The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

New to sourdough and confused by stater.

  • Pin It
sam.hort's picture
sam.hort

New to sourdough and confused by stater.

Hello all on thefreshloaf,


I've been reading the forum here for a short time now and, having baked with shop-yeast for quite a while now and got the basics of baking, have decided to delve into sourdough.


I started my starter two days ago now and so far all looks well (I'll keep you posted). Within 24 hours of mixing it up, I had bubbles on the top so gave it its first feed. Within 12 hours of this it had managed to bubble up and double in size. Hurray! Having read around and seen multiple articles it appears they need feeding on average daily to every two days. I've just given it its second feeding. My main question is...


Is there a simple method to the feeding procedure?


I know it isn't exactly difficult but I found emptying the jar to weigh it then measuring out and mixing back in created quite a mess (I somehow expected there to be a simple way around this). I also felt compelled to clean the jar the starter had been in while it was out for measuring as it had clumpy bits stuck to the sides. All in all it seems easy enough just not as quick and simple as some have made out... and as a daily task I can imagine me finding days I just really can't be bothered.


 


Also... I'm wondering about storing it in the fridge once it is healthy. Any views? Some pages seem to suggest this is fine and you simply feed it less often (bonus for me), but other sites that it will quickly die in the fridge. I'm already in a cold climate (being in the north of England) so was suprised it got going at all!


Any help / suggestions would be much appreciated.


Thanks in advance,


Sam

jcking's picture
jcking

Having a sourdough starter is like having a pet. You need to feed it, keep it clean and clean up after it.


Most starters can live in the frige up to a week before feeding/refreshing. Most recipies say to refresh it within a day of using it.


If you take up the challenge you will be rewarded with great tasting bread.


Jim

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I actually juggle between two jars with my established  starter.  I feed it, let get ripe and remove a heaping teaspoon to another jar to feed.  That is the basic task.  I recommend that method in the beginning saving the cleaning of the jar to a soak and wash later, after feeding the starter.  The first jar can be thinned with water and poured into the compost or saved and added to other recipes including thickening soups and sauces.   That jar gets washed and is ready when the next feed comes around.  


Getting the starter established and stable for the first time takes a few weeks, then one can consider refrigeration.  It takes some effort but once established, the starter is easier to manage.  Mine is in the refrigerator and I feed it one day twice for every 2 weeks.     Yours is not there yet but I can assure you that it doesn't take over my life but makes great bread!


Some keep their established starter on the counter top or in a cool panty and just remove what they need and replenish with fresh flour and water rarely washing out the jar.  An established starter defends itself keeping out the nasties.  A young starter needs lots of help to defend itself until it has sorted itself out... like washing the jar often, stirring once or twice between feedings, and settling on a location and feeding schedule.   


Mini

Jaydot's picture
Jaydot

I was going to say: weigh your empty jar before use, then all you have to do is scoop out starter until you have the required weight - but Mini's two jar method seems very practical, I wish I'd heard of that before! :).

totels's picture
totels

Just tare(zero-out) your scale with your jar full of starter before you throw any out. As you remove starter from the jar it will go negative, just keep removing until you have removed the right amount "in the negative".

You can tare again and add like normal, or just add flour/water until you get back to zero.

I personally have had better luck with low-hydration starters in the fridge. Being that water is the easiest component to control the temperature on I find it easier to revive from a low-hydration to normal/high-hydration starter for use from the fridge. If you are keeping your starter at room temperature it is good to get to know your starter well enough to know it's rise and fall.

Feeding frequency is most important during the 24-48 hrs before you plan on using the starter to create a dough, more frequent feedings(8-12hrs) reduce the amount of acids that are generally not preferred.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

...emptying the jar to weigh it...


Weigh the empty starter jar once and write down its weight. Then just weigh the whole thing and subtract the weight of the jar that you wrote down. No need to take the starter out of the jar every time.


(You can "discard" this way too ...just spoon out enough starter that the total weight -including what you wrote down for the jar- is reduced as it should be.)


 


...suggest...storing it in the fridge...is fine and you simply feed it less often...


Sorta; not exactly. In my experience storing starter in the fridge and feeding it less can "work"  ...after a fashion. But the culture you maintain by refrigerating the starter probably won't be the same as the culture you maintain with a warm starter. Different organisms thrive at the different temperatures.


 


...suggest...it will quickly die in the fridge...


Sorta sometimes. It really depends on the temperature of your refrigerator. If you keep your refrigerator at something like 36F, the starter will slow down so much (maybe even go dormant:-) that it's effectively useless (calling this "dead" is a shorthand that isn't quite accurate). If on the other hand you keep your refrigerator at something like 50F, you'll be able to keep starter just fine (although it will require a little "warming up" before it's of use).

G-man's picture
G-man

One thing I'll say about method is to stay consistent about it. Whatever you settle on, do that for that starter. If you want to play with methods, feed a bit extra, set some aside in a new jar, and clearly label the jars so you know which is which. You don't want to lose a good starter and you will if you change the feeding method.


 


On refrigeration: I have resurrected some discards I had hanging out in the back of my refrigerator for a while because I was curious if the culture would come back to life. It raises bread just fine and is sour, but it does not behave or taste like my starter. I suspect the yeast survived just fine, but the bacteria died off and were replaced by others that could survive in that environment.


That said, I can and do keep my starter in the refrigerator for up to a week between feedings if I'm not using it.

Ruralidle's picture
Ruralidle

Hello Sam.Hort


Welcome to TFL.  I am another baker from the UK (Shropshire/Staffordshire) and there are quite a few of us British residents around and about the forum.  I am sure that you will find it a great resource to help you with your bread baking.  There are many folk who will try to assist you with answers to your questions, but some of us may just confuse things - and I am going to do just that :) .


I maintain a 50% hydration starter (2 parts flour to 1 water) and a 100% hydration starter (1 part flour to 1 water) and both live in my fridge and I generally use them straight from the fridge.  I use the 50% starter about once per week and I only feed it after use by taking 1 part starter to 1 part water to 2 parts flour.  I return it to the fridge within an hour of feeding and it produces a good loaf (following 10 or more hours proofing). 


I use the 100% starter in two ways: sometimes as a starter in a "poolish", which I make in an evening, by adding 1 part starter to 2 parts each of flour and water then covering and leaving the poolish to develop at room temperature until I make the dough the next morning; the other method is to take 1 part of the starter (usually about 250g) to 2 parts flour and enough water to achieve 70% hydration overall (total weight of water = total weight of flour x 0.7) then make the dough as you would with commercial yeast.  It will take a 2.5 to 3 hours bulk fermentation and about 1.5 to 2 hours final proofing - depending on what form your bread takes.


I feed the 100% starter 30 to 50g of flour and water approximately every 4 days and if I am going to use the starter directly (not in a poolish) I feed it morning and night before the day I will use it (to get its total weight up sufficiently to remove 250g as well as to get it active.  I may also, on occasion, remove it from the fridge an hour or two before I use it.


So ....  everything the other members have contributed is correct but my experience is that both of my starters work just fine if I keep them in the fridge - the 50% starter having a more pronounced sourdough tang.  I generally use Shipton Mill No4 white flour to maintain my starters and occasionally add some whole wheat or rye flour just to get things moving a bit more vigorously.


HTH

Davo's picture
Davo

There's a lot of science about making sourdough, but I don't subscribe toworrying about too much detail in keeping a starter alive.


I'll weigh flour and water at the levain and bread dough mixing stages, but even then I'll adjust water by feel as it will vary with flour moisture (which comes and goes with humidity).


I'm pretty sure my culture hasn't read about the exact difference between 100% or 90% or 80% hydration; or fridging protocol - it's just bacteria and yeast in a combination - decimal places don't really matter at this stage. When you think about the exponential growth in numbers of bugs between the stage of mixing a little starter into a levain and fermenting and then proofing ripened dough, so long as there's a bunch of active bugs go in in a reasonable approximation of the "right" small proportion of starter, the exact way the starter was kept before bringing to that active state doesn't really matter. An analogy is worrying about the size of the match when lighting a fires that's been set, as to how the match will affect the warmth you will ultimately get from the fire. Another way to look at it is that heaps of different people have heaps of vastly different ways of feeding and maintaining their starters and yet (amazingly?) these apparently all produce successful bread. What doesn't vary is their attention to making sure it (the starter) is active, and that the levain is fermented right and the dough is mixed and kneaded to an appropriate point, and ripened just right before baking. That ought to tell you something about just how important the precise details of starter keeping is. Some person measures to exactly 100% hydration, leaves out for 2 hours before re-frdiging blah blah. Another keeps at 50% and puts straight back in the fridge etc etc. Another never fridges and keeps at 75% hydration on the bench. They all make bread, and so will any regime anywhere between! 


I just keep my starter in a ceramic crock in the fridge. As it varies between a few days and a week or more between feeds, I figure it's a little more detailed than matters to worry about exactly how much quantity is going in of either flour or water when I feed it. So I put some of what's ther in my pancake-additive bowl (if just feeding and re-fridging) dump in a couple of spoons of flour and swish in some water until it looks about right to me (I keep mine between dough and batter in consistency). If I'm going to bake, I usually don't discard, just feed twice on the bench over 24 hours.


Usually when I feed, I scrape of a fair bit of the dried starter that's clinging to the sides of the crock. Last time I emptied and washed the crock was, hmm, can't remember. You can, but a little secret - the culture won;t care if you don't bother.


Sorry to not be respectful of any particular individual's regime, but I'm and engineer and I need to see a basis for a material difference in cause and effect. You give me active room temp starter when I'm mixing levain, and I don't care how it was sleeping last week.

Jaydot's picture
Jaydot

If TFL had a "Like" button, I'd click it for this post. 

G-man's picture
G-man

Not to disagree with you, but...


It does matter what hydration level you keep your starter. Different bacteria prefer different hydration levels. The flavor and behavior of a 50% hydration starter will be different than a 60% hydration starter which will be different than a 100% starter, etc. Research has been done in this area. By real scientists! I assume they even occasionally wear lab coats.


 


Nobody's method is wrong if it gives them bread they enjoy eating, but the fact is that, barring outside factors, consistent methods will yield consistent results. These are collections of living things that are adapted to a particular environment. When the environment changes, those living things adapt or get replaced by other organisms that can survive in the new environment.

Davo's picture
Davo

Gman, I don't doubt you can have different mixes of bugs for different hydrations, but I'd ask what is "consistent". I would question whether it really is consistent to have exactly 100% or 75 % or whatever hydration starter, and then leave it on a bench where one day the diurnal temperature curve starts at 14C, rises to 28 C at 2 pm and drops rapidly with a cool change from there, compared to the next day when it starts ar 8, rises to 18 and then falls slowly. what's the point measuring a feed mix to the nth degree when what you then do is feed it from the fridge either 4 or maybe 8 days later. WHo are we kidding about the "consistent" conditions we are keeping the starter at? I'm betting those lab coat guys are not using the kind of variability when establishing differences in bug profiles that you find daily in any ordinary kitchen, they sure won't have my kids opening the fridge when they want to...


If there really was some make or break difference in the health of our culture at these variable hydrations, then how come so many keep their starter at 100%, and then (presumably not optimally for that particular mix of bugs), take the levain through 8 hrs or so at 68%, and then take the read dough through at 70% (or whatever)?? Heaven forbid that the levain should be at 71%, by the way...


In any case, at the range of hydrations I keep my starter at, I'm pretty sure its within a few percent - anyone who's actually measured hydration can see a big difference between say 65% and 70%.But I wouldn;t really fuss too much if I didnt think I could be even that (roughly) consistent by eye.


And the other thing is that the flour is so variable in terms of moisture content, that who thinks measuring a decimal place on hydration is actually representative of the true hydration within a percent or two, unless they are dessicating their flour first?


Sure I'll accept that starters kept at 50% will have a different mix of bugs to one at 100%, but I'm unconvinced that a starter fed by "eye" at around any particular percentage of hydration is going to make a material difference compared with the other variables at play in making bread in your average kitchen.


Anyone who was convinced of the need to stick to an exact prescriptive regime could surely not then judge the ripeness of final dough by feel - that wouldn't be objectively, measurably, "consistent", surely?

G-man's picture
G-man

I agree with you about there probably not being much difference between a 65% and a 70% starter, so long as both use the same flour, are fed at the same times, and are kept at the same temperatures. I would argue that there likely is a difference, and a noticeable one, between a 50% starter and a 75% starter. And yes, of course these things vary according to other variables that we couldn't account for without a completely controlled environment.


 


I feed by eye much of the time as well, because I've fed my starter so many times I know about what a discard and a feed looks like. Do I get it perfectly accurate every time? ha!


 


The point is not to go from a very dry starter to a very wet starter without expecting some change. Stay consistent with one starter and create a new one if you want to play with feeding methods and see about getting a different flavor, because going back is difficult. 

Davo's picture
Davo

Gman - fair enough. My main point is to avoid people becoming too unnecessarily obsessed with a single variable (that a chem engineer I know would call a "key process  variable") to any decimal place type precision, when the other variables (temp, duration between feeds etc) might vary by 100% or more.


I find it interesting that most keep starters at either 100% or 50%. I can understand the ease of measuring weights to these numbers, but why is there any intrinsic benefit in a 50% starter compared to a 50.1% starter, or any other number?


Your link to the Wink article is very interesting, but I'll note that she ties variability in metabolism pathways always to both hydration AND temperature. We easure out our hydration for starter maintenance we make sure it's exactly 100% (or whatever), and then we might leave it on the bench to the whims of weather and our house's characteristics, and the temp goes where it wants. Or perhaps we leave it out for a certain period and then whcak it into 4 deg C in the fridge. And then maybe we feed it next sunday or maybe we opull it out to ready for baking because mum's coming over Thursday. What I'm getting at is that kind of (temp/duration) variability is likely to have at least as much if not more bearing on the bug profile than whether the hydration is 100 or 103 or 97, and so we shouldn't obsess too much over that (hydration) bit of variability. That's all.


It sounds like you are also happy to feed by eye, so we can't be too much in disagreement!

totels's picture
totels

Please cite references when you are not talking from personal experience.

G-man's picture
G-man

My apologies.


 


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10375/lactic-acid-fermentation-sourdough


This blog post is incredibly informative and anyone who works with sourdough should give it a read.

sam.hort's picture
sam.hort

Thank you to everyone for the responses, all very helpful. My starter is (seemingly) still living strong and doubling itself after a feed. I'm making a rye bread with it today so will see how it turns out. I'm currently keeping it at 100% hydration at room temperature (but near a radiator as I have a cool house) and feeding it once daily (around every 24 hours) and this seems fine. Not sure how the bread will taste yet though... eek!


 


Thanks again for the comments!

naschol's picture
naschol

I have several starters going and stored in the fridge.  There have been many occasions where I haven't fed a starter for a month or more and it may have a very little clear hootch on it when I pull it out to use it or none at all.  The secret is to store it as a very thick starter - kind of a bread dough consistency.  That way it has lots of food and not a lot of moisture.


 


As for the storage container, I store in the little Ziplock throwaways and only a tablespoon or two.  When it's time to make bread, I put the starter in the bowl you are planning on making the bread in and feed up to 4 times its weight in flour and water.  Repeat until you have the amount you need.  Then,  I take out about a tablespoon and put it in the washed storage container, add flour until doughy (this will clean residue from the mixing off the sides), put the lid on and stick back in the fridge.


 


Has worked for me for years.


 


Nancy