The Fresh Loaf

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Sourdough Starter Question

mrsplatts's picture

Sourdough Starter Question

I made my first ever sourdough starter 2 days ago.  I did one cup of flour and one cup of water.  In less than 24 hours it was already bubbling.  Last night, i dumped out half and fed it with half a cup of flour and half a cup of water.  It's stored in a plastic container with a lid. The starter is very bubbly, and is starting to explode out of the container.  It is also separating.  There are patches of water in it, even after I mix it.  I have a few questions.

1.) Howmany feedings do I need to do before I can use it?

2.) What should I do about the fact that it is already starting to overflow my container?

3) Is the separation something that I should be concerned about?


mrsplatts's picture

I think I know where my mistake is. I read that if there is a middle separation then the starter is unhealthy.  I think I didn't refrigerate when it started to bubble, so it is still on  my counter.  I wasn't expecting it to do so well so quickly.  Do I need to toss the whole thing and start over?

jcking's picture

What type of flour are you using? Your starter seems to be hyper-active.


mrsplatts's picture

Unbleached white all purpose flour.  Is it salvagable?

G-man's picture

At one cup of flour to one cup of water, you may be getting some natural separation due to the flour being thoroughly hydrated and there being water left over. That's about twice as much water as flour, by weight, on average. Are you working on a commercial starter? Otherwise, you could stand to cut it down to a small percentage of the amounts you're using. Try 2 tablespoons of water and 4 flour. That should give you the hydration % you want and you'll go through flour a lot slower. It gets expensive to maintain a starter at large amounts. Most folks who don't bake all the time keep them small and build them for baking.


At two days, you're thinking about refrigerating far too early. A starter should be very well established to go into the refrigerator. I would wait a month, personally, and I wouldn't do it until I had used it to raise a loaf of bread.


If it's this active already, it could be some other bacteria taking over and doing their thing. They'll quit if you keep feeding regularly, and they will eventually be replaced by the stuff you want. The key to a successful starter is patience. There's a whole lot going on there and some of it just can't be rushed along.

mrfrost's picture

Activity the first day or so is almost always due to undesirable bacteria. Especially the explosive type of activity you seem to describe. This is totally normal and will go away in a day or so. Things will calm down, acidification will increase, and the environment will become less hospitable for the undesirable bacteria, but more frienly for the wild yeast.

The separation is because you are using too much water. Equal parts water and flour is common, but it should be equal parts by weight. This approximates to about half as much water as flour in volume measures. In the op's case, one would be better off using a cup of flour(lightly packed) and a half cup of water.

The high liquidity also causes things to proceed very quickly. Often too quickly, as to be unpredictable and/or harder to manage.

mrsplatts's picture

Thanks! When I feed it when I get home I'll adjust my flour:water ratio and see if that helps.  If it has exploded all over my kitchen, I'll start over with a smaller amount and the adjusted ratio.  I'll probably be back with more questions as it goes.  Thanks for your help.

flournwater's picture

You might try adjusting the Ph slightly, adding a small amount of orange or pineapple juice, while you're adjusting the hydration as previously noted.  I agree that the excess liquid is probably due to saturation of the flour.  I'd suggest simply reducing the quantity of what you've already constructed and feeding the remaining watery mass with flour (no water) until you achieve the proper hydration level.

MarieH's picture

The Fresh Loaf has sourdough help and a good place to start is here I agree with the previous posts that patience is key to growing and maintaining a starter. And the smaller feeding amounts will keep the cost down. You will be so excited when you make your first loaf using only home-grown starter (also called levain). Good luck!

mrsplatts's picture

When I got home, it had gone down, but was a lot of water and a strong smell.  I poured off the water and added 1/2 c flour and 1/4 cup water witha little bit of orange juice.  It sseemed a lot better this morning.

totels's picture

1. I waited 3 weeks before cooking with my first starter, and the flavor was acceptable, but is much better now(8 months). I started mine in Winter in London, and it took a decent amount of time to get stable, yours may not take as long if it is warmer. You are looking for a regular and predictable rise and fall, meaning that you can expect a bubbly mass of dough after a specific amount of time which will collapse shortly after doubling and you can nearly consistently repeat the process each day (or each feeding).

2. You don't have to feed it so much. Firstly, I would strongly suggest using weights rather than volumes (not as important early on, but keeps things predictable later on), flour has a tendency to vary greatly in weight from one cup to the next unless you are meticulous about sifting. If you need to fit into a container, just use the equivalent to 1/4c each of starter/water/flour, instead of 1/2c.

3. If you are getting a decent amount of activity and still getting separation you may not be feeding it often enough, this will vary greatly on temperature and hydration percentage. If you are in a warm climate your starter is going to be much more active and need more frequent feedings, possibly a change in hydration percentage to slow the activity or to be moved to the fridge.