Sourdough beginner...a few clarifications (help!)?

Discussion in 'Bread' started by J13, May 27, 2019.

  1. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Okay. I’m planning on trying to make sourdough bread. However, after running through books and videos, I’m a tad confused. I want to make sure I understand a few things before I even start to make the starter....so, lets start with that:

    (1) Amount of starter: So, one book by a baker is talking 6 QUART container for the starter and the amounts sound way large. This book says that I should toss out half the starter each day and add fresh water/four to make it into one mother of a starter :p

    Book 2 says: “so long as the ratio of water to flour is right, you can use tiny amounts” and don’t bother tossing out any, just add in more fresh water/flour o_O it also says that there shouldn’t be a lot of room between the starter and the lid (we’ll get to that lid)....if it’s a small amount should the container be small to achieve this?

    ???? I are confused. I’d rather go with small amounts and not toss out half. Is there a logic to tossing out half rather than just adding fresh? And a logic to adding so much that a 6 quart container sound reasonable? And how do I have little air between starter and “lid” if I’m adding more to the container each day....?

    (2) About that lid: What do you put on top of the starter’s container? Lid holds in the gas, so not so good, but will plastic suffice? What’s a “poly bag”?

    (3) Feeding the starter: Baker book says, after you’ve created the starter (and it’s ready to make bread) keep on “feeding it” like almost daily. Other book says “No need. Once you’ve created it, you’ll need to feed it before you want to make bread (wake it up), but so long as it’s in the refrigerator (dormant in the cold) you don’t need to feed it all that often.”

    (4) Last Question: Levain...is this the starter or the starter mixed with water and flour which ferments for 5 hours before being added to the water and flour that will become the dough?

    I think that should do for a start ;)
     
    J13, May 27, 2019
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    Leofric Member

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    To answer your questions 1. For this one check their recipes and see how large they are? This would explain the use of a six quart container. In professional kitchens that are just beginning a starter they will do the discard every day. Now if your starter is mature, the discard is used to make your bread. For professional bakeries that are attempting to replicate the same loaves of bread each day, feeding every day is necessary.

    2. This depends on whether or not you are using yeast with the starter, no yeast more sour is needed as well you use more if you want a more sour dough tasting loaf. I tend to use yeast and use the sour dough for the kick of flavour and it adds something to my breads. As for their being a lot of room or not between the lid? This is a new one for me and I have taken bread baking classes from some of the best in the world - that was never an issue. You do need a large enough container to allow your starter as it is maturing to expand - trust me to small of a container can be disastrous! but six quarts is really large for a home baker - unless you are doing really large batches. Mine is in a 3 cup tupperware container! If that. As for the tight lid - you need that. Trust me it is so much better than if you just have a loose lid (starter is incredible it becomes like super glue if it escapes.)

    3. Feeding daily is more for those who are baking daily or every second day - truthfully my Mother is in the fridge and I feed her when I bake bread every couple of weeks or I remember to feed her. Not every day, ever! I don't even wake it up when I bake bread but I also use a delayed fermentation process - I make my dough and refrigerate it overnight before I bake it off.

    4. Levain is the sour dough that is mixed with flour, and often salt, and water to make a Biga or a poolish which would be fermented for several hours and you add your other ingredients to make your dough.
     
    Leofric, May 27, 2019
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  3. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Yes, I should have clarified that the “baker” book is written by a professional baker with a big name bakery. He probably assumes anyone reading his book is serious about bread making and going to be doing it a lot. I take it this means I can use the smaller amounts? Good. And thank you for the estimation on size of container. 3 cups is way more reasonable!
    Just to be clear...so if I do use yeast, the dough will be *MORE* sour? I was’t planning on using yeast, but I would like more tang to the flavor. More of a classic, San Francisco sourdough. But none of the recipes I’m reading add in yeast. Where do you add it in? And what kind of yeast?

    Regarding there being little air between the starter and the lid: the explanation is to minimize the oxygen and so avoid mold creation. I take it you don’t think this is likely and I should concentrate on having enough room for my baby starter to grow. I will listen to you! :D
    WHEW! Thank you for clarifying that once I have a mature (and refrigerated) starter, I don’t need to worry about feeding it so often. As for delayed fermentation...Almost all the recipes I’ve been reading seem to have similar steps: (1) Refresh starter by mixing a portion of it with flour and water. Let ferment for 5 hours at room temperature. (2) Add refreshed starter to a “dough” of flour & water & salt (some recipes say to hold off adding the salt till this dough has rested 30 minutes). (3) More resting of the dough, then, over several hours, a series of stretch and folds with rest periods. (4) Final shaping and put the dough in the the refrigerator for the night; (5) bake in the morning.

    Were you referring to step #4 there when you mentioned delayed fermentation? I ask because I’m wondering if you meant the starter + flour + water. Can its fermentation be delayed in the same way? Make it and put it in the refrigerator the night before the “bread making day”? Would letting it rise in the refrigerator over night cause a problem or work as well as leaving it out at room temp for 5 hours?
    :confused: Now I’m more confused. Is it called “dough” because the starter is mixed with a different amount of flour/water than you’d mix to create or feed the starter? I mean, the starter is flour and water, and you feed it flour and water...so if you add more flour and water to the starter why is it called something other than “starter”? o_O And what other ingredients are we adding to make the dough? So far, the only ingredients in any of these recipes are Flour, Water and salt.

    How do you know which mix of flour and water is what? Outside, of course, of the one that has salt in it?

    Thanks for all your tips and answers!
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2019
    J13, May 27, 2019
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    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    6Qt! No, you don’t need a big container like that.

    Seriously, just read and follow Perfect Loaf’s step by step guide to making a sourdough starter. You can even cut this amount in half.

    I don’t put a tight seal on my container. I cover the container with cheesecloth and then I gently lay the lid over it. If you’re monitoring your starter daily it should be fine. The only time I had an overflow was when I forgot to put it in the refrigerator and I went away overnight.



    https://www.theperfectloaf.com/7-ea...e-sourdough-starter-scratch/#Gather_Materials
     
    Norcalbaker59, May 27, 2019
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  5. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks so much for that link! I actually created my starter *today* using a recipe from @FullProofBaking (350g breadhflour/150g rye flour mix for 14 day feed; Day 1 starter is created with 1:1 20g flour/water mix). Like you, these instructions also recommend a cheesecloth cover for the first few days, so that's what i'm using. It looks like such a little amount of paste there in my 2cup jar. Here's hoping it will soon bubble, grow and require that 3 cup container.

    I will give the "perfect loaf" instructions a look, as feeding this starter gets complicated around Day 10. I'd, obviously, rather go for simpler instructions start to finish if I can.

    QUESTION: The instructions say that around Day 4 the starter might smell bad (like really bad). How pervasive is this smell? Will it fill the kitchen or do you have to be poking your nose into the jar to get a whiff? (I'm guessing that this might be the time to switch from cheesecloth to loose lid).

    2nd QUESTION: Instructions do say to discard X amount and refresh each day (example: discard all but 20 grams). Where should discard go? Down the sink or into trash? I'm honestly not sure, especially as I've been warned that overflow can stick like glue.

    Can starter discard stick to and muck up pipes or does it melt away in water and go down easy?
     
    J13, May 28, 2019
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  6. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Cheesecloth:
    I use just cheesecloth until the starter has gone through a couple of cycles (feedings, rise and fall). I then cover with a fresh piece of cheesecloth and jcover the top of the jar with the lid without snapping the lid shut as I don’t want to completely block the airflow.


    Aroma: The aroma will definitely be musky. But you can’t smell it and less you stick your nose in the jar. The scent of your starter will depend on where you live.

    I live in the middle of a vineyard in the middle of the Napa Valley. So I’m surrounded by natural and commercial fermentation yeasts. The flours I use are Central Milling’s organics. Maybe it’s the combination of where I live and the flours, but my starter tends not to be very funky. Or maybe I’m just weird in that I don’t find the aroma funky.

    Discarding: I wouldn’t advise putting it down the drain. If you compost I would recommend that, otherwise I would put it in the trash.

    Yes, a new starter looks like a small lump. But keep the faith. The first time I made a starter I kept lifting the container for a peek, convinced something was wrong. Then the morning on the fourth day I woke to this lively bubbly goo!

    It’s always important that you examine your starter before you do anything to it. No stirring it before you feed it. Nothing— examine it first.

    Sometimes you can do everything right, but things in the air you can’t see can effect your starter. It’s very important if you see streaks of orange or pink in the starter that you throw it out and sterilize your container before starting over. The orange and pink streaks are indication of bacteria that is already killing your starter.

    One of the drawbacks of living in the middle of a vineyard is they plow and spray. Since I moved to this house 4 yrs ago I’ve had problems keeping my starter healthy. Everything will be find for five or six months, then some work will happen in the vineyard or a major shift in weather and suddenly it goes bad. I have a bread class next month with a master baker. One of the things I want to ask is how I can protect my starter from uninvited squatters without keeping it refrigerated 24/7.
     
    Norcalbaker59, May 28, 2019
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    Becky Administrator

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    I hope your starter goes well @J13! I recently killed my sourdough starter by mistake (I left it out of the fridge by accident while I was away) but I might start on a new one this summer. Keep us updated :)
     
    Becky, May 28, 2019
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    J13 Well-Known Member

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    I will happily keep cheesecloth on it throughout the maturing process. Especially now that I know the aroma isn't going to make anyone who walks into the kitchen ask "what died in here?" ;)
    Into the trash it will go then. At least until it gets to the point where the instructions say I can keep and freeze/dehydrate the discard.
    I took my own peek this morning and found that the lump had had softened and even "fluffed" a little. Still a ways from bubbly, but "Go little starter! Go!" :D
    :eek: Whoah! Very good to know! Thank you!
    I hear what you're saying but...what am I examining it for? (Besides, I mean, for bad stuff like pink/orange streaks?) I've never done anything like this before, never even taken a bread making class. It's the thing that's mystifying me and making what everyone says is "not that hard" look really hard. For example, my instructions say I should stir the goo on Day 2, but not feed it—but you say "don't stir till you feed..."? First feeding of more flour/water, according to my instructions, starts tomorrow (Day 3).

    I gather that, somehow, I'm suppose to intuit what this starter needs. Like: just stir today, don't feed? or "Feed Me!" And, down the line when it really starts to come to life: more all-purpose/bread flour less rye? Discard more starter and add more fresh flour/water? Go from a starter-bread-water ratio of 1:1:1 to 1:2:2 or even 1:4:4:? It's not just following the instructions like in cake recipe.

    Problem is...I don't know how to speak sourdough starter! :( Is there a video to teach me what to look for and how to intuit what it's telling me? Like one of those videos which tell you what your cat is really saying when she flicks her tail or flops on her side....
    See, and here I thought all that grape fermentation and growing stuff would be good for a starter. Never thought about the plowing/spraying. Fortunately for me (I guess), I anticipate keeping my mature starter in the refrigerator, dormant-but-safe, for once-in-a-while bread baking.[/quote][/quote]
     
    J13, May 28, 2019
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    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Oh, thank you! Having some place to share my progress makes this much more exciting :D So sorry to hear about the death of your starter! :( I'll take that as a lesson to always set a reminder on my phone to return my mature starter to the refrigerator after I've used and restored it (once I get to that point, that is). I can see where it'd be easy to forget about it if you were rushing out the door to go on vacation or something.

    As I mentioned in reply above, my dollop of goo has softened and looks a tad fluffy (a little like cottage cheese). Very exciting! Today's instruction (Day 2) is to stir and give it a fresh jar.
     
    J13, May 28, 2019
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    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    [/quote][/QUOTE]


    What I said was don’t do anything to your starter without looking at it first to make sure that there’s no contamination or damage. If there’s a sign of bacteria contamination on top, and you stir it in without looking first, you won’t know.

    For the most part a well maintained starter is healthy. And a healthy starter is able to resist invaders. But contamination can, and does happen even in a healthy starter. Or a starter can be damaged from unexpected exposure to heat.

    Heat: Exposure to heat can kill a starter. It will
    Usually turn yellow or black. Sometimes that exposure is unexpected. I had a power outage during the night, fans went off. Woke to a very hot, angry, and ugly yellow starter. A starter exposed to high heat should be feed twice a day over three or four days. If it does not recover, you’ll have to discard.

    Mold: While it’s not common to get mold in your sourdough jar it does happen. We had nearly 5 consecutive weeks of rain winter ‘17. The humidity was off the charts. All of a sudden there’s fuzzy mold in my starter. If you get mold you want to toss. Some mold is real obvious because it’s black. Some mold is not so obvious because it’s fuzzy and light colored.

    Orange/pink streaks: I mentioned the orange and pink streaks are an indication of bacteria destroying your starter. This seems to be my most frequent problem out here. I don’t know how the bacteria is getting in. I am a neatnik—OCD level neatnik. One of my brother’s friends who bakes sourdough has this theory that I am so clean that it’s causing an invasion of bad bacteria to destroy my sourdough stater:confused: But he also said he could never get a sourdough starter to take hold despite years of trying. The one he has he got from a friend who has had it going strong for years. I don’t buy his theory. I think when they plow it stirs up a lot of bacteria in the earth that goes airborne.

    Other than hooch there’s really nothing else that you have to look for. Hooch is the liquid that forms on top when you neglect the starter. I really can’t tell you much about it because I’ve never neglected my starter, so never had hooch.

    Rye is used because it is very low in gluten, so mixing it in during the feedings makes the task easier. Rye does not turn into slurry (liquidity) like wheat flour. If you leave a wheat flour starter for a long period it’s going to turn to goo. That will not happen with rye flour. Rye has a much more pleasant aroma. So 100% rye flour or a blend of rye flour and wheat flour is typically used for a starter. There are no rules about flour. Any flour can be used.

    I don’t want to recommend flours or ratios since you already have a starter going. Just follow the guide that you’ve started. It should be fine.

    Also hydration levels can vary. The standard is 100% hydration starter
     
    Norcalbaker59, May 29, 2019
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  11. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Ah! Okay. Will do! (salute)
    Yeah, I (fortunately) read that somewhere before I began this process. So many of the recipes say the temp for growing a starter should be warm (not hot, just warm), and I thought, "well, put it near the oven..." then I read a kind of "don't you dare put this near an oven" warning. Oops.
    Ah! Very good to know. I'll examine extra carefully for such.
    :eek: Yikes, that really sounds horrible. And you're probably right about the plowing if this didn't happen before you moved next door to vineyards. Or if it only happens certain times of the year. Maybe keep your starter in the refrigerator during those months?
    I have read about this! Everyone says its harmless and just stir it back into the starter.
    My instructions are 100% hydration. Equal parts water to flour each time. First feeding today!:D
     
    J13, May 29, 2019
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    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Lol— The first time I ever made a starter I killed it as soon as it started really bubbling good. It was in the middle of winter. We had a cold front come in and I was worried it was going to get too cold overnight so I had the bright idea to turn on the oven light and leave it in the oven all night next to the light. Next morning it was black goo:eek:
     
    Norcalbaker59, May 29, 2019
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  13. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    :eek: Nooo! That story is too sad! I'm getting very attached to my baby starter. Here's how it looked prior to its first feeding today. I *think* the wild yeast has been captured; it certainly looked like it had doubled in size from what I'd had yesterday (I did have a rubber band on it to show growth, but it fell off :oops:)
     

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    J13, May 30, 2019
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    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Oh yeah, your baby is looking good! :D You’re like me—you keep your jar spotless:rolleyes:

    Your stove is amazing! I don’t me to be rude by looking, but couldn’t help but notice it in the background there. It’s really beautiful. It’s interesting how form was once as much a part of function in appliances. These days appliances are just so doggone ugly
     
    Norcalbaker59, May 30, 2019
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    J13 Well-Known Member

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    No rudeness at all! I set the jar in a spot where the stove would be in the background for a reason :D It's a restored A/B Battlecreek, probably circa WW1 or 1920's, and I absolutely love it. And I totally agree that most modern stoves have no form at all. I mean this old stove has melded form and function by wisely putting the oven at the right height so you can easily put things in it and pull them out. I've never understood stoves with ovens all on the bottom requiring the cook to constantly bend down.

    Biggest drawback from a modern oven is that It does get pretty hot in the kitchen, and there's none of the modern temp control or amenities (like switching the oven over to broil, or even having an oven light!), but it does a fine job baking up, well, everything I've tried so far.

    As for the spotless jar...I didn't have to do anything to it yesterday except stir, so any spots along the bottom there got hidden by the growing starter. Today, I added flour and water and the inside of the jar is streaked with a lot more sticky stuff. :oops: There goes my spotless reputation. :p Oh, one more thing to add: I took a whiff. It smelled malty-toasty. :) Not bad at all!
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2019
    J13, May 30, 2019
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    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    OK so maybe it doesn’t have a light in the stove… But it is sexy as heck!!! Look at the curves on that thing :cool:

    Well I’m glad to hear you like the smell of your starter. I was wondering about it today. I walked out to get something out of my car and I got blasted with the aroma of fermenting grapes and I thought I hope J13 starter’s is stinking to high heaven. :eek:
     
    Norcalbaker59, May 30, 2019
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    J13 Well-Known Member

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    :D On behalf of my stove, thank you!
    Heh! Thanks so much for thinking of me. Sorry to be late with the update. Yesterday (Day 4) the starter had that smoky smell with a slightly “ick” smell below. Ah! I thought, that’s what the instructions meant by “unpleasant” smell. Unlike the starter in the instructions, however, my starter’s “ick” smell was very light (knock wood hoping that’s the worst it gets). Today (Day 5) the starter is back to smelling toasty. And I really do have to put my nose in the jar to smell anything, which is good because there’s so much talk in books and videos about the fragrance of starter that I really feared anyone walking into the kitchen would smell it and wonder.

    I also have finally worked out a system of weighing out flour/water, starter, mixing and such so that feedings go quickly. One thing I have to mention...none of the books or videos talk about the washing up :p I don’t mean that there’s a lot, but each time there’s a jar, a mixing bowl and a scraper...and starter is very sticky stuff. That really should be mentioned somewhere. It takes a bit of scrubbing to get it off things...hands included.

    As for the starter itself...thin, pasty, sticky...and playing dead. Fortunately, having read through websites and books and such, I knew it’d pull this: “You can’t fool me. You ain’t dead, just resting.” :D
     
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    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Greetings, all who may or may not have been waiting for an update on the starter...I haven't checked in for the last few days because the starter has been really boring. The feed/restoration of it has been the same over these last days (1:1:1 of 15 grams starter, flour water), and while it seems to double in size each time, it's not doing much else. So, I dump a thick paste into the jar that barely covers the bottom, and the results are a slightly increased, smoother paste covering the bottom of the jar. Ho-hum. I now understand why people think their starter has died. :rolleyes:

    Tonight (Day 9) I'm supposed to change things up to 1:2:2 with the starter at 8g while adding in 16g fresh water/flour. We will see if this changes the activity of this sleepy starter. It has 5 days to go till it reaches the supposed conclusion of all this experimentation (Day 14) and during those 5 days the feeding schedule will be changing a lot (going up to 1:5:5 at it's peak). Hopefully, this will wake it up and it will inflate and deflate like a good mature and active starter should. We shall see.
     
    J13, Jun 4, 2019
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    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Heading into the final four days! I don't think my starter is dead, but I'm beginning to wonder if it's comatose. It hasn't done much of anything since that promising picture at the beginning. I know it's suppose to rise and fall (deflate) but I'm not seeing it do much rising.... :( Should I be worried?
     
    J13, Jun 6, 2019
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    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Okay, had a "d'oh!" moment yesterday evening. I realized that I'd gone for the small-amounts starter, but was using (comparatively) a large jar. :rolleyes: Duh. If I want to see how well it's really growing, I ought to be using a smaller jar. One where the starter can climb the walls, and if it doubles, it can be really, really seen! So, this morning, the refreshed starter went into a smaller jar. Now the rubber band is set about a third of the way up, not at the very bottom. Fingers crossed. I'll let you know if I can finally see renewed activity.

    That said, I did catch the pop of one lazy bubble in the starter, and it's gone from smelling "toasty" to smelling "bread-y."
     
    J13, Jun 6, 2019
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