The Fresh Loaf

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Sourdough pet peeve

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Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

Sourdough pet peeve

I've been baking with sourdough for about a month now with good results, but most of the stuff I've made has been by feel, not a recipe. So I go looking for recipes online, my cook book collection being a little sparse right now, and I find tons of recipes.  I have one problem, though: they specify however much starter, but not what hydration that starter is.

What do you do in this situation? I've been assuming 100% hydration starter and going from there.

LeadDog's picture

I have noticed that also, makes it kind of hard to know what to do.  Here is what I have done.  Check to see what the hydration of the bread is from what the recipe gives for the flour and water.  If that seems right then I make my starter at that hydration.

KD1001's picture

I suppose the obvious thing to do would be to consistently feed your starter with identical amounts of flour and water if you're not already, and you'll average your starter out to 100% hydration over time.

Paddyscake's picture

I tend to fly by the seat of my pants (and what does that mean, actually?) I do measure my ingredients with a scale, but I go wild with my starter which I keep at 100%. I use the quantity of starter called for in a recipe and make no adjustments for it's hydration. I've never had a problem.


clazar123's picture

I know there is the "consistent ingredients-consistent results" feeling but ingredients AREN"T always consistent and that is where the art of baking comes in.

I agree with LeadDog to see what the hydration of the overall recipe seems to be.If it is seems correct for the type of dough you are expecting (dry, sticky, wet,or whatever), then I assume a 100% hydration starter that is active is what is being called for. Then when you mix it up, if you aren't getting what you expect, then adjust the recipe.

I have also noticed a difference in measuring cup sizes, believe it or not. If I weigh out 1 cup of my flour using one set of cups and then weigh 1 cup of the same flour  using another 1 cup measuring cup, I can get a significant difference. I have played with this and accounted for the average differences you can encounter. There is still a difference.

So, even if you use cups to measure a recipe, your 1 cup may not be the same as my 1 cup.And I'm NOT talking of the different methods of sift before measure,scoop and sweep, etc. If you measure by cups, I think it is important to develop your recipe using the same set of measuring cups,trying a new recipe out and adjusting according to what you found to work. Recipes are guidelines, in my book.

rainwater's picture

I keep my starter at 65% hydration......this is a medium hydration for different breads from what I can glean from formulas/recipes.  I moved towards less hydration because I read that less hydration makes for a more stable starter.  I've been pleasantly surprised so far....the first time I went 65%, I thought...hmmmm, now my starter will sit like dough more instead of rising and bubbling so much....wrong!  The dough is stronger, and it rises even more, even in the almost reached the top to threaten to push the lid off....I've baked with starter at 75% hydration with good results, and today will be my first attempt with 65% hydration.....less hydration actually makes it a bit easier to handle......

tangled's picture

I've experimented with different hydration for my starters, but prefer to work at 100% for my wheat one. Just recently, I've been baking from Richard Bertinet's Crust book. The proportions for his starter ferment clearly indicate a 50% hydration, so I've been adjusting the values accordingly.

His sourdough recipe uses

790g flour

400g ferment (at 50% hydration)

650g water

If the hydration for the ferment varied between 50-100% then the whole recipe could vary between 74 - 85%.


I agree it would be nice if a recipe contained the hydration level of the ferment/starter, as it must surely make a difference to what the author intends?

Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

I agree it would be nice if a recipe contained the hydration level of the ferment/starter, as it must surely make a difference to what the author intends?

This was my thought as well.

My main mother starter, the one from which I create my final starter build for breads, is a 100% hydration starter.  I then create the type of starter a recipe or formula calls for from this.  I find that this is the easiest way to go.  I specify the hydration of my starter for the final build, though, never going into the fact that my base starter is kept at 100%.  I'm thinking it may be a good thing to add into a recipe, or at least a page on my blog explaining my method for creating my final builds.

This is all much more technical than I'm used to being with yeast breads since I go so much by feel instead of by recipes, but if I'm going to post the formulas online I think it's best to specify at least the hydration of the final starter build.

It's funny. This whole thing stems from the fact that I went to Google to search for a sourdough pretzel recipe and all the ones I found that didn't spike with commercial yeast didn't specify what hydration their starter was.  Then again, most also used volume measurements instead of weights.