Zero Waste Starter Maintenance
We frequently get questions around here about how to take care of your starter. I thought I’d share what I do which is simple and waste free so long as you plan your bakes a bit ahead of time.
You’ll notice it has been quite sometime since I last posted a starter discard recipe. The reason for that is that I don’t have starter discard. I feed my starter only once per week and it otherwise lives in the fridge. So my maintenance system is really simple and very little work. By the end of the week, I aim to have only a few grams of starter left, say between 3-5 g. I will then think about what I might bake for the next seven days. I estimate how much starter I’ll need for those bakes and then feed my starter to ensure that I have enough to build those levains and then be left with 3-5 g again at the end of the week. For example, if I will bake twice and need 10 g and 15 g of starter I’ll need to ensure that I have 25 g of starter plus a small amount left to refresh again. If I start with 4 g of starter I’ll feed it 13 g of water and 13 g of flour. Thus I’ll have a total of 30 g of starter so when I use 25 g for baking that week I’ll have 5 g leftover to refresh.
My starter (John Dough) is kept at a simple 100% hydration and I only feed it 100% whole rye. My starter comes out of the fridge only to remove what I need to build a levain and then after seven days to feed it again. I know many bakers do a couple of levain builds to get their levains or starters really active for baking, but I haven’t found the need to do this. When I feed my starter, it gets placed in the proofing box at 82°F and is left there to ferment until it has reached peak. Remember peak is the dome just starting to flatten. Once peak is reached, my starter goes directly into the fridge until it is needed. No other feeds are done.
When I build a levain, I remove the amount of starter I need and do a single build of levain, that’s it, no multistage levain builds. Now what if my planning wasn’t great and I’m short of starter? Simple, I’ll either do a two step levain build to make enough levain, again without any discard. Or I’ll just do a much larger ratio levain build and give it the time it needs to peak and be ready for use.
What if I don’t need all the starter that I have and 7 days has elapsed? I don’t like to waste my starter and although this seldom happens instead of collecting the excess starter I’ll smear it onto parchment paper and allow it to fully dry. I’ll then add it to the ziplock bag of dried starter flakes that I keep in the freezer as a backup should anything dire happen to my starter. This way I’m not needing to keep an extra bottle in my fridge of discard that I’d have to bake with and also creating a little bit of extra starter backup as insurance for killing my starter somehow.
Anyhow, that is what I do, it is easy and zero waste, just as I like it.