Sourdough Diary - Beginners please ask questions here

Please feel free to ask questions or talk about your experiences making your first sourdough.

174 comments

OK then ... wetter ... wetter ... and thank you for having something kind to say about my baby bread! It is appreciated.

Hey TP, I am looking for the char sui bao recipe in eGullet ... can you pm me the link or something? I must admit I've been sidetracked by 'The Gallery Of Regrettable Foods' ... I reckon I must have one or two good photos for them!!

Carol

[quote="SourYumMum"]
So ... how do I get bigger holes? --------------------------->[color=darkblue][size=18]Very wet dough[/size][/color], loaf flatter than the one pictured ... but nice big holes!?

Smile

[/quote]

See? You answered your own question.

Smile

Great first loaves!!!


OK ... I made two breads. This one was made from my 'poor slop' which over the last two weeks came to life quite nicely.

I baked them in nice bread tins my hubby gave me ... which means they weren't pretty, but they were tasty with nice crusts!

Your comments would be appreciated, and I know some of you have had much more glamorous first efforts than me, but I was quite pleased with myself. And the bread has all disappeared - which must be a good sign.

[img]http://static.flickr.com/45/138883663_d98ddcb6a0_m.jpg[/img]High-tech proofing!
[img]http://static.flickr.com/49/138883666_f6d4d495e9_m.jpg[/img]Flat loaf.
[img]http://static.flickr.com/50/138883667_1392b8e043_m.jpg[/img]The Vast Interior!

What I learnt from this is that my doughs haven't been anywhere near wet enough ... this was much wetter.

So ... how do I get bigger holes? The bread tasted nice, although not as sour as my 4 year old son would prefer! An all-round 'pleasant' utility loaf.

Unfortunately, the top of it stuck to a piece of plastic wrap which when I removed, punctured it and it flattened! There's another thing I learned! Until that happened it was a pleasant little mound.

I have also made Dan's 'pre-ferment' loaf ... but I must have done something wrong. Very wet dough, loaf flatter than the one pictured ... but nice big holes!?

Smile

Thanks Graham, will do. As a point of interest Nancy Silverton states that it takes two weeks to establish a starter.

Bill I am going to start a new starter at 1 pm today. In QLD the days can still be warm and I am expecting starter temperatures to range between 23C and 27C. This time I will catch the starter when it peaks, probably in 30 hours or so based on a similar effort last week.

At that 'peak point' or just prior, I will introduce a large amount of fresh flour and water and try to lower the evolving starter at a cooler temperature, preferably averaging around 23C. Cool temperatures will be difficult to achieve in the culturecam environment, but I shall look for a way.

My own expectation of what will happen and a suitable response is based on everyones input to this forum:

1. The flour I am using contains an abundant supply of naturally occuring yeast
2. At very warm temperatures (average 25C) (and when a medium exists to transport nutrient) the yeast is visibly active (bubbles/smell) in about 24 hours
3. The delivery of nutrient and quantity of yeast is at its greatest after about 32 hours
4. The colony of yeasts is in decline when nutrient levels diminish and by-products of yeast activity (eg acids) create an unsustainable environment for yeast
5. Bacteria that have participated in the development of the colony are more able to survive (and in some cases thrive) in the changing environment
6. Oil, er sorry, Nutrient required by yeast to survive vanishes and the by products of previous human, er yeast activity has left the environment so damaged that life is no longer viable for yeast, but it is just dandy for bacteria

Because the yeasts are overstimulated at an early stage, there is potential for the colony to burn out faster and for bacteria to take over faster. And with China consuming like the US and Australia, etc, etc, etc....

My strategy to avoid points 4,5,6 is to slow activity down by cooling at or just prior to 3. Plus lots of nutrient will be added to sustain future development.

The whole process will be viewable on [url=http://www.sourdough.com.au/culturecam]Culturecam[/url]. You are welcome to phone me on my mobile phone if you think the culture is out of control and needs attending to (I will not be able to supervise the starter full-time): M. 0400 480 053

Graham

[quote="SourDom"]
mmm,

I am sure that starters can become contaminated. However my guess is that unpleasant smelling starters are the result of bacterial contamination rather than yeasts.
The dried fruit are supposed to have yeast on their surface.

Is it possible for starters to become contaminated with the wrong yeast? I am not so sure

Dom
[/quote]
Yeasts or bacteria, it doesn't matter which, they are both present. Its a matter of avoiding the conditions that favour the "Baddies" so that the "Goodies" get a chance. Once the "Goodies" are established the self protective mechanism of the yeast/lactobacillus symbiosis protects the brew from further contamination.
In the initial stages of a starter I consider the higher temperatures to favour the "Baddies".

Thats just my 2c worth.

Graham I agree with you on the lack of published research on the subject of starter contamination, particularly in the early stages.
Being retired, and officialy classed as disabled, I have spent a lot of time in front of the computer researching the subject of sourdough. There are extensive studies of the subject regarding activity at certain temperatures, yeast levels, lactobacillus levels (average 50 times more than yeast by the way), acidification etc, and all combinations you could think of, but of course they all concern healthy starters. I have yet to come across one scientific study of early stage contamination.

It is ridiculous that we still have to rely mostly on our intuition to solve sourdough problems like this. Intuition is an artisan's best friend, but why hasn't anyone come up with the resources to test issues like infection in starters in controlled circumstances, such as a sterile atmosphere where potential contaminants are introduced to see how infectious they are to a flour/water mix at varying temperatures?

We would probably find that the tests have been done by some big European baking corporation and they are either protecting intellectual property or just don't see the worthiness of making the study public. Sourdough.com.au has a related project on the boil and it would be great to see two or three research-minded people collaborating to provide empirical knowledge about some of these uncertainties. The team could focus on, say, 2 of the most exciting issues so that it remained a fun exercise.

Would chembake join our research team? I do not know but he would be invited and you might end up sharing your lunch break with him. I would personally pick him up from home and deliver him to the research facility. That would give me half an hour or so to play classical music on the car stereo and go through role-plays and deep breathing exercises so that by the time chem arrived he would be full of praise and demanding a group hug. Though such a heightened level of positivity could have a negative effect on his research ability. Graham

mmm,

I am sure that starters can become contaminated. However my guess is that unpleasant smelling starters are the result of bacterial contamination rather than yeasts.
The dried fruit are supposed to have yeast on their surface.

Is it possible for starters to become contaminated with the wrong yeast? I am not so sure

Dom


This is pure speculation on my part, but is based on my experience with starters and home brewed beer.
We all accept that the yeast for our starters comes from the flour. The yeast attaches itself to the grain during growing in the same way that yeast attaches itself to grapes. We would be very naive if we thought the good yeast that we want is the only one to do this, many different things float around in the air.
Past experience with homebrewed beer has shown that temperature controll is very important, because if the temperature of the brew gets too high it encourages the growth of "wild yeasts" that ruin the brew.
As I have stated before, I try a few new starters each year and in my experience if a starter is attempted on a day that the temperature is high, I quite often get the rapid start type of thing that Graham has described, with the consequent bad smell.
It is my contention that starters done in very warm conditions encourage the growth of undesirable organisms which develop rapidly. They become dominant before the protective system of the yeast/lactobacillus combination becomes established.

[quote="Graham"]
Note: The beginner's page has now had the reference to yeast contamination removed. I will be happy to change this if someone can provide substantial evidence that their starter was contaminated by a yeast from a source other than the flour.

Thanks
Graham
[/quote]
Hi Graham, we were just discussing this on my forum because I cultured a new starter a couple of months ago out in the garden near where my husband dicards, barley and malted grains after making beer. I've tried making bread with it, using the exact same flour as I used to culture and feed my northwest sourdough starter, and it keeps acting, smelling,and tasting off. It peaks too quickly and I have to feed it too often to keep it going. It smells like buttermilk, yogurt or old cheese. When I try preferment and ferment stages, it poops out by the time I try to bake it.
So that there is almost no oven spring. It gets holey but stays dense. My loaf looked like this:

[img]http://www.restorides.com/~mom/bread/bigaflop.jpg[/img]

That and with Sourdom's diary about using fruits to get a starter going, plus the fact that many beginners give up for some of the same reasons as my bread above, leads me to believe that you certainly can get your beginning starter innoculated with something other than what is in the flour.

How did you know I liked beetroot

Confused

Ahh I see now, cause OZ burgers have beetroot...I did not realise that the whole world knew

Embarassed

Graham

Note: The beginner's page has now had the reference to yeast contamination removed. I will be happy to change this if someone can provide substantial evidence that their starter was contaminated by a yeast from a source other than the flour.

Thanks
Graham

[quote="Graham"]
The links to outside posts are more of a process thing, where we are comparing notes so that what I write in the beginners area is relevant. The final beginners section will have enough info to make sourdough without using links to external information, but I would like to keep the links because they give extra detail which we don't want to bombard beginners with all at once, plus they confirm that what we are talking about on the beginners page is already being applied in practice (not just theoretical).
[/quote]

Got it. BTW, the van interior [i]does[/i] look squeaky clean.

[quote]
By the way, your [url=http://www.tpcalcake.net/home/childrensbirthday.htm]Hamburger Cake[/url] is a favourite. It's so damn contradictory. Graham
[/quote]

For you, I guess I'll have to add a slice of beetroot.

Wink

[quote]
TeckPoh ... your website is just lovely! Jellycake! What a great idea!

And if you think flour over your way is difficult, getting char sui buns that look anywhere NEAR as delicious as yours is impossible!
[/quote]

Thanks, Carol.

Jelly cake is quite the rage here coz of our hot weather. Because of the work involved, they usually sell for more than a regular butter cake, tho' the ingredients cost much less. They are mostly done in 2-D plastic moulds. I'm too much of a cheapo to buy moulds only to use it once or twice a year, so I try to think of more creative ways. By the way, the one with the white chocolate lotus (which melted and flattened right before my eyes when I took it out of the fridge) has 4 goldfishies 'swimming' in it.

If I tell you what makes a nice-looking char siu bao, you won't be too thrilled. The flour used is a highly bleached Hong Kong flour, a special flour for making baos. That's why it looks so white. These days, I make them with organic plain flour which turns out yellowish buns. I've posted the recipe under the char siu bao cook-off thread in eGullet. The buns are really good, doesn't 'stick' in the mouth.


[quote]
My experience of the runaway wholemeal starter, was that it seemed to burn itself out of crazy activity after a day or two, and then took some time to turn into a stable well-behaving starter. My thoughts at the time was that there were probably a significant quantity of yeast present in the original flour, but that a balance of yeast and lactobacilli took some time to develop.
[/quote]

Sourdom, the experience that you had could expalin what happened to me. I think I probably gave in too easy to the suggestion that my starter might be 'infected' because I had never experienced a starter developing so quickly before.

One of the last starters I did took 3 days to show signs of life, but that was a 'cosmic' attempt to raise culture out in the bush next to a beautiful creek. In retrospect I think that any smart culture would have fled with the family when the temperature dropped to 6C at night (the days would have been about 17C) plus it had absolutely no maintenance (stirring, feeding) in that time although I don't believe that anyone has actually proven that stirring or adding flour to a starter that has [i]no activity[/i] makes any difference. I suspect it might help...but does anyone realy know for certain?

So my very last attempt, in perfect conditions at 23c to 27C, should perhaps not have astounded me as much as it did. Though I do have a habit of leaving old glasses of red and beer around (gross, I know, but the kitchen is 25metres away. My partner does the same thing with her cups of tea). Anyway, afer a day or so the old red and/or beer glasses really smell yeasty. And to top it of, my partner spilt a small amount of stagnant wine onto the carpet several days ago. So the whole place smelt yeasty and I panicked when Jeremy sent me a PM raising the possibility of an infected culture.

It must sound like our van/studio is a grovel. Maybe it was a little, but fortunately none of us smoke or it would have been a complete 1970's dive. The van is shiny now, I feel like bubble boy...take a look at the culture cam. I tend to agree with your comments. Graham

Graham

I confess to being sceptical about the beer-contamination theory.

Although there are some airborne yeast spores, the idea that spores from a beer or glass of red that you consumed some time back escaping bottle and mouth, and floating about until the moment when you happened to have a handy starter ready to be infected... well it just seems unlikely.

It is possible to generate a starter from bottle-fermented beer yeast, but I think (from reading about it), that you have to work reasonably hard (get a decent sized inoculum, avoid the usual yeasts) to create and maintain it.

It seems more likely that the yeast was from the flour that you used. My guess is that if you used the same batch of flour again, but started it in a different room of the house (in which you hadn't consumed beer), in identical conditions, that it would behave similarly.

My experience of the runaway wholemeal starter, was that it seemed to burn itself out of crazy activity after a day or two, and then took some time to turn into a stable well-behaving starter. My thoughts at the time was that there were probably a significant quantity of yeast present in the original flour, but that a balance of yeast and lactobacilli took some time to develop.

all guess and conjecture mind

Dom


TeckPoh ... your website is just lovely! Jellycake! What a great idea!

And if you think flour over your way is difficult, getting char sui buns that look anywhere NEAR as delicious as yours is impossible! Except maybe in Sydney, but here in Newcastle ... frozen buns from the Asian grocer is the best we can do!

They are simply mouthwatering!

Thank you, Graham, for the link!

The links to outside posts are more of a process thing, where we are comparing notes so that what I write in the beginners area is relevant. The final beginners section will have enough info to make sourdough without using links to external information, but I would like to keep the links because they give extra detail which we don't want to bombard beginners with all at once, plus they confirm that what we are talking about on the beginners page is already being applied in practice (not just theoretical).

I do see your point TeckPoh and will try and keep the page flipping to a minimum. By the way, your [url=http://www.tpcalcake.net/home/childrensbirthday.htm]Hamburger Cake[/url] is a favourite. It's so damn contradictory. Graham

[quote="Graham"]
Our [url=http://www.sourdough.com.au/beginners/]beginner's section[/url] will be a bit messy at first while information is being collated and refined.
[/quote]

At the moment, there are lots of helpful links; problem is this can be a bit messy. It's like keeping a finger at a page and flipping back and forth. I wonder if the original posters can be contacted so that the information/tutorials can be reproduced here.


Hopefully a nice sourdough roll, Graham!

The suggestions of warmer temps are interesting ... it's 21C outside at the moment, and I think fairly similar inside ... so I have Dan's 'preferment' in the just-warmed oven, and another that I have knocked up this morning from my starter sitting under the rangehood light!

The link to Dan's preferment instruction was provided by donyeokl in response to my questions about kneading. It was the second time I had seen it so someone else has pointed me there, too.

Scroll down until you find Dan's post:

[url]http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?s=216a820376f538a4a8ff3a32d1d854ca&showtopic=80140[/url]

I like it because it is quite specific and ordered ... great 'breadmaking for dummies' instructions. And, as a beginner, that is what I need!

If I am brave enough, I might even post some bread porn later!

Unless I make a brick.

As my mother once choked a chook with a sponge cake she had made and thrown out, I won't brag just yet!

Well there you go .. thanks Teresa! I have been looking at your site for inspiration, too!

I've learnt two important things today ... that sticky dough is OK because it doesn't stay that way ... and to use oil to knead the dough instead of flour.

It all seems pretty obvious, I'm sure, but to beginners ... these things are priceless bits of basic information. Up until now, I've floured my kneading mat ... and although my yeasted breads have been OK ... not great, but OK ... I'm sure keeping them a bit 'wetter' will be a really good thing.

That's why I'm glad Graham has started the beginners pages in here.

Carol.

Would the kind folks of the forum tell me if this is good information about starters?

[url]ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet-by-group/news.answers/food/sourdough/starters[/url]

It seems to be ... if so, is it worth adding a link to?

Smile

[quote="SourYumMum"]
Would the kind folks of the forum tell me if this is good information about starters?

[url]ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet-by-group/news.answers/food/sourdough/starters[/url]

It seems to be ... if so, is it worth adding a link to?

Smile

[/quote]

There is a link to this site through the links page on this Australian Sourdough site.

[quote]
This is where keeping the steps involved in making sourdough in some kind of order in the beginners section will be handy. (Indeed Dan's preferment instructions are amazing ... step by step/hour by hour ... wonderful!)
[/quote]

Hi Carol. I think you might have mentioned a link to Dan's steps earlier. Are you able to provide the link again?

Our [url=http://www.sourdough.com.au/beginners/]beginner's section[/url] will be a bit messy at first while information is being collated and refined. But I am hoping that in a month or so it will be a consise guide for beginners. I looked at that starter info you mentioned above, which I think Dom has also mentioned before. It takes a lot of courage to write a consise guide, the way this author, Brian Dixon has.

He works with even higher temperatures than the average 25 I am currently toying with. At 26C to 30C you would have to keep a very close eye on your starter, which could peak and move through its optimum level of maturity very quickly.

Please keep us up to date with your bake. Sounds like you are on a roll

Laughing

Hi Graham,

Yep, wanna make bread. I am spending today with Dan's preferment recipe ... to practise kneading and because the house needs bread for tomorrow!

But I would like to have a go at the starter ... it has been nicely bubbly for a few days now and I have refreshed twice now with a small amount of starter and the larger 100gm flour/100gm water mix. It has been cool overnight/this morning ... so it's a little slow but I have popped it under the lights of my rangehood (!) as there is a little warmth from that.

Sooooooooooooooo .... next?

This is where keeping the steps involved in making sourdough in some kind of order in the beginners section will be handy. (Indeed Dan's preferment instructions are amazing ... step by step/hour by hour ... wonderful!)

Graham ... you have mentioned John Downes previously ... it occurs to me that the only book that I still have in my possession from high school (quite some years ago) is John's 'Natural Tucker'!

Wink

[quote]
Now, all that said, I gave my starter a huge dinner last night ... and it is bubbly but not vivacious!

What next?
[/quote]

What I would do: (remember what I said about ex-professionals not working with starters much).

Create a warm cupboard zone or similar and keep your starter at around 24C to 26C. See: [url]http://www.sourdough.com.au/beginners/#TOOLPREP[/url]

I am leaning towards 'bikram method' technique for getting starters up to strength. That is warm to very warm rather than 20C which is more traditional. But my trials are still continuing in the starter area. It's possible that the first starter I got going (in only 24 hours or so) was actually infected by a beer or red wine yeast because I was surprised at the speed it developed (as was Jeremy who sent me a PM).

The cupboard I ferment in is in a van 25 metres from the house/kitchen...but I do have an occassional red and bottle-fermented beer in the van area. So that origianl stater is now history and I am cleaning out the work space today to make room for another go.

Carol, What do you plan to do when your starter is bubbling and peaking after this latest feed? Are you planning to progress fairly quickly to a leaven and make some bread?

Graham

Edit: The 24C / 25C advice is based on the strategy that we are trying get a still not completely active starter, up to full activity. Once it is up to full activity we will use some of it to start leaven (a stage before your final bread dough) and put the rest away in a storage/maintanence cycle (I am leaning heavily on the other forum members to provide good advice here).

Not vivacious? Try a mini skirt, Tank top and a bit of make up.

Laughing

Seriously, patience is required, it's only a young stsrter and needs a bit of time to get it's legs so to speak.

It is indeed what ketones smell like.

There are two likely scenarios when a human (as opposed to a starter) will smell like nail polish (ketones). One is in a diabetic, the other is in anyone who has not been eating enough, particularly noticeable when people are on really strict diets, ie. those incredibly stupid 'meal replacement' diets where you replace two meals a day with a milkshake-type thing. As you mentioned,you produce ketones basically when your body starts eating itself to survive - not just fat, but muscle, too - which is why it is a really, really bad idea!

Thus SourDom's post about the starter having run out of food making that smell! Same thing.

Now, all that said, I gave my starter a huge dinner last night ... and it is bubbly but not vivacious!

What next?

Carol.

Graham,

my organic chemistry is a bit rusty (attempted to sleep through most of it), but I don't think that lactic acid or acetic acid are 'keto-acids'

lactic acid and acetic acid are very familiar compounds. Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its characteristic acidity. Lactic acid is the souring component of yoghurt (and one of those in sourdough!). [It is also accumulates when we execise anaerobically - giving rise ot aching muscles].

'Acetone' is a ketone (which just describes a characteristic chemical bond in its make-up), that I think can be derived from acetic acid by oxidation. I am not sure whether the paint-stripper smell is acetone, but I don't think that there would normally be much acetone in a healthy starter (I don't konw that for sure).

Keto-acids are compounds with a ketone and acid component. IN the human body they are a breakdown product of metabolism of fatty acids (metabolised in diabetics because of a critical failure of sugar metabolism). I don't think that fatty acids have much to do with sourdough though.

cheers
Dom


[quote]
Even YOU mentioned 'keto-acids'!
[/quote]

So the lactic and acetic acids I have been talking about for 12 years are keto-acids? Interesting. It makes me realise why I have been so tolerant of chembake (hi chembake)...because that type of in-depth technical knowledge is so valuable when it comes to problem solving. Incidently, chembake has posted some fantastic replies to technical questions recently.

[quote]
When I mentioned your offer of a forum, he said, "But I'm a lousy at chemistry!" and ran away.
[/quote]

yeah..doesn't it make you sick when naturally talented people profess to being untalented?

Laughing

But seriously, thanks hubby because I think the point should be that you could have solved the riddle of the acetone smell. Is that what ketones smell like? We definately need to look into this further.

Wish it would pour down here. It is spinkling at the moment in Mapleton.
Graham

Last time it was Jeremy with botrytis (noble rot) and now you have given me "ketones" to look up:

[url]http://www.webmd.com/hw/diabetes_1_2/hw7738.asp[/url]

My interpretation of the above info is that ketones appear in humans when there are no carbohydrates to feed on, so the metabolism starts feeding off the fat. Now I know you are just having fun and it may or may not apply to leaven, but there are parallels in just about everything. We just need the right head to figure at a viable relationship.

Sounds like your husband is on the way to doing just that. We can make up a new forum for him to work it all out if you like. It could be fun watching him go crazy.

Graham

After coming back from a jog re-reading your last post I realise hubby was probably serious about the ketones in leaven. Science degree urgently required

Sad

.

Graham, Pete (hubby) loves science and loves to explain what, why and how just about everything is happening! Even YOU mentioned 'keto-acids'!

This morning I asked for an explanation of why the toothpaste I buy for the kids seemed to me to have more flouride in it than the adult toothpaste does (which I thought was a wise thing to do before I fired off a cranky salvo to the toothpaste manufacturer). Turns out there are two different types of flouride (in toothpaste) and the kids' toothpaste contains flouride that instead of having a single particle of flouride and a single particle of something else, contains 1 x flouride particle and a few other things that effectively 'dilute' it.

!!!!!!!!!

Sometimes I just shouldn't ask questions.

When I mentioned your offer of a forum, he said, "But I'm a lousy at chemistry!" and ran away.

I have since tended my wildeyeests with lots of water and flour and thrown out the bulk of their extended families.

Carol

Smile

PS. It is pouring outside ... one of the best sounds in the world!

Thanks fellas ... Dom, I agree with what you're suggesting ... I haven't been refreshing with a significantly larger quantity of flour/water to starter, so I'll do the next one as you have all suggested.

The starters are in the kitchen ... I wouldn't have thought they were getting much warmer than about 24C ... and a fair bit cooler overnight.

Graham ... my hubby is a physicist and he said, "Ketones produced by the anaerobic activity of the brew. Either that or your starters are diabetic!"

Smile

[quote="Graham"]
i If it was the same smell, then the problem could be related to the culture running out of food, as Dom and others research has proposed.
[/quote]
This is one of the reasons why I alway suggest refreshing with a minimum of 250g/250g.

Hi Carol

In leavens that are [i]already[/i] active, higher temperatures and wetter mixes favour lactic acid production, which is associated with broad, warm smells, rather than sharp, fruity smells of cool, stiff doughs (favour acetic acid).

However working with warmer brews means that fermentation reaches its peak sooner and passes its peak sooner. The window to use and/or feed (recover) it is smaller than a cool mix of the same stiffness.

Bakers have been known to miss the ideal time to harvest a warm leaven (and possibly this could apply to starter) and then blame the warm and/or sloppy mix for creating acidity and smells associated with acidity. However really it is the over-fermentation, not the warmth or sloppiness, that [i]probably[/i] caused the acid smells (my Baking. The Art and Science book has been lent out...I will check this on its return).

However I really can't speak much about starters because the problem with professional bakers and ex-professional bakers is that they are often not experienced with starters. Working with continually refreshed leaven means that starters are not a regular part of the process. You already have as much experience with starters as I do (possibly more).

I think I have smelt that acetone smell before in a leaven tub that had being sitting for several days with a small amount of leaven remaining. If it was the same smell, then the problem could be related to the culture running out of food, as Dom and others research has proposed.

Carol, what temperature are your starters. Higher temperatures seem to favour lactic and acetic acid buildup, maybe cool the starter down a bit?

Carol,

this was a reply that I wrote to a similar query in Dan Lepard's forum a month or so back

[quote]
Reading around a little, it seems as though the 'paint thinner' smell is described a bit by people who make sourdough at home. It is also sometimes described as 'nail thinner', 'paint' or 'acetone'.

I think that the most common experience of this odour associated with starters, is that it appears when starters are a little over-mature. For example I experienced this with one of three starters generated during a recent experiment that I documented in a blog at sourdough australia's forum. This smell was evident when the starter had been left at a warm temperature (about 25 to 30C) for 24 hours. When refreshed on shorter cycles it was not apparent.

I wonder if what is happening in this case is that the production of the 'acetone' (not sure if that really is what is being produced, but lets call it that for want of a better term) is a reflection of the lactobacilli running out of its usual food substrate, and shifting to produce slightly different by-products. (The aromatic smells from sourdough starters are usually a product of the bacteria, and not the yeast).
[The human body is a somewhat more complicated organism than a lactobacillus, but when it has run out of its usual fuels (eg glucose) it will shift metabolism to produce energy from breakdown of fatty acids - yielding as a by product keto-acids (including a form of acetone). That is the reason why if you haven't eaten for a prolonged period of time your breath will sometimes smell slightly sweet].
The answer to the above problem is to avoid letting the starter sit for too long in between refreshments, but also to make sure that there is plenty of 'fresh food' for it, which is done by making sure that the mother starter is diluted by a much larger quantity of flour and water (for example one tablespoon of starter to at least 150g each of flour and water).

The other phenomenon that andrew_l alludes to, is that some starter cultures seem more inclined to produce this odour than others. (Again I found it only with one of the three starters that I generated in the experiment that I talked about above). This presumably reflects the strains of bacteria that are growing in the culture. As long as the starter smells 'pleasant', and behaves well (in terms of making nice bread) it probably doesn't matter.
[/quote]

so perhaps
1. try 'diluting' the starter more (one tablespoon old starter, to at least 100-150g each of flour and water)
2. try refreshing on a slightly shorter cycle (18 rather than 24 hours, or 12 hours even if the temperature is warm?)

does this help at all?
cheers
DOm


Thanks Teresa,

One of them looks fabulous ... very bubbly ... the other is a little bubbly, not as exciting. But they both smell like nail artist's shop!

I think starter #1 might be let out for a run soon so I'll have to go read Dan's notes on kneading.

Hello Carol and everyone else,
I should remind people here since it has been a while since old timers started their own starters, that it is normal to have the sourdough go from sweet smelling, floury smell, to horribly stinky, yuck, what the heck is that? kind of smells during the first two weeks of the starters life. I learned that in Nancy Silverton's book, she said to expect it. I certainly remember my sourdough starter smelling aweful at one point during the first two weeks, but I didn't throw it out because of her instructions. Now, the starter is so good, I sell it ! So hang in there with those new starters and don't throw them out until two weeks is up and they still smell bad.
Teresa

Thanks Bill,

Once I get to that stage we can discuss 'maintenance' of my starter!!!

First I need to learn how to knead properly, etc ... all the steps you take before putting it in the oven!!

Smile

You can cut it down to 100g of each if you like, but then cut down the amount of starter too, say 1/2 tablespoon. I prefer at least 200g of each myself, but that may be just habit. I just feel the bigger amount is more robust.
When your starter will double quite happily, you can think about baking. I'd say about 3 days minimum. If you start too soon the starter has no real strength and you may have a flop. Patience, you only have to go through this once, unless you are a masochist like me and try three or four new starters each year.
I may give up chasing starters now that I have the one from Northwest Sourdough in the US to go with my "Old Reliable". Two different tastes I can assure you.

Not toxic, just a good lactic acid buildup showing you have good lactobacillus activity. What stage are you at, assuming you are following the instructions I posted, it may be time for just the small amount of starter at feeding time, and feed with equal [b]weight[/b] flour and water.[/i]

That's the stage I'm at ... the equal weight of flour and water for another four days. I'm assuming it doesn't need to be 250gm of each? That's quite a lot! I will start that regime tomorrow afternoon - I've just given them a little feed and changed containers so it will be interesting to see how they behave over the next few hours! (But I can't miss Doc Martin!)

What specificically indicates that a starter is ready to use?

I will also follow Graham's beginner's bake with a new one altogether.

Carol, I find that when my starters get this way it's time for a clean container. The residue on the sides can get quite old and acidic, giving the smell you describe. Just put a small amount of starter in a cup and wash your container thoroughly then put your starter back in and feed it.

They're in clean containers every day ... as I once grew a fabulous pink fungus I try to pop them into a new jar or whatever each day when I feed them.

But it's not toxic?

Smile

I'm pleased I have nice bubbles ... I've been using your starter instructions ... and I'm just BUSTING to make bread!

My two starters are bubbling quite well now (at least they appear that way to me) but they smell a little like acetone/nail polish remover!

My hubby suggests this is because of the anaerobic activity of the culture ... but what is it and is it good or bad?

Carol

[quote="KazaKhan?®©"]
[quote="northwestsourdough"]I like the texture, chewiness, the wonderful smell, how it has character, toothsomeness, the health and digestive benefits from the grains being fermented...
[/quote]
What are the health and digestive benefits?
[b]I would say the benefits come from mainly, the grain being predigested by the sourdough yeast so that it is easier for humans to digest. I also believe I read that they produce B vitamins as they do their work.[/b][quote="northwestsourdough"]
...why do you think so many become so passionate about it?
[/quote]
I of course do not know and I thought that I was trying to find out, why do you think I'm asking?
[b]The passionate and addictive elements are related to how great sourdough breads taste.[/b][quote="northwestsourdough"]
I think you need to let yourself have more time and a few successful loaves behind you before you can answer your own question...
[/quote]
So I've been unsuccessful to date?[/quote] [b]I can only guess so by your frustration and being unable to understand why the rest of us are passionate about sourdough. You are the only one who can really decide if you are successful or not. Perhaps sourdough just isn't to your liking, thats okay, I saw the pictures of the bread you posted and you look like a very capable baker. Have a great day! Teresa[/b]

Graham,
I can't see anything but black screen on the culture cam? I am a mac user and the java is the latest update, you sure you didn't drop some hooch on the works or what?

Wink

Jeremy

Kazakhan,

it sounds like you are wondering why your sourdough has a fairly mild flavour, but on the other hand you say that you don't particularly want a 'sour' flavour.

My own preference for sourdough is that I think that it makes bread with far more depth of flavour than yeasted breads, but there is quite a lot of variation between different sourdoughs that you can buy. Some 'sourdough' breads that I have tasted commercially have been fairly mild in flavour to say the least. (I wonder cynically whether they are trying to hook customers in by labelling the bread sourdough, but aim for a mild flavour to avoid scaring them off).

You may find that your starter has different characteristics if you feed it different flour. At the moment my starter seems to be most active if it is fed a little rye (1/3) mixed with strong white flour. This also gives it a very pleasant fruity aroma after 24 hours, whereas it is much sharper with only white.
When I refresh with wholemeal it has a more earthy smell.

Alternatively it might be interesting to see whether a new starter from scratch (you could try following Graham's blog) would have a different activity.

Making loaves with mixed flours (eg a pain de campagne mix of 60% white, 30% rye, 10% w/m) tends to bring out the flavour of sourdough more. I am addicted to a 50% wholemeal sourdough.

As you mention, retarding the dough is a great way to intensify the flavour, and you could try putting the dough in the fridge overnight. There are various stages that you could do this.

I sense that you have become frustrated with baking sourdough, but have patience - it is worth persisting with.
I have found it incredibly rewarding, and often feel that there is something missing when I go back to bake loaves using yeast.

cheers
Dom