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New Starter

fresh starter usually requires 24 to 48 hours of proofing before any hooch appears. Hooch appearing after being refrigerated is another story


  • The most confusing of starters, new starters go through stages not usually seen in well established fresh starters. This one fact, is left out of all books which entertain the topic of sourdough, yet it is the most important thing a sourdough neophyte should know. It's usually a confusing experience when the neophyte is comparing his starter and its condition to that of a well established starter. Hopefully this information will help transform your new starter into a fresh, well-established starter.

    There are basically 2 ways to produce what I am calling a "new starter". The first is to revive a dried starter (containing dry spores of the microorganisms) into a liquid starter (containing living, reproducing microorganisms). The second is beginning a new starter from the microorganisms (yeast and lactobacilli) in the local atmosphere where you live. When in the situation of having a new starter on hand, it is important to realize that it usually takes time to transform the starter into a usable, vibrant, fresh starter (which is much more abuse resistant and stable). The process is quite often reiterative, often requiring more than a week or two and a bit of patience. It is also important to realize that it is best to NOT make any bread recipes with the starter until you are SURE that you have transformed it into the vibrant starter described. It is perfectly acceptable to use your "new starter" to make pancakes and waffles, or recipes which use a booster such as baking powder, i.e. most biscuit recipes, to help them out. If you have not, at this point in time, began your new starter (dried or from the air), instructions for doing so follow near the end of this text. I'm assuming that at this time that you have already attempted to start your new starter, but it is not yet a vibrant, fresh starter. Note that it is best to begin a new starter in a clear, glass bowl, so you can examine the amount of bubbles present in the starter below the surface. Also note that starters which are proofing should be prepared so that the consistency of the starter is not too liquidy or too thick. I like to call this the consistency of mud since it most resembles what sloppy mud looks like. This is typically a little thicker than normal pancake batter, but still liquidy enough so bubbles can pass through it with no problems. This thickness results in an optimum mixture of liquid (for mobility), food, and oxygen, which the little yeasties need togrow well. Ok, let's get started. Since new starters have a somewhat unique set of stages that they go through, the first thing to do is to determine exactly what 'new starter' stage your starter is in. Replenish your new starter using 1 cup of starter, 1 1/2 cups (or so) white all-purpose flour, and 1 cup of 85 degree tap water. Let it proof at exactly 85 degrees for exactly 12 hours, then use the following information to determine what stage your new starter is at.

    The stages that new starters typically go through are (not necessarily in order):
    A. Dead: No visible bubbles, and you believe you killed the starter, i.e. the starter has been subjected to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Farenheit. If your new starter was exposed to these temperatures before the above-suggested 12 hour proof, it is probably still dead. Save this starter. It may be revivable!

    B. Flat: No visible bubbles, but you believe you have done nothing that could have killed the yeast, i.e. the starter has not been subjected to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Farenheit or so. Quite often, starter in this stage is quite sour. And equally as often, starter in this stage may be very mild. The starter may have lacto bacilli growing in it (sour smell) but yeast has not taken off yet, or nothing is growing in the flour/water mixture yet.

    C. Barely Living: Visible bubbles exist, but the starter has no frothy layer of bubbles on the surface of the starter. Also, bubbles beneath the surface are not plentiful. It's likely that a layer of hooch formed on top of the starter, even though it was not proofed for more than 12 hours. Stirring the starter with a wooden spoon, then drawing the spoon out of the starter and examining the starter clinging to the spoon shows only a few bubbles in the starter. Note that one of the key symptoms of starter in this stage is the layer of hooch which mysteriously appears "early

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