Strange starter behaviour


 I’m hoping one of the more scientific types here might be able to explain the strange behaviour of a new starter I’m trying to get going.

On a whim I bought a packet of “Mister Baker’s Sourdough Starter” in San Francisco. I must admit that I didn’t follow the instructions but just employed the technique I have used before i.e 100g of tepid water, 100g bread flour and the contents of the packet. After about 12 hours in my warming cabinet it had developed some hooch but seemed to be bubbling quite nicely. I gave it a stir, threw some away and fed the rest with equal parts of flour and water  but after another couple of days (at room temperature) it had not frothed up, had developed about half an inch of hooch, looked dead and smelt somewhat “off”.

I assumed that it was defunct and left it on my bench intending to throw it away. When I came to do so, a week or so later, I found that the clear hooch had turned into a frothy layer on top of the main body of flour. I thought of scraping off this layer and feeding it, discarding the rest, but eventually just gave it a stir and left it. It has now reverted to a state of inertness with a layer of hooch on top.

I’ve never had a starter behave like this before and I’m wondering what to do. I’m thinking of maybe mixing it half and half with some of my existing starter.

Any ideas?

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panfresca 2011 October 19

I'm interested in what the instructions said.

I don't think I would want to mix it with another starter, as the healthy starter would probably just take over. I would try and nurse your new starter back to health - add flour and water and wait till you see some signs of action before adding more.

gongoozler 2011 October 19

 Thanks for your comments, panfresca.

The instructions were as follows:


l. In a warm bowl, combine 2 cups warm water (85°), 2 cups all-purpose flour, and packet of sourdough culture. Stir until smooth.

2. Cover. Put in a warm (86º), draft free location for at least 1 to l½ days. The mixture will bubble and expand, and have a yeasty aroma.

3. Stir, then, transfer to a wide mouth glass jar (with a glass or plastic lid), and refrigerate for a few more days to develop a stronger flavor. To keep your starter active ...

l. Replenish every two weeks, whether you bake or not.

If you have removed starter for baking, replace amount removed with equal amounts of flour and warm water.

2. Stir and let stand lightly covered for 8-12 hours until mixture bubbles. 3. Stir again before returning to refrigerator.


This is more or less what I did but I used smaller quantities of flour and water.

I’ve now split the starter and last night added some of an existing starter to one half. This is bubbling up like the Quatermass Experiment this morning but I suspect, as you predicted, merely because the healthy starter is taking over.

I’ve just fed the remainder so will be interested to see what happens.


Actually I am very happy with my existing starter which makes excellent bread but I’d like to achieve that very “sour” taste that is so characteristic of California sourdough. Maybe it’s only possible in San Francisco!

panfresca 2011 October 20

It will be interesting to compare when/if it does revive.

From what I've read, the lactobacillus sanfranciscensis is found pretty much everywhere, and it's activated at warmer temperatures (at about 30°C/85°F IIRC). One of these days I'll build that temperature controlled proofer I've been promising myself, and give it a go.

gongoozler 2011 October 20


It's frothing up nicely this morning! I've fed it again and am keeping it nice and warm.

Incidentally, a few days ago I posted a pic of a warming cabinet that I made up from scrap. It can easily attain a steady 30°C temperature.

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