The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How can I fix a sluggish starter?

VeeFu's picture

How can I fix a sluggish starter?


First time sourdough baker here. I've been working on my first starter for almost a month now, following instructions from Tartinen Bread.

The instructions call for a 1:2:2 feeding using a white/whole wheat 50/50 flour blend on an every-morning schedule. The ambient temperature in my kitchen has been right around 70F, dropping into probably high 60's in the evenings.

The problem is this:

It has been 3 weeks of regular feedings and the starter still hasn't reached the "vigorous" phase described in the book as "doubling within 4-6 hours". At this point the starter doubles around the 12-hour mark.

I'm getting a little impatient. From what I've read around the forums, it should not be taking this long. Is there something different I can/should be doing to get this culture to the 'vigorous' phase? As of this morning, I've split the starter into two containers and am ready to experiment with one of the clones.

Any ideas?

cranbo's picture

If you're trying to speed up your starter, two changes are recommended:

Feed more often: start feeding it twice (or more) per day. I find once in the morning, once in the evening to be the most convenient. 

Raise room temperature: optimal yeast & bacteria activity occurs around (or slightly higher than) 80F. Consider placing your starter in a warmer place, like an oven with the light on, or in a box with a lamp inside. 


VeeFu's picture

Thanks, I'll give these a shot with one of the clones.

Ford's picture

Every sourdough baker has his own way of doing things and none of them are wrong.  I use the motto, " if it works for you, it is right."  That said, here are my thoughts.

I would try a higher temperature for the starter.  You can use an ice chest with a 10 to 20 Watt light bulb for the heater.  use a stick to prop the lid so the temperature does not get too high.  A temperature of 75° to 85°F are about optimum.  Don't go higher than about 85°F or you will kill the yeast.

I keep my starter in the refrigerator until I am ready to use it.  I remove a small amount and add equal weights each of all-purpose flour and water.   That is, I use a ratio of 1:1:1 rather than 1:2:2.  I start this the day before and that night I repeat the same ratios, though they are now three times the weight.  The next day my starter is ready to go.  The starter in the refrigerator gets a little refreshment as well and any excess of leftover refreshed starter.  Use unbleached non brominated flour!  Other than that use white, whole wheat, or rye.

I suspect your main problem is the temperature.

Good luck!


Davo's picture

I don't think mine typically doubles in 4-6 hours. It doesn\';t actually matter much to me. So long as it's celarly active, it's gonna rise my bread - it always does. This is an inexact science and I don't think people should obssess about stuff like this (certain expansion in certain time, for instance). If it's active and bubbly, just use it. Now, if the bread you make is no good, that's the time to start worrying about tweaking stuff.

If you really want to kick it along, get some diastatic malt - which is ground dried sprouted barley - not some weird chemical, and ad a teensy bit of that in. But I wouldn't bother for using in starter, or in anything where there is a fair bit of wholemeal.

VeeFu's picture

Yes, that's the trouble. I made a couple of loaves with the starter, following instructions from the book, and the bread turned out very squat and dense. 

Here's a pic of what turned out:


The flavor was great, but the crumb came out less airy and more chewy than I like. My first thought was that the starter just wasn't ready, since I saw very little rise out either the first or second fermentations, and next to no oven spring.

Here's a pic of my starter 12 hours after feeding:

Perhaps I'm jumping to conclusions blaming the starter. From the look of the crumb, are there any other possibe causes?


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Looking at the crumb, I'd say you could have let it rise longer.  Your starter is not sluggish for its temps, it just takes longer.  Looks like you baked it when you should have folded it.  If you use the same temps for raising the dough as you do for raising the starter, I wouldn't bother touching the dough for the first 6-9 hours and then every 3 hours fold it, shape it and let it rise.  It may take 24 hours before baking but use a bread flour so the dough will last for the long rise times.

gary.turner's picture

Don't sweat the rise. Your starter is 100% hydration, basically a thick, pourable batter. The bubbles will form, rise through the batter, and pop. There will be some expansion, visible as a small bit of lift, and unpopped bubbles on the top and sides. Then as the food runs low, a subsidence will begin; that is the sign that it's feeding time.

For a given set of conditions, e.g. the temp, primarily, you can control the time by varying the ratio of added flour to the mother you're feeding. For example, instead of feeding 50g of mother (25g flour) with 50g of new flour plus water, a tripling, feed it 75g of flour so it takes longer to reach its peak (run out of food). Likewise, feeding, say, 25g flour would cause it to peak sooner.