That reminds me Sourdough starters are great gifts to give to friends (and a possible idea for Christmas presents... hmmm.)
How to Divide Your Sourdough StarterTo divide your sourdough starter, separate half of the starter in to a new bowl. Feed as usual (1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water, stir really well and leave out overnight or if during the day for about four hours). Don't forget to feed your half too.
Usually I separate just before I give the starter away that way the starter can eat on it's journey to it's new home and be ready to put in the fridge when it gets there.
Troubleshooting Sourdough TroublesBeing a living thing, a sourdough starter can sometimes get a bit, um, temperamental.
Here are a list of problems I've come across from time to time and their possible solutions. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer them. As more questions happen, I'll update this list.
I made a starter and it didn't get bubbly.
This means that the yeast didn't grow in your starter. This could be for several reasons. You might be using treated water, like city tap water, that has added chemicals in it that prevent the growth of bacteria and yeast. Or possibly you don't have enough natural yeast in the air. Or, it could be too cold where you had it. Or, some bad bacteria might have gotten into the starter and overpowered the yeast. Or, it could just be a matter of luck. Sourdough yeast is a living thing and sometimes it just doesn't feel like growing.
Toss out your first try and start again. Make sure the starer is in a warmish place (average temp between 67 to 75 degrees F.) with plenty of airflow (but no draft). Buy some fresh, organic fruit and keep it in the same room as the would-be starter. This helps add yeast to the air as natural yeast likes to grow on fruit. Make sure the cover on the sourdough is not airtight.
My new starter got really bubbly but then suddenly stopped
This can mean that your starter is hungry. If the weather has been consistently warm, the yeast may be super-active and ate up all its food. Feed it with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour and an equal amount of water, then leave it stand for 12 hours. If it bubbles up again, then you know it was just hungry.
This can also happen if the temperature has gone from warm to cool. The cooler it is, the less active the starter. Try to keep the new starter at a consistantly warm temp for the first few days while it gets established. To save this starter, try feeding it (as above) and keeping it above 65 degrees F.
There is a strange liquid in my starter and it smells like alcohol
Congratulations, you have now made hooch. NOT that I would recommend drinking it. This happens when the yeast in the sourdough starter starts converting the sugars in the flour to alcohol. It's not a good thing. It's usually occurs if the starter has been left too long between feeding or at too warm a temp.
It is sometimes possible to save the starter, and well worth a try. Drain off the hooch and feed the starter as per normal. If it bubbles up after the usual feeding time, you know it can be saved. Feed it again! And after the required waiting time, feed it a third time. (you guys know that when I say feed, I mean, feed it flour, water and wait a while for it to start working, right?). If you don't want that much starter then you can divide it between each feeding.
This has saved my sourdough more than once, but if it's been left too long, then I'm very sorry to inform you, but your sourdough starter has passed away. Joined the choir invisible, pushing up the daisies. You need a new one.
My Sponge didn't bubble up overnight
Possibly too cold. Did you do like me and leave it under an open window? Put it out of the draft and somewhere a little bit warmer. If it starts to bubble up then you know for next time not to leave it there.
Did you leave it too long? More than 12 hours and the sponge will use up all its food and go dormant. Feed it again and wait at least 4 hours until it goes all bubbly.
Bread didn't rise
Oh dear, you do like to ask the tough questions, don't you?
Did it not rise at all or did it not rise enough?
If it didn't rise at all, it might be that there is something wrong with your starter. Try feeding it, and if it responds positively (with bubbles) over the usual period of time, then it is alive. It might need a few feeding to get it active again. This is assuming you did make a sponge the night before you tried to make bread.
If it didn't rise enough... well, there are many possible causes. If someone hasn't written a very long book on the topic, please let me know. I'm thinking at least 400 pages could easily be dedicated to why didn't my bread rise properly.
But, here are some of the more common solutions.
- starter wasn't active enough
- temperature wasn't warm enough/was too warm/was inconsistent.
- Didn't wait long enough (sourdough takes longer than commercial yeast)
- Didn't knead the dough enough/kneaded too much.
- Not enough glutin in the flour for it to rise. Even changing from bread flour to whole wheat will give you a noticeable difference. Using something like rye, spelt, or a gultin free flour will give a heavy bread no matter what yeast you use.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment. I hope to expand this page as the need requires.