Questions on high hydration milk-based starter

I have been baking sourdough with a starter I created about two years ago. I bake two loaves at a time and give the 2nd loaf away to neighbors and friends. Recently, one of the friends told me that she knew someone with a decades old starter that made “real sourdough”. She offered to get some of the starter that had been in the family since the early 80s. Ever interested, I agreed but was surprised to find it used milk instead of water.

I spoke to the “original owner” who confirmed it had always used milk and he offered his basic sourdough white recipe. I want to first replicate his bread before I experiment, but the starter is very very soupy. He maintains it with equal parts flour and non fat milk by volume (not weight). When I measure and weigh his “cup to a cup” approach, I get 140 g to a cup of flour, 230 g to a cup of non fat milk. When I do the math, I get a hydration for the starter at 164% !

Every recipe I can find for a milk based starter on the internet also uses an “equal volume” approach.

Leaving out the starter, his bread recipe (for two loaves) uses 1000 g flour to 750 g water…roughly 75 % hydration…a wet dough in my experience even without the soupy starter added.

I’m used to a 100 % hydration water based starter and wonder if anyone has insights, tips or tricks before I attempt his recipe. (I suppose I can always adjust as I mix, but I’d love some suggestions.)

I find 75% hydration manageable, especially with strong flour and good gluten development.
But how much of this very wet starter is going into that 1000g flour dough?

Thanks for the quick reply. The recipe I was given over the phone by the “owner” of the milk based starter was:

1000 g flour
700 g water
200 g stater
20 g salt, mixed with an additional 50 g water

I had many more questions than I though appropriate for my first ever post. Still have a bunch but let’s start with -

I suspect that he actually meant to say “reserve 50 g of the 700 g water and add to salt to mix in after the initial ferment”…but I took him at his word when he said "after the ferment mix 50 g water with 20 g salt ".

The liquid nature of the milk based starter concerns me not only for liquid to flour ratio, but from what I’ve read, the Lactobacillus in the milk retards gluten development…so I would not expect the same strong gluten strands that I get with my water based starter.

Related question: Is hydration percentage calculated from ONLY flour and water, OR do you also factor in the amount of water and flour in the starter as well ?

If you have the patience ? One more question: Ever heard of approaching a milk based starter with the same 100% hydration of a water based? (ie. Beginning to shift the milk based starter I have from its 160%+ level to the more common 100% hydration for starters)

Milk adds fat and protein (or just protein if you’re using skim) – both of those retard fermentation a bit. But if you look at a brioche dough, you’re still getting rising power, and the hydration is butter and eggs.

Milk also adds lactose, which will encourage lactobacillus proliferation. This makes an acidic flavor that different from acetic acid. Beer brewing husband describes the different acids as follows:
lactic acid: clean
acetic acid: harsh
citric acid: sharp
(@Brewcat do you agree? have additional insight?)

Some people calculate recipe hydration with the starter liquid added to the overall liquid and some keep it separate. Same with flour.

The protein in milk will make a 100% hydration milk starter feel thicker than a 100% hydration water starter.

I agree lactic acid or acidulated malt is often added to the mash to lower the pH for proper conversion. Iv heard a few people use citric acid in a pinch but can’t speak to that. Acetic acid not be something I want in beer. As far as lactobacillus from milk? Lactobacillus is already in a sourdough starter and is welcome for the flavor it brings to the table. Of course you don’t want the lactobacillus to out compete the yeast.

I wouldn’t add milk to my yeast because of the fat

Thanks to you both. A couple of points of clarification, and then I’m off to give this new approach a try.

@Brewcat, the thread began with my questions about using a milk based, high hydration starter I just received. The starter is certainly viable, as the owner has used it since 1973. I never planned to use milk in the dough mix, just use his milk based starter instead of my water based.
@Fermentada, thanks for the replies to my questions. I think the best thing for me is to just replicate “the owners” recipe using his high hydration starter. Depending on how it all works out, then perhaps I’ll maintain his “original” starter and use the discard to develop a 100% hydration strain and see how that goes.

In any case, I won’t bake again until mid week coming up. I’ll post pics and commentary at that point.

Thanks again - Steve

I promised a pic of the result of the milk based starter in a basic SD loaf, BUT…even after a phone conversation with “the owner”, I was unsuccessful in my various careful attempts to bring the starter to any active level.

It’s not like I don’t have experience handling starters ( I have both a very happy rye, and the basic white flour starters flourishing in my kitchen) but three attempts failed to give me any meaningful response.

I briefly considered contacting “the owner” directly and getting a working portion from him, but frankly, I’m not all that interested, as I have yet barely touch the possibilities with the two starters I have.

In any case, thanks to all who chimed in to answer my original questions.

Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s only a matter of time before somebody has a similar question/mission, and this will help them out.

Interesting thread… I’ve maintained a high-hydration (160+%) milk-based starter for more than 20 years now (started in 1999 with a gift of starter from a B&B host). I’ve used it mostly for quickbreads, pancakes, and waffles. Now trying it out for english muffins, which results I’ll post on in a couple of days. Based on discussion on this site, about two months ago, I dropped the hydration level to the 100% range, resulting in a much stiffer starter. It seems to work as well as the higher hydration version, though is perhaps a bit slower to get started. Most recent use was to build 135g of preferment for the EMs that are just now beginning bulk fermentation at ~80F for the next hour or two, then into the fridge overnight or for a day or two, until I have time to shape and bake them, most likely on Saturday. I am using the SD EM recipe from this site, with a few tweaks based on a recent trial of the Chef Steps basic recipe for yeasted EMs. Again, I’ll report results here. The preferment build was not active until the third day, when overnight it went from ~0% expansion to ~100% (doubled). That’s when I mixed up the dough this afternoon. My build was 35 g cold milk-based starter, from my stash in the fridge, fed with 25g AP flour, 25 g cold 2% milk, repeated over two nights. Today, (third day) it was ready to go. Always interesting to read these blog entries and try another experiment.

I haven’t tried to make EM yet; been mostly focused on SD breads, with a recent detour to crackers.

Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know that milk based sourdough starters existed. When I gave away a loaf of my (water based )SD to a friend of my wife’s, her response was “Oh, yours is good, but you have to try with my friends starter. It’s from early 70s and uses milk.” I was intrigued, but skeptical but interested enough to pick up “a jump start” from her. She gave me half a quart that looked like heavy cream, with instructions to maintain at 1:2:2 by VOLUME. When I did the conversion to weight and some math I ended up with something like 165% hydration, which in itself was going to be a challenge for me.

I tracked down “the original owner” who confirmed it all and gave me his go to SD recipe. BUT, he suggested that I feed up the starter first. Over the course of a week, I tried his approach, then variations of his approach and then whatever seemed useful (like down shifting it to 100% hydration). I think of myself as a patient guy, but day after day it just sat there at room temp,or with different attempt in the fridge and did little or nothing. Got mostly a only slightly sour slurry (with a bit of a sweet note). Almost no rise and and maybe all of 6 bubbles.

Finally, I just said “WHAT am I doing this for?” and gave it up.

Could I ask @dvhirst865 dvhirst865, can you tell me about how you maintain yours?

I am not very regular about maintenance. I use some, when the amount remaining in the crock gets low, up until a few months ago, I was tossing in equal parts by volume (typically 1/2 c) of water an whatever flour I have in the AP flour bin. It is usually Bob’s Red Mill because I live in OR. Sometimes it is KAF, because Winco has it here for a very good price (again, until the last few months). So, it has been that way for a very long time. Now, I’m more likely to feed it with equal parts by weight, somewhat on a trial basis.

There are times when there is only a tablespoon or two left in the bottom of the crock. There are times when it is weeks between feedings. Fortunately, the starter is pretty robust and I’ve been able to recover it from lying fallow for a long time (several months). I’ve had less success with recovering water based starters, have had to throw out several of them and have successfully restarted others from the teaspoon or so of remaining material at the bottom of the (very moldy) jar. When i have had to start over with water based starters, I have had good success with the pineapple juice enhanced method found elsewhere on this blog. Fortunately, this milk-based starter has just kept plugging along.

I am an avid reader of the threads on this blog that describe less wasteful approaches to using SD; I essentially never discard any of my starter, and haven’t since before this became a live topic here. I do appreciate the confirmation from Melissa and others that the no discard approach is truly OK.

I hope this helps. My advice, keep on keeping on, don’t give up. It does work, eventually; patience is a mostly good thing (except when you are working with hi% of rye flour doughs – they don’t like that approach). Good luck!

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