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2019-08-12 A No Discard Way Of Feeding Sourdough Starter!

Sourdough starter can be a real pain. If it isn't healthy, you can't make good bread. Feeding it every day seems like a total waste of time and flour if you're not going to bake any time soon. And then, there are the discards.

The discards? Yeah. Many sourdough web sites and other people encourage you to feed your sourdough starter twice a day, and before you feed it, discard half the starter and then feed it.

Many people ask "WHY?" Understandably, they feel that the starter is food and it is wasteful, and perhaps a sin, to discard food. The reason for discarding is actually to reduce the amount of waste. If you double the size of your starter twice a day, which is a rather skimpy feeding of your starter, in 10 days you'll go from a teaspoon of starter to a swimming pool full. Geometric progressions are SO much fun when they are working for you, not so much when you have to pay for them. Some people will set aside the discarded starter, perhaps storing it in the fridge for other uses. And you can make some neat things with discarded starter. Pancakes, waffles, Lavash crackers, Blueberry Sourdough muffins, Carrot Pineapple Sourdough Cupcakes, and even sourdough pasta. I'll post the pasta recipe in the next few weeks as it needs some explanation. There are many more recipes for discarded starter at the King Arthur web site as well.

While I've been having fun with sourdough discard lately, overall I'd rather avoid the question. Historically, it hadn't been a problem for me as I refrigerated my starter. However, about a year ago I decided to keep my starter at room temperature to see if it was happier. Spoiler alert - it wasn't much happier, and I was much less happy!

As a result, I've gone back to the older method I used, which I'll lay out here. In my older method, I had two goals:

  1. To minimize how much I have to baby and pamper my starter while minimizing discard, and
  2. making sure I have a healthy starter when I'm ready to bake.
Come along for the ride!

There will be several spreadsheets screen shots presented which are from my StarterCalc spreadsheet which you can download here so you can work out your own amounts and feeding schedules.

The first step is to make a very dry, or dense, storage starter.Storage starter feeding regimen, click for larger image The storage starters tends to last a long time in the refrigerator without showing distress. It doesn't cast off "hooch" for months, and revives easily. I use Professor Calvel's feeding regimen, shown in the spreadsheet to the right. If you click on the image, you'll see a larger version. Storage starter, unfed for three weeks, click for larger image

To the left is a picture of my storage starter which has not been feed for three weeks (again, click on the image to see a larger version). After the last feeding in the feeding regimen, I immediately put the storage starter into the refrigerator. A fresher starter seems to revive faster than a more mature one. It doesn't look lively and bubbly, but that's OK. A dryer starter is less showy than a wetter one.

This dense, dry, starter can be difficult to mix, so sometimes I just drop it on the counter and knead it by hand. Adding the water first and mixing makes it easier to mix in the flour than just adding the water, flour and then mixing.

This leaves us with the question of, "what next?" I prefer to feed a starter for three days after removing it from the refrigerator to return it to a "known good" condition. As many a systems analyst will tell you, it takes a consistent process to create a consistent product, and that starts with a consistent starter. If you bake daily, you have many good reasons to keep your starter at room temperature and avoid all this drama. However, you might want to keep some starter in the fridge just in case something happens to your main starter. While I don't wear a belt and suspenders, I semi-secretly admire those who do. The rest of us will benefit from keeping the starter in the fridge.

For me, the next step is determining what I want to bake, when I want to bake, and how much starter I need. I normally make about 10% more starter than I really need as there always seems to be a slight shortage. Evaporation? Carbon dioxode being given off? The dog licking the starter to see how it tastes? Who knows, just make extra.

I need 2,000 grams of starter Friday morning.The 5 percent kick starter feeding regimen, click for larger image Lately, I've been fond of the starter feeding regimen I call the "Five Percent Kick". It uses a moderate feeding regimen until the last feeding when it is suddenly goosed. The starter at that point should be about 5%, or 1/20th, of the final amount needed and it gets a very large final feeding. In the morning the starter is well balanced, fresh and very lively. If you don't like that regimen, there are a number of other ones in the spreadsheet.

You may notice the first feeding calls for 3.1 grams of starter, and 1.6 grams each of flour and water. It is a bit of a bother to measure such small amounts for most people, so I'll suggest 4 grams of starter and 2 grams each of flour and water. It's close enough. Some people may be concerned that we're using a 60% hydration starter to feed what is to become a 100% hydration starter. Well, considering that only 4 grams of the storage starter are used to make 2,000 grams ofstarter, I dont think it is a real issue. However, I do add the water to the initial starter and mix them well before adding the flour.

With this approach I meet my goals. I hope it works for you. You might hit the "contact us" page and let us know what works for you.

Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter what crazy way you fed your starter!
-M

PS - I can hear people asking how long they can keep the storage starter, and what to do to refresh it. Both are good questions! When the storage starter is getting sluggish and not becoming vibrantly active in 3 days, it's time to refresh it. When I am getting ready for a bake, I refresh the starter until it is vibrantly active! I want it to double in size between feedings. If it isn't there in 6 feedings, I'll feed it another time or two. Then I take some of the starter left over from the bake (because it is vibrantly active) and put it through the Professor Calvel feedings described at the start of this article. And then, I hate to say it, I discard the previous storage starter. Usually by the time I am ready to discard it, we're down to less than 100 grams of starter so I don't fret about it too much.