The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Replenishing a starter

edavenport's picture

Replenishing a starter

I have a question related to using a certain amount of starter and then refeeding the starter. Let's say hypothetically I have 4 cups of starter(which is a lot I know) and my recipes calls for 1 cup of starter. In order to feed the starter can I use the 1 cup of starter and then feed it with 1 cup of equal parts water and flower? Or would it be a good idea to use the 1 cup and throw another cup away, then feed it with 2 cups of equal parts flower and water?


Thank You!

Felila's picture

Why  would you have four cups of starter? I think sometimes I get as high as two, if I've fed it without making anything, but I'll use it for bread AND pancakes, leaving me with less than one cup. I feed that with one cup flour and one cup water, in a clean starter tub. 

Pancakes are a good alternative to throwing away starter.

breadforfun's picture

You can do just about anything that fits with your schedule and capacity.  If I had 4 cups of active and mature starter and I just needed one cup, I would simply take the one cup out and have 3 cups of starter remaining.  The starter you perpetuate, alternately called "mother," "chef," "seed," etc. is generally unchanged and kept alive by periodic feeding.  Typically, when a home baker wants to bake, they take a portion of the mother and "build" it to the volume needed for the bread formula.  For example, you may keep a 100% hydration white flour mother, but a recipe calls for 60% hydration whole wheat levain.  This can be built in two stages to create a nearly 100% whole wheat levain, leaving your mother unchanged.  The ratios of each build can be adjusted so that it is mature just  when you need it.

Hope this helps.


dmsnyder's picture

I have read that a minimum starter feeding should at least double the volume of the "seed" starter. In practical terms, to maintain a healthy starter, feedings should be adjusted according to the feeding schedule. Use a lower proportion of "seed" starter for less frequent feedings. 

The San Francisco Baking Institute recommendation for a liquid starter fed every 12 hours is 40:100:100 (Starter: Water: Flour). The flour is 75% AP and 25% WW. You are proposing a 1:1:1 ratio. If you keep this at room temperature, I would think the yeast might consume all the available "food" before the next feeding, unless you are feeding it 3 times per day.

How much starter to keep feeding between baking days is a comples question. Many home bakers keep a very small amount, in order to minimize waste. Professionals say that there are desirable chemical reactions that require a larger mass of starter.

My own solution is to keep a fairly large amount (350 g) of a firm starter mixed 25:50:100 in the refrigerator. I use portions of the "mother" starter to build up a levain as needed, usually over 2 feedings. I refresh the mother using the 25:50:100 ratio every 2 to 4 weeks. I do end up throwing away a lot of the mother, but I am convinced there are advantages to keeping the larger amount, mostly on the advice of SFBI.


leftypg's picture

Hi David,

I was hoping you could expand on a couple of features of the firm starter? 

1). Other than conserving water, what attributes make a firm starter more desirable than a more fluid one?

2). When using a firm starter, some advise kneading pieces of it into the dough. I have read other procedures which advise dissolving it into some of the liquid, which seems like it would be easier.  Is there any ' rule of  thumb' that we can fall back on?

Thanks for all the time you share to further the cause!


dmsnyder's picture

1). A firm starter favors production of acetic acid over lactic acid. If you are after a really sour bread, use a firm starter. A liquid starter favors lactic acid production and is also a more favorable medium for microorganism multiplication. Please note that the "mother" starter I keep in the fridge is not only firm, but has a much lower proportion of starter to flour. This, essentially, provides a larger supply of food per organism, since they won't be fed again for longer than usual.

2).  I don't think there is a "rule of thumb," other than that, however you accomplish it, you want an uniform distribution of the starter in the levain, and you want all the flour in the levain hydrated.

When feeding a firm levain, here is what I do, step by step:

a) Weigh the starter into a mixing bowl.

b) Weigh the water into the bowl.

c) Using a dough whisk (but you could use a spoon or a spatula or your fingers), break the starter into pieces no bigger than a marble.

d) I give the starter and water a few vigorous whisks, then let it sit for a minute or two to soften.

e) I return and whisk the h**l out of it. (This is lots of fun, because it gets all foamy.)

f) When the starter is almost entirely dissolved, I return the bowl to the scale and weigh in the flour(s).

g) I "knead" in the flour, starting with a silicone spatula but finishing with my fingers.

h) When all the flour has been incorporated and is moist, I place the levain in a clean container in which it will ferment. 

i) Wash the mixing bowl and utensiles, if any.

Hmmm ... That took longer to write than it does to do it. This procedure takes me about 10-12 minutes, including clean up.

Happy baking!



leftypg's picture

The curtain has been lifted! 

Thank you David,


kenlklaser's picture

I'm far from a sourdough expert, but wanted to add to dmsnyder's thoughts....

You could even quintuple it, or greater.

The meme of double your starter perhaps began in the 1800s, a series of acclaimed publications with instructions to double the starter a few times.

The pH is affected by the refreshment ratio, and just as organisms are sensitive to temperature, they are also sensitive to pH, though finding this information is sometimes challenging.  When you refresh sourdough, you are raising its pH.  How much or how little you raise the pH seems largely a function of the refreshment ratio. 

leftypg's picture

I am waiting to bake my first attempt at sourdough ,----there are questions that I have not been able to find the answers for.  I hope the group can help eliminate these hurdles (excuses) so I can get on with it!

My starter was 100% hydration with AP flour.  I changed over to 40 : 100 : 100 (25% WW).  It was doing just OK, doubling at RT in about 7or 8 hours. I fed it every 12 hours.  I was in an accident yesterday and did not feed it last night. 24 hours without feeding---It went nuts today after I fed it!  It reached 2 1/2 X in about 3 1/2 hours.  Within the twelve hour period I Stirred it Down 3 times and each time it rose faster than the time before reaching 3 to 31/2 X after every Stir Down.

I would like to know:

If the 24 hour 'starvation' is what triggered this remarkable change in the performance---can you explain the dynamics involved?

How to estimate my rising and proofing times based on the performance of my starter'

What to do with the starter after it doubles in  four hours when I keep it it at RT? Is stirring down important, and how frequently?

When is the best time (starter condition) to use the starter for baking?  

When is the best time to feed it--is it important to wait 12 hours?


 Any help would be appreciated! Thanks, lefty
Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I'm not a fan of "doubling" starter, it is however a description of some activity but not the whole story.  Sort of like judging a car by the car door.  A starter should be allowed to reach a full peak (yes, if you stir it, it peaks again) to judge the starter.  Stirring down releases trapped gas and only important if you are measuring by volume following instructions.

Letting the starter reach peak increases the numbers of active yeast in the starter.  Again the rise is an indication, to view the little organisms, a microscope is needed.  (Hardly a kitchen tool.  I know a lot of folks would look upon a microscope standing in the kitchen as a threat and would ask why it was there whereas a mixer rarely inspires a comment.  Don't believe me?  Park one there and see how fast it's noticed.) 

It is important for a functioning starter to contain a good population of yeast.  Letting the starter peak and enjoy ideal conditions for populating helps your starter maintain itself as well.  As pH lowers over time, the culture can defend itself from invading organisms that compete for food above and below the ideal growing range.  You can still use the starter in a recipe when it has doubled in volume (minimum waiting time)  but you should let the starter peak and look for other indicators of maximum population before giving it a maintenance feed.  This is how to keep the starter healthy and working well for you.

I should also add that different flours behave & rise differently.  Wheat is the standard, but rye and spelt starters are also being used more often.  A rye starter can be a great starter but it is good to keep in mind that it will only rise within a certain time frame (and hydration) before the matrix falls flat even when the yeast number are low.  Even more so with spelt.  They can give you a false sense of when the food is used up.  Rye prefers warmer temps for elasticity, it contains enzymes that break down the gas trapping abilities releasing gas sooner than wheat.  Rye can also get stiff and not stretch forming a skin when wheat would keep rising like in a refrigerator.   It doesn't mean the starters can't preform in freshly mixed dough.  

Important to know the smell of your starter and to watch the times and temperatures.  Look at the rye starter structure when stirring.  A good sigh is when it can trap gas while being slowly stirred yet be full of gas, like a foam and have the strong yeast, fruit aromas to go with it.   If the starter seems slow to rise, let it stand longer before feeding it making sure you get good yeast aromas before inoculating or adding more flour.  Build the yeast population in the starter before using in a recipe. Go by your nose and taste and not just rises.  Yeast taste should not be an aftertaste that sneaks up on you after tasting the starter, good to have it but it should be there from the first taste.  If not, wait out several yeast population production cycles (one cycle I believe is between 45 min to 120 min) to build yeast numbers before feeding again.  


leftypg's picture

Hi Mini.

Thank you for your prompt reply.  If you don't mind, I would like to dig a little deeper into the 'strength' of the starter.  

If we were to consider a typical 12 hour period at room temperature, with the starter in question---Maybe you can give me a peek through your microscope?  After feeding, it took three and a half hours to reach 2.5X and more or less stayed that way until I Stirred it Down.  After the first SD, it took only one hour to reach 2X and in one more hour it rose to 3.5X (total of 2 hours to reach 3.5X).  It pretty much did the same thing after 2 additional Stir Downs--I re fed it after 12 hours.  What I would like to know is at what point did it reach the 'Peak' and is it 'then' or some time after that the best time to start baking?

Thank you for your patience,


leftypg's picture

Sorry for the double post-I hit the wrong button!

I also noticed that you added material to you last post---Most informative!  Does the last paragraph pertain to wheat as well as Rye?


dabrownman's picture

believe that there are chemical reactions going on in a large, room temperature starter that requires large feedings and much waste along the way- and they might be right - there are several things I have learned as a non professional baker over the years.

First, most professional bakers don't bake much SD bread to begin with and, if they do, they don't necessarily need huge amounts of starter or levain.   Many fine SD  bakeries don't have any Starter nor do levain buildning.  They just use a 'mother' or 'old dough' from the previous days bake instead.  Like a homembaker they don't want any waste -  if they aren't baking the Tartine or Forkish way.  Heck, they don't even throw away old bread they can't sell.   They just use it as altus in some future bake.  They bake every day on a schedule and they make sure to use all of their SD builds trying not waste anything that would lower their already meager profits.  It's just part of being a good professional baker.

Second, being a home baker making 1 or 2 loaves of bread a week, after decades of either keeping a large starter, over 300 g, on the counter wet, feeding it often and wasting a lot, or keeping it in the fridge and feeding it less often and wasting half as much or keeping 80 g of firm starter, never feeding and wasting anything - the only difference I have noticed is that the firm starter, kept in the fridge no muss, fuss or waste,  produces bread that is much more sour than a wet starter kept on the counter and fed often and wasting a lot of flour.  This difference is easily detectable by anyone with just one bite.

I'm not good enough as a home baker, to be able to taste or see anything these small chemical reactions that large, wet starters supposedly produce that professionals can somehow detect and feel worthwhile to make happen. But most are using old dough and not throwing anything away.  They still really have a fairly fresh levain, even if called old, at slightly less than 24 hours old.  I try to get a few days of age on my levains if i can. 

If I want a bread that doesn't taste sour I won't use a SD starter at all, I will use YW or a pinch of commercial yeast to make an overnight poolish or biga.

For me as a home baker, the choice is a no brainer.  80 g stiff starter in the fridge that takes no maintenance, has no waste and makes more sour bread is the only way to go.

I too follow a rough doubling rule of thumb when building a levain.  A (3) stage build of 4 hours each build always seems to work work well but it is not not any better than a (1) 12 hour or (2) 6 hour stage build from my experience if you stir them down every 4 hours.  If I am making one 800g to 1000 g loaf,  I would take 10 g of 60% hydration starter (that has 6 g of flour in it) and feed it 10 g of flour and water each for the fist build making 30 g total, For the 2nd build I would double the flour and water and  feed it 20 g each of flour and water making a total 70 g.  The 3rd stage would be 40 g each for a total of 150 g of full strength levain at near 100% hydration - about 15-18% of the total dough weight.

A single 12 hour build of 70g each of flour and water added to 10 g of 60% hydration starter works just as well.  A 24 hour, 1g starter to 75 g each flour and water also works if you have the time.

If you retard the levain build after feeding the 3 stage for 2 days and then let it finish doubling on the counter it will make for a more sour bread as well.  Labs like cold more than yeast and reproduce at 3 times the rate of yeast if held 36 F.  By retarding levains, starters in the fridge you inoculate your dough with much more labs than yeast.  By retarding the inoculated dough in the fridge you produce more labs than yeast.  These methods all make your bread more sour.

If you do a final proof at between 85 F and 88 F, the labs also reproduce at 3 times the rate of yeast at those temperatures so your bread will be more sour than proofing a room temperature where labs and yeast reproduce at nearly the same rates.   Long, low temperature before final proof at the starter, levain and dough fermenting stages and high temperature final proof should give you the most sour in your breads with any given starter.  It's just science at work, no faith or beliefs required. 

Happy Baking