Help with starter, please

canadianmountaingoat's picture
Hi sourdough folk,

I'm new to this site, and newish to sourdough baking. I've only ever made one loaf, which turned out ok for a very first loaf but I made loads of mistakes as I've now learned on this forum, including not keeping any of my starter!

I've started a new starter 10 days ago, with whole wheat flour and (tap) water, and since the first few days, there really hasn't been much activity. I've followed Dom's blog to get started, and read through various hints there as well which was very helpful.  The starter has been refreshed/fed regularly every 24 hours, but only had significant activity on day 3 and 4 when there were quite a few bubbles and the volume had increased by maybe a third of it's original volume. Since then, it's shown very little activity, a few bubbles but no increases in volume at all. What I find strange is that on the top of the starter there is a layer of liquid, rather than bubbles. It's about a 1cm thick layer. The smell is still ok, mildly sour.  The temperature in the house is 20degC at all times (thermostat controls heating - I am in Canada and it's still chilly outside.)

Should I just be patient and keep feeding it every day and see what happens? Could it be the tap water I used?  I've also meanwhile checked my flour and it seems to have additives in it: ascorbic acid, alpha amylase (an enzyme?), and finally one I've never heard of, azidocarbonamide. Can anyone tell me what this last one is? Could it hinder proper development of my starter?

Thanks for any insights you might have.

278 users have voted.


Danubian's picture
Danubian 2008 April 9
G'day Mt. Goat,

Stick with it, there's sometimes variations in activity over various time frames.

However, I'd try to get some organic flour or at least flour without treatment agents.

Yes, alpha amylase is an enzyme which could be either fungal or cereal. But this isn't really a problem in terms of starter activity in this case. The other two; azidocarbonamide which is a flour treatment agent (used for bleaching and gluten conditioning) and ascorbic are not my idea of sourdough bread ingredients. I've made reference to that before. They both more than likely have an effect on microbe activity but I can't quantify it at this time. 

The temperature range is fine if your house is heated. Don't worry about the liquid, it belongs in the starter (normal seperation of liquids and solids). It usually becomes apparent when the starter has been left idle for an extended time - this could mean only a few days or a week especially if its a fairly liquid starter (100% hydration) - keep feeding it for another couple of days and then make some bread with it.

Keep us posted, good luck.

canadianmountaingoat's picture
canadianmountaingoat 2008 April 9
...I don't want to waste my organic flour on this batch. If it fails then I'll use it to make a new starter.

Nice pic - that's me, nice white coat and two little horns in a whole lot of greeeeeeeeen! :-)

Thanks - will let you know how I get on.

Any recommendations for what to bake at first? I haven't selected a recipe yet. I've got some spelt flour, white and whole wheat. Ideas welcome.

Adam T's picture
Adam T 2008 April 11
I have made a whole wheat starter as well, and have had the same results. Mine has  always been at it's best when most is discarded and fed back its weight in flour and water. That is the only time mine has been really active.
I use an organic stone ground whole wheat flour.
I think that the flour is more dense than what is used in that recipe, and may require extra water.
I also have a rye starter at work, that is the same way.

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