The Fresh Loaf

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Very hungry starter and some other beginer sour dough questions

Kyle B's picture
Kyle B

Very hungry starter and some other beginer sour dough questions

Hey everyone,

I'm totally new to sour dough, i've been doing as much reading as time permits, but with all the varried opinions out there I think I need some help.

I started my first starter about two weeks ago using the orange juice method described in The Fresh Loaf hand book. All went well, I switched from whole wheat to white AP flour on day four and "Jethro" has been growing well ever since. After reading an old post by Jmonkey I decided to convert it to a 50% starter around day 7 or 8. I was tired of the mess of measuring cups covered in 100% hydration dough, and I was intrigued by JMonkey's claims that stiffer starter apparently cultivate more of the 'sour' organism than wet starters. I'm surprised however that even though my starter is at 50% Hydration its still pretty sticky when I feed it. I mix it in the container, then kneed it a bit on the counter, but I'm still left with dough all over my hands. I don't at all mind playing with wet dough when making bread, but cleaning up the mess twice a day is less fun. Now I'm not sure which is less messy, 100% or 50% hydration.

Around day 10 or so I noticed that the starter had a rather sour, alcohol smell, and some quick research told me I need to feed it more. So I started a twice daily feeding at 1:2.5:5[s:w:f]. The smell improved a little, but still didn't have any yeasty smell to it. Today when I went to give it its morning feed it smelled pretty sour again, so in hopes of giving it more food I gave it a 1:5:10[S:W:F] feeding to see what happens.I have no thermostat in my house, so I don't know the temperature, but I'd guess its around 25C or a little above with pretty high humidity. I usually bake a 3-4 times a week so I decided to keep my starter on the counter.

I'm essentially trying to figure out what a good starter maintenance system would be for me at this point. I love making bread, but feeding my starter twice a day is a little much given my present life circumstances. So all that said, on to my questions.

1: Do any of you have some some to share regarding "Jethro's" veracious appetite?

2:I'm wondering if storing it in the fridge might be a good idea, I've read of some people keeping their starter in the fridge, then taking some out to the counter to bulk up for baking the day before.

3: Any wisdom regarding ease of maintaining a 50% vs 100% starter? If I kept it in the fridge the mess of a 100% wouldn't be so bad, but as I said my 50% is curiously sticky at feed time. Once needed the dough is fairly dry, but the ripe starter is rather sticky.


Thanks in advance for any help you might be able to provide


Syd-a's picture

Hi Kyle

i am also new to this, but I am sure some experienced heads will come in soon with some good tips and advice. I thought I would post because sometimes a co-beginner can also give a similar experience and pointers.

1. I have learnt pretty quickly that a 100% hydration starter with 1:1:1 feeding strategy is the easiest and cheapest way of keeping a starter. Why use more flour than is essentially needed? When my starter was in its infancy I fed a greater quantity of flour, but now I am maintaining it at 30g starter, 30g flour and 30g water for each feeding. Any more than that is just unnecessary. I like a stiffer starter than a soupy wetter one. Mine is also an organic Rye.

2. I put my starter in the fridge for the first time at the weekend and last night I took it out and fed 1:1:1 and overnight it has doubled as usual. I will be bulking up today for a bake tomorrow, but maintaining in the fridge seems to be a good option too. Feed it once a week when it is in the fridge, so less flour used and less worrying about it. I also learned on here that a starter stored in the fridge will give a better sour taste as the lactobacillus outcompete the yeasts, which is exactly what I am looking for. So keep in the fridge, feed once a week and take out a day or two before bake days for feeding and bulking up.

3. Cannot really answer this one. My starter is definitely fluffy, sticky and stiff, but then it works perfectly enough in a levain. 

Lets see if some experienced bakers have some other points of view. 

Best of luck

Ford's picture

Hello Kyle and welcome to the Fresh Loaf,

You talk about 50% hydration and the starter being sticky, and the problem with messy measuring cups.  I am wondering whether you are measuring by volume rather than by weight.  A 50% hydration dough should be rather stiff, stiffer than bread dough (75% hydration).  A cup of flour weighs 4.3 oz. (120 g) and a cup of water weighs about 8.3 oz ( 235 g)

My starters are 100% hydration and are much stiffer than a pancake batter.  I store about 3 oz. in the refrigerator and take out the day before I plan to make bread.  I then feed at the ratio of starter:water:flour :: 1:1:1 by weight.  I let this ferment for about 8 hours then feed again at the ratio of 1:1:1 and let that ferment overnight.  The starter is ready to go the next morning and is large enough to make my bread (3 loaves) with some left over for storage.

I hope this helps.


grandmamac's picture

I would echo Ford and Syd-A. I weigh all the ingredients and have a 1:1:1  based on 50g starter, now about 19 months old.. As your starter's only two weeks old, I wonder about putting it in the fridge; I left mine out for about a month but more experienced bakers may have better advice.

I only bake once a week and, in the summer, keep mine in the fridge until a day or two before I need it. I put it into the fridge about one to two hours after feeding so the process is underway and I can see a few bubbles. In the winter, my kitchen is cold enough to slow things down and the fridge is too cold.  Taking it out of the fridge, I let it warm up and the process continues. Then two refreshments and it's ready. A bit of levain is left over from the bread mixture and that is my next starter to store. Even when it's on the counter during the winter, I minimise waste by looking at it whenever I'm cooking. If it gets to the stage where there are little frothy bubbles all over the surface.

I use a desert spoon to mix it up and clean it off with kitchen paper before washing. There really isn't any mess - I learnt quickly that sourdough starter is very like glue when it comes to getting dried bits off!

I found this site page very useful when I started:

She likes to experiment with different flours and has a lot of photos of the process I found helpful. The post on her sourdough problems kept me going.

dabrownman's picture

not to even need a starter.  You could just use old dough if you can remember to take a piece out of each bake before final shaping and refrigerating it - like SD bakeries do.

Otherwise, you could keep 100g of 66.6% hydration starter like i fo in the fridge and take 10g of it out to build a levain for each bake. After 9 bakes you just refresh your 10 g of remaining starter to 100g at 66.6% hydration with (2) 4 hour and 1 hour build and refrigerate that.  No feeding, no muss, no fuss, no waste.

I wouldn't covert to that kind of storage until your starter is on at least 50% whole Rye and 50% whole wheat diet for a month to make sure it is active, stable used to a whole grain diet.

You must be using volume a=instead of weight like Ford says.  In my case my flour weighs 146 g per cut and the water is 238 g.  You can see that equal volume is not the way to go and the difference between my and Ford's weight per cup.

Kyle B's picture
Kyle B

Thanks everyone for taking the time to reply. My apologies for posting a question then vanishing for a few weeks, life happened I got busy, and had to go out of town for a few days with no internet access, I wanted to respond but didn't have the time.

I have been doing all my measurements by weight with a digital scale. I had mentioned measuring cups before because when I was first making the starter I was following the fresh loaf hand book, and it does it all by volume. But after the first week it was all by weight.

A week or so after I posted I as very tired while doing the night time feeding, and I poured too much water into the container with the starter and flour and ended up converting the starter back to 100% hydration by weight. Feeding it at 100% with the scale isn't so bad mess wise, certainly better than with measuring cups as the hand book says. The night before I went out of town I fed the starter then put it in the fridge. Four days later when I returned it was mostly dead, it stank and had the greyish liquid on top. This is from not getting enough food for too long correct? Anyways I know it could be revived, but since it was just a baby starter, and I never even baked with it to prove its worth, I'm just going to let it die in the stinky mire and start a new starter.

So before I make my next attempt.I have two questions.

1: It seems most people don't recommend putting the starter in the fridge till the starter is well established and making decent bread (around 1 month). Is this a general rule?

2: What would you recommend I do if my new starter becomes very hungry like last one? just feed it at a higher ratio 1:5:5 till its mature enough to go in the fridge.

I like what dabrownman suggested about keeping 100g in the fridge and taking out 10g each time to make levain. Can any advise me on how I would do that. I thought levain was just a chunk of proofed dough that was saved to ferment the next loaf.

also of note, I live overseas so I'm not able to get rye flour, all thats available to me is AP, whole wheat, and I think some millet.

Thanks again for the advise


phaz's picture

you can try these to revive the original starter (they are pretty resilient). just mix it up and feed twice daily, removing half. or, see if you can pull some starter from the middle of jar and start feeding. I've forgotten to feed for a few days too, had the grey liquid and a musty smell. mixed it up and gave a few good feedings, still making bread with it today. as mentioned, keeping some in the fridge is a good idea. a back up is always handy to have. I keep a cup or so in the fridge and feed every month or 2. I'll remove half and add that to the starter that sits on the counter to minimize waste. levain - basically, you would mix flour, water, and starter and let ferment. flour and water would be a percentage of the whole recipe, which is left to ferment, then the rest of the recipe is added to make the final dough and then it's business as usual. some prefer a levain, some a poolish, some a biga depending on the particular bread. all 3 are basically the same, but have different hydration. biga being the thickest and poolish being the thinnest. thanx goes to dabrownman posting this in another thread! happy baking!