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Posts: 36
Location: Western NC
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I just recently started making sourdough bread. I made a simple starter & keep it in a crock in the fridge. I have a few questions & was wondering if anyone would know.

What is the consistency of the starter suppose to be? Thick? or should it be pourable?

Should I stir in the water that forms on the top or drain it off?

Do I have to use additional yeast in my recipe? Most of the recipes I've found call for additional yeast.  One of the reasons I started making sourdough was I thought the starter is the yeast.

thanks for any input
 
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It could be thick and it could be pourable.  It seems to change between uses.  Usually there is a thin layer of yellowish water on the top that you can stir in or pour off to get the consistancy you want.
 
Susan Hoke
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paul wheaton wrote:
It could be thick and it could be pourable.  It seems to change between uses.  Usually there is a thin layer of yellowish water on the top that you can stir in or pour off to get the consistancy you want.


Thanks Paul,

I took my crock out this morning. It's more like pancake batter. There was no liquid on top. I added more flour than water to the starter last week when I made bread. I think I'm getting the hang of it.
I'll be making some bread today. Better get started!
 
paul wheaton
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Susan Hoke
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paul wheaton wrote:
How did you get your starter started?



I used a simple starter recipe that I took from "Bread Winners Too" by Mel London.

1 T dry yeast
2 cups warm water
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 T honey

Left it lightly covered on the counter for a few days, stirring it down a few times. Then put it in the fridge.
 
paul wheaton
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I've done something similar.  It worked okay for a while.  And then it kinda went stupid.

After doing it several times and having every attempt work for a while and then go stupid, I researched like a fiend.  And came to discover that there is much more going on with real sourdough starter.

If you take a look at my sourdough pancakes article, I think you will see what I discovered.  In a nutshell, real starter has a lot more going on than just yeast.  You will be much happier if you have a branch.

 
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Well I made sourdough bread from a starter that I'd been feeding for 7 days (ala 'Nourishing Traditions'.  I didn't add any yeast as I understood that it would 'catch' yeast from the air, nor any baking soda etc.  I have to admit that the bread was a bit heavy and puddingish but then I've never had sourdough bread before so I don't know what it's supposed to be like.  Any clues?

I went on-line to see what a 'frothy, fermenting' sourdough starter looked like and it was WAY more frothy and fermenty than mine - you could see it bubbling away.  I'd made mine with pure wholemeal flour - would that have made a difference?

I want to make the traditional bread but am I hoping for too much if I can't get a 'branch' from someone?
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If you 'start' a sour dough with commercial yeast, you've just made a self replicating colony of commercial yeast. 

I'm sure Paul's article says all this and more (one of his articles I haven't gotten around to reading yet) but I'll add my two cents anyway: 

Wild sourdough is quite different because you're capturing the yeasts that live in your specific environment, as well as a bunch of lacto-bacteria, which make it taste sour.  You only need to begin with about equal parts of water and fresh flour (this seems to be important - how long ago was your whole wheat flour ground?)  I like to put an unwashed (organic!  Sprays will prevent all life from forming and this technique will not work) grape or berry into the mixture when its starting.  Yeast will be resting on the surface of the sugary fruit and will help inoculate your starter. 

Then - stir!  Vigorously stir the thing every day, for a week.  I accidentally developed my own method - - and this involves purposefully not washing the spoon I used for stiring.  Let the batter dry on the spoon in a place where it won't get dusty or dirty, and then use that spoon to stir it again the next day.  I've never been told to do this, but it makes sense the whole surface area of the spoon is another little yeast attraction site, and then you stir them all into the starter.  Some people might find this gross......but it makes awesome, sour, bubbly starters, even with non-wheat, low sugar flours (buckwheat, for instance), every time.  The berry thing really works also. 

Hen, I'd give your starter more time to get really active, and try feeding it more frequently.  A week is the minimum amount of time for a good starter to form.  With a berry it'll start smelling 'good' in a few days, usually, and that's when you fish the berry out and add some more flour to feed your colony.

If you're using it frequently (2-3 times a week) you can leave it out at room temp....most recipes instruct you to put it in the fridge, but from what I can tell about bread, you need a very active starter that is fed once or even twice a day and allowed to grow vigorously.  Refrigeration slows the growth of the yeast waaaay down.  You'd need to take it out of the fridge and let it warm/wake up for a day or so before the bread making.  I switch the jar the starter lives in about once a week.  If you don't, eventually the crust around the top will get black and moldy, and you'll have to make a new starter.  Which is easy! 

I've had my current starter for over a year at this point, but before my living situation was more settled I killed starters all the time and made new ones just as frequently.  Over the summer I added some kombucha to the one I have going now.....talk about bubbles!

Corn flour will make it turn alcoholic.  Sour dough corn muffins are really good but don't keep corn flour in your starter jar for more than 12 hours.  I pour some out and make a separate ferment with corn flour, just to protect my starter.  I'm starting to get attached to this one.....maybe I'll name it....

Most recently I've been experimenting with adding some starter to ground up sprouted grain dough.  Still haven't gotten the proportions down and I am still learning about the dang woodstove oven's persnicketiness.....but someday it will work the way I envision it!
 
Alison Thomas
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Thanks marinajade.  Mine seems to be bubbling up a bit more now, especially when it's moved.

I know exactly what you mean about the wood-fired stoves.  We're on that learning curve too - brilliantly hot for pizzas, dough already made, just pop the toppings on ...and hey presto the temp has fallen enough (without doing anything!) to mean that a pizza takes 30mins to cook!!!
 
                    
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ha, if I want a pizza fire I tell my man to build a fire, because he makes them blazing hot!  That's the easiest thing for us, so far.  Long slow fires are not that difficult if I can remember to stick a stick in there every 30-40 minutes. 

The thing I struggle with for breads is the high temp (400s) at the beginning, and then a gradual decline to 350 and the maintenance of that temperature over the course of an hour or so.  My 92 year old neighbor told me that she never managed to get the hang of baking cakes.....
 
Alison Thomas
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I know what you mean.  A roast chicken.... 25 mins on high heat then an hour or so on quite low.. very difficult to achieve.  Then there's the roast potatoes that don't take as long as the chicken but need a high heat just when you're de-powering for the chook.  Blinkin nuisance    Maybe we should start a new thread (haven't done a search to see if there is one yet) and pick other folks brains/experience.
 
                    
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Hey Paul Wheaton, I have a question:

Sometimes my sour dough starter develops really long roapy things that are nearly impossible to break apart.  It doesn't happen often, and it doesn't seem to be related to the amount of time it's left to sit, or how thick it is?  I had it happen over night the other day, with what I thought was not a terribly thick starter mixture.  But most of the time it just pours right out. 
 
pollinator
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Wild yeast starter can be like kneaded dough (70% hydration) to liquid. The easiest one is 50/50 water and yeast, but most professional bakers seem to like something about the same stiffness as the finished dough... in fact they just keep a piece of the finished dough as the starter for next time.

Do not use yeast in a starter... it will die anyway as it can't take the low ph you will end up with and it will take the food to yeast you do want needs to get going. I just used water and flour right from the start, but have heard that sometimes some pineapple juice is needed to lower the ph right off.

I personally use 100% hydration (50/50 flour/water) Very wet and sticky, stir in water (hooch) on top.

Len
 
pollinator
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I think there's some deep wisdom to the practice of "catching" starter from the air, rather than trying to maintain a pure branch of starter. And I think either of those is a better idea than trying to re-habilitate a lab-grown strain of active dry yeast into a full sourdough ecosystem. But they all could end up with the same result, if done right.

I don't like arguments from authority, but I think it's interesting that the festival cycle described in Leviticus would result in the whole society catching a new culture of sourdough at a prescribed time each year. I wonder if this practice proved to be adaptive, and if it relates at all to other rules in Leviticus related to the control of toxic fungus.

I think, with enough experience, you could learn to use starter at any stage of its life cycle and at any level of hydration, by adjusting what is added to the dough and the rising conditions.
 
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Have you seen this site ..

http://www.sourdo.com/culture.htm
 
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Location: Toronto Canada
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i love wild sourdough starters , nice and so easy, for bread i have seen some methods where you are tipping all of the starter into your mix then hold back a portion of the  dough and feed it . the old peasant rye breads were worked this way. Honey as a booster was common and added a little before using the starter.

as far as the oven temp , are you blocking the door after the oven is heated?
 
                    
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Ok, I've been experimenting with sourdough breads a bit, and I've discovered that whole grain flour has a lot to do with the character of the bread.  I think the large bran particles are the main issue, they puncture the bubbles that the yeasts create?  If I sift the larger bran particles out of my (freshly ground) flour I get a significantly better rise out of the finished bread. 

Also, yeasts are more efficient at exhaling CO2 than are bacteria.  A wild "sour"dough culture doesn't actually have to be that sour, and may even work better if it's less acidic (usually you can gauge acidity with a sniff).  You can manage a sourdough culture to have more or less bacteria relative to yeast.  Low temperatures favor yeasts, but most refrigerators have such low temps that they slow everyone down too much to reproduce much. 

The method that's been working for me is to leave the freshly-fed starter culture in a room temperature location for awhile (the length of the while depends on how long you're going to leave it in cool storage before the next use - shorter room temperature periods correspond to longer cool storage periods and vice versa) before transferring it to "cool" storage (probably 50-60 degrees F).  This allows the biology to reproduce a bit faster before slowing everything down with cooler temperatures that favor yeasts rather than bacteria.  I have a feeling that the common fridge temperature is too cold, nothing can reproduce very well down near freezing. 
 
Len Ovens
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Hey just found a couple of interesting bread recipes at:

http://ibreadhunter.blogspot.com/

The snow bread is not a sour dough but interesting anyway just because it is different

But the "Peter Schumann Rye Bread" is. what is interesting about this sourdough bread is that you do not add any starter.... none(no yeast either). Instead you create starter as part of the process of making the batch. He mixes some of the rye flour and water together... over 100% hydration(wet... like liquid) and lets it sit for 2 to 5 days (done is determined by how sour and bubbly it is), Then adds salt and more rye flour.... mixing but not kneading, it sounds like, and leave it for yet another day... divide shape and bake. Expect dense but tasty

In general, rye flour should be kneaded very little if at all, it does have gluten in it, but not much. It also has some other proteins that perform much like gluten, but are much weaker and easy to damage by over kneading. This what separates rye from things like barley that tends to make bread akin to rocks even though rye doesn't have much more gluten than barley, it can still make a nice bread. 40% rye (with wheat flour) acts like wheat bread, 60% stretches things, but tastes more like rye.... 100% rye bread is wonderful tasting stuff even if heavy, though still not a brick either.
 
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