Questions regarding maintaining a starter and hydration
Hi all. I'm working on becoming a sourdough baker and have been doing a lot of reading from several sources. Unfortunately, pretty much every source differs in explanation of maintaining a starter. I have a few questions that I could hopefully get some clarification on, all of which are kinda interrelated.
For instance, I am currently going by the starter recipe in Peter Reinhart's " Crust and Crumb". This calls for maintaining a starter with 3 parts flour to 4 parts wa
ter by weight. This differs from most other sources that I have read which often calls for either equal parts, or the opposite, 4 parts flour to 3 parts water (1:4:3 ratio). This ties into the second thing I don't really understand, which is hydration. When one is talking about 100% hydration, that means equal parts water to flour, right? Would that be by weight or by volume? I would assume by weight but it seems like many guides are done by volume rather than weight. If that is the case, then would that make my starter of 3 parts flour to 4 parts water a 133% hydration then?
My next question is how much starter I should keep when feeding it. This has varied wildly so I am not sure if there is really one "correct" way, or if it just needs a minimum and the amount doesn't really matter as long as it is more than that? For instance, I have read that it should be equal parts old to new, so for example, you would add 40g water and 30g flour to 70g starter. Then there is the common 1:4:3, so that is using much less old starter to new additions. I have seen as little as 1:5:5 even. So I am basically unsure of how much starter I should be keeping when I am feeding it. I have been doing equal volumes old to new as in my first example but I am rather unsure, as Reinhart's book doesn't specify exactly how much should be kept and how much discarded-it seems to be about equal amounts old to new but never exactly.
One final question. Guides that I read, including Reinhart's, says that after feedings, the starter should be doubling in volume. I have noticed that in mine there really isn't significant volume increase. It bubbles, releases hooch, and is distinctly sour smelling, so I assume it is active, but it isn't achieving much volume. Is it just because it is such a thin consistency that it can't get very voluminous? I have been considering altering the feeding ratio to make it somewhat thicker, either even parts or 4 parts flour to 3 parts water. I made my first loaf with the starter today and it was very flat, hardly rose at all in fermenting, proofing, or baking. So I am not sure if my starter is just too weak or what. Should I try adding some yeast or sugar/honey to give it a kick?
Thanks for the help, hopefully that was all worded coherently enough to be understood. I'm still trying to get going with sourdough and not having the best luck, but still working on it. It is a little frustrating, I never had much trouble with my old starter (which I had used when much less informed on sourdough) but can't seem to get this one going very well.