Sourdough starter questions

6-18-19

Good morning:

It appears that there are almost as many recipes for sourdough starter as there are enthusiasts, although most of the recipes I encounter online or in textbooks share basic similarities and vary mostly in the details. Along this line I want to ask the members of this community who frequently bake sourdough bread the following questions: I’m grateful for any considered responses.

  1. Would you say: You have tried different starters in the past and have found that the outcome differences are too marginal and/or too unpredictable to justify the extra work involved in using and maintaining more than one-- anything else one reads about the virtues of maintaining more than one line of starter is the exaggeration of well-intentioned but over-zealous enthusiasts.

  2. Would you say you maintain more than one starter: Principally as a safety measure, feeling you should maintain a back-up starter(s) in case something goes wrong with your usual formula.

  3. Would you say: You maintain more than one starter mostly for academic reasons—you don’t notice marked differences in outcomes with different starters but you enjoy observing the varied behavior of different starters as they develop over time.

  4. If you maintain and regularly use more than one starter in your baking, please say how many and how would you describe the different formulae you use? (For example, “I use starter X, developed from boiled potatoes and their water, for such-and-such recipes; starter Y I developed from einkorn flour and tend to use it with recipes incorporating that flour but occasionally also with…; starter Z I developed from rye flour and I use it in…because no other starter I tried in that recipe(s) yields such an open crumb and gratifying rise… ” etc.)

  5. Do you find that you may have begun carefully following recipe instructions for starters and maintenance schedules but over time your own routines based on personal experience of what works for you in your own kitchen takes over. Your practice now departs substantially from when you went by the book. Are you willing to give a brief or detailed example?
    Thanks in advance for any responses.

@g0g0, awesome questions!

I can answer questions 1 through 4 very simply. I only maintain and use ONE starter. My faithful starter, Cyril, is fed with organic Arrowhead Mills AP flour and pure spring water about once a week or so. I have had him since February 2018 and began baking with him in April 2018 after carefully tending and feeding him so that he would acclimate to living in my home. A local friend of mine gifted me some of her starter one night and the rest, as we say, is history!

The ONLY reason I would develop a second type of starter would be if I was going to bake an einkorn loaf exclusively out of einkorn flour for someone who was more gluten-intolerant. If I was to bake an einkorn loaf, I would want an einkorn starter.

Question 5: Yes, what I do now to feed and maintain Cyril is different than when I first got him. When I got him he was a bit thin and runny. He was fine, but seemed to lack “oomph.” My friend who gave him to me didn’t really give me any detailed directions on caring for him. But she did say to only use pure spring water because our city tap water has chlorine in it and that would kill him so I buy some that I use exclusively for feeding Cyril and when baking bread. I don’t know what type of flour she was feeding her sourdough or the ratio of flour to water but it was an AP flour. I had some organic Arrowhead Mills AP flour in my refrigerator so that’s what I fed Cyril. He responded well to it so I’ve been using it since. I basically was winging it though I determined to weigh the flour and water gram for gram so that I was giving him an “equal” amount of each. Visually it certainly didn’t look equal but because I was using a scale I knew it was.

Now here is where I had a sourdough “epiphany,” quite recently actually and needed to modify how I was feeding Cyril. Over a number of months I had noticed that my breads weren’t rising as high and I wasn’t getting as good of an oven-spring as I had in the past. There didn’t seem to be anything inherently wrong with Cyril but he just seemed tired. Well, it turns out I hadn’t been feeding him ENOUGH with each feeding. Apparently I was only giving him a “snack” when he needed a “feast.” One day I felt a God-breeze and instead of feeding Cyril the amount of flour and water I usually used, I doubled it. WOW!! Within 20-30 minutes Cyril was almost dancing! He was unbelievably happy! He fed happily and practically doubled in size within hours! That evening I prepped a bread and baked it the next day. All I can say is, “WOW!” When I took the lid off the clay baker that bread was HUGE! All Cyril really needed was a good meal! So now when I feed Cyril I feed him a much larger meal than I used to and he is my very happy starter once again. I also keep a fairly large amount of him in a 1-1/2 quart jar that I use and maintain exclusively; just that one jar of Cyril. If I haven’t baked before it’s time to feed him and I still have a lot of him, I make a large batch of sourdough pancakes to significantly reduce his amount so that there’s room in his home jar for growth. Having a batch or two of lovely pancakes in my freezer is an added tasty bonus, LOL.

Yes, there are SO many different ways to keep and maintain starter and every baker will have their favorite method and routine that works for them, their lifestyle and baking preferences. I have come to realize there is not “only one way” to maintain starter. What works for me may not be what someone else wants to do and vice versa. I read different articles, blogs, watched videos, etc. and developed what works for me. This site, Breadtopia, has been my main influence and inspiration for baking sourdough bread. I’ve bought my Mockmill 100, all my baking tools, bread flour, whole grain and clay baker all from Breadtopia since February 2018. Eric and Breadtopia have been a God-send!

Enjoy the journey!
Leah

I tried the pineapple juice recipe and after unsuccessful 4 tries gave up. Now it occurs to me that using r.o. water might be my downfall, since the r.o. Does not remove all chlorine added by the chlorination. What do you think?

6-19-19

Leah–

Thank you for your prompt and informative reply; this is the second of my questions you have helped me with. I hope others respond as well.

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What is “r. o. water”?

Also-- I am under the impression that chlorine will depart from tap H20 left standing for relatively short periods of time (e. g., several hours to overnight) and immediately upon heating even to less than boiling point. Wrong? Using such simple measures, is there much to be gained by using bottled or other commercially available H20?

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I wrote a post here at Breadtopia with pretty much everything I understand about sourdough starter in it. I think the whole post is germane to the questions you are asking, but there is a section in there called “Your Starter Doesn’t Matter That Much” and another one called “Keeping Starter in the Refrigerator” that specifically address some of these issues.

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@screaminmeme and @g0g0, “RO” water is water run through a reverse osmosis filtration system. In short, that type of filtration may NOT remove all the chlorine from the water nor, IMHO, will simply allowing the water to stand for a period of time before using it. Bottled purified water, in some cases (depending on location), is simply “city water” run through a reverse osmosis system to improve quality and taste. Chlorine may still be present in sufficient quantity to kill sourdough even though it’s undetectable by tasting the water. Also, please don’t use distilled water for feeding your sourdough or baking. Distilled water is devoid of all mineral content resulting in a real lack of flavor. Distilled water has many uses, but baking with it isn’t particularly one of them, LOL. Bottled PURE SPRING WATER is your best option for feeding your sourdough and using when baking bread.

Leah

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@g0g0, Bakers on this forum have been SO supportive and helpful with my questions. It means a lot to me to be able to “give back” if I can successfully answer someone’s question. You’ve made my heart smile today!

Thank you,
Leah

  1. in my experience, it’s not worth the effort to keep or develop different starters except a) if i need/want to be purist about a wheat variety in a batch of breads and b) to the extent that sweet starters or stiff starters can impact and boost the yeast population in the starter (e.g. panettone prep)

  2. I consider my crusty bannetons to be backup dried starter…kidding, sorta. Someday I will try to culture a viable starter from banneton scrapings. I do divide my starter when I travel with it. One at home and one on the road.

  3. NA

  4. NA

  5. My starter feeding is very specific to my baking schedule/style/philosophy. I feed ?:1:1 after using it for baking and then refrigerate. By question mark, I mean, I just eyeball what’s in the jar and then add actually-weighed equal amounts of flour and water. Before my next bake, I pull it out, it grows, I use it. If it grows anemically, I may feed and grow again before using it. If I use all but a dangerously small smear, I’ll feed, grow, feed, and then refrigerate. Rather than have discard, what I end up with more often is excess active and ready to use starter, so I just make more dough lol

Sorry. I should have defined “R.O.”. We’re on a well that produces fairly decent water, but needs filtering and chlorinating. For added “drinkability”, we have a reverse osmosis filtration system that produces great tasting and looking water, but does not completely remove all traces of chlorine. (Strangely, though, using the RO water my first foray into sourdough bread-making was quite successful. Alas, I neglected it and it croaked on me. Starting over, then, I used a published recipe that includes unsweetened pineapple juice for the first 2-3 steps. All was looking good (and bubbly) until I moved on to the 4th phase with water, and not juice. At that point, all activity (fermentation) came to a screeching halt and no efforts to forge ahead worked to revive the patient. I buried it with honors and will try again this weekend with purified, pristine, and certified organic water (just kidding about the”organic” part – is there such a thing?). Happy baking, y’all!:sunglasses:

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@screaminmeme, the only reason I knew to use bottled pure spring water was because the good friend who gifted me a portion of her sourdough told me about the dangers of chlorine in our tap water at that time. I told her I had an RO filter and she was also the one who told me that it wouldn’t be sufficient to remove the chlorine. So honestly, that’s how I ended up immediately buying pure spring water to use when feeding and baking. My sourdough, Cyril, is a happy starter!

Leah

Thank you. Your article referenced in your reply is well-titled; I’m soon to find out if it’s applicable in my kitchen also.

6-20-19

Thank you. After reading your and the handful of other replies, I get the feeling that few if any regular bakers trouble to maintain more than one starter, let alone several. It sounds as if the chief concern is… will this formula reliably produce gas and raise dough? No one is mentioning significant differences in taste or texture based on starter recipe.

I think you should keep asking… definitely it’s done by some people.

Certainly feeding your starter different flour/wheat varieties can give it some different characteristics…well, speed of eating and gluten amount at least.

It’s just I don’t bother to play with this with multiple jars simultaneously. Except that one time I did “Starter Olympics” on Instagram: split my starter into two jars and fed one whole grain rye flour and the other whole grain red fife/turkey (can’t remember). Rye came in first place :slight_smile:

6-20-19

Thank you. I’m again grateful for the comment. This is my first determined foray into sourdough, by which I mean that I have made starters in the past but never followed through with actual loaf baking for various reasons. This time I am absolutely determined to get somewhere. At this writing I have 4 nascent starters fermenting, each from authors with differing philosophies. The ingredients and to some extent the schedules of development and feeding vary substantially among the four. I’m very interested to see which ones succeed and which fail and whether significant differences in outcome can be noticed. It’s a fair amount of work twice a day and tends to keep the kitchen untidy, with the thought that returning the work areas to complete law and order is hopeless when every 12 hours another work session occurs. Time will tell. Thanks again.

You’re welcome : ) sounds like neat experimenting.

Yep, the cycle of mess-clean-mess-clean from meal prep and baking is quite a workout.

I use one starter that I maintain in four jugs so I can bake 12 loaves in one day.

@mustangmike, TWELVE loaves in one day??? I got exhausted just READING that comment! LOL!

Leah

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Yep, a dozen in a day when I’m feeling ambitious…

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As you have noticed, there are a variety of approaches to doing sourdough but all based on a few similar concepts. My thought is that they are all “wrong” except for the approach that works best for you in your kitchen.

I don’t see the need for more than one starter. If you want to try a starter with a different flour composition, you can quickly develop the levain for the new bake by using a small amount of your existing starter. E.g. I do not bake with rye very often. But, when I do, I follow the Detmold 3 stage process, which begins with 5 grams of starter to develop the levain for the bake.

For a backup, I dehydrated some of my existing starter.

For maintenance, I rely on the fact that starter tends to be pretty forgiving.

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