The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Newb questions on maintaining a starter

ranchelmarie's picture

Newb questions on maintaining a starter

hello there, I'm new to the sourdough scene and I've been doing a lot of reading, but have read so much conflicting information I've gotten a bit confused. I've got a white flour starter going and it's going great, doubling+ between feeds, made some excellent pancakes this past weekend, but haven't gotten up the courage to make bread yet. Once the starter is established, what's the best way to maintain a starter? I want to be able to make sandwich type loaves and more lean loaves, as well as pancakes, biscuits and other non-loaf bread products. We like a not-too-tangy flavor to our breads. I'd like to be able to feed every 24 hours, but could do every 12 hours if necessary, but would like to "waste" as little flour as possible. With these requirements...

-What hydration level should I be using and how much starter should I be keeping? Right now I'm feeding my starter as follows 50g starter, 75g water, 100g flour.

-Is it possible to keep the starter at room temp and only feed every 24 hours?

-Can I convert my white flour starter to whole wheat? Do I just start feeding it with whole wheat flour? I'd eventually like to use home-milled white whole wheat flour, is this ok for feeding the starter?

-For the discards from feeding - can you just throw it in a jar in the fridge and save it up until there's enough for pancakes or whatever?

Thanks for all your help and sorry for the newb questions!

Mirko's picture

I'm keeping my starter(Rye starter) at room temperature and feeding every 48 hour! Only when l plan to bake I'm feeding every 12h two days  befor baking! 


ElPanadero's picture

Your maintenance schedule and indeed the quantity of starter you keep, depends entirely on how often you plan to bake bread and what flavour you want.

Could you tell us how often you are likely to bake and generally what quantity of starter does your recipe call for?

As for your other questions:

"What hydration level should I be using and how much starter should I be keeping?"

Many people maintain at (1:1:1) or 100% hydration but it does vary (so 50g starter, 50g flour, 50g water).   Can't tell you how much you should be keeping without knowing how often you bake and how many loaves.  Typically though it should be a tiny amount being kept, probably no more than 50g.  It makes sense also that you should be keeping just enough such that you NEVER need to discard anything. 

"Is it possible to keep the starter at room temp and only feed every 24 hours?"

Not usually.  At room temperature people usually feed twice per day.  If you're keeping just a tiny amount of starter then this isn't much of an overhead.

"Can I convert my white flour starter to whole wheat? Do I just start feeding it with whole wheat flour? I'd eventually like to use home-milled white whole wheat flour, is this ok for feeding the starter?"

Never switch your only starter in that way.  Take a small piece of your established starter and use that to seed a new wholewheat starter.  That way if something goes wrong you still have the original to fall back on.  You can maintain numerous starters, the most common are White (AP flour), Rye flour and wholewheat flour.

"For the discards from feeding - can you just throw it in a jar in the fridge and save it up until there's enough for pancakes or whatever?"

You should never need to discard.  You should aim to keep just a small quantity of starter and leave it in the fridge where it only needs to be fed once per week.   When you want to bake, you pull out a tiny amount the night before which you mix with enough flour and water to make up the quantity of raising agent (levain) that your recipe calls for.  What's then left in the fridge is refreshed to bring it back up to the original amount   If you juggle the quantities properly there is no discard.  An example:

Recipe for a White Sourdough

Overnight preferment -  White Flour 115g, Water 115g, Starter 10g

Main Dough -  White Flour 340g, Water 180g, Salt 7g, preferment - 240g

Notice that the night before just 10g of your starter is used with 115g each of flour and water.  12hrs later that means you have the 240g of active "levain" that the recipe needs.    You would NOT want to be keeping 240g of starter on hand in your fridge for such a recipe.  The discard would be very wasteful.  So by using overnight preferments you can scale down massively how much starter you keep in the fridge.

If you made this loaf once a week and nothing else you can easily work out the following schedule:

In the fridge you keep a "rolling" 15g of starter.

The night before you want to bake you take 10g of it to use in that overnight preferment.  That leaves 5g in the fridge.  You refresh that 5g by adding 5g flour and 5g water bringing it back up to 15g again.  You discarded nothing, you wasted nothing.  What you took out, you used to bake with.

These kind of numbers can be scaled up depending how much and how often you bake.

Hope that helps


ranchelmarie's picture

Thanks for the thorough reply!

My plan is to bake twice a week - a sandwich loaf recipe one day and a more traditional sourdough loaf recipe another day (thinking Wednesday and whichever weekend day works out). I'd also probably make something else on each of those days - pancakes, cinnamon rolls, English muffins, biscuits, etc. So using twice a week, but making a couple things, in that case does it make sense to keep it in the fridge between uses or just maintain it at room temperature?

I've started converting to whole wheat, first I took out some of my white wheat starter and stuck it in the fridge as a back up, then for the next couple feedings, I fed with increasing (small) increments of whole wheat, it'll take another few feedings to get to totally whole wheat, but it's going well so far.

I think what I'll do for the next week or two is continue to keep the starter at room temp and feed every 12 hours, but feed a much smaller amount, and at a 1:1:1 ratio and see how that goes. I'm thinking maybe just do 25g starer, 25g water, 25g flour each time and keep the small bits of discard in the fridge for pancake making once a week ('cause man, the pancakes are AWESOME!) So I'll see how that goes and adjust from there, and I've still got that white starter in the fridge as back up should anything go wrong.

Heath's picture

I think it should be possible to keep the starter at room temp and only feed once a day.  If you're feeding it every 12 hours now, just doubling the feed might work.  You're currently feeding your starter at the ratio 1:1.5:2, so doubling would mean feeding at 1:3:4.  Keep an eye on when your starter has risen and starts to fall again to know when to feed, and adjust amounts to fit your schedule.

It is usual to keep a starter at 100% hydration but it's not essential and many people (including myself) don't.  I keep my starter as more of a dough-like consistency (don't know the exact hydration, but I believe it's about 60%) so that I have to feed it less often.

As El Panadero says, you can work out your feeding and baking schedule so you don't have any discard, which is what I do too.  If want to keep discarding, it'll keep in the fridge for weeks while you save up enough to use for other bakes.  I used to do this and make pancakes before I worked out a more efficient schedule for myself and no longer have any discard.

When I change the flour I feed my starter, I do so gradually, beginning by adding a small percentage of the new flour to the feed and increasing each time.

Sorry if I'm adding to your confusion.  There seems to be an almost infinite number of ways to maintain a starter and people usually settle on what works for them - so you'll get a lot of different answers to your questions :-)

Wheat Rules's picture
Wheat Rules

I follow Ken Forkish's method for maintaining a starter, but I use half the amount. 


50 grams starter

200 grams water (90 degrees)

200 grams un bleached AP flour

50 grams whole wheat flour (home milled

i feed the starter with the above formula every 24 hours, and keep it at room temperature.


if you want to convert it to freshly milled whole wheat, I imaging that you would have to feed it more often as the milled wheat makes for a more active starter.


DavidEF's picture

El Panadero has done a great job answering your questions already. I will throw in this little bit, though. You said you like "a not-too-tangy flavor" in your breads. If that is the case, it will take some amount of skill to keep it that way with a whole wheat starter, if you convert. As Heath said, you can convert your starter, but do so gradually, by adding a little of the new flour at one feed, then progressively more at each feed. But expect your bread to take on lots of sourness unless you make significant adjustments for it. You can search on this site to find what kinds of adjustments make for more (or less) sour breads. For instance, adding a little milk, and/or sugar to the starter may help.

However, what is the purpose of converting the starter? You could simply "convert" enough for each bake. It may seem like a strange thing to do, but it is the easiest way I know of to keep the sour down while using whole grains to make your bread. To do it, you would take a small amount out, and build the levain, like El Panadero said. Just feed your levain with the whole grain, and continue only feeding white flour to your starter. You would end up having a tiny fraction of white flour in each loaf, but it wouldn't be noticeable. You may want to cycle it through two feedings, rather than just one overnight build. The culture will need to have time to awaken from its refrigerated slumber. I've found that cycling through the feeding schedule twice before baking helps it to do a better job of raising dough.

ranchelmarie's picture

Thanks for that tip, David, I didn't realize that whole grain starter would produce a more tangy flavor, I'll keep that in mind.

MostlySD's picture

Since Forkish is mentioned above, I'll use his terminology, which is as follows: "The words mother, chef, and levain all describe the same thing: a natural culture the baker uses as a leavening source. Some bakers and texts use different names for the culture at different sages, or they may use more than one culture. Chef often refers to a master culture that is fed separately, whereas starter refers to a portion of the chef that is fed in one or more stages and added to the final dough mix." (FWSY, p. 121)

Hence, my chef is always kept at 80 g and 50% hydration. Whenever I bake bread, I remove half and feed the remaining half to bring the chef back to 80 g. The amount of flours used to feed the chef is indeed very small, namely 27 g (14 g stone ground whole wheat + 13 g stone ground dark rye) plus 13 g of filtered water. The newly-fed chef is left at room temperature for two hours. Then it goes in a wine cooler (+ 10º C) where it will continue to slowly grow until I need it, usually within two to three days. FWIW, the temperature of the wine cooler fits more or less the optimum temperature suggested by Professor Calvel in Le Goût du Pain for keeping a culture viable. That is to say that I do not  know how the method I use would fare in a regular fridge where the average temperature is around + 5º C.

I also keep only that one culture made of whole wheat and rye as detailed above. Whenever I need to bake a white sourdough, which is usually once a week, as ElPanadero mentioned in his comment above, I would take a portion of the WW & Rye chef, that is 40 g or less since I want to take this opportunity to feed the chef new food - 40 g is half of the total amount of my main culture as I mentioned already. To the portion that I have taken out, I would start feeding unbleached all purpose flour, and always a bit of rye since it is said to add vigour to a starter. Professor Calvel also recommends a pinch of salt and a very small amount of malt extract (although I think some flours already have barley malt incorporated).  So that is one of many other ways of maintaining a culture.

dabrownman's picture

SD starter must be too stupid to notice that it is being fed something different or that the liquid has changed.  I usually keep my starter as a rye sour 66% hydration 100g in the fridge.  I use about 15 g of it for baking  a loaf of each week and after 4 weeks it needs to built back to 100g in stages.  But not always.

Right bow it is a  whole multigrain starter for the last 4 weeks but was a white one before that for Christmas panettone.  I'll probably be converting it back to rye when it needs to be built back up  Sometimes I feed it some corn, potato flakes,  any one of 12 grains including black and brown rice, 6 0r 9 grains ceral (what ever is in that) all kinds of oats, millet amarath etc.  Sometimes, like later this week, I will feed it potato water or the water from soaking grains, a pinch of milk now and again too, some beer.  It doesn't seem to mind at all and couldn't care less from what I can tell.  It is almost impossible to harm in any way.  If it was smart enough to talk, I'm thinking it would probably thank my apprentice for realizing that variety is the spice of life - even for starters :-)

ranchelmarie's picture

Thanks for this perspective dabrownman. So far, it doesn't really seem to matter to my starter if I change up the feedings a bit here and there, so I think you're right and that they can be more forgiving than we think!