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Sourdough starter hydration question

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bsandusky's picture
bsandusky

Sourdough starter hydration question

Hi all,

A few years ago, I had a starter from KA that I kept at 100% hydration, used in baking, then let fizzle out. I recently (about a month of so) built up a starter on my own and have gotten it to the point where it is vigorous and raises breads nicely. This starter, too, is at 100% hydration (I feed it 1:2:2). 

My question is about the hydration level. I am curious to know the advantages and disadvantages of keeping starter at various hydration levels. It seems many on here, and a lot of the masters, tend to keep stiff starters, rather than liquid.

I bake often, but usually keep the starter in the fridge with feedings 1x/week, if that makes a difference in deciding what hydration is optimal. I feed it white flour, though I did give it a couple WW boosts during the build, and would consider a mix of WW, Spelt, Rye, and AP for feedings. 

Just curious from others about what the optimal hydration level(s) is/are and why.

Thanks,

Brett

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

ww and rye starter in the fridge because of 2 reasons.  I only use 20 g a week for my 1 loaf of bread on Friday and I don't want to feed it at all for 3 weeks.  Plus a stiff whole grain starter kept in the fridge produces a much more sour loaf and I like sour.  I can take a small amount of it and build it into what ever starter I need for any particular bake from liquid white, to spelt stiff and anything in between.  No muss, nos fuss, no waste - my kind of starter.

People who want a low sour taste, white bread would do something different

bsandusky's picture
bsandusky

how I intend on using my starter as well. And I, too, like things on the more sour side. Thanks so much for the info.

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

I keep mine in the fridge and feed whenever I feel like it, which usually ends up being about once a week or so. Mine is usually kept at 100% hydration. At one time, I made mine into basically a Pate Fermentee, at 70% hydration, with 2% salt. I wanted to see if it would be easier to make new dough from old dough, if I didn't have to do as much math. It worked okay, but I got tired of it, and went back to 100% hydration with just the flour and water. One of the supposed benefits of a stiff (lower hydration) starter is that it can go longer between feedings. I just read on another website, the writer claiming that his starter is always kept at 60% hydration, and that he feeds it just whenever he feels like it, or sometimes when he bakes, or he starts feeling guilty for not having fed it in a while. I guess for some people, it's also more convenient to keep their starter in the form of a dough, rather than a "messier" liquid form.

I would say, check your recipes and how you normally like to work with your ingredients. I did like the simplicity of mixing old dough into new dough, but I ultimately decided I prefer to mix my starter with my water first, then add other ingredients. That works better for me at higher hydration. Somehow, in my mind, I've convinced myself that it gets better incorporated. And, it just seems to be easier for me. The most important thing to realize is that the starter needs to fit in with your life, not define it. I'm guessing that's the reason you let the other starter fizzle out. If you're baking often, the old dough method may be the easiest thing for you to do. You never have to feed it, in the usual sense. When you're ready to make bread, just knead the old dough into your new dough, then take a new piece out to become the old dough for next time.

bsandusky's picture
bsandusky

Thanks for the info, this is really helpful. My old starter was around for a long time. Then a move plus a lot of work on the new house, I wasn't really baking, and it didn't really fit into my lifestyle at the time. Now, I am back with a vengeance, and thus the new culture of critters.

It's also interesting to hear you've changes a few times. I like that. It's funny how we don't think, sometimes, that we have options and decisions can be made over time. I think right now I may try for a bit less hydration and see how it goes. 

bsandusky's picture
bsandusky

Also, forgot to mention, I recently did a recipe with a lower hydration and really loved how it incorporated into the dough. So, to each their own, I guess. :)

trailrunner's picture
trailrunner

as already stated by db and david it depends on what you want to do. If I am going to be gone for months at a time...which I am at times I make my starter very very firm. It has no activity to speak of when it is that stiff. When I return from a long absence I simply cover the very firm starter with warm water and leave it on the counter overnight. I don't attempt to mix etc till the next day. By then the starter has absorbed some of the water and is already bubbly ! A miracle :)  I use whey to feed my starters periodically as it makes them have a lovely fragrance and they bubble beautifully. You should use a bit of rye occasionally also as it contains more yeasts on it than other grains. You will find , as I have , that your starter is very forgiving. Have fun and play with various percents and flours and don't worry. I like what David said, the starter should fit into your life. You will be surprised how easy it is to do this. c

bsandusky's picture
bsandusky

Wow! That's amazing, being able to bring the starter back like that. I am sure I will try this trick at some point.

Thanks for the suggestions. I definitely agree that adding some rye, ww, etc. is good over time. And, always to remember that it's forgiving, as long as I am nice to it. :)

don.sandersg's picture
don.sandersg

I'm on the other end.  I normally keep my starter at 150% because I use 100% whole grains and found that 100% hydration and lower made my starter to sour to fast for my preference.  I regularly leave my starter in the fridge for a week or two at a time without any adverse effects.  I do try to refresh a couple of times before using it is has been a while but it really doesn't seem necessary.

 

 

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

...on what trailrunner said about being gone months at a time, you can also just dry out your starter, or some of it. Then it will keep for several months, if not years easily. Just seal it up and store it in a cool, dry place, and when you are ready, revive it with water. Similar to what he is doing, actually, except drying it out completely instead of just making a stiffer mixture. You can also freeze some starters successfully. Any of these methods will help you to not have to lose your starter again, if life takes time away from your baking. I still think, too, that while you're baking often, and if you like the stiffer starter, then the old dough method might be a real time saver for you.

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

Carl Griffith 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter brochure, from the website http://carlsfriends.net Tells you how to revive their starter, which comes to you dried, then has a couple pages of recipes, then some other instructions you may find useful. Among them is the following section on drying your starter for long term storage.

Drying starter

Cover a dish or a pan with plastic wrap or waxed paper to prevent sticking. After you have fed your starter and let it get active, pour some onto the covered dish. The thicker the layer the longer it will take to dry. I use a broiler pan and pour it 1/4 inch deep as I use a lot of it. This takes nearly a week to harden.

Set aside at room temperature till it gets brittle - may be a few days. Break into small pieces and grind in a blender, coffee grinder or food processor. There you are! It will keep a long time. The yeast has sporulated and will stay that way for years. At one time it was used to “chink” the walls in log cabins and some of that stuff has been reactivated.