The Fresh Loaf

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Sourdough Starter "Aha!" Moment and new questions

ema2two's picture
ema2two

Sourdough Starter "Aha!" Moment and new questions

I feel like I had this revelation today.  Well, is is still a revelation if it only clarifies your question?


I have been keeping two starters on my counter, making an effort to feed them daily.  One is a white starter.  I started with a stiff starter that was (I think) a 60% hydration.  I got it already started, based on the starter in Maggie Glezer's "Blessing of Bread".  The other is a rye sour based on Hamelman's "Bread." 


I was feeding 10 gm of the white starter with 30 gm of water and 50 gm of flour.  I thought the white starter was not very good,  I changed it to feed 20 gm of the starter with 30 gm of water and 50 of flour and it made clear to me it was active, though never doubling in a matter of hours or even 12 hours.  Usually it would double in 24 hours.


My rye sour feed was 100 gm of sour fed with 50 gm of water and 50 gm of rye flour.  I was clearly active and would also double, but slowly.


I used both for bread, and they rose bread, nicely.  I'm not a sourdough connessieur, but the breads had a sourdough taste to them.


I realized that my feeding method was cumbersome.  I was taking a small amount from my starter, throwing away the bulk of the starter I had (or saving it for something else), putting the small amount in a mixing bowl, adding water and flour, mixing, putting back in my container (which I washed every so often when the sides were getting encrusted with bits of dough).  The simple answer would be refrigerate the starter and feed it less often, but when I tried that, weeks ago, the starter got so thick I couldn't work with it, and when I tried to force the issue and feed this way to stiff starter, it didn't show any activity after a few feeds, so I thought it wasn't mature enough to be refrigerated or my fridge was too cold (didn't make sense after I read that British article about freezing sourdough starter)


It was so cumbersome that on several occasions, though my starter was on the counter and not in the fridge I went 2 days without feeding it.  At the end of last week it was very hectic and I didn't feed it for 3 days I was sure I'd killed it. 


At that time I realized that a huge amount of what I'd read about starters talked about removing an amount (usually a volume) from the starter and replacing the same amount (by volume) in the original starter container of water and the same amount removed (by volume) of flour.  I realized that this would result in smaller amounts of discarded starter and fewer bowls to wash.  Both things were appealing.  But it seemed impossible with my stiff starter, which like most starters (I think) is sticky.  I couldn't get anything resembling an accurate volume consistently for the amount of starter I was discarding. 


So I decided to try a few things while seeing if my starter was indeed dead or could be salvaged.


1)  Took 20 gm of my stiff starter and fed it the usual amounts, making an effort to feed it at 12-24 hours for 2 days.  It wasn't dead and revived itself within 2 feeds, which I was happy about.


2)  I took 20 gm of my stiff starter and added 50 gm water and 50 gm flour to make a 100% starter (I know, it's not 100% at the beginning since the starter is only 60%, but it will be in a few feeds).  Not only wasn't the starter dead, but it doubled in about 4 hours when mixed in this higher hydration starter.


3)  I continued to feed the stiff starter the usual way, taking 20 gm off and putting it in a mxing bowl.


4)  I took my new 100% hydration starter and removed 100 gm from the container.  I added 100 gm water and 100 gm flour, following the idea of refreshing the starter in the container in which it lives. 


5)  I removed 100 gm from my rye starter and added 100 gm water and 100 gm rye flour to the container in which the rye sour lives, and it also is impressively more active than my old method showed.


So, here are my questions


1.  Why does the amount of starter added to the 60% hydration refreshment make such a difference.  When I refreshed 10 gm of starter it appeared inert, but when I refreshed 20 gm it was clearly active


2.  Why does my 100% hydration starter seem orders of magnitude more active than the same starter at 60% hydration?


3.  If I do the replace what I remove method for feeding, but do it by weight rather than volume, am I supposed to use different weights of flour and water? 


4.  Whether using volume or weight, if one removed 100 gm of starter and adds 100 gm of water and 100 gm of flour, I am adding 200 gm to replace the 100 gm removed and I am going to wind up with increasing amounts of starter with each refreshment.  Is this an artifact of the fact that I'm using weight rather than volume.  Seems that removing 1/4 cup of starter and replacing it with 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of flour would also have a similar, though less pronounced effect.  Am I missing something in thinking through this?


5.  Most importantly, am I improving my starter by switching to this new system of refreshing, or am I going to have any negative impact on using this starter to try to raise breads?  Is this starter really differently active or is what I am seeing some sort of artifact?


Sorry this is so long.  I didn't know how to ask the questions without explaining what my experience had been.