The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Starter Care and Use

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Sourdough Starter Care and Use

Questions are raised here often by those new to sourdough, about the specifics of how to feed and care for sourdough starter once created, and how to know when it is ready to be used. The answer is always going to be some variation of it depends (followed by a lot of words about conditions and objectives) --- frustrating and confusing to those who feel the need to understand a project before starting, because the volume of information is contradictory and overwhelming.  It makes more sense when you see it in action, so the best approach is jumping in and starting somewhere, anywhere. Sourdough is interactive, and you get a feel for it as you go. By doing. Like learning to ride a bicycle. With that said, here is a really nice guide -- training wheels -- to get you on the bike and start riding:

http://www.theperfectloaf.com/sourdough-starter-maintenance-routine/#more-1429

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Hi there Debra, 

A treat to see a post from you.

Longterm TFLers & TFL archive enthusiasts will know your endorsement of Maurizio's post  is significant.  His clarity with regard the flexibility we can each use to maintain our starters to fit in with our lives/baking routine is very helpful, as are his photos.  

When I first created a starter the step to maintenance and use was baffling, so many methods and recommendations confused me, at that time with your kind guidance I learned to work with my starter and develop various routines that work for me, depending on season and my life schedule (which is far from routine). Have not purchased bread/flat breads for over 6 years.

Trust you are keeping warm (I'm guessing the huge eastern storm in the USA hasn't reached you) , no doubt the oven is helping!  Peak summer here. Starter is on summer vacation - chilling out in the fridge :-)) Will enjoy checking out Maurizio's blog by way of vicarious baking while it's too hot here. 

Cheers, Robyn

 

 

 

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Robyn, so nice to see a post from you as well. Hard to picture summer when it's been dipping well into the single digits here (and that's in Fahrenheit). It is nice to fire up the oven on cold days, and my sourdough starters are better in winter. But I've been using this time to experiment with alternative starters on 100% whole wheat --- desem, yeast water, etc.

Maurizio's blog is beautiful --- the photos, the writing, the breads. In the same league as PiPs and SteveB. I think experienced sourdough and bread bakers will appreciate it too. Definitely, check it out when you have time.

Happy new year to you,
dw

mintymelon's picture
mintymelon
mintymelon's picture
mintymelon

A friend gave me 1 cup of sourdough starter (Nancy Silverton's) and now I am wondering how to feed it

I think I must have already fed it once because I have almost 2 cups of it.  While I have read several posts, I still am unsure of my next step. My friend is unavailable for a month.

Any suggestions?  Thanks!

mintymelon's picture
mintymelon

A friend gave me 1 cup of sourdough starter (Nancy Silverton's) and now I am wondering how to feed it

I think I must have already fed it once because I have almost 2 cups of it.  While I have read several posts, I still am unsure of my next step. My friend is unavailable for a month.

Any suggestions?  Thanks!

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

While I have read several posts, I still am unsure of my next step. Any suggestions?

Your question is what the first post above is the answer to. Start by reading Maurizio's fine article (the link), titled Sourdough Starter Maintenance Routine. Read it all the way through, then follow his clear and simple guidelines:  measure 20g of starter. Add 100g of water and 100g of flour [all white flour -- unbleached all-purpose or bread -- is good for beginners]. If you don't have a scale, it works out to roughly 1/3 cup water and 2/3 cup flour for each tablespoon of ripe starter. His amounts make more than that, but you can keep it smaller (to save flour) until you need more starter. Just start with the same proportions. Give it 12 hours. Observe and evaluate (consult the article again), adjust and repeat. I want to stress again that you learn by doing, and things make more sense when you see how it responds to what you do.

dobie's picture
dobie

Debra

Thank you so much for that link. I had not seen it before.

Even tho I'm 10 months into my most recent foray into SD starters (and feeling pretty comfortable in the process), I've already learned a few things and have had other practices confirmed. I anticipate more to come once I read the second half, as well as thru the sub-links.

To point out in particular, when Maurizio says 'Your starter (mother, chef, etc.) refers to your yeast/bacteria culture you continue to feed and care for indefinitely whereas your levain is a splinter, or off-shoot, of your starter that you feed and build only to eventually be totally used in a bread recipe'.

Very eloquently put, and a statement I've been searching for, for quite awhile. I will never forget 'splinter, or off-shoot'. Well said.

While it is difficult to be authoritive and humble at the same time (and not just waste my time), Maurizio has done well on both accounts. Just to mention, his post is also very easy to read as well as understand (for me, anyway).

The pics also are very clear and coherent to the text. Not to mention, some very fine looking bread.

Thanks to you and Maurizio for posting.

dobie

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

To point out in particular, when Maurizio says 'Your starter (mother, chef, etc.) refers to your yeast/bacteria culture you continue to feed and care for indefinitely whereas your levain is a splinter, or off-shoot, of your starter that you feed and build only to eventually be totally used in a bread recipe'. Very eloquently put, and a statement I've been searching for, for quite awhile. I will never forget 'splinter, or off-shoot'. Well said.

And may I say here that the labels aren't important. Starter, levain, etc. You'll come across various words borrowed from different languages. Some people use these words interchangeably, and others feel they have a more narrow meaning. But not everyone agrees on usage, and I don't see that changing anytime in the foreseeable future. The important thing isn't what it's called, but understanding its place in the whole --- its purpose and function. Is it the part that continues on to seed future bakes? or is it the part that will flavor today's? The continuous cycle leaves the door open to natural section. The splinter does not, but it becomes your preferment. As you become more experienced and learn to manipulate and refine fermentation, you gain insight into why it's important to be able to distinguish between the two (even if they are treated the same). When you can do that, you understand what is meant if different terms are used, or even different regimens.

Best baking,
dw

dobie's picture
dobie

Yes Debra

I remember we had a thread not too long ago where it became obvious that the terms were largly used interchangeably.

That's why I particularly like the 'splinter or offshoot' phrase. It leaves all the other confusion of terminology behind.

Thanks,

dobie

ml's picture
ml

Hi Debra,

I agree that Maurizio is one of the best up & coming bakers!! 

However, some time ago there was information on how you recommend caring for a starter that is refrigerated. Do you still feel this is a viable alternative to daily RT feeding?

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Absolutely, ml. But understand that maintenance and storage are separate things. At room temp I have a maintenance routine that is much like Maurizio's. I consider refrigerator time to be storage. When I get it out of storage, I resume maintenance. 

The longer mine has been in storage, the longer it takes to get it back into best shape, which I recommend before placing back into storage. A week in the fridge and it bounces back fully, in both vigor and fragrance, within 1-3 refreshments (or builds) at RT. But if it's been in storage for months, it might take a week of TLC, and the first refreshment could take 24 hours or more before showing any movement at all. That's a bummer when you want to bake some bread.

So if/when I want it to be ready on a whim, I will at least get it out on weekends and refresh 2-3 times in succession, building the last for my bread if baking, and a little extra for storage. I always keep from the most recently fed portion replacing the old stuff. And sometimes it just makes more sense to keep it out at RT and maintain it til I've had my fill of bread-baking for a while. But honestly, what I do on any given day really depends on my schedule/mood and how it's responding. Sourdough is an interactive medium. Personally, I'm not married to a rigid routine, but the decision process is learned through experience, and isn't something I would try and teach someone brand new and already overwhelmed with information. Maurizio's tutorial is a better place to start. :)

dw

ml's picture
ml

Do you think there is much difference in the amount of starter maintained, and it's health?

Some think amount should be 100+ grams, some much less.

Thanks

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

What do you mean by health?

ml's picture
ml

Sorry, maybe not the right word.

I have read that some recommend a minimum amount starter to maintain of no less than 200g, while others

keep much less. They both work, but do you think the total bulk amount of starter affects flavor, yeast, etc? 

I'm talking starter, not amount used to make dough.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Flour, hydration and how you maintain your starter affects the flavour.

I build my starter to 50% hydration, 80% bread flour, 20% whole rye and feed it 1:5. Typically I'll build 85g and keep it in my fridge. When I wish to bake I'll take a little off to build a preferment. Depending on how close it is to the mother starter being fed I'll either do one build, if it's still strong, or two builds if I think it needs it. When the mother starter runs down to 10g I'll feed it 25g water + 40g bread flour + 10g whole rye flour. I'll leave it out till it's grown by about 1/4 and back in the fridge it goes. It can be weeks before it gets its next feed. 

The low hydration mother starter with wholegrain and using the preferment when very mature encourages more tang. 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I leave room for the possibility that flavor in the starter is affected by mass and mass:surface ratio, although I'm not sure how much it matters. (And in the hands of an inexperienced baker, probably not at all.) The starter isn't what you bake, the finished and properly fermented dough is. So I'm not sure flavor is important until you get to the preferment stage. What's important in the mother (I assume that's what we're talking about here) is potential. For that, it's not really how much you keep, but how you keep it.

Maverick's picture
Maverick

For the home baker, I think that it is more important to be consistent than the amount kept. I don't mind keeping mine on the counter for a week without using it because I only keep about 100g total. This makes my discards really small (if I don't add them as flavor for other things).

In the summer, there are times when my starter is so active that it requires larger dilutions in order not to peak too early (I aim for close to 12 hours). This can mean that I use as low as 6g of starter added to the flour and water. I have yet to have an issue with this using this small of an amount. I would say that it can get dicey using less that 10g of starter when feeding for purposes of perpetuating the starter/mother, but it is amazing how little you really need.

I have not been able to tell the difference in flavor or activity when I keep small amounts vs larger amounts (yes, I taste my starter). Commercial bakeries use larger amounts, so they never have to worry about such things. Any changes in the end product for me is usually due to dough handling rather than how I keep my starter (provided that I am relatively consistent). Of course, if I am doing a separate build for a particular dough, then all bets are off and my technique will vary a lot.

rmzander's picture
rmzander

I have been reading a 2 part post at:

https://brodandtaylor.com/make-sourdough-more-sour/

where the writers share information from one of your classes they attended.  One of the printable tables:

https://brodandtaylor.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/How-to-Make-Sourdough-More-or-Less-Sour-II-Printable-Recipe.pdf

refers to building more sourness by making a mother culture with a hydration of ~50%. I understand about incorporating more whole grains and higher proofing temperatures.  What I am struggling with is - does this "mother culture" become my new starter that I would use in future loaves? Or is it 1 of 3 components added to the levain and main dough? 

Also, is the "Mature culture" listed in the mother culture and levain sections a 100% hydration white flour starter?

Thank you for helping me understand the art and science of bread making, Roger

Arjon's picture
Arjon

as opposed to putting it right into the final dough. It can be confusing since it's also possible to put the very same starter into the final dough, in which case it's obviously the same starter but not being used as a mother. So, whether it's a mother or not is usage-dependent, not absolute. 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

It gives me an opportunity to set some things straight with regard to the blog entries that reference me. The author did take my class, but please understand that the purpose of the Brod & Taylor blog is to promote the proofer, and the information given in the posts is their spin on things to employ the proofer. I love the proofer, don't get me wrong, and I use one regularly. Just beware that some of the information is slanted toward the proofer. (Have I said proofer enough? :)

While you can build souring potential into a 50% hydration mother by keeping it very warm and/or using it sometime after the peak, the low hydration actually works to the contrary, and is a bit misleading. Higher hydration favors LAB with less need for raising the temperature so high and waiting for it to overripen. Lower hydration makes more sense to me in the levain, particularly if the mother is more liquid.

The mother culture is simply the part that is perpetuated indefinitely for all present and future breads. It is what inoculates the levain (your pre-ferment). The levain then goes into the final dough. Each one into the next, in series. So yes, to answer your followup question, "mature culture" in the table is the mother, and only the levain is added to the dough ingredients.

Best in baking,
dw

rmzander's picture
rmzander

giving me a deeper understanding in my enjoyment of sourdough breadmaking.  I first learned about her work on SD starters through reading Peter Reinhart.  They led me to an eager and active starter using dark rye flour and pineapple juice.

And now I get to explore the world of sour development. 

As for proofer boxes, I have an oven with a light.  If I leave it turned on and depending upon how much I wedge open the oven door, I can go from ~70 degrees to 95 degrees F.

rmzander's picture
rmzander

I found this site and reversed the tips to increase sour in my breads:

http://www.sourdoughlibrary.org/less-sour-sourdough/

As your scientist skills have helped me before I wonder if any of these tips really have validity?

Thank you for reading this far,

Roger M Zander

STARTER REFRESH
Feed at least twice = 2 days
Only these 3 ingredients

STARTER BUILD

Start with 2 t. Starter, 1 t. Water, 1 t. Whole wheat or rye flour

    1    Feed infrequently (wait at least 24 hrs.)
    2    Each feeding matches volume starter (so new volume is double old)
    3    Keep starter that is wet and warm. (1 H2O : 1 flour by volume, 67-85º F)
    4    Keep the hooch (the colored liquid that may separate out)
    5    Stir at least once a day
    6    Feed starter after peaking
    7    Feed only with whole grain.

BREAD DOUGH

    1    Use only 10% starter of flour volume for a recipe (1/3 c. st. : 3 c. flour)
    2    During 1st dough rise keep covered in frig
    3    Do not add yeast
    4    During 2nd rise keep dough warm 70-85ºF

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Roger,

Let me preface this by saying I haven't tried anything like in your outline, so my initial reaction is only that. Some of these things seem like overkill to me, and probably won't help in making good bread. I didn't wade through the article in your link, just skimmed the headings to get a sense. Some are sound, others aren't or are conditional.

All your points will increase sourness, yes, but at what cost? It's easy to go too far. If you're only feeding once per day (really, twice is better), then feedings need to be much larger than only doubling the volume each time. Stirring in lieu of feeding after peak is another way of underfeeding. And this degree of overall underfeeding is just asking for a sluggish culture with lots of off-flavors. Hooch is an indicator that it is spent and has become sluggish, and hooch often carries off-flavors. Use some whole grain and warm temperatures if you like, but counterbalance with adequate feeding.

Since salt slows bacteria more than yeast, try increasing the starter in the dough to front-load with bacteria and acid. And cold slows bacteria more than yeast, so doing the first rise in the fridge doesn't make much sense. Always start warm for growth, and end cold for acetic if acetic is your objective (but lactic is plenty sour too). Build the workforce first. If you don't have enough bacteria, you won't get enough sour. The challenge is finding a flour that can stand up to the amount of acidity you're trying to build...

All the best,
dw

rmzander's picture
rmzander

Arjon, that the Mother Culture and mature culture are the same in this table:

https://brodandtaylor.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/How-to-Make-Sourdough-More-or-Less-Sour-II-Printable-Recipe.pdf

Am I reading it correctly that the levain component and main dough component are the only parts used to build the final bread?