With fall closing in quickly on us, baking seems to be on everyone's mind. We get a lot of calls concerning temperatures. I have learned that controlling temperatures are a major part of sourdough starters. This is why we advise our customers at Sourdoughs International to make a proofing box.
In an earlier blog I provided instructions on how to make a simple proofing box. Our sourdough cultures like 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first 24 hours to start the activation. The higher temperature promotes rapid growth of the lactobacilli and acid production. High acidity helps prevent contamination by non-sourdough organisms present in most flour. After the first 24 hours, you then reduce the temperature to 70 degrees for the next 3 to 4 days. Of course there are steps in there that you do to feed, etc. but what we are addressing is the temperature issue.
The reason that the temperature should be at 70 degrees is that this temperature slows the bacterial growth and acid production. Too much acidity inhibits yeast. The majority of our calls that concern temperature is that they do not want to do these temperatures. Well, that is like buying a gas truck and putting diesel in it. It might work for a few miles but it won't work for long. Temperature is a very important part of this process. A proofing box is a must. The picture included is an active polish sourdough starter.
Another question we get asked is how do I know if my culture is bad? That's simple: the smell. Some say, well my culture has a different smell. Nope. If your culture is bad there will be no question in your mind that it is bad. The smell is horrible—run you out of the house horrible. Most people are not used to a natural-leavened sourdough smell. Some smell yeasty, others have a distinctive smell, not all are the same. If your sourdough culture is contaminated you can wash it. Most times this will save your culture.
I always suggest when trying new things with your sourdough culture, write all your steps down. It may seem silly at first but we all have made something and wished we could remember what we did to make it. This way if you have a notebook, you know what worked and what didn't. Great references to look back at. Once you are in the habit of it, it is second nature.
Holidays are quickly approaching and what a great gift sourdough starters can be. It is a gift that will keep on giving the entire year and many years to come. Happy baking!