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Starting a starter, Mike's Way

Express Instructions

This is a part of our "Sourdough Starter Primer" and a thumbnail sketch of how I start a sourdough starter. It is, deliberately, devoid of details. I've been asked to cut the flowery prose and explanations, so as an experiment, I'm doing just that. If you need more detail, want to see a photo essay on starting a starter, or need to do some trouble shooting, please check the other tabs.

Let's be clear here. People have been starting sourdough starters for thousands of years. They were starting starters long before they understood that there were living creatures in the starter. It is really easy to over think this mess and to obsess over it. Don't go there. Relax. Remember to breathe. The process is simple and it works. If you forget a feeding, it's not the end of the world.

  • Get some flour: Pick up a sack of organic, stone-ground, whole wheat or rye flour. Ask your grocer which flour sells the best and check the expiration dates on the sacks of flour - you want to get the freshest sack of flour you can find at your grocery or health food store. I don't recommend using flour you ground yourself because most home mills overheat the flour which kills the organisms you want to cultivate - remember, you aren't catching your starter from the air, you're cultivating it from micro-organisms already on the flour.

  • Get some water: Many people ask what sort of water may be used with sourdough. Many people insist that sourdough starter can be killed by chlorinated water. Others say that it cannot be started with chlorinated water. In my experience, chlorinated water has not been a problem. I have started, fed and used starters with chlorinated water with no problems. However, I have heard that the more persistent forms of chlorine used by some cities, such as chloramine, can cause problems. In general, if your tap water smells and tastes good it will probably work well with sourdough.

  • Get a container: You'll need some sort of container in which to mix your starter. I suggest a small mixing bowl or measuring cup that will hold between 2 to 4 cups (500 to 1000 ml). You can use a glass, ceramic, plastic or stainless steel container. You want a container you can cover with cling wrap (or plastic wrap).

  • Pick a place: You want a place where the starter isn't likely to be disturbed and where you can maintain the temperature within the 65 to 85F range (18 to 30C). If you need a warmer area, turning on the light in an oven will often get your temperature where you need it. Similarly, the top of many refrigerators is also a hot spot.

  • Mix up the starter: mix 1/4 cup  of water with 1/2 cup of whole grain flour scooped from the bag. If you weigh your ingredients, which I recommend, use 60 grams each of flour and water. (Please note, the amounts measured by weight or volume are not quite the same. The amounts were selected to be fairly convenient for people using weight or volumetric measurements.) Mix the ingredients well, cover with plastic wrap. The mixture will be a thick mass, even a very thick mass. Once you've stirred the starter, scrape down the sides of the container to make sure you don't leave food on the side of the container to feed mold.

  • Wait - Sourdough is all about patience.

    • What are you waiting for? You want the starter to start bubbling, to be active. You want the starter to rise and reach a peak.

    • How long are you waiting? About 12 hours is usually enough for the starter to become active. Bubbling can begin a few hours into the wait, or it can take as long as 24 hours. If the starter is not active in 12 hours, give it another 12 hours. If it still isn't active, give it another 12 hours.

    • What if it's not active after 36 hours? I tend to think that means nothing is going to happen. Check the steps above to make sure you did them right. If everything is OK, try again. If you've tried twice with no results, try a different brand of flour. If you get here again, get a known good starter from a friend, the Friends of Carl or a commercial source such as Sourdoughs International or King Arthur Flour.

  • Feed the Starter! When the starter is active, you should feed it. Add another 1/4 cup, or 50 grams, of water and stir the starter. Then add 1/2 cup, or 50 grams, of whole grain flour. Stir again. As a reminder, the amounts by volume and weight are not quite the same.

  • Wait again - You are again waiting for the starter to rise. Often, the starter will double in size in 12 hours or less. Sometimes it takes 24 hours. If you get good bubbling and the starter doesn't double, that's OK.

  • Feed the starter again - this time discard half the starter, add 1/4 cup, or 50 grams, of water and stir the starter. Then add 1/2 cup, or 50 grams of whole grain flour and stir again. It is important to discard 1/2 the starter at each feeding at this stage.

    • The starter feeding should double the size of the starter and if you don't discard the starter you'll soon have a LOT of starter. Later in the process you can save the starter I suggest you discard, but at this stage the starter isn't stable enough to merit saving.

  • Wait some more - again, we want to see the starter bubble and we want the starter to reliably double in size between feedings at this point. When the starter is established, regular feedings are very important, but feeding the starter too soon could keep the culture from reaching a critical threshold - each feeding dilutes the culture.

    • If at any feeding it doesn't double, give it some more time. When a starter is starting, it is unstable. You might want to read, or re-read, "Starting a Starter."

  • Repeat the two steps above - until the starter will reliably double in size between feedings.

    • If, after three days, the starter isn't doubling in size, check the troubleshooting tab.

  • Switch to unbleached all-purpose flour. While many people might prefer to use whole grain flour, I suggest feeding the starter at this stage with all-purpose flour. We are trying to get rid of unwanted micro-organisms, and the whole grain flour keeps adding more of them. Once the sourdough starter is stable, you can switch back to whole grain flour.

    • The starter may slow down when you switch to all-purpose flour. That is to be expected. Wait until the starter is active, up to 36 hours if needed, to let the starter revive from the shock of switching to white flour.
    • You can ease the transition by not having a sudden switch. Make the transition to white flour in 3 steps. Start by using about 1/4 white flour and 3/4 whole wheat or rye. The next feeding, half white flour and half whole wheat or rye. The next feeding, about 3/4 white flour and 1/4 whole wheat or rye. And the next feeding, and subsequent feedings, can be all white flour. People who ease through the transition report their starter never slows down.
    • The starter may not rise, even if it is active. This mostly happens to people who use cups. If you don't pack as much into your cup as other folks, your starter may not have the strength to trap gasses. Use a bit more flour if needed, perhaps a few extra tablespoons.
  • Feed the Starter Yet Again - like any pet, a sourdough starter needs to be fed regularly. Discard half the starter, add 1/4 cup, or 50 grams, water and stir. Then add 1/2 cup, or 50 grams, all-purpose flour and stir again. You may now start saving the discarded starter in another jar for other projects. I suggest refrigerating it.

  • Wait some more. As mentioned above, the starter may slow down for a feeding or so. Give it time, it will come back. You should soon be feeding the starter every 12 hours or so. A starter at room temperature should be fed no less than twice a day.

  • Repeat the two steps above - at this time, the starter is gaining in strength and maturity. I would not suggest using a new starter until it is at least a week old and until it can double itself between feedings. How long a starter continues to develop is not entirely clear. Most sourdough experts think between 30 and 90 days.

  • When your starter is ready, go on to the pages on using a starter.

Detailed Instructions

This was, and still is, my favorite way to start a starter.  This is also a very fast and reliable way to start a starter.  Moreover, there is lots of good information in this page, and I hope you'll read it.

Now then, let's be clear here. People have been starting sourdough starters for thousands of years. They were starting starters long before they understood that there were living creatures in the starter. It is really easy to over think this mess and to obsess over it. Don't go there. Relax. Remember to breathe. The process is simple and it works. If you forget a feeding, it's not the end of the world. I have added some photos of the process, which are in the "Starter My Way Photo Essay!" tab.

There are three basic guidelines or rules that really describe how I make and maintain a sourdough starter. Most failures with sourdough get back to these issues. Here they are.. we'll be referring to them often.

  1. An established sourdough starter at room temperature must be fed no less than twice a day. If you feed it less than twice a day, it will lose vitality and eventually become useless and die. This is also true for all but a few situations when you are starting a starter.
  2. Each feeding of the starter should be enough to double its size.
    • Some people keep feeding the starter the same amount each time they feed it. That's like feeding a puppy 1/2 cup of dog food a day. Even when he's grows up to be a 120 pound Great Dane. How much organisms should eat depends, in part, on their size.
    • If you keep doubling the size of your starter, in 10 days you'll have enough to fill a swimming pool. And 12 hours later, you'll have enough to fill two swimming pools. So, before you feed the starter, take half of your starter and set it aside. You may discard it, or you may save it for other projects like making biscuits, pancakes, cakes, pizza shells. But even throwing it away is less wasteful than continuing to double the size of your starter.
  3. Each feeding should be equal amounts of water and flour, by weight. You can use about 1 parts of water to 2 parts of flour by volume as an approximation.

Keeping those three guidelines in mind, let's get started. First, you need some flour. The flour feeds the starter, and also contains the micro-organisms that form the culture. Whole grains in general, and organic stone-ground grains in particular, have more wild yeast on them than highly processed white flours. So, pick up a sack of organic, stone-ground, whole wheat or rye flour. You might also ask your grocer which flour sells the best and check the expiration dates on the sacks of flour - you want to get the freshest sack of flour you can find at your grocery or health food store.

Many people feel that rye works better. However I've recently had better luck with whole wheat flour. Once your starter is healthy, you can use it with any kind of flour, so you can use rye flour to start your starter even if you don't plan on making rye bread. If your grocery store doesn't have such a thing, check out your local health food store. If your health food store doesn't carry such a thing, ask them to order some flour for you from Arrowhead Mills or Bob's Red Mill.

A recurring question with regard to sourdough starter is what sort of water may be used with it. Many people insist that sourdough starter can be killed by chlorinated water. Others say that it cannot be started with chlorinated water. In my experience, chlorinated water has not been a problem. I have started, fed and used starters with chlorinated water with no problems. However, I have heard that the more persistent forms of chlorine used by some cities, such as chloramine, can cause problems.

In general, if your tap water smells and tastes good it will probably work well with sourdough. If you have problems with your starters, you may want to try using de-chlorinated water. Since few home filters will remove chlorine from water, and from what I am told neither boiling nor standing will remove chloramine, I suggest that you try bottled spring water if you are experiencing what you think might be water related problems with your sourdough. Don't use distilled water or water treated with a reverse osmosis filter as those waters are lacking in minerals that your starter needs. If you think you might be having water problems, you might want to check out my more in-depth discussion of water issues.

You'll need some sort of container in which to mix your starter. I suggest a small mixing bowl or measuring cup that will hold between 2 to 4 cups (500 to 1000 ml). You can use a glass, ceramic, plastic or stainless steel container. You want a container you can cover with cling wrap (or plastic wrap). Old husbands tales warn against using metal. I've found that there is no problem with stainless steel, but I would recommend against aluminum, copper, brass, plain steel, iron, lead or any other base metal. Some people prefer to avoid plastic containers as plastic scratches easily and then becomes difficult to keep clean. The plastic wrap is there to keep bugs, cats and children out of the starter as well as to help prevent the starter from drying it out.

Temperature is the next issue. It's easy to obsess about temperature, but remember people have been making sourdough since long before temperature control was as easy as it is today. So, it might be important, but it's not the end of the world. In broad terms, you want to stay within the 65 to 85F range (18 to 30C). If you get much below that range, things will take far too long to happen. Above that range, you get into off tastes and organisms dying off. You really want to keep things under 90F (35C). It is impractical to heat or cool your whole house to keep a quart (liter) sized container at its optimum temperature. If you need a warmer area, turning on the light in an oven will often get your temperature where you need it. Similarly, the top of many refrigerators is also a hot spot. I suggest using a thermometer to double check the temperatures. Most people really can't gauge temperatures very accurately by feel. If your problem is that things are too hot, you can put your containers into a bath of cool water. If you are at too cool a temperature, remember to allow more time for things to happen. How much more time? I'd double most of the time predictions. When your starter is healthy and active, you can loosen up on your temperature control, although you still don't want to let the starter get much above 85F.

Covering the starter - absolute sterility is not a goal in sourdough. You're not looking for operating room cleanliness. You just want to keep the starter from drying out, as well as keeping stray bugs, the kids and the cat out of it. You don't need to tape or rubber band the cling wrap in place, just press the plastic wrap onto the sides of the container. You can use disposable shower caps (available from Sally Beauty Supply for a very reasonable price).

Now then, once you have your flour, water and container, mix 1/4 cup of water with 1/2 cup of whole grain flour. Mix the ingredients well, cover with plastic wrap or a saran wrap quick cover (if you can still find them). The mixture will be a thick mass, even a very thick mass. Congratulations, you've just mixed up a sourdough starter.

I really prefer to weigh ingredients. However, I have learned that most Americans can not be separated from their cups, and since most of the site's visitors are from America, I tend to stress cup measurements. If you prefer to weigh ingredients, start with 50 grams each of flour and water. Please note, I am not saying that a 1/4 cup of water or 1/2 cup of flour weigh 50 grams. I'm just using fairly convenient units of measure for site visitors who use either volumetric and weight measures.

After mixing up the starter, wait about 12 hours. Take the plastic wrap off the starter so you can get a good look at it and smell it too. At this point there is a very good chance that you'll see bubbles in the starter. If not, stir the starter vigorously, cover the starter again and let it sit for another 12 hours or so. Then check and stir again. If you don't see bubbles in two days, pitch the flour and water and start over. If you go through this twice with no results, you may want to change brands of whole wheat flour. And you may want to switch to bottled spring water. Changes to the smell of the starter will tell you that something is happening. If you looked at the Starting A Starter page, you should know that the first critters to start a starter may or may not be the final ones to rule the starter. So, if it smells bad don't be too surprised or at all discouraged - it's a sign of life, and that's a good thing.

Once you see bubbles, it's time to give the starter a feeding adding another 1/4 cup of water stirring that into the starter, then adding another 1/2 cup of your whole grain flour and stirring that in. (If you are weighing, use another 50 grams each of flour and water.) I like to stir after I add the water and again after I add the flour, it puts more air into the starter, which helps its growth at this phase of its life and it also makes it easier to mix. Even though this is hardly a starter, I think of this as the starter's first feeding. Any time you add flour to your starter, you are feeding it, much as you are feeding your dog when you put dog food in a bowl and put it on the floor for your pooch. You might notice that the feeding was equal parts of flour and water by weight and was enough to double the size of the starter. We're being deliberately loose on the timing at the start of making a starter. When the starter is established, we really want to feed it twice a day, but for now we're feeding it when it needs it. Later on, it will need to be fed more regularly.

Once you've stirred the starter, scrape down the sides of the container to make sure you don't leave food on the side of the container to feed mold. An active starter can take care of itself, but this starter is still too young to do so. I've had reports from people who didn't scrape their containers and wound up with mold on the sides of the container. This is one of the reasons I suggest a bowl with a wide top rather than a harder to scrape mason jar.

There are two issues I've gone back and forth on. One is when to start regularly feeding the starter. At this time, I suggest not feeding the starter again until it shows signs of life. If you start regular feedings of the starter too soon, you could wind up diluting the starter so much that the starter might not reach a critical threshold where it will have enough organisms to thrive. This isn't very common, but it has happened to a number of my correspondents in cooler climates. Usually, when the starter has shown enough life for a second feeding, it will be ready for another feeding twelve hours later.

Again, when your starter shows signs of life after a feeding, it's time to start regular feedings. Each regular feeding begins by discarding half the starter and then feeding it another 1/4 cup of water, stir, add 1/2 cup of whole grain flour and stir again. (If you weigh, retain 100 grams of starter and add to it 50 grams each of flour and water. What is important here is we are doubling the size of the starter with each feeding and feeding equal amounts of flour and water by weight.)

Every few days, you might switch containers as an additional precaution against mold. Once the starter is active, the danger of mold will drop. I've never had starter mold, but a few correspondents report it has happened to them.

The other issue I've gone back and forth on is when to switch to white flour. I DO suggest switching to unbleached white flour, even if you want to use whole grain flours. The reason we start with a whole grain flour is because it has more microorganisms on it, which makes it a better flour to start a starter. However, every time you feed with whole grain flour you are adding a large number of stray organisms you don't want into the starter. At this point in the starter development we want to refine the starter, encouraging the growth of the organisms we want and discouraging the ones we don't want. White flour helps us by adding fewer stray microorganisms.

However, when do we switch? In the photo essay, my third feeding was on white flour. For most starters, that is too early. I suggest waiting until the starter is active, bubbly and reliably doubling between feedings. I would suggest going out to 4 to 6 feedings at a minimum.

When the starter is active and bubbling reliably I suggest you switch to unbleached all-purpose flour flour. This will probably be around your 4th to 6th feeding. White flour has fewer microorganisms on it, and switching to white flour will help encourage the organisms you want to grow without introducing more organisms you don't want to encourage. Overall, I find starters maintained on white flour get into less trouble than starters maintained on whole grain flours.

In the past, we suggested people just switch from whole grain to white flour and we ran into starter slowdowns almost every time. Now we suggest that you do a gradual switch from whole grain to white flour. One feeding, about 1/4 white flour and 3/4 whole grain, The next, 1/2 white flour and 1/2 whole grain. The next, 3/4 white flour and 1/4 whole grain. And then, complete the switch by using all white flour. The reason is that you want to discourage stray microorganisms, and using more whole grain flours will ad a fresh crop of stray microorganisms with each flour addition.

When you switch to white flour, your starter may still slow down even if you make a gradual transition. If your starter hasn't doubled in 12 hours, let it sit a while longer. You don't want to feed it until it is bubbly. If you feed it too soon, you will be diluting the starter and you may delay how long it takes the starter to become really healthy again. I tend to treat the starter like I treated the first mixing, Be patient, wait for activity, then feed the starter. Once the starter is active, it will be ready for you to resume feeding it twice a day to encourage the growth of the microorganisms. Again, discard half the starter each time you feed the starter and then add 1/4 cup of water, stir, add 1/2 cup of flour and stir again. You should double the size of the starter with each feeding.

When you switch from whole grain to white flour the starter will get thinner. This is because whole grain flour absorbs more water than white flour. We see this again and again in our whole grain baking classes. You don't need to add more flour to compensate for this. The starter will get thinner over several days as the amount of whole grain flour decreases through the feeding process.

The reason we discard half the starter each time is because we want to double the size of the starter with each feeding. If we don't discard half the starter each time, the amount of starter will fill a modest sized swimming pool in about 10 days, an Olympic sized pool in 14 days, and a second pool the same size Twelve hours later. That's a lot of flour and that's a whole lot of stirring!

Some people object to discarding starter. It is made of flour, and it seems a shame and a waste to throw it away. At this point in the cycle, there is no telling which organisms are in the starter. I feel that until the starter is stable, it is better to discard the wannabe starter.

Within 3 or 4 days, you should have a very lively starter. You should see lots of bubbles in the starter. We are making a fairly thick starter, and it is unlikely to become frothy. Thinner starters will become frothy, but thinner starters are usually unable to double in size between feedings. Also thinner starters are more apt to go astray - they run out of food faster. Your goal is a starter that will rise to double its size after feeding.

When you feed the starter, it will rise. It can take 3 to 6 hours to reach its peak, depending on how active the starter is. Once it reaches its peak, it will remain there for a while and then it will start to recede as the starter slows down. If you feed your starter and go to work, you could miss the starter's peak, and see a quiet starter when you get home. You might think nothing is happening as a result. If you look at the container that holds the starter, you'll see that the starter will leave streaks on the side of the container.

When the starter is at least a week old and doubling in size after a feeding, it is ready to be used to make bread.

Please remember that if our fairly thick starter can't double its own size, it can't raise your bread.

If you won't be using the starter for several days, feed the starter and then put the starter into a quart canning jar, taking care not to fill the container more than half full. Put the jar's lid on loosely to allow any gas the starter produces to escape. Then put the jar into the refrigerator until you're ready to use it. The starter can be kept in the refrigerator for at least a month between feedings. If you are going to use the starter in the next day or two, just leave it out and feed it every 12 hours or so.

A sourdough starter will continue to mature for some time, gaining in taste and power. Enjoy!

Starter My Way Photo Essay

Again and again, I've been asked for pictures of starting a starter. Two weeks ago, I declared my starter was dead. Despite my attempts at washing the starter, it went back to dissolving protein. So, it was time to start a new starter. When God gives you lemons, make lemonade isn't just a cute saying, it's a formula for a happier life. So, since I had to start a starter, I took pictures and added something to the page that many people have asked for. If this page loads too slowly, I can always move the photo essay to another page. We'll see how it goes.

While the text of this page and the photo essay cover the same material, the time line of the two aren't quite in sync. I tried to put them close, but they didn't line up. Which may another reason to put the photo essay on another page.

What you need to start a starter, flour, water, measuring rquipment. Easy Peasy!Here's the ingredients and tools. Since the water at my home isn't suitable for making bread, I use bottled spring water. Look for a water that has good mineral content and that is slightly acidic. I use an organic, stone-ground whole wheat flour - the freshest sack at the local health food store. And an assortment of measuring utensils and mixing implements. A beginning... flour pasteI mixed 1/4 cup of water with 1/2 cup of flour. You can see doesn't makes a lot of starter. As you'll see more clearly in a later picture, about 1/2 cup. The starter smells very much like wet flour. Flour and water mixed, showing the consistency of the mixI mashed the starter against the side of the measuring cup so you could see how firm it is. It stands up on it's own - it's not slumping - and the fork marks remain clear and distinct. After this, I covered the measuring cup with plastic wrap and set it aside. My kitchen was in the mid 70's (22C or so) as I was starting this starter.
12 hours later, the 1/4 cup of starter is unchangedAfter sitting for 12 hours, there was no discernible activity. The starter smelled like wet flour with a hint of fish or sea air thrown in. Since nothing had happened, I let the starter sit for another 12 hours. 12 more hours, 24 in all, and there are signs of lifeAfter waiting another 12 hours, 24 since the mix, the starter has risen. There are bubbles in it, and it has almost doubled in height. At this point, this is good news, but it's as far from being a starter as a toddler is from being an Olympic runner. The first feeding!Since the starter was active, I fed it. I stirred in another 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of organic, stone-ground whole-wheat flour. The starter still has a pretty thick consistency.
After the first feedingAfter the first feeding, we had about 1/2 cup of starter. A rather dense starter. 12 hours later, it has risen!Twelve hours later, the starter had risen again, risen enough to just about double in size! It has more of a fishy smell, the first time I've smelled that in a starter at any stage. I am wondering if the Arrowhead Mills people use fish meal as a natural fertilizer on their crops. A second feeding, hurrah!Since the starter was active, I fed it again. I discarded 1/2 the starter and fed it with another 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of white flour, leaving me with -
1/2 cup of freshly fed starter - about 1/2 cup of a lighter colored starter. This picture is 12 hours after the previous feeding, and there is no appreciable rise, so I let it sit another 12 hours. A bit of riseQuite often, a starter will slow down when it is switched to white flour. Here, after 24 hours, there is very little rise. However, it has risen, so its time to start feeding the starter again. Patience is a virtueJust as you get to Carnegie Hall by practicing, you get to sourdough through patience. The starter isn't doing much, but I keep feeding it anyway.
More patienceIt rose a bit better than before. Still looks like mudThe starter looks like mud after it has been fed. More bubbles! YAY!!!!And 12 hours later, there are good bubbles on the top.
After feedingSince it's active, I keep feeding it. It doubles!And it rises to about twice its height! (If you look closely at the previous picture, there is a fair amount of starter on the side of the measuring cup, but around on the side, you can see the starter level is around 1/2 cup.) And it keeps on growing!The starter kept rising, so it seemed like a good time to put it into a larger container!
Time for a new, bigger, homeThe starter almost looks lost in its new home! We feed it and we wait. Starter pictures all look alike after a whileIt always looks sad after feeding, but The starter more than doubledit more than doubled after being put in the new container.
A top view of the risen starterLet's look at the risen starter from the top. Again, it's not bubbly, but more turbulent looking. I think looking at the side of a clear vessel gives you a better idea of whats going on in the starter. After feedingThis time, instead of discarding half, let's start feeding the starter up. Since each feeding should double the amount of starter, let's add 1/2 cup of water and 1 cup of bread flour. Top view, freshly fed starterA top view of the freshly fed starter.
It rose and collapsedThe starter is more active - it rose and fell a bit in 12 hours. You can see it fell by looking at the starter clinging to the side of the measuring cup above the liquid level. It's early, but you could use this starterI usually tell people that there are two tests that a starter should pass before I'm ready to trust it to make bread. It needs to be able to double itself, and it needs to be at least a week old. This starter smells good - the fish smell went away some time ago - and it's lively. So, it might be a bit early, but I'd be ready to use the starter.
If you're as curious as most people, you're wondering how the starter worked out. I fed it for 2 more days and then refrigerated it because I wasn't ready to bake. The next week, I pulled some out on Thursday, fed it 3 times and baked Saturday morning. It rose very nicely and the bread was good. I wasn't trying for super-sour bread, so I don't know how the starter will do in that regard, but the bread was very good.

Starter Troubleshooting

I get the same questions about sourdough starter again and again. I hope that the issue you are having will be covered in the suggestions below.

  • Get a known good starter - If you're a beginner with sourdough, you really don't know what a starter should look like, smell like, taste like and how it should handle. And you are trying to create a starter, chances are if you get there, you won't know it. Think of Columbus who didn't know where he was going, didn't know where he was when he was there and didn't know where he'd been when he got back. Of course, he knew how to get back there. Starting with a known good starter will help you "get back there". So, if you try to create a starter several times and keep getting back to the troubleshooting page, get a known good starter from a friend, the Friends of Carl or a commercial source such as Sourdoughs International or King Arthur Flour all offer good starters.

  • Pay Attention to the Starter - There are a number of things to pay attention to.

    • Is the starter bubbling?
      • If the starter is not bubbling, and has never bubbled, give it more time. If it doesn't bubble in three days, start over. If the second try doesn't work, try a different sack of flour.
      • If the starter is not bubbling, but it had been bubbling, it may be responding to a change and just need a day or two to bubble happily again,
      • If it is bubbling, it is alive and can be encouraged. If it is bubbling slowly, you might skip a feeding to let the number of critters in the starter grow - when you feed the starter, you are reducing the number of critters. With a fully active starter, this is no more a big deal than cutting a teenagers hair. With a struggling starter, reducing the number of critters you can keep the starter from reaching a critical level of having enough critters to thrive.
    • Is the starter doubling? If the starter is bubbling but not doubling, there are two major possibilities. It might not be thick enough. If you are measuring by volume, you might be making light cups, so use 2/3 cup instead of 1/2 cup of flour. Next, it might not be active enough. In that case, try skipping a feeding to let the starter get to a critical number of microorganisms in it. (See, I don't ALWAYS say "critters.")

    • Is there a layer of hooch on, or in, the starter? Hooch is a layer of clear. or lighter, liquid than can be on, in or under the starter. It is a sign that your starter isn't being fed enough. Either in terms of the amount of flour you are feeding it, or in in terms of how often it is being fed - maybe both. This web page uses a starter that is fed no less than twice a day, is fed equal amounts of flour and water by weight, and is usually fed enough to double the starters size. Again, if you are measuring flour by volume, try using more flour. Say 2/3 cup instead of 1/2. What should you do with hooch if you have any? If it's a small amount, stir it in. If there's a lot, pour it off and replace it with about the same amount of water. What's a lot? Around an inch of hooch in a half full quart sized jar.

  • New Starters Fear Change - Like Garth on "Wayne's World," new starters fear change. When you change from whole grain to all-purpose flour, you can expect the starter will slow down for a day or two. Check the suggestions above.

  • When In Doubt, Feed It - Feeding your starter is not always the answer that will save it. However, if you keep feeding it, it can be revived. If you stop feeding it (perhaps until I get around to answering your email), you might irretrievably kill the starter. We can always put the starter on a restricted diet later.

I'm sure I'll add to these hints later, but they are the biggies that I see in emails day in and day out. If you need help, please drop me a note through the "Contact Us" page.

38 thoughts on “Starting a Starter, My Way”

  1. 4 years ago I made a starter from scratch using the method described here except that I used fresh milled Kamut flour (stone mill, flour not getting hot). I had a box maintained at 80 degrees with a thermostat. In 5 days I got a happy starter and soon after began making delicious bread. In a mistake I forgot to save some starter for the next baking… That was 1 year ago. So I tried to make a new starter the same way, but even though it began bubbling happily in 3 days, it went dead the next day.
    I even got a starter from a baker, it died 3 days after each day of feeding.
    I was using the same water, the same flour.
    I tried again to make another starter from scratch, again the same it dies…
    I have been making sauerkraut for the past few years. Perhaps as I read at http://cholla.mmto.arizona.edu/food/sourdough.html the micro organisms of sauerkraut may be the culprit?

    1. Hi Luc,

      There’s lots to unpack in your note. Sourdough can be a bit tricky to get started. I haven’t seen sauerkraut be an issue, and we talked about the similarity between sourdough and sauerkraut hare = https://www.sourdoughhome.com/2012-03-25-sauerkraut-und-sauerteig/

      The problem with leuconostoc bacteria is that it makes you think your starter is happy and healthy when it’s just going through another stage. Each stage gives way to the next. leuconostoc is the next to last stage. The best bet is to have faith in the process and keep feeding your starter twice a day. After a day of sitting there like a mud puddle, it generally takes off again.

      As the link you provided says, increasing the acidity of the starter helps prevent the grown of leuconostoc, so you can use the approach they suggest – get some pineapple juice and have fun with it!

      Best wishes,
      Mike

      1. Quick question… why did you start with 60 grams each of flour and water, and then proceed with 50 grams for the feedings? Is there a reason for that slight decrease in amounts? I started mine with 60 grams…. should I have its first feeding at 50 grams or stay at 60g? Thanks.

        1. Hi,
          Sadly, there is no good reason. Brain fade, perhaps. A cup of water weighs about 240 grams. A quarter cup is about 60 grams. A cup of flour is about 120 to 130 grams so half a cup should be about 60 to 65 grams.

          The good news is that for our purposes, the difference between 50 and 60 grams just isn’t that big a deal.

          Thanks,
          -Mike

  2. I have a starter that I started nearly a year and a half ago. The last time I used it was a year ago. I left it in the fridge for about a year, without feeding it, because I was too busy to bother getting rid of it. Finally I took it out, left it on the balcony in cool weather for about a month because I hadn’t decided whether to flush it down the toilet, put it in the gaberator or in the compost. When I finally decided I better deal with it, and was about to get rid of it, it occured to me to try and see if it might actually still be alright. It had a black liquid which I think I read somewhere is not really a problem. But it smelled really nice – like apples (a year ago it smelled like vomit). I decided to feed it and it took off, doubling itself. I’ve been feeding it for about a week now, and it consistently acts like it should, and smells nice. I am probably just going to use it anyways and see what happens, but am curious to know if you have any thoughts about this – is it going to be total crap after that much neglect, could there be anything drastically wrong with it? I made pancakes twice with the discard and haven’t died yet.
    P.S. Thanks for the excellent instructions here on this site. There are so many bad instructions online, saying just to feed once a day.

    1. Hey K!
      I was reluctant to approve your comment for fear it would encourage starter abuse. You were lucky, very lucky. However, I think my comment in the “Reviving A Starter” applies. “Dr. Ed Wood, who knows more about starters than just about anyone alive, has said he’s never had a starter he couldn’t revive. It must help to have medical training. However, other people point out that it’s not always clear if the starter your revived is the one you started with. Kinda like in the book “Pet Semetary,” you can wind up with a starter that’s similar to what you had, but not quite the same.”

      My usual guidlines are if it smells OK, if it doubles between feedings, and it is more than a week old, it’s OK to use.

      Thanks for sharing your story,
      Mike

      1. Thanks for approving my comment anyways (lol) – I promise to reform my ways.
        Thanks also for your quick reply! And encouragement to go ahead. It doesn’t seem to be the same starter I started with, and actually seems to have improved, so I guess I am very lucky. I will take a look at the page you suggest and pardon me for not looking more thoroughly first!

  3. So I started my starter the day before yesterday. Nothing in 12 hours so into the oven with the light. When I got home it had doubled, so I fed it. It doubled again in 2 hours but I listened to not over feed it. Yesterday it smelled like boozy beer. 12 hours after the first feed I walk into my kitchen and I’m met with sour smell. I take out the starter and it smelled terrible, rancid milk(not a nice clabbered smell. More I left ultra pasteurized milk on the counter for a week in July). Well I fed it and im not sure if this type of episode is normal, will It outgrow the smell. It was completely flat this morning. I’m willing to keep trying with it but yikes. Thanks Sara

    1. Hi Sara,

      You might re-read the main page on “How to start a starter“, and then take a look at a write up we did comparing sauerkraut and sourdough. It is surprising how similar they are. Both of them go through generations and waves of organisms in them before they settle down.

      You can expect bad smells and for the starter to just stop doing anything for a day or two. Just stay the course and keep feeding the starter. It should be fine.
      -Mike

  4. kada se odlučim upotrijebiti kvas koliko ga treba upotrijebiti za jedan normalan kruh od pola kg brašna””’

    1. Sadly, I don’t read Croatian, however Bing says your comment was, “when I decide to use the yeast as much as i need to use for one normal half-kg of flour bread”.

      How much starter you use depends on the kind of bread you are making. In general, between 5 and 40%. When you use less starter the bread will rise more slowly and taste more sour while using more starter will make the bread rise faster and taste less sour.

      There are many recipes on our site that should work well. It is worth noting that flours are different all over the world, so you may have to modify the recipes to work with the flours you have available to you. And now I’ll hope Bibg does a better job translating to Croatian than from it.

      Nažalost, ja ne čitam hrvatski, međutim Bing kaže da je vaš komentar bio, “kad sam odlučio koristiti kvasac koliko trebam koristiti za jedan normalan pola kg brašna kruha “.

      Koliko starter koristite ovisi o vrsti kruha koji radite. Općenito, između 5 i 40%. Kada koristite manje starter kruh će rasti sporije i okus više kiselo dok koristite više starter će učiniti kruh rasti brže i okus manje kiselo.

      Postoje mnogi recepti na našim stranicama koje bi trebale raditi dobro. Važno je napomenuti da su brašna različiti diljem svijeta, tako da ćete možda morati mijenjati recepte za rad s brašnom koje imate na raspolaganju za vas. A sada se nadam da bing radi bolji posao prevodi na hrvatski nego iz nje.

      -Mike

  5. I am very new to sourdough. I found your site, along with many others, and decided to go with your method. Sadly, I had only quite old whole wheat to use (probably over a year old). This v-word, or p-word age we are living in is making it rough to start a new hobby. Anyway, miracles do happen and before the 24 hr mark I had action and fed my starter. It has taken off the last 5 hrs and already doubled. I’m excited and nervous! Would it be unthinkable to feed it bleached flour at some point? Would it kill it? I wouldn’t think of doing it if it weren’t for the scarcity of ingredients right now. Thanks!

    1. I don’t recommend bleached flour for anything. However, it is not toxic to starters, so you can feed your starter the bleached flour until you can get something better.
      -Mike

  6. Hi…just found this site! Would like your thoughts…I made a starter on April 13th, fed it, scaled it up on Wednesday, the 29th, and once it had almost tripled, made my levain. Made the dough, it rose at room them, then formed and into fridge…will bake today in a few hours but the dough seemed promising. My problem is, I fed part of the remaining levain on a 2:2:1 (80g water, 80g King Arthur AP flour, and 40g levain per the instructions I was following) and it hasn’t risen since…that was two days ago. It had lots of bubbles, but hardly risen. Fed twice yesterday. This morning I removed a portion and fed it 1:1:1 and stuck the remainder in the fridge. I do have another back-up of the levain I used after it rose to make the bread, so I can go back to that if need be. Before I made the bread, it was rising to double and beyond within 4-6 hours of feeding. I’m perplexed about what to do next. Any suggestions? Thanks for any input!

    1. I’m sorry, but I don’t comment on other people’s processes and instructions. You can search this site a long time and never find a mention of making a levain.

      In part this is because since they aren’t my instructions, I don’t know how they should work, and in part because I feel the person who wrote the instructions should answer questions about them.

      Sorry,
      -Mike

  7. Thanks you for this! I have a starter a starter using t65 organic flour. I’m in day 7 and it smells better than day three but has a craft or Elmer’s glue Smell and doesn’t quite double. Wondering if this is normal and to if I should just keep up with the process? Thank you for the site!

    1. In general, feeding a starter takes care of problems.

      However, here’s a checklist of things I’d look at.

    2. Are you feeding by weight?
    3. Twice a day?
    4. Doubling the amount of starter at each feeding?
    5. At a temperature between 68F and 80F?
    6. If you’ve checked all those boxes, let me know and we’ll dive deeper into this.
      -Mike

      1. Hi Mike! Thank you so much for the instructions. I started the starter today and I have a question. After the second feeding, should I always discard half the starter and feed it again until I can use to bake?

        1. Hi Rute,
          Yes. While you are developing the starter, after the second feeding, discard half before each feeding.
          Best wishes,
          Mike

          1. Hi Mike! Thank you!! I am already in the fourth day, but the starter didn’t double in size, it’s only bubbleling. In the second day it rose a little, I discarted half and fed it but now it doesn’t show any sings of growth and it’s been two days. In this two days I only fed once, without discarding half. Should I wait a little more to feed? Or shoud I keep discarding half and feeding it until it doubles in size?

          2. Hi Rute,

            I suggest feeding your starter twice a day. Do you feed your children or pets only once a day if they aren’t doing what you think they should?

            -Mike

  8. Starter too active?
    I started last weekend using organic sprouted rye flour. After getting decent activity the first couple days I began introducing unbleached AP flour. Day 3 growth was really slight and I waited over 24 hours to try to see more activity.

    Suddenly it’s just exploding. Yesterday afternoon it tripled within about 8 hours and then collapsed a bit overnight. It has nearly tripled since feeding about 3 hours ago. The weather has warmed up and I’m sure that is a factor, but it this a normal phase?

    Reading that it takes 60-90days to fully mature the starter how long should I continue regular feedings before I start slowing it down and refrigerating?

    1. Hi Eric,

      All starters are different, but usually when a starter is that active that early, it hasn’t settled into the final microorgansms yet. It’s fizzy, buyt not strong enough to bake bread. We talk about succession of organisms in our article on “Sauerkraut und Saierteig.

      While sourdough starters do mature for 60 to 90 days, they are usually usable, if a bit bland, in 5 to 7 days. A lot depends on often you intend to bake, but if you can. I’d hold off on refrigeration for 2 or 3 months. Yeah, feeding it twice a day is a drag if you aren’t using it, but I think it’s worth it in the long term. You could feed it for a few days without discarding, have enough starter to bake with, bake, and then keep feeding it. That could be more bread than you want to make, but we can go through a pound loaf several times a week.

      Hope that helps,
      Mike

      1. For what it’s worth, I took a tablespoon from the feeding yesterday morning and made a leaven per recipe from elsewhere, made a dough yesterday afternoon, folded and formed it, proofed in the refrigerator overnight and baked a batard this afternoon. While the dough was a bit over hydrated and loose the bread was better than I expected so quickly. My family was impressed and the entire loaf is gone already…

        I’m just going to keep feeding it for a while before I slow it down. I’ll probably make another loaf in couple of days to see how it’s progressing.

        Thanks for the site and support.

  9. Hi Mike. I love your website and the fact that you provide so many detailed instructions. You go way beyond the usual “here’s a recipe for starting a sourdough starter—good luck”, that I see on other sites. I thought I would grow my own starter since there’s been no yeast in my local store for a few months now. I’ve been feeding it for about 3-4 weeks and have not moved past the white+wheat flour feeding stage. When just using wheat flour, it seemed to double in size, but it was very slow in doing so—24-36 hours. Now it doesn’t seem to want to double at all (if it ever did) although it is bubbling and it’s consistency is much softer and liquid-like than when I first feed it. This takes less than 12 hours to occur. It’s beginning to smell really good too. I’m wondering if I should just feed it 2x per day, no matter what or wait for it to double before feeding it again? My house can get down to 66 F at night, but it’s about 72 F during the day. The good news is, I have starter in two separate bowls but are feeding them at the same time at the moment, but I have the advantage of being able to feed them differently and run a little experiment. I think I’ll try feeding one of them 2x a day whether it doubles or not while I await some feedback. Thank you!

    1. Hi Jeanine,
      Thanks for the kind words! We worked very hard to write all that information, and we’re glad it helps!

      There are a few areas where your note hints at things I wish were a bit more clearly stated. Put another way, I’m guessing.

      The daytime temperatures are fine, but the night time temperatures are definitely low. You might look for a warmer place to nurture your starter. Some people put them on top of their refrigerator. Others put them in their oven with the light on. If you do this, you need to do whatyou can to prevent people from firing up the oven. With older ovens, I took the control knobs off and put them in the oven next to the starter. With newer ovens which have no knobs, I print the word “NO!” large and bold on a piece of paper which I use to cover the oven controls. It’s worthj doing this even if you live alone – don’t ask me how I know this.

      A starter will be thicker when it is first fed. As the yeast and bacteria eat the flour, it will get thinner. It changes from something like spackling compound to a heavy cream. Whole wheat absorbs more water than refined flour, so it will also be thicker than the white flour starter.

      When you feed a starter more, and more often, it becomes more active. Not feeding it until it doubles is like not feeding your kids until they bring home a good report card. Your starter will be better off with two feedings a day.

      Finally, it isn’t clear how you are measuring your starter, flour, and water. Measuring by weight is much better than measuring by volume. It is more consistent and more accurate. You can get inexpensive scales from Amazon or Old Will Knott Scales. I’ve been very happy with the My Weigh KD-7000 and KD-8000 scales.

      Best wishes,
      Mike

  10. Hi, Mike.

    Thank you for this treasure trove of all things sourdough. I am in my third (and hopefully last) try at making a stable starter. It’s day five, and I’ve followed your instructions (almost) to the letter. I started feeding it twice a day (10am and 10 pm) on day two and switched to all-purpose flour on day 3. But I accidentally skipped a feeding on day 3 at night and the starter developed a “hoochy” smell. It has been more than tripling in size within 4 hours of feeding, and then it shrinks and settles to about double the size. The color and texture look very nice, but the “hoochy” smell hasn’t gone away. I’m wondering if the starter is hungry. Should I feed it more often, change the schedule to 3 feedings a day? Other than the smell, I think it is progressing nicely. Any advice is hugely appreciated.

    1. Hi Renata,
      Thanks for the kind words! Sourdough Home has been a labor of love for many years and it makes me happy when people appreciate it!

      On the starter… enzymes on yeast can convert starch to sugars, and yeast can digest the sugars into carbon dioxide, alcohol and a few other less abundant things that add flavor. All that means, your starter should smell like hooch, or alcohol. Your starter is probably ready to make bread.

      That said, if you keep feeding it it will get stronger and make more flavorful bread. Or, good today and better tomorrow.

      In your shoes, I’d stick with the feeding plan laid out here on sourdoughhome.com. That said, our feeding regimen isn’t carved in stone and brought down from a holy mountain by a prophet. Different people have different ways of doing things. Some people and some starters show a preference for larger feedings. Our feeding regimen is described as 2:1:1 or two parts starter, one part water and one part flour. Many people prefer 1:1:1 or higher, 1:2:2 or even 1:5:5. As the ratio gets higher, the feeding tends to favor the yeast at the expense of the bacteria. My advice is, once your starter is well established play with it. Learning what works for you is part of the fun of learning about any new adventure!

      I wrote about a more extreme feeding in a blog post titled “2019-06-11 The Five percent Solution“.

      Have fun!
      -Mike

      1. Hi, Mike.

        Please, help! I don’t know what I did, but my starter is not happy at all. Actually, I know what I did, but I really don’t know why my starter is so unhappy.

        A couple of days ago, I decided to clean the container where I keep my starter. So instead of feeding the starter in the container as usual, I put the usual measure of starter in a bowl, added water and flour and mixed. I cleaned the jar I use, and poured the starter mix back into it. And now, my beautiful, bubbly, hoochy, active starter turned white, pasty, completely lackluster, and it smells like glue or rancid potatoes. I keep feeding it normally, but it just looks at me with disdain and refuses to bubble. Should I just start over, or do you think it will forgive me? It is just a bit over a week old, so starting again wouldn’t be so hard. But I still don’t understand what caused it to simply wilt like this.

        As usual, any help is appreciated.

        1. Hi Renata,

          I think the key bit of information is where y9ou tell me the starter is just a week old. A young starter is as easy to stun as a Norwegian Blue parrot.

          Normally, I suggest feeding a starter twice a day while it is at room temperature. Feeding it less will stress it somewhat. Each feeding should be enough to double it in size for a feeding atio of 2:1:1 or two parts opf starter to 1 part each of flour and water by weight.

          The exception is when your starter just stops, short never to seemingly go again, as yours has done. If there are no bubbles, feeding can take the starter below a critical threshold below which the starter won’t show signs of life. In these cases, I skip feeding it for a day or two. If it starts bubbling, then return to a normal feeding schedule. If it doesn’t start bubbling after two days, then it is probably a lost cause and it is time to discard the starter, clean your glassware, and start over.

          A lot of this ignores what you used to clean your starter container. Sourdough is a very septic process. It depends on yeast and bacteria. If you kill ’em off, the process stops. When it is time to clean the starter jar, I just use hot water and a gentle wash cloth if some of the residue refuses to move. I don’t use soap and I definitely don’t use bleach. Just water under pressure.

          Hope this helps,
          -Mike

  11. Hi Mike, thanks for this wonderful website. I have been a follower for many years, on and off. I recently needed to make a new starter and read your instructions. I am interested to know why it’s desirable to start feeding the starter with all purpose flour and does it eventually become 100% all purpose?
    Up til now I used 100% rye, For the starter only, and it gave rise to some pretty good bread, but now I will try with the white added.

    1. Hi Gina,
      Thanks for the kind words! They are always appreciated!
      The Calvel 2 1/2 day starter is started with a mix of rye and white flour, and the rest of the starters all start with either whole wheat or rye flour. I’ve never been able to start a starter with a white flour, an experience I share with a number of my sourdough buds.

      I suggest switching over to white flour for two reasons. First, historically most home bakers have made white breads, so the starter might as well have white flour in it. Second, every time you add whole wheat or rye flour you are adding a fresh crop of stray microorganisms to the starter. I like to weed out the strays and get a somewhat more pure starter. I talk about this in the Starter My Way page.

      The focus of Sourdough Home is on the beginning sourdough baker, so advanced sourdough bakers may well have different preferences. We try to give simple, tried and true approaches to sourdough.

      Good luck,
      -Mike

  12. Hi Mike,
    Thank you for these detailed instructions! I’m getting ready to make my first starter and I’m trying to decide on what flour to use. I know part of the deal with sourdough is the bacteria digest the sugars in flour, resulting in a lower-sugar, higher protein bread (part of the reason I love it, white flour and I normally don’t get along because of blood sugar issues).

    My question is do you tend to find you can go through bags of white flour before they expire just using it to feed a starter? I do most of my other baking with whole wheat pastry flour so that’s what I mostly keep on hand (I like it because it’s more nutrient-rich than white, but less dense than regular whole wheat), in addition to some regular whole wheat. I’ll buy some white flour if that’s going to be the best way to feed the starter, but just wondering if I should try to find small bags if I don’t plan on using it for anything else.

    I’m still kind of new to different flour types. I tend to use the whole wheat pastry for cookies and crusts and stuff but have way less bread baking experience. Could I use whole wheat pastry flour in sourdough (whether in the starter or in the final product) or would you not recommend that?

    1. Hi Chelsea,
      If you’re asking about picking the freshest white flour to start a starter, ahhh… I use whole wheat or rye flour to start a starter and then switch it to white flour once it’s happy. I’ve never been able to start a starter with white flour, and I have a fair number of friends and correspondents who have had the same experience. So, to start, please use whole wheat or rye flour.

      If you’re asking about flour freshness to feed a starter, with white flour it’s really not an issue. White flour has a long, long shelf life. I’ve only gotten bad white flour once. It was given to me by someone who had stored a number of 50lb bags in his garage after he closed his bakery five years earlier. I accepted it partly because I try to be nice, and partly becasue I thought we could use it to try out the new mixer and oven. After one test bake, the remaining flour was dumped into our dumpster. Other than that, all the white flour I’ve purchased has been acceptably fresh. (Please no comments from my whole wheat fanatic friends, OK?)

      On the flour selection front, part of the equation is what you want to do. If you want to make white breads, you need white flour. If you want to make whole grain flours. When starting a starter, I switch from whole wheat or rye to white flour because whole wheat or rye introduce more stray microorganisms with every feeding than a white flour will. When I am starting a starter, I want the process to winnow out the undesirable organisms quickly. Not introducing more of them is part of the process. As is allowing the ones we want to overpower and extinguish the ones we don’t want. We talk about what is happening when you start a starter in some detail here and here.

      I would not use whole wheat pastry flour, or any pastry flour, to start a starter, to feed sourdough or to make bread. The protein content is a bit low for either. Regular whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and bread flour all work well.

      Hope this helps,
      -Mike

  13. Hi Mike,
    I was so excited to get started!. Thanks for the great information on your site, very informative.
    I started my starter a couple of days ago with rye flour but it took 24 hrs to start working. I fed it yesterday morning with rye flour, it was quite active, then again last night. I took out half and used 1/2 whole wheat & 1/2 white non bleached flour. WOW!!! It’s more than doubled! I’m so excited that it worked. Now to just keep it alive lol

  14. Hi Mike, you have a great set of instructions here, thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge and help others make sourdough! I have a few questions for you.
    I started my starter about a week ago now. My house is rather chilly, averaging 50-60f so I’ve started it on top of an old minifridge inside an insulated box. I’, not sure of the temp in the box but everything was going well and 4-5 days in my starter was easily doubling and needing to be fed every 8-12 hrs. Smell was similar to buttermilk or hard apple cider. Everything seemed to be going according to plan.
    However, I was not feeling very well, so I had my partner do a regular feeding on day 5 and then put the starter into the refrigerator (40f) for a total of three days until I was feeling better. It did double in size and then stall out, not collapsing much or developing any hooch, and when I took them out today to do a feeding and get them going again they smelled like a more sharp, alcoholic hard cider as expected but still not bad. The starter was very gooey, like homemade marshmallows. After a standard feeding it was back to the warm box, and after a couple of hours I can see its growing again, has bubbles throughout, and has a mild, yeasty smell.
    Would you consider this starter okay to keep going with if it continues to look, smells and act okay? I’m hoping to not have to start over from scratch. If so, how much longer do you think I need to wait to use it? Would you think it would be okay to store younger (than 3 mo.) starter in the refrigerator from time to time as long as it is fed right before storage?

    1. Hi,
      Thanks for the kind words! You asked a number of questions, I’ll try to answer them all.

      I sounds like you started out very well. Normally, I find feeding twice a day to be adequate. I’ve never noticed a starter being fed that often declining. It doesn’t have to be exactly 12 hours between feedings, close is good enough.

      At such an early stage in starting a starter, it may be more fragile than it will be later. When not fed, the texture can change. I’ve not made marshmallows, but might liken what I’ve seen to marshmallow cream. And that’s not the end of the world. AS long as there isn’t pink mold, you can almost always revive a sourdough starter.

      When you feed it twice a day, it should start growing and the texture should improve. When a starter doesn’t bounce back, I’ll feed it three times a day, enough to triple the starter each time. Our normal feedings are described as 2:1:1 or two parts starter to 1 part each of flour and water, by weight. The more aggressive feeding is 1:1:1, or one part starter to one part each of flour and water, by weight. All but the most stubborn starters will bounce back within 2 days of this regimen. We talk about this in the page on reviving a starter.

      I would keep feeding your starter. My general rule is, when in doubt, feed the starter. When the starter consistently doubles in size between feedings, it is ready to use. It will continue to develop power and strength for some time. Some people say it is as good as it gets in 30 days, others say 90. Once you are happy with the bread your starter makes, you can start refrigerating it. I prefer to refrigerate a thicker starter, as a thicker starter holds up better. As you not, I feed the starter just before putting it into the fridge as it seems to revive better that way. I talk about the thicker starter in the article on storing your starter.

      Hope that helps,
      Mike

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