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Questions regarding maintaining a starter and hydration

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jpolchowski's picture
jpolchowski

Questions regarding maintaining a starter and hydration

Hi all. I'm working on becoming a sourdough baker and have been doing a lot of reading from several sources. Unfortunately, pretty much every source differs in explanation of maintaining a starter. I have a few questions that I could hopefully get some clarification on, all of which are kinda interrelated. 


For instance, I am currently going by the starter recipe in Peter Reinhart's " Crust and Crumb". This calls for maintaining a starter with 3 parts flour to 4 parts wa

ter by weight. This differs from most other sources that I have read which often calls for either equal parts, or the opposite, 4 parts flour to 3 parts water (1:4:3 ratio). This ties into the second thing I don't really understand, which is hydration. When one is talking about 100% hydration, that means equal parts water to flour, right? Would that be by weight or by volume? I would assume by weight but it seems like many guides are done by volume rather than weight. If that is the case, then would that make my starter of 3 parts flour to 4 parts water a 133% hydration then?


My next question is how much starter I should keep when feeding it. This has varied wildly so I am not sure if there is really one "correct" way, or if it just needs a minimum and the amount doesn't really matter as long as it is more than that? For instance, I have read that it should be equal parts old to new, so for example, you would add 40g water and 30g flour to 70g starter. Then there is the common 1:4:3, so that is using much less old starter to new additions. I have seen as little as 1:5:5 even. So I am basically unsure of how much starter I should be keeping when I am feeding it. I have been doing equal volumes old to new as in my first example but I am rather unsure, as Reinhart's book doesn't specify exactly how much should be kept and how much discarded-it seems to be about equal amounts old to new but never exactly.


One final question. Guides that I read, including Reinhart's, says that after feedings, the starter should be doubling in volume. I have noticed that in mine there really isn't significant volume increase. It bubbles, releases hooch, and is distinctly sour smelling, so I assume it is active, but it isn't achieving much volume. Is it just because it is such a thin consistency that it can't get very voluminous? I have been considering altering the feeding ratio to make it somewhat thicker, either even parts or 4 parts flour to 3 parts water. I made my first loaf with the starter today and it was very flat, hardly rose at all in fermenting, proofing, or baking. So I am not sure if my starter is just too weak or what. Should I try adding some yeast or sugar/honey to give it a kick?


Thanks for the help, hopefully that was all worded coherently enough to be understood. I'm still trying to get going with sourdough and not having the best luck, but still working on it. It is a little frustrating, I never had much trouble with my old starter (which I had used when much less informed on sourdough) but can't seem to get this one going very well.

alabubba's picture
alabubba

I maintain my starter like this.


I keep 125g starter in my fridge. When I feed, I remove 100g "Discard" I use it to bake with. The remaining 25g I feed with 50g flour and 50g water. Then put it back in the fridge. (25g +50g+50g=125g)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

are two different ways of feeding.


When starting out, there are bacteria and yeasts but not in concentrated numbers.  They need time to vie for positions and make themselves comfortable.  Once the starter has then established itself, it can be fed differently, usually more. 


Starters are also influenced by the flour, room temperature and amount of water.  So one culture in one house could vary a little or greatly in feeding to a starter in another person's house.  Each person settles into a routine with their starter that best serves both the starter and the home baker and the two of you go thru seasonal changes as well as baking sprees.  There are a variety of starters and hydrations (weight of water divided by the weight of flour) and saved amounts of starter will also vary.  If your starter eats thru the flour quickly, give it more flour the next time or reduce the amount of starter you feed  (I think you can go as low as a teaspoon with no trouble) until you are comfortable with a schedule.   Important is to reduce the size of the starter before feeding and always feed it flour equal in weight to the starter or more otherwise it may go hungry and refuse to work for you.   Then again, if you want to increase the amount of your starter, don't discard but add more water and flour, you will soon have lots of it.


A thin starter will have difficulty rising.  You figured that out.  You seem to have a pretty good idea of how it all works.  You might enjoy Debra Wink's blog on the Pineapple solution.  I would not feed your starter sugar and honey unless you don't want sour sourdough.  Flour is the only food it needs.   If you think you should thicken it up, by all means try it.  You will notice it takes a little longer to get sour again.   How old is it and what's its ambient temperature?

jpolchowski's picture
jpolchowski

Thanks for the response, all the info was very helpful. One thing that I have been doing wrong is when feeding it I have been doubling the starter's weight by flour and water combined, not just flour. So I'll be using more flour now. I should have realized that after it has been developing so much hooch after less than a day. 


The starter is relatively new, only a few weeks old. I actually did start it doing the pineapple juice method (I couldn't find pineapple juice so used orange juice which she said works just as well). 


With my old starter I didn't do it by weight at all. I would just discard some and add flour and water by eye till it reached a consistency I liked. I guess that can work but not very reliable I suppose. I noticed that over time I was having less and less success with it (poorer rising, etc). I wanna do this one a lot more by the book so to speak for best results.


I use my bread mostly for sandwich bread so putting more thought to it, a full sourdough may not be the best choice as it'd be flatter and rather hole-y. Today when I did my feeding instead of discarding half, I decided to split what I have into two starters. One I plan to maintain at 100% hydration or more as I had previously been doing-Reinhart's barm sponge for San Francisco Sourdough. I have some friends who are pretty fanatic about very sour sourdoughs. The other half I am turning into about 60% hydration-Reinhart's levain mild starter. I think that will produce bread more of what I'm looking for. While it won't be as sour, it should have much better rise and form fitting for sandwich bread I hope. I'll probably keep the sourdough sponge refrigerated or maybe even frozen until I need it and probably keep the levain starter more active since I'd be baking with it more frequently.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

:)  Mini