The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Feeding starter: How much to save vs. How much to throw away

LaVidaMD's picture

Feeding starter: How much to save vs. How much to throw away

I have been maintaining a King Arthur Flour sourdough starter since I received it as a Christmas gift. I have been discarding a cup and feeding it a cup of flour and 1/2 a cup of water once a week and refrigerating it quite soon after the feeding. Due to some starter sticking to the wisk and spoon I use during the feeding, as well as the container before I clean it, the starter has been decreasing slowly. Now, if I discard a cup of starter, I will have very little starter left with which to work.

I don't really want to "increase" the starter (i.e., double it), because I do not plan to use it often. Therefore, I realized that I would like to measure out the amount that I should keep each week, instead of how much I should discard. My questions is, "How much starter should I keep for feeding each week? One quarter of a cup? One half of a cup?" I would like to stick to the "one cup of flour plus half a cup of water" weekly feeding schedule.

Thanks in advance for your advice!!!

JMonkey's picture

You don't really need a whole lot of starter in your fridge. I keep mine pretty thick, but even then, I rarely have more than an ounce or two -- which is less than 1/4 cup. I then build it up from there over a couple of days when I need it.

Here's a link to a good article (with pictures) on "Frugal Starter Management." I'm not so frugal, myself, because I like having extra around to make muffins, waffles and pancakes. But I do like keeping just a small amount in the fridge, since it's usually pretty packed anyway.

As far as feeding it goes, so long as you plan ahead, you can get away with just a small amount of starter at first. On the page I reference, he starts out with a jellybean sized blob and then adds roughly 1/4 cup of water and about 2/3 cup flour. I weigh my starter, so if I have 30 grams of starter, I might add 60 grams of flour and 60 grams of water.

It's pretty flexible stuff. So long as you at least double the amount of flour, you should be just fine.

LaVidaMD's picture

Thanks for your response. I was guessing I should keep somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 of a cup of the original starter if the feeding is 1 cup flour plus 1/2 cup water, but I needed reassurance.

slothbear's picture

Hey, I got my starter from King Arthur as a Christmas gift too!  So -- these are experiences of a sourdough beginner, but I've had a lot of good experiences so far -- I've baked with it most every week.

I had a lot of first-time concerns too, so I called King Arthur and spoke to one of their bakers -- very friendly.  With a 1-quart container, you should be able to hold 2 cups of starter (with room for it to rise after feedings).

So -- keep a cup each week then feed it a cup of flour and a half cup of water.  You could also continue what you've been doing, and add a spoon or two of flour now and then to balance your slow decrease.  Aim for the same general consistency when it's all mixed in.

I think you can probably get away with keeping a lot less than a cup if you find you need to.  I wanted to bake for my friends in Washington DC last month.  I figured I'd run into trouble at airport security if I tried to take more than 3 oz. of this "liquid".  I was able to fit 2 ounces into a small plastic babyfood container.  When I arrived in DC, the starter was happily oozing out into the outer zip-loc.  I fed it regularly over the next two days and made some tasty loaves the 3rd day.

I'm certainly interested in advice from others on this topic -- my starter has been fine so far, but it's nice to feel prepared.  I was also wondering about consistency.  The consistency of my starter has not been, uhm, consistent.  Some weeks it is almost (but not quite) headed towards batter.  Other weeks it's kind of a slightly stiff but very wet dough.  I hadn't thought much about it until now -- it's always active when I need it -- but is there an ideal consistency I should aim for?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

A very clever person mentioned about a year ago at this site to pour "liquid" out thin onto plastic wrap in a tray to dry. Break it up and bag it.  When you reach your destination, rehydrate it by adding the water back to it.  Drying takes about a day, use 2 days to be safe.  Also a good way to store it.  You will never break a zip lock again.  Also press out any air in the bag, going up in an airplane tends to expand the air bubbles and any air pockets.
Your everyday consistency is just fine.  If you want to transport dough wet, then add lots of flour, you can add the water later.