The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter: Refresh before or after?

bobchristenson's picture

Starter: Refresh before or after?

Everything I've read says that you should expand your starter by the amount you want to use in the bread hours before (or days, or whatever the case may be).  I'm finding as I begin using starter for the first time that I tend to do the opposite:  I pull from my stored starter and put it in the dough, replace the amount I took out, and put it back in the fridge.

So, instead of expanding the starter BEFORE I want to make bread, I tend to refresh AFTER I make it.  What I mean is: I start with 2 cups of starter (which was last refreshed possibly days ago, maybe even a week) and pull out 1 cup for my bread.  Then, I'll add back 1 cup of water/flour, mix it up, leave it out for a while (maybe), then toss it in the fridge so it's ready for next time.  I end up doing it this way because I never plan far enough ahead to expand it specifically for making a loaf.

My questions are:

  • Are the instructions to refresh hours or a day before you make it to prevent the starter from being TOO sour? (it seems like a recently expanded starter would be less sour)

  • Is using starter that was expanded too long ago going to affect my rise...Im thinking maybe the yeast doesn't have enough food or is starting to wane?

  • Is there a problem with refreshing then just tossing it in the fridge until I want some again (does it need to sit out first)?

My brain wasn't working yet this morning, so this was all written poorly...hopefully you get my drift.  Thanks for reading!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

And that's all it has to do.  I see no problems with your method except on Q or point 2.  And your starter will tell you if it is too old.  It will not put out like it used to and be sluggish. It will have flat appearance, hooch and smell more like beer or alcohol.  On the other hand if the feeding is too diluting, smells like wet flour and you think the yeast don't have a good footing in your starter, then leave it out at room temperature to either ripen before using or when just fed, a few hours at room temp before putting back into the fridge.  If you find you're having too many problems with you loaves coming out, then you might want to re-evaluate the feeding of your starter.  If everything works, don't mess with it.

Point 3 isn't a problem at the moment because the amount you seem to hold back to feed seems to be enough not to be too diluted from adding fresh flour/water.  By the time everything cools down in the fridge, the yeast is happy and working away for the next loaf.  If you do decide to reduce the amount of starter you leave in the jar to feed, then an hour or two at room temperature (and warmer water) before chilling should help it out.

There is more than one way to use and maintain a starter and the right way is what works for you!  :) 

TIP:  If your starter is plugging along pretty good, and you don't feel like making a loaf but want to feed your starter.  Take out the amount for a loaf, but instead of baking with it, dry it.   A back up in case you need it sometime down the road.  Just spread it thin on some parchment and let it air dry.  Flip it over and dry the other side too.  When thoroughly dry, break it into chips and put into a jar or zipper bag and freeze or store into a dark cool place.

bobchristenson's picture

Great info here Mini, thanks!

I assumed when I started that it was going to be an unforgiving process (using starter) because when you read about it, everyone has a very strong opinion about how to maintain it....I'm finding (as you say) it's the opposite: if it works, it works!

Thanks for the confidence boost :)

Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

I began developing my starters thinking that they are fragile and easily damaged.  There were tons of warnings about using metal spoons and sterilized jars.  In fact, I dumped at least 4 starters after 3 days or so because they didn't appear to be rising or had hooch on top.  They were rising - and falling while I was at work and just needed more frequent feeding.  In reality, they are pretty rugged cultures.