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Stinky Starter

idexter's picture

Hi all!  I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but could really use advice. I wish I had come across this blog DAYS ago, it would probably have saved me a bunch of time and flour :-)  I'm on my 3rd attempt to make starter from scratch, and ran into what I THOUGHT was a big problem - starter that on the 3rd day started to develop a vomit smell, and what I've now learned was a slight layer of "hooch" on top on the 4th day along with the vomit smell. This happened to me on the previous two attempts, which I unknowingly diagnosed as failure because of the smell.  This time, I decided to proceed on, and I stirred in the hooch and found the starter to be super liquidy.  I fed it, but with all the flour and only about a third of the water I WOULD have done on day 4.  I covered it and am letting it sit (been about 15 hours now).  I just looked at it, and it has bubbles all under the surface and today smells pleasantly yeasty (so far). I don't know what the consistency is, as I haven't stirred/fed it yet today. Now I don't know what I should do.  

1) Should I maybe proceed with this blog's instructions starting like on Day 5 (which appears to sound as close to what I now have), or what? 

2) I didn't start with SourDom's recipe, as I hadn't found this blog, but started with strictly a mixture of 4oz unbleached white flour, 4oz filtered water each day.  

3) Should I start with this blog's Day 5?

4) Should I switch to part white, part rye flour when I feed?

5) What consistency am I aiming for?

So many questions, I know, sorry....  Any advice would be highly appreciated!  BTW, I am in Texas where the temp in the house is normally about 75F-77F, air conditioned.

Thank you so much!

P.S. tried to upload a photo of my starter but for some reason, keep getting error..

166 users have voted, including you.


farinam's picture
farinam 2015 October 11

Hello idexter,

I think you are on the right track to press on.  By all means follow SourDom's procedure.  If possible, I would recommend that you get some wholemeal rye but wholemeal wheat would do.  You increase the availability of wild yeasts and bacteria from the bran and germ in the wholemeal and they can be in low supply in white flour which, I think, is a contributing factor to some of the 'failures' using only white flour.  Rye flour seems to be a better source of inoculating beasties and also has a favourable enzyme that boosts activity.

As far as consistency goes there are a couple of guides.  SourDom and a lot of bakers use a 'liquid' starter at 100% hydration which has the consistency of a vey thick pancake batter - it will coat a spoon very thickly and probably leave a layer 6-10mm thick when it is drained for a few moments.  This is equal weights of flour and water and if you have kitchen scales you can do this quite accurately.  If you want to work on volume, then a bit under two to one flour to water will get you there. For example for a cup of flour, half a cup plus a tablespoon of water or 5 tablespoons flour to 3 tablespoons water or whatever other measure you like to choose.

Some advocate using what is called a 'firm' starter and this is a lower hydration more of the consistency of a dough.  In this case the hydration might be of the order of 67% (3 parts flour and 2 parts water by weight) and you would be looking at a third of a cup plus a tablespoon of water per cup of flour or 2 tablespoons for the 5 tablespoons of flour.

The very thin consistency might have been a symptom of the yeasts and bacteria having exhausted their food supply and the gluten having broken down to leave effectively a slurry of water and starch among other things that could settle and separate into layers.  Or maybe your proportions were wrong and you had a very high hydration mixture to start with.

Good luck with your projects.


Scotbrot 2015 October 23

I too experienced much of what you describe when trying to make a starter. I, like you, ignored what they all said and stirred in my 'hooch'. What I then did was ditch half of the mixture (which I didn't want, at that point, to call starter) and mixed in what has been termed a 'firm' starter ie quite a firm dough like mixture as opposed to a 'pancake paste' consistency and now 2 years later have a lovely active starter which has been in and out of fridge, left out for a number of days, ignored for a week or so but still comes back with a little bit of TLC.

Sourdough baking is as much about understanding your starter and how it reacts to different circumstances as it is about kneading and proving!!  Go with the flow, you'll let one lot prove (rise) for too long and end up with a flatter bread than hoped but eventually you will be able to 'eyeball' the prove that will give you a nice rounded proved dough which will 'bloom' beautifully when baked. ----- Enjoy and great baking

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