The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sour do or sour don't!!

goldenfarm's picture

Sour do or sour don't!!

I have been reading posts on here the past few weeks and now I have to ask a few questions. I did read may posts and search for my question but there wasn't any that really seemed to fit my problem so here I go... I have attached a couple pictures in hopes this will help. Theses are from yesterday and today the starter is a little less active. I haven't touched it today so far.....

 I have been pestering a local bakery to give me some starter and she finally agreed...I will attch. pics...  I have a minimal knowledge about starter but I have a couple books that should be here any day. I have read Ed Woods book and found it helpful but mostly for starter purchased from him. The problem, for me is when I went to pick it up from the bakery I could tell she was thinking giving me some starter wasn't a good idea anymore. I asked her questions about the starter and she seemed really put off by it. I ask...when it was feed last and with what, and what hydration level she kept it at or what the formula she used to fed it and how often. I thought this was normal questions to ask..maybe not... She did tell me that the starter is 8 years old, that they NEVER put it in the fridge and that they feed it a minimum of every 48 with equal parts water to flour. I ask if that was by wight or cups...ect and she said she feeds it say 8 cups flour and 8 cups water. SO, that would be much more water than flour by weight right..?  She gave me a good amount and that is all she told me . When I said I hope I can keep it alive and healthy she pointed out that this would be the ONLY starter I would get and that she probably shouldn't have sold me this one. That she has never sold any of her starter before. SO.... I wasn't feeling the sourdough love!

 Her bread is amazing and I really don't want to mess this starter up so please help me to keep this a healthy happy starter :-) It was bubbling when I picked it up and it is a very thin starter. I bake 1 sometimes 2 times a week for my family so I am thinking I would put mine in the fridge when I am not using it but the way she said "WE NEVER refrigerate our starter" I started to wonder if that was not a good idea. Feeding it everyday seems a bit wasteful to me but I am not a expert by any stretch of the imagination so any advise on this is appreciated.  I divided the starter yesterday and feed each part 3 tbs flour and 1 tbs water yesterday. Now I don't know where to go with it. Should I bake with it today.... divide it up and add more flour to one of them, put it in the fridge.... leave it out??? HELP! I don't want to kill it.

Thanks for any help!!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Here is what I would do... Three things with the starter and one for your soul:

  1. Take out 1/4 cup of the starter and feed it equal weights (60g)of water and flour and grow it as your starter.  Feed it every 12 hours after it has risen and fallen.

  2. Remove another 1/4 cup and dry it as insurance in case you mess up feeding the new starter.  Add enough flour to it to make it into crumbs, spread out on a parchment sheet and dry.  When dry store in a small jar, label, and put in a cool dark place.

  3. Use the rest in a recipe, like a 1-2-3 sourdough or your favorite and see how it bakes up for you.

  4. Send the Baker that you terrorized a nice bunch of flowers and be very thankful and sincere. 

Daisy_A's picture

Hi goldenfarm,

Bit like getting a new pet then? I can feel the sense of responsibility!

First thing I would advise is to create a back up. This can be done by taking out a couple of dessert spoons full, spreading the liquid over either food grade plastic wrap or parchment on a flat surface and letting it dry slowly. When fully dry it can be flaked and put into a container in the freezer. Alternatively you can make a few firm dough balls with the starter and freeze those. Then if everything goes belly up (which it shouldn't), you can try to revive the frozen starter. 

The starter looks very liquid so I would say the correct ratio was the 8 cups flour to 8 cups water and not equal weight. I would stay with this ratio for now, so 3 tbs flour to 3 water or 1 tbs to 1. 

Looks like your starter is made with low gluten white flour and I am guessing that is what you are using to feed it? Starters can tend to do less well on high gluten (bread) flour. 

A strong starter fed on the bench can be kept in quite small amounts to minimize wastage. My starter is firmer but I only normally have around 90g out at any one time, fed 1-2 times a day at a ratio of 20g starter 30g water, 40g white plain and wholemeal flour. If you use the discards for pancakes, waffles, or to make up a 123 baguette dough there is no wastage. If you need more for a particular formula you can build it up.

If baking once a week a refrigerated starter can be handy. However if you bake 2 times a week you will have to get the starter out 2 times and feed it up each time anyway, so sometimes just keeping it out is easier.

I find that once you get into a routine it's less fuss than feeding a cat. Okay the starter won't rub against your legs and purr but you will get to know when it is 'happy' and it will reward you with great bread.

Many home bakers refrigerate their starters. However bakeries tend to keep their starters out. This is mainly because they draw on them regularly. However some bakers also claim that some of the starter's subtleties are lost with refrigeration.

There is much debate to be had here. I'm not claiming this as set in stone. However, it is worth thinking about if the bakery you got this from, which had such great bread, also stressed keeping the starter out. 

Sure you will get the hang of this, particularly when the books arrive!

Wishing you happy baking,

Best wishes, Daisy_A



goldenfarm's picture

Thanks Daisy,

YES a new pet!

Yes, I was using white flour, I was thinking that must be what she used. It is very thin like a thin pancake batter. I fed it yesterday and was hoping to start using it today. I will try drying some for sure. I really don't want to lose it and a back up sound like a good plan. I have pretty good amount  so that will help. I am new to the site so I will keep searching on here for things that will help...

 Is ther a certin amount that I should feed it everyday? If I stay at the equal amounts would it matter how much I feed at a 3tbs and 3tbs or is there way to figure out how much the right amount is? I think there is 2 cups starter there, maybe a bit more. What would you recommend at each feeding?

Thnaks again!

Daisy_A's picture

Hi goldenfarm.

Thin pancake batter is fine for a high hydration starter. White flour and backup are good. 

What is most important when feeding is the ratios, particularly the ratio of the starter you carry over to the flour. 3 tablespoons flour and 3 of water and 1 tablespoon of each is the same ratio of flour to water, as you must guess. However, if you feed 1 tablespoon of starter 3 tablespoons of flour and 3 of water it will be feeding on 3 times as much flour as with 1 of each. As it adjusts to its new conditions feeding the starter the higher ration of flour might help. I live in a safe tap water area and filter the water but you can also use spring water.

There is a lot of advice on TFL. However some of the ratios you will read here refer to weight not volume so a 1:2:2 ratio for a high hydration starter, for example, tends to refer to grams not cups. 

It's also important to discard the majority of the starter when you feed or it may develop an alchohol (hooch) layer on top. 

My own starter is not high hydration but I was  given one by a baker friend. It was very healthy and strong. I baked the loaf below from it. She tended to feed in large amount, around 100g of flour and 125g of water because the loaf she made regularly required 200g of starter to be taken out every time. So you may need to build your starter ahead of bake day if a lot of starter is needed, but it would be in the same ratios. 


My instincts say 1 tablespoon of starter to three each of flour and water at the moment. or 3.5 of water if you want a thinner batter. If it were me I'd also weigh the amounts and convert to grams but that's my preference. A lot of bakers are happy with volume. This is just an initial suggestion based on what you've said so far. I'd gladly defer here to bakers who keep higher hydration starters!

Being consistent and responding to your starter if it looks unhappy are the most important things - but like a pet again!

Happy baking! Daisy_A

mcs's picture

...don't go back to the bakery with a loaf of thanks that you made with her starter.  Judging by the way the starter acquisition played out, I'm guessing she would take that as, "This is how it's done", rather than, "See, I'm taking care of your baby."

Sorry, that's all the advice I have.


goldenfarm's picture

Why she got upset. She was quite friendly  before and she didn't want to charge me for the starter at all. When I got there I kept saying "Thank you so much for this" and payed her anyway because I told her I know how much work it takes and Thank you... Maybe it was just a bad day...

Ford's picture

I think You have gotten very good advice from Mini, Daisy, and Mark.  If you plan to revisit the bakery, a bouquet of flowers might not be amiss.

I do keep my starter in the refrigerator at 100% hydration (equal WEIGHTS of flour and water).  I may not refresh it for as long as a month.  If the starter has bee a week or so without being refreshed, I reduce the amount and add to the starter an equal weight each of flour and chlorine free water.  I let that ferment for about 12 hours and then repeat, letting that ferment for about 12 hours then use that which I need and refrigerate the rest.  Do use unbleached flour as well as chlorine free water.


meetmike's picture

Ditto, Ford.....I'm learning tons just reading these comments! I, too, have been keeping my King Arthur Flour starter going for more than a year now in the fridge. I'm extremely non-regimented about feeding: once every week or two I take it out; pour off about 2/3 and add 4 oz flour and 4 oz water; leave uncovered on the counter either for the day or overnight; cover and put back in fridge. Since I like baking different breads, and there's only my wife and me to eat them, I may not bake sourdough but every 6 weeks or so, if that. But the starter's always there to be fed up when its time comes round. If there's a moral, its that this starter is very forgiving, less a pet than a sibling living in another state who it's nice to touch base with from time to time. Since yesterday, I've been beefing the starter up to try a My Bread no knead, long rise style loaf in my new Dutch Oven. Might even get brave enough to score the top once in the DO with the new lahm. Wish me luck! Mike in Maine

gringogigante's picture

She's probably upset or a little "put off" because you asked her to sell to one of her regular customers a starter that would essentially cut off your need to buy more bread from her.  I wouldn't have sold it at all..... They are, in fact, in business to make money....not start a bunch of home bakeries that would put her out of business.

Not trying to be a jerk. :-)   As a small business guy, myself, I'm surprised she sold it. But, I'm glad you got it!

davidg618's picture

starters don't thrive on benign neglect, but that doesn't mean they aren't tough, and forgiving too. If you want to keep your starter in the refrigerator, do it. Ford's advice is spot on. If you only bake once a week, or less often why keep starter on the counter feeding it everyday, and discarding half of it? The economy of it makes no sense. I keep 150g of starter, and feed it 1:1:1 (equal parts starter:flour:water; 50g each) every week to ten days.

I'll ad one small bit of advice. Feed your starter with flour with a high ash content. It contains more of the minerals yeast and bacteria need to thrive. I feed my starter First Clear flour for that reason. If you live where your water is chlorinated, simply boil the water vigorously for 15 to 20 minutes, and let it cool with the lid off, or leave it stand uncovered for 24 hours to 48 hours in a wide-mouth jar.

When I make levain for a formula I use only 15g to 20g of the refrigerated starter, and build it, at room temperature, to as much as 500g (using bread flour, rye flour, whole wheat flour or a mix of flours) over a period of 24 hours with two or three progressive builds. You can also change the levain hydration by manipulating the water amount during the builds. This procedure has worked well and consistently for me for more than a year and a half.

And they are forgiving. Because of a difficult bout of illness, my starters languished in the refrigerator for seven weeks without any care. Three days of feeding every twelve hours at room temperature, and they were as good as ever. (I wish my own recovery had been as rapid!)

Good baking with your new starter

David G

goldenfarm's picture

How does one know if they are overfeeding the starter?

 It was much more active yesterday than today and dosen't seem to rise up like it did yesterday. I fed it early this am but it hasn't done much ... a few bubbles here and the but not like yesterday. I can tell I must have given it a wee bit more flour than the bakery because it is a little thicker will this hurt it?

Daisy_A's picture

Hi goldenfarm.

No, it shouldn't hurt it.

However your starter culture will need time to adjust to each change that happens to it. With change of environment, temperature and feeding regime it has had a lot of changes recently.

Just keep an eye on it! You can give it a more liquid feed tomorrow if you wish. 

Best wishes, Daisy_A

glora's picture

As for feeding and keeping starter alive, it is not that difficult.  As for keeping it out of the fridge, they probabley use it everyday and don't need to refrigerate it.  The best thing to do is to keep the starter on a regular feeding schedule using a 12 or 24 hour fermentation process.  For a 12 fermentation: say you want to keep 100 grams divide 100 by 220% which is 100% water, flour and 20% seed.  For a 24 ferment do the same thing except reduce the seed to 10%.  This has worked very well for me and my starter is almost 4 years old given to me by a fellow as well.  I hope this helps!

nicodvb's picture

I keep my starters even more neglectfully and they still work very well! I feed them only when they are almost finished. If i see they grow slowly I repeat the feeding, otherwise I refrigerate them when they have tripled.

When I need to prepare something not overly rich of fats I use 2-3 teaspoons of starter directly from the fridge.

Yes, starters are very forgiving.

caryn's picture

I just want to say that I have been baking with a starter for years, and I think it is best to have a relaxed attitude about it.  As others have pointed out, the starter is very forgiving.   I try to feed mine every week using 1 ounce of starter, 2 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of water.  I leave it in a warm place for 4 hours or so, depending on the season (sometimes just 3, sometimes 5 hours).  I then put it in the refrrigerator and plan to bake with it within 3 days.  If not, I just leave it in until the next week's feeding.  I always leave a backup starter in the refrigerator as well, just in case, but I have yet to need it.  If I forget to feed the starter, it still seems to revive easily.

My sister-in-law has a different attitude.  She just feeds it over several days in a row when she is planning to bake with it, and otherwise may leave it untouched in the refrigerator for several weeks.  This works well for her.  I know because her breads are always good.

So develop a method that works for you and relax and enjoy!!

Ford's picture

I agree with "caryn".  I just refreshed a starter that had been in the refrigerator for six weeks and not been fed during that period.  I refreshed it last night and am preparing to bake three loaves this afternoon.  My starter is kept at 100% hydration.  It does settle with a hooch layer on top.  I simply mix it all together and start my refreshing procedure.  Find the method that suits your purpose, and relax and enjoy the wonders of sourdough.


Jo_Jo_'s picture

Shhhhh, don't tell anyone, I once neglected my starter in the fridge for 2 months, thought for sure it was a gonner.  I pulled it out and fed it, and it grew the first day.  I fed it every twelve hours for a couple days and it was totally revived by the end of the week.  I really was amazed at it's resilience.  That was a good starter, but it didn''t make it through the six month neglect, and I hadnt put any away so I was very sad to see it go.  I got it from someone who said it originally started on the Oregon Trail and had stayed in their family, being passed down for over 100 years.  Wish I could get another start for that....