You can’t bake bread until you’ve mastered the art of the starter, and it’s not always easy! Utilize our tips for making a bread starter (it’s super, super-easy) and troubleshoot it if need be with baking guru Claus Meyer’s new cookbook, Meyer’s Bakery. If you need to ask “what’s wrong with my starter,” Meyer’s there to help you fix it. Your kitchen will fill with the transcendent fragrance of freshly baked bread in no time at all.

Reprinted with permission from Meyer’s Bakery

Generally speaking, a starter is both adaptable and cooperative, but you may encounter problems along the way. Below, we take you through some of the more common issues and show you how to fix them.

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My Starter Appears “Tired”

Your starter doesn’t rise and bubble after being refreshed. It’s become a little weak, and it needs “muscling up” to obtain a higher concentration of wild yeast cells. To make it more active again, leave it at room temperature for three to four days, refreshing it daily. If that doesn’t help, make a new starter (see page 44). Remember that as your starter starts to bubble after being refreshed, the bubbles will disappear again. This is quite normal because bubbles only occur as long as there is enough “food” for the yeast cells and the lactic acid bacteria.

My Starter Smells Rancid

If your starter begins to smell slightly rancid, try refreshing it daily for three to four days, to see if that removes the bad odor. If this doesn’t help, make a new starter (see page 44).

#Tip

You could make a new starter while also administering first aid to the starter that’s giving off a bad odor. That way, you’ll be sure to have a starter whether your rescue attempt succeeds or not.

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My Starter Is Separating

When your starter is left to its own devices, the flour will sink, leaving a thin layer of liquid on top and a thicker, sandy layer at the bottom. This is quite normal and no indication that anything is wrong with your starter. Just stir it from time to time, to make it smooth again.

My Starter Is Very Dark On Top

Sometimes, the thin liquid on top of your starter may turn rather dark, especially if you’ve left it alone for quite a while. The dark color is due to the alcohol produced as the starter ferments and is a sign that you need to refresh your starter. However, you shouldn’t have to refresh it more then once or twice before it’s up and running again.

Summer Starter

In summer, your starter will turn sour more quickly as all processes involved accelerate in warmer weather. If you use your starter on a daily basis or every other day, and you usually keep it at room temperature, leave it in the fridge during the day and then take it out and let it stand on the kitchen table in the evenings in summer. If, however, you don’t get to bake that regularly, keep it in the fridge and then, before using it, refresh the starter and let it stand at room temperature for as long as you would normally do.

There’s Mold On My Starter

A starter is so acidic that it has an antibacterial effect, which would normally prevent mold bacteria from developing, and this is why your starter will never become moldy inside. However, if you’ve splashed a little starter up the insides of the container you store it in, mold may grow there because dried starter is less acidic than wet, and cannot keep the mold bacteria at bay. The starter itself is fine though, so simply transfer it to another, clean container and continue to use it.

My Stock Rye Starter Has Turned Slightly Red Just Beneath The Surface

Your starter has been left for too long without being refreshed. So refresh it. When you are ready to use it for baking, it will benefit from being refreshed once more before making your young rye starter.

Has My Starter Died?

A starter usually tolerates neglect, so killing it is close to impossible. Usually, it’ll simply be “disappointed” or “sour” and being refreshed daily three to four times normally brings back its kind and mild nature, full of active yeast cells that will help your bread rise. However, if you see no activity at all (no bubbles on the surface) after refreshing it a few times, then it may actually have passed away all the same. And then there’s no way around it; you’ll have to make a new starter (see page 44).