The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Sourdough Starter from the frig. Help!

Dougherella's picture

Sourdough Starter from the frig. Help!

I am starting to learn how to make sourdough bread. I have been learning from a YouTube channel called Gluten Morgan. I have questions about the starter. I made it in 5 days, and the first loaf tasted great. I put the starter in the frig and then pulled it out a couple of days later to make a new loaf. I removed some from the jar and let it warm up. I did see some bubbles, but the float test failed. I added more four and water then waited overnight and still had a fail. Then I set it in a warmer place and got lots of bubbles. It was pretty runny by then, but it still failed the float test.  Any advice would be helpful.

tpassin's picture

I'll point out two things.  First, five days is not much time for a new starter to stabilize and age into a mature starter.  That's so even if it made a good loaf.  

Second is the feeding and refrigeration schedule.  You have not been consistent about either, and it may be that the starter has not been able to adjust.

You don't mention the hydration.  I'll assume it's 100% to have something definite to talk about.  My 100% hydration white flour starter would need to be refreshed after more than three days in the fridge, and sometimes after only two.  The longer a starter sits around unfed, the less active it gets and eventually the thinner or soupier it gets, and if yours got noticeably thinner, it needed to get mostly discarded and refreshed.  After the feeding it should stay out on the counter until it has become active again and risen about as much as it is going to.  Then you can use it and refrigerate the rest.  This usually takes around 5 hours for my starter in my kitchen.

You did feed the sample you took out, but then you let it ferment overnight, which would be way too long for my starter.  Then you warmed it up, which would get it overfermenting even faster.

BTW, I have never in 20 years of baking with sourdough done a float test.  I go by the time since feeding, the consistency, the appearance (lots of bubbles visible through the side of the container: they get bigger over time), and the degree of rise.  A lot of bubbles, a smooth cohesive consistency, a rise of double the initial volume or more, and no collapse of the risen starter - those signs all point to an active, very usable starter.

If the starter is left too long and gets soupy and inactive, it may need to be refreshed several times before it's ready again.

The above applies to white flour or mostly white flour starters.  Rye starters are different beasts.  Also, some people can leave their starters out longer than I can.  Lower hydration slows down the development, higher hydration speeds it up.  Your results may vary depending on the flour, kitchen temperature, the starter's history, and other factors that may never be known.  You have to learn about your starter in your setting.  It's not hard to use sourdough, not at all - none of these things I've mentioned are very critical -  but you do need to get used to being guided by the starter's characteristics, just like you need to be guided by the dough as it's proofing.

gavinc's picture

The best resource when you are starting a new sourdough culture is Debra Wink. I recommend her posts on here. The first will give you some science and the second practical.

The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 1 | The Fresh Loaf

The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2 | The Fresh Loaf

Sourdough baking is a well rewarded obsession. Be patient and enjoy the journey.



PS Although I don't deliberately test my cultures maturity by the float test, I note that my prepared levain always floats when I add it into the water.


squattercity's picture

I have a rye sourdough starter that works great from the refrigerator.

But, I have to agree with both tpassin & gavinc: sourdough is a journey and takes time.

It took 6 months to get my starter stable (i used a combo of Mauricio's method outlined on ThePerfectLoaf site and the method described on the site tartineBreadExperiment.)

I started out using volume measurements, and the biggest improvement came when I got more serious and bought a scale.

Still, it took another six months to better understand my starter. And six months after that to find a readily available local brand of organic whole rye flour that really makes my starter happy. If I change flour for any reason, the quality of my starter declines.

Enjoy the journey.