The Fresh Loaf

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Preparing starter for use?

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home_mill's picture

Preparing starter for use?

How many times should I be feeding a starter before using it in a recipe? I have been feeding it twice. I also have been using Bill's method of 1:2:2 starter:flour:water ratio. So if I need 400 gm of starter in a recipe I would do this:

First feeding 16:32:32 = 80 gm

Second feeding 80:160:160 = 400 gm

Does this make any sense or should I be doing something different?


Thanks - Joel


bwraith's picture


There is no set rule for how many times to feed the starter before using it. You just need to make sure it is fully refreshed and active, which is a bit subjective.

I try to keep track of how long it takes for my starter to rise by double after repeated feedings with some consistent feeding ratio and temperature. That becomes the "healthy fully refreshed rise time reference" for the starter. So, for example, if I feed my starter 10g:40g:40g at 72F, I expect it to rise by double in 4.5 hours, let's say.

Then, if on the first feeding the starter takes longer than that reference time to rise, I would probably feed it again. I guess if it has been in the fridge for 6 months, like the one stored away in my parent's cabin in MT that I visit somewhat infrequently, then it might even take an extra couple of feedings.

My experience is that if the starter has been stored in the refrigerator for only a week or two, the starter will bounce right back after one or two feedings.

It also depends on your feeding ratio. For example, your starter is more likely to completely bounce back with one 12 hour feeding using 10:40:40 than it would with one feeding of 10:20:20 over 6 hours. However, the total time in "refreshment mode" would still be similar for both, starting with the same starter.

The other thing is that if the starter is "almost ready", then you can probably build a levain or sponge with it that will effectively be "one more feeding". Simultaneously, you would feed the starter again normally, or if the levain or sponge is just white flour and water, you could grab 100g of that and keep that for storage. I don't like to do that, because if you forget, you have to start over. I normally keep my storage starter going separately in a very small quantity and build just as you describe above to get larger amounts.

You can also do "one big build" for the levain above, like 16:192:192. The total time will be about the same, but you don't have to mess with two builds.


shericyng's picture

do you use just WF to refresh even if your original had some RYE?

bwraith's picture

Hi Shericyng,

You can maintain starters with many different flour choices, both initially and for routine feedings. The character of the starter may change over time if you feed with different flour. Every flour probably brings a certain amount of organisms with it that may inoculate your starter and change the flavor a little or how fast it rises or other features in some way or another. Each flour has a different ash content/buffering capacity, and this will change the ratio of organisms prevailing in the starter, since the fermentation can run longer before the lactobacillus are stopped by the drop in pH. The use of whole rye or whole wheat when starting a starter, unless you are going to have a 100% rye or WW starter, is normally done mostly to introduce organisms in initial stages, which are more plentiful in the whole grain flour.

White flour will probably contribute less organisms of any kind, including any spoilage bacteria. So, if you use whole wheat, rye, or spelt for the ongoing maintenance of the starter, it should be very fresh to avoid introducing any foreign undesirable organisms. However, even that probably isn't much of an issue as long as you don't feed in an extremely high ratio. The natural acidity of the starter, as long as it isn't extremely diluted by a high ratio feeding should reject any unwanted invaders.

My normal process is to use just white AP flour for routine starter feedings. Occasionally, I have introduced some whole rye in a feeding, hoping to reintroduce organisms that might have dropped out of the starter, if I notice the starter is sluggish in some way, either because of a long refrigeration or some other maintenance problem that has somehow disrupted the starter's normal behavior.


Kurt's picture

Joel, I've got two starters I created a six weeks ago, rye and organic AP. Three weeks ago, I began keeping them in the cooler and feeding them twice each week.

I would take the discard and use it straight away, either in sourdough loaves or english muffins. That remaining which was fed is left out for the day and then at night they are fed again with the discard use for more english muffins (my kids LOVE english muffins - they use 'em for PB&J's, too). Each starter will triple in four-five hours after the refreshment out of the cooler. Each starter is 100% hydrated and is fed at 1:2:2 (in ounces). When I need more, I do as you propose and omit the discard.

I've done this each weekend for three now and never had a problem. Perhaps it luck; maybe those fungi are 'in the zone'; I don't know but I'm sticking to the this routine.