Having a vigorous and healthy sourdough starter is the first step to baking great sourdough breads, rolls, muffins, and more.
In this short post I will walk you through the steps of feeding your sourdough starter in preparation for baking. I will also give you a visual guide of a “peaked” starter perfect for baking with.
Sourdough starter benefits from being consistently used. I bake or cook with my starter at least twice a week, so my starter is constantly being refreshed with fresh flour. The fresh flour is an ideal food source for the happy yeast and bacteria within the starter.
If you are just getting started with sourdough I recommend you read my comprehensive guide on sourdough fundamentals. This guide will give you an in-depth look at the complex bacterial systems working inside the starter. It will arm you with all the important terminology. It will explain what sourdough is and why it is better for you. And it will delve into the history of sourdough and its controversial usurper, rapid rise yeast.
Find my free guide here ↓
Demystifying Sourdough – Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Sourdough Starter – Why It’s Better for You and How To Start One
A Sourdough Schedule
The way I manage my starter is to use, feed, use, feed, sleep, repeat. This is the best technique I have found for keeping a healthy, active starter that is always ready to be used!
#1 USE – Start by using some of your fully fermented starter or discard (starter that has been fed, allowed to rise, and put in the fridge until needed) for a project like pancakes or crackers. This allows you to use that fully fermented, easy-to-digest starter instead of discarding it.
#2 FEED – Then feed the starter back up to the original weight you started with to get it primed for baking bread. Let it ferment and peak at room temperature. If you used 500 grams for pancakes, for instance, feed with 250 grams each of flour and water again.
#3 USE – Once the starter has peaked, use it to make bread.
#4 FEED – Feed the remaining starter back up to the original weight again. Let it get started fermenting for a few hours at room temperature. I’ve learned to never put a starter away hungry!
#5 SLEEP – Put the starter to bed in the refrigerator. The cold slows the yeast, but they are still working! A starter can be kept in the refrigerator for a long time but it will eventually eat up all the sugars in the flour and get really really sour. I try to bake at least once a week to maintain a vibrant culture!
Note: if you have a gray liquid (called hootch) floating above your starter then it is very hungry and needs to be fed — probably several times to get it going again!
#6 REPEAT – When you want to bake bread again, remove the starter the morning before, use some for a project that calls for discard, feed it and allow it to peak, use it for bread, feed it again, and then put it back to sleep!
Most of the sourdough recipes here on Butter For All call for a generous amount of sourdough starter. So the instructions that follow will yield at least 400+ grams of sourdough starter, plenty for baking breads and more.
How To Feed Your Sourdough Starter
Weighing your ingredients is a very important step in creating an easy-to-use, vigorous, and super-happy sourdough starter. To do this you will need a scale. The following instructions outline how to feed a 100% hydration starter. I keep my starter at 100% hydration (equal weights flour and water) for consistency in recipe writing and baking! To learn how to convert your starter to 100% hydration use my guide, Demystifying Sourdough – Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Sourdough Starter – Why It’s Better For You – And How To Start One.
Place a bowl or jar on the scale and set the weight to grams. I used a bowl in this photo series for illustration purposes. I typically feed my stater right in the jar I keep it in.
Make sure to zero out the scale after placing the bowl on it but before adding any ingredients.
Add 200 (or more) grams of organic flour to the bowl or jar. There is no hard and strict rule about what kind of flour to use. For starter feeding purposes I use organic all-purpose flour and save my nice, expensive, local wheat and other heirloom and ancient grains for my bread. You can also adjust the quantity of starter by using more or less flour. Just make sure to take a note of how much flour you use because you will want to use the same amount of water.
Zero out the scale and add 200 grams of water. Always use the same weight as the flour you added in the step above. Using filtered water is the best practice. I recommend this filter — it is the top-of-the-line, has a great filter life, and is portable. If you don’t have access to filtered water you can use tap water that has been allowed to off-gas for at least 24 hours. Chlorine and other water additives can have a negative effect on sourdough microorganisms. Please do not use water bottled in single-use plastic. Single-use plastic is incredibly unsustainable and terrible for the environment!
Zero the scale and add some of your previous 100% hydration sourdough starter. I used 140 grams in this feeding but the amount is very flexible. The only real rule of thumb for feeding is to keep your starter addition at less than 50% of the total weight.
200 grams flour + 200 grams water + 140 grams starter = 540 grams of starter. 140 grams ÷ 540 grams = 25.9%
The more starter you add the faster the new sugars will be consumed. The less starter you add the slower the time till peak fermentation. I tend to opt for around 20-30% starter for a consistent and balanced feeding.
Use a spoon or dough whisk to mix the starter until all the dry flour is incorporated and the mixture is fairly smooth.
Storing and Fermenting Your Starter
Place the starter in a storage container like this locking lid glass jar. I keep my starter in this large size so it has plenty of room to expand. Make sure to remove the rubber sealing ring from the jar; this will allow the starter to breathe.
Let your starter ferment at room temperature. In this picture the starter has doubled in size but has not yet peaked. If you are going to store your starter in the refrigerator, put it away now.
In this photo the starter has “peaked.” This means it has reached its peak fermentation, used much of the sugar in the flour, and is at its most active. You can see by the residue on the glass that the starter is starting to fall back down. Ideally you should use the starter before it falls any further.
At this point your starter is ready to be incorporated into recipes. Make sure to stir your starter down before measuring it. This will give you the most consistent volume. Of course, using recipes with ingredient weights will ultimately provide the best results!
Great Recipes for Using Your Fed and Active Starter
Find all my sourdough recipes here.
- 200 grams organic all-purpose flour
- 200 grams filtered water
- 140 grams 100% hydration starter
- Place a bowl or jar on the scale and set the weight to grams.
- Make sure to zero out the scale after placing the bowl on it but before adding any ingredients.
- Add 200 grams of organic flour to the bowl or jar.
- Zero your scale.
- Add 200 grams of filtered water.
- Add your previous 100% hydration sourdough.
- Use a spoon or dough whisk to mix the starter until all the dry flour is incorporated and the mixture is fairly smooth.
- Place the starter in a storage container.
- Allow the starter to ferment at room temperature until it has peaked.
- Use the starter in a baking project!