The Fresh Loaf

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Seed Starter or Mother Starter?

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Dalila's picture
Dalila

Seed Starter or Mother Starter?

I am lucky enough to live in the SF Bay Area with fantastic bread bakeries around each bend. One of the best of these was kind enough to give me a container of their "starter" to help me make my first sourdough breads using Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. The trouble is, although i've read a bunch about this, I can't figure out if they've given me a seed starter or a mother starter! It is a small amount, perhaps 8 ounces, and is bubbly and neither runny or dough-like, but somewhere in between.... say very sticky, wet, very very soft dough? Would any of you have a guess as to what they might have given me? They are closed and have been for a couple of days so I can't ask them! They said to be sure and feed it... does this mean it is a mother starter? Your guesses would be most appreciated!


One last question - do I leave it out until it reches room temp before using it?


Thanks so much!!!


Dalila

Ford's picture
Ford

From your description, it is an active starter.  I am not sure of your reference to "seed" and "mother."  I would feed this starter (at room temperature) in the ratio of 1:1:1 by weight of starter:chlorine-free water:unbleached flour.  This will give you a starter of 100% hydration.  You can refrigerate it but bring it back to room temperature every couple of weeks and feed it again.


Ford

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Yes, feed it as soon as you can, and keep feeding it 2x per day if you plan to bake with it. 


Sounds like it's a medium-firm starter, so a 75% hydration would probably be best. 


Save 20g of starter (or at least 1 tbsp), feed it with 50g flour and 38g water. 


If you choose to refrigerate it, leave it out at room temp at least 1 hour before putting it in the fridge. 


If you're going to bake with it, keep it at room temperature for at least 1 day before you plan to bake with it, and feed it 2x per day. 


If you're ready to bake with it, figure out how much starter you need, and then feed it the appropriate amount of flour & water to build the amount required for your recipe, plus a little extra. The little extra will be what you feed to maintain your starter (you want to save at least 1 tablespoon). Let the mixture rest for until it peaks (anywhere between 3-6 hours usually) and then use the starter in your recipe, reserving that tablespoon (or more) to feed and maintain your starter. 


Good luck, and congratulations! 


 

sphealey's picture
sphealey

I suspect the various classifications of "mother starter", "seed starter", "chef", etc are generated by cookbook authors' attempt to translation production bakery formulas and processes into usable home recipes. 


Per Hamelman, a real production bakery doesn't keep "starter" per se:  it takes 1000g of sourdough from the day before, uses it to build (say) 200 kg of dough, and just before mixing in final ingredients and/or shaping it simply lops 1000g off and sets that by for tomorrow.


That process doesn't translate too well to the home kitchen, where we are not mixing dough 2-3 times/day (or even every day).  We are more likely to bake once or at most twice per week, we are generally refrigerating our starter in between, and we have the time to separate the starter refreshment process from the dough mixing process.  So the cookbook authors come up with various words and phrases to describe this, and invent terms such as "mother starter".


That's my 0.02 anyway.


sPh

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Dalila.


Welcome to TFL!


The responses above give you lots of information. 


Terminology is not standardized among countries or baking book authors, as you have already heard. The important distinction, in my opinion, is between a new sourdough in the process of development and one in which the yeast and bacteria have reached a symbiotic equilibrium. The latter, if activated (recently fed and ripened), is what you almost certainly were given. 


If you plan on using it repeatedly, you need to have a routine for keeping it healthy by feeding it when it's hungry. If you are not baking at least several times a week, you may also need a routine for storing it between baking days. There are many such routines that work well. My advice is to choose routines that works with your life and to avoid getting spooked by the variety of conflicting advice you get regarding the best/only right way to nurture your starter.


Now, as you gain experience with sourdough baking, you will want to fine tune your bread's flavor profile, and different storage and feeding routines do impact flavor. But, whatever your usual routine is, you can make the adjustments you need to achieve the flavor you want in one or two feedings.


If you do not work outside the home, and if you plan to bake sourdough bread 2 or 3 times per week, a twice a day feeding schedule might suit you. If you will be baking only on weekends, keeping your starter refrigerated in a firm state and starting to activate some of it as the weekend approaches may work better. Otherwise, you will end up discarding a lot of starter.


Many sourdough bakers keep just a small amount (15-20 g) refrigerated. However, several authorities recommend keeping at least 350 g as your stored starter as important for starter health and better flavor.


Once you have figured out the frequency with which you will be using your starter, more specific advice can be provided.


Happy baking!


David

Dalila's picture
Dalila

Thank you David. I wouldn't have thought about it this way. I appreciate you bringing it up. As a single mom with a full time career I doubt I'll be baking bread every day! So I will keep it in the fridge as you suggest, and take it out when needed.


Thanks for your clarification on the differences in starter stages, etc. It all makes perfect sense to me now!


Dalila

Dalila's picture
Dalila

I am so appreciative of your warm and detailed replies to my question. I think I understand now and am ready to bake! I'm very excited!


 


Following your advice, I took the starter out of the fridge around 1:00, then fed it around 5:00. It is now 7:00. It looks a little loose, a little more runny than before. It is more like pancake batter now. It is a little bubbly but not a lot. I would like to mix up a batch of dough late tonight to let it works its magic overnight. Does that sound about right or should I wait to mix it in the morning?


This site is a wonderful resource. You are all so knowledgeable and generous. Thank you so much for your help!


Dalila

emmsf's picture
emmsf

Hi Dalila.  I think folks have given you great advice here.  I see you've waited 2 hours since feeding.  Whether you can use the starter now just depends on how well fed your starter was when you began.  If your starter were sitting in the fridge for 2 weeks, you couldn't feed it and use it 2 hours later.  You'd really have to feed it, wait at least overnight, feed it again, and really get it revved up, so to speak.  Then, when it's strong and happy, you can use it.  However, if your starter was just refrigerated for a day or two and was fed and strong when you placed it in the fridge, you could just go ahead and use it straight off.  (Don't forget to save a portion and "rebuild" it  by adding more water and flour to begin the cycle again for future use.)


One more thing on feeding schedules:  generally speaking, the LESS frequently you feed your starter, the MORE sour it will be.  So a starter fed once a day will generally produce a more sour loaf of bread than, say, a starter  fed 3 times a day.  Other flavor profiles change too.  But I wouldn't worry about that now.  Just pick a feeding schedule that works for you.  (I don't bake  every week, so I feed mine just once every 2 weeks, leaving it of the fridge for 24 hours after feeding before putting it back in the fridge.  If I want to bake sooner, I just take it out the day before, feed it, wait 24 hours and then I'm ready to go.)


Good luck!

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Dalila.


How did you feed your starter? If you don't know, I would suggest you invest in a good digital scale, so you can start measuring ingredients by weight, which is much more accurate than volume, especially for flour.


If your starter is batter-like, it is probably 100 to 125% hydration. Do you know what that means? It means that it contains as much water as flour (100% hydration) to 1.25 times the amount of water as flour (125% hydration). This way of looking at a recipe is called "baker's math" and is well worth learning about.


So, to your question: For any starter, your want to use it when it is at its peak of activity. There are different criteria to tell when a liquid starter like yours is "ripe" than those used to tell when a firm starter (50-75% hydration) is ripe. For a liquid starter, it should be very bubbly. It may have lots of little, foamy bubbles as well as larger ones. It may have expanded significantly in volume, but, if it has expanded and collapsed, it is over-ripe. That means it has consumed too much of the sugar released from the flour starch, and the yeast may be less active and, therefore, less able to raise your bread dough.


From your description, your starter has not yet reached it's peak. But it may be past it's peak in another 8 hours. One option would be to feed it again before going to bed, then use it in the morning. Another option would be to refrigerate it now and use it to mix your dough in the morning, after letting it come to room temperature. 


Now, you could mix your dough tonight, and see what happens. Just realize, a "young" starter is going to give you a different flavor than a ripe one.


For the sake of experience, you might want to mix one batch of dough tonight using part of your young starter, and mix another batch in the morning using starter handled with one of the other two options I mentioned. Then you can compare the results for yourself.


Happy baking!


David