Does a live starter need fresh air when being fed?

I've had my starter for over a year now (I got it from breadtopia.com) and while I don't think it's dead, it's always been rather weak when it comes to the rise. I live in a colder enviroment (San Francisco) so I'm set up a ghetto incubator that is basically a cooler with a lamp connected to a dimmer and a thermometer. I try to keep the temperature around 78-82 degrees F.

I've neglected it and it's even weaker, developing a layer of hooch within 24 hours of feeding (I tend to stir it back in). Am I to assume that if it was completely did I wouldn't even get any hooch?

 

The container I feed it in I leave ajar, but the cooler is completely closed (it's a rather large cooler, the kind that takes two hands to carry). If the cooler is getting opened once a day for the feeding, is that enough air for the starter or does it need more air? 

 

Thanks!

8 comments

I've refreshed starter before in a small container with the lid tightly closed, and had the starter expand all the way to the top, i.e. touching the lid. (I usually don't close it tight, but that time I did as I knew the container was pretty full, and I didn't want it to spill over)

So I don't think air is your problem. To me, keeping your starter at 78-82 F might be too warm (and since when is San Francisco considered cold environment? try Winnipeg! :-) ). At a warmer temp, the starter will need to be fed more often. My house ranges from 70-73 and even at that temp, my starter seems to want feeding more than once a day (as it smells quite acetone-ish after 24 hours).

I would suggest to refresh it twice a day for several days to see what happens.

Hi Fallen,

 

I live in SF too.  I have had a few different starters, when my starter gets to be like yours I usually ended up trying a new starter recipe.  I just keep mine in the fridge or out in my house, it's pretty low maintenance once you get a good starter going. 

 

You can check out my blog to see all the mistakes I've made and any tips and tricks I've learned along the way.  http://sourdoughn00b.wordpress.com/

 

Good luck!

     Alie

 it is quite possible that some of the organisms in your culture are capable of appreciating oxygen, and even grow much faster with it, but for the most part, a sourdough culture shouldn't need it. In the absence of oxygen, cells metabolise sugars to carbon dioxide, alcohols and lactic acid. If oxygen is available, this changes to just carbon dioxide. Guess which one we want in a sourdough culture?

The reason you leave the lid loose is to let the carbon dioxide out, rather than let the air in.

Having said this, there is no reason not to try leaving your culture out without a lid and stirring occaisionally to aerate - it might just pick it up (but if you happen to have a culture which needs oxygen to grow, it isn't much use to make bread!)

 I'd agree with the previous comment - try feeding it twice a day for a few days. If you have hooch, then it means it has run out of food a while ago.

Also, a couple of questions... what hydration are you working at, and does it rise in between feedings (check by putting freshly fed in a clean jar, mark the level, then check for residue on the side after it has fallen - it should double)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[quote=jem]Also, a couple of questions... what hydration are you working at, and does it rise in between feedings (check by putting freshly fed in a clean jar, mark the level, then check for residue on the side after it has fallen - it should double)[/quote]

It's fairly liquidity. I think it rises a little, but not by much.

 

I have a new thing that has me concerned that I never noticed until a week ago. The starter from being partially poured out tends to collected up along the side of the container. Previously I didn't worry too much about it because it just dried out, but a week ago I noticed that it was kind of weird and gray looking. I transfered the starter temporarly into another container and washed its home and have since then returned the starter back into the new container. Yesterday, and admitedly I missed a day of feeding, I noticed the gray stuff again. I'm worried it might be mold. I've attached a photo (it looks mildly browner in the photo then the gray it appears to the eye):

the grey looks OK to me but I think your starter is probably a bit too wet. If you have a scale, weight out equal amounts of flour and water to feed. If you don't, try 1 measure of flour to 2/3 of the same measure of water. I don't think it should be so pourable. think paste rather than liquid. Try feeding as 1/3 old starter, 1/3 water, 1/3 flour.

 

[quote=jem]

the grey looks OK to me but I think your starter is probably a bit too wet. If you have a scale, weight out equal amounts of flour and water to feed. If you don't, try 1 measure of flour to 2/3 of the same measure of water. I don't think it should be so pourable. think paste rather than liquid. Try feeding as 1/3 old starter, 1/3 water, 1/3 flour.

[/quote]

It needs to be by weight and not by volume? I've been feeding with a 1/4 cup of water and a 1/4 cup of flour.

fallenturtle,

It doesn't have to be by weight, but many folk keep their starters at 100% hydration, which means equal weight flour and water. Yours is obviously a higher hydration than 100%. It can still be used to make bread, but you might find you get a better rise using a lower hydration starter.

I was discussing starter hydration with a very accomplished home baker, and she suggested that lower hydration starters (hers is around 60% hydration) give a better rise than higher hydration ones. That is also my experience. Her theory is that higher flour content harbours more yeasties per weight of starter - sounds good to me!

Cheers
Ross

 

agree with Ross, it doesn't have to be 100%.

100% is probably the most common. It has the advantage of making calculations easy when mixing up a batch, also it is wet enough to handle easily, but dry enough to perform well.

If you do it with equal volumes, you will be runing at about 166%.

Of course you don't have to measure at all. I often mix mine up to a thick paste by feel, and then when I make my bread, I also adjust by feel to compensate for any variation.

The hydration level also affects the balance of yeast and "sour" producing bacteria in the starter, so playing around with it will give different effects.