A sourdough starter is an essential part of making sourdough bread. It’s also a fun hobby that allows you to create delicious bread at home. However, sometimes you’ll find yourself wondering why your starter won’t float.
Sourdough starters are made from flour mixed with water in the presence of yeast until bubbles form on top. The mixture ferments for several days before being used as a leavening agent in baking recipes. A good sourdough starter will have lots of tiny air pockets throughout its mass. These allow gas produced by fermentation to escape so that the dough doesn’t become too dense. This makes the finished product light and fluffy.
When you first start out, your starter may not be able to produce enough carbon dioxide to keep all those little holes open. That means there might be more CO2 than can escape through them. As long as this isn’t happening, though, your starter should still work fine. You just need to wait longer for it to bubble up again.
When you mix your ingredients together, they don’t necessarily come into contact with each other immediately.
If you’ve ever tried to make your own sourdough starter, then you know that it takes a lot of patience and practice to get it right. If you’re having trouble with your starter, here are some common problems and solutions.
One of several factors might be preventing your starter from floating.
How effectively your starter floats is affected by the type of flour you use, the hydration of your starting, and how you handle it. A beginning that floats should be made with AP flour, 100 percent hydration, and delicate handling. It will sink if you take the air out of it. The amount of time between mixing and when you add the starter to your recipe affects whether or not your starter will rise properly. Adding the starter after 2 hours has been shown to give better results.
You can try adding additional flour to help prevent sinking. But remember: Too much flour will cause your starter to ferment faster, which could result in off-flavors.
Your starter needs oxygen to grow. So, cover it loosely with plastic wrap while it rests overnight. Or put it in a jar with a lid.
Your starter needs moisture to grow. Keep it covered with damp paper towels or cloths during storage. Don’t let it dry out completely.
The temperature of your room matters. Make sure it stays warm but cool enough. Don’t store your starter near heat sources like ovens or stoves. They can kill the bacteria needed to feed your starter.
There are many different types of flours available today. Some contain gluten others do not. Gluten helps bind things together. When using wheat flour, you want to avoid overmixing because it causes gluten development. Overdevelopment leads to tough baked goods.
The type of flour and the gluten content has a great influence on the way your starter behaves. Here’s what you’ll find in various kinds of bread making flours:
All-Purpose – Contains both protein and starch. Used for most bread. Can also be used for pancakes, waffles, biscuits, etc.
Bread All-Purpose – Has less protein and more starch than AP flour. Good for rolls, bagels, pizza crust, etc.
Whole Wheat Bread Flour – High in fiber and nutrients. Great for whole-grain loaves. Also good for muffins, cookies, cakes, pastries, etc.
White Whole Grain Bread Flour – Similar to white bread flour except contains bran instead of refined sugar. This makes it higher in dietary fiber and vitamins.
Rye Flour – Very high in vitamin B6. Use rye flour for hearty bread such as pumpernickel, rye bread, pretzels, etc.
When you make use of a low protein flour you need to mix longer so that there isn’t too much gluten developed. You don’t have to worry about this problem with other flours.
Sourdough starters float well because they contain live yeast cells. These yeasts produce carbon dioxide gas bubbles that keep them afloat. In addition, these yeasts create an acidic environment that prevents mold growth.
A starter needs enough gluten so that its structure doesn’t collapse under pressure from the rising dough. If you’re working with a very weak starter, then you may need to increase the amount of gluten present in order to get the proper expansion.
If you’ve ever tried to make sourdough bread at home, you know that it takes some practice before you master the art of baking. There are several factors involved in creating a successful loaf of bread. One factor is having a strong sourdough starter.
Gas is really important for a sourdough starter It keeps the mixture floating above the liquid level. The larger the volume of air inside the container, the better chance you will have of keeping your starter alive.
You should always start out with a hydrated starter. Water is essential for life. Without water, nothing would grow. Your starter must stay moist if you expect it to thrive.
The level of hydrations plays an important role in the floating of your starter. A dry starter won’t rise properly. On the contrary, a wet one can easily sink.
If the hydration level is too high then the starter could become gummy or sticky. This happens when the sugars in the flour begin to ferment into alcohol. As soon as the fermentation process begins, the gases produced by the yeast cause the starter to expand rapidly.
This rapid expansion creates a lot of pressure which forces the starter down below the surface of the liquid. Once the pressure builds up, the starter sinks back down again.
In order to prevent this sinking phenomenon, you need to add extra amounts of water during mixing. A sourdough starter’s hydration level should be at least 100 percent to pass the float test. This implies that for every 100g of flour, 100g of water must be added – flour:water ratio of 1:1.
To check whether your sourdough starter floats, simply place a small bowl on top of the starter. Wait until the bubble stops moving around. Then remove the bowl and see how far the starter has risen.
If the starter rises more than 2 inches above the bottom of the bowl, then it’s ready to go!
It’s also possible to measure the height of the starter using a ruler. Simply take note of where the edge of the bowl touches the rim of the measuring cup.
Once you’ve made your first batch of sourdough bread, you’ll want to store your starter in the refrigerator. After all, fresh baked goods taste best after being stored overnight.
However, storing your starter in the fridge means that it loses moisture over time. Sooner or later, your starter might not be able to raise anymore. When this happens, you’ll notice that the bubbles stop appearing. You’ll also find that the starter starts shrinking. In other words, it becomes less active.
So what do you do about it? Well, there are two ways to revive your old starter. First off, try adding another 50-100 grams of flour to your original recipe. Mix well and wait 24 hours.
Afterward, repeat the same procedure but only use half the amount of flour. If the new mix doesn’t work, just throw away the whole thing and make a new batch from scratch.
Another way to keep your starter going strong is to feed it regularly. Every few days, give your starter some additional nutrients like molasses, honey, milk powder, etc.
When your starter reaches its peak activity, it will have lots of bubbling action. The air pockets inside the dough will appear larger and they’re likely to pop open.
As long as these bubbles remain intact, your starter is still good to go. However, once the bubbles burst, it’s time to move on to something else.
Sourdough starters can be used to create delicious homemade loaves of bread. But before you start baking with them, you’ll need to know how to get started.
The next step would be to learn how to properly prepare your ingredients so that you end up with an excellent loaf of bread. Finally, you’ll need to master the art of kneading.
These three steps alone will help you produce great-tasting bread without having to worry about wasting any precious starter.