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2019-06-11 - The Five Percent Solution

My dad has been in a physical rehabilitation center to try to get him in better shape. And that made me think of other rehabilitations.... of course, I mean rehabilitating an ailing starter. My view is that if you take care of your starter, that is to say, feed it regularly, this discussion isn't necessary. But as the saying goes, "stuff happens". If you are looking for a more in-depth discussion, look at our "reviving starters" page.

We'll present two different ways to revive a sluggish starter, one this week, and one next week. This week, we'll talk about the 5% solution. This is how Blair Marvin of Elmore Mountain Bread handled starter in class. I like this approach because it is very simple and it works. Like me, Blair feeds her starters twice a day, and uses what some call a 2:1:1 feeding regimen. That is, she feeds the starter enough to double it in size with each feeding. Or, to 100 grams of starter, she'd add 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour. This keeps your starter going, and it should double in size between feedings. But, if you want a real fire breathing rip-snorting containier bursting starter, do what Blair does.

Her last feeding before she uses the starter is at 2:19:19, or put another way, this is a massive feeding where the starter being fed up is 5% of the final amount of starter. To make 1,000 grams of starter, she'd use 50 grams of active starter, 475 grams of water, and 475 grams of flour. If your starter was active, this will make it explode (figuratively, anyway).

When I heard about this, I was sure that thus extreme a feeding would knock the sour-taste producing bacteria WAY into the background, producing a very bland bread. However, that did not happen. The bread was very nice.

This technique allows you to maintain a smaller amount of starter than doubling it twice a day would lead to. Again, my own preference is to feed a refrigerated starter for three days before using it. If you'd like to download a copy of the starter calculation spreadsheet, just download this archive from our web site.

The rest of this post will be about using the spreadsheet. The file in the archive you want is startercalc5.xls This file will work with Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice Calc and LibreOffice Calc.

Unless you want to modify the spreadsheet, everything you need is on the first sheet of the spreadsheet. A look at the control are of the spreadsheet Column B has the labels that describe the contents of column A. B3 says "Method" and A3 has a dropdown menu which allows you to choose between nine different feeding protocols for your starter.

To the right, around area C1 - H4 is an explanation of the feeding regimen you have chosen.

Cell A4 is where you enter the number of grams of starter you need.

Cell A5 is where you can enter the date when you need the starter. In this example, I want to use the starter on June 16th, 2019.

Cell A6 is where you can enter the time of day you want to use your starter. In this example, I want to start mixing my doughs at 7:00 AM.

Cell A7 allows you to enter the percentage of Calcium Sulfate you want to add to your starter. Calcium sulfate, also known as Gypsum, is used to harden soft water and was part of an effort on my part to investigate the impact of harder waters on dough development. My suggestion is don't use it. I'll probably remove this field in the next version of the spreadsheet.

To the left, you can see the dropdown menu showing the none feeding protocols this spreadsheet supports. A look at the method dropdown As you select different protocols, the descriptive text to the right will change.

The screen capture below shows the feeding schedule for the amount of starter I have selected, 1,500 grams. It shows 5 feedings, the number of feedings shown by the spreadsheet will depend on the amount of starter you are feeding, and the method you are using. If the screen capture is too small to comfortably read on your computer, you can click on the image to see a larger version of the image.

Sorry about the absurd fractions, feel free to round the numbers. (That will be a project for the next version.) The feeding schedule (click on the picture for a larger view) As a "reality check" the spreadsheet shows the desired and actual amount of starter the feeding should produce, any error in the amount due to rounding, and the starter hydration.

Of course, there are real world influences on the amount of starter you actually create. The amount that gets stuck to your spoon, carried out of your mixing bowl and lost. The starter gives off carbon dioxide as it ferments. And there is a certain amount of evaporation. I usually make about 10% more starter than I actually need so I'll be sure I have enough, and to be sure I have some left over to build up to the next bake.

If you have questions, please get in touch with me! Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter how you fed your starter!