Starters and using with various flours



can I use a healthy white starter to bake a loaf with other flours - Einkorn / Wholemeal etc or is it vital to use a starter made from the same flour as one is baking with.?

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Staff 2018 April 8

Hi Pollymaria,

You can use any type of starter (wheat, rye or spelt) with any combination of flours (wheat, rye, spelt or any other flours) - it is really up to the individual in terms of their needs/taste.

We seem to have greater success with wholegrain flours and like to use organic flours which retain their natural microbes. 


Further information and tips are provided here by Poh, from Poh's Kitchen, and Graham:



To make a starter, it is better to use organic flour because it contains the natural microbes which will allow it to ferment when mixed with water. 

Artisan baker Graham Prichard warns that non-organic flour may have been made from grain that was gassed - and that gassing destroys those important microbial elements. If your supermarket doesn't have organic flour, try a health foods outlet or a wholefoods store.

Some sourdough bakers like to make their starter in a place where there's pure air; they believe that air will combine with the flour and water to produce a better starter. 

When Poh baked with Graham, at his Companion Bakery in Oatlands, Tasmania, Graham revealed that he follows a certain ritual when making a starter. 

Graham combines the water and flour in a pristine bush environment (beside a stream) and leaves them to ferment for a number of days. Even though Graham says it's now known that the microbes in the grain have the most impact on the fermentation, he still likes to follow this bush ritual. But be warned: Graham once came back to his bush starter, sitting in a bowl beside a stream, to find caterpillars crawling through it!

Graham suggests home bakers get their starters going in a place of special sentimental significance: perhaps in their backyard or under their baby's cot. 

Some starters are more than a hundred years old, having been passed down through the generations of the one family. Sections of old starters can even be purchased online - but Graham says an old starter doesn't necessarily produce a more flavoursome bread. 

Starters stay alive by being 'fed' flour. The flour is consumed by the wild yeast and bacteria in the starter. Adding flour refreshes the starter and stops it from becoming too acidic (sourdough microbes can tolerate a degree of acidity - but have their limits).

The art of sourdough is to produce good fermentation and a level of acidity that conditions (softens) the dough, as well as creating great flavour! Graham generally prefers not to make his sourdough too acidic, which can overpower the beautiful flavours of high quality organic flour.

Graham's Notes:

Cultivating Starter
1/2 cup (75g) stone-ground organic wholemeal flour (wheat, rye, spelt, etc)
1/3 cup (80 ml) good quality water

Combine flour and water together in a cereal bowl, stirring for approximately 1 minute. The mixture should resemble a soft dough, rather than a wet batter. Add a little more flour if required.

Cover dough with a saucer and leave somewhere that is friendly to microbes (next to a creek, under a tree, a special place in your house, etc). The ideal temperature range for this stage is 10°C-30°C. Leave your dough until it begins to ferment, which should be noticeable within 2-7 days.

After 24 hours of fermentation, begin stirring or kneading the dough once a day, for about a minute and start feeding your starter.

Feeding the starter
Remove 1/3 cup (4 level tablespoons) of starter, discard
Add 2 level tablespoons organic wholemeal flour
Add 2 level tablespoons (40ml) good quality water

It is important to feed your starter (as above) every 24 hours. Your starter may appear to 'die' (loose activity). Don't worry! The activity should return. Starters strong enough to leaven good bread can take 2-3 weeks to create.

Explanation of Method
Your aim is to create a friendly environment for microbes (wild yeast and bacteria) to live. Organic flour is used because non-organic flour is often treated with chemicals designed to kill microbes. Stoneground wholemeal flour is used because the main fuel (maltose) takes longer to access in this type of flour (slow release). This creates a more stable environment for long fermentation. Additionally, it appears that the ground grain (flour!) is the primary source for microbes, and the air is a secondary (minor) source. Initially your mixture is not particularly acidic. Fermentation may begin in this non-acidic environment, however the mixture will become more acidic as fermentation continues. You need to cultivate microbes that are tolerant to this new acidic environment.
We intentionally delay feeding the fermenting starter for 24 hours, which allows acid to build and limit microbes to those that are acid tolerant.

The starter method above is a bit different to many starter methods because it uses a thicker initial mixture and does not require automatic daily feedings. Most starter methods use a wet mixture made of half flour and half water, and they are fed from day one.

A thicker mixture provides more stability during the early stages (wet starters require more frequent stirring, and have been known to separate). If the starter is not consuming, it does not need feeding!

Maintaining the Starter
Once your starter is active, you can use most of it to make bread. Keep a small amount of starter aside, which can be 'fed' to make a fresh starter by adding more flour and water as per feeding instructions above. The starter can be used and fed daily. However, if you do not want to make bread every day you still need to feed (refresh) your starter. If the starter is not refreshed regularly it will become unhealthy and eventually expire. To avoid creating mountains of starter, you can discard (compost or feed to animals) most of the starter and feed as above. This discard/feed process can continue until you are ready to make bread again. What an effort! And what if you forget to feed the starter or want to go on holidays? Do you take your starter with you? This method is referred to as a single stage, or continuous method of keeping a starter. It is a good method to know and lots of bakers use it. However, personally I prefer the convenience and flexibility of a two stage method, which I refer to here as the 'Dough Ball' method. 

Continuous Method (Single Stage, daily baking)
This method is characterised by a fluid starter that is refreshed (fed) one or more times in a 24 hour period.

The advantage of this system is: have one vessel containing starter, which is fed and fermented until it is 'ripe' and ready to add to your bread dough. Don't use all the starter...leave some starter in the vessel...mix in more flour and water...wait 8-24 hours...and make bread again...leave some starter in vessel...mix in flour and water...etc.etc.

The disadvantage of continuous method is:
Constancy...your starter is 'ripe' but you are not in the mood to make bread! Oh dear...some of the starter needs to be 'discarded' (hopefully composted) make room for a 'feed' of fresh flour and water.

If you do not feed your continuous starter will become very acid, fermentation will slow down, mould will appear, and it will become 'sick' and eventually give up.

Starters can be rescued within a week or two of loosing activity...providing they are kept cool. A ripe starter will only stay ripe for about 3-4 hours after the peak of fermentation, at moderate room temperature. Refrigerating a ripe starter extends the usability out to, perhaps 8-12 hours.

A 'feed' for the continuous method is most commonly made up of half flour and half water. Bakers refer to this as 100% hydration, because we base our measurements off the flour weight. ie. 200g of flour (100%) + 200ml of water (same amount of water as flour) = 100% hydration.

Dough Ball Method (Two Stage, daily, weekly, occasional baking)
This method is characterised by a stiff, cool 'seed' starter (called Stage 1), which is used to activate a wetter starter (Stage 2).

Stage 1
The starter ball is kept stiff and cool in the fridge or cool closet for days, weeks or months until needed.

Stage 2
The baker removes the ball from the cold and adds it to a warmer, generally more fluid mixture of flour and water. This 2nd mixture is called Stage 2.

There are many advantages to this method.

The starter ball slows down activity of wild yeasts and bacteria. Amazingly, during day 2 and 3 of storage, the ball is often active enough to use 'as is' to make bread dough... it is not essential to make a stage 2. However making a stage 2 adds strength, reliability and flexibility... and is highly recommended!

Stage 2 can be warm, cool, soft, stiff... as you please. At Companion Bakery we often make a very warm stage 2, at around 28°C-33°C. At high temperatures like these, stage 2 can be ready to use in bread dough (ripe) in about 4 hours. (Note: Sourdough starter is likely to suffer reduced performance at temperatures above 33.5°C).

One feature of warmer, wet fermentation is the creation of a higher amount of lactic acid, compared to acetic acid. This combines well (in my opinion) with the more fruity acetic acids, present in the cool stiff dough ball.

The most common type of stage 2 fermentation is from 8 hours at around 24°C to 16 hours at around 15°C. These temperatures are a guide only! One indicator that your starter is ready 'ripe' is when it has reached peak rise and is about to collapse. Personally I like to see a small, natural collapse (rather than knocking the starter vessel to force a collapse). 

Making a dough ball is easy:
Simply use flour to thicken up wet starter (such as stage 2 starter) left over from making bread dough. I always use organic wholegrain flour to make my starters. Starter balls generally have the consistency of plasticine, but consistency can be varied and experimented with.

A good size dough ball for home use is about the size of a golf ball. Store it in a ceramic or glass cup, or a food grade plastic vessel. The lid can be loose fitting (like a saucer) or tight fitting.

Good luck!!


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