The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Feeding Once a Week versus Twice a Day, etc.

kbrigan's picture

Feeding Once a Week versus Twice a Day, etc.

OK, all you experienced people --

Why is there such a big difference between sourdough starters in old school, home cook cookbooks and starters in books and on sites for "prosumer" bakers (i.e. dang serious hobbyists)? In particular, why do the old school instructions for maintaining a starter most often recommend using (or discarding) at least one cup a week, and feeding once a week (or after use). (The starter's left out 24 hours after feeding, but then refrigerated.) The prosumer version is, as I understand it, to discard about a cup and do feedings every day? About one sourdough loaf a week would be just perfect for my needs, so I'm interested in methods that fit that schedule, and minimize waste.

Also, what's the advantage of a 100% hydration (i.e. measured by weight) versus a 166% hydration (i.e. measured by volume). Don't they both work?

Thanks for your help.

P. S. I'm in the midst of trying culturing wild yeast, but I'm going to see if it will work "old school" -- feeding and using/discarding (at least) one cup a week. (The old fashioned cook books always include directions to start with commercial yeast. I'm trying to see if the methods will maintain wild yeast, too.) The only discard I've done is getting rid of half on the third day during the initial growing process. So far, it seems to be going well -- a nice assortment of bubbles, a brief stinky period, but now mildly sour. (This may have something to do with this being August in California's Gold Country. Sourdough is "in the air" around here.)

gaaarp's picture

I keep my starters in the fridge and feed them when I need them or think of it, usually about once every other week. And I never discard a cup of starter.

I keep very litte starter (about 25-50 grams), so when I feed it, I usually just add to what I have. I feed at a 1:1:1 ratio most of the time, so if I start with 25 grams, I'll add 25 each of water and flour, and keep the resulting 75 grams. Then, when I'm getting ready to use it, I feed it up to what I need for baking, plus an extra 25 or so grams.

I didn't know that made me old school, but there it is.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Glad your starter is going well.  Commercial yeast is one method, there are others too.  Don't forget to keep going when the starter looks like it's "dead."   It's not and still needs the fresh flour feedings.  Sounds like you're on track.  Welcome to the site.


dmsnyder's picture

Feeding a starter that you are just starting is different from maintaining a mature starter. The former needs frequent feedings. Period. 

An established starter can be maintained with differing schedules depending on its hydration level (More liquid starters need more frequent feedings) and how often you are going to use it. For the weekend baker, it may make most sense to keep a firmer starter (65% hydration or even less), to feed it after use and keep it refrigerated until a day before baking when you take some out of "storage" and activate it with one or two feedings.

In other words, there are a number of legitimate alternatives. Use the one that makes most sense for the way you make bread.

Also, if you are making some sourdoughs that call for a liquid starter and some that call for a firm starter, you can easily convert either type to the other as the need arises.


rainwater's picture

different bread books use different hydration levels for their starters.  I've settled on %100 hydration because it makes it easy to know how much flour and water is  in my starter.  This is important to me because instead of throwing away starter when feeding, I like to take left over and throw it into a yeasted formula....just to keep from throwing away the starter, not for any other reason. If I add 8 oz. of starter to a yeasted formula, I know I have 4 oz. flour/ 4 oz. water...both weighed.  I can subtract these amounts from a yeasted recipe. 

wally's picture

I'm inclined to think of sourdough starters as personalities: endless.  Mark Furstenberg once told me that it's almost impossible to kill a starter, and when you think about it, that makes sense.  We're talking about a marriage between a fungus and a bacteria here - both of which have existed on this planet far longer than us.  A starter is a lot like herbs - a weed in any other vocabulary.  If starters (or levain) were hard to develop and maintain, we'd all be eating unleaven bread!

That said, getting to, and maintaining, a starter that has just the right amount of sourness is an all together different matter.  There is a lot of tweaking and experimentation involved there.

I've maintained starters I fed daily, one's I kept in a refrigerator and fed weekly, and my present one, which, having developed warm feelings for, gets fed twice a day.  They have all survived my changing affections.  At a course at King Arthur this summer I complained to Jeffrey Hamelman that my refrigerator-kept starter wasn't sour enough.  When he heard that I only fed it once a week, his retort was, "Well, I could get by with one meal a week, but I'd be pretty cranky."

Since then I've 'courted it.' I can appreciate how my feeding schedule involves a lot of thrown away ingredients if you aren't baking daily.  So I've responded by cutting the size of my starter down severely: I now keep it at 110g, so I'm only throwing away 85g of starter per feeding.  I could probably get more efficient, but I can live with this, and the numbers are easy for weighing purposes (I keep a stiff [60%] levain): 25g starter, 50g flour, 30g water.

My advice would be: experiment until you find your 'match' in starters, and then maintain it.