The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How strong a starter can be?

sallam's picture

How strong a starter can be?


I wonder how strong a starter can be.

What is the average time a sourdough starter takes until the dough is doubled in size?

When we first make a new starter, can we keep the feeding process of discarding half and replacing it with equal amount of flour and water for more days, or weeks, until the starter can doubles its height in, say 2 hours period?

.. is that at all possible? .. did anyone try it?

I'm trying to make a low hydration starter (60%), using 35g AP flour + 15g wheat bran  + 30g water + 3 crushed cloves of garlic. Garlic does a great job in protecting the starter from mold and bad bacteria. It doubled its size in 2 days, and now I keep disacrding and adding half each time it doubles. I'm still at day 4, and I wonder how more days should I keep feeding it. I prefer harder starters, as they need less feeding cycles, and also because I intend to use it for an old dough (pate fermentee) method. I hope to be able to make it reproduce  more and more yeast cells until it can double itself in as short time as can be.

And regarding the feeding times, do you feed your starter when it reaches twice its height, or wait more when it goes down or even collapses before feeding it?
G-man's picture

The fastest I've heard of starters raising dough is within 4 hours. Those are starters that are being specifically engineered to be less sour. I'm fairly sure it can be trained to raise faster than that, but why not simply use commercial yeast? You're elminating/vastly reducing the population/strength of the beneficial bacteria that can grow in your starter if you let them. There are methods that exist for making bread less sour, but these were developed before the spread of commercial yeast and largely discarded when fast-rising yeast became widely available.

I feed my starter on a timed schedule rather than based on how it rises, because I want to maintain a certain flavor and I've found that feeding my starter more frequently than my timing schedule changes the flavor.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

supermarkets.  It requires special conditions and is more or less a laboratory product.  This tool works great for predictable rises and sweet doughs taking much of the guess work out (and some will say the challenge/fun) of using wild yeasts.

One of the reasons for using a sourdough culture starter is to get the benefits of longer rises and more flavor.  A "stronger" (I take it "faster" ) yeast is not always a better one.  There is more going on in the dough than yeasties giving off gas but if that is what you desire, anything is possible.  Don't know how long you could maintain that kind of feeding schedule before it drives you and those around you nuts.  A fast budding starter is a demanding one and will keep you busy checking the pH and feeding it late at night.  If you are working in a 24 hr $taffed laboratory and it's your job to single out a wild fast budding yeast, then by all means go for it.  Keep the inoculations small or you will soon be in tubs of the stuff.

If you are working with old dough methods, remove a pinch of dough at the doubling of the bulk rise to set aside for refrigeration.  If you remove just before shaping (before final rise) the dough contains less food and starter may need to be fed sooner if the next bake is days away.   A hyper starter would most likely be pinched off soon after mixing and chilled before doubling.    

"I'm wondering how many days to keep feeding it."     --You will always have to feed it.  It is a group of living organisms.  They will first go into suspended animation and then die if you don't feed them.

You can use your 4 day old starter for baking when it doubles under 12 hours.  You will soon hit a growth spurt when you've gotten to a certain concentration of yeast cells.  If you maintain the starter temperature at ideal levels, you could then reduce the inoculation and feeding by 2 hours every second feeding forcing slower producing yeasts to give way to faster ones.  That might get you on a fast track.  Be sure to save some primordial discards in the fridge just in case you want to back-track to use slower yeasts.  

sallam's picture

Thanks very much for all the good tips. Of course I don't have that much time to spend in vigorous feedings.

4 hours rise is OK with me.

I've fed my starter today (day 5) more water so it now has equal 1:1:1 starter:wheat:water ratio. Its easier to mix by spoon than kneading the 60% that I started with. Do starters rise faster with high hydration than firm ones?

And should I feed daily at that stage (day 5), or only when it doubles? .. it still takes too long to double (2 days)

And what about flour, is it better (in terms of reaching a matured starter in fewer days) to keep feeding it whole wheat, or should I switch to AP flour?

sallam's picture

and what about the temperature? I noticed that my router is always warm (feels like 43c/110f), so I placed my glass jar on top of it. In 2 hours, the starter began to rise about a quarter. Is that temperature ok, or is it too high? I'm assuming that the jar will absorb only some of that warmth, right?

And regarding yeast/sour taste ratio, is it true that more sour develops in colder temperature while yeast develops more in warm temperatures? I mainly make pizza dough, so I prefer more yeast and only mild sour taste.

benji's picture

It seems to me that having an ultra fast rising sourdough starter would defeat the purpose of the sourdough method all together, that is complex flavors, irregular crumb, nutrition, etc.

You're use of Garlic is also interesting.  I dont' know your circumstances or climate but have you ever seen mold or 'bad bacteria' spring up on a well attended to starter? For simplicities, after the intial stages of a starter, where potentially non-standard igredients such as whole wheat/rye flours and acidic juices may be necessary, just use flour and water.  Some nights feeding the starter is a chore for me and chopping garlic as part of that process would certainly lead me to starter-cide.

sallam's picture

Thanks benji for your kind reply.
Yes, where I live, my past experiences with making starters were not very successful. Bad odor develops and I had get rid of them. This time, there is no bad smell so far.

Thanks for the tip regarding feeding with flour. I'm now feeding it just AP flour and water.

"Some nights feeding the starter is a chore for me and chopping garlic as part of that process would certainly lead me to starter-cide."
What is starter-cide please?

I'm now on day 7. The starter now bubbles modestly between feedings, and rises to only a quarter or third its height, then soon collapses back. I wonder why it doesn't reach a double height, and why collapse so soon. Do you recommend anything I should do? do I feed it regularly, whether it reached double or not?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The problem in encouraging super fast yeast from wild yeast is that wild yeasts live in a symbiosis with lactobacilli.  Lactobacilli first set up the conditions for the wild yeast to grow and flourish.  By shortening the feeding cycle, bacteria numbers remain low and you encourage yeast growth.  Good for a day or two but I believe you are inviting trouble.  

That trouble would be invading molds and other bacteria that grow in a higher pH solution.  Normally the pH rises in the culture with each feeding.  The desired bacteria then lower the pH making the solution of flour and water more acidic.  This helps yeast grow and defend themselves.  When you space the feedings at less than 6 hours, this helps yeasts but soon over several feeds, works against the good bacteria for they need just a little bit more time.  For bread raising yeasts and their bacteria friends, a spacing of about 8 hours is recommended (using temps at 74°F or 23°C.) It is important for the pH to fall low enough for their own protection.   In feeding is also important to stay within certain parameters so as not to overfeed or underfeed (raise the pH too high, or not high enough.)   Look up the pH of the flour you are using as well as the water.  Look up the pH for desired yeast activity and also when activity stops.  Now check on the garlic.  Does it lower pH in a flour & water solution?  Garlic is know to kill off more than just some bad bacteria, it may be killing off your yeast as well or drastically reducing their numbers.  

What you might be breeding is a yeast resistant to garlic, don't know what kind of monster that might be.  Keep in mind that there are hundreds of different kinds of yeasts.   The methods used to grow sourdough starters aim at growing a particular group of yeast desired for bread baking.  That also applies to their partner bacteria.  If you want fast yeast without bacteria, use the commercially sold dried or fresh yeast strain.  There is no way you can culture this strain of bakers yeast in a home kitchen over weeks or months without contaminating it.  It will eventually give way to wild yeasts and become slower than pure baker's yeast.