The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

sourdough starter questions

Kroha's picture

sourdough starter questions


I started a rye sourdough starter today, as described in Hamelman's book, 450 g water and 450 g organic whole rye flour.  The consistency is a very thick paste -- is that OK?  My husband says I need to add water.

I am also pretty confused about maintaining it.  Again, I have read what Hamelman said about it, but it just does come together for me.  After I develop a mature culture, I plan on baking with it maybe once a week, sometimes maybe not even as often as I like to bake different types of breads.  How should I handle my starter?  Do I need to keep feeding it every day even if I won't use it?  Would I discard some every day as well?  How far in advance of baking does it need to come out of the fridge?  After I take it out, do I need to do anything to get it readsy to go?  I guess I am not understanding the science behimnd managing a starter -- is there an explanation someone could provide, or maybe direct me to a resource where I could read up on this.

Thank you in advance!



rainwater's picture

When you feed your starter, usually after baking with it.......let it rise and bubble.....when it does this....put it in the refrigerator until you may need to use it.  Take it out the day before and feed it again, unless you are going to make a levain with it, which is like a feeding but gives you exactly what the formula calls for.  After making your dough, feed the starter, let it bubble, and refrigerate....I leave mine in the refrigerator for two weeks without bothering with it. 

Bring your intuition to the table.....look at your starter when you haven't used it for a may seem to need two feedings before baking with it after sitting in the fridge for a while.  I'm going to bake bread on my day off, and haven't given my starter much attention....I fed it today, but I "feel" another feeding will give it strength before baking with it.  We'll see. 

Reinhart makes what he considers a very important point about feeding your least double the starter when feeding......even triple or quadruple.  I feed a pound (water and flour) to 8 ounces of starter. 

You can take left over starter and use it in a yeasted bread recipe, just use baker's math to figure how much water and flour is in your leftover starter, and subtract this from the flour and water in a yeasted bread recipe.....and then proceed with the normal yeast recipe.

I hope this is helpful.

Pablo's picture

Hi Yulika,

If you type "maintain starter" in the search box at the top left of the page you'll get lots of hits, lots of interesting stuff to read.  450g of water and 450g of rye flour will give a paste, no question. 

There are lots of ways to maintain your starter, from very low maintenance to very high maintenance.  It sounds like you'll probably be interested in getting your starter going and then keeping it in the 'fridge and feeding every week or two (or 3) instead of on the counter and feeding every day or 2 or 3 times a day.

FYI here's my schedule:  I keep my starter at room temperature and feed it either 2x a day or once a day, depending on how it seems to be doing.  I keep a very small amount of starter (30g) so I am discarding a very small amount when I feed it.  It's what's working for me now.  I've done it many different ways in the last year that I've been doing this.  I suggest that you read some threads on the site here and pick a way that you're comfortable with for now with the option to change your mind anywhere along the way.


flournwater's picture

Starter isn't that difficult.  It's sometimes made to sound difficult with all the "rules" that some well meaning bakers will throw at you.  They're only trying to help ensure you'll be successful and, sometimes, they just get too many rules in front of the process.  First, select the "recipe" for the starter you want to build.  Then, follow the recipe.  This is an important first step so be sure to follow the recipe carefully.  Once the starter is active and healthy. which can take a few weeks. decide how you intend to use it (and how often) and establish a feeding schedule that you can live with.  Rainwater has a once per week feeding schedule which includes some environmental considerations (room temperature periods etc.) that is pretty close to what I use.  I too have forgotten my starter for as much as two weeks and it's always recovered quite easily.  Your question about having to discard half the starter before feeding it deserves an answer  -  which is "no".  The only reason you discard starter is to make room for the addition of new ingredients in what will presumabely be a container with some limited capacity.  You can throw out half, use half in a recipe (dinner rolls, waffles, pancakes, etc.) even if you don't want to bake bread within a day or two of your feeding time.  On the other hand, you don't have to discard any of it ever if you have the abiility to maintain large quantities of the stuff.

Whether your starter is a paste or tends to lean more toward a liquid depends on the amount of hydration.  Whether you decide to use a wet, poolish style starter or a firmer bega style, is up to you.  I think the most important advice anyone could give you is to be thorough in building your starter but don't be afraid to fail.  Failure is, IMO, the greatest tool for learning.  Success teaches us nothing but failure offers lessons of profound value.

Yumarama's picture

Here's a post from another discussion on starting a starter:

The reason you WANT to cut back is purely mathematical.

I'm also a little stunned that Hamelman wants to start with 900g of starter - that's almost 4 cups!! That a rather huge amount. You could cut back to 45g water + 45g flour and that's still plenty, then you won't be chucking quite so much starter each time.

JIP's picture

Pretty much everything I have ever read on making a Rye starter has said that it should be expected to be pasty or even dry and crumbly.  I made a rye starter from Nancy Silverton's book and she sai one important thing about a rye starter.  A rye starter can very easily turn rancid over a short pieriod of time so it is best to make a rye starter from a white one as needed but be prepared if you use Silverton's book buy stock in grain mill ahead of time as she is HEAVY on the flour wastage when making and feeding a starter.

Yerffej's picture


Much has already been said here but basically do not worry about the whole process.

It is far easier than it seems by all of the instructions.  I never measure when feeding my rye starter but just add a healthy splash of water and then enough rye flour to make a paste.  The starter lives in the refrigerator and I take it out about 24 hours before I am going to use it and feed it a couple of times at 8-12 hour intervals.  I only keep a couple of ounces of starter so that I am not throwing away starter in the general course of things.


bassopotamus's picture

That seems like an awful lot of starter to start with


I followed Reinhart's directions, and I think it started with about 2 TBS of flour, and then you grow it from there. I keep a couple pounds on hand, but we bake quite a lot.


My starter is a 67%, which I like because basically I can throw a chunk of it into whatever without really adjusting. I'll do this for yeast breads where I want more flavor but don't have a day for the preferment to sit. 67% is close enough to most of the doughs that I make that a couple ounces of it in a 6-10 lbs of dough doesn't really monkey with the hydration much

M2's picture

I also have a question about feeding the starter.  My starter is kept in the fridge.  I've read that I'm supposed to feed the starter to make it lively again before using it, AND, feed it after using it.  If I follow this routine, I'll be doubling the starter every time I use it (use once, feed twice).  It will be very difficult to control the volume without discarding it.  (There are only the two of us in the house and there are other things we want to eat!)


Yumarama's picture

If you're not going to use it in the recipe, then you need to discard it, whether that means you use the excess in other baked goods like pancakes or pizza dough. Otherwise, put it in the compost or the trash and consider it well used.

Kroha's picture

Thank you everyone for your responses.  Very helpful. I am proceeding with the started, and made some yummy sour corn rye bread (our of Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book) and rolls out of the stuff I was supposed to discard.  I tried to attach pictures, but cannot figure out how to do that here.  Anyway, looking forward to future experiments, no doubt I will have more questions!

Kroha's picture

He just has two sets of directions, one for professional bakers, and one for home use.  Directions for professional bakers are in metric units, and for home use are non-metric.  Not having looked too closely, I assumed they were the same, and since I prefer metric, that's what I went with.  For home use he recommends smaller amounts, and I now reduced how much I have.  The discarded stuff will become bread tomorrow.  Yulika