you show on your web site, or the starter recipe listed on your web site. I feel I've learned a lot just from seeing your web site, so thanks for that.

A friend of mine actually has some of Nancy Silverton's original starter (obtained from her friend who used to work at that bakery) and she offered to give me some. I may take her up on that to just get experience with maintaining an established starter, but I am DETERMINED to make my own, too!

Tami (aka cyberfish)
post #20 of 20
I would skip the Silverton Starter If I were you. In my opinion it is unnecessarily complicated and the end results don't justify the effort. I would stick with either Reinhart method.
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
Reply
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
Reply
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