The Fresh Loaf

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Keeping a stiff starter on the counter

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JMonkey's picture

Keeping a stiff starter on the counter

I'm a telecommuter who works from home, and I bake bread for my family two to three times a week. Occasionally, I'll make a loaf with commercial yeast, but typically, I make sourdoughs. Also, on the weekend, I like to make sourdough English muffins and sourdough waffles.

Keeping my starter in the fridge meant I was constantly trying to remember when I needed to take the stuff out to rev it up for bread, and I'd often realize too late that I didn't have enough starter for the muffins or waffles.

After some tinkering, I finally decided to keep the starter on the counter and feed it once or twice a day, which means I've always got at least enough active starter for my overnight whole grain sourdough, and, if I'll need more for a daytime sourdough, I've got enough to seed a bigger amount that can ripen while I sleep. The regimen that I now follow also has the advantage of not wasting anything, because I use all the extra starter stored in the fridge to make all the waffles and English muffins I want. Since both of these recipes derive most of their rise from the interaction of acids and baking soda, using week-old starter from the fridge has enough oomph for leavening and flavor, given that it's gotten pretty acidic already.

Anyway, I'm not saying this is the way to maintain a starter - it's just what works for me at this time in my life, at least for my primary whole wheat starter. (I also keep a rye starter and some white Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail starter in the fridge that I only take out when I want to bake special breads.)

I usually feed it twice a day, once in the morning and once again before bed. Sometimes I forget, though, and only feed it once a day, but it doesn't seem to mind much. I keep it at 60% hydration, which is pretty stiff, but I find it's less messy and stands up a bit better that the wet stuff would to a missed feeding here and there, due to my forgetful nature. Here's how I feed it (it's a 1-3-5 ratio for starter-water-flour).

In the morning, it looks like this.

It hasn't risen much, but it feels puffy, and when I break it open, it's clearly aerated inside.

It weighs about 45 grams, so I take 5 grams of it (about the size of a small marble) ...

... and put the rest in my fridge bowl. These leftovers will find their way into waffles or English muffins later in the week.

Then I add 15 grams of water and mush it up until it's soft and the water has turned somewhat milky in color.

Then I add 25 grams of whole wheat flour.

Finally, I mix it all up with a spoon, take it out and knead it a bit in my hands, which consists of folding it over on itself four or five times. I then roll it into a ball, snap on the lid and let it work.

That's it. I've found it's not that much of a hassle to feed it twice a day and is much less annoying than realizing I can't make a sourdough because I forgot to take my starter out of the fridge and feed it. Since the overnight sourdough I make requires just 40 grams of stiff starter, I'm pretty much always set.

Anyway, it works for me.

One note: for what it's worth, I haven't detected any difference in flavor or performance for the starter on the counter vs starter rev'd up from the fridge.

Second note: Since I'm working with stiff starter, I increase the liquid in both the sourdough muffins and waffles by about 1/4 cup or so.

Paddyscake's picture

I was wondering why you only take it out when you want to bake special breads? Is it that different from your regular starter?


JMonkey's picture

... but I use it every so often when I make a white flour sourdough. Truth be told, I keep it around mostly because it's really romantic to think I've got something in my fridge that's been propagated for more than 160 years -- probably longer than that, since 1847 was the year that Carl's ancestors brought the starter West from Virginia. Who knows how long it had been around prior to that?

To be honest, I've not been able to tell much of a difference in taste between Carl's and my own. But I can't bring myself to throw it out ....

2brownbraids's picture


I know what you mean, I can't even throw away my own starter (when refreshing). I feel so sounds stupid, but I feel mean discarding something that I was nuturing.......

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Some people rebel at the thought of discarding starter.  And I can understand that.  However, if you follow my suggestions and feed your starter twice a day, and feed it enough to double its size with each feeding.... in 10 days, you'll have a modest swimming pool full of starter.  In 14 days, you'll have an Olympic sized swimming pool full of starter, and 12 hours later you'll have two pools full of starter.  It's far less wasteful to discard, but there are other options.

When I'm starting a new starter, I don't bother saving the starter until it shows signs of life.  As it's developing it has odd smells, the wrong bacteria are having too much fun.  So, that stuff I discard.  I wouldn't bake with it in other recipes.  I just don't know what's in it.


I've seen a few "no waste" starter management procedures, and they seem like more work than I like.  My ongoing management is pretty efficient.  The only times I discard anything is when I am refreshing my storage starter or building a new starter.


When I am building a starter or refreshing a starter, I save what might be discarded.  You can make pancakes, waffles, muffins, cupcakes, and cakes with the stuff.  I usually let it sour more than I would to use it as a bread leaven.  With all the quick breads, I use the saved starter with baking soda much like you'd use buttermilk and soda.  I have a nice blueberry muffin recipe on my web page, some pancake recipes in the cookbook I sell, and am about to add an absolutely killer carrot-pineapple cake/cupcake recipe in the next few days.


For normal bake days, I don't like to waste flour and I want to make sure my starter is very healthy, so I take a teaspoon of starter out of the dridge and feed it up over a period of 2 or 3 days until I have enough to bake with and it's nicely active.




2brownbraids's picture


Thanks Mike, In my next bake, I will try to save a very small amount and start from there, I often afraid that if this small amount does not live, then I will get stuck with having to start the whole thing again. I know Glezer's stiff dough is smaller, I have that, but I prefer soft starter.

I have not tried any quick breads with starter yet. It sound like a good way to use up any excess. I will keep it in mind.     



MaryinHammondsport's picture

Sure is! I discovered is about a month ago, and have baked it every Sunday morning, using left-over starter. I hve to use frozen blueberries this time of year, but they work if you put them in the batter unthawed. I also experimented with using raisins and walnuts in place of blueberries, and that made a good muffin too.

So I'll be trying the carrot-pineapple cake recipe the minute I see it. (Don't let me hurry your or anything, but tomorrow is my burthday and I could use a carrot-pineapple cake!!!)


JMonkey's picture

I like them, too, but my family prefers a much sweeter muffin, so I typically make Mike's recipe in small batches for myself, only. I also increase the salt a bit to 1/2 tsp and the amount of berries by about 50%.

Tasty stuff.