The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough flour ratios

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Sourdough flour ratios

I've been having some success using my sourdough starter directly in the main dough but have been trying to use a preferment to improve the flavor.  My question is about the flour ratio of the starter flour to the added preferment flour and the ratio of the final preferment flour to the additional dough flour.   I'm using a 100% whole wheat flour in the starter and the added flour for the preferment. I usually have the preferment hydration at 100%.  My final dough hydration is usually 67%. Most the time I use a whole wheat to bread flour ratio of 3/1.  I've been prefermenting for 12 hrs @ 65 degrees F but will experiment with these.  Any guidance would be appreciated.  

barryvabeach's picture

Steve, sorry, I have trouble following your question, though here are a few points.  If you are using 3 to 1 whole wheat flour, you might try to increase the hydration a bit.  I am normally using 100% whole wheat, and commonly use from 75% to  the low 80's.  If the question is how much of the final flour should be starter versus preferment, you might want to check out Peter Reinhart's book on whole grain breads,  I see amazon has used copies around $10 plus shipping.  While it doesn't directly address using just wild starter, he advocates what he calls the expoxy method.  In brief, you would divide the total dough in half, one half would be nearly half the flour, plus 1/2 the salt, then into the fridge, the other half would be a starter that is built up, then allowed to crest, then refrigerated, and then on baking day, both parts are coming with the remaining salt.  Most of the recipes call for additional yeast, but in one of the notes, he does mention using just wild starter.  In essence, nearly all of the flour has been introduced to liquid well before the day of baking. 

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Barry,  Thanks for the response.  The reason I've been using a 67% hydration is that seemed to be what many of the popular whole wheat recipes on the web were using.  But I'll definitely give a higher hydration a try.

So here's what I'm struggling with.  It seems to me that the preferment does at least two things.  It adds flavor (sour) if it is fermented for a while and it increases the yeast population that will be put in the dough.  Now since its fermentation is lengthy, that raises some questions about proportions. Now I may have this totally wrong but here's how I see it. If you put too little starter in the preferment it may not fully develop.  If you put in too much it may quickly eat all the flour that's available and then sit there not doing much except maybe getting too pungent. So that raises the question of the ratio of starter to the added preferment flour.

So next comes the question of the ratio of preferment flour to the dough flour added.  Since presumably most of the flour in the preferment will be already consumed, if the percentage of it to the added dough flour is too high then there won't be enough flour to consume to create the needed amount of gas for a good rise.  If the percentage of the preferment to the dough is too low then there is a loss of its taste enhancing ability.   

IceDemeter's picture

and time.  Even using the same quantity of pre-fermented flour in the levain, you can change the flavour profile and the rise by manipulating the temperature, and thus changing the time for fermenting and proofing.

I think that you'll find this post, and the table that it links to, extremely helpful as a starting point:

It is obviously not definitive, since we are all dealing with many different variables (elevation / barometric pressure / humidity / type of flour / humidity of flour / etc.) but I find that it gives a very good starting point to base my timing on.

I like to use a retarded proof, most often make hearth-loaves of 750g total flour at 75-85% hydration, proofed in a long banneton, and have tested that it takes a full 2 hours for one of those to drop to my fridge temperature of 37 degrees F from my starting room temperature of 70 degrees F, and up to 3 hours if it includes a lot of dense additions (mashed fruit, or a cooked porridge addition, for instance) or if my room temperature is higher that day.  Based on knowing that, I can look at what I want my baking schedule to be, set up what I want my final dough (flour / water / adders) to include, and then use the table to get a good idea of what percentage of the total flour I want to be pre-fermented in my starter / levain.

While I am not very good about following recipes, for the odd occasion when I choose to almost follow one, the table is also useful to me in getting a good feel for where the optimal timing in my house will be based on the recipe amounts --- and it is rarely close to the timing that worked for the recipe writer.

Hoping you find this helpful!

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Great info. Thanks.  I'll check out the table.

gerhard's picture

I have about 3 times by weight flour to starter to make the preferment and then when I make the dough it gets the same amount of flour again.  In the winter I let the preferment go 12 to 14 hours, just as the centre starts to cave seems to be the best time to catch it, in the summer it might be as little as 8 hours.  The dough has bulk ferment of 6 to 8 hours before I shape the loaves and they go in the fridge from 12 to 24 hours.  If they only go in the fridge for 12 hours I leave the loaves out of the fridge for 20 minutes to half an hour.  I usually bake straight out of the fridge.


Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Gerhard, the idea about using the preferment when is starts to cave is very helpful.  I would guess that is the best time before the yeast starts to go dormant.  Thanks.

mutantspace's picture

all i can add to this conversations is what i do:

I make a preferment/levain the night before 3: 1 ration ie.

20g starter

60g flour

60g water

leave that overnight or roughly 12 hours. Do float test and mix 110g of it into a pre-mix (which i also do the night before) of 458g flour, all the water and salt. Then i mix together and then start my stretch and folds etc. I do bulk and proof and bake in same day. Generally i start this process at 11am and finish around 10pm. Of course its all temperature dependent.

When i use instant yeast i make a preferment the night before of half the flour, all the water, all the yeast, leave it overnight and then add rest of flour, slat and whatever else i.e. butter, yogurt, nuts, seeds, etc....and then proceed   

hope that helps

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann


So is your starter 100% hydration?  I'm trying to get flour ratios.  If so that would mean a 6 to 1 flour ratio of preferment added flour to the starter flour.  Is that right?  I'm probably getting too detailed but when you don't know what's important, everything is important. :-) ( The reason is I'm using a spreadsheet to do the calcs where I can vary things and still use the same formulas) Then it looks like you are using about an 8.3 to 1 ratio of added dough flour to preferment flour.  Just what I was looking for.  Thanks.

mutantspace's picture

Yep my starter is 100% hydration and what I generally do is make 500g flour boules/batards so I do the maths from there:

i start with 140g of levain (60 water 60 flour 20 starter)

use 110g in final Mix = 78.5%

then do my percentages from there - I have an all white starter and an all rye starter so if using all white in levain (60g) 78.5% of flour goes into mix = approx 47g white flour. I subtract that from white total dough:

total dough : 100% = 500g

white bread flour: 80% = 400

rye: 20% = 100

in final mix

white: 400 - 47 = 353g

rye: 100g

levain: 110g


hope that's clearer and helpful