The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why has starter risen again (after falling once)?

emrose's picture

Why has starter risen again (after falling once)?

Good Friday evening, everyone!  I'm the "hybrid" starter lady, in case anyone remembers me from my asking about a starter that was a combo of 6-10 different starters (it's still going strong, still have lots of it, it makes wonderful pancakes, but I haven't gotten up the nerve to try bread with it yet...  not knowing the hydration percentage for certain scares me.  But ohhh does it look VITAL and smells just GRAND!).  Haven't posted since then, but now I've got a question for all you "science-types" out there - about a starter (what else.. sigh).

I've read that it's the oxygen that's so important to the growth & upkeep of the yeastie-beasties, i.e., that you need to stir, stir, stir to incorporate LOTS of oxygen to keep them healthy.  Then one day I found a post stating in reality it's that yeast are immobile creatures & cannot 'swim' to the food source; a starter needs to be stirred so the food source comes to them.  From my recent experiences, I lean toward the this explanation as being truth, but the whole concept has caused me to question the science behind the action... I hate not knowing WHY!

So what's happened is this...

I fed the starter at 2:30 this afternoon.  Just 3 hours later it had doubled (it's really a pretty fast starter).  Then, about 6:15 or so I noticed a dent in the middle of the surface that had fresh-looking tiny bubbles - an indication to me that it was starting to fall again.  With other activities going on in the kitchen I thought no more of it until about 7 pm.

At that time, sure 'nuff, the level had fallen off.. a little over half an inch lower than where I'd marked the top of the rise.  Remembering the 'immobile creature' bit, I stirred the starter back down to around the original level at feeding time - sending more food toward the yeast.  And 2 hours later, sure 'nuff, it had again risen to a touch over doubled-height.  By 10:15 pm it had fallen again by half an inch, so I assume the rising is over for this feed (could have happened before 10.. not sure.. that's just the time I got around to checking it).

(Sorry for the lengthy explanation but it's the only way I can get this across... I use dry-erase markers to keep track of levels, and while stirring down the starter tonight managed to remove my original feeding/rising marks so can only show in my pic the most recent timing/rising info.)

What I would like to know is exactly what does this mean for my bread-baking?  Anything?  If I DON'T stir after a fall, is that hurting the yeast?  What does it mean as to WHEN I use the starter.. when would be the best time to make a sponge (my current method of making bread)?  For a long time I fed my starters twice daily (this resulted in 2-3 1/2 hour proofing then the fall) but I had to take it down to once daily - each afternoon.  Does frequency of feeding have anything to do with it falling early & so (seemingly) needlessly?  Does it mean, that to get the best rising action in the dough I need to stir it 3 hours after EACH feeding?

Grrrrrr rr r!  I'm so conFUSED!!  Thought I had it all (fairly) figured out but now feel like a beginner who knows MUCH of - nuthin'!  The worst part is thinking I haven't asked the question which REALLY needs to be asked.  Well, if anyone knows what I'm talking about (not sure now that I do), please take a shot at explaining the multi-rises?




Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

You're distributing more food for the yeast so that they get another feeding everytime that you stir. At least thats what I gather from your explanation.

If you'd like to become less of a slave to your starter I'd recommend that you go to a 50-60% starter. It looks to me as if your starter is probably at a hydration of at least 100%, possibly as high as 150%.

Just start with a very small amount (2tsp) of what you have. Do you have a scale? That will make things so much easier. Then you can calculate out how much 60% water to flour is in the amount that you want to make.

If you've baked some yeast breads and have an idea what the dough feels like, why not just try a sourdough with your starter. Have you seen the formula of 1-2-3? 1 part starter, 2 parts water and 3 parts flour? Adjust the water as needed to get the right feel to your dough.  Or, in your case, since your hydration of the starter is high, you may have to add a touch more flour. Remember, this ratio is done by weights, not volumes. So, if you don't have a scale you need to figure out approx. how much flour and water a cup takes. Oh, and don't forget the salt!!

Really, if you have a scale life becomes so much easier. Then, you can start using the formulas that you find, either on here or somewhere else. I recommend using the formulas on here that you find on the lessons, or, what I did was some formulas from Actually, come to think about it, I think those may even be written in both volume and weight so you might get started while waiting for your scale. You can get a good scale from for under $30, including shipping.

I highly recommend either Hamelman's Bread or Peter Rinehart's Bread Baker's Apprentice to start your sourdough career. (as well as These books will go into details such as hydration, using liquid vs stiff starters, how to build your starter when you're ready to bake and how to convert from liquid to stiff (or the other direction) depending on what the recipe calls for.

Remember, when you're feeling anxious, this is all just flour, water and a little salt! So, when something fails you're not really out much but some time and effort. Chalk that up to learning. (how much time did you put into homework for school?) These are lab experiments so if they're not always edible that's ok. It's all about learning. Have fun, relax, and by all means, use all your senses when you're in the kitchen!!

Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

But I've seen something similar. I have a couple starters that I started from scratch a few months ago.....

One quickly developed a pattern that I would describe as a fast rise, then rapid twice the rate of the other. The second would rise the same amount, but take twice as long to do it. The second also had what I would describe as a "sturdy" would rise and hold there. The first would quickly rise and fall and the starter then turned to mush. Whatever is living in there is agressive and destructive to the gluten.

They would bake bread, but not much "sour", so in response to suggestions here, I "dried" them up a bit. At first, taking them to 50% hydration, at which point they nearly stopped doing anything. I've backed that off a bit, going to a feeding of 1:2:2.5 by weight, and now both have developed a pattern of slow rise, rapid fall and no body or structure left in the starter. They turn the feedbag of rye, whole wheat and AP flours into liquid mush.


On a completely unrelated note, I had another interesting observation. Several months ago I built a starter from milk and flour, and had saved a feeding of 1:1:1 starter:milk:AP flour (by volume) that had been in the fridge for over two months. Over time, it developed a layer of hooch that was about 1/4" deep. I assumed it was a goner so I pulled it out, intending to toss it, but forgot and left it on the counter. Two days layer, the layer of hooch had turned into a frothy livewire, actively bubbling away. I gave it a stir and found it was runny mess, but still very much alive with something. So I dump in a little flour and it doubles in size. I feel like I'm presiding over a kennel of pound pupplies. I'm sure one of these dogs will hunt, I'm just not sure which one it will be.

ananda's picture


Isn't it just that yeasts can't function in high concentration of CO2?   Stirring knocks out the gas and allows the yeasts access to regular Oxygen again, so it thrives once more?