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rec.food.sourdough FAQ.Starter.Doctor


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Archive-name: food/sourdough/starters
Posting-Frequency: 18 days
Last-modified: 2000/12/27
Version: 2.1
URL: http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/sourdoughfaqs.html

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
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

I.        INTRODUCTION

II.       STABILITY OF SOURDOUGH STARTERS

III.      HOW TO USE THIS FAQ

IV.      DEFINITIONS OF STARTER CONDITION

V.       NEW STARTERS
A.  Dead Starter
B.  Flat Starter
C.  Barely Living Starter
D.  Healthy Starter
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 STARTERS

X.       SUMMARY OF STARTER CARE AND REVIVING

XI.      MAINTAINING AND PREPARING STARTERS
           A.  Preparing starter for non-bread recipes
           B.  Preparing starter for bread recipes
           C.  Preparing alternative starters for bread recipes
           D.  Preparing alternative starters for non-bread recipes

XII.     USING STARTER FOR COMMERCIAL BAKING

XIII.    RESTORING A CULTURE FROM 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 lacto-bacillus 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 lacto-bacillus needs, and the
lacto-bacillus produces an environment that prevents mold growth.
Since molds and bacteria are two of nature's enemies, having the
lacto-bacillus in the starter actually helps preserve it.  Remember
penicillin?  It's a powerful anti-bacterial 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 lacto-bacillus 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
lacto-bacillus 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 lacto-bacillus 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 lacto-bacillus 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 lacto-bacillus 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 lacto-bacillus, 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 lacto-bacillus 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 lacto-bacillus 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
lacto-bacillus 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 Farenheit.  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 lacto-bacillus 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 Farenheit 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 lacto-bacilli 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
lacto-bacilli 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?  Underproof prevents the
maintenance of high levels of yeast and lacto-bacilli in your
starter.  Overproofing results in yeast and lacto-bacilli 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 lacto-bacillus
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 judgement.  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 lacto-bacillus 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 lacto-bacillus 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 lacto-bacilli.  Lacto-bacilli 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 lacto-bacilli 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 overproofed 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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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM