The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Making starter grow

Burning_tree's picture

Making starter grow

Hello, everyone!  I'm Bridget.  I'm very new to bread and excited to learn.  My roommate's friend was very nice and gave me a small amount of sourdough starter.  It's probably just about 1/4 cup.  How do I make it grow into enough starter to make a loaf?


I've heard recipes that say "toss out a cup of it and replace it with flour/water!"  I only have a quarter cup.  Tossing out a cup isn't an option.



mrfrost's picture

The most common way is to feed the starter it's entire weight of equal portions(technically, equal weights) of flour and water. Your quarter cup of starter probably weighs about 2 ounces, so you will need to feed it one ounce of flour and one ounce of water. You will then have four total ounces of starter.

Twelve hours later, when it is hungry again, you will need to feed your four ounce baby two ounces of flour plus two ounces of water. Now, your one day old starter weighs 8 ounces. It has increased four fold over the course of one day. At the end of the second day, it will have incresed another 4 fold. You will probably need at least a half gallon container. Imagine how much you will have in a few more days.

This is why, at some point you will need to discard(or use for baking) a good portion of your starter.

I have three starters, a white, whole wheat, and rye. All of them are 2 ounces.

There are many threads here on starting and maintaining starters. Just key those terms into the search box to pull them up.

The sourdough 101 thread is a good one for starting a starter from scratch.

Here's one for maintaining a starter:

Probaly, the best thing for you to do is maintain your new starter at 2 or four ounces(so you don't waste a lot of flour feeding), and do some reading here for a few days to prepare for baking your first loaf.

Burning_tree's picture

I'm feeding it but it doesn't seem to be growing.  

When my friend gave it to me he said to feed it every two weeks.  It was in my fridge for two weeks after that. It got a layer of hooch on it.  I have heard some sites that say mix it in and some that say pour it off.  I mixed it in.

I've been adding enough to double it but it doesn't seem to grow any after that.  It still smells right and is the right consistency (pancake battery, smells like bread).  I'm just not sure it's eating what I'm feeding it.  

I think the problem might be that I don't own a scale.  So I'm kind of estimating with the proportions.  I was going to wait until pay day to get a scale but I didn't want my starter to starve in the mean time. 

mrfrost's picture

Whether one is starting a brand new starter, preparing to bake with a healthy starter, or in your case, reviving a starter(bringing it back to health), all needs to be done at room temperature. The ideal temperature for this is about 75 degF, or 72 to 77 degF. At these temps, it will need to be fed about every 12 hours.

Since to bring it back to health will probably take at least a few feeding, things will be more manageable if you keep it a about a fourth of a cup, or half a cup.

I also personally found that it was easier to observe "growth" by using slightly less water(by weight) than flour. In other words, making it just a little thicker than pancake batter. A thicker "paste" would be more descriptive.

Fow now, it may be best to focus more on bringing the starter back to health. While doing this, you can read up here on recipes members here have used for their "first sourdough" breads, and also how to maintain, store, and manage your starter.

Burning_tree's picture

Whether one is starting a brand new starter, preparing to bake with a healthy starter, or in your case, reviving a starter(bringing it back to health), all needs to be done at room temperature.


Well, I officially know what I was doing wrong.  My starter didn't seem to be happy when I fed it and put it back in the refrigerator.  It wanted to be on the counter.  It's been growing.  When I feed it it doesn't exactly "double".  It gets to be about 1 1/2 times it's previous size.  It smells stronger, more beer-like.   I hope that's a good thing. 


Thank you so much for your help, guys!  

clazar123's picture

  1. Put most of the 1/4 cup in the refrigerator in a covered jar.

  2. Take about 1 tbsp starter and mix in 1 tbsp all purpose flour-unbleached!-and enough water to make a thick pancake batter consistency.This should be in a 1 pint jar with a lid.I use peanut butter jars (about 20 oz)

  3. If it doubles in a few hours than you have an active, mature starter and you can quickly increase the volume for bread making.

For bread: you need 1/2 to 1 cup starter for many recipes. Decide on a recipe and that amount is your goal.It will take 1-2 days to build enough depending on the activity of your starter.You will get familiar with your starter and in future it will be easy to decide when to start the process.

  1. Take about 2-3 tbsp starter from the original jar.

  2. Add about 1/4 c all purpose flour (unbleached) and enough water to make a thick pancake batter.

  3. Let sit in a warm place for 6-12 hours.Top of the refrigerator usually works-unless you are in a hot envilronment.CUt feeding intervals in HALF if you are in an environment over 80F and try to find a cooler place for the culture-say-70-75F. Five degrees difference makes a huge difference.

  4. At either 6 hours or 12 hours feed same way. If you already got a significant rise in height (almost double) at 6 hours, your starter will probably be ready after this feed so feed at the 6 hour time.Use when it has risen. If it was just a slight rise, wait till the 12 hour mark and feed again.It only rose slightly because there wasn't enough yeast to eat all that flour and make gas bubbles. There is still lots of food left and it needs more time to make more yeast.

  5. If you fed at 12 hours-check it again in about 6 hours (not nec to set any alarm clocks-just check when you get up). Same idea.

  6. There is some planning involved in when to make a loaf, when using sourdough but it's not too fussy. If it's a bad time to throw a loaf together, then feed it 1 or 2 more times but it will reach a limit.Try to use it within 12-24 hours of it peaking activity and feed avery 6 hours (tho I'd prob not use a full amount-just a snack)until you use it.

A really active, mature starter (which I'm assuming your friend gave to you) should be ready by the 2nd or possibly 3rd feeding.

Feed the refrigerated starter every week by discarding half,feeding about the same amount as is left and enough water to make the thick pancake batter consistency. Let sit out for about 1 hour and the put back in the refrigerator. You are feeding(flour/water),diapering (discarding) and putting back to sleep (back in refrig)-just like a baby.

If it was a sluggish starter (maybe s/he hasn't fed it for a while). Then it requires smaller, more frequent feedings and a smaller starting amount or you'll have a swimming pool size of starter. That is a different story and involves discarding half before the feedings. I usually work in tablespoon amounts for that process and it can take a week or even 2 to rebuild a starter that has sat, unfed, in a refrigerator for a while.

Don't worry about weighing,formulas,hydration percentages,etc, for now. That will come at the next step.

There is a great tutorial on how to build a starter from scratch-look around the site-search-toolbar,etc.

HAve delicious fun!


MrFrost-your post reply appeared as I composed my reply. Original poster is getting some consistent info and I'm sure I learned from your past posts. Great site!