Sourdough Starter Maintenance Routine

My baking focus has lately been predominantly on my sourdough starter maintenance and maximizing fermentation, and I’ve made some of the best bread I can remember (all the bread pictures in this post were made with this starter). This is somewhat a continuation of my Managing Starter Fermentation post that I wrote quite a while ago, but pinpoints on following my process of initial feeding, watching the rise to peak, building a levain and finally discarding a portion of my sourdough starter over the course of a day.

There are many, many methods to keeping your starter healthy and in proper working order — in fact, there are probably as many methods as there are bakers. Each has what works for them to create the bread they seek, and that makes sense if you think on it. Each starter is unique: a distinctive blend of yeast and bacteria (with various strains of each) that has evolved based on each person’s feeding schedule, ambient and internal temperatures, and flour types and mixtures. I wanted to preface this article with that because the following is what works for me, here in my kitchen, and will most likely work for you if followed exactly but I guarantee you’ll find yourself modifying my method to suit your environment — and that’s a good thing. An important requirement for a baker is flexibility and adapting methods and inputs so everything performs optimally in your own kitchen1.

I can remember back to when I first dabbled with creating my sourdough starter. I read all the books I could get a hold of, I searched online, anywhere I could find information. Once I got things up and running (using the process described in my 7 steps to creating a sourdough starter entry) I followed feeding schedules outlined in various books and things seemed to work pretty well. But my bread didn’t really improve until I modified things to suit my environment, my schedule and my unique starter. As I fed my starter each day I began to take note of things, how it looked when I neglected to feed it for too long, how it looked after a few hours with new food, and how the smell of the starter changed throughout the day.

Pane Perfetto, The Perfect Loaf Sourdough

My goal for this entry is to convey the signs I look (and smell) for during a single-day microevolution of my sourdough starter. What does it look and smell like right as I feed it (at the start)? What should it look like when I decide to feed again or use for bread (at its peak)? And finally, what does it look like if it’s gone too far and is starting to expend all food provided (collapsed)? I receive frequent emails on this topic and I hope this entry will be a visual guide to those wondering how I care for my starter.

A quick note for those out there who follow my writing very closely: you’ll notice this entire entry is about a liquid starter/levain and not about a “stiff” variety I had been baking with for almost a year. I recently shifted things back to using a liquid starter after a long while with a stiff variant, and I have to say I much prefer how my bread is turning out with my change. If you use a stiff starter some of this entry will be relevant to you, but the visual cues will be different as the consistency of your starter will be different. If you haven’t used a liquid starter/levain I suggest you make an experiment of this and try it out, you might be surprised at the difference and you might prefer it. I’m definitely not suggesting one is better than the other, but rather a personal preference whereby I prefer the taste and performance of this liquid levain for the bread I’m currently baking.the perfect loaf sourdough crumb from liquid levain

Sourdough Starter Background

The key to coaxing out maximal fermentation with your starter is to be observant. Watch how it evolves throughout the day and take note of how long it takes to reach a peak height, sit there, and eventually fall. If it’s doing this too fast (for example, you feed at 8 a.m. and it peaks at 2 p.m. when you’re at work), you can reduce water feeding temperature, or reduce the amount of mature starter you carry over at each feeding (this is what I do). You want to try to feed your starter right when it’s at its peak height, or shortly thereafter when it begins to fall. This is typically a good sign that your yeast/bacteria have properly fermented all the provided food and need more.

The key to coaxing out maximal fermentation with your starter is to be observant

Once you have a healthy starter that is rising & falling predictably, you will be able to follow a timeline fairly closely each day. I work this into my daily routine: I feed my starter when I eat breakfast in the morning, and then I feed again in the evening as I’m cleaning up the kitchen getting ready for bed. It only takes a few minutes (see my tips later on tools to make things easier).

Your starter will go through the following phases each day, but the times will most likely be different. If fermentation is slow (due to temperatures or percentage of starter carryover for example) then the signs I point out below might be at greater intervals, and conversely, if fermentation is fast then the intervals will be tighter.sourdough starterAs I mentioned at the beginning, if you’ve not yet started your own sourdough starter, or received a portion from a friend, I have an intro article to creating a starter that will get you going in a few days.

Let’s look at a day in the life of my starter.

Sourdough Starter Maintenance Timeline

Before we dive into the timeline I want to point out that below I refer to two things: my starter, which is what you’re here for in the first place, and also a levain. I talk about both almost interchangeably because essentially they are the same thing. Your starter (mother, chef, etc.) refers to your yeast/bacteria culture you continue to feed and care for indefinitely whereas your levain is a splinter, or off-shoot, of your starter that you feed and build only to eventually be totally used in a bread recipe.

For the timeline below I used 25% whole grain dark rye flour and 75% Central Milling Artisan Baker’s Craft (this is a lower protein flour, similar to “all purpose” here in the States). The percentage of flour types is really up to you, I used a little rye flour to help increase fermentation and acetic acid production but you can use any ratio of flour you’d like (e.g. 100% whole wheat, 100% white, a mix of both, etc.). Just take note of how each flour type aids or slows fermentation. While the flour type is up to you I do like to keep the mixture of flour used for feeding as consistent as possible, for as long as possible.

10:00 a.m. – The Start

The first step is to take your mature sourdough starter, discard some portion of it, feed it with fresh flour & water, and cover (I only loosely cover with a glass lid that does not seal tight). My kitchen is currently around 72ºF and my mixture is 75g white flour, 25g rye flour, 20g mature starter and 100g room temperature water.

theperfectloaf-10am

You can get a sense for how “stiff” my starter is after mixing. You want to make sure you mix enough so it’s almost completely smooth with no visible clumps of dry flour.

I’ve placed the green rubber band at the beginning level of my starter so we have a good sense of how far it will rise over the course of the day.

12:00 p.m.

After only a couple hours you can see there’s only very slight activity visible in my starter. The smell at this point would be very, very sweet and essentially the smell of flour and water. Sit tight, things are about to get more interesting.

12:00 pm

2:00 p.m.

Four hours after feeding and we have significant expansion, a tad over 50% in fact. You can see in the image at right that the top is domed with a few bubbles peaking through, the mass of dough is trapping quite a bit of the gas produced by our starter. I like to use a glass container, particularly these Weck jars, not only because it allows me to see firsthand how fermentation is progressing but also because the flared top makes sticking your hand & spatula inside very easy. I not only use these tall jars for my day-to-day starter and feedings, I also use them to build my levain before baking.

2:00 pm

2:00 pm fermentation detail

You’ll notice there’s quite a bit of activity already. After this initial explosive growth things will slow down but upward growth will still continue for many hours.

3:00 p.m.

Only slightly more expansion than the last check-in but many more bubbles on top, allowing gasses to escape. From the side you can see momentous fermentation taking place, many small and medium sized bubbles.

3:00 pm

When you build your levain in preparation for baking, you may not always be able to see through the side of the container, the top-down view is sometimes all you have to judge your starter’s readiness by. Bubbles and holes on top are a good sign, but my starter is not ready to be fed or used at this time2.

5:00 p.m.

By 5 p.m. we have significantly more bubbles and holes on top, much more activity at the sides and overall fermentation is progressing nicely. If I were to describe the smell of the starter at this point it would still smell quite “sweet” with very, very little hints of vinegar/sourness.

5:00 pm

5:00 pm wild yeast

7:00 p.m.

You’ll notice here at 7 p.m. any dome that was once at the top of the starter is now gone, replaced by a fairly flat surface. The flattening of the top usually indicates upward growth has significantly slowed and upward movement won’t be as prominent. More holes on top and more fermentation visible at the sides. We continue to let it ferment.

7:00 pm

8:00 p.m.

At this point we still see some rise, but not much. The top is showing signs of more holes and bubbles, the starter is resting at its peak by this point. By 8:00 p.m. you would definitely be able to use this to leaven your bread, and if you were to perform the “float test” with a little chunk of this it would surely float in water.

If this were a levain build I created in the morning, and not my starter, I would feel comfortable using this levain at this point to mix my dough. It’s showing signs of almost full fermentation that has plenty of activity at both the top and sides. If I were to pull back a little bit of the top I would smell a slightly sour, vinegary smell with hints of sweetness still present.

9:00 pm

10:00 p.m. – The Peak

At this point you can see the culture is beginning to start its decline. There are streaks at the top that indicate where the top of the starter once was, and in the top-down view you can see the center is starting to collapse.

Again, if this were a levain I built in the morning to mix into bread, I would still feel comfortable using this to mix my dough. Even though the starter has started to collapse, I’ve used it at this point to make excellent bread many times. I’ve touched on the topic of a “young” levain in the past, but recently I’ve been using mine at the peak of its maturity with greater success.

This is also the point where you would want to feed your starter. If you are using the correct mixture of inputs — water at a certain temperature, percentage of mature starter, and flour mixture — this time will coincide with when you want to feed it. For me, 10 p.m. is perfect as it’s when I start cleaning the kitchen in prep for bed (our little one at home dictates my sleep/wake schedule, and thus my starter must conform).

If your starter has arrived at this point before you want it to you can use a smaller percentage of mature starter carryover or use cooler water. If your starter is a bit sluggish and isn’t quite at this level, use a bit more mature starter at the next feeding or use 2-8ºF warmer water.

10:00 pm

10:00 pm

This is a good example of where being observant helps to maximize fermentation. As you continue to care for your starter take a moment before you rush through feeding to take note of how your starter looks and smells and plan to adjust things either at the current feeding or the next.

11:00 p.m.

My starter continued to fall at this point, with longer streaks on the side and the center has noticeably caved. I will normally have fed by this point, but I continued to let this ferment until the morning so we can observe how it looks when it fully collapses.

11:00 pm

6:00 a.m. (next day)

What a drop overnight! The sides are completely streaked with how far the starter has fallen and the top was covered in small little bubbles. My starter has gone way too far at this point and needs to be fed.

next day at 6:00 am

6:00 am

7:00 a.m.

Even more collapse and more small bubbles. At this point the smell was very acidic, vinegary and quite strong.

next day 7:00 am

8:00 a.m.

My final timeline entry shows just how far my starter has fallen after almost 24 hours. The acidity will continue to rise and if left for even longer a clear liquid will form on the top (commonly referred to as “hooch”) that will be alcoholic and bitter tasting. Your starter might also look this way if you’ve left it for a long period in the fridge in “hibernation”, as I like to call it. When reviving a starter in this condition I will simply pour off the clear liquid, mix the remaining up, and feed per usual.

next day 8:00 am

sourdough starter maitenance

There have been times when my kitchen heated up unexpectedly, or I wasn’t able to get home before this had happened, and I mixed up my starter per usual and it was completely fine but I try to avoid this scenario as much as possible.

General Sourdough Starter Maintenance Tips

I am currently working on a more thorough “commonly asked starter questions” post where I’ve accumulated many questions sent to me here on the site and through email, but here are a few tips which will prove helpful:

  • Don’t let your starter collapse and sit for extended periods before feeding as excessive acidity will change the flavor of your resulting bread (more sour). If it’s a levain, not your starter, and it’s fermented much too fast for your schedule you can always make an intermediate build (essentially discard and feed new flour & water) and use the new build to mix
  • Use your nose. Observe the smell of your starter at each phase and get to know what a particular smell indicates by drawing a connection between smell and visual cues
  • If your area has high chlorine levels in the water, use filtered water or let the water sit out on the counter overnight in a water bottle before using
  • Stir your starter fully until there are no clumps or dry bits of flour present

Above all, take a few seconds each time you feed your starter to sit back and assess how things look, smell and even taste (I don’t typically taste my starter, but many bakers do). It’s through constant observation and attention to small details that we can really maximize fermentation in our starters.

Sourdough Starter Maintenance Tools

It’s funny how small tools make a huge impact when compounded over multiple times a day for every day of the year. I recently changed my stirring apparatus from an old Pyrex spatula to this newer Oxo spatula and wow… So much wasted time cleaning that old multi-piece thing. This Oxo one is covered with silicone at the top with no seems or joints, it’s very sturdy (which helps act as a firm mixer) and you can toss it into the dishwasher as well. Highly recommended.

sourdough with crunchy crust

Aside from the new spatula, as I mentioned earlier I still use the same Weck jars, dark rye flour and water canister (I leave the water out overnight to let the chlorine dissipate). If you’d like to see more of the tools I use for my sourdough starter maintenance head to my tools page.

Wrap Up

There you have it, a day in the life of my starter Brutus. I hope this visual guide has helped to convey the signs and smells I look for at various points through the microevolution of my starter. The same signs shown above are also present when I build my levain when making bread, but since my levain build has a higher inoculation percentage, 50% vs my starter’s 20% or so, the timeline is shrunk down considerably. Remember the methods we have to affect fermentation rate: temperature of water, inoculation percentage (amount of mature starter not discarded), flour selection (whole grain flours increase fermentation) and ambient temperature. If your starter is sluggish increase any of these to speed things up, or decrease them to slow things down. After a few days of trial and error you’ll discover the right mix of each for your own unique starter.

By remaining observant and attentive we can feed our starters when they are at their peak, just before they begin to run out of food and metabolization slows, to keep them strong and healthy.

Do you have any sourdough starter maintenance tips to encourage maximal fermentation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! Buon appetito!





  1. As I re-read that sentence it sounds so methodical and calculated, well, hey, I am an engineer by trade after all

  2. If this were a levain and not my starter, and I was attempting to use this at a “young” stage, this is most likely where I would use it for mixing my bread

  • F. Maika

    Your blog is hugely helpful & as a sourdough neophyte I follow it closely. My biggest challenge to consistent fermentation is temperature fluctuations. I heat my house solely with wood (north of Idaho/Washington in British Columbia) & in the morning my kitchen is up to 10 or more degrees cooler than at night. So far I’ve noticed my starter is very forgiving (100% rye), provided I’m vigilant about feeding. Still have a ways to go to get more open, lighter loaves, but will really watch my levain this week to time it better & might even switch up my flour in your ww recipe to use a little more white. Thanks for the reminder to observe & experiment.!

    • Thanks for the comments! In my opinion temperature is the single biggest factor when baking. I’ve realized over and over that things just will not work if it’s too cold and my results have been consistently better if I can keep things around 78-80F. I know, that’s pretty warm, but if you can find that right spot in your kitchen, or you have a proofer, then you’re set. But yes, even in cooler temperatures, or fluctuating temperatures, if you’re observant you can be flexible and adapt to your starter. I finally found the perfect location in my kitchen that is far enough away from any heat source to get direct heat, but close enough to stay warm. Thanks again!

  • Linda Theung

    Maurizio, thank you for this incredibly detailed and beautifully illustrated sight tutorial (of sorts) on starter maintenance. I’ve referred friends to this entry, as I find it so educational, even for us who’ve been playing around, mixing these bacteria and flour and water for a while. I’m going to constantly come back to this when I want a refresher. It seems like you commit a lot of time, energy, and care to these posts; know that they don’t go unappreciated! Keep it coming!

    • Thanks so much Linda, I appreciate that. I receive so many questions on the topics of “when do you feed your starter” and “when should I discard” that I figured it was time to document and write on my routine! These posts do take quite a bit of time, but like I said here on the site, when I’m not baking I’m probably thinking about baking 🙂

      Thanks again and great to hear from you!

  • Brutus! I suspect Moomin and Brutus would be friends. (Huge fan of naming the food pets.)

    On a serous note, this is a fantastic post, Maurizio. The visuals are so instructive and you’ve perfectly described the life cycle. I’ve been using all AP in my feedings but am now inspired to incorporate some rye again. At 71-73 degrees, 9-10 hours seems to be the sweet spot for me as well when it comes to the peak. I’ve used the levain beyond that point but generally have the greatest success when I hit the timing just right. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the cooking schedule was such that I had to feed the starter before bed, refrigerate it overnight, and then take it out the next morning to finish rising at room temperature. It worked out quite well though the fermentation window on Day 2 was shortened. Perhaps this is an obvious question, but I’ve wondered what 1 hour at room temperature (let’s say about 73 degrees) equates to in refrigeration time. My observations lead me to think that 1 hour at room temperature = roughly 3-4 hours in the cooler. Do you have any thoughts on that?

    • Hah, I agree personification helps me to either curst at, or praise, my starter when he is misbehaving/behaving 🙂

      Thanks so much for the comments, Cynthia! I agree, when I use my starter right at, or slightly before, that peak I get the best results. I’ve played the refrigerator games as well — dough/starter in and out, in and out to get timing just right. I have a feeling professional bakers do the same thing. In fact, just the other day i was baking from the Bien Cuit book and the dough was moving so fast I actually put it in the freezer for 5 minutes! First time doing that and it worked perfectly.

      That’s a very good question. I’m not sure exactly what 1 hour at RT would equate to in fridge-time, but I would almost say 4-5 hours in fridge is like 1 on counter. No basis for that other than when I retard in my fridge (~38ºF) I can usually go 12-14 hours, but on the counter I can only go 3-4 hours or so. There are some other minor factors to think about there, though. For example, where in your fridge? Is it close to where the cold air blows in from the compressor? I’m just thinking about the time it takes for the dough to equalize to ambient temperature in the fridge (i.e. ~72F to ~38F). Really hard to say and a really good question!

  • Trevor

    Awesome post Maurizio, such important points of emphasis with being flexible to your own environment and what inputs you can adjust to get desired results. I’ve already referred some friends to your post to help free them from the “what is the ideal feeding schdule?” / “my results don’t match!” syndromes.

    I chuckled at the spatula link, I’m pretty sure I use the same one and it’s no small point. I love that it’s a solid one piece tool, clean up is such a breeze and mixing is night and day compared to a flexible spatula.

    Also I’d recommend to those interested in the weck (mold) jars to purchase directly from the source, much cheaper: https://websecure.cnchost.com/weckjars.com/productsDetail.php?category=3

    Sláinte!

    • Trevor, thanks for the comments and thanks for spreading the word! I think this post will be helpful so people can see what I talk about typically via email — a picture is worth a thousand words.

      It’s true through, right? Sometimes these small tool changes make a world of a difference. That little spatula, after I used it the first time I bought it, made me do a “jeesh why didn’t I get this a year ago” comment out loud. 🙂

      Thanks for posting that link to the Weck site, that’s a much better price!

      Thanks again!

  • Lucia

    Hi Maurizio, thanks for posting this! I had no idea that letting the starter collapse completely could negatively affect yeast growth. I’ve been baking naturally leavened bread for over a year now and I typically feed my starter once a day, or twice a day a few days before I plan on baking. I feed my starter in the morning before going off to work and I typically won’t feed it again until the following morning. I feed it with a blend of rye and all-purpose flour. I’m not going to lie, I can be pretty lazy when it comes to feeding my starter. In Robertson’s book, he says that a mature starter must be used to mix the leaven and a young leaven to mix the dough. When does a starter become too mature/ripe? Is it mature enough to use the moment it begins to collapse? Is the starter too mature or ripe to use for the leaven if I let it collapse completely? I’m going to try feeding it before it collapses and see how that goes. Thanks!

    • Lucia — thanks! I actually misspoke in the post about increased acidity inhibiting yeast growth. Yeast is actually able to withstand a pretty dramatic swing in pH level during fermentation. What I meant to point out there was that as fermentation continues on, and for too long, overall acidity builds up to high levels in your starter, which will impact the flavor of your bread (more sour). This is one reason why bakers such as Chad Robertson from Tartine say to refresh often to “reduce the acid load” in your starter. Sorry about the confusion.

      You want to use a mature starter to build a levain as you want the maximum population of yeast and bacteria possible transferred over to the build (if you try to make a build too early you will essentially be using flour/water that isn’t colonized by yeast/starter). I find that my starter becomes too mature when, as I mentioned a bit in the post above, it really begins to fall and you see reduced activity — it’s kind of winding down. To me that is when I need to feed right away to ensure it has plenty of food to stay vigorous. I also find that if I let it collapse completely I’ve let it go a bit too far and it *can* sometimes be sluggish afterwards. These, of course, are general guidelines but I find that the visual cues of rising to a peak and then collapsing are great signposts for me to know when to feed (smelling your starter will also give you clues, does it smell super vinegary? Or is it still sweet smelling?).

      I hope I answered your questions, if not feel free to ask further. Thanks for catching that error!

  • Antonella Aguilera-Ruiz

    Hi Maurizio. I’ve been quietly following your posts. And drooling over the pictures! I often bake with my dad and we’re both recovering from a totally brick-like bread a couple of months ago. I’m going to follow your directions to make a starter with rye tomorrow morning, but as a newbie wanted to make sure I’m getting the rhythm. I’ve been using the Tartine book as a reference, but as basic as this sounds, I still have trouble figuring out what “young” means and the transition from starter to levain. I think this is where our timing gets off. Based on the timeline above, do you see better results making a levain from the activity at 8 PM or 10 PM? I saw on the country loaf recipe that you’re starting a levain at 6:30 AM. I’m assuming you feed it before bed and it’s hitting a similar activity to the evening before by the AM. Is this accurate? I know this may be a review of basics, but feel like a little more becomes clear each time I review. Thanks so much!

    • Thanks for following along, glad to hear from you! When Chad talks about “young” he is indicating that the starter/levain has not reached it’s peak height and still smells sweet. This applies to both your on-going starter and a levain you build just for a single bake. In my timeline above (keep in mind this was my starter so the timeline is stretched out, for my levain with higher starting percentage of starter the timeline is reduced) I would try to time things so I would build my levain with my starter when it was around 8 or 9pm, just before it starts to decline. I notice the best results at that time, basically right when it’s at its peak. If you do see your starter begin to decline dont fret, you can still use it and it will leaven your bread just fine (I’ve done this many times). When Chad says young I believe he’s talking about even earlier in the timeline, perhaps 6pm or so.

      For the bakes where I start my levain at 630am, yes, I feed my starter per usual at night before bed and try to time it so around 630 or so it’s at, or near, it’s peak ready to use in my levain. If you’re schedule is more open just feed your starter at night and then in the morning keep an eye on it from time to time, when it looks like it’s not rising any more you’re good to go.

      I hope that helps, please let me know if anything is still unclear! Good luck 🙂

      • Antonella Aguilera-Ruiz

        Hello again! I was hoping to get your insight on my starter now that I’ve been baking more. I’ve been trying the weekend bake schedule you had suggested. Pulling the starter out of the fridge on Thursday, feeding twice, then 3x on Friday and then 3x on Saturday to build the levain Saturday evening. I think I had a good rhythm with the twice a day feeding prior to the putting it in the fridge. Doing 30 grams mature and 60 g AP/rye and 60 g water. It’s the 3x a day that seems to be hard to adjust. I’ll feed in the AM (I’ve been doing 25 g mature + 70 g AP/rye and water) and then it’ll be ready to feed by 1-2 PM, but sometimes at 8-9 PM it seems slow and not quite ready for a feeding. I tried using 78′ water at 1 PM and increasing the amount of mature starter to help bump it along, but it almost seems like it doesn’t quite adjust to the 3x feeding. Is this normal after being in the fridge or any suggestions of how to go from 2x/day to 3x/day feedings? This early fermentation seems critical to the final product, but it sometimes makes my brain hurt ; ) Thanks again for your attention to the comments here. I’m so impressed by your site and your baking. Always such a treat to see your process!

        • It sounds like you’re doing all the right things here. You definitely have a good grasp on the things you can do to speed up, or slow down, fermentation with your starter. Is there a reason you want to hit 3x a day? I typically shoot for a feeding every 12 hours — I do this every day since I bake often but I just follow the same feeding schedule when baking. My starter always has pretty strong activity this way.

          The reason I ask is that I wonder if with your second feeding you’re discarding a significant amount of your starter before it has had a chance to fully ferment, or colonize, all the flour/water you’ve fed it. Essentially this would mean you’re starting with a less than mature starter for your third shift, if you will. Does that make sense? If you want to stick with 3x I would have said increase your ambient temperature or water temperature, but it sounds like you’ve tried that. Is it possible the ambient temps in your kitchen are dropping by night time and so things are slowing down?

          • Antonella Aguilera-Ruiz

            I think I read that if you put the starter in the fridge on Saturday night and pulled it out on Thursday, it was good to do 2x/day then increase to 3x/day. In practice, I was thinking that upping it to 3x/day would increase activity and mitigate the 4-5 days in the fridge. But it sounds that if the 2x/day works and it has the predictable rise and fall that really there’s no need to try and increase to 3x? I think you’re right, it’s not quite maturing by the second feeding so things just lag way behind by the third. Grazie mille!

  • You’re very welcome and thanks again for the comments! As the name suggests, our starters are the beginning of it all and are, probably, the most important thing with baking sourdough 🙂

    • katarina

      Maurizio & Lucia, I’ve just realized that I’ve had the same issue as Lucia. Having baked (satisfactory and consistent) sourdough bread for a year, I have moved towards shaping and hydration as a main focus of my interest. Having made good bread, I thought I was done with starter issues. You know, everything was going well. It still is – however, if you are in the search of the The Loaf, the perfect loaf, then every step of the process must be tuned up to its finest details.
      Also, when I started with sourdough baking and grew my first starter from scratch, I did everything that others told me. With time, as I gained experience and confidence I’ve developed my own routine (I wouldn’t really call it a method). It’s similar to Mauritzio’s however, I don’t feed my starter twice a day. I don’t really like to discard 🙂 But, what I essentially wanted to say is that Maurizio did great job stressing how important an individuality in starter maintenance routine is.

      • katarina

        Also, Maurizio, those photos are just as beautiful as your bread.

        • Thanks for the input and the kind words, Katarina! You’re right as you fine tune things each step, even the seemly small ones, have drastic outcomes at the end. It’s like most things you are trying to master, it almost becomes more complicated when you really delve into it.

          You’re also right, it’s extremely important to listen to your individual starter and observe its behavior!

          Happy baking 🙂

  • Naomi Dagen Bloom

    Longtime sourdough baker. For class will be teaching on starting, thought I’d try yours. Having lid on is new to me. Always leave uncovered, cheesecloth only. Now, 12 hours later does not look promising. Your thoughts? BTW, appreciate your lead to Weck jar–have 3 now! And your photos are to die for! Thanks…

    • Naomi, thanks for the comments! Lid on or off, either way works just as well (but the cheesecloth is definitely a good idea, never know what might drop in there!). Are you creating a new starter or are you just changing flour mixture? Are you using an existing starter you already have? What does it look like?

      Love those Weck jars, they make things very easy!

      • Naomi Dagen Bloom

        Left the lid on till time to refresh. I’m making your starter precisely following directions. After 24 hrs. limited number teeny bubbles; went ahead & fed as directed. But leaving it uncovered this time. Think climate (am in Portland, Oregon, very rainy) may make difference. Forging ahead. Thanks for reply.

        • Sounds good. It will take a few days before things start moving, sometimes up to 4-5 days, but it will take hold eventually. Good luck, let me know how it goes!

  • Joshua A. Kestner

    The photos are worth more than a thousand words. thank you for all the detailed illustration. I’ve always had issues with SD starters, i’m on the 2nd day of building a new starter with your 50% rye method, looking forward to baking with it!

    • You’re welcome, Joshua — glad to hear things are progressing! You are definitely right, sometimes you just need a photo! Happy baking.

  • Sharon Bennett

    Hi Maurizio. I’ve been working on 3 separate starters because I have different instructions from various sources. I’m focusing mostly on getting 100% rye started. According to one source she recommends 60g of rye flour and 120g lukewarm water at 103 degrees. I found it to be very soupy and questioned it. After a few days of no activity I stirred it and drained the excess water. This brought it slightly alive. That evening I added a couple of tbsp flour and stirred it in. More activity. Last night it was time to feed it but instead of her instruction of 200% hydration I added 60g water and 80g flour. I know this sounds experimental but it doubled in size yesterday and is smelling quite sweet. Do you have any suggestions regarding feeding measurements at this time? Will it eventually make good levain still? I’m beginning to understand this rise and fall process and feeding it while it is sweet and young but do I build the levain when it is still sweet and slightly sour? I think this is what you are saying. Is the only true proof that it is ready is when I place a blob of it into water and it floats? What if it doesn’t float? I’m reading everything on your site and this blog and I’m sorry if I am repeating questions you have answered. I’m a bit slow on the intake. hahah

    • Hi, Sharon. Sure, keep feeding it, there really is no “right” way to get things going, only tips and suggestions to help speed up or slow down the process. I find, as many others, rye flour is pretty bulletproof — you’ll get a starter up and running eventually. If you have activity then you’re off to a good start, it’s probably already rising and falling by the time I write this. I like to feed with 100g flour and 100g water. This is a 100% hydration starter and adding more water just makes things soupy like you mentioned. If you find it hard to stir your starter you can definitely add more water, I like to go only up to 110% if it has been really dry out here (I live in New Mexico: desert). I’d also like to mention that I prefer t do a mix of rye and wheat (white flour) as rye flour ferments at quite a rapid pace and I aim to feed my starter 2x a day. I typically do 80g white flour and 20g rye flour.

      As long as you have a predicable rise and fall with your starter it will perform well in making your levain, and eventually, bread.

      You want to build your levain when your starter is mature, not “young” or sweet smelling. It should just begin to smell acidic, but not be overly soupy and super liquid (assuming 100% hydration here). When your starter is mature this means you will have maximum, or near maximum, population of yeast/bacteria in your culture — this is what you want when you build your levain. Your levain on the other hand, you can use this when it’s “young” (still smells sweet but you see signs of fermentation and rise) or when it’s more mature (this is what I do nowadays, I wait until it’s at it’s peak as mentioned in this post).

      The float test is a good measurement when you first start baking, but eventually you’ll stop using it as you’ll eventually be able to tell when you’re starter is ready to go. If you’re using a 100% hydration starter do the float test a few hours after you build your levain, just to see if it’s floating, if it is then it’s ready to bake with. If it doesn’t float wait a few more hours and let your levain ferment some more, this will help build up more gasses in there and it will float.

      I hope that helps, let me know if any of this is unclear or you have any more questions — we’ll get you sorted out!

  • valerie

    hi, I’ve been trying to make this starter but I’m having problems with it. It’s been 8 days and there are plenty of bubbles on top, it smells and tastes sour-not like vinegar but more like yogurt. The only problem is that there are barely any signs of the starter rising at all. I’m not sure what is wrong or why it won’t rise. The kitchen is pretty cool around 60F. Maybe that is the problem? I checked the temperature of the starter this morning and it was at 65F. What are your thoughts? could there be anything else wrong besides this?

    • Sounds like you have good activity so that’s a great sign. It could be a number of things, but first I’d say perhaps the hydration of your starter is too high? By hydration I’m referring to the percentage of water you use to feed your starter related to the percentage of flour. I tend use maintain a 100% hydration starter so I feed 100g water to 100g flour to 20-30g mature starter. The higher the water the more “soupy” it will become and could even go too far where you won’t see much rise.

      65F is very chilly for your starter, this will slow things down significantly. I try to maintain mine somewhere between 72-75F. Do you have a warm spot in your kitchen you can place your starter for a few days to see if you get more rise out of it? I am sure this will fix your issue!

  • Excellent, that’s great news! You’re very welcome, you’ll have some great bread in no time!

  • Petra Robinson

    I see you feed only a small amount, 20g starter, with 100g flour and 100g water. I feed 150g Starter with 150g Flour and 130g Water.
    I feed mine in the mornings at about 11am so that I can use it at 10pm.

    • It all depends on the ambient temperature your starter is kept at. If it’s a bit colder where you are then using this much inoculation works really well. It also depends on the type of bread you’re baking and how much acidity you’re looking for. There’s no right or wrong way, that’s for sure!

  • Farrah Austin

    Hi Maurizio,
    Thank you so much for this detailed post and beautiful photos! After getting my starter up and going as a 50/50 blend of Rye and AP, I switched it to a 25/75 (rye/AP) at 100% hydration, and am feeding it in the amounts you have listed here every 12 hours. It is now about 25 days old and is doing great. It is very vigorous, tripling within ~12 hours, and looks just like your photos (although takes a little longer to peak due to ambient temp of about 69). My question now is how can I lengthen my feeding times without compromising the starter? I bake 2-4 x/week, and am very hesitant to refrigerate the starter, but am finding the twice daily feedings may not always be possible for me. Any suggestions? Will a ‘stiffer’ starter help? Also, I don’t typically “build” a levain. I simply take what I need from my starter jar, 8-12 hours after feeding, and use it directly.

    • You’re very welcome, thanks for the comments! It sounds like your starter is performing very well indeed — that’s great. You can do a few things to lengthen the time between feedings. I like to feed my starter at least once a day, and that is really the max you can stretch it out without refrigerating it. If you want to try and stretch it out without the fridge, try carrying over a very small amount of starter when you feed, say 5%. Some other things you can try: feed with cooler water and you can keep it in a cooler area in your kitchen. A stiffer starter should slow things down but I still find you need/should feed at about the same frequency.

      If you’d like to keep it in the fridge that will work as well. Just feed with less water, let sit on the counter for 30 minutes or so, then pop into the fridge. Take it out a few days before you want to bake and ramp it back up to 2x a day feedings.

      I hope that helps — happy baking!

  • Hankworth McGillicutty

    Great article. I’m not sure if you’re responding to comments anymore, but I’m curious what you would think about a feeding schedule at a pizzeria with lunch and dinner service (i.e. lunch and dinner dough mixing for the following day). It seems you’re doing a feeding ratio of 1/5/5, one part starter, five parts flour and five parts water. It seems that sort of feeding would work well, assuming a similar ambient temperature, for a place that leaves the starter without feeding overnight and uses it for mixing the next morning. Do you agree?

    • Thanks! Definitely still responding to comments 🙂
      I think my schedule above, with 1/5/5 will work for you if you if you plan to mix in the AM. I typically build a levain and let it ripen for about 5 hours before I mix (i.e. feed starter at night around 10pm, in the AM build levain and 5 hours later mix dough), but you could build your levain at night when you feed your starter, and using a lower inoculation percentage (instead of my 50% listed in my other recipes use about 20%) have your levain ready in the AM for your mix. Then work with your dough all morning, afternoon and then into the fridge for baking the next morning. Repeat.

      Hope that helps! Your starter is a very flexible thing, it’ll work around your schedule if you feed it more/less and temperatures are workable.

  • downtheriver

    Hello Maurizio!

    I wanted to drop in a note of thanks–a friend gave me some discard a few months ago and I’ve been baking ever since, gradually producing nicer and nicer loaves. Your blog has been so key to this process, and also particularly nice eye candy. I’ve also been making your waffle recipe quite a bit! (Nom.) I’ve recommended your blog to a lot of friends as well.

    I look longingly at all the holes–oh the holes!–in your loaves, but even if I had already gotten my loaves that beautifully open, my housemate and boyfriend both prefer a more closed crumb, as they don’t like having mayo, butter, or jam fall through. *sigh* I’d like to get the loaves that way when I want to, though! My kitchen is a bit cold, and my oven a bit warm with the light bulb on, so I’ve yet to find the perfect medium. (The oven with the light on is better if I leave the door cracked open.)

    Still, even not-quite-up-to-par sourdough is better than store-bought by a long chalk. I’m from SF, and it gives me such a lovely shot of the taste of growing up in the land of sourdough. And I’m having so much fun!

    So thank you, I want you to know that the effort you go to sharing your own baking is so appreciated!

    • Thanks for the kind words and I’m glad my site has been helping you! That’s so awesome for me to hear 🙂

      I have a similar problem: my wife much prefers bread that is able to hold onto everything put on it, especially butter. I try to bake one for her and my son, and one for me 🙂 Really though I’m always striving for an open crumb that is uniformly open, and that’s a difficult task.

      I wholeheartedly agree, homemade bread is actually pretty easy to make and it’s so worth it, not only health reasons but TASTE! It’s leagues apart from the bagged sawdust you get at the store.

      Thanks again for the note, I really appreciate that — happy baking!

      • downtheriver

        BTW, Maurizio, I forgot to mention: thanks to your blog, when I saw Central Milling organic flour at Costco, I knew to purchase it at $15 for 20 pounds. 🙂 So thank you for that too!

        • Lucky! I WISH I could get their stuff at Costco here, I’ve never seen it. You’re welcome, enjoy 🙂

          • downtheriver

            You might want to double check. I only recently noticed it!

  • Joanna Chew

    Hi Maurizio! As a newbie sourdough baker, i am so awed and inspired by your gorgeous bread photos. Thank you for this informative blog 🙂
    I have a couple of questions about my levain and i hope you can enlighten me: I inherited a rye starter and have baked a few boules using 100% hydration levain. It was a rather stiff levain as i weighed out to all equal parts starter, flour and water. Perhaps due to the high humidity (about 70%) and warm room temperature (28 to 30 deg cel) here in the tropics (South East Asia!), the rise and fall from the second feeding is quite fast- within 2 hours for the rise and half an hour for the fall.
    1. Do i start mixing in the dough when it is at its peak or is it okay to mix when it’s settled down? I tried the float test but the bulk of it floats while some bits will trail down and sink.
    2. I’m not sure if the levain has been too weak to give the bread a higher oven spring and/ or the nice big open crumb like yours (probably due to my 70- 72% hydration dough?).
    Taste-wise, it has been great and while the crumb is not so open, it is still soft and slightly chewy, so i think it’s not too bad so far!
    Thank you 🙂

    • Hello, Joanna! Thanks so much, I really appreciate that.

      1. Ideally it’s best to feed right when it’s at its peak, or a little thereafter. It’s ok if it’s fallen completely but it can become quite acidic at that point. I like to target just after it’s started to fall from its peak. If your starter/levain is 100% rye then you will have a hard time ever passing the float test. That test really only works with white flour and some whole wheat. Also, the stiffer your starter the less reliable that test becomes as well. It’s a good starting out benchmark but it doesnt work in every situation!

      2. If your starter is rising and falling predictably then it’s surely strong enough to leaven your dough. There are a lot of factors that go into an open crumb like my bread above (flour is important also!). Lower hydration bread can definitely have an open crumb as well.

      Keep practicing at making this and stay observant to how your dough looks, feels and smells throughout the process. Try to keep as many things consistent from bake-to-bake as possible and change only one thing at a time to see how it impacts your end result. And taste is definitely the most important thing, sounds like you’re doing great there!

      I hope that helps, happy baking Joanna!

  • Freke Bolt

    Hi having just been given a great starter, but only needing to bake once a week, can I leave the mother covered in the frig, until I want to bake, then bring to room temp, feed it , allow it to ripen then , make my levain, and leave that to ripen till I mix it with other bread ingredients and the mother goes back into the frig.
    Is that the correct procedure ? Thanks Fra

    • Freke, yes that is a good method. However, I’d recommend taking out your starter one to two days before you plan to take some and make your levain. You want a few refreshments (feedings) to help get it back up to full strength after taking it out of the fridge. When you’re done using it for baking, give it a normal feeding, let it sit out for about 30 min, and then into the fridge it goes. Hope that helps!

      • Freke Bolt

        Hi again, after 4 days in the frig , covered and fed , my “mother” had a layer of “hooch” which I poured off.
        Planning to bake in 2 days I brought it to room temp, fed it 100g White flour and 120 water.
        Will feed again tomorrow and then at max rise will remove a quantity (how much .) to create my levain.

        My question is, how can I hibernate my “mother” safely and for how long, and then what is the correct procedure for restoring it.

        Thanks. Frea

        • To refrigerate your starter do a normal feeding, let it sit out on the counter for about 30 minutes, cover and place it into the fridge. The 30 minutes gives it a little time to get fermenting, but not enough to fully exhaust the food you’ve just given it (far from it).

          When you take out your starter to bake, take it out a few days before and give it a few feedings until it looks (and smells) like it’s back to full strength. I like to do this for 3-4 feedings over the course of 2 days.

          I hope that helps, happy baing Frea!

  • JH

    Thank you for this very helpful article. I’m just starting out and have managed to get a starter going with 100% ww. The weather here has been changing rapidly and I’ve tried to up the feedings and food to go with the temp, but I’ve still ended up with an overly stinky starter. The visuals you provide are exactly what I need to know when to feed it.

    • You’re quite welcome JH, glad this is here when you need it! It sounds like you’re adjusting things based on the temperature, which is a good thing — that intuitiveness is a really important skill when successfully managing your starter.

  • Lilach Lilaz Davidoff

    hello Mauriziu. As I see, you are following an exact amount of starter when feeding it every day (20 gr in that case). Is it important to be presistant with the amount of the starter when feeding on days when you are not pretending to bake with it? I thought that it is important to messure the amount of starter only when feeding it before baking and in any other day, just discard around half and feed it. thank you!!!

    • Your starter will adapt and change based on how much you feed it, the temperatures it’s kept at and the frequency you feed it (along with flour, hydration, etc.). So yes, that is an important thing! Consistency is really important to get a strong and stable starter, but seasonal fluctuations are fine. For example, in the winter I’ll typically carryover a bit more of my starter (say 30g) because cold temps slow things down and a higher starting population helps give fermentation an added bump.

      • Lilach Lilaz Davidoff

        Hi Mauriziu. First, Thank you so much for your time and help. those details are probably one of the main risons of having your loaf a spetacular one, rathen than just nice..

        so.. If i understood well, .. (My starter is half a.p.f. half whwh 100 percent hidratation) you would than recommand feeding it regularly like that: 20 OR 30gr of starter+ 50 GR WPF+50 WHWH FLOUR+100 WATER,
        Is it ok to maintain a starter feeding it just once a day?
        Thank you so much!

        • That ratio of flour will work just fine, but it might ferment rather quickly give the high amount of whole wheat flour (50%). If you wanted to feed your starter one time per day that might move too fast, depending on the temperature you keep your starter at. The best advice I can give there is to just try it, and see how your starter responds and if it ferments too quickly reduce the amount of whole wheat flour.

          It’s fine to feed once a day!

          Hope that helps 🙂

          • Lilach Lilaz Davidoff

            That helps alot. I REALLY thank you. The site is amazing. Thank you!!!

  • Freke Bolt

    What do I do with a Levain that is over fermented , and sinks to the bottom of a float test ? Frea

  • Delfina Jaureguialzo

    Hi Maurizio. Thanks for an excellent article.
    I am new to sourdough and I have some doubts about the procedure to maintain my starter.
    I have made a starter from scratch that after 5 or 6 days growing I put in the fridge. Its been like that for a week now and I haven’t fed it since then.
    I would like to make my first loaf in the following days and I would like to know what to do next. Unfortunately I don’t have a scale so I can’t measure the 20g of mature starter you said was necessary to start feeding it. Is there any way you can tell me, in terms of volume, how much 20g is exactly?
    Also, should I discard the rest of the starter?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Glad it’s helping!

      I can only approximate the volume, but somewhere around 1-2 TBSP should be about 20g. Total estimate on my part, I tend to weigh everything.

      Yes, discard the rest. Take the 20g of starter, put in a new, clean jar if you’d like, and feed with flour & water. Stir well and that’s it.

      Hope that helps & happy baking, Delfina!

  • Valerie Kuan

    Hi Murizio, I am new, and after a week my all-purpose white flour starter is still soupy and not stiff. Is it mature? Can I bake with it? how do I make it stiff? Thanks.

    • It’s ok if your starter is not stiff, that doesn’t mean it wont work well it just means the hydration of your starter is higher, or the flour you’re using isn’t able to absorb quite as much water as the one I use. If you’d like to make it more stiff just use less water next time you feed.

      You can bake with it when it rises and falls predictably after feeding it. That rising and falling routine is what you want, that shows you fermentation is happening on a regular schedule and your starter should be strong enough at that point to bake with.

  • Emiley Claytor Padgett

    I only bake once a week. Can I feed just once a week maybe a couple times the day before baking? Otherwise I’m wasting a ton of flour – by discarding so much starter before each feeding. I can’t get Into a rhythm of feeding my starter and not break the bank from all the waste. Help. Emiley

    • Mia

      You can keep your starter in the fridge and only take it out 1-2 days before you bake your bread so that you can bring it back to life. Feed it as normal, use it to bake your bread, then put it back in the fridge. You could probably even work out how much of the starter you’ll need for your bread and just feed it that amount so that you are still “discarding” your starter but not actually wasting any.

    • Exactly what Mia said! Keep your starter in the fridge when you’re not baking and take it out a day or two beforehand — works really well 🙂

  • Mia

    Hi Maurizio,

    I’ve had my starter for about a month now but I haven’t been treating it as well as I should have (it seemed fine though) so I decided that I wanted to get it extra healthy, I went out and bought some rye flour and for the past few days I have been feeding it with 20g wholegrain rye + 20g plain Spelt. It smells really nice and gets some bubbles BUT it doesn’t rise at all. A couple things that I should add are 1. The Rye flour is freshly milled (on the day I started feeding my starter with it) and quite chunky. 2. Before I started this new feeding, it was being fed with wholegrain spelt and was left on the table for a few days without being fed =/ 3. I feed it with 35g of water and the temperature at the moment varies between 23-30 Celsius. Do you have any advice? Should I go back to feeding it with the wholegrain spelt (it was doubling in size but your’s seems to almost triple)? Should I try grinding the rye a bit finer?

    • Mia — You won’t see as much rise in your starter the higher the percentage of rye you use (especially as you get to 50%+). With the temperatures you’re seeing in your area, you should probably try to feed your starter at least once a day with enough flour and water to make it until the next feeding without turning incredibly wet/soupy and smelling very acidity/sour. 40-50g of flour, especially with that much rye and/or whole grains, will probably not make it 1 day! If you can’t feed it every day then I do recommend using the fridge (as you mentioned in the comment to Emiley), or at least try to find a cooler spot in your house and give it some more flour and water to use. The key is to try to not let it get overly acidic by sitting without a refreshment.

      Nothing wrong with using rye flour. Just remember you won’t see quite as much rise as you go higher with the percentage and it will ferment faster. I’ve never used fresh milled rye to feed, but that should be fine. I’d try to mill it as fine as the spelt flour you use.

      Hope that helps!

      • Mia

        Thank you! Your advice has helped a lot!

  • Esther Beazer

    Do you have any suggestions for maintianing a starter when you aren’t feeding it everyday. i have been keeping mine in the fridge but am struggling to keep the life in it that it had when i first got the starter from my friend who makes sourdough everyday, So naturally is feeding it everyday.

    • Your starter will definitely not show the same strength when kept in the fridge as it does when it’s fed regularly on the counter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the fridge! If I’m going to refrigerate my starter for up to 2-3 weeks, I’ll use 20g mature starter to 100g flour to 85-90g water. This will mix up to be a little more firm than usual, which I find is good in the fridge. Let it ferment for 30 minutes or so, then pop it into the fridge. When you take it out (and kept around 72-78ºF room temperature) feed it 2x a day for 1-2 days before you bake with it, you’ll have built its strength back up and it should be quite active at that point.

      Make sure when you plan to place your starter in the fridge, and make the mixture, use 20g of very mature starter (right before, or right after, it starts to fall as described above). You want maximal bacteria/yeast numbers.

      I hope that helps!

      • Maya

        Hi Maurizio,
        I am currently using 40g starter to 40g flour to 40g water from your other post. If i am going to keep it in the fridge should I adjust to what you suggest above, 20g starter to 100g flour to 85-90g water? Also how would I know if it need to be fed again? When I am ready to bake should I go back to the 40g feeding or 20g feed?

        Thanks for the wonderful and detailed instructions!

        • I actually just had mine in the fridge for a while and that’s exactly what I did (20g starter, 100g flour, 90g water) — works very well every time! Just let it sit out for about 30m – 1 hour after feeding and then toss it into the fridge.

          I would recommend feeding it every week or two weeks. It’s hard to tell visually when it’s time to feed if it’s stored in the fridge.

          When you want to bake you can return back to whatever feeding schedule works for you, your environment and your starter.

          You’re very welcome — happy baking!

  • OgitheYogi

    Quick question, do you only feed your starter once after taking it out of the fridge? You mentioned that at 11pm you would normally feed it, would you discard half of you starter at that point or feed it equal part water and flour depending on how much starter you have in the jar, so measure it first and then add equal parts flour/water. What I am asking for the second feeding do you discard or not, and if not do you measure out all the starter and than give it that much flour/water.

    • If my starter has been in the fridge for some time, I’ll usually take it out and do feedings, before my next bake, over the course of 1-2 days on the counter until it gets back up to full strength. You always discard at every feeding. When I see my starter is at its peak, or a little thereafter, I’ll discard all but 20g of it, add 100g water and 100g flour (that’s “feeding” or “refreshing”) and wait until the next time it needs food.

      • OgitheYogi

        Thank you so much for the reply. Why do you use so little starter 20 g. to 100 g. water + 100 g flour, what is the reasoning here, I am just curious as everyone else seems to say equal parts starter to equal parts water/flour. This blog is absolutely wonderful.

        • Thank you! I use so little because in my environment, and for my schedule, I want my starter to mature in 12 hours. 20% at feed time is perfect for that right now with the temperatures in my kitchen (when it’s winter I might go to 25g or 30g and when it’s summer I might go down to 10 or 15%). The more you carryover the faster your starter will “peak” as I described above, and need food — and vice versa.

          • OgitheYogi

            Ah that makes total sense, I think I was just so focused on the equal parts I didn’t think about the actual role of the starter or what its’ doing. Thank you for spelling it out for me, now that I know the amount of starter dictates the peak time I can work on actually making a baking schedule and not just worry about the starter.

  • Sharon Bennett

    Hi Maurizio,
    A while back I asked questions regarding baking sour dough starter and bread. I finally had much success for several loaves. But here is what happened. I kept my starter in my living room where the wood burning stove was keeping the room at a consistent 78 degrees, I live in Canada so room temp in other parts of the house hovers around 68. But now it is early spring, too warm to put the woodstove on but still too cold at room temp. So I switched to keeping my starter, levain and bulk fermentation in my oven with the light on and door open a crack with much success.. However one day I forgot my starter was in there and turned on the oven and baked it. So I began all over from the beginning. But now its forming a few bubbles and smelling sour (day 4) but its not rising and is not thickening up.. Could it be now that spring is here with rain that the level of humidity has risen and is causing this? If not, what could be the problem? Its so disappointing since I had such nice bread before. By the way, I was following the Tartine Bread sourdough recipe plus your added tips> Should I do 25% rye and 75% AP instead?

    • Ah so sorry to hear that Sharon! You should definitely use some rye flour to feed your mixture when creating your starter, it will help get things moving. If you haven’t seen my guide at my site here on starting a culture it will definitely help get you started (see the pictures at the top of this page for a link). Keep feeding and discarding per the schedule and it will eventually take hold! Lots of humidity can make things difficult but it will eventually work out just fine. Keep me posted!

      • Sharon Bennett

        Hi Maurizio
        I actually read that on your page and began adding 25% rye with 75% mix ap/ivory wheat and it has started to rise. Thankyou for that. Do I use the rye this way each time I discard, throughout the whole starter process?

        • I always use rye to feed my starter, yes. Once your starter is strong and rising/falling predictably you can change your flour to whatever suits you (schedule, flavor, and what’s on hand), just keep in mind that whole grain flour ferments faster so keep an eye on it when you change!

          • Sharon Bennett

            Thanks Maurizio, my starter has totally picked up and is fermenting so nicely now. Thanks again for getting back to me. On a side note. A while back I splurged on a Lodge dual cast iron dutch oven and that too has made all the difference. I love when Im at the halfway mark and can remove the lid to see how well its rising and if its forming ears. Its like opening a present on Christmas morning, almost every time.

            • Fantastic, that’s awesome to hear! I love my Lodge DO, it’s amazing (for more things than just bread as well, try French toast in there) and I use it somewhat often, especially if my dough is very wet. And yes, opening that lid… Smile every time 🙂 Happy baking!

  • Quick question on this, Maurizio. You are only re-using 20g of the starter, which isn’t much. How do you manage to leave so little in the jar? Or do you move 20g into a new jar every time you feed the starter?

    • Ivan — sure thing. I feed so often I kind of am able to eyeball it when it comes to leaving 20g in the jar. I use my Oxo silicone spatula to clean the sides of the jar as well as I can (the flat side of that thing really helps with this) and then I’ll take a paper towel to clean the top of the jar. I’m usually left with around 19-22g in the jar, which is sufficiently accurate for my feedings. I use the same jar each time and I change it out every 2 weeks or so if it gets really dirty.

      You’re right though, 20g isn’t a lot, which is what I want! Hope that helps, let me know if you have any more Q’s.

      • Edwina

        Ciao Maurizio, I’m new to all this and only in the building of the starter phase (although I did give my first loaf a go this week). I am a little confused now as in your post of building your starter you say you leave 40g of starter behind at each feeding and then feed with 40g flour and 40g water. So is it 20g or 40g? Also, if one were to bake regularly like you do, you are feeding your starter 3x per day and using the part you are discarding for the levian. Right? Will there always be enough in the jar leaving 40g behind then feeding with 40g flour and 40g water to create a levian? I am in Perth Australia and right now it is really hot (Between 25 and 38 degrees C), my starter is moving really fast, and the first wholewheat loaf I tried this week was ok, but too sour for my liking, this means I reduce the amount of starter I carry over at the feed or is it ready to go once that starter rises and then starts to fall like yours, which for me was around day 2 or 3? Thank you for this wonderfully informative blog and all your patience..,I have noticed there are a lot of questions being asked that you have already addressed in other posts, but I guess all us newbies are looking for clarification that we are on the right track. Thank you again for your patience.

        • The amount you leave in the jar at each feeding will change, mostly do to the weather (if it’s cold you’ll need to leave more, if it’s warm you can leave less). The more you leave in the jar the faster your culture will reach its “peak” and need refreshing. So, you can do 20g or 40g or anywhere in between or above. There’s no set level, really, it’s up to you and your schedule. Since it’s very hot in your area right now you might want to only leave 10-20g in your jar at each feeding. Try this next time, you’ll notice it takes several hours more before your starter peaks and needs refreshment. You can use this to adjust the timing to suit your schedule.

          I feed my starter 2x a day regularly and it’s how I describe up in this post. In the summer I might feed less if it’s very hot here and in the winter it might be at, or a little over, 20g. I hope this makes sense!

          I’m glad to help, let me know if you have any more questions — happy baking!

          • Edwina

            Thank you for your reply. I have been leaving behind 20g and feeding 20/20 flour and water. It it happy and active and I appear to have enough to build a levian (I am on to my second loaf which is currently proofing in the fridge). Thanks again for your wonderfully informative and beautiful blog.

  • Wendy Shefte

    Hi Maurizio, I’m new to this, and made my first loaf of wild yeast whole wheat bread this weekend. It turned out ok (but I’ll keep at it!). I have a question for which I can’t readily find an answer. I have my starter on the counter right now, as I’m preparing my second loaf of bread. I will be returning it to the fridge today and am wondering if I feed it before I put it back in there, or do I just return it (it’s currently at it’s peak fermentation rise)?

    • Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been out on travel!
      Yes, definitely feed your starter before placing it into the fridge. You want it to have plenty of food to consume during its stay in there, even though activity is reduced it will still require fresh flour/water as fermentation slows but doesn’t stop.

      I like to feed my starter when it’s at its peak, wait 30 or so minutes and then toss it into the fridge.

      Hope that helps and happy baking!

      • Stephanie

        So what happens if I forgot to feed it before putting it in the fridge… ? Thanks!

        • If you didn’t feed it then take it out next opportunity, let it warm to room temperature and feed it, then wait 30 minutes or 1 hour and place in the fridge. Your starter needs fresh water and flour while “resting” in the fridge!

  • Muneera

    Wow- these pictures were so useful for understanding the various stages a levain goes through! I would like understand why there is a process of “building strength” after the chef is removed from the fridge (where I keep mine) Why can’t one remove it in the morning, feed it that night and bake with it the next morning? What changes when you spend an extra day feeding it?

    Thank you!

    • Thanks! You could definitely do that, but at least in my experience, I’ve noticed I need at least a few feedings (usually for me I’ll take it out at night to let it come up to temperature, feed before bed, then do one day of two feedings, and then it’s ready the next day) to get back up to its usual speed and strength. You want to observe it rising and falling with some predictability before using it to bake otherwise I’ve found it’s just not strong enough to fully leaven your bread. You could use it, and I’m sure your bread would turn out fine, but I’ve noticed the best results when I get my starter back to its regular rising & falling after sleeping in the fridge.

      I’m sure there’s a deeper scientific analysis in here (e.g. it’s possible the number of yeast/bacteria have dwindled in the fridge, especially as your culture becomes more and more acidic as it ferments without refreshment) but I’ve only read scattered material on this and mostly go by empirical results. That extra day of feeding seems to help build up these populations and get things running faster.

      I hope that helps!

      • Muneera

        Makes sense. Thanks! Also, not sure if you address this somewhere, but what do you with your chef when you go away? I have a 10 day trip next week…

        • I’ve mentioned it here and there but nowhere specific. I will feed about 20% of my mature starter with 100g flour and 95g water (a little drier than usual), stir it up really well and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes. Then, pop it into the fridge and it’ll stay in there for a good while, up to 2-3 weeks. I’ve done 2.5 weeks without issue.

          You might also want to write on the jar “do not throw away” in case someone at the house thinks it’s “gone bad”. Hope that helps!

          • Muneera

            Thanks. When you say 20% starter, how much is that by weight please? Do you mean 20 gms?
            Thanks again

            • It’s 20% of the flour weight (using baker’s percentages), so if you feed with 100g of fresh flour then you use 20g starter.

  • Brian Roberge

    What do you think about starter with 125% hydration?

    • Hydration is really a relative thing, it depends on the flour you’re using. You can really do any hydration you want (within reason) and things will work just fine, but also 125% hydration for your flour might work just fine but for me it might be too wet and sloppy. I like to keep mine at the consistency shown here in my post, but I could go up or down and things would work out just fine.

      Hope that helps!

  • John Klindt

    Hi – wery good blog – thank you.
    Discarding 80% of the starter every time seems a lot of waste? What are you using the discarded part for? Do you simply throw it out as waste in the process?
    Thank you

  • Phil

    I’ve never baked in my life, and I have a brand new starter. I began the process on 17 August 2016, using only whole wheat flour. So far it’s not really rising at all, but it’s got a decent amount of small bubbles, it gets a bit foamy, and forms hooch.

    What I don’t understand is what to do with feedings when my starter isn’t rising. Say I started with 250 g starter; 250 g flour; 250 g water. If this doesn’t rise, should I still discard a lot of it prior to feeding (using the same equal weights throughout)?

    I really want this to work, but I’ll freely admit I find it confusing. Any feedback is greatly appreciated!

    Thanks,
    Phil

    • Phil,

      Have you had a look at my process for creating a new sourdough starter? I outline what to in the beginning days of your sourdough starter, how to feed it, and how to create the right conditions for it to grow.

      You typically want to discard from your culture on a schedule, and when activity starts to increase more and more, you’ll discard more often.

      Check out my guide at the link above and then let me know if you have any more questions! You can message me here or send me an email through the “Contact” link at the top of my website.

      Hope that helps!

      • Phil

        Hi, Maurizio.

        Thanks for your response. Yes, I had checked out this post and found it very much worth reading, though I had already followed what seems like a slightly different method that I learned prior to coming across your site. Since I initially posted here, my whole wheat starter had two great days of doubling in size, but now it’s barely rising at all – which, according to your site, is normal. That’s good to hear.

        Would you ever feed a starter without discarding anything? Or would you deem discarding a necessary component of the feeding process?

        Thanks again!

        • I always discard when I feed. I could see the benefit to sometimes not doing that, especially if you don’t see any activity at all, but I’ve found following the schedule I posted in my 7 steps article to work out every single time for me.

          When your starter is up and running you definitely want to discard a portion when you feed otherwise your culture will become more and more acidic over time.

  • Robb

    Just to be clear, with your maintenance routine you feed your starter twice and day, once at 10am and again at 10pm? And if your making a levain the night before you bake, it’s at a prefect fermentation to be used in the evening? Thanks

    • That’s correct. However, that’s what works for me here, in my kitchen with my set of environmental inputs. You can start with this schedule but ultimately you’ll have to learn to read the signs (described above) to adjust your starter feeding schedule or so you can adjust the inputs and change the response by your starter.

      I hope that makes sense. Really the key to maintaining a healthy and vigorous starter is to be observant and watch how its doing in your environment, then you adjust feed times, temperatures and quantities to suit your schedule.

  • Stephanie McLeod

    Hi Maurizio! Thanks so much for this incredible blog! I was given some starter from a friend, and have been following your ‘Seven Steps’. It is strong and healthy, and I have my first loaf proving in the fridge (I had a few shaping issues due to the dough being incredibly sticky, but have an idea of some adjustments for next time!).

    My question is, how do I transition from the stiff(?) starter routine (40gm starter, 40gm flour, 40gm water twice/day) to the one outlined above? Do I need to? And does the type of starter (stiff or liquid) change the levain recipe? Thanks again,
    Steph
    London, UK

    • You’re very welcome and I’m really glad everything is working out for you!

      You do not need to modify your starter if you don’t want to. As long as you have a healthy starter that’s rising and falling with good activity there’s no need to change a single thing if it’s making the bread you’re after. Bakers maintain stiff and liquid starters just the same and it’s really personal preference on which you like to maintain.

      The one thing you need to adjust when using a stiff or liquid starter is the hydration of your final dough mix. Because a stiff starter by nature has less water you might have to add more water to your mix if the recipe calls for a more liquid starter (e.g. 65% hydration stiff starter, vs. 100% hydration liquid starter).

      Hope that helps and thanks for the message!

  • Adam Smith

    How useful do you think the float test is? I have tried using the young Levain method as seen in Tartine bread, to try and achieve a more subtle taste, and even though my starter always floats, and seems to bulk ferment and prove in similar times, the oven spring just isn’t there sometimes when using the levein at this stage. Also I have a just built a proving box with the heating element from a fish tank, what temperature would you recommend keeping my starter at from now on, yes, i know i’m lucky to be able to ask this question 🙂 !

    • Hey there! I don’t think the float test is the end all test for determining levain readiness, not at all. I think for most people it’s a good place to start when making white sourdough (or specifically Tartine’s methods), to help them gauge when their levain is most likely at a strong enough state to leaven their dough. When you begin using more whole wheat flour (or rye) the float test becomes more and more inaccurate and you have to rely on other methods to determine its readiness. For example, a 100% rye levain usually never floats.

      I like to use my levain when it’s very strong, at its peak rise and smells “right”. It has a slightly sour smell to it but not off-putting and it looks well expanded and aerated. If you’re making bread that requires a high percentage of levain (> 20%) then I’d likely use it at a more “young” state but most of my breads here never go above that percentage.

      I like to keep my starter around 76-78ºF. The warmer the temperature the faster it will mature and I find around 76ºF to be the sweet spot for me and my schedule.

      Hope that helps and happy baking, Adam!

  • michael

    Hi Maurizio,
    Really nice site man. Quick question. Have you found in your experience the oven spring or overall size of the finished loaf is directly effected by the age of the levain? I have been making tartine style for many years and have always used the levain quite young, as it starts to float. Also in your bulk ferment are you looking for the classic 20-30% increase? Your perfect sourdough looks beautiful and similar to mine on a good day. Over the last few months I’ve been experimenting with 85% hydration and different times of autolyse, no culture, no salt, warm spot from 1 to 12 hours and cold overnight autolyse with mixed success. Your perfect sourdough formula could b the perfect sweet spot for all of those variables. Nice one! Also a little note for others outside of the US ( im in new zealand ) a little secret, a lot of flours do not have malt added. By adding a small amount of diastic malt around 0.5% can really make all the difference.
    Many many thanks bro

    • Michael,
      Hard to give a definitive answer to your first question — using your levain at a “young” stage means there’s still some room for fermentation in there, it wont be at a fully developed/expanded/mature state. This means less acidity transferred to your final dough (more mild flavor among other things). If you’re using a younger levain know that your dough might develop slower than if you used a more mature levain — meaning your bulk could be shorter.

      I don’t pay attention to bulk rise so much as I look for other signs. Significant rise is a good thing, for sure, but I also look for plenty of activity in the dough. It should be jiggly, alive looking, some bubbles here and there and the edges where the dough meet the bowl should be domed. If you tug on the dough is should feel stronger, more resistant.

      Thanks! Over the years I’ve found little bits and pieces of things that work and put them all together for my best sourdough recipe — I make it all the time and just love it!

      Thanks for the tip on the malt and the comments in general — hope this helps!

  • Matt

    Hello Maurizio,

    I’ve been following your 7 steps to creating a starter and currently am on the time periods where I am feeding 3 times per day with a very active starter. After reading this sourdough starter maintenance post I have one question. The current routine from your 7 steps post is 40g starter leftover, then fed 40 g water and 40 g flour.

    Looking at how it’s currently being fed, it seems as though the 80ish grams of starter being thrown away for each feeding would be enough for most recipes to make the levain. In contrast to this article where you have 20 g starter retained and feeding 100 g flour and 100 g water. Do I need to transition to this larger volume of starter if I only plan on baking bread about once a week?

    I’m mostly trying to figure out if there is a benefit to scaling up the volume of your starter beyond simply have more available starter to bake with. Whereas someone like me could make do with only having enough for one levain at a time. I hope this question makes sense and would appreciate any feedback. Thanks!

    • Hey, Matt! You do not have to scale up your feeding quantities. I bake very frequently, almost every day, so having a starter at peak ripeness every day is something I need to have on hand.

      Just feed your starter enough flour/water so it gets to the next feeding without falling, and staying at a fallen state, for too long (as I describe in the post above). That’s really the key, you can feed it whatever quantity you’d like. Ideally you’ll feed it at least once a day, twice is best but not completely necessary.

      I hope that helps! I know it can be discouraging “throwing away” all the excess from these feedings but remember you can always make other great food with that excess!

      • Matt

        Thanks so much this is exactly what I was wanting to know! It’s awesome that you answer everyones questions on your site. Your site is by far the most useful thing I’ve found online about starters and sourdough bread baking. The pictures are invaluable over just reading something out of a book. Thanks again.

  • Bec

    Hi Maurizio,
    I’m curious about why it’s necessary to discard all but 20g of the starter. I’ve read a few different posts about why it should be done but haven’t really found anything conclusive. Initially I was discarding the majority of my starter but for some reason I stopped and I don’t think I’ve noticed a difference in the quality of the bread. Do you know what kind of difference this discarding process makes? (I’m only baking once per week – I’m not producing excessive quantities of starter each day and ending up with too much).
    I’m curious though, so i’ll discard all but 20g of the starter for the next few batched and see if that makes a difference to the next few loaves. Perhaps it will make it way better!
    Thanks again for the fantastic site!

    • Jan Jan

      You could easily feed the starter without discarding anything, but since you should feed it with 5 times the flour and water compared to the starter, you would have to spend a whole lot of flour, water – and storage space – and that would be very wasteful.

      I guess if you could use it all, there would be no reason to discard any of it. But then you would have to bake bread every day I suspect.

    • Sure thing! You have to discard a large portion of your starter at each feeding so the overall acidity in your culture doesn’t get too high, which will cause your bread to also become sour if you use this in your dough mix, but also high acidity levels can compromise the health of your overall starter. However, it really depends on how you’re maintaining things, like @disqus_6WYePDZZCU:disqus said below it’s possible to use the majority of your starter to make a levain or to bake with it each time instead of discarding it, this is actually what is done in a professional bakery.

      Think of it this way: when you mix fresh flour and water with a portion of your mature starter you’re giving it food to consume and your yeast/bacteria in your starter will eventually colonize the entire mixture in the jar. Byproducts of this metabolization are gasses (CO2 mostly) and acids (lactic and acetic acids). After a while the acids build up in the culture, and you can observe this by smelling it (you’ll notice your mixture goes from sweet to sour to almost vinegary). If you were to never discard eventually your culture would become extremely acidic and if you used a portion of this in your baking your bread would likely have the same characteristics (as it’s mentioned in the Tartine baking book: “large acid transfer”).

      If you say you don’t discard a large majority I’m curious what you do because your starter would become massive! If you just kept adding to it and adding to it eventually you’d have quite a large culture.

      I’ve found over the years carrying over only a small percentage of mature starter has helped me develop the flavor profile I’m after (very little sour flavor) and also keep the strength of my starter in top shape.

      Hope that makes sense! Let me know if it’s at all unclear.

      • Bec

        Thanks for your response @maurizioleo:disqus and @disqus_6WYePDZZCU:disqus, I really appreciate it.
        What I’ve been doing for a while is using a 100% hydration rye starter. It doesn’t seem to get vinegary like white flour does. Initially I was throwing out a portion of the starter and feeding it large quantities but for some reason I stopped and just fed the starter with enough for my levain and to use for the next time as I thought it didn’t really make a difference. I was then using 50g of the starter to make a levain.

        The weekend I experimented and made a new starter with a mix of 40g starter, 50g rye & 50g white flour. I think it was more active than the 100% rye starter. I’ve baked a loaf with the new starter mix and I haven’t noticed a major difference in flavour. I’ve just tasted it now and I guess does have a sour flavour but in a good sourdough way!

        I know what you mean about the vinegary characteristics of a white starter but I have’t found it to be the same with the rye starter. I’ll keep using the 50% rye 50% white flour mix and see how I go with it. I still only fed it with enough for the levain without having a large excess. Perhaps I should fed it with a lot more (@Jan Jan mentioned feeding it with 5 times the starter quantity) and see if it’s better? I will try to compare the different loaves too and see if they’re different.

        I’ve also been wondering about shaping two loaves at once and keeping one in the fridge for a few days prior to baking. Obviously making it more regularly and when you want to bake it is better but have you any thoughts on how long you can keep shaped dough in the fridge for without loosing quality or it becoming too sour? The reason I ask is because my basket is slightly too wide for my dutch oven and the dough sometimes touches the side of the dutch oven so I’m looking at different basket/bread size options and thinking I could make two loaves and bake the second mid week.

        Thanks for all the help! I did read quite a few books at the beginning of the sourdough journey but I seemed to have forgotten lots and ignored other parts so I’m going to grab a few books from the library and refresh myself!

        • Glad I could help!

          The rye starter should actually be more active than a pure white flour starter — rye ferments much faster. However, the activity in the starter with white flour might be more noticeable because the white flour will help display fermentation: because it has a higher ability to trap gasses you’ll likely see more bubbles throughout and on top. I use a mix of white and rye to sort of slow things down a bit, if I use 100% rye I personally have to feed my starter too often for my schedule. Each starter and environment is different though, if you’re getting great bread with your maintenance routine and you like it, stick to it!

          Some bakers are able to keep their dough in the fridge for quite a long time before it begins to degrade and loose rising ability, you will have to test this. I personally push my bulk fermentation so far that the dough can only stay 12-18 hours in the fridge, at a maximum, for me. That’s something you can test out! Bake one loaf and see if you can keep the other in there for much longer. Of course this all depends on temperatures and also what kind of flour you’re using. Higher temperatures and more whole grains in your flour mix will speed up fermentation.

          I hope that hall helps!

  • maccompatible

    Hey.. So I have a problem. It got really cold here in the last week, but my starter was in the fridge. I left it out a few hours before putting it in the fridge.. whoops. I figured it would be fine but didn’t get back to it before it developed a dark hooch. Whoops. I stirred it back in after the starter warmed up, fed it like normal, and then saw VERY little activity by the next feeding time. Granted, it has been much colder in my house (about 8 degrees cooler) and I recently transitioned to 100% AP flour instead of rye.. and it was probably in the fridge too long.. So it’s rising and falling a bit.. but very slowly. I’ve been carrying over 40g (I usually only leave 10-15g when feeding) but it still takes about 18 hours to peak. So what’s going on here? Is my starter weaker? Is the temperature making it ferment more slowly? Should I stay at 100% hydration in these conditions? Should I feed it whole wheat or rye flour instead of all purpose? I just feel at such a loss and can’t bake until my starter is strong again..

    • Hey, sorry for the late reply! Temperature definitely plays a role in the fermentation activity of your starter. I prefer to keep mine around 75-78ºF for my schedule and it’ll peak in about 12 hours for me. I would suggest try increasing the temperature to somewhere in that range and keep it there for a few days with regular feedings. Make sure to feed it around when it’s about to fall — you want to see activity in the mixture before discarding a large portion or you’ll end up with a weaker starter over time. It’s fine to keep it at 100% hydration. If things still aren’t picking up after a few days try mixing in some whole grain rye flour for a portion of your flour to increase the amount of nutritious, whole grains.

      Hope that helps, I’m sure it’ll pick back up!

  • Peter

    Thanks for this. My starter has been very inconsistent, sometimes it would be really active and produce great bread and sometimes it would be bricks I pulled out of the oven. After about 10 days feeding it 50/50 rye and wheat instead of the 50/50 wheat/wholegrain wheat I had been using and keeping the feeding schedule alot more focused, the starter really strengthened and I get really great results every time. Thumbs up to you for your whole site. It’s greatly appreciated.

    • That’s so awesome to hear, I love reading comments like this! Really glad I could help out Peter, thanks so much. Happy baking!

  • Frank Jimenez

    Hi Maurizio, I really enjoy reading your blog. I really get a lot of inspiration from it.

    I have been baking sourdough bread for around 6 months. In its short history, my starter doubled up with no problem when I feed it in the evening (I feed it in the morning and before bed). I use the same recipe as the one in this post (20g starter + room temp h2o + 25g dark rye + 75g white).

    However, I just started to notice this week that my starter is really struggling to rise. It would barely go up an extra 25% to 30% – nothing near double the amount. I live in Ireland and we just started to get a fairly cold weather! My kitchen is usually at 66 f in the morning (average), although at night can drop to 58/60 f.

    I am wondering if you think I can benefit from using warmer h2o (higher than room temp) or do you think I should add extra starter (more than 20g) when feeding it?

    As I said, I am only a beginner so any advice would be very appreciated.

    Thank you so much Maurize,
    Frank

    • Thanks Frank, really glad to hear that! The temperature at which you keep your starter is pretty critical: the colder the temperature the slower the activity you’ll see and vice versa. 58ºF is incredibly cold for a starter and that makes total sense why you’d see such sluggish activity. Try to find a warmer spot in your kitchen if possible, or, like you said, use warm water to feed so your starter keeps a good temp overnight by the time morning comes. For reference, my preferred temp for my starter is 75ºF — this shows quite a bit of activity for me.

      One option you could consider is picking up a bread proofer that can keep your starter at a set temperature overnight — this is what I’ll do if temperatures drop too low here in my house and I have to bake the next day.

      I hope that helps & happy baking!

  • OgitheYogi

    What do you cover your sourdough starter with? I use a coffee filter but it seems to dry out the top of my starter, I don’t have bubbles on top of my starter but very active if you look around the jar with tons of air holes. I was wondering what’s the best method for covering the sourdough if I keep on the counter!

    • You can see in the photos above: I use the glass lid that comes with the Weck jar holding my starter. I don’t clamp it shut, I just let it rest on top (so gasses can escape if needed). Works extremely well and I’ve been using these jars for years.

      You can find the Weck jars on my tools page!

  • Stephanie

    So I think that it is too much work for me to feed the starter twice a day but I like bread a few times a week. What other options do I have? Thanks!

    • Have a look at my Sourdough Starter FAQ near the bottom-middle, I have a few sample schedules you could try out for baking once a week that include keeping your starter in the fridge most of the time to avoid feedings!

  • Jay Vaswani

    Hi Maurizio,

    Hello from Hong Kong. I am new to sourdough baking and have been following your blog for a couple of months now. My bread is slowly but surely improving so thanks very much for that. For the past few days I have been trying to approximate your starter maintenance routine and I have managed to somewhat get it down to about the same timing but only if I use double the amount of starter that you do – 40gms to every 100 gms of flour and water. My bread seems to rise quite well but is not nearly as holey as yours. Is there something wrong with my starter do you think? I used the Cooks Illustrated method to make it and it ticked all their boxes for a mature starter. I use the same proportion of rye flour you do but we have a much smaller range of flours to choose from here so I go with KAF AP. I would very much appreciate some advice. My family seem to do much better with sourdough bread than the regular kind, so I really want to get this right. Thanks a lot.

    • Hi, Jay! Really glad to hear your bread is on the right track. Using KAF AP will work really well, that’s a good flour. There could be many reasons your starter is not quite as active as mine here but the most important is temperature. Try to keep your starter consistently warm if you can, around 75ºF-78ºF is a good temp to see strong activity. Most times, especially when winter rolls around, temps drop and starter activity follow suit — try to find that warm spot in your kitchen and see if this helps.

      Doesn’t matter how you created your starter, the maintenance of it is the most important.

      Hope this helps!

  • mc2

    This site stikes a chord with me – I am an engineer too and wants to understand stuff.
    At the moment I am battling to figure out my starter’s unusual behaviour.
    After I have done the first mix on day one, the starter takes off with a big bang and expands like the creation of the universe on day one. At the first feeding it smells and tastes quite acidic.
    But then; after the first feed it slows down dramatically and only fractionally raises over a day and then just sits there and become more acidic. Even feeding again does not change the behaviour. I have now given up three times on day three.
    Can it be that I do not get the “acid resistant” yeast strains in the mix and that the rest all die off when acidity increases?
    Our ambient temperature is between 26 to 30 degrees C. Can that be the cause?

    • Right on! That could definitely be it, but I would keep with the process well after day three to see if things improve. It’s somewhat typical to see an initial burst of activity, then a lull, and finally after a few days later things pick back up. This initial burst can be due to other bacteria in the culture we don’t want in the long run that eventually gets replaced by the bacteria we do want. I mention this a bit in my Sourdough Starter FAQ, have a look!

      Hope this helps! Stick with it, things will get there after 7 days or so.

    • GloryBell

      My starter did the same thing: big, bubbly, for the first 3 days, then horrid!! Nothing, not one bubble and I say it smelled like turpentine or diesel fuel! I wildly guessed… something! Food, it must need more food! So I mixed it probably to nearly as thick as a too thick pancake batter, stirred it every hour, or whenever I walked past it, and though it appeared dead, I let it wait it out! On day 6, it took off again! happy ever since, but I will never forget that smell! Which is good, because as was explained in this site: smell is very important! I smell my starters all the time, now, to pick up any of those reminders to ‘help it a little’!

      • Thanks for sharing all that! And yes, you’ll often find me swinging by my starter on the weekends to take a sniff and see how it’s “doing” 🙂

  • Teri Smyth

    I’m so excited to find your website. I recently started my own sour dough starter. Now i know how to feed it!

    • Awesome to hear that Teri and glad to have you along! Happy baking 🙂

  • Vegard

    Hey man! Great work. Love your recipes. Quick question: do you only keep 20g of you mother starter?

    • Thanks! That amount changes, usually with the seasons. If it’s warmer I’ll dial that back as far as 10g, if it’s colder I can go up to 30g or so. All depends on how fast or slow I need maturity to arrive 🙂

  • Diana

    Thank you for all your helpful information to embark on baking with sourdough! One question I haven’t found an answer to yet (apologies if I missed it in another article): once I’ve built a healthy starter, should I continue feeding it with a 50/50 rye AP flour mix, or can I use just AP flour? Thank you!

    • You bet! You can actually change to any ratio of flour you’d like. You could do all whole wheat, all white, any mix therein. My favorite currently is a 50/50 mix of white and whole wheat.

      One thing to keep in mind is the higher the whole grain percentage you go the faster your starter will mature — keep an eye on it!

      Hope this helps, happy baking 🙂

  • Michela Guimarães

    Dear Maurizio,
    I’m so glad I found your website. I’ve been trying to make my starter without any success for the last 2 weeks. It didn’t rise and it was always with a very strong vinegar smell, very liquid and with a yellowish liquid on top. After reading your site I added a much thicker mixture of rye flour and water and finally it became very similar than your pictures just 2 days ago. It’s raising beautifully and the smell is much more sweet. Probably soon I’ll try my first sourdough recipe with this new starter. (I’ve tried 3 times before, but obviously I had to add instant yeast and it was not even close by a good sourdough).
    Now my doubt – sorry if it’s somewhere in the site, but I couldn’t find the answer – when can I stop feeding it every day? I’d like to put it in the fridge and feed it just once a week or every 2 weeks, but I’m not sure when is the right moment to do this. Unfortunately I can’t prepare a fresh sourdough every day… Although I’d love to. So I’m afraid I’m wasting a lot of organic rye flour at the moment…
    Thanks for sharing all these precious information with us!
    Michela.

    • Michela Guimarães

      Dear Maurizio,
      I found the answer in the “Frequently Asked Sourdough Starter Questions”. BTW I found a very good schedule that probably will work very well for me. I also noticed that I need to give a name to my starter. I’m still not successful on baking a sourdough but my pancakes following your recipe that uses the sourdough starter that I would have discarded was AMAZING. I’m looking forward to baking my first sourdough with the proper starter this weekend. I’ll let you know how it goes.
      Cheers,
      Michela.

      • Michela, ok awesome! It’s all about trying to find a good schedule for your starter that will work with your own schedule. I bake just about every day so I feed my starter constantly but I know not everyone is that obsessed 🙂 Keep at it and happy baking!

  • Catalina

    Hi Maurizio! I wanted to know at what stage would you advice to put it in the fridge? I’m not gonna be using it for a few days but I’m not quite sure when is the best time.
    Thanks!

    • I usually do a normal feeding (discard and then feed) and let the starter sit on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour. After that I place it in the fridge and have kept it in there for 2 weeks with no problem. You essentially want to make sure your starter has fresh food while its in the fridge.

      Hope that helps!

  • Hucho23

    Thank you this is very helpful. I’ve kept a “pure” all-purpose starter now for about 16 years. (I forgot when exactly I started it but some time in 2001). Whole wheat seems to spoil rapidly that is why I maintain a pure all-purpose mother. Much to maybe your horror, I keep it in the refrigerator and try to use or re-feed once every week or two. I’ve revived it from near death from as long as a month without food. I then use this all-purpose starter to start other flour combos, such as whole wheat, barely, buckwheat, and even teff. There are a lot more grains that I would like to try though.

    I just feed my starter it just does what it does: it blooms! and always smells pleasant. It does get “sour” after sitting in the fridge for a long time, but that quickly ends if I re-feed usually by taking a 20-30% starter then triple or quadruple that with equal weights of flour and water (I don’t weigh, just eyeball till my desired consistency) and let ferment overnight if I’m going to use, back in the fridge if not. I’ve never kept a starter going at room temp for more than a few days (except when I first learned about sourdough in a kitchen 30 years ago, the sourdough was never put in the fridge!). I recently took a quick 4 hour sourdough bread class from a fantastic nearby bakery and they suggested a maintenance schedule pretty similar to yours, and use whole-wheat, AP mixtures. I just find that a bit tedious and demanding, I don’t like to throw anything out, and I just don’t bake bread, or anything else, that often.

    Lately I’ve been lowering the hydration though and liking my starter much more and seems to have better refrigerator life with little or no “hootch”. So I guess my question is what are the qualities of the starter that I should be trying to achieve because I tend to do the same thing all the time, the eventual levains that I make from the starter always seem to be similar except for some differing flavors depending on what types of flours I use, but seem entirely acceptable to me but maybe my results could be better? I want to be a better bread maker.

    • Wow, that’s quite a long time! Nothing wrong with using the fridge at all (in fact I just published a post where I talk about using it for a Weekend Baking Schedule). My schedule actually is pretty much what you do, low maintenance (or no maintenance) 90% of the time, only taking out your starter when you need it. I didn’t read your post until just now and your comment are exactly what I have in my post — glad we see the same thing! I like to also reduce the hydration, it seems to keep longer in the fridge without that unwanted texture and smell.

      One thing i might suggest is to just take a week and try to regularly feed your starter with it out on the counter. Maybe you’ll see it have more strength or produce different baking results. I’d be curious to hear if you find that the case myself! But to answer your question: what I like to see in my starter (whether it’s from the fridge or not) is just extreme signs of fermentation and strength. I almost never use my starter when I don’t see the activity I’m used to (tons of bubbles, sour/sweet smells, strong rise and fall, etc.). Once you are sure your starter is as strong as it can be then bake at will — as we know, great bread begins with a strong starter.

      I hope this answers your question!

  • Leslee Gill

    Really great site – thank you. I began my starter about a week ago and it’s finally active (this is the second day it’s almost doubled) but I use a mason jar with a coffee filter lid I put the ring around. It seems to work okay and I’m using pint jars, which is about what yours appears to be. My starter is 100% stone ground whole wheat from a small batch miller who doesn’t separate the bran and germ from the endosperm so maybe that’s why it took a week to get going. If it doubles within 12 hours and starts to subside do I feed it again? I’m hoping to make one loaf every other day or so.

    • Thanks so much Leslee! Really glad to hear your starter has taken off. That’s great you’re using local whole wheat, very cool. Yes, you want to feed it right as it starts to fall, that’s the best time to catch it. If you find it’s fallen before you can feed it you can leave less in the jar at each feeding or keep it in a cooler spot. Hope that helps and sorry for the late reply!

  • Avery-23

    How do you make a started in the tropics?

    • Same process! If your environment is overly humid you could stir the starter midway between refreshments to ensure no mould is growing on top and to keep things better mixed in.

      • Avery-23

        Have you made it in the tropics before?

        • I have not, I live in a very arid climate that’s less than 30% humidity.

          • Avery-23

            Well, I need to find a way to make it work in the tropics.

            • This process should work just fine for you!

              • Avery-23

                The issue is not molds.

  • Eryn Lake

    Hello, I just got some starter from a friend but it is barely rising after feedings (nowhere even close to doubling). After three days of twice daily feedings following your method, I went ahead and put it in the fridge. What can I do to encourage more activity? It does get good bubbles and has a great sweet/sour smell. Do I just keep at it and hope for the best? (It is 70+ deg. in my kitchen). Thanks for all the information on your site!

    • You’re very welcome! I’d recommend you try using around 50% whole wheat flour (or 25-50% whole grain rye) for several feedings until you see the activity pick up. It’ll also help quite a bit if you keep your starter a bit warmer, somewhere close to 75-80F would be ideal — temperature is super important!

      I’d also say don’t give it two feedings per day if you don’t see enough activity to warrant the extra feeding. When you take it out of the fridge you might not need to feed it twice the next day (depending on temperatures).

      Hope that helps and good luck!

      • Eryn Lake

        Thanks, Maurizio! I upped the rye flour quotient and we had a warm spell here yesterday– this morning it had overflowed the container, more than doubling! Looks like I shouldn’t have doubted it. Going to make my first 100% wild yeasted loaf this weekend; next stop: trying to conquer whole grain sourdough.

        Thanks again for the information and encouragement!

        • Right on! You’re very welcome and happy baking!

  • Rebecca

    Hello, I am struggling to build a strong starter. I am currently using a 50/50 mix of rye and all purpose to feed my starter. I have 40 g of starter, 40 g of flour, 40 g of water. It is slow to double over a 3-6 hour period. It is taking almost 12 hours. I would like to get more activity. I was reading in your post but I might have it wrong… Do you take 20 g of starter and use 100 g water and 100 g of flour to feed it?

    From your post….

    “10:00 a.m. – The Start

    The first step is to take your mature sourdough starter, discard some portion of it, feed it with fresh flour & water, and cover (I only loosely cover with a glass lid that does not seal tight). My kitchen is currently around 72ºF and my mixture is 75g white flour, 25g rye flour, 20g mature starter and 100g room temperature water.”

    • yes, I keep 20g of mature starter in my jar and feed it with 100g water and flour at each refreshment. Temperature is incredibly important! If you keep your starter warmer, around 78F, you’ll see much more activity than at cooler temps.

      • Rebecca

        Thank you for the reply. I did mix half rye and half all purpose white flour together to feed the starter. It is very thick even after 12 hours, when it is due for its feeding. I tried switching the starter to straight organic all purpose flour, that didn’t fair so well. The starter seems to lose its vigor and it didn’t provide much rise to dough. Is it wise to always keep some rye in your mix to feed the starter? Half and half of rye/all purpose to feed the starter makes left over starter a lite strong for pancakes. My kids aren’t crazy about it. Would light rye and less of it in the feeding mix be better?

        • Once your starter is rising and falling predictably you can change the feeding flour to whatever you’d like. You can switch to 100% white flour, 100% whole wheat, or whatever combination you’d like. Rye just helps get things started in the beginning due to the extra nutrients present in that grain. Just note that with higher percentages of whole grain flours (including rye), you’ll see more activity in your starter.

          Hope that helps!

  • Griffin

    Hi, I am just curious, when you say that your “mixture” is 20g of starter, 100g of flour and 100g of water, do you mix all of these in a fresh jar each time, or do you keep the 20 g of starter in the same jar and just add the flour and water? Also, idk if I’m just being paranoid but it feels weird how much of the starter I am discarding. Am i accurate in saying that your routine is to discard 200g of starter at each feeding (400g/day)? Thank you for all your help! All paranoia aside my starter and bread have never looked better since I started frequenting your site.

    • I reuse the same jar, I don’t use a fresh jar until the current one is overly dirty or it’s been a couple weeks. You can use a fresh jar each time if you’d like, it’s just a lot of dishes to do 🙂

      I definitely do not discard 400g but I can’t say for sure what the final weight is. The most it could be, theoretically, is 220g (since I’m feeding 20g of mature starter with 100g water and 100g flour). It does seem like a lot of discard but there are tons of things you can do with that fermented flour! If you haven’t yet had a chance check out my Top 3 Leftover Sourdough Starter Recipes for a few ideas 🙂

      Glad to hear my site has helped to much! Happy baking.

  • epw

    Hi Maurizio, I asked a few days ago about my rye/ww starter – its doing great so far. I am curious now why you use such a small percentage of starter in your feedings. Is it mostly a taste issue or do you think that the low percentage keeps the feeding more under control? Thank you! I have always used equal parts starter/flour/water in my feedings but love experimenting.

    • Hey! Yes, I use a small percentage because I want my starter to “last” until at least 12 hours later, when I can get to refreshing it. If you keep a large percentage of mature starter in the jar at each feeding it will mature much faster and need more frequent refreshments.

      Hope that helps!

  • Brittny

    Hi! I’m going to try out your 20g starter + 100g flour + 100 water regime because I haven’t really been paying much attention to how much mature starter I’ve been carrying over. If I wanted to make this a lower hydration, do you think I’ll be okay just to reduce the water by 20% and keep the amount of flour and mature starter the same?

    • Hey there! Yes, just reduce the water to whatever percentage you’d like. Everything will be the same just know that the signs for when to refresh your starter are a little different as you reduce the hydration further and further (as it becomes more of a stiff starter instead of a liquid one). Just pay attention to the smells and the look of the starter — bubbles on top and below, the strength of it in general, and the level of rise.

      Happy baking!

  • James

    LOVE the site! It’s been my go-to for bread making.

    I am running into a problem. My bread ends up tasting great and my co-workers love it, but my loaves are just not beautiful when they come out of the oven. I do not use a combo cooker but maybe I should. I’ve just been cooking my loaves on parchment paper on a pizza stone. That said, my loaves never have any ears. My scoring pattern is there, but it just looks sad and uninteresting. Someone told me one of my loaves looked like a roast. Is humidity/hydration the culprit? Temperature? Baking technique? Or just about any or all of the above?

    I’m experimenting tonight making a cinnamon raisin loaf. Fingers crossed.

    • Thanks so much James, appreciate that!

      There are several reasons you might not get a nice ear or spring in your loaves so it’s very hard to pinpoint what the problem is without more details. Steam is important when baking as it helps your loaves rise up nice and high before forming a hard crust on the top and sides. If you have a large roasting bowl you can invert that over your dough, this will help trap steam. Alternatively, you could follow my oven steaming process for generating quite a bit in the oven.

      Aside from that it could be your dough hasn’t fermented fully. Make sure you push the bulk fermentation step pretty far, similar to what you’d see in the pictures and descriptions throughout my site.

      Let me know if this works out for ya!

  • Organ Grinder

    Hi,

    a very nice and illustrative tutorial, and a great site overall!

    Do you happen to have a post addressing the optimal moment a starter or levain should be used for baking? You state here that you’d use one from between 8:00PM and 10:00PM (peak). Why is it that a levain/starter at this stage would be the one to use for baking? Is it because at this point the yeast has been fully activated, and is able to most efficiently feast on the nutrients (flour) of the bread mix, giving you decent leavening, or is it about the flavor, or something else? How does it affect the outcome if you’d use one that’s at a different stage (a less fermented (e.g. the 3:00PM) or a fully collapsed (6:00AM) one)?

    • Thanks so much I really appreciate that!

      Yes, really this post is the best guide I have on illustrating when my starter is at its most optimal for refreshment and for using to build a levain. I’ve found using my starter at its peak produces not only the best flavor but also the best performance (in terms of fermentation). When you build your levain you really want to use a mature starter, this way you’re ensuring you’re making your levain using a mixture that is fully fermented and has maximal populations of yeast/bacteria. If you use your starter really early you’d be using some of the mixture before the entire thing was fully metabolized.

      Also, I’ve found I do get the best flavor when using a levain that’s fully mature — but this is my personal preference. There are many bakers who like to use their levain at a more “young” (early) stage when mixing their dough. This works too it just means the dough will need a little more time to be fully fermented and ready to proof.

      I hope this helps!

  • Hannah

    I am new to sourdough and built my starter back in January. It was doing great until this spring when I used almost all of it and tried to keep the very small bit I had left by feeding it a lot at one time :/ It has “stunk” for the past month or more! It doesn’t smell like vinegar anymore…it smells like bad breath. It doesn’t seem to really raise like it use to and bubble but it also hasn’t molded or changed looks a whole lot. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • If you see some sluggish behavior sometimes what I’ll do is use part rye flour for a couple weeks when doing feedings. The rye should help kickstart it back into shape.

      If you’re still having problems I’d recommend just starting a new one! There’s no harm in it and since you’ve already one it once you’ll have a good understanding of how the process works. Before you know it you’ll have a new starter that’ll be strong as ever.

      Hope this helps and good luck!

  • Corey Spelling

    I’m around 10 days into my starter and my starter starts falling pretty fast. Usually only around 8h after feeding or even less. My kitchen is quite cold too so I would expect it to take longer to reach its peak. Sometimes it falls before I can get back home from work.