Better? Bread flour, smells like old veggies


Okay, I started a new starter yesterday with unbleached bread flour and lukewarm tap water, 3:2 by volume. This time I used a jar rinsed with some boiled water (then cooled) and a lid (with a small hole), just in case the paint mutant was lurking in the air (see the "Paint" thread). It's been somewhere around 80F/27C. The starter started bubbling the same day, and had lots of little bubbles today. It smells kind of like old veggies, maybe corn, after leaving them on the counter for a day or two. Not really sour, but at least it smells like food. Sound okay so far?

210 users have voted.


SourGeek 2005 July 6

I don't like it. Bad veggie smell just doesn't seem right.

One book, "The Complete Sourdough Cookbook" by Holm, recommends 2c flour + 2 1/2 water, 75-90F / 24-32C, so the advice out there certainly is confusing. In his defense, he does say to scald the container, which I didn't quite do. I'm starting a third sample now, maybe a little drier, scalding the container, and putting everything in the fridge at 50F/10C until Dan Wing's book arrives or someone else gets a better idea.

Graham's picture
Graham 2005 July 7

Hi SourGeek

Good to see that you are entertaining options beyond the purely scientific...which was our major focus in the "paint" thread. The level of determination...I can feel it from Aus. I suggest you take it all the way and get hold of some freshly ground unrefined organic flour and head toward your local wilderness. Find a pristine creek near its source, take some water and form your starter mix. Form a firm ball (baseball size) and wrap it in muslin. How much muslin and whether it is damp or not, I will leave to you. Bury it. Preferably in a place that feels special to you. Perhaps there is a particular lichen growing on a tree or rock, or the sound of the creek sounds just right from that spot. Cover your buried starter with a rock so beasts do not dig it up. Come back in 2-4 days (my estimate for a firm dough of that size at 20 C / 68 F ground temp..your intuition will probably be better than mine based on your last week of I have no idea of your ground temp). Recover your starter. At home, cut your starter in half to reveal a cross-section. The crust on the outside is likely to be unsuitable and should be composted. It should be interesting to see the level of activity and whether or not it varies from core to crust. Take a teaspoon of the ball (starter) and mix it in to half a cup of flour/water batter. And proceed through stages of feeding to a bubbly brew as we discussed in the previous topic.

I am completely serious about finding that special place. Inspite of all the microbiological knowledge many sourdough bakers have or would like to have, generally sourdough artisans are alchemists at heart. The earth, the cosmos and the unknown are important influences. Sourdough is fantasy. It's not suppose to happen..that we can leave some dough out and some little beings magically jump on and blow bubbles into it. It's nuts. Good luck.

SourGeek 2005 July 8

[color=darkblue][b]SourBlog 7 July 2005[/b][/color]

All possible condolences to the families, surviving victims, and any other people affected by the terrible events in London. It's a shame the world has to be subjected to such horrors.

Switching to more pleasant topics, the newest, cleanest starter sample is already active, after only a day or two. I have no idea what's growing in it, could be something left over from earlier batches. This batch started with bread flour, and now it has a little rye flour mixed in. I think we'll feed it a bread/rye blend for a week or so and see what happens. Meanwhile, Dan Wing's book is in, and so far it looks very good. Hopefully it'll have some useful wisdom and lend some direction to the starter growth process.

[color=darkred][b]The level of determination...I can feel it from Aus.[/b][/color]

What the heck, I've got nothing else to do. And who wants sandwiches that taste like sawdust?

[color=darkred][b]... take it all the way ... unrefined organic flour ... local wilderness ...[/b][/color]

There was an agricultural program on the local public radio station not too long ago, where a guy called in complaining about the organic foods biz. I think he said he has maybe 40-50 acres, and I don't remember what he grows, but he said he converted everything over to organic and got organic certification.

But he didn't like it. He said there were lots of things he had to do that were bad for the soil or crop, or good things that he wasn't allowed to do. He enjoyed healthy, natural farming a lot, but if he did what he thought was best, his crops wouldn't be labeled as organic. I take the approach that he preferred in just about everything I do. I just do whatever I think is best, and don't worry about what other people think of it.

[color=darkred][b]I am completely serious about finding that special place. Inspite of all the microbilogical knowledge many sourdough bakers have or would like to have, generally sourdough artisans are alchemists at heart.[/b][/color]

I've already found my special place. It's in all the things I do, but mostly the subjects I think and learn and read about. I have not found a topic I didn't like. Maybe for a while I won't be interested in some particular area, but eventually I find a reason to study it, and in the end, they're all interesting or useful. Speaking of which:


Here's a nice complicated question. I opined earlier that there were three phases in making sourdough bread. But come to think of it, now I think there are four:

1. starting the starter
2. maintaining the starter
3. growing the sponge
4. raising the dough

What interests me is this: In stages 1 and 3, you're trying to grow and expand a small or dormant yeast/bacteria population, whereas in 2 and 4, you're managing a population that's already there. The difference between 1 and 3 is whether the population is really there yet (1 no, 3 yes), and the difference between 2 and 4 is the desired activity level (low in 2, high in 4).

I'm wondering if the starter should be started with rye flour, then maintained with white, the sponge grown with rye again, and finally the dough risen with white. It seems kind of convoluted to me, but if those rye yeasts are so wonderful, why not encourage them in the starter? Why not get them going right away, so there's lots of them? Maybe those rye yeasts will be very good, and then they can be fed on white flour once they're established. They might not do as well with white if they're adapted for rye, but what else can you do? The bread flour seems a little strange getting started, so I'm just very leery of it.

One last note on the current starter: Now that some rye flour has been added and it's bubbling, this one also smells kind of funny, but different from the previous one, and not as bad (yet! ). Not so much like bad veggies, more like pickled. Kind of vinegary. I guess that must be the acetic acid, hopefully not too much of a bad sign.

Graham's picture
Graham 2005 July 8

Sounds like the starter is going well for you. If in doubt, just use a small amount of it in a fresh mix. I can see your point about the 4 stages. Once you have evolved the starter to a leaven or a dough, then it is easy to work backwards and create a starter from either of those by creating a fresh environment for the culture. At home you would probably stiffen and cool it to rebuild the colony your next bake could be a week away.

It's easy to get lazy about starters in a commercial environment where you bake regularly. The starter is no longer a part of the just keep refreshing the leaven. It is much easier to maintain an active leaven than it is to start a leaven from a starter and bring it to full activity. But it can be achieved over 2 or 3 cycles...using the first cycle as a "proof" for the next.

Rye makes for a great starter and is appropriate to start most leavens. I have never had any luck with maintaining a strong leaven on just white flour. Though some white flours will be better than others. The strongest rising dough we ever made was a mostly wholewheat / partly wholerye leaven within a 50/50 mix of wholewheat/white flour (the wholewheat in the leaven is a part of the total 50% wholewheat in the entire dough).

Bakers are often looking for ways to get maximum yeast activity and still have "fresh" flour to develop a strong dough to hold the gases of that yeast activity. The brief conditioning (eg 4 hours) your white flour receives as dough (rather than leaven) is usually beneficial to dough development.

Sorry if I didn't mention that white flour = probable lower fermentation levels earlier. I try and keep an open mind about things like may have access to some excellent, nutrient rich white flours.


Graham's picture
Graham 2005 July 14

Just to let you know that I am currently visiting sourdough bakeries in Sydney. Some of these bakeries have successful leavens based entirely on white it can be done. Graham

SourGeek 2005 July 16

Hi Graham.

[color=darkred][b]Rye makes for a great starter and is appropriate to start most leavens. I have never had any luck with maintaining a strong leaven on just white flour. Though some white flours will be better than others. The strongest rising dough we ever made was a mostly wholewheat / partly wholerye leaven within a 50/50 mix of wholewheat/white flour (the wholewheat in the leaven is a part of the total 50% wholewheat in the entire dough).[/b][/color]

Trouble with all white flour, that's surprising, given what I've read in so many recipes. Although I have been wondering why one would use white flour to maintain a starter, when the goal is to keep the population healthy rather than rapidly fermenting. I would think high protein would be more important for that.

[color=darkblue][b]SourBlog 15 July 2005[/b][/color]

Well, the latest batch of (mostly) white bread is fresh out of the oven. The taste is fairly mild. Maybe not spectacular, but plenty good, and the texture is just right, light and crisp when toasted. Are you allowed to toast sourdough? So far it has taken at least 24 hours from starter to oven to produce a good loaf, and I hear that it tastes even better if you give it longer.

As for starters, the original toxic paint starter is history, now that there are two viable starters that are much, much better. After spending a couple days in the fridge at 50F/10C, the smell of the second starter went from bad wine to apple cider. Whatever that means, it certainly smells nicer, although still not what I would call a "sourdough" smell. I always have this nagging feeling that the yeast isn't doing as well as it should be. Anyway, after the most recent sniff test, starter 2 was fed on all bread flour. The newest (third) sample was started with all rye flour, and is now being fed half rye, half bread. At least one or two writers recommend switching to white flour from rye after the starter is established. We shall see.

Since the starters seem to be working now, the experimentation process may slow down somewhat as the "production" phase begins. If two or three tasty loaves can be turned out conveniently and inexpensively each week, then the whole venture will be a success. So far, so good.

Graham's picture
Graham 2005 July 16

Great to hear you have bread coming out now. I don't feel so tense anymore. With the white flour starter, we didn't have a need for it in our bakery and therefore only experimented rarely with white leavens (not starters).

This week I saw several white leavens that were doing well. Which makes me imagine that white starters could also work well. I'm always open-minded about flour types and have not said that all white flour was trouble. Agree with your other post that unbleached white is likely to be the way to go...the leavens I saw were unbleached organic white.

SourGeek 2005 July 22

Graham, I asked a while back about where to include rye flour, and you suggested using it in the sponge. But I hear a lot about mixed rye/whole-wheat starters being better than all-rye starters, and many people say switch at least partially to white flour in maintaining the starter. If I want to put about 25 percent rye into a loaf, and the sponge is the same amount, does that mean the sponge should be a hundred percent rye flour, in other words all the rye flour should be dumped into the sponge and everything else used in the rest of the dough? I supposed it might make sense, since there's a big difference between the sponge and the dough: The sponge is supposed to grow the yeast, whereas in the final dough, you mostly want it to produce CO2 gas. I have no idea myself, it just occured to me, and I thought I would ask. Thanks.

Katrina 2005 July 24

I kind of feel like I'm crashing a private conversation here.

I'm a home baker, and although I've been making yeasted breads for lots of years, I've only started experimenting with sourdough in the last few months.

My starter is based on unbleached white flour I bought from the supermarket. I used tap water, although my tap water comes out of my rainwater tank, so it's heavily flavoured with pine needles a lot fo the time.

I've been making a couple of loaves of bread a week, and pretty successfully, the starter is very active and stable ... sometimes too active. It lives on my kitchen bench and I feed it three or four times a week and that's about the amount of attention it gets.

If I want to make wholemeal bread I just set up a sponge with the starter and wholemeal flour and go from there, adding more wholemeal flour once the sponge is active.

SourGeek 2005 July 25

Hi Katrina! Welcome to the forum. You're probably closer to the website's home than I am anyway, so by all means, crash away!

There's a web page somewhere by a guy in Texas of all places, agonizing over how he hates to see starter wasted. In the same spirit, I'm trying a new schedule now for maintaining the starter. It stays in the fridge until a couple days before it's time to bake. Then I stir it well and start with a tiny little drop of starter plus just a couple teaspoons of flour (plus adequate water) for the first feeding. Then a couple tablespoons. Then a half a cup. Then a couple cups. A couple/few tablespoons go back into the fridge right after the last feeding, and the rest is ready to use once it's proofed.

I'm also experimenting with starters fed on different flours (bread flour vs. bread+rye). It definately makes a difference in how they smell. So far, rye hasn't turned out as well as bread flour.

Graham's picture
Graham 2005 July 25

Hi SourGeek and Katrina

It's difficult for me to comment on the 100% rye flour leaven vs rye/wheat combination. My own experience with rye flour is using freshly milled organic rye as either a 100% rye leaven, and also adding about 20% rye to wheat leavens to give them a "boost".

I never have defined exactly what that boost was...other than an attempt to increase the leavens activity and flavour. The rye we used off the mill was gritty and definately benefited from extended fermentation in the leaven.

The wheat/rye leaven did show more activity (bubbles and rise) than the 100% rye leaven. But because we used the 100% rye leaven in a 100% rye bread, it is difficult to compare its performance against the mixed leaven which was used to leaven wheat breads.

More bakers are joining. Hopefully we will get some more input on the leaven variety issue. Thanks for starting this forum off SourGeek, and welcome Katrina.


Graham's picture
Graham 2005 July 26

I found this link this-morning to a good post on one of Dan Lepard's workshops [url][/url]

Plus Dan has recently added a link to us from his own forum [url][/url]

In fact there's a lot of good info in Dan's forums. Please come back once you have visited!


Anonymous 2005 August 10

I've just started making my own sourdough bread as its too expensive to by nice breads from the baker. I began simply by following a recipe in Jamie Oliver's cookbook and I used homebrand, cheap, white flour (gasp!) and tap water. And I put in on my balcony in suburban Brisbane to start! Despite the writings here and else where about organic/unprocessed etc flour and pure water, my starter is fantastic (or so I think!). I really only began making sourdough to save money so I'm not going to spend money on fancy flour. I do use bread flour for making my actual loaf.

I just wanted to encourage other frugal bakers that you can have good, tasty sourdough bread from basic ingredients.

On another note, does anyone out there have any other recipes for using sourdough starters in muffins or pancakes?

SourGeek 2005 August 11

[quote="Beginner Baker"]
I've just started making my own sourdough bread as its too expensive to by nice breads from the baker.
You got that right. I figure about 30 cents US per pound, or 40 cents AU. The cheapest breads at the discount store are two to three times as much, half decent grocery bread four or five times, and good fresh baked at the natural food store at least six times.

[quote="Beginner Baker"]
... I used homebrand, cheap, white flour (gasp!) and tap water. ... Despite the writings here and else where about organic/unprocessed etc flour and pure water, my starter is fantastic (or so I think!).
BB, did you start a good starter from scratch using bleached flour? I had terrible luck with that. Now I'm afraid to even put bleached flour in the dough. I do it, but it still scares me.

I'm storing very small quantities of starter, and I had a bad experience using old starter in pancakes, so I'll be making them with fresh all-purpose flour only.

Anonymous 2005 August 15

Yep, I got a good starter going with bleached el-cheapo flour - its what I had on hand. But I'm willing to admit that it might not work for everyone. I read about the "paint-smell" troubles and I've had no problem what so ever.

It's funny, some American websites suggest making a starter with yeast, sugar, flour and water! One website said the only way to grow a starter was to mail-order sourdough yeasts from speciality stores! Maybe we just have more good stuff and less bad stuff flying round our in our air "down under"!

I'm going to start off another starter soon, to try and blend/breed my own super starter. Also, in a few days, we are going camping so I'm going to bring along my starter and have a go at making some sourdough things on the camp fire. I'm thinking sourdough damper and maybe some sourdough cinnamon twists. Mmm, do you think that sourdough can work with sweet flavours?

Take care of yourself and your starter!

Beginner Baker

marcus 2007 July 11

Hello all, comments about types of flour and starting cultures from the soil piqued my interest.

From what i've learnt most of the culture actually comes from the flour itself so leaving the culture on the balcony or digging a hole might not amount to much because the resident microorganisms are bound to outcompete any that come from the air or soil. This is certainly the case when using organic flours, i used an organic rye flour mixed 2:1 with water for my first starter recently and found the results explosive. Within 8 hrs I had a culture that exploded onto the floor when i opended the thermos. This makes me reflect on where the flour is coming from, a question that really should be asked about all foods/consumables though we rarely know the full story.

When I added generic white flour to the mix (first half rye half white then full white) it slowed down considerably and i am currently considering starting from scratch as i doubt the yeast could possibly be alive still after seeing such a change in activity. I live in brisbane and it is as cold as it gets here right now so the responsiveness of the rye culture suprised me, i expected to need to buy a yoghurt maker to incubate in after initial attempts with recipes from an old bread cook book that sugest starting from a yoghurt culture.

I made some great english muffins when the starter was still half rye, making a leaven with full white though they were slow to rise.

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