The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Reactivation What went wrong

tgamblr's picture

Reactivation What went wrong

Hi all,

I created a sourdough a few weeks ago and it came to fruition last week. I took half of the starter and tested it out, made pancakes and a baguette. I surprised myself; it was delicious. I put the remaining starter into a cleaned and sterilized pickle jar poked some holes in the top and put it in the fridge.

A few days ago I took the starter out to begin the process of making more. I refreshed it with the 1:1:1 mix, which worked for me when I made the first loaf. I had a cup of starter from the fridge, added a cup of water and a cup of flour. Two days later it still hasn't risen, no bubbles, and it is the consistancy of paint. It has no smell. The starter has clearly died.

I mixed everything in a glass bowl with plastic utensils, covered with a towel and put in a warm dark place above my fridge where the starter began its life.

What went wrong?

I have to begin the process of creating a starter all over again, which is fine (I think I've got the process down), but I invested three weeks of feeding only to have the thing die when I tried to refresh it. Very Frustrating.

Any thoughts on how I can keep this starter alive in the fridge?


Much Thanks

pmccool's picture

Since you don't mention having fed it before storing it, and since it is a rather young starter, it may have simply run out of food.  The other thing is that your 1:1:1 ratio is based on volumes, rather than on weights.  It means that your starter is being fed less than you were expecting.

Depending on how you measure a cup of flour, it could range from a tad more than 4 ounces to almost 6 ounces.  Let's pretend that your cup of flour weighs 5 ounces.  The water, assuming that the measuring cups you use are accurate, will weigh 8 ounces.  I can only guess at the weight of the cup of starter, but would estimate it at maybe 6-7 ounces.  So, a 1:1:1 ratio by volume means you would be supplying 5 ounces of food to 7 ounces of starter, plus 8 ounces of water.  A 1:1:1 ratio by weight would result in 7 ounces of starter being fed 7 ounces of food, along with 7 ounces of water, as an example.  The weight-based approach provides proportionately more food to the starter than does the volume-based approach for the same ratio.

A general rule of thumb (not carved in stone, mind you) is to feed your starter with double its weight of flour.  So whether you are maintaining 2 ounces of starter, or 50 grams, or some other quantity, you would feed it 4 ounces of flour, or 100 grams, or 2x the amount you maintain.  Do follow the advice to discard half before feeding.  It keeps the amounts manageable and means fewer "mouths" to feed.  

Almost forgot to mention that it is best to have some sort of cover for the starter while in storage so that it doesn't dry out or become infected with unfriendly bacteria.  If you use another pickle jar, don't bother to poke holes in the lid.  Just screw it on loosely.  I keep mine in a plastic container with a snap-on lid and it seems happy in that environment.

Best of luck with your new starter.



Trishinomaha's picture

I've been baking for five years with about a year long sabbatical somewhere along the way. I ordered a new starter from KA and was determined to get the science part of it right this time. I received the starter and fed it according to instructions.  After all this time I finally got it - the "aha" moment. Like the first poster I had always used cup measurements not weight measurements. Paul - you did a very good job of explaining it! Now I weigh everything and after a few months have a very vigorous starter. It does spend time in the fridge but bounces right back when I bring it out onto the counter and feed it the correct amounts. One more reason why a baker needs a good scale - I highly recommend Paul's method to all newer bakers!


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

but it isn't active.  It contains a lot of acid (waste product) which will slow down the yeast growth, most on top as hooch protecting and suspending it until more food is added.   Some yeasts will die off but not all.  Using the lower part of this old starter to get your starter going again works much faster than starting from scratch.  So don't throw it away.  There are lots of beasties in there waiting for the pH levels to rise by adding water and flour.  The trick is to add enough water and flour to kick in yeast activity.  Then you have to get those woken up yeasts to build their numbers.

If you fed the starter and waited 24 hours, then remove half or reduce to 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup water and enough flour to make a thick paste. (you can weigh it if you like but you will be at this for a few days until the yeast numbers are back up where they should be.) Give it 12 hours and taste it.  I should taste sour but not rising too much.

If sour, discard all but a tablespoon and then add 1/4 water and flour to make a thick paste.  Give it another 12 hours. 

If not sour, let it stand another 12 hours. Then discard half and feed again. 




tgamblr's picture



I will try all your suggestions. Cross my fingers.