The Fresh Loaf

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How much starter to make based on how much bread I'm likely to bake?

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Theresse's picture
Theresse

How much starter to make based on how much bread I'm likely to bake?

Hello -

I'm intrigued and would like to try making homemade yeast (or "catching" it as I've read people refer to it) using flour and water.  

Can I make a basic kind that will work in most types of bread?  If so, what kind would that be?  I'd like to be able to use it for both sourdough bread or other types of artisan bread as well as sandwich bread (is that crazy?).  

I don't think I have a handy container sitting around so I'll probably buy one for this purpose - either the glass canning jar type or else the plastic square kind so many of you get.  I'm not sure how big the container should be cause I don't know how much I'll need, never having made it.  And what's even more confusing is that from my understanding, there are different amount you need depending on the recipe.  And I've read some people use small amounts of starter because they claim it works or tastes better while others use more.  Can someone just give me some basic advice for some basic starter that would be appropriate for a variety of bread recipes, or is that just too tall an order?!  I need to put in an online order that will take time to process and arrive (I'm ordering wheat berries, containers, lids and other things so this is when and where I'm going to get the container to grow the yeast in, too) and I plan to do the bulk of my research.  Hence, my asking advice here prior to that research/order, which I hope you'll forgive me for!  It will just save me a lot of time in the long run if I do it in that order.

I *think(* I'll want to make about 8 loaves' worth of bread per 2 weeks on average.  Meaning, I may or may not bake once a week...on some occasions it might be twice a week.

Based on the above info, can you give me an idea of how many cups of flour I'd need to get this thing started - no pun intended and what size container might be the safest bet?  How much of the yeast mixture once it's ready is most typically used per recipe i.e. per 2 loaves, if that isn't an impossibly difficult question? 

Thank you!

placebo's picture
placebo

The amount and type of starter you need will depend on the formula you decide to use. You're probably best off with a plain old white starter (fed with AP or bread flour). You can make a whole wheat or rye starter from it if necessary.

The amount you need to maintain is actually relatively small. You can build up to the amount you need for a recipe relatively quickly, so there's little sense in keeping a large amount between bakes. I currently keep around 80 grams of starter in the smallest canning jar I could find (200 ml, I think). When I bake two loaves, I need about 340 grams. Over the course of two or three feedings, I build up the 80 grams to about 380 to 400 grams. Of that amount, I take what I need for the bread, and then I feed the remainder and put it back into the fridge.

Besides cutting down on waste, keeping a small amount of starter is helpful because you don't end up with a relatively large container in your refrigerator taking up valuable space and getting in the way.

Theresse's picture
Theresse

That was helpful, thank you placebo!  I actually put together a starter before I read your reply (was just goofing around) and I used half dark rye flour and half sprouted wheat (well, actually less than half of the wheat cause I'd added too much water so went back and added more rye).  I hope using both of those instead of just one wasn't a bad mistake!  And THEN I ended up splitting them into two containers since I had more than was probably smart, in one container. Later today I may try one with white flour too (why not?)!  I can always give some away if all 3 are successes.

placebo's picture
placebo

When making a starter from scratch, the common wisdom is to begin with whole-grain flours, as opposed to white flour. The idea is that whole-grain flours are less refined, so they'll have more of the microbes you're trying to cultivate in them. Once it gets going reliably, you transition over the course of several feedings to white flour. That said, people have successfully made starters using AP flour, so whatever flour or mix of flours you use will likely be fine.

One suggestion is to cut back a lot on the amounts when you're trying to make a starter. When you make a starter, you're essentially just mixing water and flour together and waiting for fermentation to start. That'll happen whether you use 1 cup of flour or 1 tablespoon of flour, so you might as well go with small amounts to minimize the waste.

If you haven't already, you should read Debra Wink's blog posts on the pineapple juice method. It'll give you a good idea of what's going on as a starter develops and why certain methods are suggested.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Theresse,  you will find plenty of info on this subject on the sourdough forum here.   While the general population uses the word sourdough to refer to a tangy San Francisco bread, sourdough includes any natural starter, and nearly any bread you make with yeast can be made with a natural starter - ( sourdough.)  the amount of tang depends on the type of starter, how much you use, and how long you bulk ferment and proof it.  In general, the larger the amount of starter you use, the less tangy the taste.  So you could make the same bread with 20% starter, or 10% starter, in general, the 10% starter would have a much longer bulk ferment and proof time, and would be tangier.  In terms of how much to keep on hand, I start small because I hate the waste.  It only takes a day or two to build from a small amount to a large amount - since even with a 1:1:1  ( starter, water, fresh flour) you triple the amount every feeding. In terms of containers, you don't need anything special, I have used mason jars and plastic rubbermaid containers, both work fine.    

Theresse's picture
Theresse

Thank you Barry!  I think it ended up being around 3 cups flour (in the end) plus appropriate amount of water - I think - and then split into 2 containers.  One of the containers has a little less than a cup of the entire mix in it.  So in both containers there is probably too much but we'll see I guess.  It's all so experimental at this point in time...