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I had started my first batch of sourdough starter a week back. Its just wheat flour and water (haven't added any pineapple juice or any other fruit juice). The first 2 days had vigorous activity and the mix stank, a lot! After 3 days the smell has changed to a slightly fruity acetony/alcoholish smell with some remnant of the previous stink. I have been feeding the starter once everyday.

Its been 6 days now and I still don't see any rise that growth of yeasts is suppose to bring with it. The past 3 days I have always observed a slight layer of clear liquid form over my starter. And every time I throw the top part and a little of the starter away to add fresh flour and water. I live in India and its always hot and humid in the day, so room temperature isn't the problem.

My starter has just had a few bubbles in it nothing vigorous like I see in the pictures online. It never rises! There's no rise and fall.

What am I doing wrong? Don't want to waste flour if its dead. Would appreciate any help.

Attaching pics in link for reference

Sourdough starter pics

Edit: Forgot to mention before. I store the starter in a pyrex bowl, with the lid on it. Its not air tight, but neither is the starter getting the kind of air that covering the bowl with a cloth would let. I store it in a dark warm place inside a cupboard.

UPDATE1: So with accurate measurements (S:W:F= 1:1:1), there was a drastic change. No hooch whatsoever, the starter seems more active, there are bubbles throughout the batter. But there's nothing vigorous. There's no rise and fall at all.

Without the overnight rise and fall, is my starter ready to be used for leavening? How can I know if the yeast population is sufficient enough for baking a loaf?

UPDATE2: The sourdough starter rose very well. 2 days was all the difference I needed. The starter tripled in size once the yeast activity was good and going. Have added the result pic in the same album linked above.

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    To me it looks too wet. What is your flour/water ratio? Feed it twice a day and keep it warm--70 to 80F or so. – Rob May 8 at 10:20
  • The consistency is like thin cake batter- so if I take a spatula and check the consistency its not too runny, but its not too viscous to even form ribbons while falling back in the bowl. While feeding I take half cup measure of flour and then take the same cup measure of water and mix it in the starter. – That-Kickass-GirL May 8 at 14:24
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    @That-Kickass-GirL a half cup of flour and a cup of water is a lot of water! I feed mine a cup of flour and half a cup of water. – or1426 May 8 at 15:46
  • Do you mean there is no rise and fall now but there was one? Having bubbles throughout is a good sign but the bubbles should be fairly large to say it's ready. Remove 50g of that and add flour and water, give it a stir, and watch it grow. Put a piece of tape on the side of the bowl if that helps to know where it started from. Hopefully you'll see lots of growth within 12 hours. Then feed it again but you might be good to go! – Rob May 9 at 17:48
  • I meant that in the 24hrs since the last feed ( when I correctly measured the ingredients), there has been no rise and fall at all. I had marked the level of the mix last night. So tonight ( after 24hrs) I see a lot of bubbles ( imagine each bubble diameter ranging from 1mm or less to 3mm). But there was no rise or fall in the 24 hrs. Do I necessarily have to look for the rise and fall? – That-Kickass-GirL May 9 at 18:16
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While feeding I take half cup measure of flour and then take the same cup measure of water and mix it in the starter.

And there is your problem to some extent. Always weigh your flour, water, starter and everything else when baking bread. Water weighs about 25% more than flour. This means you have about 25% too much water (or more).

Great bread recipes take into account humidity, temperature, ingredient weights and the fact that not everybody's measurements will be exactly the same size. Always weigh your ingredients.

So now take 4oz or 100 grams of your starter, add 4oz or 100 grams of water along with 4oz or 100 grams of flour, stir that all up and see what happens in 24 hours.

Then repeat the process again, twice a day, though you may notice great changes as soon as tomorrow. Report back as you do.

If 4oz is a bit much for your container, you can reduce it to 2oz. Making half of the flour wheat--and not just white--helps in the beginning along with a tablespoon of rye if you have it. (Yeah, I'm not picky about the tablespoon here.)

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  • Just fed my starter again. I weighed everything this time. Lo and behold, the consistency is so much different! Much stiffer than before but well hydrated. So if earlier I could pour the starter, now the starter moves at a snail pace when I tilt the bowl to one side. Anyhow, I separated my initial starter(whole wheat) into 2 containers with- 1) 20g Starter + 20g wheat flour + 20g water 2) 60g Starter + 50g wheat flour + 10g Maida( AP flour) + 60 g water Will check back in 24hrs – That-Kickass-GirL May 8 at 21:54
  • I have added an update in the question. – That-Kickass-GirL May 9 at 17:18
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How exactly are you feeding the starter? Are you just adding new flour and water or are you discarding?

What I do (based on recipes I've seen) is discard 2/3 of the starter and add 1/3 of each new flour and water. So if I have 100g of starter, when I feed it, I discard 67g of it and add 33g of each flour and water.

The reason for this is that it gives the starter a lot more "food". If you start with 50g and add 50g, you've added 100% and then have 100g. If you then add 50g more, you're only adding 50% and have 150g. If you add 50g again, you've only added 33% and have 200g. Because you're adding progressively smaller amounts of food, you will get progressively less activity.

Instead if you discard 1/3 and add 2/3, you'll add 200%, and if you do it again, you'll add another 200%, etc. After a few days of this you should have a very active starter.

This does require discarding some of the starter which is why I keep it relatively small. I use 75g of starter for a loaf of bread, so with 100g I have enough for loaf and then enough to re-make the starter.

The discard can be used in other recipes such as pancakes, banana bread, etc. It is 50/50 flour and water so easy to substitute into other recipes.

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