Sourdough starter question

I’m cultivating my own starter for the first time. I’ve been feeding it for 7 days now, and it looks about right – slightly off-white and frothy. I’m worried about the smell though. It’s not in the least bit sour smelling – the aroma is faint, but distinctly sweat and heady, like fermented bananas, or maybe acetone – not particularly unpleasant, just not what I normally associate with sourdough. The articles I’ve read tell me it should smell sour or “yeasty”.

I’m wondering if I should give it a few more days. Anybody care to comment?

[Not sure if I’m the most-qualified “doughboy” to respond to this, but I hate to see a question go unanswered… plus this will bump the thread and perhaps one of the real “Breadheads” will see it. :slight_smile: ]

Most Important Question: What source did you use for your yeast, Dennis? There are three main ways of starting out AFAIK:[ol]
[li]Obtain a small amount of starter from a friend who is already making bread of the sourness that you want. Your yeast should smell exactly the same as your friend’s, unless you’re using very unusual flour.[/li][li]Buy commercial dried yeast (e.g. GoldRush), or send away for a free dried starter from Carl’s friends. In both cases, the yeast strain should be pretty sour.[/li][li]“Hit or miss”; use the wild yeasts in your environment. Since the sourness and taste of your bread will depend upon the exact nature of the yeast that “wins out”, and this depends strongly on geographic location, there’s no guarantee that anyone using this method will end up with good sour bread.[/ol]Most people that I’ve heard of who have had “bad sourdough experiences” used the third method, and just picked up an unsuitable yeast (in some cases, even being in the San Francisco area isn’t sufficient these days, as it was in 1849).[/li]
Personally, if I didn’t have a local friend with a good starter to “sponge” off (heh), I’d just buy the GoldRush starter. I’ve used it myself to good effect in the past. I know some people look down on it, but YMMV.

You might also want to check out a recent thread here

I don’t have previous sourdough experience, so I don’t know what a starter should smell like. I’m just going by the information I can find online.

I think I’ll go ahead and try to bake with what I’ve got, just to see what happens (acetone flavored bread, anyone?). If I fail, I’ll definitely send for a tried-and-true starter. I probably should’ve done that in the first place, but my DIY streak can be hard to reason with at times.

Your starter method did include milk at some point, right? I’ve heard it’s the lactobacteria that give sourdough its tang.

I’ve never made a starter that started with milk. I suppose you could use yogurt cultures or something like that, but I’ve never attempted it.

Also, it’s not really true that it’s the airborne yeasts that start your sourdough–from what I’ve always understood, it’s the yeasts in the flour itself that propagate when you make a starter. Rye is the easiest flour to build a starter from.

I have a Carl’s starter thats about to celebrate its 5th birthday.

No advice, just wanted to share :slight_smile:

I started with equal parts rye flour and bottled water. I fed it rye for the first couple days and switched to regular unbleached bread flour after that. Nothing happened at first, then after five days it started frothing and developing the aforementioned odor.

I made my dough today using only the starter as a leavening agent – no baker’s yeast. It’s been about four hours and the dough is rising, albeit very slowly – so I definitely did capture some strain of wild yeast or another. Whether or not it’s sour is another question – I’ll find out tomorrow when I bake it.

Once again, it’s most likely you didn’t capture anything. The wild yeast is already in the flour:


Eh, it doesn’t look like it’s going to rise enough. Oh well, it was worth a try. I think I’ll sneak down to the bakery and buy a nice fresh loaf of San Francisco sourdough and tell everyone I made it.

A happening starter will give off a sharp, sort of alcohol note. I think the description I’ve come across which makes the most sense is “sharply acidic”. If there’s a sort of rotting vegetation smell, your starter is still too young, you need to keep feeding it.

Your starter will raise bread if it will raise itself … if you had about an equal amount of flour and some water to your starter it should double in size inside of eight hours or less, depending on the temperature.

Bear in mind that natural levains work more slowly than commercial yeast, and do better with long, slow, cool proofing. Don’t dump it, leave it overnight and see what happens.

My bet though, would be that your starter is a bit young still. Keep feeding it and you’ll see it get more and more active. If you’ve already got activity within seven days, that’s a nice, lively young starter you’ve got, all you need to do is give it a bit more time to establish itself.

I think there’s a lot of mythology around about sourdough starters, in my experience there’s nothing all that complicated about getting a good starter happening: flour, water and a bit of patience are all that’s needed. I have found that a good quality organic flour speeds the process up considerably.

I think you’re right. I was going to throw my starter out today, but then I noticed that the volume had increased about 50% since the last time I checked it. It’s never done anything like this before. It’s alive, it’s alive!

I’ll give it more time to develop. I probably jumped the gun by trying to bake with it so early.

It’s a mistake to think that “sourdough” or natural levain always has to be sour. Sourdough starters can span the entire gamut of sourness. In Europe, it’s considered a flaw for levain to come out sour and the best french baguettes are made from levain and do not have more than a hint of sourness.