Just how important is an 'active' starter. i.e. it passes float test.
I have a question about soughdough starter.
I have been baking sourdough for about a year. When I first started I found it very confusing as each recipe and youtube video I looked at seemed to do something different. Autolyse before adding starter, or add them all together. Complex kneading regime or simple no knead with just a few s&f. Retard in the fridge, or do not retard. Retard on initial bulk ferment or retard on final proofing, preheat oven before putting it in, or cook from cold. etc. etc.
I have tried all sorts and basically everything seems to work OK and I did not find the results to be very different with all these variations, only minor differences in the finished loaf, and everything has been perfectly eatable. I never have been a recipe follower in any kind of cooking or baking. I prefer to do something because I feel that I understand what difference it should make in theory.
So that brings me to my query on soughdough starter. Every beginners guide without exception emphasises the importance of having an super active starter to get a big rise and oven spring. Of course, that is common sense, nothing would work with an inactive starter!. However what does active mean? OK the float test, but the more I think about that the less I understand it.
Let me explain my routine that I have settled on. I bake every 3 days or so, using 800gm flour and 75% hydration. I feed the remains of my starter from the previous bake , typically say 20gm, with 40gm each or flour and water, leave for 5 to 8 hours by which time it has reliably doubled. I use 80gm of my starter and put it back in the fridge for next time. No discard. So that is 5% pre fermented flour. After an hour autolys and a very light knead, it goes into the fridge for 12 to 15 hours. A few s& f then into a pullman tin, 5 to 6hrs proofing then into the oven. All very typical I think.
So my starter is never more than 3 days since it was last bubbly active, it always responds when fed and warmed to reliably double in volume. Then the first thing I do after mixing it in is to bung it in the fridge and cool it down so it is rather inactive again. Why do I need to get it bubbly active each time before using it? If for instance instead of using it as normal after feeding I put it back in the fridge for a day or two so that it collapsed back down again and became "inactive". What would happen if I used it in that condition ??
I cannot see why that would not work just the same as using a normal "active" starter, it is in effect active as far as I am concerned as given food and warmth off it goes again, every time. The only difference is that it would come to life again in a larger volume and as a lower hydration, but so what? I can see that the initial fermentation may take longer to get to the same point, but surely it would get there.
Obviously I need to try this but I would be very grateful if someone could fill in the theory which I appear to be missing.