The Fresh Loaf

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Strengthening a Starter

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gilster's picture

Strengthening a Starter

How does one go about strengthening a starter? I've made several starters, most recently using Debra Wink's pineapple juice solution, and I've made bread from my starters. But I'm not satisfied with the energy levels of my white-flour (King Arthur all-purpose) starter. I can get it to give me about a 50% increase but no more than that. Coaxing a rise out of this starter when baking a loaf can take all day. Are there ways to 'energize' a starter, or does this just occur with time?

Thanks to the community for any help.



noyeast's picture

Its all in the feeding just prior to use.   The organisms seem to lose their maximum viability as soon as the most active stage of fermentation has passed.

I've had the same problem as you but recently I've been planning a three day regime where Day one is building the active starter up to maximum activity with 1/4 cup starter/1/4 cup flour/1/4 cup water.  I do this three times OR, until the starter takes just 2-3 hours to tripple in size ( may only take two times)(EDIT: sorry, I should be saying I increase my ratio the last two times, so the second feed is 1/4 starter/1/2 cup flour/ 1/2 cup water, then the third and last would be, after tossing away the excess starter, 1/4 cup starter/1 cup flour/1 cup water.... ahhhhh thats better....  close EDIT)

As soon as its trippled, I know it is at its most active stage and this is the time to immediately make sourdough bread.


I have also been using a little more starter in my mix ie 100 gms starter into my 2 freeform loaf recipe.


I still use a long rising time though.   First 5 hrs gets three french folds, then into the fridge for a cold retard over night or if its a cold night I will leave in the bench.

Next morning take out and bring to room temp for a couple hours then allow it to double.

Next, cut and shape.

Next, leave to double ( only double and no more).

Bake at 220C for 10 mins then turn down to 180 for 45 mins for a great, strong thick crunchy crust.


Good Luck.


LindyD's picture

Hi Paul, what's your feeding schedule and how old is your culture?

Are you using your starter when it's perfectly ripe?  That makes a difference, but you have to remember, too, that dough temperature is an important factor in the rate of fermentation. 

gilster's picture

Ripeness may be an issue -- I'm new at this. I've been trying (first) feeding every 24 hours. Then I tried every 12 to see if this made a difference. The starter is about six weeks old and reliably gives me about a 50 percent increase, but never doubles. I've tried adding a bit of rye flour, and this does get the starter to double, but once I've left off with the rye and am back to nothing but AP white flour, the same problem returns. Temperature is around 73 degrees.

Any thoughts? I'm sticking with a 1:1:1 hydration, by the way.

noyeast's picture

hi Lindy, had to rush that last post of mine and did not really get time to detail my temps. so thanks for asking.  Yes temp is of course very important and currently winter here in NZ so ambient room temp in my house is cool, around 16-17 C.  This is why my SD is taking a fairly long time. 

Summer will bring an abient room temp much more conducive to baking.


My starter is a very simple 'self grown' white wheat flour starter which I started 18 months ago.

Perfectly ripe?  well as mentioned in my post above, I am now learning to use it when at its most active stage ie when it tripples in size within 3 hrs or so. I then must use it immediately whilst it is in this very active state.  Is that what you mean ?


When not in "baking mode" I keep it in the fridge and feed only when ever I think of it... once a week... once a month... makes no difference.   It always takes just a few feeds over a couple or three days to 'revive' then with the regime I mentioned above, it quickly livens up ready for use with 2-3 1:1:1 feeds.



gilster's picture

Thanks, noyeast. Have never been able to get a tripling of the starter, or even a doubling, with white AP flour. I'll consider your three-day regime a possibility -- maybe this will help.

noyeast's picture

Hi glister, not able to get it to tripple...?


I'm no expert but I would say you could be feeding too wet.   Wet feeds are the norm during idle phase when you're not baking and want to keep your starter happy, but as far as I'm aware, the starter needs to be fed a dryer mix when preparing to use it.  This grows more organisms and they are super-hyper active !

Do some searching on "starters" right here if you have'nt already, and read as many posts as you can.  My starter is nothing special, and as I say, I've had problems before getting it to be active enough but since commencing the above regime all has been well.

Start your final two or three feeds (the day before baking) with just half a cup of starter, throw the rest away, otherwise you'll end up using way more flour than necessary. Sorry if you already know that !

gilster's picture

Thanks, noyeast. Have been learning a great deal by reading the forums here. Very useful! The name is 'gilster,' by the way, not 'glister,' but just call me Paul ;-)

I've wondered about the wet feeds, too, and have tried to change the hydration. We'll see how that goes. Am about to take it down to a half cup and feed again, and will hope for the best.

Daisy_A's picture

Hi Paul,

I've had to strengthen my starters recently and read a lot of posts and tried a few different approaches before they strengthened visibly.

Looking at the information that you give, if you can achieve a 50% rise with predominantly white flour at 1:1:1, feeding only once per 12 or 24 hours then your culture may actually be quite strong but is possibly being underfed.

You say you are changing hydration. With my own starters I didn't see a noticeable change until I started to feed 1:3:4 with both wholemeal and white flour. I also had to feed 3 times a day for the best part of a week before I could return to 12-24 hourly feeds.

If you tackle this regime with quarter cups of starter then it's easy to build up an excess of starter. I do this by gram weight so that I can scale up and down more easily, in that 1:3:4 could be 15:45:60, 20:60:80 or 30:90:120 grams. Bakers with strong starters could take this ratio down to 10:30:40, perhaps lower.  Hope this maths is right! Obviously you can build up a greater quantity for baking with multiple feedings. When feeding up I often feed 50% whole grain, often whole meal as I have a separate rye starter.

My starters are now strong enough again to store in the fridge and feed once or twice a week.

A temperature of 73F sounds fine for maintaining the starters. You can raise this when proofing the dough, if you require it to proof more quickly. Recipes will often give a desired dough temperature (DDT).

Hope you find something that works for you.

Kind regards, Daisy_A

gilster's picture

Thanks to both Mira and Daisy_A. This is excellent advice -- I've been wondering about underfeeding, and I think you may have hit the nail on the head. I'm going to try changing the ratios a bit in accordance with your ideas and we'll see if that does the trick. I have, by the way, been able to bake with this starter, but as I said earlier, the proofing times are huge. But the bread wound up tasting so good that I'm wanting to persist and find a way to get the starter up to full potential.


-- Paul

Mira's picture

My new starter was limping along as well at a 1:1:1 daily feeding until I Sourdough lady here on the forum advised me that I was underfeeding and suggested a 1:2:2 ratio.  I did that in 12 hour intervals for a few days and that schedule really made a difference.  I also like to feed organic rye sometimes, so for example, if one feeding requires 500 g AP flour, I'll add 400 g AP flour and 100 g organic rye.

good luck!

noyeast's picture

Hi again folks, I was baking today and suddenly realised I had made a mistake in my post second from top above, I have now edited this and you can see clearly where I have made the correction to my feeding ratios.  Appologies, hope you will take the time to re-read it.