The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

when to refrigerate a refreshed starter

Pablo's picture

when to refrigerate a refreshed starter

I've read different recommendations about when to refrigerate a refreshed starter, ranging from immediately to after it has peaked, and stages in between.   I'm a bit of a worry-wort anyway, I don't need to fret everytime I open the 'fridge and peer at my starter, so I need to make a decision that I'm comfortable with.

In "Bread" Hamelman quotes Calvel on pg 355 as saying that " maintain the viability of the culture...between 46.4 and 50F..."

Ideal home refrigerator temperature is between 35 and 38F - not so cold to freeze things, but cold enough to delay spoilage.  Mine runs about 42F.

OK, bearing this in mind, it seems to me that a good course of action is to let the refreshed starter get a good start on multiplying its yeasts and bacteria before putting it in the 'fridge. Not so far along that it's peaked and is in decline on its own, but having had enough time for the multiplying yeasts to propagate thoroughly in the new flour.  I let it almost double before I refrigerate it now.

That's my thought at this point.  Everything subject to change without prior notice. :-)


Soundman's picture

Hi Paul,
I think there's probably a fair amount of latitude on this subject. Sourdough cultures seem to be extremely hardy to me, so far. That said, your approach sounds like the one to use. On one end of the spectrum Hamelman is very explicit: NEVER refresh a starter and then immediately refrigerate it. (Having never tried that one I can't say anything useful about it.)

I try not to go too far toward the other end either, i.e. leaving my starter out for a long time and then refrigerating it, unrefreshed. These are living organisms and there are ways to promote their happiness (and ways to make them very unhappy as well).

The subtleties of starter maintenance seem to surround creating the kind of balance one wants between the yeast and the bacteria. Trial and error has been working to probe that subject.

Hope that helps a little.
Soundman (David)

Pablo's picture

Thanks, David.  Trial and error does seem to be the name of the game.  I'm keeping my eyes open for a used 'fridge that i can keep in the 55F range.  ' seems like that might be useful for retarding and starter storage and whole grain flour storage.



proth5's picture

Of course, you shouldn't really ever refrigerate it. It should be fed twice a day every day and kept at "room" temperature.
That being said, I need to put mine in the fridge when I am away from home. I actually went out and bought a small refrigerator and I keep the thing at 45-50F. I feed my starter and then immediately put it in the refrigerator. (This is not really at odds with Mr. Hamelman's advice. The warmer environment does make a difference - he is referring to typical home refrigerator temperatures.) It digests the food slowly and at the end of 4-5 days is maybe a little past its prime, but definitely still healthy. I then spend a weekend feeding it. That is my normal weekly routine when I am traveling.
For the past couple of months I have been working for a client who wants me to work from home and my starter has been at cool room temperature and has been fed every day. (But only once a day. Bad me!) The difference in my bread has been pronounced, particularly in terms of rise time and oven spring.
I would recommend that if you don't need to refrigerate your starter that you don't - and see if it makes a difference for you...

Hope this helps!

Pablo's picture

Do you have a routine that does not involve throwing out portions?  I do bake daily as a general rule, at least every other day.  Not refrigerating the starter is an idea...


proth5's picture

I do not bake almost every day, so I do not have such a routine.

But if you are baking nearly every day - the poster below has the right suggestion - just use what you need to bake and refresh the rest.

Other folk on this board save what is removed and use it for various baking projects. Again, it does not work in my baking routine so I cannot speak from personal experience about how well that works out.

I just look at the discard as the price I pay for my hobby. It seems reasonable to me.

Happy Baking!

bluesbread's picture

Yes. You keep, say, 1 cup of starter. You use, say, 1/2 cup to bake with. You refresh the starter to bring it back to 1 cup. No waste, no throwing any away.

plevee's picture

I bake once weekly and never throw out starter. I keep the starter in a 1qt yogurt pot in the 'fridge. At the end of the week I put it on the countertop, refresh it 2-3 times at 8-12 hourly intervals approximately doubling it each time to the final volume I need. I then empty  all the starter into my baking bowl, put ~2 tablespoons of water in the pot & mix it with the bit of starter stuck on the sides & add enough flour to make a thick batter & give it a good stir. I refrigerate it immediately.

It's just as easy to make a starter from scratch beginning with 2 tablespoons of rye as it is with whole cups. Nancy Silverton's recipe for making a starter is horrifying!

David is right - those yeasts & bacteria are tough & will survive many environments. The numbers of drug resistant organisms that make the news are proof of that

Patsy (from Edinburgh)



LindyD's picture

I generally bake only on weekends, so my starter is kept in my refrigerator simply because I don't have to feed it midweek.   I bring it out on Wednesday or Thursday and will refresh it a few times before using it.

When the bake is done, I'll feed what's left and use my eyes, hands, and nose to determine when it goes back into the cooler.  I keep my starter in a glass container and have noticed that the yeast produces enough energy to warm the glass.  The scent of the starter also changes by the hour.  And I eyeball the jar.

More intuitive than scientific, but it works for me.