The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Understanding my 125% hydration starter

Hilda von Mixer's picture
Hilda von Mixer

Understanding my 125% hydration starter

Hey, folks!

I got some great help a couple of weeks ago getting started with Hamelman's Vermont SD, thank you so much, I'm turning out some great loaves :-)

I do want to fully understand the behavior of my starter, instead of just winging it, which is kind of what it feels like now.

Here is what I am doing (even though I've read some great and thorough discussions  of what other people do, for now I am sticking strictly with Hamelman's ratios and recipe's to help keep it simple).

Starter is on countertop and being fed every 12 hours with KA Org AP and a pinch of whole rye plus well water. I keep 28g, add 31g water and 25g flour. This is 125% hydration and a starter/water/flour ratio of 1.1/1.25/1 (did I state that correctly?).

Miss Starter doubles, actually a little more than doubles at about 7 hrs, then begins her decline. At her peak there are very few surface bubbles. At 12 hours, she is completely sunken but is about 1/3 covered in soap bubbles. How does this sound? I guess my concern is that she is languishing too long between feedings? Is she vigorous enough?

Concerning levain build, Sir Jeffrey says 12 to 16 hours. At 12 hours she will be in slight decline, not many surfaces bubbles. Do I continue to let the levain ferment until there are soap bubbles, ignoring the deflating?

I have read some comments that a 125% starter may not rise much, but as mine does more than double I'm confused about which is more important to watch for to know when it's time to bake, the rise or the soap bubbles.

I'm so grateful for any advice, thanks!!

joc1954's picture

IMHO your starter is performing well. Due to high hydration (125%) I would say that you are favoring more LAB then the yeast. If you want to experiment I would suggest you to create a new clone of your starter  with 90% hydration and feed both at the same time and then see if more stiff starter peeks earlier. However, perform this at least 2 or 3 days.

I am using almost the same quantities for my own developed started, adding 30g of flour mixture (half white/half whole grain) and 27g of water and retaining about 15g of old starter.

Kind regards,



mwilson's picture

Actually the reverse is true. Wetter favours more yeast. LAB are inherently tied to flour quantity since they cannot utilise the extra oxygen that comes with water (think yeast water). Wetter however means quicker acidification but yet an overall lower TTA since the medium is more dilute.

joc1954's picture

I am far from being an expert on this topic, but some time ago I came across these articles/posts:

I also saw Debra Wink's answer at TFL:

Debra also suggests that "For the most part though, bread dough is anaerobic (without oxygen), and fermentation is an alternative pathway that doesn't require oxygen." - see

So in all these materials I found a suggestion to decrease the hydration in order to get less sour sourdough. Of course, this is only one of the measures I took to get less sour bread (other measures can be found in the above posts). I followed their advice and now I am able to get very mild sourdough bread what was my goal. So my suggestion was based on my personal observations and the above materials.

The bottom line: every SD culture is a unique system and behaves slightly differently. I don't want to start a scientific discussion on this topic as I have no theoretical background on this topic, all I have is just a practical experience with SD and the results of my desire to get less sour bread. It worked for me. However, I must admit that I have never really tried with hydration higher than 100% and maybe it's time to make a small experiment and see if this higher hydration works better.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

influenced by temperature.  Liquid starters work great with slightly cooler kitchens and environments to encourage yeast between feedings.  If your kitchen is above 23°C, slow it down by finding a cooler spot for it.  Or move it to a cooler location when the kitchen warms up.

Hilda von Mixer's picture
Hilda von Mixer

I've been keeping it on the counter in my cool-ish pantry, and was curious about temperature, so I put it my proofing box last night, guess that was the wrong hing to do! I built the levain last night for a bake today, but I have the same quandary. The levain clearly peaked volume-wise before 8 hours, as in, while I was sleeping, there are presently lots of surface bubbles, but I don't know when to proceed.

I suppose I could switch to 100% hydration so I could follow some of the great pictorial posts that have been made in the past. The above discussion turned into a thing about getting more or less sour, which isn't my question, I love the flavor I'm getting -- a good tang, but not too much.

Hilda von Mixer's picture
Hilda von Mixer

Maybe I gave too much info before, so I will ask a more succinct question:

When making Vermont SD with a 125% hydration starter, when is it ready to make bread? Do I watch for peak volume (about 7 hours) or for lots and lots of surface bubbles, regardless of the fact that those bubbles come when the levain has completely deflated in volume (12+ hours).


Hilda von Mixer's picture
Hilda von Mixer

I went back to Hamelman. Page 424: "If the culture is maintained in liquid form, look for evidence that the sourdough has not risen and then fallen from over-ripeness. If there is a "high-water mark" at the edges of the container and the culture has dropped, then it is overripe. The solution is to ripen the sourdough in a cooler environment, to let less time elapse between the building of the sourdough and the mixing of the bread, or to add a small percentage of salt in order to retard the activity ... see page 425."

That answers the "when is it ready to make bread with" question. As far as its rising and falling on the counter between 12 hour feedings, reckon I'll assume it's fine, unless someone tell me otherwise :-).

AlanG's picture

I pretty much don't pay attention!  :-)   I've been using a 125% starter ever since reading Hammelman's book and I've adapted it to David Snyder's San Joaquin sourdough recipe.  I keep a small amount 100% starter in the refrigerator that is replenished every two weeks.  I'm an early riser and my dough making begins at 6:30 in the morning.  In the winter when the kitchen is on the cold side (18C overnight) I get the build going at about 17:00 so it's out on the counter for 13 hours.  During the summer when the kitchen is at 25C, I do the build at 21:00 so it's out for about 9 hours. 

I only look at the starter to make sure there are lots of bubbles and then use it.  I did some float tests early on and those were successful.  Now I just go about my business and make good tasting bread.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Hilda,

The reason your levain is maturing too early is you're not using enough fresh flour to ripe starter. If you go back to the Vermont Sourdough, you'll find that he uses only 20% ripe starter compared to flour in the levain build. And that will work better for your twice daily refreshments as well. Try 7g starter, 43g water and 34g flour. It's is the same quantity you are keeping now, and still 125% hydration. I think you'll see better results in just a few feedings.


Hilda von Mixer's picture
Hilda von Mixer

Thank you so much, Debra, I will do exactly that and report back in a few days.