Sourdough starter questions

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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Leah, you are an inspiration! For someone who gave up baking when my life became shower-work-sleep(a little)-shower. Now that I am retired, I would love to get back in the swing. I never made more than one starter, and got lazy about feeding so I lost it. Hearing of Cyril’s magic recovery I am about to try again. I admit the only starter(s) I made were with Red Star yeast. What brand of bottled water do you trust? We always used 2-day old tap water as safe for several aquariums. Fish seemed not to mind. It was Chicago water and so had chlorine, flouride, and probably other stuff.

Good morning, @Katnap! You made my heart sing this morning. I’m not sure anyone’s called me an inspiration before. I’m a very novice baker. I only started baking April 2018 and started keeping Cyril February 2018.

About the water – I do only buy bottled spring water. But yesterday I went to the store to get more and when I read the label (I read labels all the time) on it I found something that seemed a bit “funny” to me. I live in the desert southwest which is NOT known for spring water, right? Well, one of the bottles of spring water in the store said it was bottled from a spring in one of the municipal areas of the state. There aren’t any that I’m aware of! (I’m sure there are some in the northern part of the state, but not local to me) And another bottled water was bottled at a local dairy from a spring “in the area”! I live in a desert area! So now I’m actually on the hunt for bottled spring water I feel I can trust too. Two bigger names for spring water do come to mind: Arrowhead and Geyser. Make sure you buy just plain spring water, NOT-enhanced, NOT-flavored, NOT sparkling; just pure STILL spring water. Distilled water is completely devoid of minerals and will give you extremely flat-tasting bread. It’s not a good choice to bake with.

It’s my understanding, also, that municipal tap water should never be used because of the chlorine and the other chemicals, but especially chlorine which kills sourdough. No matter how long tap water sits out before use, it will probably never de-gas the chlorine enough. Fish might be ok with it, but sourdough is a micro-organism filled with bacteria and wild yeast spores (now doesn’t THAT sound appetizing?) that are even much more sensitive to their environment than fish are. Even a small amount of chlorine in the water, even undetectable to your nose, would be enough to kill your sourdough.

Katnap, I have never started a sourdough. My Cyril was gifted to me. He was grown in Douglas, Arizona by a good friend of mine who started him when she was living there simply by mixing up the organic AP flour of her choice and mixing it with spring water. Then she allowed that mixture of “capture” the wild yeast spores that were present in the air. Lo and behold, after time and proper feeding, etc., she had sourdough. When I was gifted a portion of Cyril I just brought him home and fed him my flour and spring water, letting him get used to living here and giving him time to get strong and healthy in his new home before baking with him. I’ve never started building a sourdough “from scratch.” Others on this forum have cultivated their own sourdoughs and hopefully they’ll chime in on this thread for you. Eric does have a video on this site about sourdough. That would be a great place to start.

BTW, Katnap, I grew up in Chicago!

Enjoy the journey!
Leah

You are delightful and YOU should write a book! Does Cyril’s name have any significance? I love, love Chicago, tho I am now in a suburb. I also spend a few months a year in Washington state where I could probably find a natural spring from the Olympic Mountains.

@Katnap, meet Cyril, my faithful happy starter! He was born (acquired) on February 12, 2018. Cyril has quite a story of his own. I have a lovely local friend named Ryan who has been baking sourdough breads for YEARS! When she and her family were living in Douglas, Arizona, she decided to develop a new starter from scratch. She developed her starter and was successfully using him for a number of years when she and her family moved back to my neck of the woods. When I determined that I wanted to learn to bake with sourdough I remembered she already was and asked her if she would be willing to gift me some of her sourdough for me to cultivate in my home. She was thrilled to. We met at her house for dinner and she handed me a mason jar with some of her sourdough in it. I asked if it had a name and what its story was. She told me that at first she called her sourdough “Feed-me-Seymore” which cracked me up no end! I had not only seen the movie “Little Shop of Horrors” but our daughter had been a competitive dancer and she performed a routine to that song years ago. After a bit of time, Ryan decided to import some original sourdough from San Francisco and add it to Feed-me-Seymore. At that time, because now her sourdough was decidedly different, she decided to change its name. The sourdough she imported from San Francisco had its own name but I don’t remember what it was. Ryan combined that name with Feed-me-Seymore and came up with “Cyril.” To honor Ryan’s generosity in gifting me a portion of her sourdough I decided to keep his name as Cyril. I suppose, technically, he’s “son of Cyril” but I just call him Cyril. I talk to him. I thank him for being my faithful starter and for giving me beautiful bread and I do tell him I love him; because I really do! He lives in my refrigerator unless I’m feeding him or shamelessly using him. I’ve been known to call him my “happy little starter” but as you can see from the amount of him in his jar, I’ve stopped calling him “little.” LOL!

BTW, I was born and grew up in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. So did my husband! I’ve visited Washington state. I was in Gig Harbor. It was stunning. And yes, finding local spring water from the mountains will definitely be wonderful.

'Night!
Leah

I think you may well be onto something. Water from a reverse osmosis (r.o.) treatment system can be pretty rough stuff in terms of physical properties and its effect on other materials (like metal plumbing components). In community water treatment it’s usually blended back with water of a lower purity to mitigate these effects. Water from a spring or well that is tested and certified potable without treatment would be worth trying, as it should not be antagonistic to living cultures, as what you’ve been using could conceivably be.

I do not maintain multiple starters, but I have had a number of different starters over the years. Rather than keeping several starters, I think the important thing is finding the right starter. After my wife accidentally discarded my 8-year old starter (she swore I told her to do it before we took a vacation immediately after I took a long business trip), I went through a number of new starters with very different results. I tried purchasing a couple of starters online, made a few from different types of flour, a friend of a friend gave me starter from her bread shop (which I swore was instant yeast because it was so fast and lacked flavor) and I eventually made a starter from Bob’s Red Mill organic dark rye flour. The rye starter was by far my favorite and I have stuck with that since.

If I were to keep multiple starters, however, it would be based on the flour type I wanted to use for a recipe rather than the bacteria in the starter. But I am happy to use a bit of rye starter in anything.

Note: No, I did not divorce my wife.

@SingKevin My Cyril is an organic AP flour based starter and he does well and seems to be thriving BUT I have read the virtues that other bakers have written about using a rye starter. Can you expound on what makes a rye starter so effective? Is it worth it for me to perhaps grow a rye starter in addition to my Cyril? I have Breadtopia whole rye berries in my freezer and a Mockmill. Could I just mill some and use it to start? Questions abound.

Leah

I wish I could write more eloquently about the virtues of my rye starter, but it is really just a few things:

  1. It was surprisingly easy to start. This gives me some comfort that I can replicate my starter easily in the future if I need to.
  2. It is a good active starter that tastes great. It provides a predictable rise, etc.
  3. I think adding a bit of rye flour to my bread (i.e., the starter) adds a nice flavor. That said, I rarely use 20% starter (more like 5-10% with a longer rise). My typical dough was have about 25-30% rye and some form of whole wheat (combined). Red Fife is my personal favorite to add.

7-15-19

I’m grateful for the comments of SingKevin and the continued interest/comments of Leah (among others) since I posted my first inquiry several weeks ago. Since that time I have started and maintained 5 separate sourdough starters from different recipes from different authors. For your interest, one starter was made from a combination of rye and AP flours; one from whole wheat and AP, one from boiled potatoes, AP flour and the water from boiling those potatoes, and one from AP flour alone. The fifth was a hodge-podge of whole wheat, rye and AP flours.

I noticed no particular problem developing any of these starters, which all behaved pretty much as their authors predicted from the start. None seemed much easier to cultivate than others.

To be honest, I have baked only with three of the five starters. As I knew before I began this project, I do not bake on a large enough scale to perform anything remotely like an objective trial of the different starters. That would require me to use multiple different recipes in which the only variable was the starter, with all other components held constant or as nearly constant as possible. It would also require taste-testing by multiple far more experienced individuals than I. I can’t say I have noticed any reproducible differences in outcomes so far, but my sample size is too limited to support any judgments.

This has been fun even though I will probably never reach useful evidence-based conclusions. One unanticipated result is that I have had to learn some recipes to deal with the substantial quantities of discarded starter this hobby generates, so as not to feel guilty about throwing away large amounts of nourishment.

That’s been fun too.