The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Preferred (stiff) Starter Hydration

Ricko's picture

Preferred (stiff) Starter Hydration

I understand that a stiffer starter can produce a more sour loaf of sourdough, which is what I'm currently after. 

With that said, I'm looking to develop and keep a stiff starter to achieve a good sour loaf. The bread recipe I intend on using is the KA Extra-Tangy Sourdough found here,

My first question is, when you go about to develop a stiff starter, what hydration percentage do you feed your starter to which results in the most optimum stiff starter? I know a 100% maintained hydration starter is pretty common and easy for figuring the amounts of flour and water (equal parts by weight), I find that at this percentage it matures more quickly than I'd sometimes like and doesn't seem to have the degree of sour I'm looking for in the final result. 

My second question has to do with the recipe itself. This recipe calls for 1 cup (227g) ripe (fed) starter. Am I to assume that this is 227g of ones fed stiff starter at whatever hydration percentage it was kept at? Or do I assume that one has to bring the stiff starter up to a 100% hydration first before using? 

I've often wondered in the case of where a recipe doesn't call for a specific hydration starter, like this recipe, is it meant to be understood that all ingredient starters are to be 100% hydration? I know many of you folks keep differing hydration percentage starters, and I don't  recall seeing this question answered. 

I haven't overlooked the fact that this recipe calls for an overnight ferment in the fridge which will play on the sourness, but for now i'm just addressing the stiff starter hydration question. Many thanks for the starter clarification.

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

Calls for a stiff starter at around 65% hydration and uses a lot of fridge time to build up flavour. I've done this  recipe a few times with excellent results. In my latest bake I included add-ins but the plain loaf too is excellent. In my opinion a very ripe stiff starter does help but should be a larger percentage of the final dough than you'd normally find in a liquid starter recipe. The final dough hydration is similar to the starter. 

barryvabeach's picture

Ricko,  I just read the KA recipe.  While I like some of their recipes, not a fan of that one.  As you point out, it does not tell you the hydration of the starter, which will impact the hydration of the final loaf.      If you want to try a stiff starter, I would start around 75% hydration and see what you think.  I have been playing around trying to get more sour, and have read that a stiff starter is important, yet others suggest a more liquid  - like 125% starter.   

Note that the lower the hydration, the slower it will ferment after a refresh.

Since it doesn't tell you what hydration for the starter, you will have to experiment -  though my thought is that if you decide to use a 75% hydration starter, you should not refresh it to 100% to make the loaf, instead ,  you will just adjust the water so the hydration of the loaf is correct.  

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

Both have flavour but different profile. Liquid has more lactic acid and stiff more acetic acid. In my experience with stiff starters is you get better flavour when they're a higher percentage of the final dough, used when mature and retarded. 

Haven't check the KA recipe yet but I do recommend Weekend Bakery's San Francisco Sourdough.

Edit: just had a look at the recipe and it doesn't mention to use a stiff starter. Just says "starter". So I looked for KA's recipe in now to make a starter and they have two. One named just "starter"band the other "stiff starter". I think this recipe refers to the liquid starter which is at 100% hydration and they mention the flavour comes from high lactic and acetic acid. Lactic from the liquid starter and acetic from the fridge time. 

KA's Starter Recipe

idaveindy's picture

Rick,  there is a link on that recipe page to KA's starter recipe, which is 100% hyd.

so it would be logical to assume KA meant 227 g of 100% hyd starter.

Which is 113.5 g of "pre fermented" flour and 113.5 g water.

when converting to a different hyd starter, the goal is to keep the weight of "prefermented flour" the same.

 so, you want the same 113.5 g flour in your stiff starter. Which, assuming 60% hyd, would include .6 * 113.5= 68.1 g water, for a total of 68.1 + 113.5 = 181.6 g of stiff (60% hyd) starter.

now... this 181.6 stiff starter is "missing" 113.5 - 68.1= 45.4 g of water, which you have to add to the mix at some point, in order to keep the same overall hydration called for in the recipe.

You still want a "peaked" stiff starter, just like you want a peaked 100% hyd starter. 

Hope this helps.   

( heh, doubled with Abe again. GMTA.)

Anon2's picture
Anon2 (not verified)

I hope it's "great minds think alike"! 😉

Edit... Haha I glazed over GMTA not being in the know of text speak then it just occured to me after writing my comment. 

Ricko's picture

Thank you for the math lesson, it will come in handy! All this mathematical monkey business brings two questions to mind. First, if you do keep a stiff starter, what is your favorite hydration percentage that you keep your starter at? 

Second, what do you feel are the advantages of keeping a stiff starter to begin with? 

I started this thread stating that I had read somewhere that a stiff starter gave a more sour result which was what I was after and thus my reason to embark on keeping a stiff starter. Then again an over night retarding in the fridge also provides some added sourness. Unfortunately I'm not an expert on sourdough so I can't speak to which gives the most sourness. But just for talking purposes, if both were equal in the sourness imparted, then certainly a 100% hydration starter would seem to be the way to go. As mixing would be much easier, ripening times would be much shorter, and the mathematical computations would be unnecessary. I'm not trying to talk myself out of a stiff starter, I'm now just trying to determine the advantages of having one.

phaz's picture

Look for a post by - thefirstAshley from about a month ago for advantages of stiff starters. Sorry but it's way too early to even try to restate - no coffee yet. Enjoy!

idaveindy's picture

here's a good summary on more/less sour;


I gave up on using a stiff starter. stirring a 100% hyd stsrter is more convenient for me than kneading a starter to incorporate a feeding.  I forget the exact hydration. Just use whatever is convenient.

Whatever floats your boat.

doughooker's picture

Everyone knows I am a big fan of the old-school sourdoughs we used to have in San Francisco. Here is the starter formula used by the Larraburu bakery which was very popular in its day. It looks like their sponge was 50% hydration.

"Each day a piece of straight dough or starter sponge known as the "Mother" is saved and refrigerated to be used as a starter sponge the following day. This starter sponge is used to make more starter sponge as well as sponges for bread production. The starter sponge consists of 100 parts of clear flour (14% protein), approximately 50 parts of water, and 50 parts of the starter sponge. The ingredients are mixed and fermented for 9-10 hr at 80°F."

idaveindy's picture

DoughH: do you disolve the stiff starter "seed" in the feed water first, or do you just knead in the feed water and feed flour, relying on just the kneading action to mix well?

I tried both ways, and decided stirring to feed a 100% hyd starter was just easier than both.