The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Keeping a Stiff Starter

Walking Dude's picture
Walking Dude

Keeping a Stiff Starter

Been Googling the heck outta Stiff Starters when i first stumbled across the term. All my life, thought there was ONLY a LIQUID starter........silly me!

I have read everything google sent me to here, plus wild yeast. and STILL have questions. AND abit of confusion.

I read in one place that a liquid starter will give you the most sour. and i read STIFF is more sour. I have vacationed several times in San Fran, and have found i really like a REAL sour bread. YUM. I also read in places that all starters go THRU the san fran stage in their development. ?

also, i have read on SEVERAL ways of maintaining these different starters. From several diff. web sites. 

can you spell CORNFUSED !

i have yet to read a thread on maintainging diff. starters all in ONE thread !

i just started a stiff starter, and its proofing(?) atm.  Rising nice, and should raise to twice its size in 8 hours i have read, that it should. And when it domes, and starts to collaspe is when you want to use it.

am i on the right track so far?

but i don't bake 2-3 times a week. Lucky to do that a month. Tho want to change that up. So i let my stiff starter dome, i guess.  I have read that i should keep it on the counter top, and feed several times so the starter gets its legs under it. So when i feed, just pinch a piece off, throw the rest away, and feed? Never have really read on how to maintain a stiff starter, when first starting it, let alone how often to feed it. and WHEN do i know its okay to put in the fridge. I know the extensive manner to get it ready to use, once pulled outta the fridge. Its these first steps i am cornfused about.

let alone, WHICH starter will give you the MOST sour of a loaf?

Thankx for your time


Chode's picture

First of all, I'd like to prefix this reply with the fact that I am by no means an expert in this field. I've had a starter going for about 1 month and had a series of bread loaves that looked like manhole covers.

During that time my starter has been overactive, hungry and almost dead. It's taken some time but I think I finally have it under control -- Through some trial and error with the starter and the bread recipe, the past 3 loaves have turned out really well.  

It would be helpful to know what hydration you are maintaining in your starter. A poolish starter is 100% hydrated, which means it has equal parts flour and water.

An active starter left out a room temp (68-72F) will probably be need to fed as often as every 12 hours. That's why the starter goes into the fridge when you know it's active. The colder temps in the refrigerator will retard the yeast activity so that you won't have to feed it as often.  

The starter should still double in the fridge, it will simply take longer.  When feeding your starter, always measure the total weight in grams (if possible) and add 1:1 flour and water. Use cold water to keep from over activating the yeast.

When I make bread, I always make sure I've fed my starter the day before. The starter you remove from the mother can be used to make bread (if your starter is active enough, pancakes, english muffins or a bevy of tasty treats)

I remove 500g of my starter and mix up my loaf. I replace the 500g of starter w/ 250g of cold water (mixed into the mother starter first) and once that's well incorporated I add 250g of bread flour -- mix it well.

I usually mark my starter's container with a little piece of tape so i can monitor the activity over a few days time.

To make a quick ferment loaf, mix your cold starter w/ cold water, bread flour water and salt. You can use anything from about 62% to +70% hydration. I use 500g starter (right from the fridge) 300g flour 90g cold water and 16g of kosher salt. This gives me about a 62% hydration that I find works well for me. Proof the bread at room temp for 2 hours and punch it down and form a loaf and proof for another hour. Bake accordingly.

As your starter "matures" it will develop a more sour flavor. For a more complex flavor in the mean time, mix up your bread loaf a couple of days in advance and let it proof slowly in the refrigerator. The extended proofing time will make your loaf more sour than the one made with the quick ferment method.


Walking Dude's picture
Walking Dude

the stiff starter is a 1:1.5:3 starter to water to flour..............which i just made today, from my liquid starter. I know when i feed the stiff, flour is always twice as much as water.

my liquid, when i feed it, its a 1:1 water to flour


i would like to know, how many times/how often i feed the stiff starter, before its mature enuff to refridge?

Chode's picture

Again, I am a novice here -- buy I would say once you know it is active (bubbling and doubled in size) you can probably put it in the fridge after feeding it two to three times.

If you leave it out too long and don't feed it often enough, it will be hungry and form a hooch on top. Then you'll have a time getting it back under control.  At least I did...

GrapevineTXoldaccount's picture

it's like that commercial thats running on tv these days.  You know the one....talks about overload ... computer searching, and then gives us the answer to our overload by offering us yet another way to search....Yeah, that one.  Bottom line, there are SEVERAL ways to maintain a starter and much of the confusion dissipates (sp) once you get into your own personal groove.  There are so many things to factor in before you can stand back and admit that you in fact, have a groove.  Time, temperature, elements, style...everything counts.  BUT, if I have any advice, and lets face it, I do, I'm walking upright and I'm human, it would be this:

That afraid part that I spoke about in my header?  IGNORE IT!  Just don't panic.  Sometimes we really DO overload our brains and we allow ourselves to be intimidated.   Take a deep breath, read what those before me, and after me write.  None of them are wrong, each has their path and reasons for their knowledge.  Its been tried and true'd by their very own being.  They know what they speak, but so do you. 

So many little time. 

There is no wrong way to discover bread.  Every action counts.  We learn by doing.  Take a deep breath and enjoy your journey.  Oh, and welcome to the land of OVERLOAD.  It's a rite of passage on the freeway of breadcrumbs.


Wild-Yeast's picture

I've tried all sorts of starters over time.  I've gotten used to a firm starter and have "settled in" with it.  I don't measure by weight or volume but by look, feel and smell. The starter, a cross between a sponge and a poolish, is stored in the refrigerator and allowed to slowly rise in its container.  If it raises too much and pops the containers lid it's then punched down, floured and kneaded before being returned to the fridge.  It has the same texture and feel of bread dough and is prepared under the same conditions as bread except no salt is added. 

The bread I produce is Poilane style which uses a refrigerated retarded dough to yield some of the best tasting general purpose house bread that I know of.  A more sour version can be produced by fermenting at room temperature (after the overnighter in the fridge) till doubled in bulk followed by a punch down and a loaf forming for final proofing.  San Francisco wharf bread may require an additional punch down and forming before final proofing. The final room temperature ferments are responsible for producing an increased sourness in the bread.



Allena's picture

Using my vast pool of knowledge (this sour dough thing is a project for a 5 and 7 year old) we have baked all of 10 loaves of bread in two batches.  Experts right?  LOL. We got our recipes from Wild Yeast, the starter and norwich sourdough is what we used.  Thanks Wild!

We actually left one small ball of dough in the fridge from the first batch, and so as an experiment (because one great thing about 5 and 7 year olds is they are daring people not afraid to try something new to see what happens) we used the measurement provided for the starter.  Then we threw the dough from the fridge in and combined that well with the starter.

That batch had to be kind of fixed because the water to flour ratio wouldn't have been right, so we adjusted it for a heavier dough because we don't have any kind of couche or bannetonn anyway so a heavier dough held the shape better.  However the resulting loaves were much more sour than the first batch.

Since we forgot the salt in the first batch, that could be the cause.  Adding the dough that had sat in the fridge for three days could have done it...should have done part of it anyway.

It could also have been more sour because it was stiffer, which sort of makes sense to me on a biological level...More flour - more feeding, higher lactobacillis (gee whiz I hope I spelled that right and got the right bacteria) content..the lacto is the element that makes the I think.

We also make artisian cheeses here, with our goats milk.  You can buy lactobacillis in a powdered form for making cheese.

So, my big idea is:  I wonder if you added some of that culture to your starter right before mixing or baking if it would bump the sour taste regardless of the starter. Sort of a natural, sour enhancer additive.

The experts will have to confirm or deny if that is what makes the sour taste, but that is what does it in cheese so...makes sense that it could also do the same in bread.

We are baking another batch today, but maybe just a half batch because man really can't live on bread alone and these kids have not ate anything but bread since yesterday lol.

Ford's picture

Mike Avery has an excellent sourdough site.  Try the below web page, then check out some of his other pages.



wally's picture

The most definitive article I've found is by Debra Wink, a member of TFL, and a chemist by training I believe.  It's got way more detail than you're looking for, but it also contains the answer to your question of stiff vs. liquid starter.

You can find it here: