The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What is the best way to use my starter?

DrPr's picture
DrPr

What is the best way to use my starter?

I'm trying to reform myself out of bad habits.  I've just revived my starter and want to keep it alive the right way this time. My usual practice has been to bake once or twice a week, which requires about 25 oz of starter weekly.  I would keep way more than 25 oz of starter in the refrigerator and just pour out what I needed for each baking, letting it reach room temperature and show activity before using it.  I would then build up the starter as needed, letting it sit covered on the counter to ensure it was alive and active, then refrigerate it.  I've learned that this is not a good practice. My problem appeared to be that I had too watery a starter, which required way more flour than I was feeding it. 


Here are my questions:



  • How much starter should I maintain?

  • Should I bother refrigerating the starter if I'm going to use it twice a week?  

  • Or, am I doing this completely wrong? Should I be using the starter from the fridge for my bread, or should I be building my 12.5 oz of starter for each baking session?  

Kuret's picture
Kuret

If you are using your starter two or more times a week then by all means keep it at room temperature. It will be much more vigorous that way. I whould advise you to keep as little starter as possible so as to minimise wasting flour. I personally keep just 50g (2oz) or so as you always build your dough from a rather small portion of starter.


 


If you do not mistreat your starter in any way then keeping a small amount is no problem. But keep about half the amount you usally use in a bread recipe so that doubling it gives you the right amount of starter plus a little extra to perpetuate.


 


Hydration is a whole nother topic, I´d say keep it at 100% hydration that is 50/50 flour/water weightwise. That hydration is good for an all around starter and does not need to be fed more than twice a day tops if you are living in a temperate area. do not know about warmer but i think there arw graphs somewhere plotting activities of yeast contra temperature. But feed it when it is hungry, just as your pets.


 


Good luck!

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi DrPr,


First let me say that TFL has a wealth of information on this subject. Use the search feature. Try "starter maintenance" and see what pops up! Here's a link to just one great post, by Bill Wraith, on the subject:


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/3064/maintaining-100-hydration-white-flour-starter


Next, I'm sure you will get a lot of different answers to your questions. There are lots of ways to maintain a healthy starter, and which one you choose will ultimately be a matter of preference.


(So I'm just giving you my preferences.)


For those of us who bake on weekends, the issue of refrigeration is easy: we use it! But if I baked twice a week, I still would use the fridge part-time, because I wouldn't want to feed my starter more often than necessary. I'm busy, and while I love my starter, for all its service to my wife and me, I don't baby it. (That's where our dog comes in!)


As an example, if bakedays were Saturdays and Wednesdays, I would feed the starter on Friday and Tuesday mornings, let the starter develop, and build a "final levain" (the starter I add to my dough) on Friday and Tuesday nights from this refreshed starter.


How much starter to keep? Very little. Again, everybody tries to find what works for them. I usually feed my starter in a 1:3:3 ratio, because there's no chance of underfeeding it. (One part starter, 3 parts water, 3 parts flour.)


Here's a rough example, close to your numbers. Say I needed 340 grams (roughly 12 ounces) of starter to add to my dough on Saturday morning. On Friday morning I would take my starter out of the fridge and, keeping 7 grams, feed it 21 grams of water and 22 grams of flour, 50 grams total, and let it develop (stirring once after around 6 hours). On Friday night I would build my final levain: 50 grams of starter plus 150 grams each of water and flour, total 350 grams, and allow it to devlop overnight. Saturday morning, use 340 grams (of the 350) in your dough. Refresh 5 grams of the remaining levain with 15 grams of water and flour, total 35 grams, and back in the fridge until Tuesday morning.


This comes to 4 feedings per week, rather than 14 if you keep it out on the counter the whole time. The savings in time and flour are worth it, for me.


That's just one way to make it work. Different strokes, as we used to say. Once you get something that works, stick with it! It'll ensure that your starter will work for you consistently, every time you ask it to serve.


Hope this helps!


David

Michael 2003's picture
Michael 2003

I had a question about the Starters consistancy.


Mine seems to foam up and smell yeasty, but after a 1/2 day it stops rising and the bubbling slows down.


I assume that is when you feed it again?


When I do feed the starter, it is like a wet, sticky dough on the top but quite watery on the bottom.


I was able to add some flour and needed no water to make it like it started out, like a wet dough.


Is it supposed to be watery on the bottom?


Also, will it be ok overnight on the table or should I feed it again before bed?


I do hope to have a decent, edible bread for dinner tomorrow, and possibly some starter for the next time.

althetrainer's picture
althetrainer

I am so guilty when it comes to keeping too much SD starter in the fridge.  I also keep my starter in high hydration level.  I bake at least twice a week, sometimes three times.  But I don't like to leave my starter out for more than 2 days since I keep it in high hydration plus I don't feed it every day.  I know most people here using equal parts of flour and water by weight.  But I like mine by volume.  I have tried a stiff starter, like an old dough, and a low hydration starter but I still like a high hydration one better. 


I guess the bottom line is, do what works for you.  I am pretty new to SD baking as well but in just three months I found my little niche.  The more you do it the better you will get to know your starter.  I find my SD starter very forgiving.  There are days I don't pay attention to the hydration level.  As long as I don't let it go too hungry and feed it before the day of baking, it always works for me.  So far, I have not have a failed batch.  Knocking on wood.