FAQ Starter Doctor

Ed. Note: This document formats the Starter Doctor FAQ into a hyperlinked html file. The email addresses are left for identifying the poster but may no longer be valid.

Subject: rec.food.sourdough FAQ.Starter.Doctor

Date: 11 Jun 2010 04:19:33 GMT

Last-modified: 2000/12/27

Version: 2.1

URL: http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/sourdoughfaqs.html

1 Introduction.

This FAQ is one of four FAQs posted regularly to rec.food.sourdough .

2 FAQ.Starter.Doctor.

HOW TO TELL WHEN A STARTER IS A STARTER

(Or, ALL You Wanted to Know about Sourdough Starters, but were Afraid to Ask)

Revised April 1999 by Brian Dixon <briandixon at hotmail.com>



Table of Contents

FAQ Starter Doctor

I. INTRODUCTION

II. STABILITY OF SOURDOUGH STARTERS

III. HOW TO USE THIS FAQ

IV. DEFINITIONS OF STARTER CONDITION

V. NEW STARTERS

A. Dead:

B. Flat:

C. Barely Living:

D. Healthy:

E. THE 1-TABLESPOON METHOD

F. THE 1-CUP METHOD

VI. FRESH STARTER

VII. OLD STARTER

VIII. NON-STANDARD STARTERS

A. Conversion:

B. No Re-Conversion Method:

C. Re-Conversion Method:

IX. POLLUTED STARTER

X. SUMMARY ON STARTER CARE AND STARTER REVIVING

XI. MAINTAINING AND PREPARING STARTERS

A. To prepare starter for use in non-bread

B. To prepare starter for use in bread recipes

C. Preparing alternative starters for bread recipes:

D. Preparing alternative starters for non-bread recipes:

XII. USING STARTER FOR COMMERCIAL BAKING

XIII. RESTARTING A CULTURE FROM A DRIED STARTER

XIV. STARTING A NEW STARTER FROM THE LOCAL ATMOSPHERE

XV. HOME-DRYING STARTERS

I. INTRODUCTION

What is a starter? It's a growth environment produced by a baker

that wild yeast and lactobacillus cultures like calling Home. It is a mixture of (usually) water and (usually) wheat flour in which these little beasties like to live and perform their magic (flavor, flavor, and more flavor!) This soupy mixture of critters, flour, and water is used for both flavor and leavening of various bread products that just can't be made in any other way. This environment, this starter mixture, is actually a symbiotic blend of microorganisms. Wild yeast is able to metabolize complex sugars and starches and helps to produce the food supply that the lactobacillus needs, and the lactobacillus produces an environment that prevents mold growth. Since molds and bacteria are two of nature's enemies, having the lactobacillus in the starter actually helps preserve it. Remember penicillin? It's a powerful antibacterial that originally came from ... mold!

The hard part of all this is that succeeding at this hobby requires knowledge that is hard to gain. But once learned, maintaining starters and baking with them is actually quite easy. That's where the information contained herein comes in. It was produced with the intent to help close the knowledge gap and to promote baking with sourdough. Why not? It'll save you money (don't have to buy yeast) and it tastes great!

When you are getting started, or when you are trying to troubleshoot a starter, then the first thing you need to do is accurately determine what state it is in. I've noticed that many people, including people with more experience, still have questions about determining what the current state a starter is in based upon visual clues. I'm sure everyone knows at least most of the following material, but there should be a little something for everyone in it. Neophyte sourdough bakers or people starting new starters should find the most use out of this information. Finally, although these techniques work well and are well-proven in my kitchen, they are by far not the only techniques which work. They are good guidelines though and the neophyte should at least try following them before experimenting with other methods.

Most books unfortunately, do not go into nearly enough detail when teaching us about starters, how they work, and how to care for them. One of the best books I've seen so far though, is the book called "Jake O'Shaughnessy's Sourdough Book" by Timothy Firnstahl (San Francisco Book Company, San Francisco, 1976 - now out of print). As a result of the lack of good information in cookbooks, people interested in baking with sourdough must learn everything the hard way through years of experience. Or, live out their baking lives with false knowledge and inaccurate concepts about how it all works.

I've been baking for 23+ years and most of that time has included baking with sourdough. I've started many starters from wild yeast found in the air of the area where I lived, and have started and restarted lots of starters from other sources, i.e. dry, fresh, seemingly dead, etc. And I have also helped a number of other people get their starters going ... usually right from the air in which they live. The following is a summary of my learnings and I hope that it's helpful to you as you go through the process of starting your starter, or just plain keeping your own good starter going.

Starting a starter from scratch can require some patience on your part, but if you stick with it, you will (not can, but will) succeed in producing a strong, vibrant starter that can be the joy of your kitchen for years on end. Maintaining and using sourdough starter is really quite easy once you've established an active fresh starter. And once there, then there is never any reason to add commercial yeast as a booster to your recipes.

Commercial yeast is not only unnecessary, but it will change the flavor of your sourdough products and will make it difficult to produce a good tasting stable starter with the characteristics that you expect, e.g. the taste of natural airborne yeast and the tang of properly matured lactobacillus in the starter (more on this below). I believe that the reason so many books suggest using commercial yeast in their recipes are two-fold: 1) the author of the book does not trust sourdough and wants to guarantee the success (ahem!) of the recipes in his/her book, and/or 2) the author of the book does not have a good understanding of sourdough or lacks enough experience with sourdough. The same goes for starters which begin their lives as mixtures of commercial yeast and flour(s). Real sourdough is defined as a combination of natural (non-hybrid) yeast plus one or more other microorganisms (lactobacilli) living together in a symbiotic growth environment. A symbiotic relationship is one in which each element with in the relationship provides something the other elements need and/or prevent things that would prevent the other from living as it should. In the case of sourdough, the relationship between the yeast and other microorganisms in the starter result in a stable, unchanging (for the most part) mixture of microorganisms in the starter.

And speaking of growth environments, that's really what it's all about. Bakers don't make sourdough starters. Wild yeast and lactobacillus make the starter, and bakers just facilitate the process by providing a great growth environment!

II. STABILITY OF SOURDOUGH STARTERS

The stability of the sourdough starter symbiotic relationship determines the stability of the starter in whatever location the starter is being maintained. In other words, when you move a starter to a new area, it will become bombarded by new strains of wild yeast and lactobacillus that are native to the new area. If the new microorganisms are able to live within the symbiotic environment that the Russian sourdough starter provides, then the starter will change characteristics (flavor, usually) as the local microorganisms multiply in the starter. Any and all microorganisms found in your starter are open to changes in relative concentration if the local microorganisms are 1) different and 2) can survive in your starter. It is even possible that the original species present in your starter (yeast and the lactobacilli) may slowly die off, being replaced by the species in the local area. There is no guarantee that your starter will stay the same as the original, but there is also no guarantee it will change.

For this reason, it is suggested that if you wish to maintain a special starter in its original form, that you immediately dry and save much of the original starter as soon as you can after receiving it (see NOTE below). For example, the Russian starter mentioned above could have been fed once, to make it fresh and active, then dried and frozen in multiple Ziploc bags. When it is noticed that the flavor is drifting (or any other characteristics are changing), then you can toss the changed starter and restart some fresh from one of the frozen bags. Every so often you should replenish the freezer supply with freshly restored starter. This technique can result in your special starter maintaining its original characteristics for a much longer time. But, since you do need to feed the starter at least once before drying and freezing the stuff, and the drying starter is exposed to the local air, even this technique will not guarantee that the special starter will always be exactly the same as it was when you first got it.

The best technique is to establish a source for the starter in the area where it originally came from.

Aside: At this time, most home drying methods are only successful some of the time ( more successful sometimes and less successful other times. "Successful" means the dried starter is restorable to an exact duplicate of the original ( in flavor and other characteristics. Failures usually raise dough ok, but lack the sourness of the original due to the lactobacillus cultures dying during the drying and storing processes. Drying and storing sourdough starters is still somewhat of a new science. Sourdoughs International (SI) has figured out the process, but for business reasons must keep it proprietary. Other commercially available dry starters that I've seen, including a popular one (with tourists) that associates itself with the gold mining industry, are complete failures. To my knowledge, the best ways of storing sourdough starters (without needing feeding and care) include the drying of starter that is past its prime, and the blending of liquid starter with glycerin, then freezing. Wild yeasts actually change state when frozen, and are able to withstand it better. But freezing temperatures are a harsh environment for lactobacillus and it slowly dies off while in the freezer, hence the bland tasting starter that you get from a failed attempt at starter storage. For this reason, it's also a better bet to allow your starter to ferment past its primer prior to freezing. The yeast may have suffered some, but that's ok. It'll bounce back when it finds itself back in a good environment. And going 'past prime' with the starter tends to maximize the concentration of the lactobacillus, resulting in a larger population and better odds going into the freezer. Blending the starter with glycerin helps protect the cell walls of the yeast and lactobacillus from the damage that occurs during freezing and can also result in successfully stored starter.

III. HOW TO USE THIS FAQ

Although I will briefly mention the reasoning behind my suggested actions, I will not give more than just a brief biological reason for the behavior of your sourdough starter. The emphasis is on observable qualities of your starter which will enable you to judge it better and consequently become better at utilizing it.

My suggestion is to read the definitions of terms for starters in different states [conditions], then from those definitions, go to the appropriate section of this text referring to the state your starter is in, and follow the directions given there. For example, if you read the following definitions and find that your starter is a "Non-Standard Starter", then do a text search on "Non-Standard Starter" and read the text supplied at that location.

Following the instructional passages below are some techniques for using your starter which should result in fresh, active starter any time you want it.

Also included below is a technique which helps guarantee a consistent, stable, active starter and a way to produce alternative styles of starter on an as-needed basis. For example, if you desire a rye starter, or a whole wheat starter, or whatever kind of starter suits you, then this technique will allow you the flexibility of having those starters available when you want them, without having to maintain separate rye or whole wheat or whatever type of starter in addition to your normal starter. This technique does not mean you can convert strains of yeast and lactobacillus though, e.g. from Alaskan to Bahrainian to Russian (etc.). You must maintain separate starters for that, i.e. dry the starters you aren't currently using and restart them later. Notice that this technique also facilitates commercial production of sourdough products since it multiplies the starter volume much more (than other techniques) during the feeding process.

IV. DEFINITIONS OF STARTER CONDITION

In all of the following text, I refer to starters using the following terms. These terms are not absolute, and starters can move from one category to another depending on treatment of the starter:

Term Description/Possible Cause

New Starter Any starter started from any dry source (commercial or homemade), or the air, that has not yet qualified as "fresh starter." This is not the same as "old" or "dead" starter, because these two conditions do not generally follow the same sequence of recovery stages.

Fresh Starter Starter which has been recently demonstrated to be vibrant and active. Starter in this category can raise plain white (french or white bread) dough to a "more than doubled" volume in less than 2 1/2 hours after a single proofing (feeding) period, i.e. remove the starter from the refrigerator and proof once, then try using it. Starter which has been refrigerated for less than 5 days or so that was "fresh" before refrigerating is also fresh starter. Old or Dead Starter Starter which has been previously demonstrated to be "fresh" but which is no longer fresh since it cannot be demonstrated that it can raise dough after a single proof as described above. Risings which take longer than 2 1/2 hours indicate a starter that is either "new" or "old" depending on the prior life history of the starter. Note that in very nearly all cases of "old" or "dead" starters, that they can be revived back into "fresh" starters using the techniques described below. I have heard tell of starters which haven't been fed for six months being successfully revived using the given technique.

Non-Standard Starter Starter which contains ingredients other than white flour and plain water. Some starters do use blends or alternative flours, and that's ok. Some starters use other ingredients such as a spoon of sugar (ok, but not suggested). Some starters also use alternative liquids such as potato water or milk. These would all be labeled 'Non-Standard Starters' in this document.

Polluted Starter Starter which contains ingredients added by you or by nature, which are not normal to your starter. Examples include baking powder, salt, oils, eggs, or any other baking ingredients. Also, molds and other dark colored microorganisms not normal to the natural symbiotic relationship that your starter normally maintains. These other microorganisms usually affect appearance, smell, and (especially) flavor. Normal ingredients are flour(s), water, potato water or potatoes, and possibly milk or milk products. Ingredients other than plain white flour and plain water change the habitat you are maintaining for your sourdough microorganisms and may or may not be wanted according to the characteristics you want your starter to exhibit.

V. NEW STARTERS

The most confusing of starters, new starters, go through stages not usually seen in well established or fresh starters. This one fact is left out of every book I've seen which entertain the topic of sourdough, yet it is the most important thing a sourdough neophyte needs to know! It's confusing for a neophyte to have to compare a new starter to a set of standards written for well established starters. The least we can do is provide some information that'll help him/her understand where their starter is, and how well it's doing!

There are basically 2 ways to produce what I am calling a "new starter." The first is to revive a dried starter (containing dry lactobacillus and yeast spores) into a living liquid starter. The second is beginning a new starter from the microorganisms in the local atmosphere where you live. When in the situation of having a new starter on hand, it is important to realize that it usually takes some time to transform the starter into a usable, vibrant, fresh starter (which is much more abuse resistant and stable). The process is quite often reiterative, often requiring more than a week or two before it can be used, and possibly months before it is truly robust, vibrant, and abuse resistant. But just be patient. Very little effort is required on your part. It's primarily just a waiting game! It is also important to realize that it is best to not make any bread recipes with the starter until you are sure that you have transformed it into the vibrant starter described. But it is perfectly acceptable to use your "new starter" to make pancakes and waffles, or perhaps recipes which use a booster such as baking powder to help raise them, i.e. most biscuit recipes.

If you have not yet begun your new starter (dried or from the air), instructions for doing so follow near the end of this text. I'm assuming that at this time that you have already attempted to start your new starter, but it is not yet a vibrant, fresh starter. Note that it is best to begin a new starter in a clear, glass bowl, so you can examine the amount of bubbles present in the starter below the surface. Also note that starters that are proofing should be prepared so that the consistency of the starter is not too liquid or too thick. I like to call this the consistency of mud since it most resembles what sloppy mud looks like. This is typically a little thicker than normal pancake batter, but still liquid enough so bubbles can pass through it with no problems. This thickness results in an optimum mixture of liquid (for mobility), food, and oxygen, which the little yeasties require to grow well.

Ok, let's get started. Since new starters have a somewhat unique set of stages that they go through, the first thing to do is to determine exactly what stage your starter is in. Replenish your new starter using 1 cup of starter, 1 1/2 cups (or so) white all-purpose flour, and 1 cup of 85 degree tap water. Let it proof at exactly 85 degrees for exactly 12 hours, then use the following information to determine what stage your new starter is at.

The stages that new starters typically go through are (not necessarily in this order):

A. Dead:

No visible bubbles on the surface or below. And you believe you have have killed the starter. The starter may have been subjected to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If your new starter was exposed to these temperatures before the above suggested 12-hour proof then it is probably what I would call a dead starter. But save it anyway. There may be remnants of the original yeast and lactobacillus still there that can be revived. Don't give up yet!

B. Flat:

No visible bubbles, but you believe you have done nothing that could have killed the yeast, i.e. the starter has not been subjected to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or so. It's possible that you neglected to feed the starter for so long that it appears that all life has gone out of it. Quite often, starter in this stage is quite sour. And equally as often, starter in this stage may be very mild. The starter may have lactobacilli growing in it (sour smell) but the yeast has not taken off yet, or nothing at all is growing in the flour/water mixture yet.

C. Barely Living:

Visible bubbles exist, but the starter has no frothy layer of bubbles on the surface of the starter. Also, bubbles beneath the surface are not plentiful. It's likely that a layer of hooch, a benign greyish or yellowish, mostly clear, layer of water and alcohol, formed on top of the starter even though it was not proofed for more than 12 hours. Stirring the starter with a wooden spoon, then drawing the spoon out of the starter and examining the starter clinging to the back of the spoon shows only a few bubbles in the starter. Note that one of the key symptoms of starter in this stage is the layer of hooch which mysteriously appears "early," ( vibrant, fresh starter usually requires 24 to 48 hours of proofing before any hooch appears. Hooch appearing after being refrigerated is another story, so ignore refrigerator hooch for now. Other symptoms of this stage include slow rise times ( 3-6 or more hours to raise a bread recipe to double (if it ever does double). Second risings are quite often unsuccessful and the dough appears 'dead'. The dough may have a dead feel to it and tend to flatten out by itself while rising, even though you kneaded in enough flour and the gluten was well formed. The starter itself may also have a gelatinous feel to it, rather than maintaining a smoother, pancake batter-like consistency. Starter in this stage has not stabilized the symbiotic relationship among the microorganisms present, i.e. the ratio of yeast and the various lactobacilli has not stabilized and the starter is not ready to use (except for pancakes).

D. Healthy:

The starter has a nice, smooth consistency. It is filled with tiny bubbles throughout the starter above and below the surface. It typically has a layer of frothy foam covering most of the proofed starter. The froth typically appears as early as 8 hours into the proofing period and lasts until about 18 hours of proofing. Stirring the starter obviously releases a lot of gas (smells good). Examining the starter clinging to a spoon shows that the starter is chock-full of little bubbles. The starter quite often appears puffed up when the proof is done and drops down to a lower level upon stirring. As a final check, starter that you expect to be classified as healthy, should be able to raise plain white bread dough in 2 1/2 hours or less. It's probably not worth experimenting with raising dough until all of the above characteristics of healthy starter are present. Congratulations! If your starter is like this, you can pronounce it fresh, vibrant, and healthy! It's ready for bread recipes and will now be much more resilient to abuse and mishandling and should be very reliable now. Skip the rest of the instructions for "new starters".

What should you do if you have "dead", "flat", or "barely living" starter? Begin the process of transforming it to a fresh, healthy starter. I personally do not believe in throwing away "dead" starter, since it typically can be revived from the few yeast and lactobacilli that probably still exist. If restoring dead starter takes longer than a week to see bubbles appearing in it (flat, barely living or otherwise) then you've probably started a new starter from local microorganisms. If so, and your starter was a special strain, you'll probably want some of the original starter to start over with rather than expecting this revived version to be the same as that special starter. Remember that you have probably not really killed your starter unless you subjected it to high temperatures for long enough to thoroughly heat the starter above about 100F or so.

Here's the "get it going" reiterative process I referred to:

E. THE 1-TABLESPOON METHOD

1. Using 1 tablespoon of starter (discard unused portion or save a little in the refrigerator in case of an emergency), 1 cup 75 degrees water, and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour, proof for exactly 24 hours at 72 to 77 degrees. It's very important to maintain these precise temperatures and to proof for exactly 24 hours.

2. Examine the starter to determine what stage it's in. Assuming you didn't overheat it, it should be "flat", "barely living", or "healthy". Remember the clues to identifying non-healthy starter ( low number of bubbles, early hooch, gelatinous consistency, no froth on top, or any 2 or more of these symptoms. If your starter is "healthy," you're done.

3. If your starter is not healthy yet, stir it well and refrigerate it for no less than 12 hours.

4. Remove the starter from the refrigerator and go back to step 1. This process needs to be repeated a few times ( usually around 4 or 5 times or so unless you were lucky. A lot of the home dried starters revive MUCH quicker than this.

Here's an alternative process you can use (possibly better, if the above process doesn't seem to work well for you):

F. THE 1-CUP METHOD

1. Using 1 cup of starter, 1 cup of 85 degrees tap water (don't worry about minerals or fluoride), and approximately 1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour, proof your starter for 12 hours at 85 degrees. Maintenance of temperature is very important.

2. Examine the starter to determine what stage it is. Assuming you didn't overheat it, it should be "flat", "barely living", or "healthy." If your starter is "healthy," you're done. Remember the clues to identifying non-healthy starter: low number of bubbles, early hooch, gelatinous consistency, no froth on top, or any two or more of these symptoms.

3. If your starter isn't healthy yet, stir it well and refrigerate it for no less than 12 hours.

4. Remove the starter from the refrigerator and go to step 1). This iterative process needs to be repeated a few times ( usually around 4 or 5 times or so unless you were lucky. A lot of the home dried starters revive MUCH quicker than this.

VI. FRESH STARTER

Fresh starter is characterized by a nice smooth, pancake batter-like consistency, lots of bubbles in freshly proofed starter, froth on top of the starter, no hooch at the end of 12 hours of proofing, and rise times for bread recipes of 2 1/2 hours or less. Nothing further needs to be said. This starter is your long term successful starter and should be protected with your husband's/wife's life! It is now very abuse resistant and you can get away with (although it's not suggested) less accurate temperature control during proofing and for the water added to the starter, and less careful control of the actual proofing period. I believe that the only way to mess up a healthy starter is to heat it up to an excessive temperature (greater than 100 degrees) for too long. Nearly anything else will be ok, and even if you seem to have killed it off somewhat, one or two well controlled proofs should bring it back to life. You can get away with feeding it only once very two weeks or so too (but feeding it weekly is better).

VII. OLD STARTER

Old starter is characterized by a general lack of life due to poor feeding habits or too long of a time since the last feeding. The cure is simple. If a single, normal proof shows no drastic improvement, do the following:

1. Using 1 tablespoon of the well stirred starter (discard the remainder or save a little in the refrigerator in case of an emergency), 1 1/2 cups of 75 degrees water, and 2 cups of white all purpose flour, proof for exactly 24 hours at 72-77 degrees.

2. Examine the starter to determine whether or not it is healthy and fresh. Refer to the section on "fresh starter" or the table of starter stages above for a description of fresh, healthy starter. If the starter is healthy, you are finished.

3. If the starter is not healthy yet, stir well and refrigerate for no less than 12 hours.

4. Remove the starter from the refrigerator and go back to step 1. Old starter may need to go through this process as many as 5 or 6 times before it becomes healthy again ( don't give up even if it takes longer than this. There are very few starters that cannot be restored from this type of abuse.

VIII. NON-STANDARD STARTERS

If you have a non-standard starter as defined above, and it's healthy, then keep on keepin' on. You're doing fine.

A. Conversion:

If you have a non-standard starter which is not healthy. Then convert the starter to a standard starter by using the "Sweetening the Pot with 1 Tablespoon" method below to create a standard, white flour only starter. Use 1 tablespoon of your nonstandard starter to begin the process. If the starter is not very healthy after a single treatment, then refrigerate the starter for no less than 12 hours, and sweeten the pot again. If the starter is very unhealthy, you may have to repeat the process up to 5 or 6 (or more?) times. Each time you repeat the process, use 1 tablespoon of starter from the last run and discard the rest. Once you've restored the health of your starter by converting it to a standard starter as described, you may pursue either of 2 methods for converting back to the nonstandard starter that you started with:

B. No Re-Conversion Method:

In the first method, you never really do convert back. Rather, you just maintain your standard starter using standard replenishing techniques as described below. Then when you wish to have that special starter for a particular recipe, then use 1 tablespoon of your standard starter and follow the directions for sweetening the pot, but instead of using plain, white flour and plain water, substitute your special flour(s) and liquid(s). For example, a rye starter can be made in one day by taking a single tablespoon of standard starter and mixing it with 1 1/2 cups rye flour and 1 cup water and proofing for 24 hours at 72-77 degrees.

C. Re-Conversion Method:

In the second method, you use 1 tablespoon of the newly refreshed standard starter, then blend it with your special flour(s) and liquid(s), and proof for 24 hours at 72-77 degrees. Then from this time on, continue to feed and replenish your special starter with your special ingredients. If your starter should ever get unhealthy again, then just follow the above procedure to revive it again.

Try to determine why your starter is becoming unhealthy.

Are you carefully controlling the proofing temperature so the proof is not actually under/over proofing the starter? Under-proof prevents the maintenance of high levels of yeast and lactobacilli in your starter. Over-proofing results in yeast and lactobacilli dying from too much alcohol or acidity in the starter.

Are you adding sugar(s) or other simple carbohydrates that cause the starter to proof too fast? The problem with this is that the mixture of 'food' (simple and complex sugars and starches) needs to be correct for the blend of microorganisms in the starter. Giving it too much food that is easily metabolized by yeast can cause your starter to proof too quickly, resulting in elevated alcohol levels at the end of the normal proofing time. This can kill off yeast prematurely and result in a weaker starter. Or, if you use the starter as soon as it's ready in this case, you are probably not allowing the lactobacillus to reach maximum population levels. This results in a starter that works well, but is gradually becoming bland over time. I recommend feeding with only plain, unbleached all-purpose flour. Note that you can feed with 'best for bread' flours that have higher levels of gluten in them too, but they tend to make the starter clumpier or more gelatinous. I prefer the manageability of a starter fed with all-purpose flour, and only use bread flour for the remainder of the recipe when making bread.

If your starter care passes these tests, then you may consider the possibility that the mix of flour(s) and liquid(s) that you are using does not sufficiently provide the correct blend of food for long term maintenance of your nonstandard starter. In that case, I suggest the first method above for maintaining your nonstandard starter where you actually just keep a normal white flour and water starter, and convert to your nonstandard type with the 1-Tablespoon method when necessary.

IX. POLLUTED STARTER

Polluted starter can be revived, even though it may be all dark, super moldy, or whatever. Do not stir polluted starter. If mold exists, carefully scrape or spoon as much off as you can. Remove a couple of tablespoons of the best part of the starter to a clean, scalded container. If you plan to use the original container for starter again, wash it thoroughly with warm soapy water and carefully scald it inside and out by pouring boiling water into and on it. Be careful to prevent burns! Hot pads or gloves soak up boiling water and hold it on your skin even longer than spilling it alone would do. If your starter only qualified as "polluted" due to the inclusion of any of the baking ingredients listed above, it will only be necessary to wash the starter container with warm, soapy water. Scalding never hurts (unless you scald yourself!), but it's more optional in this case. In any case, follow the following directions to restore your starter:

1. Using 1 of the 2 tablespoons you rescued from the polluted starter, add 1 cup of 75 degrees water, 1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour, and proof for exactly 24 hours at 72-77 degrees.

2. Refrigerate for no less than 12 hours, then repeat step 1.

3. The proof-refrigerate cycle should be repeated at least once. Use your own judgment. If the starter was unusually dark or contained mold, I'd suggest doing it at least 4 or 5 times to be sure the offending organisms are eradicated. If the starter merely contained other baking ingredients, then a single 24-hour proof is probably enough. Each cycle is started by using 1 tablespoon from the last cycle.

X. SUMMARY ON STARTER CARE AND STARTER REVIVING

I have personally tested many different techniques in replenishing, reviving, and starting new starters, and have found the above techniques to be the most universally successful and easy to perform. The only problem I've had is that sometimes summer temperatures prevent maintaining approximately 75 degrees temperatures for a full 24-hour proof period. In that case, the next best thing to do is to follow the same iterative process, but use the 1-Cup Method and 12 hour proofs at 85 degrees instead. If it's even warmer than that ( have fun!

XI. MAINTAINING AND PREPARING STARTERS

Always cover proofing bowls with plastic wrap and poke a couple of holes in it so gases can escape. Always use non-corrosive bowls, containers, and utensils (glass, wood, stainless steel). If the temperature in the proofing area varies much at all, wrap the proofing bowl in a towel to help maintain an even temperature and try to find a better place to proof the starter.

A. To prepare starter for use in non-bread

i.e. pancakes, waffles, or muffins, recipes, here are 2 practical methods:

* Combine 1 cup starter, 1 cup 80-85 degrees water, and 1 1/2 cups white all-purpose flour in a non-corrosive bowl. For recipes requiring greater lift from the yeast, proof for 8 to 12 hours at 85 degrees. For non-critical recipes (pancakes & waffles) or recipes using the starter only for flavor, proof at 85 degrees for 8 (mild flavor, more active) to 48 (strongest flavor, weaker action) hours. For the non-critical recipes, you may proof at cooler temperatures, i.e. 72-80 degrees, if that is more convenient. Pancakes work fine using even the longest proofing period.

* Concurrent to the above proofing, replenish the remaining starter in the starter container by adding 1 cup of 80-85 degrees water and 1 cup all-purpose flour and mix well. Proof at 80-85 degrees for 8 to 12 hours. Refrigerate.

* Note that this method allows the creation of alternative or 'special' starters for use in individual recipes. For example, throw some cracked wheat into the starter for the recipe, but replenish the starter in the starter container with plain white, all-purpose flour as usual.

> OR <

* Combine 1 cup starter, 1 1/2 cups 80-85 degrees water, and 2 cups white all-purpose flour in a non-corrosive bowl. Proof at 85 degrees for 8 to 12 hours.

* Return approximately 1 cup of the starter to the starter container before using the starter in a recipe. Refrigerate the starter in the starter container.

* Note that this method does not allow making alternative starters for individual recipes since the addition of alternative ingredients to the starter (for the recipe) would pollute the starter going back into the starter container.

B. To prepare starter for use in bread recipes

here are the procedures:

* If the starter has not been used in more than 3 or 4 days, you may wish to replenish the starter once (1 cup starter, 1 cup water, 1 1/2 cups flour, 12 hours at 85 degrees) to ensure the starter is really fresh before preparing for a bread recipe. Most healthy starters are fairly flexible, though.

* Use the following table for amounts, and blend together the starter, bread flour, and 80-85 degrees water. Measure the starter and water carefully. The suggested amount of flour is only a guideline. Blend enough in to make the starter the consistency of mud (a little thicker than pancake batter):

Bread

Loaves

Flour

Water

Starter

1

1 cup

1 cup

1 tablespoon

2

2 cups

2 cups

1 tablespoon + 1 tsp

3

3 cups

3 cups

2 tablespoons

* Proof for exactly 24 hours at 72-77 degrees.

* Concurrent to the above proof, replenish the original starter by combining 1 tablespoon starter (discard most of the rest), 1 cup warm water, and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour in another bowl or in the starter container itself. Proof for 24 hours at 72-77 degrees.

* Refrigerate the starter in the starter container.

* Note that the "1-Tablespoon Method" described allows the instant creation of 'special' starters such as whole wheat or rye. See "Creating Alternate Starters" below.

> OR <

* Combine flour, water, and starter using the amounts in the following table according to the size of the recipe you are going to make. Note that because I suggest using all-purpose flour in the following proof, that you should use bread flour for the rest of the flour in the recipe (not counting non-wheat flours). Again note that the starter and water should be measured carefully, but the amount of flour suggested is only a guideline. Blend in enough to make the starter the consistency of mud (a little thicker than pancake batter):

All-Purpose

Loaves

Flour

Water

Starter

1

1 cups

1 cup

1 cup

2

2 cups

2 cups

1 cup

3

3 cups

3 cups

1 cup

* Proof for 12 hours at 85 degrees.

* Return about 1 cup of the starter to the starter container before using the starter in a recipe.

* Refrigerate the starter container.

* Note that this method does not allow the creation of alternative starters on an as needed basis.

C. Preparing alternative starters for bread recipes:

* If the starter has not been used in more than 3 or 4 days, you may wish to replenish the starter once (1 cup starter, 1 cup water, 1 1/2 cups flour, 12 hours at 85 degrees) to ensure the starter is really fresh before preparing for a bread recipe. Most healthy starters are fairly flexible, though.

* Use the following table for amounts, and blend together the starter, bread flour (if wheat) and/or other flour(s), and 80-85 degree liquid (water, milk, or whatever). Measure the starter and liquids carefully. The suggested amount of flour(s) is only a guideline. Blend enough in to make the starter the consistency of mud (a little thicker than pancake batter). It is better to add the specific amount of non-wheat flours that you intend to use, then use wheat flour to adjust the consistency:

Loaves

Flour

Liquid

Starter

1

1 cup

1 cup

1 tablespoon

2

2 cups

2 cups

1 tablespoon + 1 tsp

3

3 cups

3 cups

2 tablespoons

* Proof for exactly 24 hours at 72-77 degrees.

* Concurrent to the above proof, replenish the original starter by combining 1 tablespoon (discard most of the rest), 1 cup warm water, and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour in another bowl or in the starter container itself. Proof for 24 hours at 72-77 degrees.

* Refrigerate the starter in the starter container.

D. Preparing alternative starters for non-bread recipes:

* Combine 1 cup starter, 1 cup 80-85 degrees water, and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and/or other ingredients (throw in some cracked wheat, or substitute part of the flour with cornmeal or rye, etc.)

* Proof the starter for 8 to 12 hours (mild flavor, more active) or up to 48 hours (strongest flavor, weakest action) at 85 degrees. Recipes requiring the yeast action should either use shorter proofs, or cooler (72-80 degrees) proofs if proofing for a longer period.

* Concurrent to the above, replenish the starter in the container with 1 cup 80-85 degree water and 1 cup all-purpose flour. Proof for 8 to 12 hours at 85 degrees. Refrigerate.

XII. USING STARTER FOR COMMERCIAL BAKING

Preparing starter for use in a commercial kitchen, i.e. volume production (use a similar technique for preparing volumes of alternative starter types):

If the starter has not been used in more than 3 or 4 days, you may wish to replenish the starter once to ensure the starter is really fresh before preparing for a bread recipe. For each 2 loaves of bread to be baked:

* Combine 1 tablespoon starter, 1 1/2 cups 80-85 degree water, and 2 cups bread flour in a non-corrosive bowl. Remember to measure the starter and water carefully and then to add enough flour to make the starter the consistency of mud. The amount of flour suggested is a guideline for planning purposes.

* Proof for exactly 24 hours at 72-77 degrees.

With the original starter,

* Concurrent to the above proof, replenish the original starter by combining 1 tablespoon (discard most of the rest), 1 1/2 cups warm water, and 2 cups all-purpose flour in another bowl or in the starter container itself. Proof for 24 hours at 72-77 degrees.

* For maintaining larger amounts of starter, use multiples of the above amounts for replenishing the starter. For example, if you normally use 64 tablespoons (4 cups) of starter to produce enough starter for 128 loaves of bread, then you need to maintain at least 4 1/2 cups of starter, so you'd be best off to triple the above replenishing procedure by using 3 tablespoons starter, 4 1/2 cups water, and about 6 cups flour. That's a LOT of bread from only 4 cups of starter! (So THAT'S how they do it in San Francisco!)

XIII. RESTARTING A CULTURE FROM A DRIED STARTER

Restarting a starter from a dried culture this qualifies the starter as a "New Starter," so you should refer to the appropriate section above after following the procedure below:

* In a 1 cup measuring cup which has been warmed to around 90 degrees by flowing water, combine 1 cup of 90 degree water and the dried culture (1 or 2 tablespoons of powder, more is not necessary).

* Mix well and let the dried culture soak for about 30 minutes.

* Add 1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour and mix well being sure to incorporate as much air into the mixture as possible.

* Proof for 12 to 18 hours.

* Refer to the section above on "new starters" to judge the state of your newly revived starter and follow the directions found there.

XIV. STARTING A NEW STARTER FROM THE LOCAL ATMOSPHERE

Starting a new starter from the local atmosphere (try it, you'll like it!):

* Combine in a GLASS bowl, 1 1/2 cups warm water (80-85 degrees) and 2 cups of white all-purpose flour. Use no sugars and especially, use no commercial yeasts! Mix well being sure to incorporate a lot of air into the mixture. Commercial yeasts merely result in the cultivation of commercial yeasts! It won't be sour (unless you're quite lucky) and it won't behave like normal sourdough so none of the above starter usage and maintenance instructions will apply! Some people have reported that their commercial-yeast started starters do get sour eventually, but that just means the starter has finally converted to the natural microorganisms (including the slower growing natural yeast). You might as well start it out right in the first place and avoid months of using so-so starter while you're waiting for it to get good. Your sourdough will only be sour if your starter allows the lactobacillus cultures to reach their highest levels, and that can only happen with wild yeast. Commercial yeast has been bred and crossbred for speed, lack of flavor ... oops, I mean 'neutral flavor', and for manufacturability. Just like store bought tomatoes, it "looks good, but tastes bad."

* Place the bowl in an 80-85 degree location. Leave uncovered so the natural microorganisms can settle on the surface. Fan air onto the surface using a magazine or something similar. This helps to drive more microorganisms (yeast and lactobacilli) into the surface. Grapes (I prefer red seedless) crushed to remove their insides can also be mixed into the starter. For whatever reason, grapes seem to breed wild yeast and lactobacillus quite well, so their skins tend to carry a lot of it on them.

* Let the mixture proof for 24 hours. Stir the mixture well once or twice during the 24-hour first proof. Before and after each stirring, fan the surface with air again.

* At the end of the 24 hours, examine for bubbles (use a glass bowl). It's unlikely that there will be any yet, but you never know. Stir well and fan again.

* Repeat the 24-hour proof as described, including the brisk stirring and fanning.

* At 48 hours total time, once again examine, stir, and fan the mixture. Continue to leave uncovered. Any skin that forms should be stirred back in as soon as it is noticed so no microorganisms will be kept out of the starter by the dry skin. Remove 1/2 cup of the starter, and replace it with 1/2 cup warm water and about 1 cup white all-purpose flour.

* Continue this 48 hour cycle very carefully until it's obvious that the first bubbles are definitely appearing in the starter. Then, refer to the section entitled "new starter" for further instructions. It typically takes from 3 to 7 or 8 days for the starter to begin to work. Late spring, summer, or early fall are best times to do this. Winter air may not contain enough yeast spores to get it going, but it's always fun to try. One of my best starters ever (best tasting, best raising ability) was started during December one year in the Willamette valley area of Oregon. Starters that I started in that same area and same time of year after that never did as well as that first one! The raised the bread fine, but the taste of that original one was out of this world! But don't count on having starter for bread when starting a new starter like this because it takes about 3 or 4 weeks minimum for the entire process of developing a vibrant, healthy starter suitable for your recipes.

XV. HOME DRYING STARTERS

Drying starters results in a powder suitable for long term, no-care, storage of starters, or for convenient mailing to friends or relatives.

Dried starters may be kept for long periods of time outside the freezer, and even longer when stored in the freezer. The freezer is the best place for dried starters.

Since yeast has the natural survival mechanism of being able to sporulate upon drying or refrigeration, it tends to survive quite well when stored in this manner. The 'sour' in the starter though, is from lactobacilli. Lactobacilli do not have a natural mechanism for surviving drying or refrigeration (or freezing).

Before relying on any dried starter for maintaining the original starter and all of its characteristics, it is best to test it. That is, dry enough starter so you have numerous 2-tablespoon packets of dried starter, then restore one of the packets and compare its qualities to the original. Taste and smell are good enough tests. Rising time is a tempting test, but remember that given proper feeding, a restored starter can easily resume the raising of bread just as well as it did prior to the freezer storage. No need to prepare an entire recipe. If the 'sour' is missing, or the powder doesn't easily restore, then another try at drying is in order. Once you've successfully dried the starter, place it in the freezer or mail it immediately.

The following technique is thought to work in most cases. Note that the technique may actually diminish yeast concentrations while at the same time maximizing lactobacilli concentrations. This is purposeful since it will also maximize the chance that the lactobacilli will survive the drying process.

Here's what to do:

* Using 1 cup of your starter, replenish this starter as described in the instructions above, but rather than proofing for only 8 to 12 hours, proof the starter for about 18 hours at 85 degrees.

* To restore the starter in the starter container, just follow the normal, unmodified, replenishing directions above.

* Tear off a piece of wax paper about three feet long, and lay it on your working surface, making sure the wax side is up.

* Place a few tablespoons of the over-proofed starter on the wax paper near one end and spread thinly across the wax paper using a dough blade or flat knife.

* Allow to dry at room temperature overnight.

* When dry, the wax paper will probably have curled up. Just press the wax paper flat to free the dried starter from the paper. Place the flakes of dry starter into a bowl. Scrape or crack off any remaining starter into the bowl. Using your fingers, crunch up the starter until it is a fine powder.

* Place 2 tablespoons of the dried powder in individual plastic bags. I prefer the zip-type sandwich bags available at most grocery stores.

* Test the newly dried starter by restoring it as described above. If it resembles the original starter fairly closely, then you're in business...store the rest of the packages in the freezer. If the starter does not resemble the original, repeat the drying process and try again. I have heard about, but have not tested, people having good success with even longer proofs at lower temperatures. For example, if you're not having good success, you might try proofing at 75 to 80 F for 20 to 24 hours prior to the drying process. If you discover an exceptionally good way to dry starter, please email the idea to me at briandixon at hotmail.com.

This FAQ was written by Brian Dixon <briandixon at hotmail.com> and posted by Darrell Greenwood <darrell.faq at telus.net>. The sourdough Web site is at <http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/sourdoughfaqs.html>

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Edited 10/14/16 by Sourdough@CarlsFriends.net (Mary Buckingham) format html file, corrected spelling


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