I think I killed my starter O.o


So I started up a starter a couple weeks ago, using a fruit juice method that used the acids from the fruit juice to prevent some of the unwanted bacteria from forming. Everything went PERFECTLY. My starter smelled right. It worked (I made some AMAZING sourdough pretzels). It tasted good. Everything was perfect.

Well, I think I killed it. I think I killed it by giving it unbleached white flour. It stopped bubbling and now it has a funny smell that I can't quite explain. Almost... It's not acidic. It smells kind of like a ketone experiment I did in high school. Which doesn't seem right. It also went really, really watery, despite weighing my flour and water and even increasing the flour intake since it seemed too runny.

It's been just over 24 hours, and I went back to feeding it rye flour, as I was originally. Do you think I've totally killed it and it's unsalvageable? Because it was very nice and active and lovely.

251 users have voted.


Millciti's picture
Millciti 2009 March 29

Did your starter recipe include instructions for maintaining your new starter?
Your starter is just still a young starter, and your yeast bugs are just used to the type of flour you started with. So was the unbleached flour fresh? You might want to check out the beginners forum here to find out more about maintaining your starter. Acetone or paint thinner smell usually means something is out of balance not dead.

Try searching for acetone here in the search box and you will find some great ideas. The first item here is a diary for beginners to ask questions and many of the best bakers here were just starting to bake with sourdough...



Update - I woke up this morning and did a little more research on the pineapple solution starters. I found some excellent articles on the fresh loaf by Debra Wink. She is a microbiologist and does a great job of writing articles that though technical really answer a lot of questions. Here are the links to article 1 & 2.



To short cut to why I like this article - Debra talks about the flat liquidy state you described. "In the late fall/early winter of 2004, I was coaching a group of women on Cooks Talk, Taunton's Fine Cooking forum, and I noticed something else. My starters sort of liquefy the day before yeast starts to grow. Gluten disappears, which shows the work of proteolytic enzymes."

I also started a rye starter from PR's "Whole Grain Breads." At the same time I also created a french "levain" starter based on Professor Calvel's starter. Both worked well. The 2nd starter took longer and I almost abandoned it but eventually I preferred it. After maintaining the first rye starter for a while I eventually converted it to spelt. So currently I maintain 3, firm white, 100% hydration white, and whole grain spelt.

One last thing, if your starter doubles within 4 hours of feeding it you will need to feed it more often.

Wiggly 2009 March 29

I've read all of her stuff. The thing is, mine went flat and liquid AFTER it had yeast growth already and I was able to bake with it.

I'll just keep feeding it rye and hope for the best, I guess.

Millciti's picture
Millciti 2009 March 29

This might help us to understand what might be happening.

What exactly are you doing to refresh your starter? How often are you baking? Are you storing it at room temp or the refrigerator etc. What is the method - how much starter do you use to refresh to what quantity of water and flour... Etc. how is your unbleached flour, fresh, organic? How long does it take for your starter to double with rye flour?

When you made the pretzels what flour did you use then?

Cheers Terri

davo 2009 March 30

I thought I killed my starter once - it went all acetone-smelling. But it was fine. Just feed through and keep it warm for a while and it will come good. One thing is for sure, no particular flour will "kill" a starter. Unbleached, all purpose, whole wheat, rye, whatever, it's just food, for culture. Some will encourage different bugs I gather, but none will kill it, unless there's something I don't know.

Wiggly 2009 March 31

So apparently I didn't kill it. It came back on the rye flour.

My pretzels were a combination white and rye because we're trying to get my sister to eat more whole grains and she'll USUALLY eat pretzels. It didn't work. She said the pretzels tasted "weird." Picky child.

At any rate, I've been feeding it rye and baking things that were part-rye, part-white.

Right now, my biggest problem in life is that I've got a fresh, lovely loaf of rye and caraway sourdough stuck to the bottom of my favourite bread pan. I'm not sure how I'm going to get it out without DESTROYING the bread. I'll probably just tear it apart, sadly. It had LOVELY expansion in the oven, though, so now I just have to work on not sticking it to stuff.

Millciti's picture
Millciti 2009 March 31

The first time I used rye I made a high hydration dough... I thought I was kneading bubble gum. If you are going to keep using rye you should read up on Nina's post on Danish ryes, she gives great advice for handling rye doughs... Like not kneading them at all!

Some other whole grains to try on your sister are spelt, whole wheat, and white wheat - she might not notice it as much. For your pans I just use an organic non stick oil spray on my pans but If you are really having problems you can use bakers joy, or you can butter or oil your pans and dust them with wheat germ or flour. For this loaf just do your best, it will still taste fine. Try cutting out one end and then working a spatula in under the rest of the loaf.

After reading Ed Wood's Classic Sourdoughs this fall I have been using his basic recipe to make a Oatmeal & Mixed grain & seed loaf that your sister might really like. It works really well for a busy schedule and has a different crumb and makes great toast. It is a great loaf for beginners because it uses cups measures and is pretty easy as far as technique.


Sourdough Oatmeal Bread
Makes 2 loaves
My Version of Ed Woods Recipe from “Classic Sourdoughs”
This is an easy recipe for a soft crumb sourdough sandwich type loaf, it also makes great toast and is a family favorite!
85-100 % Hydration sourdough culture
(refreshed with almost equal weights of water & flour)

½ cup cold active culture (best if refreshed in the last few days)
1 ¼ cups water
½ cup white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour(rye or spelt)
2 cups quick oats
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (lately half durum flour)
1 cup low fat milk
2 Tablespoons of Butter cut in small pieces or Olive Oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons White or Brown (raw) Sugar

The night before you want bread:

1.Mix the culture with ½ cup white flour, ½ cup whole wheat, and ½ cup oats, and 1 cup of the water, mix well and proof 6-12 hours at room temperature (68-72° F.) or 4-6 hours in a proofing box at 80-85°F. (Hint your cold oven works well with the oven light turned on I get an average of 78-82° F.)

The following morning:

2.Add ½ cup of flour and ½ cup oats and ¼ cup water.   Mix well. Proof 8-12 hours at room temperature or 4-6 hours at 82-85°.

When you get home in the afternoon or early evening:

3.Stir down. Cut butter into small pieces and melt in the Milk that has been slightly warmed ~1min in microwave. Dissolve salt, sugar into the milk mixture and add to the dough.  Make sure mixture isn’t warmer than 90° F when you add it to the culture. Mix in and spoon knead remaining oats and then Flour, one cup at a time, reserving at least ½ cup for the floured board.  When too stiff to mix by hand, transfer to the floured board and knead in the remaining flour.
4.Form pan loaves and proof them at room temperature or 70-85° until double in bulk( 2-4 hours). 4X8 size pans till the bread rises to the top of the pans.
5.Bake in preheated oven at 375° F. for 35-45 minutes, or, for a better oven spring, start with a cool oven set at 375° and bake for 45-55 minutes.(I haven’t tried this yet and the baking times here were adjusted to work with my oven. I check my bread for doneness using a thermometer at 198-205° F.)
6.Remove from pans and cool on wire rack.

This recipe basically uses 6 cups of flour or grain including 2 cups of oats. It works best not to put in more than 2 cups of oats due to the lack of gluten. Just to keep it light I usually also use at least 2 cups of unbleached flour. Anything else that contains gluten can be substituted in for the other 2 cups of flour you may need to adjust the hydration slightly if you use a lot of whole grains. I have been adding in a couple TBS of Flax seed without adjusting anything else.

I'll post pics later - I tried but it isn't showing up, it is the last one in my gallery though.

Wiggly 2009 March 31

That sounds like a really good recipe. I'll probably try it later this week!

She'll probably hate it, knowing her. I was hoping to get somewhere with dark rye flour because she LOVES pumpernickel. It's seriously the ONLY bread she goes nuts for, but I keep finding coffee in the recipes that I'm reading and, since I'm caffeine-allergic, I don't want to make those recipes. I hate making anything I can't eat myself. It makes me a sad panda!

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