Can I Use My Starter If It Doesn’t Float?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the float test for sourdough. Here’s what you need to know if you haven’t already:

You can test if sourdough starter floats in water by taking a scoop and dropping it into a glass of water.

When your sourdough starter floats, it’s ready for baking. Sinking means it isn’t ready.

Does this test really need to be done and is it accurate? Is there a better way to determine when your sourdough starter is ready to bake bread?

It is not necessary for your sourdough starter to pass the float test in order to bake excellent sourdough bread – however, it should show signs of maturity in other ways as well.

What Is The Sourdough Float Test?

Float tests can be used to test the readiness of a starter for baking sourdough.

In order to determine if the starter floats, a spoon of it must be dropped into a glass of water.

As long as the scoop of sourdough starter floats, it is ready to be baked.

To determine whether a sourdough starter is ready to raise bread, many other questions would need to be answered.

A sourdough starter’s age is the first factor to consider. If it hasn’t been two weeks, it definitely isn’t ready for baking.

If your starter has been fermenting for more than two weeks, it needs to meet some signs before it can be baked.

What Happens If Sourdough Starter Does Not Pass The Float Test?

The float test doesn’t have to be passed by your sourdough starter to work. To determine the next step, ask yourself the following questions:

Boosting is an option if your starter has been over three months and doesn’t pass the float test.

Are you using a sourdough starter that is more than two weeks old? It should be checked for readiness if it is older than 2 weeks but not floating.

Are you using a sourdough starter that is less than two weeks old? It should be fed twice a day for a few more weeks before reassessing its readiness.

You may still be able to use your starter for baking even if it does not pass the float test:

  • It may be because you are using a flour that does not contain strong gluten bonds (like rye or whole wheat).
  • (False negative) The starter has passed its peak but remains viable.
  • Before performing the test, you haven’t fed the starter.
  • Tests were conducted after stirring the starter.

Do You Stir Sourdough Starter Before the Float Test?

In order to conduct a float test, it is important not to stir the starter before starting the engine.

The sourdough starter will not float at all if you stir it, as you will disturb all the gas bubbles expelled by the yeast.

There will be no bubbles in it, so it will look stretched and stringy.

In order to ensure a successful test, it is important to scoop the starter gently from the top of the jar, carefully avoiding disturbing its integrity.

To make the starter float, the gas bubbles must be intact.

The Problem With Sourdough Float Test

When it comes to measuring your sourdough starter’s readiness to bake, the float test is not the best or most accurate method.

False positives or false negatives can easily result from the test. Your sourdough starter’s ability to hold gas is all this test shows.

It is possible for a young starter (before it is two or four weeks old) to pass this test, but not yet be ready to make sourdough.

Additionally, a 4- to 6-month-old sourdough starter that is doubling consistently and rising could fail the test.

There is a possibility of a false negative if the sourdough starter has been mishandled or has been tested beyond its peak.

What Should You Do Instead?

A float test is often recommended by bakers as a way of determining when a starter is ready to bake. The process is simple and fast.

If you want to avoid using the float test due to its inconsistent nature, consider these alternatives:

Look for Bubbles and Foam:

You will first see a flat, smooth starter with some bubbles on its surface when you first make a starter. You will see more bubbles on the surface of your starter as it matures. It is noticeable that an active starter foams several hours after feeding.

Measure the Rise and Fall:

The size of active sourdough starters varies slowly over time, often doubling a few hours after a feeding. Mark the level of your starter in a jar with a rubber band if you keep it in a jar.

The starter is almost ready to bake when it doubles above the rubber band mark. You’ll get the best results from most recipes when your starter has just begun to sag under its own weight.

Keep Track of Its Age:

What is the age of your sourdough starter? It is generally not possible to make artisanal loaves with week-old sourdough starters, though sandwich loaves can be made with them.

You should use your starter for more complex breads after it has been in your starter for at least 2 weeks, preferably 4 weeks.

In order for all of these methods to work, you will need to feed your sourdough starter regularly. It may be difficult to predict the peak baking time of your starter if you feed it at varying times or if you feed it inconsistently.

To reactivate your starter, you should give it at least three days of regular feedings after taking it out of the fridge.

Type of Flour

Your sourdough starter’s ability to float in water depends on the type of flour you use.

The starter may not be able to develop the strong gluten network that is necessary for the starter to float if it is made from certain flours, such as rye or whole wheat.

When the dough is ready to bake, it will rise normally. The type of flour you are using may be the cause of your sourdough starter not floating.

Hydration Affects Sourdough Float Test

Sourdough starters that are a little runny or have a higher hydration than 100% will typically fail the float test.

In general, it is better to have a thicker sourdough starter rather than a watery one. A warm peanut butter consistency will make it rise better.

Floating in water is also made easier by this consistency, allowing the starter to hold onto the gas bubbles more easily.

Final Words

It is possible for the float test to be misleading. It will let you know if you have trapped gas bubbles in the starter. 

But the process of getting the sample into the water unintentionally degasses it. Although there is plenty of life in the water, it may sink.

You also won’t know what your yeast activity is. A starter that is six weeks old and has fewer yeast cells will be creating CO2 and trapping gases. 

Can it make a nice loaf of bread?

As much as possible, I like to keep things simple. As soon as I see that my starter has doubled within 8-10 hours, I know it’s ready to use. Not even a float test. The method may not be scientific, but it seems to work for me.

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