Since releasing our course about Creating and Maintaining a Sourdough Starter, we've had fellow bakers and students writing in questions about their starter. Here were the most common five questions or concerns:
0:30 Starter isn't floating
The float test is just one way to determine whether your starter is ready to bake with, but it is not the only way. As long as your starter is vigorously bubbling, doubling when you feed it, and smelling pleasantly yeasty and sour, it should be perfectly fine to bake with. If your starter isn't showing positive signs, either give it a few hours in a warm spot to perk up or consider discarding and feeding again.
Have patience! It can take a couple weeks for the starter to be ready to bake with, depending on your specific starter and environment.
1:00 Running out of the flour you're using to feed
You can use any number of flours to maintain a sourdough starter, so don't worry if you're running out. Just be sure to transition your starter to a new flour gradually instead of all at once. Keep in mind that whole grain flours such as rye and spelt will ferment much more rapidly than all-purpose flour.
2:57 What should my starter smell like?
Your starter will have a totally unique sour and yeasty aroma to it. Every one is unique! The only smells that indicate a problem are 1. if your starter smells like nail polish remover and 2. if your starter smells strongly like sulfur. The nail polish smell comes from the ethanol being produced when your starter is very hungry, so try feeding more often or keeping your starter in a slightly cooler place. A sulfurous smell could be a sign that your water source is not pure enough to be used in a starter.
4:22 What is the liquid on top my starter? Hooch?
If you go to feed your starter and see a clear, yellow, brown, gray, or black liquid on the surface, don't panic! This is a sign that your starter is very hungry, but it in all likelihood will still be alive. The liquid is a form of ethanol commonly called "hooch" and is a byproduct of the fermentation process. Either stir the liquid into your starter to make it more sour before discarding and feeding or pour off the liquid to keep your starter more on the mild side.
5:55 Why is my starter not rising or bubbling?
Could be a lot of things! Make sure your starter is staying warm enough between feedings. Consider adjust your ingredients (especially your water source) to make sure you're not introducing anything toxic into the mix. If your starter is on the young side, keep feeding! It probably just needs a few more days and a little more heat to perk up.
What other questions are we missing? Leave a comment below!