The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Stuck to the Wall

GregS's picture

Stuck to the Wall

I'm a bit embarrassed to post this, but there are no fellow artisans within reasonable reach, so here goes.

I'm trying to build up a 60% sourdough starter based on Maggie Glezer's book. It is supposed to be 10% old starter, 60% water and 100% flour. The rising is coming along ok, but the tackiness of the risen active starter exceeds the finest library paste! It sticks to the jar, my hands, the utensils, and anything else it contacts, with a deadly tenacity.

I am using a quality electronic scale and measuring very carefully. Is a "proper" 60% starter supposed to be this gluey? Can I just increase the flour somewhat? How should I judge if I have a proper "firm" starter by eye or by touch.

Another thing I find strange, is the process of dissolving the active starter in water to start a recipe or another refreshment. It is a very long and tedious process to chase those little gluey gobs around with a fork until they are completely dissolved. Am I missing a better way, or is just partially dissolving the starter OK?

Thanks for any comments. I'm about ready to go back to 100% starters. Would I lose much if I did?

Greg S

Vogel's picture

Unfortunately, I haven't used firm starters yet so I'm not experienced enough to give advice.

As for dissolving the starter in water: In my experience it is enough do it fairly quickly and there is no need to fully dissolve every little lump of dough. I think the main purpose of the dissolving is to ensure that all of the used starter really goes into the whole mix, especially if you are using very small amounts of starter (like feeding 10 grams of starter with 50 grams of flour). If you just took a piece of starter with a spoon and tried to quickly mix it together with flour and water the flour would produce a dry surface around the starter on the spoon and prevent it from going into the mix. When you mix the starter into the water, even if there are some little lumps left (it is enough to get to a state were the water is somewhat coloured from the starter), the starter will spread quickly and relatively evenly when the flour is added.

sphealey's picture

I keep my starter around 60% hydration.  I do feed it with a bit of rye, which tends to increase the stickiness, but even without rye it is indeed very similar to sticky paste.  I handle it using two spoons with sharp edges and vigorous scraping.  About once a year I transfer it to another container and clean out my starter jar, but I don't know why I bother as within a week the jar is just as goopy and crusted as it was before cleaning!

I intepret "dissolve" to mean "don't let it sit in the water in one large lump", so I break it up and stir it until the water is very cloudy with starter-stuff and the big lumps are gone.  But I think it would be barely possible, and probably not even desirable, to keep stirring until it is actually dissolved in the chemistry lab sense.  I have no problem getting my doughs or refreshed starter to rise using that method.


Daisy_A's picture

Hi Greg,

Offering some reflections in response to your post.

I keep a starter at 1.3.4, same as other bakers on TFL.If my pea brain maths serves me right, this is 75% (please correct me if wrong more expert maths people!). This resembles bubble gum in consistency, and I can take it to partial windowpane.

If you think that a lean, medium hydration sourdough is 60%, then I would expect a 60% or 'firm' starter made out of only flour and water to be like a little dough ball. Library paste doesn't sound like the right consistency to me, sorry. However I'm open to correction by more experienced bakers. Zolablue has a post on the Glezer starter and a photo, which does seem a bit dough ball-ish:

It's hard to make comparisons without seeing things but you do describe it well. The only times that I have had a runny paste effect with either a firmer starter or dough was a) when feeding the starter a new flour, b) when enzyme activity was too high c) when the starter or dough was too acidic. In all cases the 'sloppiness' was caused by the breakdown of the gluten strands.

Unfortunately, if the starter is proteolytic or overly acidic it can cause the dough to degrade to a paste, also. Not saying this will happen in your case and hope it doesn't. However when this occurred to my dough the only remedy in the end was to go back and strengthen the starter.

If you do go back to 100% there won't be too great a loss, however, some bakers claim that a firmer starter gives a better eventual flavour. Having kept both, I find that the 1.3.4 starter is much easier to care for, although other bakers would say that about 100%!

In terms of mixing in starter, it's a judgement call like so much in artisan baking. If the starter is not incorporated well in the initial mix it can cause uneven rising and streaks in the dough.

I'm not sure it all has to be mixed in with the water but here are some ways that bakers deal with this -

  • after initial amassing change from a fork to a whisk to incorporate starter/levain or use hands to squeeze all the ingredients together.
  • reserve some of the water and start by making a paste with all the starter/levain (as in a custard), then mix the rest of the water into this. 
It is also possible to work on incorporating the starter/levain fully through the subsequent hand mixing. I find at this stage that 'air mixing' where you concertina the dough between open hands, helps to 'mash' the levain in much more fully than S&F, although I would then move to S&F during dough development. 
My apologies is this is all obvious or if you have tried much of it. Not offering a lesson in how to suck eggs, just some comparative notes in the absence of more immediate, hands-on help.
Kind regards, Daisy_A
GSnyde's picture


Funny coincidence.  I, too, just made a 60% hydration starter yesterday.  It does have an aggressively adherent glue-like quality.  It is a challenge to divide the mass to measure it.  I have found the best combination of tools to be a small wooden spoon and a rubber spatula.  But it might work better with a teflon  ice tongs and a blowtorch.

Take comfort in knowing that that levain will stick with you through thick and thin.

And as to the gluey globs, that too is consistent with my experience.  Using the heavy-duty bread whisk from KA helps dissolve the starter, but it would take forever to get it granular.  The old starter (even if not fine grained) mixes in well enough during the mixing and kneading.

There are many here with more experience than I, but they all seem to be sleeping late (except Daisy, the Wry Flower).


Elagins's picture

i just throw the starter and water into a covered jar or watertight container and shake .... works every time.

Stan Ginsberg

Daisy_A's picture

Top tip Stan, thanks. This is one of the ways I clean tiny bits of dough off the jar before sterilizing - hadn't thought to use it for mixing. Will give it a go.

Regards, Daisy_A

Franko's picture

What has worked for me in dealing with possibly one of the stickiest substances known to man is to wet my hands before touching it. Pinch a bit off the main mass with one hand then slide it off your fingers with the other hand into your ingredient bowl. At this point do not touch anything until you've washed your hands thoroughly. For mixing it with water I just use a hand whisk to beat it until I start getting some froth on the surface.

Has anyone else noticed how this stuff has the ability to roam freely throughout the house on it's own accord?


GSnyde's picture

Here's an informative discussion about dealing with the adhesion problem==>


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Greg S.

Your starter is going to be sticky. Accept it. (I was going to say, "Embrace it," but the image ... Well, I'm glad I didn't say that.)

I have two methods I've used, although I kind of like Stan's option too.

The first method requires a silicon or rubber spatula and a largish bowl.

Weigh the seed starter into the bowl. Add the water. Use the spatula to break the starter into little pieces (Marble size). Start pressing each piece against the side of the bowl and smearing it. Then scrape the smear off the bowl into the water and give it a few stirs. Continue until all the starter is dissolved. Then add the flour and mix.

The second method requires a Danish Dough Whisk, a spatula and the same largish bowl. Put the seed starter and water in the bowl. Use the wire of the whisk to break up the starter. Then beat the H**l out of it until it is dissolved. Add the flour and mix. You can use the whisk to scrape down the bowl or use a spatula.

i use the second method almost exclusively. Note: no ingredients are touched by my hands with either method.

Hope this helps.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Before I answer you gloppy sticky starter question, what kind of flour are you feeding your starter? 

It makes a difference. 

Rye is always sticky.  I think buckwheat is stickier.

A firm starter will feel like a stiff dough.  Folding it over onto itself and played with a little bit.  Many prefer to stir first with a chop stick (easy to clean) and then use hands.  Up to you.  If you are feeding with wheat, a firm starter should not be sticky.  That would be another problem.


GregS's picture

First, my warmest, stickiest thanks to all who replied

Mini: My starter is 100% wheat based When you say "a firm starter should not be sticky" do you mean before or after it grows? When I initially mix the starter, I can actually knead it, and I have to squash it into the bottom of my container for measuring. After it has doubled, tripled, etc. , then it is massively sticky. I have seen some photos of chunks of firm starter lying in a bowl waiting to be incorporated. No way could I do that with my result. Is there something I'm missing?

This is a wonderful forum. I look forward to the day I can contribute more than I take away.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

As it grows it gets "wetter" and yes then it is softer to some degree.  Maybe it makes a difference but I do roll it into flour and put a spoonfull of flour on the bottom of the jar, it does make it easier to handle and remove.  Rolling the glop in some more flour or wetting your fingers makes it easier to pull chunks off.  The longer it ferments, the harder it is to handle.  The more flour that is incorporated the longer it stays firm.  Dropping the temperature will slow the whole process down considerably.  It will eventually turn into a blob.  There does seem to be two kinds of sticky. 

One is rather rapid in its progression and is the one to worry about (and good news, can be cured) and the best way to describe it would be that no matter how much flour is worked into the starter (and it can still hold together as a crumbly ball)  in 12 hours it is a liquid puddle at 75°F.

There was a time when I mixed up small wheat firm starters, gave them some warm time, put them into the refrigerator for 4 days to a week, then cut them up for use in bread.  Then they would lie domesticated like you discribe.  Haven't done that in a long time.  Use the method more for long storage for weeks, months or longer.

Now I have a rye firm starter but remove only a little bit, feed that little bit to 100% hydration and build for the loaf the following day.  The firm starter stays in the fridge and slowly gets used up.  If my baking increases, I use the firm starter more as a back up and keep a 100% starter fed and happy.


Daisy_A's picture

HI Greg,

Don't know if you had time to look at the Zolablue link. She shows a firm starter in all stages of development and it does seem to go from a dough ball to something tackier

However if the starter remains really 'gloopy' it is still worth checking if it is over-acidic or has too much enzyme activity in case it also 'gloops' up the dough.

Kind regards, Daisy_A