The Fresh Loaf

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the right time to use my starter

pajarito's picture

the right time to use my starter

I've had my starter going for a couple months now. I got it from KAF initially and keep it at room temperature (about 78f). I've been feeding it twice a day at a 1:1:1 ratio using 2 parts APF and 1 part organic rye. I've boosted my feeding to 1:2:2 lately to bulk it up for some recipes. I feed in the morning and before bed. It's extremely active. I fed it at 8am this morning  and by 11:37am it had tripled (rubber band is set at the initial height post-feeding)

So, I don't know if it's possible that it's too active. In case you can't tell, I'm relatively new...a few months into sourdough exploration. 

Am I supposed to only use my starter when it's at full peak (such as pictured) or can I use it at any time so long as it's regularly fed and at room temperature?

It smells sweet and yeasty and a little like red wine. The bread so far has been really flavorful but I've been waiting to start my baking process until the starter has peaked (which usually is after a 3 hour autolyse). But at that rate, I feel like I'm discarding a lot so frequently and going through feeder flour quickly. I just don't think I have all the nuances down. 

Thanks for any input--I know this question has been asked before but I didn't quite find the answer that made sense to me when I searched.

ifs201's picture

My understanding is the most people try and use their starter once it has peaked, but that you don't have to. You can use it hours after it peaks, but it might then take a bit longer to ferment the dough. For example, a lot of recipes suggest using the starter 12 hours after it's last feeding (FWSY). Considering an active starter generally peaks after less than 6 hours, these recipes are suggesting using a starter that has probably peaked and then fallen. 

I am a bit confused when you say you use the starter after it has peaked "which is usually after a 3 hour autolyse." Do you just mean 3 after after you've fed it? 

Also, I don't know how often you are baking, but it seems like you are doing a whole lot of feedings. You could just keep your starter in the fridge and take it out and feed it 1-2 days before your next bake. 

pajarito's picture

Thank you for your reply. I feed it at night and then again at 7-8am in the morning. My starter seems to peak 3 hours after I've fed it (I posted the photo above) and around an hour later starts to collapse. I don't know if that's too active or means it's unhealthy but it's had that schedule for a couple weeks now. 

Part of the reason I'm feeding it so much is because I'm trying to learn more so it becomes more intuitive. Eventually, I'll put it in the fridge and slow down but it's more of a curiosity and learning process right now. 

Thank you for your reply though, it helps me understand the timing--I guess I just don't understand why my starter seems so aggressive :)



Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

When people use their "starter" 12 hours after being fed they're normally talking about building a levain. So the starter is simpy where the yeasts abd bacteria live and a levain is an off-shoot starter, if you will, built specifically for a recipe. A starter maintenance and a levain build will often be different. When people talk of using their levain 12-14 hours after the build the ratios will not be 1:1:1 or even 1:2:2 it'll be more like a teaspoon of starter to, for arguments sake, 100g water + 100g flour and left to mature at a given, or close to, temperature. This is done for a few reasons. One will be that a starter is non specific for any one recipe and building a levain enables you to keep little starter which can be used for many different types of breads. It also helps in balancing the flavour profile. However if you have enough mature starter, ready to go and it's either close to what you want or you a not fussed by the flour used even if it's not exact to the recipe then by all means use it. However, if you feed your starter differently to the recommended levain build then it might be ready 3-6 hours after feeding.

What was the feeding ratio of your starter in the photo above?

jey13's picture

That's a very active starter...and a it's ton of starter. Have you been making bread daily? Or just very frequently? Because if you're can skip a feeding or two. You can even put it in the refrigerator and not feed it for a week.

Most sourdough bakers do that—I have one friend who takes his starter out of his refrigerator once a year to make bread with it and then back it goes..I wouldn't recommend that, but it does demonstrate how resilient starters are; he's had his for 20 years! 

You can trust us that if you put your starter in the refrigerator for a week, no feeding it at all, it will pop right back to life once it's out of the refrigerator. You only need to let it rest on the counter till it's up to room temp and it will be ready to go. And if you do it right, you can avoid discarding ANY left over starter—that's right, put an end to all the waste.

Check out this video to learn how: