The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Experienced TFLers: Does Handbook Starter Storage Info Need Refreshment?

RobynNZ's picture

Experienced TFLers: Does Handbook Starter Storage Info Need Refreshment?

Reading comments today from experienced TFLers on the quantity to feed refrigerator stored starters I am left wondering if the sections on storing starter in the fridge in the Handbook need to be refreshed themselves.

Using the information collated in the Handbook I was easily able to establish a 100% hydration starter and have been storing it in the fridge and feeding it, according to the following copied from the section on making a sourdough starter in the Handbook:

After that time, it should be kept in the refrigerator between uses/feedings. Every week or so, take it out of the fridge, feed it by retaining only ¼ cup of starter and then feed it ¼ cup flour and 2 Tbs water.

I do this by weight retaining 60g of the starter I have built up for use and return the starter to the fridge as 60g:30g:30g. To date I have been making sourdoughs about 6 times a month, ie more than once a week, so the starter is getting a series of substantial feeds each time I build-up to bake and then being put on hold in the fridge at 2:1:1. So far this has worked for me. But from the comments today I am concerned about what will happen longer term.


Likewise the Handbook section on storing starter in the refrigerator says:

If you only bake once every week or two, you’ll be happier storing your starter in the fridge in a covered container.

Once a week, take it out, and feed it.

For a wet starter, retain only ¼ cup of starter and then feed it ¼ cup flour and 2 Tbs water.

For a stiff starter, retain a marble-sized piece and add 15 grams (1 Tbs) of water. Mush it up until it's soft and the water has turned somewhat milky in color. Then add 25 grams (2 heaping Tbs or 1 Tbs + 1 tsp) of flour.

Keep it out for an hour or four, and then pop it back into the fridge.

If you’re going to bake with it, make sure to take it out a day before and feed it twice, with at least 8 hours in between each feeding.

I also follow the above guidelines to feed it twice the day before starting a formula. I did struggle at the beginning knowing quite how to do a build up and gleaned information by reading through the archives. Perhaps if the starter storage information was going to be updated it would be a good time to include some buildup examples for a couple of simple loaves such as the build up of a 100% hydration starter for  Wildyeast Susan's Norwich and the preparation of the Firm starter for San Diego Susan's Simple Sourdough.

Experienced TFLers are you able to pool your wisdom on this please? I realize many of you store you starter at room temperature and feed it daily but I am sure there are others who only do a few bakes a month who are experienced with refrigeration storage.

Regards to all, Robyn

hansjoakim's picture

Hi Robyn,

Thanks for bringing this up! Yes, in my opinion, this section needs a serious overhaul, and I think you pointed out what need attention.

One thing that can make the area of sourdough baking overwhelming for beginners, is the wealth of information on the subject, and the (often) widely differing instructions/guidelines available. For the most part, I think the rich flora of starter maintenance and feeding procedures is a result of sourdough starters being so incredibly versatile and easy-going. They'll get by on many different feeding regimens, and, as humans, adjust and adapt to their environment very quickly.

I've found starters to be amazingly resilient and robust. If you've kept them on a healthy diet, they can withstand long periods of neglect in the fridge, and bounce back within a feeding or two. However, if there is one thing that can kill off your starter, then I'd say it's underfeeding it. Combine that with long periods in the cold, and your starter will suffer, become increasingly sluggish and the response time grows. The starter maintenance as you sketched out from the Handbook, is one example of what I would label "underfeeding".

When I came up with my own feeding schedule, I looked how sourdoughs or levains were built up in some of the books on bread baking that I own. "Bread" is my favourite baking book, and in that book, most recipes have the sourdough/levain build going something like: 20% active starter, 100% flour, 100% water (for a liquid levain). That's a 1:5:5 (starter:flour:water) regimen, and this should be ripe in roughly 10-12 hours.

Now, the question is whether a starter that's kept on a 2:1:1 diet is active enough to ripen the above levain in 10-12 hours. I haven't tried, but I think not. In a 2:1:1 starter, there will be a fierce competition over the available food supply, and there will a lot of malnourished and unhappy organisms. In a 1:5:5 starter, the microorganisms present are all tiny Usain Bolts, supermen with an insatiable appetite for flour. After a brief lull, they'll pounce on the new food, grow, and fall asleep after 10-12 hours.

Your exact feeding schedule can be a 1:1:1, a 1:3:3, a 1:10:10 or a 1:20:20. It will all depend on how long you wait between feedings, your ambient temperature, your flour specs. etc. But always feed it with more flour than the weight of your starter, and make sure that the starter is allowed to ripen between feedings. If it's not ripened, you'll gradually dilute and weaken the starter.

I keep a 50% firm white starter, so I feed it using 1:2.5:5 (say 10gr. starter, 25gr. water, 50gr. flour), and let it ripen in room temperature for 10-12 hours. Whenever I'm going away, or if it's more than say a week until next time I'll bake, I feed it, leave it on the counter for an hour, and then put it in the fridge. When I come back, I just resume standard feeding, and can use it after one refreshment.

I think it would be a good idea to update the handbook, as many beginners might not realise until it's too late that it's absolutely necessary to discard a huge part of the starter each time in order to keep it in optimal shape. A worked example or two also sounds like a brilliant idea.

Edit: I forgot to mention that there is a wealth of scientific information on starter specifics in the sourdough FAQ, available here. Here's a quote from Michael Ganzle, who also contributed to the book "The Bread Builders"; note that he points out that optimal pH growth conditions for lactobacilli are 5.0 - 5.5, an environment that is obtained by using 5% - 20% starter in the feeding:


Subject: 39. What factors affect microbial growth in sourdough?

We've been doing quite some work to figure out which factors affect microbial growth in sourdough. I've done some work in vitro (which is about to be published: Ganzle et al., Modeling of growth of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis and Candida milleri in response to process parameters of the sourdough fermentation, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, July 1998); and a colleague of mine, Markus Brandt, has tried to figure out how my "model predictions" work out during the actual dough fermentation. Taken together, one can state the following: For sourdough lactobacilli:

A) 32°C - 33°C (89.6F - 91.4F) -- optimum growth

B) 37°C & 20°C (98.6F & 68F) -- double generation time

C) 39°C & 15°C (102.2F & 59F) -- fourfold generation time

D) 41°C & 4°C (105.8F & 39.2F) -- no growth

For the yeasts, the figures are as follows:

A) 28°C (82.4F) -- optimum growth

B) 32°C & 20°C (89.6F & 68F) -- double generation time

C) 34°C & 14°C (93.2F & 57.2F) -- fourfold generation time

D) 35°C & 8°C (95F & 46.4F) -- no growth.

So: if several refreshments are done above 32 C, the yeasts will drop out eventually. The optimum pH for lactobacilli is 5.0 - 5.5 (which is the initial pH of a sourdough with 5 - 20% inoculum), the minimum pH for growth is 3.8 (they usually produce acid until pH 3.6 is reached).

Lactic or acetic concentrations don't affect growth of lactobacilli very much: this is the reason why the buffering capacity of the flour is so important for the organism (a high buffering capacity in high ash flours means that the lactobacilli produce much acid until the critical pH is reached). It also means, that in doughs that are continuously operated with a high inoculum (more than about 30%), you'll find more yeasts and fewer lactobacilli. Eventually, the lactobacilli flora may change, with more acid tolerant lactobacilli (e.g. L. pontis) prevailing. Such a sourdough is found in the Vollmar and Meuser continuous sourdough fermentation machines (there are 6 operating in Germany, and a diploma candidate in our department characterized the microflora of several of these: as the machine is operated with a 50% inoculum, the pH is never above 4.1 - 4.3, and no L. sanfranciscensis is found in those doughs).

Yeasts are different: they don't mind the pH at all, but are strongly inhibited by acetic acid, and to a much lesser extent by lactic acid. Increasing salt concentrations inhibit growth of lactobacilli, but yeasts tolerate more salt. No salt is added to the sourdough until the final bread dough, but the dough yield affects the salt concentration: with a low dough yield (little water), the salt (ash) is dissolved in a smaller water volume, and the salt concentration goes up: resulting in a slower fermentation.

So much for the "in vitro" theory. Surprisingly, Markus has found most of the predictions to come true when he was looking at the cell counts at different temperature, size of inoculum, salt concentration, and pH in rye dough. The variation of the inoculum size was interesting: If he reduced the inoculum size by 2, he had to wait almost exactly one generation time (one doubling time of the lactobacilli) longer until the dough has reached the same cell counts, pH, titrable acidity, and so on as the dough with the higher inoculum. This was true for inoculum sizes between 1% and 20%: at 50% inoculum, the pH is so low that the lactobacilli don't really grow well, and at an inoculum size of 0.1%, the pH and/or the oxygen pressure in the dough are so high that the cells have a lag-time (see above) of an hour. Thus, a scanty inoculum means one generation time longer fermentation.

The generation time of L. sanfranciscensis in rye dough at 28 C is a little less than an hour (figures may vary with different strains in different flours, but it's not much more or less than that), so if the inoculation size is reduced from 20 to 2.5%, it'll take about three hours more until the dough is ripe.

The question is, whether these findings are true for all flours and for all organisms. The strain isolated by Kline and Sugihara does not differ very much from the two strains I've been looking at. All the literature available tells me that - as long as we're looking at sourdoughs with a tradition of continuous propagation - the system behaves the same way. Differences may be between rye flour and white wheat flour: in white wheat flour, the enzyme activities are so low that the organisms may run out of food before the critical pH (lactobacilli) or the critical acetic acid concentration (yeasts) is reached.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

And I understand enough to apply the information.  I'm glad you provided it. 

I would love to see this on overlaping transparencies one day or in 3-D format (floating with CSI holographic images would really be cool, I can see these barbell blobs in front of me... changing colors where the various LAB's and yeasts overlap into ideal conditions as the hydration and flours are changed...)  but many will not know what to do with this information.

It has to be simplified or translated into directions on starter care.  Many of us have come around to feeding our starters more flour because they work better  (1:4:4  and 1:5:5)  the flour amounts being far more important than the water amounts.   I think mine  actually has more flour.  I also mix differently for what I want to do.  I always add more flour than the starter itself.

I almost lost my starter yesterday.  Everything mixed up in dough for three loaves.  Discovered the absence of my trusty starter after shaping the loaves.   I pinched off a walnut size piece and let it proof in a jar until it collapsed, then added about a shot glass full of water and a heaping tablespoon of rye flour.  After it started to froth up, which seemed to take forever, I thickened it up with a little more rye and into the fridge it went.  This will be used to inoculate at least one overnite sponge in the next two days. Then it will be back to rye.


RobynNZ's picture

First thanks for leaving a note in this thread about what you do to feed your starter. 

So glad to hear you realised in time and were able to grab some of your special beasties back before they made it to the oven, you cut it pretty fine, great save.



RobynNZ's picture

Hi Hans

Thank you for your full and useful response. I have learned a lot from reading through your post and the sourdough FAQs to which you linked.

If there is agreement that the Handbook could do to be updated in this area,   we need to come up with maintenace and build up  methods which will be suitable for new users of starters to commence with, before they deviate to their own preferred practice.

I'm hoping everybody who stores their starter in the refrigerator will drop by and tell us what maintenance schedule and what buildup works for them. Obviously everyone will have a slightly different method but I'm hoping that we can come up with something pretty standard for the Handbook.

So, TFLers, if you do keep your starter in the fridge please leave a note here, much like taking a poll, setting out your methods, please.

AnnieT's picture

This may get me drummed out of TFL, but here goes anyway. The night before I plan to bake I take all but 1/4cup of my stirred down starter out of the jar and collect the "discard" in a large yogurt container. Then to the 1/4cup I add 1/2cup bottled spring water and a generous 1/2cup of Stone-Buhr bread flour. This mixture gets stirred vigorously and sometimes I'll add a little extra flour to make the mix firmer, and every now and again some rye flour. This sits on the counter for a couple of hours and back into the fridge. Next morning I take it out and by the time I want to bake (late morning) it is ready to go. Of course I mostly bake Susan's Sourdough and this works for me, A.

RobynNZ's picture

Thanks for sharing the method that works for you. (I can't hear any drums)

So by weight you prepare your starter the night before using it in a dough mix approx 60g starter:120g water:60+g flour, that is 1:2:1+ perhaps up to 1:2:2 when you add the extra flour.

How about the starter you put back in the fridge to store? At what point do you separate it and do you feed it before putting it in the fridge? If so, how do you feed it?

How often are you using your starter in a month? Do you feed it if you aren't baking?

Cheers Robyn



AnnieT's picture

Hi Robyn, I assume you mean the discard starter? I just put it back in the fridge until I have about 1 quart then use it for "Discard Bread" for my neighbors. Last week I got excited about Dan Lepard's Black Pepper Rye and the starter was neglected to the point of having clear liquid on top, but usually I bake the SD loaf at least once a week. Once in a while I will feed it even if I'm not planning to bake.  As you can see, this is all very casual, which is why I wondered whether I dare comment, A.

Floydm's picture

I refrigerate my starter.  I think I refreshed it twice, maybe three times, all summer.  It did fine.

RobynNZ's picture

What ratio do you use for storage?

I'm currently using the 2:1:1 recommended in the Handbook, but in recent days some of the knowledgable TFLers indicated this might be underfeeding. 

How about what you do to build up to make a simple sourdough?

I feed 1:1:1  twice 8 hours apart then after a further 8 hours prepare the sour dough 'preferment', which will get used in the final mix some 8 or so hours after that.

Cheers Robyn

Floydm's picture

I pull my starter out of the fridge, take a spoonful out of the jar and put it in a pyrex cup, then add "some" water.  Honestly I just do it out of the tap, in the ballpark of 1/3 of cup.  I stir it, give it 5 or 10 minutes to dissolve, stir it some more, and then mix in some more flour.  I'd guess... a half a cup?  Again, I'm remarkably imprecise. Then I cover it with plastic and let it sit on the counter anywhere from 8-20 hours.

When I'm ready to make a dough, I take all but a tablespoon or so of what I had of the starter out of the cup.   That yields me about a cup of ripe starter, which is about right for a batch of sourdough with a 3:1  ratio.  I repeat the above refreshing steps with the remaining tablespoon of starter and put that back in the fridge right away. 

If any community members are interested in taking a crack at updating or expanding the handbook I'm happy to grant them permission to do so.  The main things I ask is that 1) you abide by the copyright terms -- it is Creative Commons, so you are granting community members or anyone else permission to reproduce any of it for non-commercial use which means you can't including anything that is already under a commercial copyright -- and 2) that you respect the work that other site members have put into what is there.  You should feel free to tweak, clarify, and improve but doing a wholesale erasure and rewrite of someone else's work isn't very nice.     

Send me a message using the site messaging system if you want permission.

RobynNZ's picture

Thanks Floyd for providing a note of how you work with your starter in this thread.

If there are enough people agreeing that the 2:1:1 feeding ratio for starter to be stored in the fridge level is an underfeed, and there are enough contributions on what people actually do with such starter to get an idea of a range to suggest to newcomers by way of the Handbook, then perhaps we can refresh that small section. I don't envision a wholesale erasure or a rewrite of anyone's work. I think the Handbook is a wonderful initiative and have pointed several newcomers to it for good basic information.


leucadian's picture

Here's the link to Ganzle's journal article:

It's hard to convey the relationships between temp, nutrients, pH, and activity in words, but the graphs in this paper are much easier to digest (ahem). This link is also contained deep in the link that Eric cited above, but I want to make it easy for everyone to find.

What he's done here is created formulas to predict the behavior of yeast and bacteria in different conditions, then checked his theory against actual yeast/bacteria populations to verify it. We can use his model to predict behavior that perhaps wasn't measured.

RobynNZ's picture

I'm off to read the article and to do some more learning.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Robyn, Welcome to TFL!   :)   

RobynNZ's picture

I always enjoy the richness of your responses, your skill in thinking outside the box is inspiring, and then there's the wonderful baking too! Thank you for all you have taught me since I found this marvelous site.

inlovewbread's picture

I keep a 50% hydration starter and a 100% hydration starter. I feed each every seven days regardless of if I have baked with it or used some of it to build with for a particular formula. In between feedings each are kept in the fridge.

For the 50% starter, I usually take 20g starter, add 30g water and 60g KA AP flour. Sometimes I add in a little rye flour or whole wheat. Leave out overnight (6-8 hours for mine) and refrigerate in a mason jar.

For the 100% hyd. starter: I take 50g and add 150g water and 150g flour. Leave out 6 hours (or until it raises and starts to collapse) and then refrigerate.

I don't know if this is correct (even my math...rrr..) but both my starters perform really well in whatever formula I try.

Hope this helps!

RobynNZ's picture

for sharing how you look after both of your starters. I see they have been making wonderful bread! Your Idaho Sourdough looks fantastic. Great that you were able to come up with a mix size that was just right for your two forms.

inlovewbread's picture

Since I've made this post I have learned a lot more about sourdough and care/feeding of starters and would no longer recommend the above feeding schedule!

Now, I keep a rye starter and a white firm starter at 50% hydration. (well, 55%) They are fed every 12 hours and kept at room temp in mason jars. 

I take 10g starter, feed 25g water and 45g flour.

Now my starter(s) are a lot healthier and taste better in bread.

(I also just now noticed that the top of the thread says, "Experienced TFL'ers" Yikes! I should not have answered! I'm still very much a beginner- but loving the process.

Also, RobinNZ, sorry- I missed your reply to me. thanks for the compliments and commenting.

RobynNZ's picture

Hi Inlovewbread

Today I wrote a response on starter usage (specifically discarding starter) for a newcomer using Hamelman's Bread book and I too had this thread in my head as I wrote. At that time, in Oct, I was keeping a 100% starter, using the fridge and  following the TFL Handbook fridge maintenance instructions (which I see have been adjusted, thanks Floyd!). Around that time I got the courage to bring my starter out onto the bench and to establish a 60% one as well. Then as our days got warmer the 100% was ripening too quickly, so I decided to maintain only the 60% one. My current routine is mason jars on the counter, 12 hourly feeds 20g starter, 12g water, 20g flour. The day before baking I adjust starter amount &/or hydration as required.

While I was away over Christmas, my fridge-freezer died, so the 60% stored in the fridge and the dried starter back-up in the freezer, were no more. Fortunately I had taken starter away with me to give to my brother and as a last minute decision decided to bring some of it back with me - just as well I did! But as I had been so successful using the pineapple juice method to establish it in the first place, it wouldn't have been the end of the world to start again. Dealing with a thawed freezer, now that wasn't much fun.

I'm less anxious these days about starter maintenance and can see as my bread type & volume alters and our seasons change, my starter maintenance routine will also evolve. For me this was the most difficult part to 'get' when I started making sourdoughs.