The Fresh Loaf

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How much starter do you really need to keep?

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gizzy's picture
gizzy

How much starter do you really need to keep?

Hi TFL,

I used the Bread Bakers Apprentice to make my seed culture and barm for my sourdough starter... I'm not getting ready to start my sourdough bread and I'm using the recipe for the basic sourdough bread in the same book. When you finish the starter and make the barm, you end up with about 4 cups of it... Thats a lot, at least for me it is as I'm sharing a small fridge with 3 other girls (granted I have the most space, but when you cook everything from scratch and don't eat out all the fruits veggies and other ingredients take up a lot of space) and I dont really have space to store 4 cups of barm in the fridge.

How much do I need to keep if I'm only going to bake bread once, maybe twice a week? Is keeping 1 or 2 cups enough? or is there another way for me to store it so that I dont take up space that I really dont have?

Also, what is the best way of storing the starter? in a bowl with plastic wrap over it? mason jar? ziplock bag?

Thanks,

cranbo's picture
cranbo

You're right, how much you keep depends on the recipes that you make (how much starter those recipes need) and how much you bake. 

I try to keep the smallest amount possible. I bake once a week, and it's not always sourdough, so I usually keep no more than about 200g of starter at any time. If I need more, I'll build it out the 1-2 days before baking to get the amount I need, then feed it and it goes back into the fridge until I'm ready to bake again. 

I like to store my starter in a pint-sized clear plastic container, like the kind that are used when you get prepared foods like potato salad from a deli. I'll use a quart sized container if I need to build more starter. Glass is good too but the lid can be problematic: you want something that is loose fitting, so that it doesn't blow up if there is a lot of gas or dough expansion. 

 

gizzy's picture
gizzy

The recipe I'm using only calls for 2/3 cup of it.

Great tip on the plastic containers... my roommate each chineese a lot so we have the regularly in the apt. I think I'll keep 2 cups starter just so I can practice more each weekend. I'm not worried about having too much bread in the house, I have more then enough friends to give it to and my boyfriends father eats it stale and dunked in his coffee (he doesnt even care if it's good bread which is odd considering he's french).

Thank you!

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Do you have a kitchen scale? It's much easier to do all of this using grams, and it's much more accurate long term. If you weighed 1 C of flour 5 times, using the exact-same-best-as-you-can procedure, you'd get 5 different weights. If you weighed 5 seperate parts of flour, you'd have 5 exact amounts.

A Tbsp of 100% hydration starter weighs ~17 grams (I'd say room for error +/- 2 grams).

Therefore 1 C would be 16 * 17 = 272 grams.

272 divided by 3 = 90.7 grams per 1/3rd C (90.7 is rounded up from 90.66).

2 * 90.7 = 181.4 grams for 2/3rds C.

If you used 2/3rds C for one baking session, you could get this to an exact number each time. If you fed the starter at 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour), then you would need 181.4 grams to bake with, plus a retained amount to refresh. The retained amount at 1:1:1 refreshment is exactly 1/2 of 181.4, or again, 90.7 grams.

If you discard all but 90.7 grams at refreshment, then add 90.7 each water and flour, you would have a total weight of 272.1 grams. You would use this procedure each time you refresh/feed, then on bake day, you would use 181.4 grams in your recipe. You would be left with ~90.7 grams leftover starter, which you then refresh.

The amounts outlined above are for what would be considered a fairly small starter, approx. 1 C versus 4 C. It's just slightly larger than what I keep, so obviously you could manage with even less, but would have to plan ahead with a slight build-up before bake day. As outlined, you'd have to do nothing special, just bake and continue feeding on schedule.

- Keith

gizzy's picture
gizzy

I do have a kitchen scale, but it's not the best though it does weight accuratly. However, I can't use my own bowls and it's not digital (it's kind of old school).ti

I measured out 300 grams of starter to keep. I figure this enough for me to do several loaves to practice each week while still having some left over so I can keep feeding it.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Good enough! 300 grams sounds like a good amount for what you want to achieve right now. = )

Modern kitchen scales have come down drastically in price over the last 5 years or so... it's well worth the investment now. Not only does it lend itself to greater accuracy, but it's also much more time efficient, lends itself to easy scaling of recipes, and puts everyone on the same playing field when exchanging information. Take care and good baking to you!

- Keith

gizzy's picture
gizzy

Thanks Keith! for both your advice in this post and my other posts. They were really helpful!

KNEADLESS's picture
KNEADLESS

I presume that making and using starters predates electricity and electric refrigerators.  Does anyone have knowledge or experience of doing it the old fashioned way?

 

George

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

There were a couple of old fashioned ways... they could feed a starter like we do daily, or they could use 'old dough' from the previous bake. The only thing refrigeration does is make it so that you don't have to do the daily feeds. A lot of folks end up with compromised starters as a result, and others get it to work just fine. I only refrigerate if I know in advance I'll be gone longer than 24 hrs. Other than that, I counter store mine, because the system I have allows me to do the whole refreshment cycle in less than 5 minutes. It's not an ordeal or imposition at all.

- Keith

G-man's picture
G-man

Your mother, the culture that you keep and that you build your dough starters from, can be kept very small. You only need a few grams, maybe 20-25 tops, if you're not baking.

If your starter is healthy, it can easily survive and thrive if you're feeding 1:3:3. What that means is that if you're building for a bake, you can add 75g water and 75g flour to your 25g mother...and have 175g at the very next feeding. If you're less ambitious, a 1:2:2 feed would give you 125g of starter from your 25g mother.

 

You're dealing with microorganisms and there are thousands upon thousands in even a small amount of starter. The only real worry is whether they'll remain dominant when you refresh. Since they are very active in a healthy starter, they shouldn't have any difficulty dealing with a large refresh. As long as you stick to the same basic refresh/rest/refrigerate/refresh cycle, your starter will adapt to those conditions and form a unique flavor based on that cycle.

 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Remember they baked bread once or twice weekly and also used the starter for biscuits,pancakes,dumplings and anything flour/grain related that required some leavening. Proteins were hard to come by, fruits and veggies were what was available fresh,salted,femented or dried. Canning didn't take place until the early 20th century.Sugar was very expensive and honey was hard to gather. Grains were a major source of nutrition. I'm sure they kept their yeast by the hearth/stove shelf in winter and in the springhouse,well,stream or cellar (if they had one) when it was warm. If it died-their diet was awful until they resurrected another batch of yeast- and they made it from just about anything!

Modern yeast and refrigeration were major innovations.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I have adapted my daily bread recipes so that I keep a 4 ounce jar with 2 ounces of starter in my refrigerator and use a preferment in all my recipes. It provides excellent flavor and great rising power while keeping a small amount of starter. Cheaper,too. The extra room in the jar is for rising, of course. Easiest method that I have settled into.

I bake weekly (every Saturday or Sunday) and when I do, I make a preferment the evening before. The preferment is 1 c flour of choice,   1 cup water and about 2 tbsp starter from refrigerator.Let sit in a covered container on the counter overnight or not more than 8-12 hours(less if it is warm weather). I immediately feed the starter  and repeat the feed the next morning,letting it sit out on the counter,also. After the morning feed I wait till it has a good response and put it  back into the refrigerator. If it seems weak, I might do a couple days of twice a day discards and feeds to strengthen it, then put it back in the refrigerator when I am satisfied it is healthy. Usually it does quite well but it really throws things off  if I miss a weekend bake and don't feed. Starters are like kids-they love structure!

If I do a recipe that doesn't have a preferment, I plan ahead and build what I need in a separate jar. Usually rye needs different considerations or even a new recipe that depends on a larger volume of starter.

With my daily breads, I am not precise and don't use formulas. It should be easy and not stressful. I have become familiar enough with how my ingredients behave that I can pretty much just envision what I want the outcome to be and produce it. Not always but I am not making any bricks these days. I use formulas on new recipes,new ingredients or new techniques.

Have delicious fun!

longhorn's picture
longhorn

I am coming to the conclusion that for those of us who typically bake weekly that a smaller starter in the 25 gram range has real advantages.

But first the disadvantages...Inadequately fed it is almost certainly a bit less robust. However I question that the difference between having 1 million and 4 to 8 million yeast cells in your starter (or is it 100 million vs 400 million?) is likely to be very significant. The starter should be fed regularly to remain robust and stable. The other potential negatives would be for people who want to make large batches (and need lots of starter) and those who bake more often and therefore feed more often and don't have as much potential problem with "tired" starter.

The positives I see are:

1) Reduced consumption of flour for feeding

2) Reduced production of unused starter when feeding (but not baking).

3) Having a minimal amount of starter will require you to feed at least once and very possibly twice before making your preferment which will ensure the starter is more active at that point relative to those who simply build the preferment with starter straight from the fridge. (I think this is significant for it is my experience from having baked weekly building the preferment with starter from the fridge that the activity of the starter tends to wane over time and extra feedings are needed to rejuvenate the starter. This would avoid that for one could feed once or twice, and pull a small amount of the energized starter to feed and put back in the fridge. It will obviously be more robust than if less fed!)

4) Twenty five grams seems like a reasonable amount for storage and the storage jars will be able to be much smaller than for 100 or 200 gram mothers...

I have been keeping 100 grams and following the feeding program described but...I have been contemplating going to 25 grams just for the savings of refrigerator space (3 starters) and reduced mess.

Jay 

 

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Hi Jay,

One thing to be aware of is that there may be practical minimum starter quantity to ensure that your starter remains healthy. (I've seen this discussed in other TFL threads, and if I could find the links now, I would post them here...if anyone has those links, please share them here. ) If I recall, others have reported problems maintaining starter vigor and health in extremely small quantities (i.e., under 50g). I maintain small starter batches with excellent results, usually about 100g, but I personally would probably not go smaller than that. 

It wouldn't hurt to begin a "branch" batch of your existing starter and try it out with those quantities. Let us know how it works for you. 

 

longhorn's picture
longhorn

I don't particularly disagree cranbo! I have heard of no problems from 100 to 200 gram maintained starter. And a number of people seem to do well at 25. I have heard of people keeping 5 or 10 but that seems excessive to me and - as I pointed out - riskier than larger amounts. OTOH, I am not convinced keeping 400 grams is particularly better than 100. Each of us has to find a method that works for them. And it is always wise to have some dried starter around as backup!

I was specifically thinking of doing a separate 25 gram starter and maintaining both a few months and seeing if the character shifted. I think it will be pretty safe due to the double feeding and rejuvenation on a weekly basis. Should be pretty robust!

Thanks!

Jay

clazar123's picture
clazar123

having more starter jars in the refrigerator than leftovers!  :)  I find it hard to get rid of a healthy starter in a jar so I currently have 5 jars. True, they are all small jars but I acquired them from different people or circumstances.  Fermented food, in general, can be addictive. I currently have kefir (2 jars),villi (a Swedish yogurt),pickles and 2 jars of home-fermented vegetables (kimchee and saurkraut). Hardly enough room for the milk and juice. Sometimes the milk and juice ferment right in their containers after a few days in my refrigerator.

The one argument cranbo makes is that sometimes a small amount of starter may be hard to keep viable. I'm not sure about that but a saving grace of keeping a larger jar of starter is that if the starter goes "bad", there is usually a teaspoon that can be rescued from the bottom or middle of the jar and used to start a new starter. Can't do that with a small starter. I did dry some of my starter and freeze it. Also, I never had a problem developing a starter. I think my house is colonized with all the yeast and lacto I need. Fruit and veggies don't spoil in my house-they seem to ferment instead. Truth!

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

I agree with the "smaller is better" motto. My rye starter in the fridge amounts to at most 80 gr. When I want to prepare something (mostly sweet breads) I use a teaspoon of starter in the preferment. Sometimes I prepare a straight dough skipping the preferment altogether and only rarely the dough failed to rise.

I refresh the starter itself only when there are only 10 gr left. This small amount leads to frequent refreshments that can only do good to the starter. I don't keep a smaller amount only because I use it frequently.

As David Snyder always writes: "watch the dough, not the clock" that can lead to "watch how the starter behaves and if it rises slowly refresh once more".

lumos's picture
lumos

I'm in a school of small amount of starter, too. My starter I keep in a fridge is typically anything between 50g- 100g. 

Usually bake twice a week and feed the starter a couple of times before I use it. If I haven't baked for a week or more, I feed three times to make sure it becomes active enough.

lumos

blackhorse16a's picture
blackhorse16a

of, typically, 48g. I refresh 1:1:1 weekly when not baking. If I'm going to be gone more than a week, I freeze some. Seems to work well, however...

I don't always get a great rise. I think I'm not doing enough pre-bake feeding. Sometimes I use it straight from the fridge (after warming it to RT). What would be a better pre-bake feeding routine?

cranbo's picture
cranbo

2-3 days prior to baking, feeding 2x per day at your ratio of choice and leaving at room temperature will give you a strong starter for baking. 

longhorn's picture
longhorn

In my experience feeding 1:1:1 is starving your yeast. It stays somewhat active but never reaches the peak it should reach. Over time it will become less robust and active. Iwould suggest going to 1:2:2 AND two expansins before you begin your official "preferment". For example On Thursday evening I would suggest one feeding at 1:2:2 ratio. Then Friday morning it should have peaked or be peaking and feed it again at 1:2:2. Then Friday night pull some starter and make your preferment using whatever recipe/formula you use. And feed the starter 1:2:2 again. Let it sit out an hour or so and then refrigerate it and save it for next weeks bake.

Good Luck!

Jay

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

is in this thread http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/23159/how-much-do-you-keep which was started April 14 2011.

You might want to check it out for even more viewpoints.