change in starter


Hi folks,

After a little reading online and in books, I started my starter last September and I’ve been going strong with an averaged of one dough per week, usually used to make a double bactch of sourdough pizza.  But since I’m sort of self-taught, I need to give a bit of methodology background before I state the problem I’m having.  

I had been succeeding before early May with the following process.  I would take out 5oz out of a 10 oz of starter in my fridge and plop this in a large glass casserole.  Then I would of course feed my starter with 2.5/2.5 ounces water/flour (unbleached white) and then also feed the starter in my casserole.  The starter went back in the fridge (perhaps after an hour on the counter) and the casserole went in my oven, very lightly warmed.  

Then I would feed my casserole starter again to double it (total bulk now 20 oz) and give it another 8 hours and then feed it again, total bulk now 40 oz and ready to put in my salt, little honey, 6 oz whole spelt, 6 oz whole wheat, 20 minutes kneading, cut into two balls and refrigerated.  

When ready to use, anywhere from 24 for 72 hours, I would coat the dough lightly with bacon grease, shape it for my pizza, cover it with an oven bag, and let it rise for eight hours it slightly warmed oven before adding toppings and baking to a delicious perfection.  Keep in mind, so far so good, so nothing so far should be a problem.

In May we went to Florida for a couple of weeks and I took my starter along, which meant some cooler time, but nothing that should have exposed it to great heat, used it once a week in Florida and came home.

Now comes the trouble: since the trip to Florida the above process yields a shaped dough that rises, a bit, but not as much as before, and worse, the resulting dough seems more vunerable than before to coming apart when it’s being shaped into a flat pizza dough.  A possible additional clue is that my fridge starter seems like it want to pop the top off the cottage cheese container lid 48 hours after it’s been in the fridge and I don’t remember it being this way before.

It’s as if my starter is growing more aggressively and perhaps being past its prime when I’m ready to use it.

Of course, since May, it is warmer here in Ohio, but we haven’t had much of the kind of heat until just this last week that I would expect to change things much for the starter outside the fridge and inside, well, that’s refrigerated (except of course the flour I put in is at a warmer room temp).

Okay, that’s enough info for now, I’ll bet.  Any sourdough Sherlocks out there hear the essential clue for solving my mysery?  ☺


236 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2013 July 23

Hello mickeypizza,

The activity is quite sensitive to temperature so only a few degrees difference can make quite a difference to the timeline required.  I would try doing things on a shorter time scale and see what happens - maybe half as long.

The other thing to remember is that things don't stop in the fridge and also take a while to slow down after things go in.  So, your hour on the bench could be giving time for the activity to get well under way which together with the 'soak' time in the fridge allows it to get to the top popping stage much sooner.  I usually put mine straight back into the fridge after feeding - no bench time so it is still pretty cold.

Good luck with your projects.  Nice dog by the way.


mickeypizza 2013 July 23

Many thanks for the prompt feedback!  I'll try the shorter times. 

So no reason a trip to Florida should hurt a healthy starter, and even if it suffered a bit because of the cooler time, that shouldn't permanently hurt the starter in a way that couldn't be fixed w/ a few feedings, right?  Obviously it could comletely die under the right circumstances, but that's the not the case at all here; just wondering if the 2 week climate/air change might have made a difference.  Heck, I even fed it w/ flour that a brought along, much to my wife's amazement!

The dog, Murphy, just celebrated his 14 birthday.

farinam's picture
farinam 2013 July 23

Hi mickeypizza,

Mine has been to hot places, cold places and most in between without doing any damage that I am aware of so I don't see why yours should be any different.  Just try to be aware of what your dough is telling you and don't just stick rigidly to a time schedule.

Keep on bakin'


Electricboots 2013 July 23

Hi Mickey,

I am in Australia too so hot means nothing to my starter because it has to live almost permanently in the fridge in our summer. Maybe you picked up some Florida yeasts on your travels that respond differently than your normal Ohio crowd. You could try to see if  it will settle down by starting a second version using just a spoonful from your current starter. I had to do this recently when I had 6 weeks with my arm in plaster so could not make bread and just had to keep the starter ticking over. The starter smelled a bit overdeveloped when I was OK to make bread again so I got it back to normal by just taking a small amount instead of the usual 100g and rebuilding.


Cliff 2013 July 24

It would be helpful to know what the themperature regiems to which your  started was exposed and for how long. Higher temps (80 - 90 F) cause a higher level of bacerial development which conversly affects the yeast  by supressing them. Lower temps in the 70 - 80 F regiem produces less bacteria but more stronger yeast.


Maybe next time don't plan on taking it back.  Just establish a good colony and store it in the fridge  and come home to that leaving the starter you brought  with whomever wants it.


To restore you starter you might try building a couple of batches from the one you have and washing them: There's ton's of info on washing a starter to eliminate off odors. That may help to re-establish the starter to a good healthy culture.




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