deliciously winey starter


I was given a sourdough starter by a friend who bakes bread regularly. It was a potato and sugar based starter that I have converted slowly to a flour and water starter. It smells deliciously winey and I get flourey bubbles on top of a layer of hooch, but there is no movement in the bottom 3/4 of the starter which is composed of a flour slurry about 2x as thick as cream. When I make bread, the loaves are heavy.

My goal is to be able to make nice sourdough loaves from flour I have milled in my Nutramill grain mill. I usually sift out some of the bran because when I didn't sift the loaf was a brick.

I have been using organic unbleached Gold Medal flour (I live in SC, USA) to make my starter and I want to change over to an organic wheat/rye combo that I have freshly milled.

Should I just start out with the new flours along with a Tbs of my old starter, or should I introduce the whole grains slowly and still include some of the unbleached that it is used to?

This is a great forum and I am so glad I found you. Thanks for any suggestions about my starter or a recipe for the loaf. I am using a stoneware loaf pan at this time.

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LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2011 December 29

 The bread shouldn't be heavy.  That might be because the starter isn't very good.  It could also be because there isn't enough water or the dough didn't ferment long enough.

I would make a new starter but you don't have to.  You can make a flour that is 50% wheat and 50% rye to feed your new starter.  You don't need to shift out any of the large bits.  Take 100 grams of this and add it to 100 grams of water.  Try to use water that doesn't have any chemicals like chlorine in it.  Last time I did this I let it sit for three days on top of my fridge.  I didn't feed mine for the first three days as there was plenty of food there for the microbes to eat.  The time until there is some activity will vary according to the conditions of the environment, be patient and wait.  There was lots of activity at the end of the third day so I discarded all but 10 grams and fed it 100 grams of the flour and 100 grams of water.  I did this discard and feed once a day for a week then I made a loaf of bread.  When you can make a good loaf of bread with the starter then you can store and feed it as you like.

Here is what I do to store my starter.  I keep my starter on top of my fridge all year long since it is a nice warm spot.  The starter gets fed every day when I eat dinner, I get fed it gets fed.  The discards are stored in the fridge and used in a loaf of bread that I make once a week, there is no waste.  Feeding is done by keeping 2 grams of the starter and discarding the rest.  The 2 grams is added to 6 grams of water and 12 grams of flour.  I have been keeping my starter this way for over a year now and am very happy how it works for me.  To make a preferment I take 2 grams of the storage starter and mix it with the amount of flour and water that is needed for the preferment.  I have made preferments up to over 300 grams with just 2 grams of starter.  I hope this helps.

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 December 29

Hello Laura,

Your description of what your starter looks like is a bit interesting. I have always thought of a layer of 'hooch' being on top.  It also sounds as if you are working at a high hydration.  Can you give us your composition in terms of flour and water weights?

As a general rule it is easier to control things if you work in weights rather than volume.

If you read SourDom's beginners blogs on this site, you will find all sorts of useful information that will help you.

There should be no problem using your home milled flour for your starter.  They are generally pretty forgiving and at worst they might sulk for a feed or two.  A bit like small kids really.

The Pane Francesa recipe in SourDom's blog is a good basic one that you should practice until you get your technique sorted out.  Then the world is your oyster /;-{)}

I would have some concerns about using a stoneware loaf pan just because of the low conductivity and the long time to get heat to the base of the loaf (assuming you do your prove in it and it goes into the oven cold).

Let us know how you go.


EvilBunny 2011 December 29

I was reading on this last night trying to figure out what the three layers were in sourdough that I as seeing the first yeast flour, hooch layer and never did find out what the flufy top layer was.   What I found from my reading was when you get a hooch layer of water your proportions of feed to starter is not enough. In crease your feed to approx three parts feed one part starter. Now mine is a single layer of forming bubbles .   Can't wait to try it.


Thanks Doug

Laurae2u 2011 December 30

I will start a new starter using LeadDog's suggestion of 100g wheat/rye 100g water and 10g of my starter. It smells too good to throw out.  I'm sure that I must have over hydrated using equal parts per volume of flour to water. Sometimes I would just add flour when the hooch got too large. If I am still getting hooch this way, I will add more flour by weight per Doug's suggestion.

Farinam, I think your idea of going back to square one with Dom may serve me well. I really thought I was past that level, but since the only thing I seem to bake well is foccacia made in my Kitchenaid mixer, I must be missing something along the way. I usually make 2 loaves at a time, one in the stoneware and one in a dark metal pan I have. The crust comes out better in the stoneware one, maybe it absorbs more water from the dough?  I have been starting out the temp at 450F and turning it down to 375F after15 minutes. I throw in a cup of water to a metal pan on the bottom shelf when I put it in.

I need to grab a F to C conversion table, sorry for the Farenheit for now. I have never really trusted volume measure, so I am glad these recipes are in weights.




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