The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starving my starter?

sparklebritches's picture

Starving my starter?

I've done the searching but I can't quite determine based on what I've read if I'm starving my poor starter.


I keep my starter on the counter.  I use it every couple of days.   Recently I was feeding it on a 2:1:1 twice a day.   It grew very quickly and started becoming foamy in advance of the next feeding. 

I then read that that is not enough so I switched to 1:1:1 and now the same thing is happening.   BUT I've also read that feeding it too often will dilute it. 

If it is starving, I'd prefer if I could up the ratio instead of feeding more than twice a day if possible.   My kitchen is about 70-80 degrees, depending on how close to supper we are.  Here in Texas, it's about to get a lot hotter, too.

Would a 1:2:2 ratio be better?  I don't want to dilute it....

My starter is about 1 month, 3 weeks old.  My recent first total sourdough attempt was rather flat but instead of going with a tried and true recipe I decided to convert another recipe to sourdough that I had already tinkered with. Silly me. The dough was super wet and had an intial 16-hour overnight sponge and then a 6-hour rise in the loaf pans.  (tried to make sandwich bread for the kiddos)


Thanks for any input on a better feeding schedule/ratio.

pmccool's picture

However, the 2:1:1 ratio was probably leaving your starter underfed.  Depending on the baker, you'll get recommendations of 1:2:2, 1:2:3, 1:3:3, 1:4:4, etc., etc., etc.

None of those would dilute your starter in an unhealthy way.  Given your present and soon-to-increase temperatures, more frequent feedings are probably in order.  Warmth will kick the culture's activity into higher gear in the same way that cooler temperatures will slow it down.  You may also want to switch from a 100% hydration starter to something stiffer, maybe in the 50-60% hydration range.  That will also slow down the starter's growth rate since the yeasts and bacteria aren't able to propagate throughout the starter mixture as easily as they can in a soupier mix.  

Any time you change feeding regimes, expect the starter behavior to change somewhat, too.  That isn't a bad thing.  Indeed, you might even prefer how the starter behaves after changing the feeding pattern than you did before.  Or not.  Best way to find out?  Take a small amount of your starter and feed it in the new pattern parallel to running your source starter as you always have.  The amounts can be quite small, just an ounce or two, so that you aren't throwing away lots of material.  After a week or two you should have a pretty good idea of how each behaves and which you prefer.

Have fun.  That's a large part of why we bake anyway.  Some experiments will become your new standard; others will go into the "never again" category.


sparklebritches's picture

Thank you for the suggestions! I didnt realize that I could do a stiffer starter at room temperature. 

sparklebritches's picture

I'm baking PR's Pain au Levain from ABED and have zero oven spring at 20-minutes in.

Used a little olive oil and again, in loaf pans, attempting to make sandwich bread for the kiddos.

Aaaargh, have I rendered it weak?  I've had better success using recipes that call for a pinch of yeast to help things along.  Boo.  Maybe I should drop this whole loaf pan mission.

placebo's picture

Every time you feed your starter, you dilute it, but given enough time, the yeast and bacteria can repopulate the medium. If you feed too frequently, not giving the critters a chance to grow, that's when you run into problems. As long as your starter gets nice and bubbly again before you feed it, you'll be fine.

In her book, Nancy Silverton explains that diluting the starter keeps the flavors in balance, and it's the balance of flavors in the final bread that makes it taste really good. If you wait too long after feeding before using the starter in a dough, the bread will come out too sour, and the sourness overpowers all the other flavors.

sparklebritches's picture

This makes sense to me.  I was curious if the foamy top I was seeing was a sign of starvation.  That is to say, it gets very bubbly. :)