The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Refreshing a sourdough starter

Mira's picture

Refreshing a sourdough starter


I have a few basic questions that I hope some kind person(s) can answer!

1) Why is an older starter better than a newer one? 

My bread is less tangy in flavour than a year ago, but I can't really notice any other discernable difference.  I guess that doesn't say much for my bread making!  After a failed attempt last July, using Peter Reinhart's approach in his book, "Artisanal Breads Everyday", I was successful with Debra Wink's pineapple/rye approach.  (I found it here on this forum). I've kept my starter, "Alphie", for a year now, and he is 100% hydrated with unbleached white flour.  I'm in Canada and I use either Robin Hood or Five Roses unbleached flour.  I keep Alfie in the refrigerator and refresh once a week, unless I'm baking bread.  In the beginning, I used to mix in a teaspoon of organic rye when refreshing but now I just stick to the unbleached white. 

2) Is it true that your starter is vigorous enough to use for breadmaking if it reaches its peak in 6 hours?

I read that somewhere on this forum.  My starter has never peaked at 6 hours.  Before I make bread, I'd refresh it on the countertop once every 24 hours but now I do it every 12 hours.  Because I'm not always at home - or I'm sleeping - I can't tell if it reaches peak earlier than 12 hours.  I'm at home this week on a staycation, so I can watch it.   Should I aim for 6 hours? How would I do that?  That is linked to my last question:

3) How do I make my starter more vigorous? Through more feedings or a different ratio of feedings?  I use a 1:2:2 ratio: 50 g starter + 100 g bottled water + 100 g unbleached white flour.  Would my starter be more vigorous if I used a 1:3:3 ratio?  I read that people do different things and I'm wondering what is optimum.

4) S&F doesn't totally work for me; last weekend when I baked bread the crumb was too tight.  What am I doing wrong?  I've seen S&F on videos on youtube and elsewhere.  The one difference in my approach is that after mixing in the blender with a dough hook for a few minutes and letting my dough autolyse for 1/2 hour (then adding salt), I did S&F in an oiled container every 1/2 hour for 3 hours. 

In prior bread making sessions I'd hand knead the dough after adding my salt, then I'd place it in an oiled container and S&F once an hour.  What is the optimum method?  (I'm asking that knowing that there is no one method for breadmaking!)

I'm hoping to bake my best bread yet this week.  Thank you in advance!


clazar123's picture

To tell if your starter is doubling when you are asleep, just put it in a clear glass jar (I use a canning jar) and when you are done stirring the feed into it, clean the glass to the level of the starter. If it rose and fell before you awoke, you will see the level it rose to. It should, indeed, double in 3-4 hours.

The way you manage your starter is very similar to what I do-once a week bake and feed on that date, otherwise stored in the refrig all week. It works great for me and produces a delicious but not tangy bread-just how I like it. If you want a tangier or more sour bread, there have been several recent threads that discussed that. I believe one of the discussed practices was that refrigeration caused the starter to lose its souring capabilities. It changes the yeast culture.The feeding schedule and ratio was also a factor.There is a "method" for souring a starter using a mix of refrigerator temp,room temp and hydration/feeding ratios that is purported to be consistently successful. Use the search box -it was fairly recent.

S&F is a great method for strengthening the gluten and for re-distributing the gas bubbles. The dough needs to be handled gently but firmly so you are not deflating the dough. It only needs to be done 2-4 times in the whole rise. If you are doing it 6 times (every 1/2 hr for 3 hrs) you are really redistributing the gas and deflating it more so you prob get a really fine crumb! I am finding that a higher hydration dough and less handling is the key to getting bigger holes. I'm still learning,also.

So a few ideas for you. Have delicious fun!


G-man's picture

I have never seen my starter double in 6 hours. It tends to take about 7-8 on the counter. Still, it's a very healthy starter (except for a little trouble with thiols a while back) and it raises beautiful bread that my family and friends love.

It was ripe after about one and a half to two months of feeding. I tried it after one and it just didn't have much kick. I would consider a brand new starter to be ripe after about the same amount of time because of nothing more than personal experience. I'd rather waste less flour and keep treating my starter like it's immature than try to make a loaf and have it fail to rise.

That said, were I eager I would probably make a small loaf using the very adjustable 1-2-3 method, just to see how the starter was doing.

lumos's picture

Do you bring the starter and the bottled water to room temperature before you mix them?  I always keep my starter in fridge, too, and I used to feed it straight after I take it out from the fridge, but since I started taking the starter (and water, if it's kept in a fridge)  out of the fridge a few hours before feeding, I noticed it becomes active in much shorter time.

I feed the starter twice within 12-16 hrs before I used them, but I never 'time' when to feed.  My second feed is always done soon after it peaked and started subsiding (which may be difficult for you if you're not at home all the time, I understand), and I always notice it become vigorous much quicker after the second feed; for example, it may take 6-8 hours to peak after the first feed, but it usually becomes very active after 4 hours or so after the second feed. (May take a bit longer or shorter, depends on the room temperature, of course)

  I used to feed only once before I need the starter, but feeding twice does make a huuuuuge difference in vigorousness of starter, so that's the routine I always stick to these day. It makes quite a big difference in the resultant bread crumb, too.  

I did S&F in an oiled container every 1/2 hour for 3 hours.

I'm with clazar123 regarding how many times you do S& F. I've found too many S&F sessions would prevent getting airy, light crumb with lots of large, random holes. When I make smaller sized bread, like rolls or baguettes, I only S&F 3 times and 3-4 times at most for larger loaves. (or 2-3 x S&F + 1-2 x letter folds, depends on how the dough feels)

Also, if I'm making sourdough based bread, I do S&F every 40-50 minutes, sometimes with even longer intervals, instead of 30 minutes for yeast based bread, because sourdough tends to be slower in fermentation than yeast.

Another thing is.... If you use blender to mix before autolyse and hand-knead before S&Fs, it may be you're over-handling your dough, which can make the crumb less airy and light. Also judging when to put the dough into the oven is extremely important, too. Both under-proofing and over-proofing can make your crumb tight.

scottsourdough's picture

I also tend to feed once every 12 hours, never more often. Since I use a fairly dry starter I can't really tell if it "peaks" before 12 hours, but I've also never really seen a reason to care. I've never had a problem with dough not rising as expected, though that seems to take longer than most recipes indicate also. However, since I aim for a sour final bread, I think having a somewhat slow starter is actually good. If you like a sour bread, having your kind of starter might be a good thing!


Mira's picture

Thank you to all! 

Clazar123 - good idea to measure with a canning jar.

G-Man - I've read about 1-2-3 method but haven't really taken note of it; I will re-read on this forum.

Lumos - I've never waited for my refrigerated starter to get to room temperature before I refresh because I used to be afraid that I was starving it and it would need to get fed right away!  But I'll certainly try that.

I also do my S&F as letterfolds...I thought that was the same technique!

Scottsourdough - thanks for reminding me that it DOES take longer for dough to rise than the recipe calls for!  I seem to think I'm the only one with this 'problem' and my impatience sometimes results in underproofed bread. 

But I'm at home this week, no work responsibilities...and except for tennis, gym, gardening, etc....I've got all the time in the world to improve my breadmaking skills this week:)



Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

Rye flour is a favorite step in reinvigorating a starter. I suggest that you try a two stage build with some rye flour for an upcoming loaf. Fresh organic rye has been said to really kick start the yeast party in starters. Lots of threads discussing this are available by using the search button.