The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter Question

golgi70's picture

Starter Question

Hey All, 

So I have a colleague who recently moved and is working in a new bakery. They have an odd practice of starter maintenance.  Basically they feed their starter once a day and retard after it shows signs of life (I suppose when it has 1 1/2 its volume).  The weird thing they do is this.  So lets say they keep 25 lbs of starter after replenishment.  If they use 15 lbs of starter that day to the remaining starter they add 7.5 lbs of flour and 7.5 lbs of water and mix it up.  On a different day where they use 5 lbs of starter they add 2.5 lbs of flour and water and mix it up.  So essentially the ratio in which they feed is always changing and the seed is always quite large if not incredibly large (anywhere from 2:1:1:to 5:1:1) that is start:water:flour.  

So he claims this starter is strong and goes from active to very active depending on the day.  His goal isn't to change there starter but use this as a seed at home for his own loaves.  So far when using this in a more traditional way has led to failures.  He has built this for a day or so at more normal rates 1:2:2 to get it regulated to no success.  

My assumption is to change this over to a typical starter would take a good week of nuturing at the appropirate proportions before it could be stable. He doesn't really have the time to do daily mainteance of this at home so I ponder a couple of questions.  

1)  Is my presumption correct, that is it needs more time to become regulated to a "new diet" before it will be predictable of a standard starter.

2) Is there a smart way he could use this whacky starter without so much guess work?  

Any and all comments are appreciated


happy baking


Ford's picture

The bakery is apparently doing a daily feed of an ongoing active starter.  I would recommend that you do the feed as you suggested, of 1:2:2; or even 1:1:1.  When the starter shows signs of activity then put it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.  Then feed 1:1:1; let it ferment for about 12 hours then feed again 1:1:1 and let that ferment over night and then make your dough.


BreadChubby's picture

I am with Ford, the bakery wants a consistant stable product and you can't get that with a varied diet so to speak.
An archer achieves bullseye's by applying his craft consistently everytime if his hands slips then he does not hit centre.

varda's picture

should just make his own starter.   It sounds like even though they make good bread at the bakery that it isn't entirely consistent even there.   I wonder if it works at all just because the large quantity of seed starter keeps it more stable even through the feeding varies.   He can't work with such large quantities at home, so that won't help him there.   Not so hard to make your own starter and probably would take around the same amount of time as to stabilize this one.  -Varda

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

situation.   To use at home, test it first.  Feed 10g, 100g water and 100g flour, a ration of one to ten on the flour and see what it does in a 24 hr period.  Study the starter in the home environment and let it rise and fall marking the hours and different ups and downs. (temperature, aromas, taste, activity, etc. )  

It needs to get a low pH or a good fermentation to maintain its properties.  Chill after the 24 hrs and then use like the bakery.  Use the rising information to tell you the strength and speed of the yeast in the culture.

To me it sounds like a good starter until it has problems.  Study the starter for trouble shooting later.  Create a dried back up from a 200g  sample.  (spread out on parchment and air dry, crumble and seal in a jar, cool dark place)

Also a firm sample back up of 50g where flour is added until the crumbs can still be crumbs yet hold together when pressed into a ball.  Roll the ball in flour and place into a sealed bag with a little flour pressing out the air.  Place into a jar, where it won't get crushed, and chill it.     

Does the Bakery augment the sourdough with commercial yeast?  If the results of the 1:10 test are poor and yeast is added to the dough, then the starter is being used more for flavour, its LABs than for the yeast.

I would test it and study it first before trying to change it or start another.

FlourChild's picture

The bakery practice doesn't seem all that strange if you consider that they always retard the starter when it hits 1.5x volume.  Basically, it sounds like they want to have a constant quantity (25 lbs) on hand, and so they just refill the pot as needed.  But then to account for the different seed ratios, they wait until it hits 1.5x volume to refrigerate, so that they are always refrigerating at about the same place in the fermentation cycle.  At the point their starter is going into the fridge, it is more constant in characteristics than the oddball feeding schedule might suggest.  

Also agree with others that this won't work well at home because he will not be around to pop it into the fridge at the right time (when it hits 1.5x volume).  In light of the high seed amounts the bakery uses, at home he may also need to start with a high seed amount, perhaps 3:1, (seed:flour), and do as Mini suggests, watch it to see what happens.  Then gradually move it towards a smaller seed to accomodate home schedules.

golgi70's picture

Well thanks for all the feedback.  

@Varda - I think the personal maintenance of a starter is not in the cards for him right now as time won't allow it.  He was hoping to be able to use a seed of this funky starter and build from it for weekend home bakes but so far its worked better as is, to some surprise.  As is though it is apparently very strong and very quick, yet with variation pending the day of the week.  It does make perfect sense that it would fail from changin its diet and trying to use it before regulated. 

@Mini - This is a wonderful idea even if he doesn't want to build it into his own starter. He can at least learn the stages of fermentation it goes through and the timings.  Using that test may allow him to use it in his home baking with better sucess.  And yes I do believe the bakery augments with yeast (large quantities at that) so its mostly for flavor.  What is a good pH for a starter? I

@FlourChild - I'm certain this is common practice in many bakeries that aren't overwhelmingly conscerned, and don't want to waste(that is throw away the extra starter).  So I suppose its not odd just a bit inconsistent.  But as MIni suggests since its used in conjunction with yeast its more for flavor than its ability to raise a loaf. 

Thanks All


golgi70's picture

what they are doing and since they use yeast with the starter it saves on waste.  I'm sure this is practiced more than we'd think for that reason.  I've worked at some larger bakeries and they always had their starter numbers down so tight that the waste was always minimal.  They used spreadsheets to calculate the days batch sizes and what would be needed.  At my current bakery I'm throwing away from 8 oz - 64 oz starter on a daily basis as for us its easier to do a daily feed opposed to a precise changin daily feed.  

I'd think the yeast would be hungry in a starter fed with such a high proportion of seed and varying feeds. I love the science and chemistry behind bread and try to learn and understand it.  But as I've said many times, there are countless ways to make a formula for bread that are "successful".  Success is in the eye of the beholder.  I like dark boldly baked bread but the masses prefer bread lighter.  I can argue with them that they are wrong but guess what, they are eating it.  So if and when I open my own shop I intend to have two shades of grey, labeled as such, to appease both crowds.  

Thanks for the food for thought