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azatty 09-14-2012 07:25 AM

Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
With all my traveling over the summer, I killed my culture by neglect--didn't feed it properly, started getting sick and fuzzy, I tried to revive it, but couldn't and decided the humane thing was to euthanize it.

With temperatures finally dropping below 100 degrees, I'm more interested in working in front of a hot oven, so I ordered another batch from Sourdough International. I started the activation sequence. Initial activation at 90 degrees for 24 hours, then feed and hold around 70 degrees for 12-ish hours. At 24 hours it had bubbled up, but hadn't doubled. After the first feeding, it had grown a bit, but not doubled. It has a good smell; nothing like the nasty funkishness I experienced the first time I activated the same culture.

Yesterday evening (2 days into the activation) the starter was looking flat and sluggish. There were several bubbles, but very little rise. This morning the starter is totally flat. Still no fuzzies or bad smell on it, though. So I dumped half, fed it, and stuck it in the AC unit closet (maintains about 70 degrees reliably--I have strange places to proof dough). I suppose I'll see how it's doing tonight.

Last time I used this culture (Camaldoli), it activated quickly and responded with vigorous growth. So what do you think--am I just dealing with the vagaries of the wee beasties, or do I have problems? And when should I start worrying?

Edit: One more detail: the starter has been getting thin. I have to confess that I didn't weigh my flour and water; I went off volume. This morning it was about as thin as pancake batter, which was odd since it wasn't so thin last night. I discarded and firmed it up, so it's more like a really wet dough this morning.

Laurentius 09-14-2012 11:58 AM

Re: Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
The first rule is to follow the directions. The proper ratio of flour to water is important. You see the do it "my way" approach can cost you time and money. Once you master the basic, then you can experiment.

SCChris 09-14-2012 12:46 PM

Re: Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
What I'm hearing sounds like your sourdough starter is eating up everything before you get back to it.. In warm weather my starter matures in about 6 to 8 hours and since I leave for work at 6 and get home at 4:30, I'm about 3 to 5 hours late. The 100% hydrated starter that was the consistency of a thick banana bread dough is now the consistency of crepe batter. Try feeding it every 6 hours and start with cold filtered or bottled water and see where this takes things..


Oh and try to keep the temps in the 70 - 80F area..

azatty 09-14-2012 05:24 PM

Re: Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
I followed the directions (which are given in volume, not weight) to the letter. Unfortunately, the culture did not appear to respond in the manner described in the directions. Also, it does not appear that the culture is contaminated. It's not the end of the world, but it puts me behind on a test bake.

Thanks for the suggestion, Chris. I thought it might be possible that it was falling after feeding, but I'm accustomed to seeing SOME kind of growth when I get home. What you describe matches the scenario I'm seeing. It has been 11 hours since the last feeding, and one jar is flat, while the other is showing that some growth has occurred. Both have plenty of bubbles, although the sour smell isn't nearly as prominent as it was earlier. I'll feed it again now and check it in six hours.

Faith In Virginia 09-14-2012 05:32 PM

Re: Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
That is quite normal for the first few days after activation. Just keep feeding it at regular intervals and it will soon pick up to what you expect.

azatty 09-14-2012 05:43 PM

Re: Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
Thanks, Faith. It's a bit unnerving because the Camaldoli really took off fast the first time I used that strain.

SCChris 09-15-2012 05:57 AM

Re: Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
Azatty, keep us in the loop about where things end up.



azatty 09-15-2012 07:54 AM

Re: Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
I fed it around 6:00 yesterday evening and left it on the counter. The starter temperature was around 72 degrees (measured with IR gun), and I left it on the counter. Interior house temperature is 78 on the nose. I checked it at 8:30 pm and 11:00 pm, and didn't see any growth, but saw bubbles.

This morning at 6:00 I checked it and found about 1/4" of hooch on both jars, crepe-ish consistency, and only a few bubbles. The sour smell is fainter than it was yesterday, but still no bad smells or fuzzies. I tasted the starter, and it's pleasantly sour, although kind of floury tasting. I stirred in the hooch, fed each jar 6 oz of flour and 6 oz of water (about 1 cup flour, 2/3-ish cup water). The temperature after feeding is 82 degrees (a bit high), so I put it in the A/C closet where it will proof at a lower temperature.

The presence of hooch tells me that I have live yeast. It may also be an indication that the starter is rising, and the hooch is leaching out after the starter overproofs and falls. (Is that a correct hypothesis?) So it's entirely possible that the starter has gone ninja on me and sneakily rises in the middle of the night then quickly falls. I'm only four days into the activation, and the directions say 3-5 days for full activation (although my first use of the culture produced fast results).

I also wonder whether the starter has become too acidic, and yeast growth is being inhibited.

SCChris 09-15-2012 08:31 AM

Re: Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
Keep the regular feeding up. Try just before bed, and when you get up in the morning, and when you first get home from work. This should avoid the ninja situation of getting up and running and falling before you see its glory.. Once you get some confirmation that you have a good batch and it has time to settle in, you could back off on the amount of starter that you start each batch with. I run 100g of water 100g of 50/50 flour and about 40g of starter, 20% of the weight of the replacement water/flour. I don't have any guidence on what % is OK, but the idea is that it takes more time for the colony to eat what you provide, maybe Faith has some insight..


Faith In Virginia 09-15-2012 02:33 PM

Re: Starter is flat--talk me off the ledge
Keep feeding, if you have bubbles you are good. It sounds like your not getting the rise your looking for because you have crape like batter...the bubbles are just bleeding off at the top. Try increasing your flour till you get to a muffin batter thickness and see how that goes. Let me know how that works. The increase in flour will also help if your acid is increasing.

Chris, if that mix works for you then it's all OK. I use a 1:1:1 for my feeding but I also let is set in the fridge for a week. Work is getting in the way of my baking so my starter is starting to feel lonely.

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