The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Using sourdough starter: "One cup" of risen or non-risen starter?

convivialist's picture

Using sourdough starter: "One cup" of risen or non-risen starter?

Hello everyone,

I have a very simple question but after searching all over the internet and reading tons of sourdough pages I can't find the answer.

I have a sourdough starter I've been feeding for a couple weeks but have not yet used in bread.  I want to finally make my first loaf, but every recipe I look at calls for "one cup" of starter.  The problem is, I don't know if that means one cup when the starter is risen, or when it is not risen.  In other words, my starter is one cup when I've just fed it, and doubles to two cups--so, to take "one cup" from it when it is doubled would be to take half of it, though to take one cup when it is not doubled would mean to use all of it.

Obviously, if I want to keep the starter going and not use all of it, then I would need to increase the size of the starter before using it if I am indeed supposed to use one non-risen cup.  Whereas if I am supposed to take half of the starter at the point when it is risen to two cups, I can go ahead and use it as is.

Thanks in advance to anyone who can answer this simple (stupid?) question.  Since I haven't been able to find anything about this online I assume I'm somehow the only person who is confused about this point!

flournwater's picture

Most of the "recipes" I've seen that specify bulk measurement rather than weight for starter suggest that the starter be fed and fully risen (for about 12 hours) before bulk measuring.  Inasmuch as I don't use bulk measurement, and suggest that you avoid it also, I can't be certain that your recipe uses freshly fed or fully risen starter but I suspect that the fully risen starter 's the most logical application.

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

You've simply run into one of the problems with recipes that measure by volume rather than weight. Most of the recipes (or formulae) posted here use weight measurement for a more consistent result whether the baker is in the US, Australia, or Europe. I suggest that you look into finding a table that will help you convert your quantities to weight and then get a digital kitchen scale if you don't already have one.

As for your question, the starter should probably be fully active at the hydration level (flour to water ratio, by weight) of the recipe. If there isn't one, you can start with a 100% hydration starter and adjust your dough when you assemble it. A fair guess would be around 240 grams or about 8.5 oz for a cup. You could also stir the starter down and then measure out a cup by volume.

If you look at the top of this page, find the topic forum and click on that. Then find the sourdough and starters forum. It's a great reference resource on sourdough and the forum will help you on just about any subject relating to bread.


convivialist's picture

Thanks for the answers so far, though I'm still not sure if I have an answer...

I understand that some people prefer to use weight measurements--however, I'm a home baker and have simply not considered it a big enough deal to get into that habit rather than sticking with volume measurements, which tend to work well enough for my home baking needs.  It's true that if I were measuring by weight I wouldn't have the problem I'm having now; nevertheless, I am measuring by volume and I figure someone out there must know the answer to my question using volume measurements.

Admittedly, I haven't read every single topic in this forum top to bottom, but I've been reading through them in case this has been addressed before and so far I haven't found anything.  I'll keep looking.  I do apologize for what is obviously a question so stupid that no one else has had to ask it; nevertheless I would very much appreciate an answer if anyone has one.

Thanks again!

Yumarama's picture

Your answer was actually posted in the previous responses:

FlournWater notes "My guess = fully risen".

Postal Grunt also specified "the starter should probably be fully active... You could also stir the starter down and then measure out a cup by volume." so I'm not sure why these didn't answer your question.

Since there's no real way to consistently account for gas bubbles - one batch may be bubblier than the next and therefore produce 'airier' starter - you would be best to take a freshly just peaked starter, stir it down to break up the gas bubbles then measure from the remaining un-gassy starter.

Really the best anyone can do is "guess" since the recipe author is using a measurement method that's open to many variables and wasn't specific enough to give you the info you needed. 


convivialist's picture

Okay, thanks for the clarification.  Since the first person who responded said they were guessing, I was hoping someone who knows for sure would come along.  The second person seemed to be more concerned with convincing me to use weight measurements and talking about how to convert grams to cups, which didn't actually answer the question of whether I should be taking half the risen starter or the whole starter stirred down.  You're the first person to tell me definitively that I should be using a cup of stirred down starter, which is all I wanted to know.  (Again, I understand the "variables" involved in using volume rather than exact weight, but I didn't realize that was the reason the first person was only "guessing".)

convivialist's picture

Actually, I'm already confused again.  You say that the first person answered my question, but you gave a different answer than they did:  They "guessed" that I should be using one cup risen (half the starter) whereas you say one cup stirred down (all of the starter).

Edith Pilaf's picture
Edith Pilaf

... the starter should be fully risen, i.e., doubled in volume.  Then stir it down to measure.  You'll find that the starter will deflate when you pour it into your measuring cup, so the answer will become apparent.

Janknitz's picture

Use the starter AFTER it has doubled.

Ambimom's picture

I know it seems daunting when you first begin, and reading some information, you are led to believe that baking a bread is akin to splitting the atom, but it's not.  People have been baking bread -- sourdough bread -- since the beginning of civilization.  Relax, it's not a big deal.

There are as many recipes, methods and techniques as there are people. You'll find a method and technique which works best for you.  You sound like you're already half way there!

Active starter is really the key.  It sounds like your starter is active if it is doubling after feeding....that's good.

If you knead immediately, it makes good sense to mix in starter that has been fed and risen.

I make my sourdough with a variation of the no-knead method, which means after mixing the starter, flour, water and salt, I knead the bread a few times and then let it sit covered in a bowl for up to 18 hours.  My routine is to take my starter out of the refrigerator to feed it.  I use the discard to mix into the bread; and replace a like amount of flour and water to my starter jar.

The flour and water in the bread dough feed the starter quite nicely during the 18 hours on the counter.  It works every time!

So fed or unfed, starter is starter as long as it is active.  It just depends on the chosen method of bread making.

FYI, I did invest in a scale to measure grams and ounces, which does help in making the bread consistent.  The problem with dry measure is that the amounts can really fluctuate and throw your recipe off completely.





jdunivan's picture

I stir mine down. I do not use a scale. I just know what my final dough should look and feel like so I add flour or water if needed. You can turn bread baking into rocket science or you can just wing it. It is a very forgiving.

dlstanf2's picture

I see how difficult this simple question can become. I'm here because I had the same question, 1 cup of risen starter, or 1 cup of degassed starter. Big difference in volume and weight.

Weighing everything makes it simple. I want to use volumes since bread making began with volumes. It's more difficult and harder for another to produce the same results as volume weights differ so much between bakers. However, as I learn I do weigh my volumes and correct as necessary.

Today I baking KA's recipe Merlin's Magic Sourdough. First time I baked it, I used VWG to improve crumb texture. I did not get the 'sourness' I was looking for and adjusted my starter, by increasing it's acidity. This time I am working on not using the VWG, and added a dash of citric acid to increase the sourness, although my sponge, after a 12 hour ferment, was pretty sour already. It's only time and flour.

I want to get one bread recipe working well and tweaking it just a bit to improve flavor and texture to my liking. I'm looking for sourness, open crumb, chewy crust, and a taste I would be proud to give a friend instead of feeding the birds and neighborhood cats.

With the help of this forum  the dedicated, maybe addicted?, folks on here with their vast experience will help me achieve my goal.