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I'm trying to start my first "successful" sourdough starter. I posted a question about getting it started here:

Initial Question

Since I asked that question, I started a second starter according to a book suggested by one poster. Once started, it was a 1:1:1 ratio of starter/whole rye flour/warm well water. I also let my other flour, which is the same ratio, but with all-purpose flour, sit for a few days. It got a slightly alcohol smelling liquid on it. The rye didn't rise much but got solid, puffy bubbles fairly quickly. I fed both when the rye was bubbly and the all-purpose had some liquid on top. I poured off most of the liquid and then fed both in their separate containers at about 10pm.

Low and behold, I wake up for work the next morning and they've both doubled. I repeated the process of feeding them at night and they've doubled by 6:45am and started to fall by then, as well. As per the suggestion of many posters on this site, I've been smelling my starters often. The rye smells funny on it's own, but I think recently, that it's been starting to smell more yeasty. However, I wake up in the morning and smell the all-purpose. By that point it's started to fall and it has almost no smell at all. It's fully risen and then fallen by about a quarter at that point.

I figured it should have a really yeasty smell then, like when you activate instant yeast. It just smells flat. Then when I go to feed it that night, it does have a stronger smell, but it's more alcoholic than yeasty. Am I just missing the window of good yeast smell or does it need longer to get established.

I started the all-purpose starter on 9/5/15 with the method described in the linked question. Today is the 4th day it's doubled in size. It didn't start doing that till the morning of 9/15/15. Up until then, I did get bubbling, but no noticeable rise. I figured using the initial method of feeding every 12 hours and replacing half was just removing the yeast I'd grown, so I let it sit till it got that "hooch" on top and I figured that meant yeast activity and after feeding I did get a good rise.

So it's now technically been going for 13 days, it's only been vigorously rising for 4 days. Even though it rises and there are a lot of bubbles, they aren't big huge bubbles. So my question is, that given how I've been handling it, does it just need more time to gain that yeasty smell (I think it should have enough with the way it's rising), am I just missing the time when it smells really yeasty, or am I doing something wrong? Thanks.

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Trying to answer as best I can: Your culture won't smell like alcohol and it won't smell like bread yeast. It will have it's own unique sourdough smell.

Yeast gives off alcohol as part of the process. Different yeasts have different tolerances for how much alcohol they can stand. Basically once the alcohol gets to a certain concentration, the yeast will go dormant. Similar mechanics with beer.

The fact that your cultures doubled is good news. But remember, once the yeast exhausts the available sugars in the flour, they will stop bubbling. That's normal.

If you are leaving your cultures out at room temp, you'll exhaust those sugars quickly.

When I refresh my culture, I leave it out on the counter until it's bubbling and has almost overflowed the container. At that point it goes into the fridge. I will leave it there up to a month before doing another refresh.

Hard to explain but your culture should have a sourdough smell. I can't think of anything to compare it to. Using supermarket sourdough for this may be an exercise in futility as those breads can be pretty lame. My guess is there's nothing wrong with yours.

The only thing I can think that's different from what I do is leaving it out at room temp for more than half a day.

You can abuse sourdough starter up to a point but once you say you're sorry it's your friend again.

Time to make some bread?!

  • That sounds good. I hope there is nothing wrong with it. I am leaving it out at room temp for 24hrs between feedings. I just expected some kind of smell after 8.5hrs of rising. It just doesn't have much of a smell. Also, are you saying that you let your starter rise after feeding and before refrigerating. I always got the impression that you fed and then put in the fridge right away so it would take it longer to eat through the available food. It seems like leaving it out to feed first would burn up the available food too quickly. – Dalton Sep 18 '15 at 20:01
  • It's the way I've been doing it for years. That said, I am not one of those not open to new ideas and ways of doing things. My opinion, the 8 hours or so is not enough to deplete all the sugars. When you get around to making your bread you'll be adding some of your starter to a much larger quantity of fresh flour and water. Your yeast will not go hungry! If you want a reference, watch to see when your yeast stops bubbling at room temp. I think you are at the point where you need to split your starter and make a loaf of bread! Get the butter ready! – user36802 Sep 18 '15 at 21:20
  • P.S. I believe King Arthur Flour has an online PDF that talks about feeding your starter...some sourdough recipes too. I like the extra tangy. It takes a day and a half to make though. I did a refresh today so now I have some extra starter. I guess I'll be making sourdough tomorrow! ...and roasted tomatoes...but that's off topic. – user36802 Sep 18 '15 at 21:26

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