The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Refreshing the Mother Starter?

sophiebakes's picture

Refreshing the Mother Starter?

I'm a newbie to Sourdough and breads in general. After a few attempts (with corrections to minor mistakes) I was finally able to make my rye starter, using the pineapple solution and Reinhart's recipe and, successfuly baked a fairly good loaf of Deli Rye.

So now, I have Mother Starter left and decided to refresh it to bake more bread. I'm confused how to do this.

According to PR's directions I add  3 oz. of Whole Rye flour, 2.25 oz. water, and 1 oz. of the Mother Starter.

I did this 2 days ago, it's active, but slow, maybe measures about 3/4 cup.  Am I supposed to use this now or keep adding flour and water and to build it more, or am I just supposed to wait for it to grow more? His directions were good but just not detailed enough for me. If I do the multiply x3 I'm wasting a lot of flour and I don't need that much Mother Starter unless I can freeze it?  I've done searches on the net, but I'm just getting more confused.

Also, if  someone can recommend a good book that explains starters and sourdough bread I would appreciate it.

thanks for any input,


Filomatic's picture

I, too, was baking from Reinhart when I first decided to do sourdough.  The instructions in Bread Baker's Apprentice (BBA) are so complex and convoluted that I created a spreadsheet for the feedings and then realized that you'd need to stay up all night on day 8 or something.  That's when I found the Yumarama step by step, day by day ( and TFL, and built my starter with ease and joy.

Although I like some of what Reinhart has to offer, I find his approach unnecessarily complicated.  A great book to get that is easy to follow, with many great recipes (including an extensive rye SD section), is Hamelman's Bread (  The Rye Baker is also a great book on rye (

As for your starter, it will exhaust its food supply and need to be fed.  The way bakers think about it is proportionally.  The Yumarama link above is a good way of understanding it.  If you want to feed your starter, you could take a portion of it, say 10 or 15 grams (discard the rest or use for, e.g., pancakes, waffles, crackers), and feed it at a rate of 1-2-2, i.e., 10 grams starter, 20 grams water, 20 grams flour.  How quickly the food supply (flour) is exhausted is very much dependent on temperature.  But an active starter will double or even triple in 3-4 hours if fermented in the low to mid 70s F.

Many of us maintain our starters in the fridge, where the culture will last a long time, even unfed.  There are many ways to do this.  Some feed their starter first (, or not (, and some use serious SD kung fu to make a starter that can be used straight from the fridge ( really need to try this someday--and some do what I do, which is to keep the starter mostly unfed in the fridge, and then a day or two before baking, do 2-4 mini-builds, much like when building the starter to begin with (i.e., feed, discard, feed, which I do roughly 12 hours apart at room temp).  This works great for me because after a few feedings/discards, my starter is very ready to build levain.

So any sourdough recipe has at least two components:  the sponge/preferment/levain (all the same thing--let's call it levain), and the final dough.  The levain is essentially just a larger amount of starter.  The recipe will tell you how much of it you need, and how long in advance to "build" it before adding the flour, water, and salt in the final dough.

Get Hamelman, because it's a great read, and the best comprehensive book out there.

sophiebakes's picture

Thank you so much for all the useful information!  I do have the BBA where I followed the Deli Rye recipe and also a Debra Winks print out from the internet regarding the pineapple solution.  I tossed out about 4 batches of starter before I tried the pineapple solution and that made it so much easier. It was a joy and satisfaction seeing it start to rise for the first time.

I bookmarked Yumarama, ordered a copy of Bread by Hamelman and will do the 1,2,2, math for the remaining starter, that formula looks a lot easier than trying to figure percentages which gives me a headache.

Thanks again for your help


Filomatic's picture

You will love Hamelman.  No one is better at clear and easy to follow directions.  The recipes are done in an interesting way, with pro amounts (e.g., 20 loaves) on the left and home amounts on the right (e.g., 2 loaves).  The only drawback is that the home amounts are in uneven non-metric amounts, e.g., 10.6 ounces of __.  So you will have to convert many of the ingredients to grams (I write in pencil next to each ingredient).

This juxtaposition of pro and home baker amounts is exciting because as you get better, you can picture doing larger bakes.

Yes, I still struggle with the math.  Hamelman's appendices explain these things quite well, though, so you'll always have them to turn to.

Happy baking and please show us your results!

sophiebakes's picture

Last week I made 6 loaves of Deli Rye (2 at a time)  and had about 4 ounces of  starter left and I decided to do the 1,2,2.   Super easy  to figure out the amounts and it worked like a charm, happily I have enough starter to begin again. It is correct to not getting caught up in the math of amount and percentages-Just go with it. I also found that that particular bread does better with a slightly wetter dough, every loaf I  made was better than the last. That bread is delicious! Sorry, I didn't take photos before we ate or gave away the loaves, maybe next time.

Hamelman book should be here any day, excited for it to arrive.

Now I just have to figure out how to add photos here. Thanks again everyone for the help.

!Rye Sponge from Mother Starter

TinkMan's picture

Hi Sophie. I wouldn't stress too much about calculations/ratios etc. The only thing I worry about is adding the same amount of flour and water each time as I always keep my starter at 100% hydration. If you think of your starter as just a mixture of flour & water with (lets face it) some unknown quantity of yeast and bacteria organisms living in it, things get a lot simpler. Some people get hung up on the amount of starter to flour to water ratios, but all we're really talkibg about is the concentration of yeast/bacteria in the starter. For example - if you took 50g starter/50g flour & 50g water and left it on the bench for 1 hour versus 25g starter/50g flour & 50g water and left it out for 2 hours (or until it looked like the first batch) you've roughly got the same end product. 

The key really is knowing what your starter should look like/taste like when it is at an ideal state to make bread. For me - that's when the starter looks lumpy/bubbly but not yet frothy.



bikeprof's picture

I think TinkMan is on the right track...much like the adage of "watch your dough, not the clock" you should watch what your starter is doing rather than the exact ratios...getting to know how time, temperature, hydration, and the amount of starter in a new mixture of flour and water, will all affect the fermentation.  Watch, smell, taste, and be responsive and you should both fall into a predictable rhythm.  Many people get caught up in special strategies, and exacting techniques, which certainly might be helpful, but it is really nothing to get anxious about.

As for books, I also like Hammelman a lot...probably the single best overall book out there for me.  For explaining the microbiology of sourdough, I really like The Bread Builders by Dan Wing and Alan Scott.


sophiebakes's picture

I come from the avenue of home baker:  pastries, cakes, pies, yeast breads and rolls,  so having to change that more regimented mind set to  'watch what happens' is a bit difficult, but, it's always good to be challenged and grow from the experience. Despite the challenges, its been fun waiting to see what's going to develop.  

I made a fresh batch of  mother starter today,  Debra Wink pineapple starter,  and it bubbled up just beautifully. I took the older one I started on Monday that smelled like it was fermenting, but wasn't rising and refreshed it. So, I will see what happens with that one. With any luck I will have a lot of fresh bread soon.


Doc.Dough's picture

You don't need to maintain much starter even if you want to make a big batch of bread.  If you leave it out on the counter a refresh cycle of x:13:15 (grams) is adequate where x=5 when the weather is cool and x=1 when the weather is hot.  It will happily run for 24 hrs before needing a refresh.  The 13g of water could be replaced with 10g if you want to slow it down a little. If you are going to refrigerate it, you can do so after 18 hrs and you can keep it in the cooler for a week without any harm done.  If you go two weeks it will probably need two refresh cycles before it is ready to use.

One reason I like the x:13:15 ratio is that after you have used it to feed a refresh, you still have ~28g left which will can be used to build 500g of starter overnight (25:240:240) using warm water when you mix it up. 

I have also discovered a great way to judge the maturity of the starter irrespective of the hydration level.  After you have mixed it, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and weigh it.  It will be ready when the total weight has dropped by 2% of the weight of the added flour (so for 25:240:240, it is ready when the bowl weighs 5g less than when you mixed it). The reason this works is that the yeast and LAB consume glucose and give off CO2 which escapes (even through the plastic wrap).  By the time the microflora have given off enough CO2 to reduce the weight by 2% of the weight of the raw flour that you added when you mixed it, the starter is ready to be used.  You can derive the numbers from the chemistry.