The Fresh Loaf

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ABED why so much starter when so little is used?

pizza fool's picture
pizza fool

ABED why so much starter when so little is used?

Howdy! Long time lurker first time poster. I'm a teacher and bake a lot in the summer but not so much during the school year.  So during the summer I'm up for ridiculousness and during the school year I switch to Leahy.  Anyway, I've got my first sourdough starter in the fridge, a pain au levain in the oven and sourdough pizza in the fridge, all from Reinhart's ABED.  It's been 5 days since I made my starter and I guess it needs to be refreshed.  Reinhart's recipe is for 25 oz of starter, but i gather I can keep a much smaller starter if I keep the ratios the same.  So I'm curious, if all his sourdough recipes call for a very small amount of starter to create a 6-8 hr sponge, why does he have us keep 25 oz on hand?

phaz's picture

no idea why, but you don't have to keep a ton of starter on hand. I bake every 2-3 days, and that's enough time to build up my starter to what's needed for the bake just from normal feeding. I'll use about 3tbsp starter for the bake. that leaves me with about 2tbsp of starter. I'll feed 1-2tbsp for a couple days, and by the time I'm baking again, there's enough starter for the bake, and a little left over for feeding. then the process starts over again. if baking less often, the starter goes in the fridge and removed and feed for a couple days to build up enough for the bake. keeping a large amount on hand is good if it's used, if not, it's just wasting flour, and money. happy baking!

DavidEF's picture

Maybe someone knows the answer, but until that someone gets here, here is something to help you decide what you are going to do. First, you're right that a small amount of starter can be kept, instead of the larger amount he calls for. But, smaller amounts can tend to call for larger amounts of time and attendance. Just like a small baby needs to be attended to more than a two-year-old, who needs more attention than a 9-year-old. The bigger they get, the less attention they need. You can "neglect" that 25oz starter for quite a while, and it will spring back to life when you come back to feed it. Alternatively, lets suppose you use one ounce at a time while baking. You can take out that one ounce up to 24 times before you need to build your starter back up again! If you are keeping it in the fridge, that is a real possibility. If it's out at room temperature, you do have to feed it pretty often.

I haven't read that book, so I don't know what Reinhart instructs. But, this second scenario (using up, then feeding to build it back) is pretty much what dabrownman has said he does with his starter. I've done lots of different things with my starter, trying to find the most convenient way of keeping it alive. I've had it down to a feeding ratio of 5 grams starter to 25 grams flour and 25 grams water. At that ratio, I was feeding twice a day and keeping it on top of my refrigerator. For reference, one ounce is just over 28 grams. Right now, my starter is in the fridge, and I'm not feeding it very often. The last time I fed it was over a week ago, but I have a large amount of it there, probably close to your 25 ounces, maybe more. I may try doing what I said above, use it up before I feed it again. I've learned that an established starter is hard to kill, or rather easy to keep alive, unless you give it chlorine.

So, do what works for you. And, if you're scared you may just find what kills it, do your experimenting in parallel with something that works. Take a small amount out to play with, and also keep the 25 oz that Reinhart tells you, until you're sure your experiment is a success.

dabrownman's picture

I used to keep my liquid starter on the counter and since I didn't bake very much I was throwing most of it away. I think my Granny told me to put it in the fridge. So for a long time I did that. I fed it less but was still throwing a lot away. Eventually I started to make a stiff starter of around 200 g and keep that in the fridge. Even though I was baking twice a week and using 10- 20 g a bake to build levains i couldn't keep my starter in good condition without feeding it after a couple of weeks So now I keep 80 g of half whole rye and ww starter at 66% hydration in the fridge. I bake one time a week or maybe two using 10-20 g each bake, By the Wednesday of the 3rd week I am splitting what is left over into 2 equal parts. and using one to build a levain for that weeks bake and the other half to build back the storage starter to 80 g. Both levain and starter in the summer are built over 3 stages the first 2 being 3 hours each or so of increasing flour and water amounts. I let them double after the 2nd feeding and then they are refrigerated about an hour after the 3rd feeding when it has increased in volume 25%. The starter stays in the fridge but the levain comes out 24 hours later and I let it finish doubling on the counter before using for that week’s bake.

It may not work for everyone else and your starter had to be in good condition but I call this 'The no muss, no fuss, no waste, SD starter maintenance method.

 Happy baking

timko's picture


i agree with the spirit of the posts here - how can you manipulate the amount to save on wastage and to have enough starter for your own needs?

I was using a similar formula which would create almost twice what I need. 

Baking 3 times a week, I have reduced the started to about 1x tablespoon of flour and 1 x tablespoon of older starter with water to a gruel like consistency. This is kept on the bench and refreshed each evening. Our dinner time; its dinner time. When baking I use 100 grams of flour, mixed with 100 grams of water and three tablespoons of starter to create my levain.

This still leaves some starter to create the next batch of course.

The original formula asks for double all of these measurements.

pizza fool's picture
pizza fool

Wow, thank you all!  I guess my plan now is to continue to use the starter until there's just a few ounces left, as long as it continues to leaven my sponges. Then I can refresh it to a smaller size. I'll do some more reading on the site as well.

pizza fool's picture
pizza fool

Quick update:

I used my AP starter until it started to smell very alcoholic, then rebuilt it with WW using a 2 oz piece to make a 12 oz starter.  I used it a couple of times and then rebuilt it using a 1 oz piece to make a 6 oz starter.  When I bake from Reinhart's ABED the recipes call for 2 oz pieces, so I have enough starter left over in case I bake a second time and enough to rebuild my starter a week later.  I've been rebuilding it (refreshing it?) the night before I plan to bake.

The starter is in a oiled glass bowl with plastic wrap tightly over the lid.  The top of the starter has been drying out, so when I go to use it for baking I take from the bottom which is still wet.  Any suggestions on how to keep it from drying out?  Should I be spraying the top of the starter or flipping it to coat it with oil?  Keeping it in something like a jar that is less permeable?  Or is that just a consequence of me not feeding it every day but rather just refreshing it once a week?  The dryness doesn't seem to affect the quality of the leavening nor the souring.  I won't be leaving it on the counter and feeding it once a day - my wife is already very tolerant of my eccentricities and that would be pushing her too far.