Before you watch this video on sourdough starter maintenance, please know that it really isn’t a big deal to keep your sourdough culture alive and healthy. A good starter is naturally very hearty and robust. If I were as strong as my starter is, I’d be competing in Iron Man competitions. At a minimum, all you have to do is throw some flour and water in once in a while to keep it alive during periods when you’re baking infrequently. To keep it near optimum health, feed it once a week or so and keep it refrigerated.

If you’re baking regularly, say weekly or bi-weekly, it’s easy enough just to feed it after using the amount called for in your recipe before returning it to your refrigerator. If you really want to be sure your starter is in optimum shape, feed it once or twice the day before baking or the two days prior to baking day. In addition, here are a few points that are worth noting…

  • When you feed your starter, feed it with approximately equal weights of flour and water. That equates to about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of water for every cup of flour.
  • As a general rule of thumb, the amount you feed your sourdough starter depends on how much of it you have to start with. When practical, you want to approximately double the amount of starter you have each time you feed it. However, if you already have a couple cups of starter on hand and typically only use a cup of starter in your recipe, it doesn’t make sense to have to double the existing two cups of starter. In this case just dispose of a cup or more of the starter and then double what remains.
  • If it’s been a long time since you’ve fed your starter and you don’t plan on baking for a while, don’t feel like you have to go through a big rigamarole to keep it happy, just stir in a 1/2 cup of flour and about the same amount of water and forget about it. That will at least buy you a few more weeks before you have to worry about it again.
  • If you really don’t think you’re going to use your starter at all for a very long time, (some people don’t bake during the summer months, for example), you could dry some starter and freeze it. It will store this way indefinitely. Then revive it in the fall. See the videos on drying starter and reviving dried starter.
  • If you need a whole wheat or rye starter, it’s easy to convert your white flour starter by just a few successive feedings with the flour you want. You may have to adjust the water as some flours are thirstier than others.
  • Be sure to store your starter in a container that’s not air tight. This comment from Madelyn dramatically (and humorously) illustrates why.

I’m really belaboring this subject. Once you’ve played around with sourdough starters for a while and baked some with it, you’ll know all you need to know and develop a sense for what works best. If your bread is not rising as much as you think it should (you’re not getting the desired oven spring) then try what I said about feeding your starter a couple of times in the 12-24 hours before starting your recipe.

As with anything on this web site, if you have any questions or comments about anything please ask in the space below.

Jan 13, 2011 Update: In this video I mention a favorite recipe of mine that calls for 2 cups of sourdough starter. It’s been so long since I shot the video (and many favorite recipes ago), that I’ve forgotten exactly which recipe I was referring to. I do know it was in Ed Wood’s book, Classic Sourdoughs. He has many recipes in there that call for 2 cups of starter.

1,498 thoughts on “Managing Your Sourdough Starter

  1. Liz

    So, I think I might have fed my starter too much – could that by why it’s not rising? I probably had about a cup of starter left and added two cups of flour & a little less than 2 cups of water to it. Mixed it, left it on the counter, and it doesn’t look like it’s doing anything… Will it eventually do something? I’m just not sure if I should continue to leave it on the counter or put it in the fridge or what… My bread that I tried to make with it (before I fed it, as my recipe calls for unfed starter) failed to rise also… I’m not sure why. I’m stumped. I’m fairly new to sourdough, and I just don’t know what to do from this point – any suggestions?? Thanks in advance! – Liz

  2. LJ

    Hello. Thank you for posting the starter recipe and video. I was able to make what appears to be a healthy starter first try. I was even able to bake a loaf of bread with it. The bread had nice texture, color, and crust. The problem is it lacks that sour dough flavor and tartness. It was kind of bland. How do I get that sourdough flavor and tartness in my starter?

    Thanks!

    • Liza Saturley

      Hi LJ,

      A fresh and healthy starter is mild-tasting. Managing sourdough to achieve your desired degree of sour flavor is challenging. Below are some suggestions that have worked for some, though I haven’t tried all of them myself.

      Increasing the sour flavor:

      -Proof at elevated temperatures (80°F/27°C and higher).
      -Proof at lower temperatures for a prolonged time period. Proofing in the fridge for several hours or overnight and then resuming at room temperature may work.
      -Use smaller amounts of starter in the recipes which prolongs the time it takes until dough is ready to bake
      -It might help to “abuse” your starter by not feeding it for several days. The longer starter goes unfed the more sour it tends to become which might translate into a more sour bread.
      -Use leftover soaked sour bread, such as rye bread, to your starter, which can increase the sour flavor – a method called Altus.
      -Add a pinch of ascorbic acid (vitamin C powder available in many health food stores) to increase the sour flavor.
      -Add a couple of Tablespoons of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar with mother to the sponge. I’m told it doesn’t affect the rise and it increases the sour flavor.

      Hope you find some useful information above. Please let us know what works and what doesn’t, should you choose to experiment.

      Thanks!
      Liza at Breadtopia

  3. Sharon Higginbotham

    Love your website. Thank you for the helpful information! I’m brand new to making sour dough starter and watched the how to make your own starter video, how to manage, how to make sour dough rye bread . My question is, once I have completed the last step of making my starter (add 1/4 c flour) how long before I can use the starter for bread, mins, hours, days? Thanks for your help! Sharon

  4. Edna

    Starter (APF + water) bubbling (about day 4) but not smelling very yeasty or sour. Observations? Suggestions?

  5. Is it really necessary to use a rye starter when making a rye sour dough bread? Will using a white starter dramatically effect the outcome of the bread’s taste,? i.e., lose the rye flavor. Most of the recipes that I have seen only use a limited amount of the starter and my thinking is because the larger amount of rye flour in the recipe will over compensate for using the white flour starter. I have a white starter for over 15 years and had developed it after following Nancy Silverton’s instructions from her cookbook, LaBrea Bakery. I refresh it weekly with 10 0z of starter water and flour but when I bake I refresh it two times every eight hours with 18 oz. starter,22 oz. flour and thirty two oz. of filtered water. I never baked any rye or whole wheat breads with a sour dough can you recommend a couple of good solid baking bred books on Rye’s and whole wheat breads. Thank You
    Respectfully,
    Frank Tardalo

    • Edna

      Mak sure you soak any non APF overnight before adding yeast. Let sit about 30-45 minutes after mixing and before kneading. It makes a huge difference in quality and lightness of outcome.

  6. Wee Kiong

    I believe I can learn a lot from your video. I do have a couple of questions though.
    How much sourdough do I need for every kg of all purpose flour used in making pancake batter?

    If I were to bake everyday, do I need to make 3 batches of sourdough starters, since it takes about 3 days to be ready for use after each feeding of the starter and will I need 3 batches of sourdough starter?

    How much will I have to feed it every time after use?

    Thank you,

    Wee Kiong

    • Marty Brown

      Wee… on your pancake question, there’s not a definite answer. Sourdough can be drippy wet or very pasty – so the amount of water content of your sourdough starter will determine how much you would need per kilogram of flour. Some pancake recipes call for the entire mix – other than oil or eggs or other non-flour ingredients – to be made up of sourdough starter: in other words, no added flour. (I make my pancakes this way since I love a really pronounced sourdough flavor.) Try experimenting with much smaller quantities than a KG of flour and record your results.

      On the three different starter question, I’m a bit surprised that you are finding it take three days to get your starter to reactivate after feeding. If you are refrigerating your starter, I could understand that. But if you are planning on using your starter every day, or even just three times a week, I wouldn’t refrigerate the starter at all. When I bake sourdough bread, I take the starter out of the refrigerator the day before I start the bread, feed it and after the night on the counter, it is bubbly and perky as a kitten. On day two, I mix the ingredients for the bread, then set the dough in a greased bowl overnight and then form the loaf on day three.

  7. Heidi

    Hello,
    I didn’t use/feed my sourdough for some time (3 weeks) so I did the usual flour and water routine and then set it in our one room that has our plumbing pipes. I did this as it is warmer in there and I was going to “jump start” it.
    However, I made the big mistake of leaving it in there overnight and now I used it and it maybe has a bit more of a tangy, slightly “off” aftertaste?
    I have not used this much and am inexperienced, so now am wondering if I ruined it. Is there a way to tell if you left it out too long in a warm room?
    Thank you

  8. Ruth

    This is my first time baking with homemade sourdough starter! Just wondering… How much (if anything) should I feed my starter right after I bake with it? I had 3 cups of starter, took out 2 cups to bake with. I know I should feed it right BEFORE I use it; should I feed it AFTER I use it too? Thanks! –Ruth

  9. G. Giraldo

    Hello,
    I have acquired a starter from my local bakery and I wanted to keep it healthy. I don’t have time to make anything with it for a few weeks and I wanted to find out how often I should feed it. I have about 1cup and a half and it looks healthy I think. thanks again and I look forward to baking with it for the first time.

  10. barbara

    your video was very helpful. I just have one question. will my starter get ‘tangier’ if I leave it out and feed it longer??? I made my first 2 loaves of bread yesterday, and while the texture, and the crust was GREAT….it just didn’t have that tangy flavor. and on the 2nd rising, the loaves didn’t POOF very much……and my starter was VERY active. thank you in advance. barb

    • The longer your starter sits out, the more sour it will become, but that doesn’t always translate into a more sour loaf of bread. You’re more likely to get a more sour loaf if you prolong the proofing time by putting the bread dough in the fridge overnight. You’ll have to experiment with it. Also, one possible reason for not getting a good second rise is if you proofed it too long on the first rise. Getting the timing right on this stuff can be challenging. You just have to bake a million loaves and then it will be easier ;-).

  11. Camille

    Love the website, very informative and it is nice to here that keeping a starter isn’t as much work as many other websites suggest. I recently started getting into the whole wild yeast starter thing and reconstituted flakes on my countertop. Things were going great, starter was doubling, sometimes almost tripling in a 12 hour period. I want mine to be a refrigerator starter since I only plan to use it once or twice a week, MAX. I fed it, stuck it in the fridge, 12 hours later there was a layer of liquid but it didn’t seem to be any higher than the night before. By the 14 hour mark of the last feeding before refrigeration, I reduced and fed it again…still not rising. Their are some bubbles, no rise though. I know of people who keep their starter in the fridge and feed it twice a week. I REALLY want to start using mine…what did I do wrong or what should I be doing? Thanks!

    • Camille

      I really wish someone would reply to my question, I can’t seem to get help anywhere on any site…

      • Alex

        Hey Camille, this happened to me on day three. I was out of the fridge the whole time. I just let it sit on the counter and added a little more flour than water. I got the consistency to about pancake batter.

        Then, nothing happened for a day.

        On the eve of the fourth day i looked inside and… … … Big bubbles!

        I think the metabolism of the yeast and bacteria really slows down in the cold weather. Maybe, you could take it out of the fridge, feed it again and let it sit on the counter to revive?

        I am on day eight! So excited to harvest and bake tomorrow

        • So Alex, in those four days did you feed the starter or do anything with it at all?

          I am getting back into sourdough after an 18-month break and got a 1/4 cup starter from a class. Left it in the fridge overnight, then the following afternoon fed it about equal amounts flour and water and left it on the counter. Forgot to check it until the next morning (today), and it hadn’t risen at all–just had a layer of liquid on top!

          Tried feeding it again this morning but with a bit more flour this time, and then put it in the hot water cupboard to keep it a bit warmer. Still nada. Eh??

          Not sure if I should discard some and keep feeding it and out on the counter…??? It smells good, and I can see some bubbles, but it’s just not rising! Never had this issue with the last starter I kept.

    • Marty Brown

      As Alex says, the sourdough isn’t likely to go crazy in the refrigerator… you may get some small bubbles, but if you want to see the volume increase, warm it up on the counter of your kitchen. Despite all the romantic notions, sourdough is just wild yeast. Normal Red Star Yeast won’t multiply much in the refrigerator either, but give it something to eat and it will at about 90 degrees!

  12. Anita Schlitzkus

    Have tried plain flour, water, yeast starters & not totally satisfied. So I am giving the pineapple sourdough starter a try today. So happy I found it. The “why it works” info. makes so much sense. Thanks, I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  13. Joanne

    I love your website and your videos and have been making no knead sourdough bread for a while now. My starter works well (I keep it in the fridge), but it keeps getting “hooch” on the top. I have read that this is an indication that the starter is dying and to pour the hooch off before feeding it. I’ve also read that you can stir the hooch back into the starter when feeding, and no problem. I’ve done both, but the hooch continues to appear — sometimes a lot, sometimes no too much. What is the problem? Is it a problem? And can you tell me how to keep my starter healthy? Thank you, Joanne

    • Hi Joanne,

      The main thing is that it works well, so it doesn’t sound like you have a problem. It can be a bit much for a home baker who may not be baking all that frequently to feed their starter enough to keep it super healthy, but that’s usually the fix… Just feeding it more.

  14. May Althouse

    Hi, i had purchased some starter from you about a week ago and i didn’t get to it right away, so i put it in the refrigerator. I took the instructions off so i could read them and get an idea of what i was suppose to do with it, but i LOST them!!! Uhhhhggggg!!!! Could you please EMAIL me the directions so i can take care of my starter right away.

    Thank you
    May Althouse

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