The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Another sourdough delimma??

Lucy-Sue's picture

Another sourdough delimma??

Hi:  I am having quite the time with making sourdough bread.  I have sucessfully grew my yeast using the sourdough ladys recipe.  It is now 3 months old.  I do not know much about hydration? This could be my problem.

My first recipe was the recipe for the sourdough ladys recipe.  I followed it exactly and it did not want to raise.  So I got frustrated and put it back in the fridge.  2 days later I noticed that it had grew a bit in the fridge, so I took it out again and it took 8 hours for it to raise and it was not too bad.

My next attempt was Gaarp's 5 grain seeded bread.  I followed it exactly again and it would not raise very much.  My stiff starter was not so stiff either.  thats why I am thinking that hydration is my problem.  Anyway I cooked the bread and the squirrels just love it.

My first question is:  What hydration is the best for the sourdough breads and how do I get it to be the right hydration.

My next question is:  When I want to make I take the starter out of the fridge, feed it and wait for a few hours before I can use it....or do I take it from the fridge, stir it and take what I want and use it before I feed it.


Any help would be very much appreciated.





occidental's picture

Hi Lucy-sue,

I'll give you my take on your two questions.  In regards to question number one, I wouldn't say there is one 'best' hydration for starter or for breads.  Higher hydration breads generally tend to have a more open crumb, although you can get open crumb with a lower hydration.  Higher hydration formulas are usually harder to work with and shape.  More to the point is the second part of your first question, which is getting the right hydration for the particular formula you are working on.  Starting out, at least until you get the feel of things I'd say the most important tool for this is a digital scale and an understanding of bakers math.  Formulas that begin with a sourdough starter should specify if you need a liquid or a stiff starter., or better yet the actual hydration of the starter.  Usually what I have seen is that, in general liquid starters range from 100 - 125% hydration and stiff starters are in the range of 60-75%.  Which kind of starter do you keep?  I happen to keep both kinds in the fridge.  To determine your starter hydration a little bit of bakers math is needed.  If when refreshing your starter you add 100 grams (or other measurement as long as it is by weight) of flour and 100 grams of water you have a (liquid) starter that is able to be stirred and maintained at 100% hydration (100g flour / 100g water = 1 or 100% hydration).  If you refresh at 100 grams of flour and 60 grams of water you have a 60% hydration starter (100 g flour / 60 g water = .6 or 60% hydration) that will be stiff enough that you need to knead it to get it mixed.  You don't need to use the above amounts, you can refresh your starter with different amounts as long as the proportion remains the same.  Knowing the hydration of starter the formula is calling for is vital to the outcome of the overall hydration. If the formula you are using is assuming you are starting with a liquid starter and you start with a stiff one your overall hydration will be too dry.


As for question number two, typically if your starter has been in the fridge it needs to be activated before you use some of it to make bread.  You would remove it from the fridge, feed it and make sure it is active and then use a portion of it to make bread.


Sorry for the long winded response, I hope you find it helpful.  I'm sure others here will write up their take on your questions.

Mason's picture

Your starter might not be ready for prime time.  It's a good idea to refresh and reinvigorate it well before use.  I generally feed about 80% of mine (keep 20% in reserve in case of disaster).  I feed itand let it rise to double its volume and get it nice and bubbly.  

someone else on this site reported that Reinhart recommended feeding1 part starter with 3 parts water and 4 parts flour (by weight).  

I like equal parts of water and flour, so I can do the math easier for converting non-sourdough recipes (when using starter, I know that half the weight is flour and the other half is water).

This is usualy overnight, 8 hours at least. Then I refrigerate half and use the other half for baking.

If yours is having trouble, I'd recommend repeated feeding for a few days to get it good and active. Discard part and feed the rest, until you can get it to double in 8- 12 hours  In good shape a sourdough should be able to double and be very bubbly in about 8 hours.

For the best bread, feed it like this, and then begin your recipe with the very bubbliest activest starter, just before its growth starts to level off. Though if you have had it at this point and then stir to degas and put in in the fridge immediately, it should theoretically be good for about three days, without needing to be fed immediately before beginning the recipe.

May your bread always rise!


VA Susan's picture
VA Susan

Hi Lucy-Sue,

A couple things I thought of, you might try rising your bread in your oven if your kitchen is cold. I have an electric oven. I don't know if a pilot light would make it too hot if you have a gas stove. I made myself a sign as a reminder not to turn the oven on while the dough is rising. Warm your oven enough that you can hold your hand on the rack comfortably, then turn it off and leave the dough in there to rise. The ideal sourdough fermentation temp is 85 so don't get it hotter than that. You might want to warm it up again every few hours when you think of it.

My starter is a few months old too. It seems to be getting stronger with time. I've been using King Arthur All purpose unbleached flour to feed my starter and it's stayed really healthy. I don't weigh my flour. I just use a measuring cup with equal parts of water and flour. I jostle the cup of flour which packs it down a bit. I always pour off any hooch that forms which thickens the starter.  I use Gold Medal bread flour for my baking because the KA is a bit too pricy for me. Someone else wrote that organic flour made her sluggish starter really take off. You might try that too.

Hope that helps.

Mason's picture

is the oven with the light on.  The oven light makes a perfectly warm place for rising.  Turning the oven on can very easily make it too warm (dangerous).

Others have suggested a microwave oven used to heat a cup of boiling water which is then moved to the corner (replaced after 1/2 hour) makes a warm steamy place perfect for warming dough.  I have not tried this yet, though.

BTW, there's no ned to pour off the "hooch" that forms on the top of SD once it's been dormant for a while.  Just stir it back in.  

If it gets to the stage of forming that hooch, it will need a good feeding before it's ready for use, too.