What Happened to My Sourdough Starter?

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Q: Day 1: I mixed 4 ounces of bread flour with 4 ounces of water in a small mixing bowl, covered it loosely with plastic, and set it in a place where the temperature was about 75°F.

Day 2: After 24 hours, there was definite activity (bubbles) and I gave it a feeding of another 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water.

Day 3: More bubble activity and another feeding.

Day 4: I checked it in the morning and all yeast activity had stopped. The flour separated from the water and settled to the bottom of the bowl. Stirring the starter gave it the consistency of moderately thick soup tasting as sour as vinegar and slightly bitter.

Do you have any suggestions as to what might have gone wrong? I am anxious to start another batch, but would like to hear your opinion before possibly repeating a mistake.

Thank you for any help you can offer.

Sent by Claus

Editor: We’re going to the experts for this one, Claus. I passed your question along to Richard Miscovich, the author of From the Wood-Fired Oven. Here’s what he had to say:

Did you pour off some of the starter before you gave it another feeding? If not, the ratio of new food to fermented flour decreases with each feeding. Within a day or two, the new food will get rapidly consumed and the whole thing will rapidly overferment. Overfermented starters can separate and will be sour.

By discarding some of the starter, you will control the ratio of fermented starter to fresh flour and water. Do you still have the starter? If so, it can probably be easily revived by doing what I describe. For example, pouring off all but 4 ounces of fermented starter and adding 4 ounces each of water and flour.

If you got rid of it, then I guess you need to start another! I always use a little whole rye flour and molasses to get a starter going. The rye flour is enzymatically active and the molasses gives it a little kick right at the beginning.

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