Category Archives: Starting with your starter

All about the base of all sourdoughs, the starter.

Liquid vs Stiff Starter: Do I need both?

Which type of starter will be most beneficial?

The question of stiff vs liquid starter has recently been bought up here on Yumarama and since it was discussed over on Mellow Bakers previously previously, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to carry that conversation across to the blog as well.

BREAD2AngleSomeone recently asked what the point was between using stiff and liquid levain, specifically in Jeffery Hamelman’s book BREAD. I pondered and, in effect, could not come up with a solid answer for myself, primarily because I haven’t really dabbled with a stiff starter very much. But still, why DOES Jeffrey ask for a stiff starter here or a liquid (he prefers 125%) there? In other words, what are the benefits of each, in his view?

So I figured I’d go to the source and ask.

Hi Jeffrey,

Someone recently brought up a question I was a little confused about and figured I’d go to the source to see about an explanation.

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Why Discard Starter: A Mathematical View.

DiscardingYou see this question pop up all the time in sourdough discussions:

“Why do I have to discard? I hate the idea of throwing anything away. Can’t I just keep feeding the starter?”

Although reducing the waste we produce as a species is a good thing, there are times when it’s actually more logical to NOT do so. And feeding a starter is one of those times.

Let’s first see about the starter when you’re just starting it up from scratch.

Early in your starter’s young life, within the first two weeks or so of starting a starter from scratch, there is absolutely no good reason to save the excess “flour soup” you’re cutting back. It has done it’s job and is spent, and unless you’re building excessively large amounts (see the Starter Step by Step series to see the recommended  quantity), it should only be about 2 tablespoons of flour each day, this is not worth worrying about. Even if ditched directly into the trash or compost, it’s still not “wasted” any more than that nice dinner you ate yesterday was “wasted”: it was used to feed your starter, so it had a purpose and served it well. So right off the bat, we need to get out of this idea that bit of flour you used to feed our yeast is wasted.

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The Waste Conundrum

On bread discussion boards where people talk about their sourdough starters, invariably you will see posts written by people who are concerned about the amount of flour or old starter they end up tossing away, especially during the creating-the-starter phase. There seems to be much fretting and worrying that so much product is simply going to waste.

In this post, I’d like to address a few ideas concerning waste in the starter which, hopefully, will spark some discussion and help resolve some of the concern.

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Home Grown: Starting from scratch vs bought

Considering that sourdough has been around for thousands and thousands of years, long before the introduction of grams, temperatures gauges, refrigerators, electric ovens, or even the idea that the world wasn’t flat, one would think starting your own starter is a breeze.

Maybe it is, but I had a heck of a time myself. And when I was thinking “Why is this so dag nabbed difficult, it’s just flour and water” it was even more frustrating. But in reality, it’s more than just flour and water, it’s flour with the wild yeast still on it, water that doesn’t have additives meant to kill yeast and bacteria we WANT to cultivate, optimum temperatures, feeding at the right times so as to Continue reading

Starter Recycling: What to do with the extra

As you feed your starter, you’ll probably realize that there’s stuff you can do with it but need a bit of help figuring what. In this entry I’ll touch (and link) on a few potential ideas.

Now for anyone who’s in the process of building a starter from scratch, the portions you discard are not actually starter at this point, the yeast and bacteria you’re working hard to cultivate are still not at any appropriate level to ward off the other yeasts and bacteria that also live in the flour paste. So until you’ve got your brand new from scratch starter active and bubbling away regularly, just toss that extra stuff out. Or at least dump it into the recycle bin and let the earthworms have a nice munch.

Those who’s starter is active and are feeding on a regular schedule, you can do a number of things with that extra. What you’re putting aside is exactly the same as the small amount you’re keeping and feeding, it’s simply “excess”. That excess can be used, obviously, to start up your bread making starter or even make up new starters and switch from UAP flour to whole wheat or rye if you think you’ll be making those types of breads regularly.

But it can also be put aside into an “old starter tub” until you have enough back up to make the World’s Best Pancakes. You can also make some tasty baked good (see recipes next) or simply use it in any other baking recipe that uses flour and water, replacing the same amount by weight as you’re adding in excess starter.

More Recipes for your Extra Sourdough Starter

from Mike Avery’s SourdoughHome.com

English Muffins
Pizza Shells
Carrot Pineaple Cupcakes
Blueberry Sourdough Muffins

Do It Yourself Flakes

If you’ve used the starter for a while and really like it’s character once it’s had a good while to develop, you could make your own dry starter flakes to save as back-up or send to friends. Simply spread a thin layer of your excess starter on parchment or wax paper, wait until it’s dried then break it up into little chunks. You can then put this into baggies and mail it or freeze it to keep for many months. Before you spread the excess starter, you may want to feed it and spread it just after it’s hit it’s peak, when it’s “well fed”.

Why can’t I just keep it, why do I have to discard so much each time?”

The simple answer is that you need to feed your beasties a fair amount of new flour and water so even the smallest amount you’d be adding is at least the same (1 – 1 – 1) as what you start with. If you didn’t remove a fair amount, you’d soon enough be using up a TON of flour to keep your bathtub-sized starter fed as you add “as much again” and don’t discard. It’s actually more economical to get rid of a few grams of flour than to try to feed an ever expanding vat of starter.

The other reason is you really do NOT need to keep a very large “mother” starter. With the 30-60-60 system, you have 150g or about a half cup of starter; you could even do with half of that, doing 15-30-30 if you were quite frugal. But holding on to a larger quantity of starter, unless you’re a prolific baker and use a lot several times a week, isn’t any more efficient than the 150g amount. To house a two cup starter, you’d need a six cup jar or bigger and that’s getting pretty big on the counter or in the fridge. And you’d still be no further ahead than if you were doing 30-60-60.

Starter Maintenance: Regular feeds

Feeding a starter

There are several ways to keep a starter, relating to it’s thickness:

  • a “wet” starter which is like a thin cake batter
  • a thick pancake batter type, as seen in the photo above
  • a stiff starter that looks like a ball of bread dough

There are advantages to each but for our purposes in this post, we’ll use the more common ‘thick pancake batter’ type. We’ll also be keeping it at what’s referred to in the bread world as “100% hydration”. This simply means your starter has 100% of the flour’s weight in water weight. If you use 163g of flour, you add 163g of water; if you use 47g flour, use 47g water. Your flour’s weight is always the base and your water is the percentage of that weight.

You’ll possibly see other percentages of starters, like 65% hydration starters which are more dough-like since the water weighs 65% of the flour’s weight, therefore less water than flour. This hydration level is in the area that a regular bread dough so you could actually knead it, it is that thick.

You may also see higher hydration levels, like 125% or even more, making the batter thinner. I just wanted to touch on hydration percentages because it seems to pop up a lot in the bread world.

One great thing about 100% hydration starter is no matter how much you use, you’ll always know that it is half water and half flour so it’s easy to adjust any recipe.

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Getting Startered: Flakey beginnings

There are a few ways of getting a pre-made starter

  • You’re given some liquid starter in a jar by a friend
  • You’re given or buy a ball of stiff starter dough
  • You’re given or buy some starter flakes

Whether these are purchased or given by a friend, they’ll be handled as described below. Then, of course, you could make your own from scratch and that’s a whole ‘nuther set of instructions which you can find here.

The first two methods mentioned above mean you’re going to basically just keep feeding your new starter as it had been before; the place or person you got it from should have given you their process which is really just your standard feed. Their particualr methods may use more or less water or flour, so just learn what was used and keep it up.

For the flake version, however, you need to rehydrate/rejuvenate it and get it up to speed again and from that point, you too are on to the maintenance process. But first we need to get those flakes turned into a viable, wet starter.

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