Experience with a Stiff Starter

TeckPoh's picture
I'm making bread for the first time with a firm starter, i.e. 1T batter starter (which is in active mode), 1T water plus 1/2 C flour. This is kneaded to make a very firm ball; it's supposed to quadruple in 8 plus hours. Well...it's way past 8 hours now, and it hasn't risen significantly. Apparently, this may mean the starter is not active enough. I've just dissolved a pinch of that dough and mixed in flour to make a not-as-stiff dough. We'll see how it goes.

Would like to hear from those of you who has made bread from a stiff starter. Ta!
26 users have voted.


rbd 2008 May 30
Hey Teck!

The recipe you used (1 T (tblsp?) of water and 1/2cup of flour) seems overly dry to me!

I normally recommend 50% hydration for a stiff starter. (ie 50g water/100g flour)

Using (and keeping) a starter as a stiff starter can enhance its flavour (and the bread you'll produce from it) , and also tends to keep better, when stored in your fridge over time.

I personally would use a little more (fully activated) starter initially to get the stiff dough kick-started.

Enjoy your sourdough experimentations!

Once your stiff starter dough becomes nice and active, make sure to adjust your recipes for your final dough, since the starter will be quite a bit drier compared to a "wet" starter (100% hydration)

Happy baking


charlesparoles 2008 June 5
Yes yes, I've had the same issue. Most of my concern is with the lack of volume in either the barm or the firm starter. I have been following recipes Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. I NEVER get the rise times he suggests despite target parameters. I have a somewhat bubbly barm started 4 generations (feedings) ago with rye flour. It is not as bubbly as some pictures I've seen but it goes.... 5 bubbles on the surface at any time.  I pitched that into a firm starter of bread flour so as to make a ball...firmness of about the tenderness of flesh at base of thumb when pinching. I got about a 25% rise in twice the time cited (24 hours).  Dough temp was 26 degrees C. After I got tired of waiting, and satisfied that there WAS some microbial activity, i made a full dough 40% whole wheat and rye, 60 % all purpose. 2% salt and 70% hydration.  I fermented at room temp for 24 hours, again with only 25% rise. Got tired again of waiting for the volume.

There was evidence of gas development- I could see gas in the dough through the proofing container.  I shaped the dough and proofed for another hour, giving up on the volume issue. I put it in the oven. Flavor is good, texture has irregular holes (desirable given the hydration) but the crust is like a pock-marked teen. UGLY.  This was apparent when shaping. There was no surface tension... a lack of gluten development I guess? My next dough, again, in pursuit of the rise, is to go with all purpose flour. Maybe that will help.
charlesparoles 2008 June 5
I've also recently read that the firm start is not intended to build gas and volume but to propagate the bugs... but I guess gas and volume is one indication of the presence of the bugs.  Any other clues?
PaddyL 2008 June 6
I've only got rather liquid starters, though I've read about the stiff ones.  Is there any great advantage of one over the other?  Could I just take a bit of one of my liquidy starters to make a stiff one if there is some advantage, or for a specific recipe?
rbd 2008 June 6

Hey Paddy!

I find, for home bakers, a more liquid (wet) starter is more practical and easier you use.

In my home kitchen I usually use a liquid starter (100% hydration), so when I pour say 100g of starter out of the fridge to start a new batch, I KNOW I’ve got 50g of flour and 50g of water (makes the math a little easier)

If your culture lacks a little Zingg, you may want to develop it a little as a stiff starter (say 50% hydration) as this can develop the acidic qualities of your starter, particularly if proofed at lower temps <20C

Higher temperatures and hydration tends to favour the yeast and lactic acid development.


Have a try!, take a little from your fully activated (wet) starter, make it into a stiff starter and see how you go

[write down everything you do!]


Happy baking



PaddyL 2008 June 9
And it trebled this afternoon so I put it into the fridge.  My question:  can I use some stiff starter in place of, say, a lump of pre-fermented dough in recipes that call for same?  They usually call it a piece, so many oz., of your previous day's baking.
Catharina's picture
Catharina 2008 June 24

[color=blue]Hi TP --- how's your stiff starter doin'?

You inspired me to try my own experiment... I used Reinhart's BBA recipe for Pate Fermentee (excuse the lack of accents in the right places --- I don't have a French keyboard) - minus the yeast i.e.

1 1/8 cup AP unbleached flour (6.7oz)
1 1/8 cup unbleached flour (6.7oz)
3/4 tsp salt
approx 2 tbsp of my 100% hydration white starter
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp (6.7oz) water
Knead 6 mins, roll in EVOO, leave til 1.5X size, knead gently, place in zip lock bag in fridge.  (67.5% Hydration???)  The 'pate' was silky smooth and looked lovely as I cut it into pieces with the scissors.

I then used the 'pate' to make the BBA French bread & Pain de Campagne (neither with the additional yeast that the recipe calls for) - with MARVELLOUS results.  Both recipes call for 16oz of Pate Fermentee - I had approx 6oz of stiff starter left over each time, which I refreshed using the technique above (minus the EVOO and waiting for the 1.5x increase)

So... I suppose I now have a stiff starter as well! (does it count?)

My next experiment is making a 100% hydration 'poolish' with my starter...

I have an observation tho' that I'd like to thrown out there...
I have noted that without the addition of yeast my doughs take about double the time to ferment or prove (e.g. the yeasted recipe says 2 hours and mine takes 4 hours) --- is this everyone else’s experience when converting their yeasted recipes to sourdough?  Does anyone have any fabby recipes for using this marvelous silky stiff stuff?


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