The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter Maintenance

hydestone's picture

Starter Maintenance

I recently created a starter using organic apple juice and whle wheat white flour.

The first 3 days were 2T whole wheat white and 2T apple juice, 4th day - pulled out 1/4 C discarded balance and added 1/4 C WWW and 1/4 water, will do the same on day 5 (today).

How do i maintain the starter after its been created?  Do I just keep adding flour and water in equal proportions until i need to use it?  Also, should I refrigerate it or not?  Do I close the lid tightly or allow it to breath?  I have it in a glass pyrex xontainer with a plastic top.

Janknitz's picture

You will want to feed your starter daily until it is strong enough to triple in volume between feedings and has a pleasant sour taste.  If it is doubling in volume in less than 12 hours, you may need to feed it twice or even three times daily while it is not refrigerated (the determining factor is usually the ambient temperature where you store your starter--warmer temps mean quicker doubling).   It will take a few weeks, in most cases, to get your starter strong enough to raise a loaf of bread.   At that point you can refrigerate your starter and take it out to feed it at least weekly. 

If you keep feeding without discarding, you will soon need to store your starter in the bathtub!  ;o)  Generally, you should discard at least 1/2 each time you feed it.  You can compost the discard, better not to put it down the sink as this can cause drain clogs.  Eventually, you can use your discarded starter for things like pancakes and biscuits that don't require as much strength to rise as a loaf of bread.  I maintain a volume of starter in the fridge that allows me to use all of the weekly feeding discard for most of my baking needs--I bake a weekly batch of sourdough english muffins and a loaf of bread with a portion of sourdough for dough conditioning. 

Most of us feed by WEIGHT rather than volume.  It sounds like you are attempting to maintain a 100% starter--in baker's math that means a ratio of 50% flour and 50% water.  But because you are measuring by volume, you are not really getting that ratio--just be aware of that fact and if you truly are aiming for a 100% starter you should get a scale.  The scale is also helpful if you want to vary the hydration of the starter.  I also keep a firm starter that is about 67% hydration.  And I use the tare function on my scale to measure the discard--no starter sticky measuring cups to fool with--a great bonus!

Don't put the lid on too tightly.  The little yeasty beasties  (ahem) "pass a lot of gas", and especially on the counter there's a possibility of "blowing the lid off the place".  LOL, there are some great stories about cleaning starter off the ceiling if you poke around here a little. 

Good luck with your sourdough culture.  There's a steep learning curve, but it's really not that difficult once you get the hang of it. 

hydestone's picture

OK, I think I am pretty to close to a completed starter.  I have a scale now and have been working by weight.  For maintenance would something like this work:

60 g starter
45 g water
90 g flour

What is the ratio between starter to water to flour?  Would the above represent 1.5:1:2?

How do you calculate % hydration?

If I've deviated from the original starter recipe will I be able to calculate the hydration percentage close enough or modify it during feeding to bring it cloer to the proper level?

marc's picture

this helps or confuses. But, to answer how you calculate the percentage of hydration, you simply multiply the percentage of hydration you desire for your starter times the weight of the flour you are going to refresh your starter with.

If you want 50% hydration, then mulitply 0.5 x 90 grams (assuming 90 grams is the amount of flour you want to use. 0.5 x 90g = 45g water

Percentages are of the total amount of flour. Flour = 100% no matter how many grams or ounces.

Everything else is a percentage of the total flour.

Your starter maintenance mentioned is

66.66% starter (60 divided by 90) = 60g

50% water (45 divided by 90) = 45g

100% flour (90g)

I'm thinking this is going to make a pretty sticky starter that may develop too much alcohol if not refreshed frequently.

I tried maintaining at starter at one point that contained a high percentage of starter and it began to always smell like fingernail polish rather than yeast. Plus it grew so fast that I found I was continually having to refresh. I might suggest that if you want to work more into a firm starter try 45% starter, 50% water, 100% flour. This should give you a firm piece of dough that is easy to work with and should double within 8 - 12 hours. Stir together and knead briefly to form a ragged ball that has incorporated all of the flour. Cover loosely and allow to ferment at room temp until doubled. At that point...bake some bread! Or, refrigerate the starter until you're ready to use. I always try to use my starter from the fridge within 3 days. Beyond 3 days and I'll do a refresh before I try to bake with it.

How much starter should you make?

Make enough to make bread with enough left over for a refresh, so that you can make more bread.

With the example I provided percentages for, lets translate those percentages out to grams. 45 g starter, 50 g water 100g flour. This will make approximately 195 g of starter. I say approximately because some always sticks to the spoon, the bowl, your fingers, and of course, a bit of the water evaporates. With approximately 195 grams of starter, you could make 3 batches of bread that require 50 grams each (150 g) and then still have 45 grams left over to do a build/refresh.

This part does not necessarily require exact perfect weights. I've made bread and done refreshments with 5 or 10 grams plus or minus and not had any troubles.

But, if you really want to be a stickler about it. Let's say you dropped some of your starter on the floor, and the time alottment for bare floor contact exceeded the "5 - second rule", and you only had 30 g of starter remaining. Yikes! Not to worry. Just follow the percentages and make what you can to get back up and running. 

30g of starter is 45 percent of what....(it should be 45% of your total flour which is: 30 divided by .45 =66.6666.

So total flour is going to be 66.6666%

And now, the water part is easy. 50% of 66.666... = 33.333...

That said—everybody has a method to their madness for many reasons and maintain their starters to their own preference.


If I've deviated from the original starter recipe will I be able to calculate the hydration percentage close enough or modify it during feeding to bring it cloer to the proper level?

Yes. Once your starter is growing, and doubling and healthy, you can safely modify the method of refreshment as needed until you have a starter that you are comfortable working with. As Jan mentioned though—most of us work in WEIGHTS. By scaling everything out, your end product will be much more consistent. Between temperature, humidity, forgetting that you put the bowl of dough on top of the fridge...YESTERDAY!!!, there are a lot a variables to content with. Narrow down the variables as much as possible by weighing your ingredients.

There is a ton of info on TFL from other very talented baker's and the methods they use. Have fun, experiment, try different methods out until you find something that works. BE SURE TO MAKE NOTES. Write down what you do so that when you have success with a particular method, you can repeat it.

Hopefully this makes sense and is of some help.

Bake onward!


CAUTION: I know enough to be dangerous. But seriously, this method has worked very well and provided consistent, predictable results without a lot of fuss.

hydestone's picture

Thanks for the detailed response Marc!

I think I may detect a bit of the nail polish removed smeel you refer to.

Anyway, I used your proportions 45:50:100 and made a dough shaped hockey puck, put it in the container and it rose well.

I didn't realize starters were so much work!  I'd love to feed it, use the extra once a week then forget about it until the next week.

I made my first loaf with it yesterday and the starter was successful!