How much starter to keep?

I have two starters, rye and wheat (white). The rye has been living in the fridge happily for months, the wheat is newer and has been at ambient kitchen temperature. I'm wondering what to do with the wheat one in the long term as it gets sporadic use (I discarded a wholemeal wheat one yesterday as it seemed to have died after smelling strongly of pear drops). 

How much wheat starter is the minimum to keep, in or out of the fridge? Any tips?

Thanks, Mark

5 comments

Hello Mark,

I don't think there is any magic formula, it can be a few grams or a few hundred.  It will depend to some extent on how you plan to store it and maintain it.

Regardless of where you store it, if you don't feed it, it will probably eventually die or get invaded by some nasty or another.  The best bet for long term storage without maintenance would be to freeze or dehydrate.  I have not done this myself so I cannot say from first hand experience but there are a lot of reports of success out there.

I have left mine for a month to six weeks in the fridge while on holiday and it revived OK after a couple of feeds but it did show signs of struggling a bit for a while.

With respect to the quantity, a very small amount of viable culture can be quickly built up by a series of increasing feeds and in the bakeries, as I understand it, the seed for tomorrows culture is the scrapings left in the bowl/bucket/tub from todays starter.

Depending on your definition of sporadic, I would consider storing it in the fridge and maybe feeding it once a fortnight or so just to be safe but maybe you could extend it to a month if that looks to be a viable option.  And if it does fail, it is no great shakes to start another and you could even seed it from your regular starter.

As a matter of interest, I only keep one starter and if I feel a recipe really needs to have the levain based on a different starter I just build it starting from a small amount (a couple of grams) in several stages over a day or so.  You might argue that this is not really an X-based starter but by and large you are only looking for the necessary yeasts and bacteria which are pretty universal.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

The most practical way to maintain your starter is also the least expensive; just keep one starter in your refrigerator. You really needn't keep a large quantity, all you really need is about 50-60 grams.A low hydration starter of 60-70% hydration will keep longer. I can leave to visit family, return two weeks later, and build up a rather vigorous starter in two or three steps.

Keep in mind that if you take a seed from an established starter, you can build up a new starter in three steps that will be essentially 95%+  true to flour type. If you want to be a purist, then by all means go ahead and keep as many different starters as you please. If you're happy to be a raggedy home baker as I am, just baking for the achievement and enjoyment, one starter is all you need to keep. Keep it simple, it isn't rocket science.

I keep 200 g in the fridge taking it out once a week to feed it. You can go longer, up to a month but you will want to feed it a few times to bring it up to speed.

Long term you can dry it out. Just spread some out on parchment paper and let it dry in the oven with just the light on. I keep my starter at 100% hydration and it will dry it out over night. I store the flakes in a zip-lock bag in the cabinet. I've also stored it in the freezer. I've restored starter kept this way for over a year.

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm trying a couple of hundred grams in the fridge to see how it goes. I think two fridge-dwellers should be managable.

I keep two starters in my fridge door  : Wholemeal wheat using bread flour, approx 90gm at about 63% hydration so it's a dough, wrapped in clingfilm and stored in a plastic bag, And wholemeal rye, again starting with about 90gm of refreshed starter  I dilute the 100% starter to about 130% hydration and store it in a jam jar, covered with clingfilm. Both will keep for at least a month without any attention.

When I'm ready to use one, I refresh all the starter for 18 to 24 hours, aiming to get four times what I started with - save one, make 3 small loaves (300gm+).

In theory the rye should be a more lactic starter which is why I don't use one starter for everything. I found that a diluted rye stored much better - less growth on the top. When I started out I made my rye starter similar to the wheat and stored it too as a dough - that works for two or three weeks, but then it starts to dry out.

ken