Managing Your Sourdough Starter

(Eric) #21

I think I would have been more surprised if it didn’t mold. 2 months is a very long time to go without care. All it would take is tiny amount of mold to get hold and it would have plenty of time to multiply over the 2 months. To keep a starter healthy typically calls for roughly weekly feeding.

(Eric) #22

I’m a tad late to be of any help here, but what happened with it?

(Eric) #23

There’s probably no need to keep that much starter on hand unless you plan on starting a bakery. Since most sourdough recipes only call for a relatively small amount of starter, you might want to toss all but a couple cups at most. Besides taking up less space, you won’t have to feed it as much to keep it healthy. Here’s a page on sourdough starter management that might be helpful:, but the really rough answer to your question is feed it at least once a week and at least double it each time you feed it. That’s why if you’re not using it enough, you’ll need to toss some periodically in order to keep the quantity manageable.

(cullen) #24

I have been making bread almost everyday for the last two weeks. Last week I noticed my bread and starter had lost its sourness. I read that frequent feeding will not allow enough time for the bacteria to develop. How can I bake everyday and not lose the flavour without keeping many starters?

(Eric) #25

You could try longer dough fermentation (prooving) times at lower temps. Try retarding the dough in the fridge overnight and see if that helps.

(garyg) #26

I have a question…

My starter doesn’t bubble on the surface anymore after it’s fed. There’s a lot of air bubbles on the sides of the jar and the starter rises a lot, but no bubbles on the surface. Is this bad?

The bread comes out great, however not seeing those bubbles anymore disheartens me.

thank you,

(Eric) #27

Hi Gary,

You know what they say about “the proof of the pudding”. Your bread wouldn’t come out great if your starter wasn’t healthy. My guess is that you may just have to stiffen it up. Lower the starter hydration by adding more flour. A stiffer starter will better trap the co2 gas from fermentation and get more bubbly and spongy.

(ritchd01) #28

I have purchased one of your dry sourdough starters. It is working beautifully but I’m still a bit confused about how to maintain. I have a scale so what I have been doing is adding equal amounts by weight of starter, water and flour. Is this correct? In other words I take 350 grams ( just using this figure) of sourdough, then add 350 grams of flour and 350 grams of water. Does this make sense? Is it also correct of me to think that you nearly always will have some starter to either give away or throw away when you feed your starter? Otherwise you will end up with too large a quantity.

(Paul) #29

Actually, once you have an active sourdough culture going, what people call “feeding” might be better thought of as “inoculating”. Rather than thinking of feeding your starter, think in terms of using your active starter to inoculate a fresh flour and water mix with the yeast and bacteria that make up your active starter. What this means in practice is that you can (should) discard (or otherwise use - say to make sourdough pancakes or something) most of your existing starter when you “feed”. To use your numbers, and give you a pragmatic example of what I mean, try this: in a new container (separate from your existing starter), combine 350g of flour and 350g of (dechlorinated) water and mix half a teaspoon of your active starter in with them. Mix well and leave that on the counter for 8 hours and see what happens.

(ritchd01) #30

Thanks Paul. It worked. By the end of the day, the starter was bubbling. When you say to use the rest of your starter for making Pancakes, do you mean to make the pancakes with the starter alone or to use the starter and mix other ingredients?

(Paul) #31

Here’s one recipe from Eric:

You could also google something like “discard sourdough starter pancakes” and find a bunch more.

(acbeckiv) #32

Hello - I feel like my starter is not performing the way it did immediately after I had revived it. I keep mine in the refrigerator, and use a 1:1 by weight flour:water feeding technique every 5-7 days (or as needed if I am simply replacing what I used for baking. When I first revived my starter (it was a dried starter), it performed tremendously. Using it in a levain resulted in very rapid production of gases within a few hours; now, it takes practically an entire night for a levain to ferment. Similarly, if I use it in a no-knead style recipe without first making a levain, it might be 12 hours or more at room temperature before I see any rise at all. Granted, I do often use a lower ratio of water:flour in my sourdough (300grams water:500-525g flour), so I know I’m working with a more dense dough, but still, this amount of time seems long. The starter itself does not have any strange odors, flavors, or sediment. It has not changed colors, but it does bubble less vigorously in the period of time just after feeding.

Any thoughts on what might be going on? Any tips would help. I know this is vague, but hopefully I’m describing something you’ve seen before. Alternatively, if this is simply normal behavior in the course of managing a starter, I’d love to know that as well. It is about 1.5 months old now.

(Paul) #33

I’ve luckily not had that problem with my starter, so not speaking from experience here, but two thoughts:

  1. Are you using dechlorinated water? Chlorine can significantly inhibit yeast and bacteria activity.

  2. Has your ambient temperature changed significantly in the period in which you are seeing reduced activity? The colder it gets the less active the starter.

Also, have you tried feeding with different types of flour? Maybe the particular flour you happen to be using to feed is having an effect?

(acbeckiv) #34

The water I am using comes filtered through my Brita pitcher - so while it is not formally dechlorinated, the water has run through a carbon and ion-exchange filter. Additionally, it’s typically been sitting for a while, so would have had ample time for natural evaporation to occur. This is the same water I used to reactivate the starter initially, so it is not as though I’ve changed waters over the period of use - it’s been the same water for the life of the starter.

Re: temperature, it’s actually risen - though I keep my starter in the refrigerator (and have since about the 5th day of it’s life). It has started declining in activity over the last week or two (and has been alive for 5-6 weeks now).

I have actually switched flours recently - not for any reason, but I had previously fed it with Bread Flour and have recently run out - I’ve been using All Purpose - unbleached - Whole Foods organic brand. I am skeptical as to whether that is the underlying reason, but it’s interesting. Has anyone noticed differences in starter activity with these types of flour?

(Paul) #35

I’ve played around with using a lot of different types of flour to create different starters and there is definitely a big difference from one to another. For instance, lately I have been using whole rye flour to create the starter I use for most of my loaves. I’ve found that the whole rye gets very sour, very quickly. In general, I’ve found that whole grains tend toward a more sour smell and taste than high extraction flours and white flour tends to stay quite sweet for a long time. I’m thinking that the bran and/or germ in the whole grains must be promoting the growth of lactobacillus in the culture. In my experiments, I’ve not run across any flour that made the starter massively less active like you are describing, but who knows?

I keep a small container of starter that I feed weekly in the fridge with the Breadtopia organic white bread flour. Then the night before I am going to bake, I take a teaspoon out of that starter and mix well with some kind of flour (usually a whole grain or high extract, and lately, whole rye) and water in another container and leave it out overnight. If you have any other flour besides the whole foods APF, it might be worth trying some experiments like that with different kinds of flour to see if any of them give you more activity (and/or other characteristics that you enjoy).

(acbeckiv) #36

I’ll give it a shot. Hopefully, it gets my starter headed back in the right direction. I started a loaf last night, and an overnight rise barely did a thing. Not even sure if this one is going to come out. Doesn’t really make much sense. I almost wonder if I have depleted my starter without permitting sufficient time for regrowth of the culture - I make bread about twice per week, and typically use about 100g starter, which I replace every time with a refeeding. I keep about 200 g on hand. So I’m feeding about every 3 days; less if I make less bread; but even still, it seems unlikely that at such a rate my use could outpace bacterial regeneration. Most bacteria, except for very slow growing ones, divide every 20-30 minutes, so I have a tough time believing my use of 1/2 my starter every 3 days could outpace them. Anyway, I’ll try some different flours and see if it makes a difference.

(lmusun) #37

I have been looking at recipes in several books from the your recommended list and I am confused about what steps–if any–need to happen between taking the starter out of the fridge and using it in baking. Should I feed it first and wait for a few hours to “activate” the starter? What about creating a “mother starter”, “barm” or performing a “culture proof” before mixing it in for the initial dough rise?

(Eric) #38

There’s a wide range of workable options for using a stater. If it’s healthy and reasonably fresh you can use it straight out of the fridge. Otherwise, feeding it within a day of use will typically bring it up to speed for better results.

(PeteW) #39

Hi I just watched your excellent video and I have a some questions with regard to Starter Management.

First, When I feed my as in the video it will after some time grow in volume, (as in the video), but then it will shrink back down again is this normal? This was not discussed in the video.

Second, At room temperature, is there a rule of thumb for how long a healthy Starter should take to swell after it’s been feed?

Third, How was Starter maintained in the past prior to refrigeration?

Fourth, Should the Starter’s container be sealed or unsealed?

(Eric) #40

First, When I feed my as in the video it will after some time grow in volume, (as in the video), but then it will shrink back down again is this normal? This was not discussed in the video.

Yes. Totally normal. The activity of fermentation is vigorous after a good feeding. Fermentation creates gas bubbles which causes the rise. As the yeast starts to exhaust its food supply (flour) that activity subsides and it will drop back down.

Second, At room temperature, is there a rule of thumb for how long a healthy Starter should take to swell after it’s been feed?

I suppose there is. My healthy starter will pretty much always start to rise noticeably within a couple or maybe a few hours of feeding. I think it has usually dropped back down somewhere in the 12-18 range. Not too sure of the timing, never really kept that close track.

Third, How was Starter maintained in the past prior to refrigeration?

The only old accounts I’ve ever read have the “old sourdoughs” (gold miners) keeping starter in a leather pouch around their neck. I can only guess that they had to feed their cultures fairly frequently to keep them happy. Even now, some bakeries that go through large volumes of starter on a daily basis will not refrigerate it. Since they’re having to replenish it (feed it) very frequently, refrigeration isn’t necessary.

Fourth, Should the Starter’s container be sealed or unsealed?

Should not be in an air tight container. A smidgen of air passage is all that’s necessary though. A loose fitting lid does the trick.