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.

1,436 thoughts on “Managing Your Sourdough Starter

  1. Hi Carol,

    It depends on how much you feed it relative to how much you started with. You want to wait as long as it takes to get all bubbly and active looking again. Could be anywhere from an hour to several hours.
    Yes, you can leave it at room temperature until it’s ready to use. Probably best to do that.

  2. carol

    I took my starter out of the refrig-fed it—-how long should I wait to bake—also–can I leave it at room temp if I’m planning on baking?

  3. Fran

    I unintentionally left my starter out of the refrigerator for over a week while I was out of town. I have since fed the starter and note that it has not risen but it does bubble. Should I continue to feed it a couple more times or should I start over?

  4. Hi Elizabeth.

    I take my starter straight from the fridge often, so it could be something else.

  5. Elizabeth

    Eric, I did not feed my starter before I baked bread. My dough looked like moosh! The starter was in the refrigerator and had been fed that week, so I thought that it would be okay. But it did not work. Can a starter ever go from fridge to baking?

  6. Hi Butch,

    I’m using my starter very frequently and so feeding it frequently. So mold never has a chance to develop.

    If by scraping the mold off before feeding your starter, it seems to keep it from getting worse, then I wouldn’t worry about it.

  7. I have used sourdough starters on and off for many years,but I’ve noticed in your videos,none of your starters seem to have developed the scungy looking mold and “stuff that sticks to the sides of the container,should I be concerned about the mold,I usually just scrape it off and discard it before I feed the culture

  8. Hi Oliver,

    Bleached flour can work too. But why buy bleached flour at all?

  9. Linda Winegar

    Great video on starter

  10. oliver

    when starting a starter, is it ok to use bleached frour

  11. Sultan

    OK, I have a question.

    I made my starter exactly as you showed on your video, except I didnt have any pineapple juice, so I used fresh squeezed mango juice instead because I have tons of them sitting in the fridge.

    Anyway, it is only day 3 (I put my second batch of flour/juice in this morning) and not only is it bubbling already, but its starting to rise. Should I wait for another 48 hours to add the next batch of flour/water or can I do it later on today? I’m in no rush, but seriously….its foaming and is actually moving when I open the container!! I’m wondering if the relatively high sugar content of mango juice is causing this premature “fermentation”. Hmm…maybe mango juice works better than pineapple!! Anyway, I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer my question. Thanks, and btw, you have an awesome site!!

    –Sultan

  12. Rob

    Where I live, the temperature is usually around 86F (so much so that one would think the thermometer is broken), and the humidity stays around 85%.. Most of the houses are not air conditioned, and the people who do use air conditioning have electric bills more than twice what they would normally be.

    What, if anything, should I do to make sure sourdough works properly, especially with a completely new starter (since I have no way of obtaining starter from any other source, here)?

    I like a strong (though not overpowering) sourdough flavour, which would usually mean slower, longer starter development, but I’m concerned that the typical temperatures would make the starter grow too quickly and that refrigeration would slow it down too much.

    Any ideas?
    Thanks!

  13. marian

    Hello there,
    Thanks for that great website, it’s awesome
    I am a newbie at the backing environment! Not just at the sourdough starter.
    I started my starter 3 days ago with fresh squeezed orange juice and white rye flour; here is how I started it:
    The first day I combined 2 table spoons of rye flour and 2 table spoons of the orange juice
    The second day I added 2 table spoons of rye flour and 2 table spoons of the orange juice
    The third day I added 2 table spoons of rye flour and 2 table spoons of the orange juice
    Today is the forth day and I am going to add a ¼ cup of rye flour and ¼ cup of spring water.
    My questions are
    1 how do I make enough starter and keep it going, meaning how do I know how much I need for the recipe and do I need to add any yeast to the final dough?
    Please I need lots of help since I am really clueless at the baking but I love it and my husband loves and wants me to start to bake our bread at home
    If I am using the bread machine, do you have any bread machine recipes with sourdough starter?
    Again thank you very much for the very informational site

  14. Hi Joe,

    The 80 degree hot plate shouldn’t hurt anything. I think it would speed thing up some like you suggest.

  15. Hi Judy,

    I suggested one cup flour and 2/3 cup water just so you’d have a starter consistency that usually works well. It wasn’t intended to give you the right quantity necessarily.

  16. Joe

    Hello

    i have a starter in the process , however it has cooled off in the house to below 70 degrees..
    Can i use a hot plate set at 80 degrees to kick start it and hel;p the process along or will that harm it?
    Can i use the hot plate for the whole process to make my starter?

    Thanks

    Joe

  17. Thanks so much for the starter help! I added what you suggested on Friday, put it in the fridge. I checked it Sat night and it was bubbly, so I made a batch of no-knead dough. I am asking my baking group how to compensate for the starter, because the dough came out really sticky the next morning. I did cut back the recommended 3/4 cup of both water and flour to compensate for 1 1/2cups of starter.

    My question to you is to learn–why did you suggest I add 1 cup of flour and 2/3cups of water at that point? I was adding half as much each day. Was it just to get the right quantity to use?

    Thanks,

    Judy

  18. Hi Ron,

    No knead dinner rolls can be great. You can just divide the recipe as is into smaller balls of dough and bake on a stone. However, you might want to add more flour to stiffen the dough a bit so you get a more spherical roll.

    And if you want a softer crust, add a couple tbs of oil to the recipe or substitute half the water for milk to soften the dough.

  19. Ron

    Perhaps this is a stretch……..anyone have any experience with dinner rolls from no knead??

  20. Hi Judy,

    Glad you like the whisk.

    Don’t start over on the starter. It’s probably fine to use now. I would discard all but about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of what you have now and then feed that with a cup of flour and 2/3 cup of water. Let it sit out for a few hours and it should be good to go. If you’re not going to bake right away, store it in the fridge until then.

  21. Judy

    Oh, I really like the dough whisk I bought from you. It took a getting used to, but I really like that it gets into every part of my dough bucket to incorporate the flour. I still like to use my hands at the end to get the feel of the dough, but i am finding that the flour is mixed better.

  22. Judy

    Hi,

    I would appreciate some advice on starter. I finally tried making a starter, and I think I got it going ok. I got it to double. Then I had to go away on family business, and it sat in the fridge just over a month.
    A week ago, I decided to finally try to revive the starter and actually try using it! I’ve never baked with starter before, never saw anyone bake with it before (other than recently, with your videos).
    I poured off the hooch, and began adding in 1/2cup flour and 1/3cup water to 1/2cup starter every night. I placed a post it note at the top of the mixture, so I can check for rising. In the morning, I notice a lot of froth/bubbles that cause the starter to be doubled. By the end of the day, the whole thing goes back down to the post it note level.
    Should I start completely over? Should I just keep adding daily till it doubles? Can I use the starter in some recipes and just reduce the yeast? I will be using the no-knead recipes of Artisan Breads in 5 minutes a day. They give directions on using starter with their recipes. BUT I don’t know if this starter is ready to use yet or not. I’ll be using it with yeast, cutting it in half.
    I want to learn how to do this so I can make my NY Deli style rye breads more sour. But I am experimenting with all purpose flour starter this time.

    Thanks so much!

  23. Cindi Kilgore

    With the onset of summer and 101 to 110 degrees here in Fresno I don’t see myself baking anytime before Oct. I want to keep my starter alive, if I just fed it tsp’s of flour, milk and sugar will that deep it alive with out adding mass growth?

  24. jason chen

    Hi Madelyn:

    Thanks for answering my questions. I have more confidence dealing with the sourdough. I have a few more questions for the sourdough. I read some articles on other websites about caring for sourdough. Some Chefs suggested to feed the dough twice a day, and the feeding ratio should be 1:1. For example, 1 cup starter, then 1/2 cup of water or 1/2 cup of flour. Do you think it’s better to follow that directions?

    thanks,
    Jason Chen

  25. Lin Hartt

    I already have a starter in the fridge, but want to make buns that call for 1.3/4 cups of starter, how much do I add to re start the sourdough again (if that makes sense) thanks

  26. Madelyn

    To Jason

    1). How do I determine when the sourdough starter is ready for use in breads?
    Its bubbly or puffy. Doesn’t look like flour stirred into water.

    2). If I bake weekly or bi-weekly then I should put the starter in refrigerator and feed it once in couple days, right?
    Yes. That’s what I do.

    For example, if I plan to bake breads in the next morning, should I feed the starter a night before I use it?
    Yes, that’s what I do. Feed it the day before and leave it out. But I’ve also just popped it out of the fridge and used it.

    Or do I need to feed it again in the morning before I use it in a recipe?
    No, you don’t. If you fed it the day before and left it out overnight, you don’t have to feed it in the morning before you bake, at least I don’t. Just go ahead and bake with it.

    3) If I feed it a night before, can I use it right the way in the next morning?
    Yes, I do.
    Or do I need to stir it and let it sit for awhile before use it.
    You are over-analyzing. Sure, stir it or not. The yeasties probably do not care if you stir them or not. They are ready to go. Go ahead… bake something. It’s easier than you think! (I was a Newbie in December.) Stop thinking and bake!

  27. jason chen

    Hi, I am a newbie to sourdough starter. I watched your video of maintaining sourdough starter. You have really detailed and well illustrated to maintain sourdough starter. I have a couple questions to the sourdough starter.
    1). How do I determine when the sourdough starter is ready for use in breads?
    2). If I bake weekly or bi-weekly then I should put the starter in refrigerator and feed it once in couple days, right? For example, if I plan to bake breads in the next morning, should I feed the starter a night before I use it? Or do I need to feed it again in the morning before I use it in a recipe?
    3) If I feed it a night before, can I use it right the way in the next morning? Or do I need to stir it and let it sit for awhile before use it.

    Thanks a lot.
    Jason Chen

  28. Bev

    I have a small amount of sourdough starter in the fridge. Can I feed it with as little as 1-2T each of flour and water to keep it active? I don’t wish to have too much starter available.

  29. Wil

    Hi Rebecca, W.Wheat usually makes a pretty healthy starter. It usually is a little thicker and doesn’t show a lot of bubbly on top. You can make it thinner by adding more water. My starter is like cake icing and doesn’t bubble but it will double in the container after feeding. Do the spoon test, dip a wooden spoon or something in the starter and take it out and look at it carefully, you should see tiny, tiny bubbles. The more the better. If you see the bubbles, it is healthy and active. Any time after your starter is very active and almost doubling in a few hours after feeding, you can put it in the refrigerator. However, since it has already doubled, it is almost time to feed it again so in a few days, feed it again and put it back in the refrigerator until you are ready to use, or feed again. Whole wheat breads (whole grains) tend to be rather dense and don’t rise very much. There are however some good recipes on here that will get you that nice rise you are looking for.

  30. Rebecca Eller

    Thanks so much for your website! I am really enjoying exploring. I followed your directions on making my own sourdough starter and was successful! I have rye starter, white starter, spelt starter, and whole wheat starter. These have been the science projects for myself and my homeschooled 7yr old son :-)

    I have a couple of questions. All of our starters look pretty good, but the whole wheat starter doesn’t seem to bubble up very much after we feed it. I’ve tried to make bread with it and it doesn’t rise very much. Does this mean it’s not healthy and I should start over with it?

    The other question is: how soon after the starter has been started can it be put in the refrigerator? I thought maybe I had put the wheat starter in the frig too soon after starting it and that it had been stunted or something.

    Thanks so much.

  31. You could try pouring off the black liquid and taking a small portion of the starter that looks the best and feed that. If it comes back to life then feed it a few more times before using it.

  32. David

    WOW Have been enjoying your videos of Making and maintaining sourdough starter. I made some that I have just kept in the refridgerator for over 3/4 of a year. The liquid on top is a black color! Is it dead???

    Thanks for taking questions.

  33. Allison

    Thank you so much for this video! I am a ‘newby’ to sourdough starters and after searching several well known websites for tips and advice, none have even come close to helping me get a good grasp on how to manage my starter. This video was EXACTLY what I needed!!! Thank you, Thank you!

  34. David, you really don’t need to use fruit juice for an excellent starter! Just flour and water (and a teeny weeny bit of yeast) as well as plenty of patience will get it started. Best of luck!

  35. David

    I am laughing to myself over the starters I have on the kitchen counter and the process I have been through with them.

    My whole-wheat starter did nothing. I emptied this out when I discovered I have bleached whole-wheat flour. I started again with unbleached whole-wheat flour and pineapple juice and now 5 to 7 days later I have a wonderful sour whole-wheat starter. I could not ask for more from the whole-wheat starter and look forward to baking with it in the coming days in my new La Cloche.

    The white flour starter is something different entirely. If you remember, I wrote about my original starter: I have an experiment going. I took about a fourth of a cup of starter, put it in a clean container and added all-purpose flour and pineapple juice to it. Nothing the first day. Second day I added more flour and pineapple juice. No reaction. Today (third day) I added more flour and pineapple juice, and received a reaction within minutes and it is healthy and bubbly.

    I loved that starter and it was sour and beautiful. I followed the directions below at day four (4). My white flour starter got less and less sour and today is as sweat as candy. I have no idea what went wrong but I have stopped adding water and have gone back to using pineapple juice. In addition, I have stopped empting the starter after I measure a 1/4 cup. I have a very active starter meaning it is bubbly and expanding but not sour. I will keep adding pineapple juice and flour to get the starter sour again.

    Day 1: mix…
    2 tablespoons whole grain flour* (wheat or rye)
    2 tablespoons pineapple juice, orange juice, or apple cider

    Day 2: add…
    2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
    2 tablespoons juice or cider

    Day 3: add…
    2 tablespoons whole grain flour*
    2 tablespoons juice or cider

    Day 4: (and once daily until it starts to expand and smell yeasty), mix . . .
    2 oz. of the starter (1/4 cup after stirring down-discard the rest)
    1 oz. flour** (scant 1/4 cup)
    1 oz. water (2 tablespoons)

    I have no idea why I am getting such poor results with bottled water and white flour. However, I have not given up and will continue with this experiment,

    David

  36. Madelyn, The loaf looks delicious with nice carmelization of the crust and absolutely excellent rise. Did you take any pix of the crumb? How do you like the round couche? I have tons of clay pots, but not the round one. Thanks for sharing.

    Bernie Piel

  37. Madelyn

    Been very busy and baking less frequently. Came back from a business trip and my starter was looking just a little flat with hooch starting to develop. I normally don’t have any hooch to stir back in. Took it out, fed it, and left it out for 24 hours, which normally revives it. When I didn’t get the expected response I pulled out some pineapple juice and stirred that in with more flour. Did this a couple of times two days later everything looked normal. Note that I’m not measuring or anything, just tossing flour and some liquid in. Two days after I started reviving my starter I produced the loaf below. Based on several of the latest discussions about ‘how much starter’ I experimented and added a spoon more than normal. I don’t measure my starter when I added it to the flour and liquid either. I just use a soup spoon and add 1-3 heaping or not spoons of starter. May vary my proofing a little depending on my schedule and how sour or not I want it. I get pretty consistent results. My point in writing this is, you don’t need to overly analyze the amount of starter and the amounts to add during the feedings. The starter seems pretty resilient as long as you learn what to look for. I realize if you are just getting started, it helps to know how to get started and what to look for, but I have found if you experiment, keep a log and are observant about how your starter should look and how various variables effect the finished product it does become second nature and easier than pie! I can now whip up a batch of dough in 5 minutes and 12-18 hours later form it into a loaf in a couple of minutes. My breads are baked in either a Romertopf or this cloche my friend pulled out of her basement and ‘loaned’ to me indefinitely. “Take my La Cloche PLEASE”
    Happy Baking!

    [img]2010-05-1510.51.34.jpg[/img]

  38. Hi Linda,
    I had kept my starter out on the countertop, feeding it all the time for months. The dough did fine and it tasted great, but the oven spring was erratic and sometimes it would spread out like a cowpie. Now I keep it all the time in the fridge. I stir it every other day or so, but I dont feed it in the fridge. I let it warm up a few hours before I use it. Then I feed it a little, leave it out a little and put it back in the fridge. My loaves rise beautifully and look gorgeous and taste delicious and chewy. Good luck.

  39. Hi Linda,

    Yea, that’s pretty normal. You’re supposed to leave it out when your making it. Once it’s up and running, into the fridge it goes so you don’t have to keep feeding it so frequently.

  40. Linda

    I made a sourdough starter. While making it, I left it out the whole time and added the flour and water over three days. I then put it in the refrigerator. Was it okay to leave it out that whole time???

  41. You are most welcome, Ann. Glad to help another baker.
    Bernie

  42. Ann

    Thanks to Wil, David, Bernie and Madelyn for all of your input. I made the pancakes for dinner today and the family loved them! They were absolutely delicious. Very moist. I had to feed my starter this morning to have enough for all the pancakes I had to make so that was fun just playing with so much starter! I have enough to make more bread tomorrow. I am not so afraid of this sourdough experience anymore – thanks to all of your feedback. I am definitely looking forward to new experiences with this. Since my bread was slightly overdone the first time, I will shorten the baking time.

    Happy baking to all of you!

  43. Wil

    Hi Ann,
    Healthy starters are, well healthy. They contain bacteria good for the body. If neglected for a long while without feeding, in a warm place, the good bacteria die off and are replaced by mostly mold and yeast of the bad sort. You can experiment to your heart’s content as long as you use some type of flour and liquid such as water, natural juices, milk, vegetable broth and I am sure there are many more. As long as the ingredient(s) are known not to kill bacteria, such as vodka, one should be ok.

  44. Ann

    Is there ever a danger of getting sick from starter that you experiment with? For example, David’s pineapple juice starter? Since I am new to the whole sourdough scene, I don’t know when playing with starters cross the line of safety. How or when do you know your starter is bad? I know it can turn funky colors when left alone for long periods of time, but with regular use what danger signs should I be aware of?

    I continue to appreciate all comments.

  45. David

    I am in the process of experimenting with my starter.

    I have read a great deal about starter in the last couple of days. There is an excellent article regarding the ph of starter. I am not a chemist and am not sure what all this means but the writer says that pineapple juice can create an environment that is favorable to the growth of the type of bacteria that is needed to create the sour taste.

    I have started a whole wheat starter using pineapple juice. This is the third day and I have feed the starter again today as directed. There is nothing happening, the weather has turned chilly here so the house is cool. I will certainly be patient and give the whole wheat starter a chance to develop.

    My original starter: I have an experiment going. I took about a fourth of a cup of starter, put it in a clean container and added all purpose flour and pineapple juice to it. Nothing the first day. Second day I added more flour and pineapple juice. No reaction. Today (third day) I added more flour and pineapple juice, and received a reaction within minutes and it is healthy and bubbly.

    Where I go from here is anyone’s guess. I will add more later.

  46. Ann, Glad to see things are working out for you. I was in my first ever Shakespeare play (Much Ado About Nothing) and hardly found time for my day job, let alone making bread. A good run, it’s over, now, where did I put the bread flour????
    I should tell you that while I was involved in the play, I did not touch my starter except maybe once a week to make sure it was still happy in the fridge–and it was. However, I tried to make some sourdough baguettes and found they weren’t quite as sour, nor did they rise much, they did rise, just not very much and I allowed the dough to proof for almost 6 hours. I realized that I was using starter that was hungry for it’s nutrient–I hadn’t fed it. So, following Eric’s always sen-sei like advice, I refreshed it. Voila, it’s up and running and tonight I’ll start on some bread. Now, there is a lot of concern about increasing the sour in a loaf. First, I’m a believer that if your starter doesn’t smell sour after you’ve been feeding it for at least ten days, something’s not right. You should at least be able to pick up that tell-tale odor of sour when you open your container. It will continue to improve as time and normal feedings continue. Also, if you want to increase the sour, I have found that if I put the dough in a fridge for a minimum of 18 hours, the sour continues to build and intensify. Now why is this? It’s simple, the yeast organisms which are responsible for giving off their gaseous by-product continue to work and feed off the new dough to which they were added on day one when you made started making your batch of sourdough bread. That flour is just like the feeding that you give your starter and the organisms reward you for your generosity by both multiplying and thereby increasing the “sour” aspect of the dough. It’s a pretty simple concept when you think about it.
    I’m not sure about this part, but I believe the pro bakers call putting the dough in the fridge as “retarding” the growth of the sourdough yeasties. If you take the sourdough out of the fridge and into a warmed oven or one warmed with a large pyrex container of boiling water from the microwave–the dough will rise faster because the yeast has its favorite environment something warm and moist. Because I keep my dough in a plastic container, I think Eric sells these, I use a heating pad to help warm up the dough from its trek in the fridge–it just helps with my time management and speeds up the process of getting the dough at a temp I can work with between 75 and 78 degrees before shaping.
    Again, Ann, congratulations on your discoveries with your starter. You might want to keep notes about what went right and wrong. Every time you work with it, you are increasing your base of knowledge and quantum of fun.
    Bernie Piel

  47. Ann

    Madelyn,

    Thanks for your comments. My second attempt (2 days ago) was a success. Just working with my starter and not giving up on it as Bernie suggested worked beautifully. In fact, my starter became so active it was all over my counter after expanding through the cover of my jar. Now it’s in the fridge until my next loaf. The bread was good but the crust got a bit burnt. I followed the baking instructions to a tee. I will cut the time in the oven on my next loaf and see what happens.

  48. Madelyn

    Oops my May 9 2010 5:21am post about temperature and rising is in response to Ann’s May 1 2010 1:27 post where she says she had to throw out a batch of dough because it did nto rise.

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