How to make a natural rye sourdough starter and bake bread with it
Questions and Answers
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Table of Contents

  1. Starter - Catching local bacteria
  2. Starter - Consistency
  3. Starter - Feeding
  4. Flour type
  5. Water type
  6. Starter - Hooch
  7. Starter - Maintaining
  8. Starter - Poisonous?
  9. Starter - Success
  10. Starter - Temperature, Water
  11. Starter - Usage


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  1. Starter - Catching local bacteria

    Q: After starting your starter, do you ever let it breath before covering it with a lid, so that the bacteria in the air can feed on your starter?
    A: The starters had always the lids on unless I fed or deflated it. Leaving the lid off would evaporate the water (the air humidity is very low, where I live) and throw my hydration value off and I would have to compensate later for that.

    I am not afraid of contamination with my starters but when growing one from scratch, I don't want to invite my local molds - the black growing on my bath tub chalkings and the green growing on my fruits - since I think that they may delay the process by possibly competing with the desired organisms.

    I think that the "catching yeasts from air" method is folklore unless you really know what you are doing with sterilized equipment and feedings. There was a fellow on the sourdough news group which did a test with sterilized flour and "air" bacteria and nothing grew. The viable organism count of flour compared to air is much in favor to the flour, so the flour organisms grow, especially when one keeps feeding flour. All the necessary organisms to grow a sourdough starter are on the grain and in humans.
  2. Starter - Consistency

    Q: After you've established your sourdough starter, do you use it to form a firm starter (adding the sourdough starter to 1 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water) and then incorporate it into the bread dough, or do you mix your sourdough starter straight into the bread dough?
    A: I do not operate like this at all. I found using cup measures is way to inaccurate for what I am trying to accomplish. To get any handle on this sourdough/baking complexity, I need to be going by weights.

    Most of the time, I build up the starter to the amount needed and make the dough when it is ready. All my starters right now are on 100 % hydration.
  3. Starter - Feeding

  4. Flour type

    Q: After starting your rye sourdough, are you continuously feeding it with rye or unbleached flour?
    A: I keep mainly rye starters and feed with full grain rye flour. If I would need a wheat starter, I would branch it off the rye starter and continue maintaining both the rye and the wheat.

    I think that the starter looses when converted to wheat and then would be converted back to rye and to make a new starter is much more effort than keeping it around. My next experiment is making a SF sourdough type wheat bread from a rye starter.
  5. Water type

    A: I use distilled/deionized water for all starters, tap water for doughs.
  6. Starter - Hooch

    Q: I noticed most of your sourdough starters are a bit on the wet side, but you never mentioned about getting hooch.
    A: Really? They are strict 100 % hydration and that is not really wet. With that, I am not getting any hooch. Also, you get hooch mainly if all the gas goes out of a starter i. e. if it is inactive. That's not a good state for a starter to be.

    Also, the pictures you see are from full grain rye starters. It could be that they appear more wet compared to wheat starters which hold more gas and appear dryer with the same hydration.
  7. Starter - Maintaining

    C: I keep a culture of maybe 20 .. 120 gram in the small containers I showed (new window) in the web page in the fridge.

    This culture is renewed maybe once every two month by taking it out, letting it sit on the counter at room temperature to get active again. Once it is active, I take it down to 20 g and then adding 20 g water and flour each. Then, I leave it out of the fridge until it gets going again and then put it back in the fridge.

    The starter taken away is collected, possibly frozen and used for pancakes or mixed in when making dough for a bread.

    I keep all my sourdough/bread by weight and the starters with 100 % hydration (in baker's %) - 50 % water, 50 % flour by weight. This makes is possible to fine tune dough hydrations and dough weights almost to the gram which is impossible with volume measures but I find it important when trying out things.

  8. Starter - Poisonous?

    Q: Is it possible for a starter to become poisonous?
    A: In general, healthy starter is not poisonous and resistant against infection from patogens. The two main organisms - yeast and lactobacillus live in a symbiosis and maintain a sour (mainly caused by lactic acid) environment preventing growth of other organisms.
    There are two points in a live of a starter where other organisms, possibly toxic or pathogenic organisms can come into play:

    • Birth of a starter
      When a starter is grown from grain products, the symbiotic relationship with it's acidic environment between the main organisms is not yet established and all germs present in the container/substrate will start growing. There can be pathogenic organisms in this initial growth. In general, the surviving organisms are lactobacillus- and yeast strains building the sourdough characteristics.
    • Death of a starter
      If the starter organisms die, maybe through starvation, poisoning or overheating or other events, the protective acidic environment, the remaining substrate can be invaded by foreign, possibly toxic or pathogenic organisms.

    A state, where pathogenic or toxic organisms can grow is usually associated with a change in smell or appearance. If the smell changes to foul, rotten, putrid or if for example, greenish mold starts growing on top of your starter it is time to look at the cause or get a new starter.


    Babelfished excerpt from G. Spicher's sourdough bible:

    In chapter about the microflora of raw material (grain products)

    ... It is notable, that with a delayed acidification hygienically precarious germs can grow. Although they are killed in the baking process, the toxins are heat resistant. However, formation of enterotoxins, for example with Staphylococcus aureaus, could not even be detected under propagation (HERX et al., 1994).

  9. Starter - Success

    C: Mark sent this email:

    I tried your rye starter formula and think it is great. I've made other starters with white flours and combinations of flour but this was the fastest and easiest and had the least amount of waste. I have got to believe if someone followed your directions it would be as reliable as any mail order starter (I've never tried one though.). I made bread with the baby rye starter today ("Pain de Meteil au Levain" formula is found at http://www.bbga.org/formulas/meteilaulevain94.html (new window) -I substituted rye for whole wheat starter). and had decent results, any short comings were those of this baker and not.
  10. Starter - Temperature, Water

    Q: What's the temperature of the water when you begin the rye starter?
    A: Room temperature (70 F, 21 C)- it is distilled water out of a container which just sits in a pantry. I use this water for all starter feedings.
  11. Starter - Usage

    C:

    There are serveral ways to go about it. Branching off a mother culture is described here. Continous propagation (modified with fridge storage) I use with the Detmold 3-Stage process. The idea with branching off the mother culture is to minimize the growth generations and (hope to) keep the culture stable.

    In order to bake, I take the small starter container out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for maybe 1 - 2 hours or so at least until it is alive and makes bubbles again.

    Once it is alive again, I take out the amount needed for growing the batch, put it in a new container and triple (equal amounts of flour and water each). This will be grown into the starter amount needed for the dough as described below.

    I also refresh the culture by adding equal amounts of flour and water, typically doubling the culture, stir it and wait until it makes bubbles again ( 1 - 2 hours). Then I put it back in the fridge. For the fridge cultures, I use distilled/deionized water.

    As an example, let's assume, I took out 20 g to make dough. The 20 g in the new container, I triple by adding 20 g flour and water each. This will give me 60 g of starter. Then I wait until it gets alive and triple it again by adding 60 g of water and flour. This gives me 180 g. Then I wait again until it gets going - and a little longer, then I add 180 g water and flour each to get 540 g starter. When I need more starter, I double or triple again. Then I make bread from it. When I know that I will make bread soon, I make so much starter that I have some more left over, maybe 50 or 100 gr for next time and store it in the fridge in a larger container.

    More information about the intrinsics of growing stages can be found at the sourdough growthcurve description. The parameters determining bread characteristics are mainly temperature, time and to a lesser degree media (full grain, white flours), hydration, growth history, etc.

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