The Fresh Loaf

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Different starters

foolishpoolish's picture

Different starters

Up until now I have kept one starter (white 100% hydration). It's incredibly healthy and gives me reliable results most of the time (OK well I exaggerate - it's reliable when everything else is also in place)
However I realise that there are many different ways to maintain a sourdough starter - different flours/grains used in feeding, different hydrations etc. How do the differnet starters impact the flavour or character of the bread?
I presume that they each have a different balance of bacteria, yeast etc. Please tell me your experiences and opinions on the relative merits of each.

For example what would be the difference between a loaf made with rye starter and white flour versus one using a white starter and a mixture of rye and white flours in the final dough (keeping total percentages the same in both)?
If there would be a big difference, could I go some way to addressing that by using intermediate builds which introduce increasing percentages of rye? For that matter, can I permanently convert a some white starter to a rye long would it take before I can notice the results? First feed? One week? Two weeks? Or am I forever limited by the original incarnation of the starter? (In my case it actually did start off partly rye I *think*...I'm embarrassed to admit I've forgotten!)

Eek I'm asking a lot of questions!
In summary, essentially what I'm asking is: do I need to start a completely new starter for rye, WW etc. which would require maintaing several different starters at once or can I just convert part of the mother (white) starter as and when the need arises?
(PS my oven is out of action (read: broken) , so no baking for at least the next few days - plenty of time for me to be pondering starters!)

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, FP. 

In the first place, you can easily convert any type of starter to any other type with a couple of feedings. You can convert a firm starter to a liquid starter, or vice versa, with one feeding. 

How you store your starter is, in my book, a matter of personal preference. A firm starter is better for baking infrequently. If you are baking daily, you may prefer a liquid starter. Or not. 

The form in which you keep the refrigerated starter has less impact on the bread flavor than the hydration of the starter from which you actually build your final dough. Other variables such as how you ferment the starter and the dough and how you proof the loaves are also important. 

So, you can get away with keeping a single starter, but, if you frequently bake several kinds of bread each of which calls for a different type of starter, you may want to keep several starters fed. In my case, I currently keep 3 starters - a "white" starter that is fed with a mix of AP, WW and rye flours, a white rye sour and a whole rye sour. But that's because any given weekend I am likely to make 2 or three types of bread, at least one using a rye sour and one using my "white" starter.  

Your question regarding using a starter fed with rye versus a white starter with rye added to the final dough is not one I can answer definitively. I have a bias in favor of the former, but in reality I do what the recipe calls for. I have, in fact, made some breads both ways, and I don't think I could tell the difference, but these were mostly wheat breads with small amounts of rye. If I am making a bread with over 30% rye, I think I'd always use a rye sour as the levain.  

I hope I have reduced rather than added to your confusion. 


foolishpoolish's picture

Yes that definitely helps clarify a few things in my mind. 

Recently I've been baking most days and having the liquid starter ready to hand has been great. 

What I may do is keep the white starter going as a room temperature build and refrigerate a rye and/or WW starter which I only need to refresh once a week (I've not been baking any high percentage rye breads recently).  

suave's picture

I only keep one starter - white at 100% and whenever I need to use specialty starter I convert it.  Say, to go to rye starter I do one build with rye flour at 100%, then another to adjust hydration to the desired value, and then I start elaborating it, so usually it takes me three build to go to rye sour.  Of course this requires some planning and scheduling.  What helps is that I don't refrigerate my starter so it's ready to go pretty much at any moment.

There's definitely going to be some difference between bread leavened with rye starter, and bread with rye flour added to the final dough, but this is a kind of thing you have to try yourself.  Try Vermont Sourdough - it has 10% rye, see what happens if you move it to the starter.  If nothing else, it'd make a great discussion.

foolishpoolish's picture

That's pretty much the same as I do at the moment. 

Room temperature 100% hydration levain fed once a day. My compromise is usually an intermediate build (or three) that incorporate WW or Rye flours depending on what suits the recipe.

10% rye is what I've been working on with a little WW too.  It makes a wonderful Pain de Campagne style bread which has been one of my favourite basic breads of late.

Anyway as I said earlier, I'm thinking about a refrigerated rye starter to have on stand-by should a 100% rye recipe take my fancy at any time. 


suave's picture

But what's the point?  You have to refresh it a couple times before using anyway, so it won't save you time.  I used to have a refrigerated wheat/rye starter - and I just never used it.

KosherBaker's picture

Wow FP it's like you read my mind with this question. :) I'm really curious about this discussion for sure. Another thing I wonder is whether firmer starter will develop different flavors than a more liquid starter due to the slower fermentation.


PaddyL's picture

So I'm going to ditch my two ww starters because I don't think it makes that much difference, and the white starter (just flour and water) seems to be the strongest of the three.  It never fails to raise the dough.  And, of course, I'm holding onto my buttermilk starter because my sister loves the cinnamon swirl raisin bread I make from it, and I do love being able to eat soft white bread occasionally without having to worry about my blood sugar.