The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter consistency

ghazi's picture

Starter consistency

I recently got involved with making sourdough bread. It is very satisfying and the flavor is really interesting . Can anyone let me know what kind of a consistency I should keep my starter at so it is very active. I have been going for a thicker paste so less water, don't know if it's a good thing as when tried to use for 100% sourdough without any commercial yeast I didn't get much luck with bread doubling in size, although baked with yeast I get a good sour flavor and have been generally happy Would love to hear your comments

tchism's picture

You will get many different perspectives on which way is best but here is what I do to keep consistency with my starter.

I keep my starter at 100% hydration by weight. That means equal amounts of flour and water by weight.

When its on the counter I feed my starter at a 1:1:1 ratio every 12 hours.

Example: I weigh out 75g of starter and add (feed) 75g of water and 75g of flour. Mix and allow to rise on the counter for 12 hours and repeat. 

When I don't expect to use the starter store it in the refrigerator. I will place it in the refrigerator about one hour a feeding. when stored this way I pull it once a week to feed it for at least two 12 hour cycles before placing it back in the fridge. 

Caring for my starter in this way has kept it working strong and producing wonderful loaves when I want it to.

Good luck!

ghazi's picture

Thanks tchism . I've noted your information which is very helpful

ericreed's picture

Generally speaking, going from stiff to loose consistency in your starter is a matter of preference or tradition and neither is intrinsically better. All things being equal, stiff starters tend to develop more slowly and have more of a vinegary sour flavor, while wetter starters develop more quickly and have a milder sour.

For maximum yeast activity, you want to use your starter at its peak development after feeding, usually described as when the starter has doubled and is just starting to collapse a little. (Some argue just before this slight collapse is the real peak.) After that the lack of food and acid buildup start to inhibit the yeast. Some bakers, Chad Robertson notably, prefer to use their starter when "young", trying to find a point when their is good yeast activity after feeding but minimum acidity.

How do you maintain your starter and what is the bread recipe and process? It may not be your starter that's the problem.

ghazi's picture

I feed my starter daily 1/2 cup wholemeal flour and less than 1/2 a cup of water. 70g approx. It has passed the weeks stage so it should be ok for baking with.

I see the bubbles too . The recipe is as follows for a sour rye

550g wholemeal rye flour
About 50g starter
300ml water +
12g salt

Left for 1 bulk long rise

Baked anyway crumb was crumbly tearing easily. I guess this is because it didn't double in size

Am told it takes quite a while, maybe I'm not patient enough or temp is too cold.

Will try again as I love the flavor of full rye

Thanks for your input , anymore pointers appreciated

ericreed's picture

Ah, I didn't realize we were talking 100% rye. Well, first thing, 100% rye isn't going to double. Rye doesn't form the kind of gluten network wheat does to trap the gas. I'm not that versed in rye breads, but that seems like a pretty small amount of starter for 912 g of dough as well. The crumb of rye is largely dependent on the starches instead of gluten. One of the reasons sourdough works so well with rye is that it protects the starches from being broken down by the very active enzymes in rye flour. Some bakers develop a lot of acidity in their starter for the benefit that brings, but use a small amount of commercial yeast for rising power, since the acidic starter inhibits the natural yeast. It will also overproof quite easily because it is so fragile. Last, rye breads can need 24 hours or more of cooling before slicing to fully set.

If you're set on 100% rye, you might want to try some other recipes and see if they don't turn out better.

How often are you feeding it and how much starter goes into that 1/2 cup flour? I assume you're still keeping it at room temperature? Or are you refrigerating it?

ghazi's picture

I see what you mean with rye, it is very slow baking.

I've measured  my whole-wheat starter that is pretty active and been going for cpl of weeks now. Tipped out about half even more to make 150g of starter. Then added a   1: 1:1 ratio  so 150g flour and 150g water and hope this gives me more stability. Had to add more water as it seemed quite thick.

Its at room temp. actually just beside an A/C since I live in the Middle East im afraid the air conditioning always has to be on going into summer months which I guess is OK around 23c

The other thing I wanted to bring up is I am making a rye starter also it has been about 4 days now. Though I took your advice and tipped out enough starter to get 100g . I think I had about 400g+ to begin with . Is this ok or have I gotten rid of flavor I developed along these few days of feeding ? It seems more neutral smelling now. Again, because rye flour is more expensive and scarce here would like to use less of it. It seems bad throwing away so much starter when im only home baking.

Thank you for the link to the rye loaf, I will definaltey give that a go

As for the refrigerator it is a great tool and as you say works great for you. The routine you've described is exactly what Im looking for, but practically cant keep feeding it everyday


Bingowings's picture

My starter is basically an even balance of flour and water.

I started with half a cup of each and then added equal amounts when needed. It gets a feed at least once a day.

I had to use some as batter because it was starting to rise above the level of the container :-O

Think a very thick milk shake with self generating bubbles. If it gets too hoochy skim it off.

ghazi's picture

Thank you Bingowings, taken into account. I think im overcomplicating it

Bingowings's picture

I had trouble getting mine started initially because being in Scotland in April room temperature isn't always optimal for yeast. I managed to get a nice warm spot in the kitchen on a plate shelf near (but not too near a radiator). I also put an apple near the container as I read that ripening fruit was a strong yeast source.

There is an element of chance in getting that first spark going as you probably know but once you have it bubbling it really is the ideal pet. A pet that feeds you :-D

ghazi's picture

Yes its very satisfying to bake with, the flavor is quite addictive.

I just recently got more into the wild yeast side of bread after failed attempts in the past.

That first spark is truly special and the smell of course:)

andychrist's picture

Rye likes the cold, so you can keep your starter in the refrigerator feeding only when you use some and never have to throw any away. If your rye starter is not mature enough yet, you can quickly goose it along by blending in your other, whole grain starter, say 50-50, for one feeding. Then return to rye and after that, no worries.

Also, you might consider a recipe that is only part rye, as you say it is so dear. Baked with caraway and/or other aromatics, you will still get a good strong flavor as well as a more reliable bake. There is a great recipe on Breadtopia for exactly such a sourdough rye:

I use a variation of that recipe, throwing in a handful of toasted wheat germ to get the fiber content closer to that of a %100 whole grain bread.

Incidentally, when I feed my organic rye starter and leave it out of the fridge, it will easily more than double its size, sometimes triple. Don't know whether I could bake that right into a loaf but anyway it shows that SD rye can have terrific rising power when it's happy.

ghazi's picture

Yes, there is something about the smell of rye that really does it for me. Intersting you say I can keep it in the fridge

The sourdough recipe looks great, still nice and dark

Thanks for your input into my sourdough adventures, that makes lots of sense actually now that I think of it my first rye starter a few years ago never survived the summer here. very good point



dabrownman's picture

is only a week od will have a very hard time making anything rise especially a 100% whole rye bread.  give it another shot when it is at its oealk after  month.  You must have baked a brick with it at a week old:-)

You might check out Mini Oven's 100% rye with walnuts at 104% hydration for another process.  I just love that bread.  But there are many other ones too, that you can read about by using the search box here.  Just type in 100% rye fo see all the differnt methods used to make 100%  rye breads. 

I keep 100 g of rye starter at 66% hydration in the fridge and use about 20g of it a week for baking all kinds if bread with the one starter,  After  4 weeks in the fridge, no maintenance at ail, is when it makes the most sour bread by far and perfect for a 100% rye bread.  When it gets down to 20 g I use 10  g to build the starter  back to 100 g for storage and use the other 10 g to make a rye bread.

Happy baking

ghazi's picture

Mini Ovens Rye recipes look great. I'll have to try as you say when my rye starter has matured.

  I find this confusing for some reason.

Ive been following a guide in a book who uses a cup so ive gone into using a cup, 150g flour . For instance if I wanted to only keep 100g I would have to throw away all starter except 50g and build up from there?

I don't know why I have this picture to keep more starter, I mean you have much less waste if you only keep 100g. Will you get better flavor from developing large starters or is it simply the same?


dabrownman's picture

that wasn't very sour and throwing away more flour in starter maintenance than I was using for baking bread :-)  Then I started playing around with different flour, hydration and temperatures to bring out the sour and cut the waste to zero for the starter.

After experimenting for a long time, I finally got to a rye sour starter that I use for all bread no matter what kind and build the levain flour used toward what ever kind of bread is on the bake list . I keep the starter in the fridge at 36 F to bring out the sour.  LAB love 36 F and 93 F when compared to yeast and reproduce much faster than yeast at those temperatures - at least 3 times to 1 so long as there is enough food and the pH doesn't get too low.

More LAB = more sour. I've been working the amount of starter I keep at the max of 200 g down to 80 g but found that too low and it wouldn't last 4 weeks in the fridge between feedings since I was using about 20 g a week to make levain for bread bakes,  100 to 125 g works the best for me but I only bake one maybe 2 loaves a week.

Here is my build schedule for the starter when it runs low and is down to 10g left. I let it double after the 2nd build and the refrigerate it after it rises 25% after the 3rd one.  I will give you the 125 g one that gets you to 66% hydration.  I only use freshly milled whole rye flour for this one.  

 1st 1st 2nd2nd 3rd3rd 

To bake, I take a small portion of the starter out and do a 3 stage levain build to get it to the right size and full strength using this schedule or multiples of it depending on how much time I have and how long I want to retard the dough before baking

Levain BuildFirstFirst 2nd2nd 3rd3rd  
DoughStarterBuild Build  Build Build  Build Build 

If I am in a hurry, most of the time, I will just double the starter amount and keep the feedings the same.  So I might use 10 g of seed but follow the 6 g starter feeding amount to get to164 g of levain.

After 4 weeks in the fridge without feeding,  the starter is very sour, I can bake another loaf from the seed and still have enough left over to build it back ti 125 G for another 4 weeks of storage.

I only did this after the starter was established, mature and at its peak. but have done so for well over a year now.

Happy Baking 

ghazi's picture

Hello Dabrownman

Can you please elaborate a bit more on the building of leaven. Some people say its better to build slowly others say the yeasts simply wont have enough food.

Some recipes call for prefermenting 30-40% of flour and therefore using an inoculation of 10g with 100g flour and 100g water. Which would be 1:10:10

What are the advantages to this and is slower building a better way to go about it?

I like to retard dough in the fridge for the first day or two this means I should use less starter?

An example for you: 100% whole spelt bread

400g flour

280g water

80g starter (85% hydration) - I have a WW starter is building ti up slowly with 10g starter to 10g Spelt flour 8g water a better way to achieve results or through a larger 1:10:8

9g salt

Your help would be great.



ghazi's picture

Wow that's a lot of technique you describe there. You definitely know what your doing. Must be very satisfying to have a bubbly starter when you want one and also that you don't have waste like you say.

Long way to go for me still with capturing the yeasts, thank you very much for all your info. I will go through it again and again, at some stage it should start to sink in with practice in the kitchen of course

Very jealous that you can make sour rye loafs. I once tried an 80/20 sourdough rye which I fell in love with . one day maybe I will be able to make one myself who knows

Happy baking to you too.