The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A whole lot of starter!

dyarza's picture

A whole lot of starter!

Hi everyone,

I am reading Nancy Silverton's Breads From The La Brea Bakery.  I am very intrigued by using a natural starter as opposed to yeast, and really believe when she writes about the benefits to the flavor and texture of the bread, but I can't get past the sheer amount of material that gets used, and specially wasted.

After some quick spreadsheet calculation, it would take 25.12 Lbs. of flour to get the starter going, and after that, to keep the starter fed three times a day it will take 32.2 Lbs. of flour a week.  Nevermind the cost, what bugs me the most is that so much is discarded.  Unless I am making 12 loaves a day, so much starter goes in the trash (I can only give my friends so much).

Right now I am baking just a bout every weekend, starting with making a poolish on Friday night, etc...

Is there a way to make a lot less starter and still have it perform well?  I get the feeling that Nancy's response would be no, it is the kind of thing you have to commit to.  Maybe I should just stick with yeast?

My father keeps a starter that is a lot less work and he bakes every three days or so, but the results are less than spectacular (don't tell him that).

Anyway, any insight anybody might have would be appreciated.



KosherBaker's picture

Hi David.

I'm sure you'll get lots of suggestions, but here is mine. I used SourdoLady's method to start my starter and think it worked out really well. At least so far. She recommends using orange juice or pineapple juice. However, I used bottled water instead. Here is the procedure.

Day 1. Mix 2 table spoons of whole rye flour (aka dark rye) with 2 table spoons of water.

Day 2. 24 hours later. Add 2 table spoons of whole rye flour with 2 table spoons of water to your mixture.

Day 3. 24 hours later. Add 4 table spoons of whole rye flour with 4 table spoons of water to your mixture.

Some notes on the first three days. The idea is basically to double the amount of flour per feeding. The reason for such a large amount of water is to keep high hydration level to encourage activity. Each day you will see more bubbles and foam on the top of your mixture and the odor will be that of stinky cheese. :) The flour you use has to have a high amount of bran in it. I used rye that I milled myself, so it had 100% bran in it. However, if that's not an option for you make sure you purchase whole grain rye, sometimes called dark rye. Others have used whole wheat for the first three days with success, so that would be another possibility. But I can't speak of that since I used rye. Yet others feel that the starter should be fed every 12 hours even during the first three days. That may also be an option, but again I'm posting my exact procedure, that seems to have worked out.

From this point on you need to decide what kind of starter, or starters you'd like to have. For example if you want to maintain white and whole wheat starters you would split your mixture in half and feed one of them white flour and the other whole wheat.

Day 4.  12 hours later. Feed your starter by doubling the amount of flour in it. How much water you add will depend on whether you prefer a wet starter or a dry starter. A wet starter, is far more active, and as it turns out is best for daily bakes. Whereas a somewhat dryer starter is better for us once a week bakers.

Day 4. 12 hours later feed your starter again. See notes for day 4 above. At this point you should start seeing your starter rise by about 50% if you are making it drier. (Starter that is too wet will not have enough structure to rise) The smell shouldstart to turm fruity or some describe it as apple cider like. :)

Day 5. 12 hours later feed your starter. The rise now should be just about 100% after the feeding.

Day 5. 12 hours later feed your starter. You should get a rise again. The time frame for the rise seems to be anywhere from 2 hours after the feeding to 8 hours after the feeding. But by now it should be a solid 100%.

By day 5 you should be ready to bake you test loaf to see your starter in action. It will be your first sourdough, and will test the ability of your starter to lift a loaf of bread. From the start until this point the starter needs to remain at room temperature. Once you see the 100% rise on day five you may either continue to feed your starter evey 12 hours or place it in the refrigerator immediately after the feeding. And then feed it once every 3 to 5 days. I raised my starter in a glass jar that was lidded the entire time.

HTH Rudy

SourdoLady's picture

Hi David,

Here is a link to my wild yeast sourdough starter recipe:

This recipe works really well and there is very little waste. I highly recommend that you use the juice because it helps to lower the pH level so that the starter gets off to a good beginning. It also helps to deter any mold growth and other unwanted bacteria that can cause your starter to spoil in the early stages.

Good luck with growing your starter!

wingo's picture

As Rudy said you will get all sorts of different advice. The important thing is to experiment and see what works for you.

 Once you get your starter going you can keep it in the fridge and just bring it out and feed it a couple of times to get it fairly active again. Sourdough is very forgiving, think about its history. From the warmth of the Middle East to the frozen wastes of Alaska, there has been plenty of scope for abuse, I would say we are kind to it in comparison. Sometimes I leave mine for days on the bench with no sustenance and it always comes back. You can even reconstitute it from the dried up bits from around the edges of your container.

 A fresh starter does seem to start quicker from rye or whole wheat, but there are all sorts of variations eg. grape skins or potato peelings. The explanation I have read for these "helpers" is they are loaded with natural yeasts, see the soft white flush on grape skins.

You can begin by using small amounts easier than large amounts although you may have to watch them a bit more. I never measure except by eye.

David, for my money you are starting with the greatest book. I don't follow Nancy Silvertons starter methodology but I do follow her recipes and the result is without exception 100% success and the most outstanding breads I have ever had, I only wish I could find a bakery that produces bread this good!

She also has great suggestions for using excess starter, the pancakes are my favourite. 

 Give it a whirl and good luck. KISS - keep it simple sweetie


ClimbHi's picture

Following Mike Avery's advice on his Sourdough Home page, I elected to start my sourdough learning curve by purchasing a starter from King Arthur. However, once a starter is going, I don't see why one starter would work any differently than another, so here's what I do:

I bake bread once a week -- Saturday or Sunday. I have my starter (white flour) in the fridge from last week. If I need to make a lot of bread on any weekend, I'll usually increase my starter on Wed or Thurs by adding equal amounts, by weight, of flour and water. (I use a 100% hydration starter -- saves me doing math!) Otherwise, I just use about a cup of starter to make the preferment the day before I'm baking. This is enough to make 2 or 3 loaves - my customary "single batch".

I refresh the starter by replacing the amount used by adding equal amounts of water and flour, mixing for a few minutes, and letting it sit on the counter for an hour or two -- just till it looks like it's getting happy. (I also do this when I increase the starter.) My starter is generally 2 - 3 cups in volume at this point. Then, it's back into the fridge until next week, with no waste.

Pittsburgh, PA

Soundman's picture

As Rudy said, David, everybody's got their own 2 cents.

Here's mine: you asked about Silverton's seemingly insane amounts of starter. I think she must have been thinking the reader was a bakery. Once you get your starter going, you don't need to keep much at all, which works for those of us who only get to bake on the weekend. And lessens the guilt of all that throwaway flour!

The weight of starter I keep (100% hydration) these days is only about 90 grams, or a bit more than 3 ounces. If I'm just refreshing to keep my micro-friends alive, I toss 60 grams, which includes but 30 grams of flour, and add 30 grams of flour and water each. If I am going to bake sourdough bread, I take the starter out of the fridge 2 days in advance (Thursday for Saturday baking).

On the first day I refresh the starter, and may add more flour and water than for my maintenance refreshment, if the recipe calls for more starter. My favorite recipe so far is Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough recipe, and building the 'firm starter' only requires an ounce of starter, so my usual refreshment is usually fine.

I refresh the starter 3 times, more or less 12 hours apart, before making the firm starter the night before bake-day. The purpose of this is to build up the activity of the starter so it can make a firm starter with oomph and tang. Next day after mixing the dough I refresh the starter one more time, 30 g flour, 30 g water, let rise and back into the fridge.

Meanwhile the dough is fermenting...

Soundman (David)

cbaron's picture

I have a method of maintaining a starter that never necessitates throwing any of it away.   I would recommend getting the starter going with however much flour it takes, it is probably better to discard in the first couple weeks to get rid of impurities, but after you have a starter that will rise, you can be very frugal.  Here is my system:


Begin with a small container with about 2-4 ounces of active starter. 

1) 24 hours before making dough: Feed  the starter with a Tbsp or so of AP flour and enough water to make a very thick batter.


2) 12 hours before making dough:  Scoop out as much of the starter as you can into the bowl you will make your dough in.  The bits of starter you can't get out are enough to get the next generation going.  Add all the water you will use in your dough recipe and enough flour to make a very thick batter.  Leave this covered tightly overnight or 12 hours.  (I make my dough in a large bowl shaped tupperware so I don't have to use plastic-wrap) Feed the little bits of starter left in the container with about 1 Tbsp flour and enough water to make a thick batter.


3) Baking day: At this point you can treat the batter (also called a poolish or sponge) like it was made from instant yeast, though it may take a bit longer to rise depending on the temperature of the room.  Mix the rest of your flour and any other ingredients into your dough and knead, rise and bake like any other dough.  You can now jump back to step 1 if you want to make more bread the next day, or you can feed the starter and put it in the fridge for a week or two.  24 hours before you are ready to bake again just take it out and start with step 1.  If your starter has been in the fridge for more than 3 or 4 days you may want to add an extra feeding before step 1.

cbaron's picture

duplicate deleted

Tacomagic's picture

Figured I'd toss in with everyone else here on the home-made starter.

There are a couple of things I did on my most recent starter that seemed to help, your milage may vary.

1. Use water that has been used to boil potatoes (I used water left over from making mashed potatoes).  I think the starches that disolve out of the potatoes and into the water make great food for yeast.  I used potato water in my last starter, and it grew to useability in half the time of my first starter, without varying anything else in the recipe/method.  The taste was not significantly different either.

2. You don't need to use huge amounts of flour.  During the growth of the starter, I kept half the starter from the previous day, and added 1/4 cup flour and a scant 1/4 cup water.  Doing it this way, the entire growing phase of my starter used about 2 1/2 cups of flour.  The last feeding before I moved it to the fridge, I simply doubled its volume (added 1/2 cup flour and 3/8 cup water instead).

3.  Once your starter gets to a point where the starter smells edible (that nebulous "clean yeasty" smell everyone talks about), instead of throwing out the extra starter after the division, keep it in a seperate airtight container.  Put that container in the fridge, and once you've accumulated a few cups of cast-off starter you can use that jar of cast-off to make pancakes or (my favorite) crumpets.  I've also heard that it can be used for pizza dough or english muffins as well... but I always seem to end up making crumpets.  My crumpet recipe is below.

4. I hear of a lot of people using filtered or bottled water to grow their starters.  For all my starters (feeding and growing) I used plain, out of the faucet, Milwaukee city tap water, except in my last one where I used potatoes boiled in the tap water first. Milwaukee tap has that horrifying chlorine variant: chlormine in it, said to be deadly to micro and macro-scopic life of all kinds, destroys whole cities with its noxious posions, and is single-handedly responsible for the fall of Rome!  Didn't seem to phase the yeast one bit; hardy little critters.

Cast-off Crumpets
2 Cups starter cast-off (100% hydration), mixed back together if it has seperated
1 Cup AP flour (you can as much as double this, make sure to adjust the rest of the ingredients by the same %, not counting the starter)
3/4 Cup water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp baking soda

You don't have to be terribly exact with the measurements... I usually do the whole thing by feel rather than get my measuing tools dirty.  I just dump it all in a bowl, and mix it.  If it doesn't feel right, I add more of something.

Combine the starter, flour, water, and sugar.  You should get something the consistency of thick pancake batter. If not, add flour or water until you get the right consistency.  Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes.  It should start bubbling a little bit, or even rising dependin on how much yeast is still alive.  If it doesn't bubble it's not a huge deal, but it's better if you get bubbling.  Add the salt and baking soda, and be ready to stir like crazy.  Once the baking soda is stirred in, the mixture should start to "rise".  Depending on how old your cast-offs are, it could rise only a little bit, or it could rise very aggressively.  Just keep stiring until it calms down a little... or you could end up with an overflow (the first time I made these, it covered my kitchen counter after I walked away from it).  Once it's calmed down to a point where it isn't in danger of overflowing, let it puff up a bit.  The point is, you want to catch some of the gas from the chemical reaction, but not let things get out of control on you.

Meanwhile, pre-heat a large greased pan or griddle, and some greased biscut/muffin rings at medium-low heat.  After your mixture has stopped producing gas(growing/rising), slowly fill the rings 2/3 of the way up.  Allow the batter to cook until the top solidifies.  The top should be full of holes and dry when it is finished.  Once the crumpet has reached this state, you can either flip it over and brown the other side for 30-60 seconds, or remove it to cool as-is.  If the bottom of the crumpet is too dark, reduce heat.  It can take anywhere from 7-12 minutes to cook a crumpet, so be patient. 

Crumpets can be eaten right away, or frozen/refrigerated.  If you freeze them, give them about 15 minutes out of the freezer to thaw, then toast them.  Crumpets are great with toppings, you can do butter, preservers, cream cheese, penut butter, or even maple syrup.


Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?

dyarza's picture

Great responses, thanks!

I am very encouraged by all the feedback and all the suggestions, and I might add, feel reassured in my desire to get a starter going with all this great information.

As far as my father's bread being less than "spectacular" and some have asked about, it tastes fine, but the crumb is pretty tight and there does not seem to be much of an oven spring.  I feel that he is adding too much rye or whole wheat and the gluten structure is not strong enough, so the problem might not even be due to the starter.

Thanks again for the encouragement, I'll be posting results in the near future.



Tacomagic's picture

This thread has inspired me to plan a "scientific" study of the different waters I've seen used.  I think I'll grow several starters in parallel:

Tap Water (control)
Filtered Water
Bottled Water (Probably pick something "Exotic" sounding... like Fuji)
Boiled Water (Water boiled for 5 minutes and allowed to cool in a sealed container)
Water with Pinapple Juice
Potato Water

I would use the same feeding method: 100% hydration with unbleached flour (all flour from the same bag).  Feedings every 12 hours, with each starter having a full container cleaning, and being temporarily stored in a seperate container while the primary container is being washed.  Mixing would use sepearate, freshly cleaned mixing impliments all made from the same material (stainless steel forks).  All jars would be placed on the same counter, and rotated through all positions to reduce spacial temperature differences. 

All feedings will occur in the same order, and be kept entirely seperate from the other starters to avoid cross-contamination.  Each day the starters would be ranked in 3 hour rise percentage as a quantitative measure, as well as odor and bubble prevelence as qualitative measures. 

I'd lay down my Hypotheses, but in fear of upsetting the bottled water enthusiests, I'll go with a single Null Hypothesis:  [All water methods will produce the same starter activity over the same time period.]

Guess my first step is funding... gotta put some money aside for all the materials I'll need: 10 pound bag of flour, 6 jars, 3 bottles of water, a large can of pinapple juice, a bag of potatoes, and a dinner at an expensive restaurant to explain to my wife why there are 6 jars of starter on my kitchen counter.  Gah! 


P.S. If I get the scratch together to do this, I may make a blog for it.

Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?

Soundman's picture

I always love these parallel comparisons. As someone who started his starter using the unsweetened pineapple juice solution, uses filtered water since the successful creation of my wild-yeast culture, and uses potato flour to keep certain lean breads moist, this question of hydration method intrigues me. Of course all tap water is not created equal, so your findings there may not be transportable, especially as this is your control.

And just for the record I will hypothesize that your hypothesis will not prove out, i.e. you will see differences, speculating that the acid in the pineapple juice will at least affect the rising time of that particular culture.

Good luck and thanks for doing this!

Soundman (David)

KosherBaker's picture

Hey Taco.

I agree with David, great idea for an experiment. Just a couple of things that popped into my mind. First one being, that you should be able to see your results with as little as a single tablespoons of starter to begin with. So hopefully this will keep the costs down and allow you to take the wify to an even more expensive restaurant :) :D Second thing that popped into my mind was that ultimately, when it comes to starter taste is at least as important if not more so, than the rise. So if you feel the same way maybe you can work that into your test somehow.

On Davids excellent point that water is not the same everywhere. Is there a way to measure the amount of chlorine based chemicals in one's tap water? Quantitatively? Meaning a test that produces a number. As opposed to those pool supply tests that simply turn the water yellow when it is too contaminated. The reason I ask is, becuase if there is an inexpensive way to do it. Maybe we can start posting that number along with success stories of starter and tap water. I inherently do not trust the number that my water supply company quotes so would definitely prefer to do my own test.


Tacomagic's picture

And just for the record I will hypothesize that your hypothesis will not prove out, i.e. you will see differences, speculating that the acid in the pineapple juice will at least affect the rising time of that particular culture.

Indeed, I expect the same thing.  I'm very much hoping that I'll be able to refute my Null Hypothesis and show that both potato water and pineapple juice have increased rates of starter groth.   However, I cannot discount the possibility that I may have to accept the Null, as has happened on occasion in the science world.  And if the Null proves to be true, that'll change (at least for me) a lof of what I thought I knew about how liquids affect starter growth.

Is there a way to measure the amount of chlorine based chemicals in one's tap water? Quantitatively? Meaning a test that produces a number

As far as an ecconomical method for chlorine/chloromine testing, I sadly don't know any off hand.  However, my father-in-law is a chemical engineer, so he might be a good person to pump for information.  There may be something I can check as far as specific body or PH, but I honestly don't know.  The qualitative "taste test" of my water is that it tastes pretty chlorinated, enough that I usually don't drink straight from the tap, but not enough that flavorings (cool aid, juice concentrate, etc) won't cover up the taste.

I suppose I could try to find if the FDA has ever inspected the treatment plant and done a chemical inspection.  As somebody who's worked closely with the FDA, I know I can at least trust their numbers, if not the numbers provided by the plant itself.

EDIT: Ok, I did some spelunking online and found that there is a fairly inexpensive method for checking chlorine concentration in water: chlorine test strips.  The only problems I can see is that the resolution isn't very good, and there doesn't seem to be any indication if the strips work for chloromine detection as well as chlorine.  I'll definately check out my local hardware store, and possibly the pool supply store to see if I can find a small vial of the strips.

Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?

Soundman's picture

Taco, OK, I didn't understand your meaning of 'hypothesis', i.e. I took it at its more conversational meaning.

Good luck at the hardware store!

Soundman (David)

Tacomagic's picture

I like using the "Null Hypothesis" because they can be more generalized than strict hypotheses, mostly because disproving something is usually far, far easier than proving something. However, I probably shouldn't use it because outside academic and government research... nobody ever knows what I'm talking about =).  In many ways I live in a very small bubble.

Anyway, I checked Lowes, and they didn't have the strips there.  The guy I talked to suggested I try either a pool supply store or (interestingly enough) a pet store that specializes in tropical fish (apparently lots of exotic fresh water fish are sensitive to chlorine).  Guess tomorrow I'll stop by the aquarium supply store and see if they have any there.  If push comes to shove, I can spend 20 bucks and get a 100 pack online (plus shipping) but since I'll only need 5 or 6 of them, I'd rather find a small pack at a local store.  If I don't find anything at the aquarium shop, I'll probalby dust off my phone book and give the ol' touch tone a workout.


Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

or hot tub?  That might have a few strips for you?   If you happen to find salt ppm strips, let me know...

Mini O