How do I get enough starter to start?

Hi guys, I have a very beginner question: bread recipes call for up to 2 cups of starter per dough, and I can't get my head around where this volume comes from! I have a thriving 3 week old rye starter, and I have begun saving the amount that I discard when feeding daily. Do I save this up until I have enough for the recipe? Do I separate it and feed it up to achieve the volume? I have read that the amount to be discarded daily can be used to make pizza crusts or pancakes, but it's only about 1/3 of a cup, so it still takes me a while to amass the correct amount! This is the crucial step stopping me from taking the leap into sourdough bread baking, so I appreciate any help. Thanks in advance, Alex
344 users have voted.


nickbeddows 2012 December 10

Hi Missalex.

Firstly, well done on getting a thriving rye starter, they're not always easy to get going. Secondly, I'm only a keen amateur, so any advice comes purely from my experiences making sourdough bread and pizzas for the last three years. Having said that, I'm confident enough to run a course teaching sourdough pizza making and baking using a clay oven near Brighton next summer, so something must have gone right!

If you have a healthy starter, you don't need to feed and discard every day. That's just to establish a thriving colony of sour bacteria and wild yeast fungus. Once your starter is happily bubbling away, you can leave it in the fridge for a week without feeding it, though you will need to revitalise it before you use it. Some bakers use a "sponge", that is they make up a batter of starter, flour and water the night before they intend to bake, and use that as the fired up starter. Personally, if I'm not baking every other day, I just tip away some of the starter, add two cups of flour and one cup of water to my starter and let it get active for about six hours (so make it the morning you want to start your dough). Use two cups or so for the dough and put the rest back in the fridge.

Hope that's helpful?

shasta's picture
shasta 2012 December 10

I simply don't discard and double the amount I have with feeding until I have enough for the recipe and enough left over to keep the starter going. Then I feed once more and place it back in the refridgerator for next time.

Missalex 2012 December 10
Fantastic, thank you nickbeddows and shasta! I can't believe I spent hours googling and wasn't able to find that answer! I hope to bake every 2-3 days so I probably wont need to refrigerate my starter. I wonder though, if my starter doubles in size and I dont discard any, do I need to double the flour and water I feed it? Finally I can get into it! Thank you again :)
farinam's picture
farinam 2012 December 11

Hello Missalex,

Even if you bake every couple of days you could still keep your stock culture in the fridge.

I keep maybe 200g of stock culture at 100% hydration.  When I am going to bake I take 90g of the stock and feed it with 45g flour and 45g water and leave that to get active.  It might be overnight (particularly when it is cooler) or for a few hours only when it is warmer.  My stock culture also gets a feed with the same amount (45/45) so the total quantity remains the same and it goes back into the fridge.

The amount that you need to get a levain for making bread can be quite small.  Even the scrapings left in your container, given food, will populate sufficiently in 24 hours.  I have used a stage build process as well that goes from a gram or two of culture to 200g of levain in 24 hours and I am sure that this could be scaled up even more if necessary.

Good luck with your projects.


kaye 2016 September 26

I don't have enough sourdough starter to make a loaf. I have an active starter and it is bubbly and smells very yeasty. Your recipe states 200g starter. I only have 185g and none left over to put in the fridge for next time. I have just fed my starter again with 1/4 cup spelt flour and 1/4 cup purified water (I didn't discard any starter before adding the flour and water ). I  am hoping this will boost my quantity. Also my bread maker only goes for 1 hour on BAKE ONLY setting. Will this be OK


farinam's picture
farinam 2016 September 30

Hello Kaye,

There are many ways to manage your starter (the amount that you keep between bakes) and the levain (what you actually use to make the dough for your loaf).

A couple are fairly clearly outlined above by me and LeadDog so you can use whichever method you prefer.  Plus you can always change at any time, the culture doesn't mind as long as a supply of food comes along on some sort of a regular basis.  Whether you work with a high hydration (batter/soft) or low hydration (dough/stiff) starter is also a matter of preference.

Assuming that your breadmaker gets to a sufficient temperature to bake the loaf (and that is what it is designed to do) then, for a normal sized batch (in line with the dough weight specified for the machine), an hour should be more than enough.

Good luck with your projects.


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