The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Newbie Question: How do I use the starter if the recipe says "fresh" or "active"?

banananutmuffin's picture

Newbie Question: How do I use the starter if the recipe says "fresh" or "active"?

Okay... so I have no idea what I'm doing. lol Can someone help this newbie?

My plan: Make starter based on some of the wonderful tutorials here. After it's ready to use in bread (6-7 days, as I understand it), put in fridge for storage and feed weekly. (I plan to only make bread once per week.)

So my question is this. Let's say my starter has been sitting in the fridge, and I want to bake loaf of bread with it. And the recipe says to use 1/2 cup "active" or "fresh" starter. So I pull my starter out of the fridge, and then I do what... ????

Like, I can't just scoop out a half cup of starter from my fridge jar and start the recipe, right? That wouldn't be considered "fresh," right?

Do I go through my usual feeding routine and then scoop out the half cup of starter to bake with? Or do I go through my usual feeding routine and then wait a bit (how long?) and then scoop out the half cup of starter to bake with and put the rest in the fridge for next week? I just don't understand it, exactly.

Also, one other question: In this scenario (fridge storage), do I need to change containers every time I feed it? For example, let's say I am planning to feed. And inside my jar is 2 cups of starter. But I want to feed it on the ratio of 1 cup starter, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water. Do I just scoop out that extra cup of starter (discard or use in another recipe) and then feed directly in the jar that I've been storing my starter in? Also, if I decide to keep those discards for future recipes (like pancakes or waffles), how long can I keep the discards without feeding them? (You don't feed them, right?)


Thanks for any advice!!

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

...I say "my method" as you'll find 800 users here with 800 different methods. I'll give you mine, everyone else will give you theirs and you must choose what works for you. Take ideas and see what's best to make the 801st method.


I bake once per week to. My baking needs call for 60g of starter. But I need 60g of "active" starter. All what active means is : fed and risen. Once risen to it's peak your starter is active!

I keep, at any one time, about 30g of starter in the fridge.

The day before I bake i'll take it out of the fridge and bring to room temperature.

The night before i'll take off 20g and feed it 20g water and 20g flour (like you were doing creating the starter). This is a feed of 1:1:1 or 20g starter : 20g water : 20g flour.

I'll leave it overnight to feed where it will bubble and rise. I now have the 60g of active starter to use the next morning.

With the remaining 10g I've kept behind i'll feed that 1:1:1 or 10g water and 10g flour. Keep it out for a few hours then return the 30g back to the fridge for next week.

PetraR's picture

When you store your Starter in the fridge the yeast needs to * wake up * properly.

Say you want to bake bread on Friday , you pull the Starter out Wednesday evening and let it come to room Temperature * a few hours *, feed it, leave it outside, feed it again on Thursday Morning,leave it outside and feed it again Thursday Night before you go to bed.

Friday Morning you have a active Starter to use in your Recipe.

Feed it again after you took out what you needed for  your recipe , let it sit for a couple of hours and put it back in the fridge.


It is a good Idea to weigh the container in which you store your Starter, that way you can be very exact how much * usually half *  you take out before feeding.

Investing in a pair of kitchen scales is a good Idea since weighing is more precise than cups.

You can store the discards of your starter without feeding in the fridge for a few weeks.


AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

Never feed less than 1:1:1 and I advise you to start to work in grams and not cups. Hydration, and all ratios in a recipe, is worked out by weight. So when a recipe says, for example, 75% hydration then you'll take the amount of flour as 100% and work out all the ratios from there. So if I give a recipe of...

75% Hydration

10% Starter

2% Salt


You'll know straight away that however much flour you use that is your starting point. So if you have 100g of flour (to make it simple) you'll be able to work out...


75g water

10g Starter

2g Salt

PetraR's picture

Well, you can feed any ratio if you want too aslong as you happy with it.

I have a 50% hydration starter and that is the best I ever had.

I feed mine 1:1:0.5

So it depends if you want a wet or a stiff starter.

Bakers Percentage for a beginner is quite confusing.

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

Yes, it is the flour ratio that's more important isn't it!? I stick to 100% hydration as most beginners start off with 100% hydration.

PetraR's picture

I thought you had a 66% hydration rye starter?

It is always equal amounts of starter and flour and then the Water is what changes the percentage of the Starter.

I like to keep a large amount of Starter, I always feed 200g of Starter and feed with 200g of flour and 100g of Water.

I do not waste the discards but use them for my basic white yeast bread:)

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

My breads are, at the moment, always 66% hydration as that is what i'm ok with handling (anything higher i'm not confident yet). But my starter is always kept at 100%

When adding my 100% starter I just convert the recipe so the final dough is 66%

When feeding ones starter its always best to feed it the same weight with flour to keep it healthy but hydration can be changeable.



PetraR's picture

Yes, it is always the amount of Water that changes the hydration percentage, Starter and flour weight is always equal.

davidg618's picture

In the summer of 2011 my seed starter--fed weekly, refrigerated between weekly bakes--weakened. I was experiencing a bit less oven spring bake--to--bake, and the texture of the of the seed starter was becoming "runny".

I tried to repair it, but only made matters worse.

At some point I threw it out, and began making a new starter, using a purchased seed starter. It too, was going south. Anxious, I asked fellow TFL'er Debra Wink for help. (Debra is a microbiologist, and baker; author of )

Debra saved my new sourdough culture.

She also gave me some of the best advice I've received on The Fresh Loaf.

"Completely replace your refrigerated seed starter each time you make fresh levain."

As a consequence of this advice over the next few bakes I developed this routine:

I build enough levain to serve the formula I'm baking, plus enough to entirely replace my refrigerated seed starter.

Specifically, for most, if not all, of the sourdoughs I bake building 320g of fresh levain is my goal: 250g for the bread dough, 40g for the seed starter replacement. The balance is discarded.

I build and maintain sourdough levain at 100% hydration.

I make the levain in three progressive steps:

Build 1: 40g of refrigerated seed starter + 20g flour + 20g water. Ferment @ room temperature for 8 hours.

Build 2: All of Build 1 (80g) + 40g of flour + 40g of water. Ferment @ room temperature for 8 hours.

Build 3: All of Build 2 (160g) + 80g of flour + 80g of water. Ferment @ room temperature for 8 hours.

Yield 320g of fresh levain.  250g is generally committed to the week's sourdough bake.

Note: I build levain 2:1:1 to minimize the additives (flour, water) impact on the environment the SD culture has experienced in the refrigerator and progressive builds, especially the change in Ph.

Of the remainder I take 40g and mix it with 40g of flour + 40g of water. After mixing I divide the resulting seed starter and store 60g each in two, 1/2 pint Mason jars. The second jar is my assurance my seed starter will survive: a belt-and-suspenders discipline. These are returned to the refrigerator immediately.

I've observed over the next 72 hours the chilled seed starter slowly triples in volume; subsequently it deflates over the following 4 days.

For the past three years I've experienced desirable, consistent results: desired flavors and textures from retarded fermentation, predictable proofing times, and excellent oven spring. Here's a photo of last week's bake.

As AbeNW11 said, there's many ways to build levain; and feed, store, and nurture seed starters. This is mine. I highly recommend Debra Wink's approach: replace your seed starter entirely, each time you make fresh levain.

David G



PetraR's picture

So, I do feed, for example , my 100% hydration Starter like this.

100g Starter -100g  flour - 100g Water

If I was going by your approach I would feed a 100g Starter with 50g flour and 50g water?

Or, if I would build the Starter I take out , say , 40g Starter and add 20g flour and 20g Starter and then build up as in your example.

How long does this build take and does it also work with Starter that is not in the Refrigerator?

I am asking as I do bake every second day * family of 6 here that LOVE SD bread *  and if the build would take 12 hours for each addition that would not be good for me.

davidg618's picture

Hi Petra,

I developed this three progressive build approach specifically because I typically bake only once a week, and I store my seed starter in the refrigerator. Here's my original post about the three build process from five years ago.

My process has evolved--simplified--over the span of five years. Now, except when developing fresh Rye Sours, I build all sourdough levains at 100% hydration and adjust the bread formulae added water to attain the final dough hydration. And I simply build feeding a 2:1:1 ratio for each build. Each build is fermented for eight hours, so my three build process takes 24 hours. This is shown in the example I posted above in this thread.

If you keep your starter at room temperature, and feed it daily, one build should be sufficient. If I were baking daily, or every 2nd day I'd keep my seed starter at room temperature, and I'd develop a feeding schedule that provides an adequate amount of fresh levain at the time I routinely mix dough.

For example, I start my 3-Build process at 2:00 PM the day before I mix dough (beginning at 2 PM) because I like to retard lean doughs overnight, baking in the early morning the following day.

I've been following this schedule for about three years.  It's evolved a little too. I used to start mixing dough at 3PM, but that means my second build occurs at 11PM, the night before. I don't always stay up that late anymore, but I still rise between 5 and 6AM so I adjusted my schedule. I make poolish based breads--baguettes, focaccias and ciabattas--using roughly the same schedule.

Rye Sours: I'm still in the Trial & Error stage making rye breads. I've not yet settled on a routine.

Hope this answers your questions.

David G



banananutmuffin's picture

I appreciate the responses!

I do have a kitchen scale, so I could work with weight. Seemed like every starter "recipe" I see uses volume, though... not sure why that is.

I don't get the hydration thing at all... though, admittedly, math was never my strong point. I have seen recipes in grams not by volume, but even those don't seem to specify a particular hydration of the starter. Are those recipes assuming 100%?

I'm so new to this (Day 1 of making starter!) that I may stick with very basic recipes that match my starter hydration before I move into the more advanced stuff.

BTW, I am using a starter recipe from this website. I think the person who made it is named sourdolady. Is that going to result in a 100% hydration? It seemed that way to me, since it was a 1:1 ratio, but I'm not sure.

Thanks again!!


ETA: I just read the math section of the handbook here, and I think I have a little bit of a better idea how the math works. Sort of. It didn't make sense because I kept expecting everything to add up to 100%. lol

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

...have given you a wealth of information. I just want to clarify that 100% hydration is when flour and water are the same "weight".

100g flour + 100g water (or 100 mls water, 1ml water = 1gram) is 100% hydration.

Water is heavier by volume than flour. So 1 cup of flour + 1 cup water does not equal 100% hydration. The hydration will be far higher.

If you followed a recipe, when creating your starter, working in cups then it might have taken this into consideration and said, for example, “day one mix together half a cup of flour and a quarter cup water" (I don't work in cups so just an example). Most starter recipes for beginners work in 100% hydration. Since cups is a foreign language to me I went wrong the first time I tried it. Then in my second attempt I weighed everything in grams and I was successful. 

For now stick to what makes sense to you. But at some point get to know weight in grams. But don't run before you can walk. Take one step at a time and follow instructions. It's daunting at first but gets easier to understand. Start simple! And don't forget there's always help to be found here. 

Best of luck.




jkandell's picture

just to give a different opinion, ...  While I use weight to measure formulas, I find it easier to build up my stiff levain with volume measures. The rule of thumb is 2:1 volume ratio flour:water produces a stiff levain, about 60%. So first build is 2T water to 1/3c flour, then 1/2c water to 1c flour. 

dabrownman's picture

exactly the way David does, only 1/3 the amount he uses and I don't make any extra for a starter.  I make 100 g of 66% hydration whole rye starter and put it in the fridge.  I take about 6 -10 g of it out every week to build the levain. for a loaf of bread  This version is now on its 10th week with no maintenance and no changes in its ability to raise a loaf.  Time to refresh it  soon though as we are getting down to the bottom of the barrel..