The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

temperature issues and keeping a starter

speed racer's picture
speed racer

temperature issues and keeping a starter

Hello I am new to the forum but have been baking sourdough bread for a few months with some success. But I do have some questions regarding temperature where you are keeping your starter. In the summer months my house is normally in the mid 70's perfect for keeping yeast vigorous and was feeding the 100% hydration starter at 1:3:3(old starter:water:flour) every twelve hours. Now that the kitchen has cooled off for the winter months I am lucky to have the inside temperature get up to 65 and it is normally closer to 59 or 60 and I am having an issue with feeding the starter the correct ratio . I am now feeding it 1:2:2 or 20g old 40g water 40g flour and it still seems to be having trouble eating all of the available food in twelve hours. I also keep a 50% hydration starter that is having no trouble staying healthy so all is not lost I am just worried about keeping the liquid one healthy enough through the cold months. If anyone has any cold weather advice I sure would appreciate it thanks.

grimeswh's picture

What do you do for heat??? I keep my home temp around 65 and I have a pellet stove. My kitchen and living room are basically all one room there "shouldn't" be too much of difference where I put my starter. I use to leave it on the counter in the kitchen and it just didn't seem to working fast enough. So I stuck in on a small folding table next to the pellet stove. It's not in front of the fan so the start doesn't get too hot but it's in a place that the temp stays pretty even and warm. It seems to be doing a lot better since I've been doing that.

Also I noticed a comment somewhere I can't remember where I saw it though. You could try putting your start behind the fridge cuz the coils are warm. There's another guy on The Fresh Loaf that I guess has also tried it. He said you need to watch out for dust behind the fridge so you have to cover your start really well so you don't get dust particles mixed in with your start. Hopefully that helps =D

speed racer's picture
speed racer

We have base board heat in an older house that is expensive to heat. So we keep the house on the cooler side of things. I did move the starter closer to the heat, hopefully that will help but I would think that the problem could be solved with a feeding ratio change.  Does anyone have experience in this area?

davidg618's picture

In fact, when your starter "peaks" every twelve hours or so (summer temperatures) there is still lots of food left. You can demonstrate that by simply stirring the starter, totally degassing it. It will start to expand again, perhaps a little slower, but it will grow. The yeast cells, being imobile, become surrounded with their waste products, carbonic acid (carbon dioxide in solution) and alcohol. Stirring your starter disburses the waste products, and makes new food available.

I sometmes retard starter growth by cooling it to 55°F. I get the same performance from it, but it peaks later--I build levain using three progressive feedings, each at 1:1:1 ratio--I feed when it peaks every 7 hours at 78°F. Sometimes, for scheduling reasons, sometimes to give the bacteria a chance to work longer for a bit more tang, I retard it. At 55°F the building levain takes about 13 hours to peak.

The point is changing the feeding ratio won't solve your problem. I don't really consider it a problem. Your starter will continue to grow, just more slowly at 60°F or 65°F. Feed it when it peaks.It's not necessary to stick to a ridgid 12 hour feeding schedule.  If you want to raise its temperature, put it in your microwave oven, and prop the door ajar. That's how I get 78°F for levain building, bulk fermentation, and proofing. If you don't have a microwave oven, use your baking oven with the light on. if you try it monitor either oven's temperature carefully the first time. My baking oven has two lights, and its temperature runs too high (~95°F).

David G

Jeff Whatley's picture
Jeff Whatley

I have never understood the need  to feed at the peak of the rise.  I have developed a routine that works well for me with just one feeding a day.  At that time, it has of course already peaked and shrunk back to its original size.  I just stir it, discard 3/4 and feed 1:1:1 by weight.  I have been told that it will slowly die with this routine but I have seen no signs of that after two years.  It is still very vigorous and more than doubles its size in 8-10 hours.  It seems to me that if putting it in the refrigerator for a cold retardation of one week between feedings is an acceptable routine, why would it not make sense to work with variables of this?  In other words, keep it out at 65 degrees or so and replenish every 24 hours, or keep it in a warm spot, i.e., 80 degrees or so and replenish every 12 hours.  Has anyone ploteed this activity to determine the ratio of maintenance temperture vs. hours between feedings?

AnnaInMD's picture

I ferment/proof my dough in that cabinet, as well as my starters.

You could also use the oven of an electric stove and only turn on the oven light.

(Not sure if a gas stove has an oven light which would work as well)


Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

The closet that contains my hot water heater rides 10F warmer than my house.  So, at 66F in the house, the closet is 76F.  The challenge (besides paying for the lost heat) is balancing containers and pans on top of the unit.

jackie9999's picture

I asked this same question a few months ago and got some very useful tips. I had to make a new starter and I decided I wasn't going to heat my house just to accomodate my starter :)

I feed 1:2:3 every 1 to 1 1/2 days and immediately put the starter back on my basement floor which is a constant 61 degrees. I can use it after 24 hours but it's fine left alone for 36 hours. When I'm baking I make up my sponge and leave on my coolish kitchen counter for 8 hours when it's more than doubled - so far so good.

I'm quite pleased that this 'cooler' method is working for me because hunting for a warm spot in my house last winter was a chore. Since 61F is the coolest spot in my house, I'm going to try reducing the 'seed' in my ratio and see if I can get 2 days between feeding.

speed racer's picture
speed racer

Ok. So I am now feeding 40g:40g:40g Old:water:flour. I am seeing a much more ripe starter after 12 hours but I am not seeing a true doubling in volume with my 100% Hydration starter, and really I don't think I ever have with it being 100% Hydration. It will rise some and then deflate but never double in volume. It smells ripe it tastes ripe and it leavens bread well. So I think it is doing ok. Does anyone else's 100% hydration by WEIGHT starter truly double in volume?  

silkenpaw's picture

I stick it back in the fridge after it has doubled and it usually rises some more in there. And it is 100% by weight: 75 g starter : 75 g water : 75 g flour. Temperature in my kitchen is 78ºF.

placebo's picture

In fact, when I first started, using just whole wheat flour and water, the starter would almost triple in size. I didn't measure how much it expanded after I converted it to AP flour, but estimating by eye, I'd say it still doubles at least. I usually feed using a 2:1:1 ratio.

davidg618's picture

In fact, when I build formula-ready levain at 100% hydration it triples, or more, before peaking, at 78°F (microwave oven with the door ajar to keep the light on).

Here's a blog entry I wrote shortly after I started baking sourdough.

Note: The text's example explains converting a 100% hydration seed starter to a 60% stiff starter, but, as I recall, the photographs are of 19g of 100% hydration seed starter built to 500g of 100% hydration formula-ready levain.

I haven't changed my three-build procedure an iota since then. I did change my starter to Sourdough International's Ischia Island (Italian) starter about nine months ago. It's as active (or more so) than the one photographed in the blog.

I keep my starter in the refrigerator, feeding it at weekly to ten days intervals. I only maintain 150g of seed starter, and feed a 1:1:1 ratio, i.e. 50g each starter:flour:water.

David G




G-man's picture

Where I live (Seattle) we only get above 70 for a couple months out of the year, and spend the rest of the time somewhere between 50 and 65. While it does snow we generally don't get much of that, it is mild here and on the cold side.


It seems to me that the wetter my starter is, the less actual rise I see. As a result I usually keep my starter pretty dry. When I'm building up for baking I'll increase the hydration gradually and it tends to keep whatever strength it had for a few days before falling into the high-hydration slump. If I want it more sour when using this method I'll increase the time between feedings a bit and let the pre-ferment go a bit longer. It works pretty well.