Here is a question I received shortly after the Almanac Show. The listener was having trouble with a starter from Maggie Gleezer’s book Artisan Baking.
The listener writes; “At each stage the starter developed a grey, mouldy-looking crust on top. Each time I refreshed it I removed the crust but it developed again after two days. At the end of two weeks (about six or seven refreshings) the starter still didn’t rise much so I gave up and threw it out. Is the grey on top normal? Does it mean there is unwanted bacteria in the starter?”
One of the best tricks I have learned about starters...I think it was from Reinharts book, is that when you refresh a starter, you need to have a small ratio of starter to the flour water ratio. If there is too much starter it grows to quickly and literally eats all the "food" you have provided with the flour and water. So I started adding cups of water and flour to my starters, then having way too much starter kicking around my fridge. So now I use a tablespoon or two of starter for a cup of flour and water. It always seems easier for me to turn this into a larger starter over a day or two rather than be discarding cups and cups of the frothy stuff everyday....I don't have many friends who want their own starters. But don't try storing starter in the tablespoon quantities. Always have about a cup (or more) made. If you have made it fresh, give it an hour or so at room temperature to get the yeast and enzymes a good start...I always picture them as eating, and they can't have a good feed if they start cold. Store that in the fridge if you aren't using it and then refresh it at least once, (three times seems to be the magic number for a nice vigorous starter, but I always use it after the first feeding because I am not thinking three refreshings ahead of time in my life right now!)
The other question regarding bad bacteria...hmm. I've only had starters go mouldy from neglect. If I refresh them regularly they have not gotten mouldy. Greyish, yes. I wonder if there could have been mould in the flour.
I am not sure if the above information will solve the listeners problem, so I am going to make the starter my self.
This starter takes seven to fourteen days to make, and I will write the recipe down in pieces…starting with day one right now.
The First Day
Mixing the First Starter
½ cup water, lukewarm
¾ cup whole rye flour
Mix the water and rye in a nonreactive bowl and tightly cover it with plastic wrap, or transfer it to a sealed glass or plastic jar. Let stand for about two days. It should bubble up, smell and look awful, and then subside. At this point it is ready to refresh.
Well, I’m off to start the starter. I’ll be back in two days to let you know if it got the grey, mouldy-looking skin.
Great question! and thanks for listening to the show,