The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

How much starter

Donald Cook's picture
Donald Cook

How much starter

Hello, everyone, new to this forum. Used to make fairly good sourdough in college in the Sixties. 

I am in the habit of making more starter than recipes call for, and using all of it. The recipe I’m looking at now says to use only 200 grams of starter and discard the remainder. 

Is there any harm in using the greater amount? 

Thank you. 

BaniJP's picture

Not really, as long as you maintain the original hydration of the dough. It will be much tangier of course and ferment faster, but it will still result in good bread.

If you want to use leftover starter, just dump it in a hot pan with a little salt and you got amazing sourdough pancakes.

idaveindy's picture

Generally, follow the instructions.  

Exceptions could be, if the starter is "weak" you might use a little more.  If the starter is "overly strong", use less,


Here's the reasoning....

1)  Flour in a starter has been degraded a bit by fermentation and acids.  If the next to last feeding was a long time ago, then a significant fraction of the starter is "old degraded flour", and, if then used as a larger part of the dough than was intended, it will result in a worse crumb.

2) exception:  if just a tablespoon of old long term "starter" is then usedto innoculate/work-up a "levain" (a levain that is now almost entirely "new flour"), the degraded flour is now only a tiny fraction and won't matter.   So while excess "fresh" levain may still screw up the fermentation/proofing timing, it won't be a "degraded decrepit old flour" problem.


Net: Net:  If you do a "one step starter" (ie, no intermediate "levain" build) then  Calculate your starter feedings, the number of feedings, the timings, and the ratios (starter:flour:water) so that you only have enough excess to store in the fridge until the next time that you bake.

Feedings can vary from 1: 1/2 : 1/2, to 1:1:1, 1:2:2,  on up.  The higher ratios just need longer to peak.   Many people schedule feedings, and adjust the ratios so they never discard starter when baking on a regular basis.   They keep a tiny bit, maybe only 10 g, and feed 1:1:1 then 1:3:3, and that gives them enough to bake, plus 10 g left over to save for next time.

No law says you have to always and only feed 1:1:1.   But perhaps 1 : .5 : .5  might be the minimum safe ratio, ie, a doubling.

Happy baking and bon appétit!

The Almighty Loaf's picture
The Almighty Loaf

I agree; I think keeping a whole bunch of starter really isn't necessary and it's much easier to keep a tinnier amount. I maintain 20 g of stiff starter (1:1:2), which is just enough innoculate the levain for most recipes with some left over for the new starter. So if I feed my refrigerated starter 5 times before the levain build, I'd only have 75 g of waste, which isn't usually enough to make anything from that (not like anyone makes discard recipes around stiff starters anyway lol).

BreadLee's picture

After reading The Bread Bakers Apprentice by Reinhart, I've been successfully making loaves with 50% starter.  300g bread flour,  150g fed starter,  65% hydration.  He won awards with a 50% starter recipe. 

They come out really nice.  Soft n tangy. 

idaveindy's picture

BreadLee,  yes.  Higher percentages of levain, or whatever pre-ferment is used, are "possible."

But, the key being....  Reinhart _designed_ (and tested) his formulas around that much (50%, and various other %) poolish/levain/biga.  

The poster here is asking "can I add more than what is called for?"

I suppose a more correct answer is: "Well, you could, but then you'd have to adjust other things."   _Everything_ is adjustable, but there are knock-on effects.  "This"-causes-"that" sort of stuff, ad infinitum.

Reinhart also addresses the confusion between an "ongoing starter" versus a freshly made "poolish/levain/biga", giving excellent explanations.   He's one of my favorite bread book authors.

foodforthought's picture

I can tell you unequivocally that you can use as much levain as you want. I have built my entire mix process around the fact that no matter how hard I attempt to build a 300 g levain, darned if I don’t end up with 280 g. At dough mix time, I just always weigh in my levain and usually a poolish (both typically 100% hydration) then let my spreadsheet adjust the additional water and flour increments to match my intended hydration. I suspect that you might need to lengthen bulk if you seriously undershot a targeted amount, but I’m rarely off by more than a few %age points.

And I confess to breaking other rules as well so that I can build a 3 generation levain ending up at about the right quantity. So maybe I build a 1:2:2 for gen 1, then build a 1:1:1 for gen 2 and maybe a 1:.75:.75 for the final generation. Generations are normally 12 hours though 1 & 3 are usually overnight in my chilly 62-64 dF winter kitchen.

Based on my experience, I would place managing hydration accurately well above managing levain quantities to some exact amount. Cooking, in general, and bread making, in particular, are inherently creative processes. In my book, recipes are just guidelines. Experience and a few skills are certainly valuable. Maybe I’d be more exacting if I were a commercial baker and absolute consistency was vital., but I’m not and people (and I) really like my bread. So my advice: pay attention to hydration and relax. It’s gonna be a great loaf!