The Fresh Loaf

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I'm having trouble in understanding in how to keep a starter

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AbeNW11's picture

I'm having trouble in understanding in how to keep a starter

I would like to keep a small amount of 100% hydration starter with no discarding and trying to find a way around this.

A starter needs to be fed double its weight, atleast, before using in a recipe. So if I keep 100g of starter and a recipe calls for 80g i'll still need to feed it 100g but now i'll be left with an extra 20g. Carry on like this and eventually will have to discard. Different recipes call for different amount of starter and it'll be almost impossible to keep up a "no discarding" method. Don't get me started on a recipe calling for a non 100% hydration.

Then I had an idea of a different method. Using 100g of starter and doing a preferment in 100g of flour and 100mls of water of the total recipe (including starter), then taking back 100g for my next bake and adding the rest of the recipe to make up the dough. But then i've used 100g of starter instead of the asked for 80g.

Or sometimes it asks for 20g of starter for preferment, which I will take out of the 100g I have already, but then i'll still need to feed my starter and i'll be left with 160g if feeding its own weight as one has to keep feeding it.

What is your method?  

Help me i'm confused.

cerevisiae's picture

...there is discard. Almost inevitably, they'll be at least a little. With enough math and planning, you can keep low, but it won't be nothing.

I know many people here keep starters in their fridge, feed them occasionally, and take out a small amount to refresh and use. This reduces discard substantially, but there's still some.

I recommend this waffle/pancake recipe for using up discard instead of throwing it in the trash or pouring it down the sink. I like making it with a blend of different, mostly whole grain flours.

LynnDot's picture

Unless you plan on keeping a barrel full of starter, you're gonna have to discard some when you feed it. I don't bake very often so I keep mine in the fridge and feed it once a week. Usually I take it out in the morning, feed it morning and night, then put it back in the fridge the next morning once it's settled back. You can just do one feeding once a week too, I dunno I just prefer two. I think everyone is a little funny and has their own rituals with their starter :)

Sometimes when I feed it I use it for something else like pancakes or whatever but I usually just toss it. It *seems* like a lot of waste but it isn't really, in the grand scheme of things, if you're only doing it once a week, and you aren't saving a massive amount of starter.

I don't measure how much exact starter I have in my main batch but it's small, when I feed it I only add 50g water and 50g flour to it, and it's a 100% rye starter

When it comes time to bake I like to use a starter that is 50/50 rye and all purpose, so what I do is take out a portion of the all rye starter to a new container and feed it for a couple days (twice a day) with varying amounts of rye and all purpose until it's about 50/50.

So for instance, my usual recipe calls for 500g of starter, so assuming I do all my measuring right I end up with 125g rye, 125g all purpose, and 250g water.

My base starter is always equal parts rye and water, so say I put 100g of starter into the container. I know that it has 50g rye and 50g water. So for one feeding I might add another 50g rye and 50g water, then the next 50g a/p, 50g water, etc, until I've got 500g of 50/50 rye/ap starter.

I hope that makes sense haha. This may be an option for you if you want to keep a small amount of starter in the fridge, so you aren't discarding as much. Then when you actually pull some out for baking you aren't discarding any at all, you're working up to what you need for your recipe. I just feed the fridge starter whatever I take out and put it back in the fridge.

This works for me and my bread turns out really good in my opinion, but everyone has their own method. My general view is "if it ain't broke don't fix it" haha

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I have even stopped making pancakes with my sourdough. I don't believe it is necessary to feed a starter double its weight.  Maybe, in the long run, my starter will die, but it seems to be doing okay without being fed double its weight and instead just being fed an amount, more or less, equal to what I've removed.

Heath's picture

any more and haven't done for at least 6 months.  My starter seems just fine.

Going by the posts on this forum, lots of starters lose their vitality and need strengthening from time to time so I won't be surprised if that happens to mine, but it's been fine so far.

I keep a small amount of starter (say a tablespoon) in the fridge.  When it's time to bake, I use all of my starter to make a 100% hydration levain for my recipe.  When that's ready, I take a small amount to make my next starter and feed it enough flour to make a stiff dough.  I leave this to ferment for a few hours and then put in the fridge when it's bubbly and grown in size.  This is then used for my next loaf.

I made up this routine myself so can't guarantee anyone else will have success with it, but it works for me.  I used to hate discarding starter.  I'm told my bread is quite sour compared to bought sourdough, but my family and myself find it delicious.

PetraR's picture

I have my Wheat Starter in the fridge. 60g of it and pull it out once a week, let it warm up, take half out, put that in a bowl, feed the other half in the containter, let it sit on my counter for 12 hours and put it back in the fridge.

The other half in the bowl I use to enhance a basic white dough with yeast.

That way I do not waste my half of Starter.

My Rye starter stays on the counter, also 60 g, 100% Hydration.

I only need 1 Tbsp at the time so I do discard a l ot before feeding. I think I shall reduce it to about 30g soon.

if I had to throw out meat or Vegetables.... but what we discard is only water and flour, so nothing to loose Sleep over:)

ElPanadero's picture

Hi Abe

Understand completely where you are coming from. As others have highlighted, in many cases there is no need to discard anything. It all comes down to how often and how regularly you bake bread. For a production bakery this is very constant with a known quantity of loaves being made daily. For us amateur bakers at home it is a different matter. Things just happen and may prevent us baking when we planned to maybe on a specific day or maybe for the whole week. What you need to do is give your best guess at how many loaves you will bake each week and how much sourdough starter your recipe(s) call(s) for.

Then it is a simple case of keeping "just enough" starter to meet those needs. When you do this there is no need to discard.

There is one key process to enable you to have no discard and that is to always create preferments for your loaves the night before you bake. Preferments allow you to take a very tiny portion of starter, maybe 10g and to "grow" that into a larger volume by mixing it with flour and water and leaving it for many hours.

By using preferments like this you are then able to store a very small amount of starter in your fridge which takes up less space, is easy to manage and wastes nothing.

The best way to explain further is just to use some examples. Let's say that you will bake 2 loaves of bread each week as follows:

Whole Wheat Levain - Flour 385g , Water 250g, Starter 145g, Salt 7g

Pain Naturel - Flour 240g, Water 180g, Starter 245g, Salt 7g

So for both loaves combined the recipes call for 390g of starter. Seems a lot but using preferments we are going to minimise this drastically. The preferments will be as follows:

Whole Wheat Levain - Flour 65g, Water 65g, Starter 15g = 145g total. Mixed night before and left on the counter.
Pain Naturel - Flour 115g, Water 115g, Starter 15g = 245g total. Mixed night before and left on the counter.

So now we have our weekly starter requirement. We need 30g of starter available eack week for the 2 loaves plus we will want a little extra to hold back and feed and keep in the fridge ready for the following week.

This is nice and simple then. We will keep a rolling total of 45g of starter in our fridge at any point in time.

When it is time to bake loaf 1 we will remove 15g for it's preferment. Leaving 30g behind.
When it is time to bake loaf 2 we will remove 15g for it's preferment. Leaving 15g behind.

To the 15g we have left we will feed it with 15g each of flour and water bringing it back up to 45g and put it back in the fridge for next week. Rinse repeat.

Nothing has been discarded, nothing has been wasted. You are keeping only 45g of starter at any point in time which is a tiny amount, easy to manage, takes up no room on the fridge.

The only thing that can make this go wrong is some kind of change to your baking schedule. For example if for some reason you do not bake any loaves one week, then you will have discard 30g of your starter and feed the remaining 15g as usual to keep it going. However when you look at 30g of starter you will see how tiny an amount that is and not worry about discarding it. Whilever you are regularly baking though, there will be no discard.

Hope that helps and makes sense. Any questions just fire away. Good luck


AbeNW11's picture

Thank you all. Everyone has given me some great ideas to think about. I suppose there's no single rule for everyone, rather one must find a balance what works for themselves. But you've all given me food for thought.


dabrownman's picture

I keep between 75 and 125 G of stiff whole rye starter in the fridge for up to 6 weeks without any maintenance at all and bake a loaf or two of bread out of it every week and never throw anything away.

When building the stock starter for the fridge the 2 things to remember is that 4 hours after the 2nd feeding the starter should double before the 3rd feeding .  If it doesn't then toss the 2nd feeding amount and do the 2nd feeding again until it does double in 4 hours.  If it doubles properly after the 2nd feeding then once it rises 25% in volume after the 3rd feeding then stir it down and put it in the fridge and forget about it.  Take out what you need every week to build a levain to bake a loaf of bread.  You can pick how much starter you want to keep based in the schedule below. 

Some folks just build a little extra levain each week when they bake and just refrigerate that till the next bake or they just pinch of some of the dough before shaping and save that for the next bake in the fridge.  There are lots of ways to skin the no muss, no fuss, no maintenance, no waste starter cat.   Just pick the one that fits the best for youadn how you bake.


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