sourdough starter through the winter




Just wondering if anyone can shed some light on how much temperature will effect my starter and if there are any techniques to help - I live in London UK and kicked off my starter about 4 months ago.. I had some good results and a fairly consistent and active looking starter for a couple of months.. but now as the cold weather has set in i'm finding it a lot less responsive to feeds (only a few surface bubbles after 1 or 2 days) and the bread is becoming a lot less successful (taking far longer to rise and turning out heavy/flat)


I'm feeding the starter every 3 or 4 days with about 100g of flour and enough water to keep it at a thick consistency - I would say just short of being a dough.  Early on I found it was smelling quite vinegary, this seems to have stopped now and whilst it smells a lot better (kind of like natural yoghurt) it does seem to be a lot less active than it was.


For the bread - I'm following a recipe that suggests making a 'sponge' with 100ml of the starter, 275ml of warm water and 250g of flour.. leaving this overnight, and then making the dough with a further 300g of flour.. I then prove the dough for 6-8 hours, knock back, and prove again for about 3 hours then bake.


It is obviously considerably colder in my kitchen than it was 4 months ago, and I don't really have a warm place (e.g. airing cupboard) to leave the sponge/dough while it proves


Does anyone have any tips that could help?


Thanks in advance



218 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2011 December 18

Hello doughnut,

A closed oven with the light on can get quite warm and is very effective in speeding things up.  For smalll quantities a microwave ditto.

Other alternatives could be a home brewers heat mat or on top of your computer/modem or other home appliance that generates low grade heat just by being on or on standby.

Let us know how you go.



Cielkaye 2011 December 18

I have been having success by putting a wooden chopping board in a bed with the electric blanket set on low, placing the dough in its covered bowl on that, and pulling the doona over the lot. Put a thermometer in there first for an hour to check the temperature.

bethesdabakers's picture
bethesdabakers 2011 December 18

Hiya Doughnut
I'm up in North Wales so my kitchen is probably colder than yours. The sort of temperatures we experience in the UK don't make an awful lot of difference to starters summer or winter.
You should be refreshing your starter every day if you're not storing it in the fridge. You say you're adding 100g of flour to your starter but to what weight of starter? I keep my starter at 100% hydration, i.e equal weights of water and flour. Sounds like yours is thicker than that, maybe 80%?
100% is easier to calculate, so if you take 50g of starter, add 50g water and 50g flour. Discard what you don't need (feed it to your pig if you are ecologically minded). Do that every day for a few days and see the transformation in your starter.
Best wishes


doughnut 2011 December 19

firstly thank you for all the tips and feedback

it looks like i need to pay some more attention to my starter.. i was hoping (after getting it going initially) to manage it by feeding every few days since i only really have the call and the time to bake 1 loaf a week, but it doesn't look i can get away with that -  would you recommend storing it in the fridge for this kind of usage? (constantly throwing out daily feels so detrimental to me!) if so - how much time do i need to allow at room temperature before using it again?

Mick - i just weighed in the leftover starter i had at nearly 300g.. so i think you may well be right in that i was nowhere near 100% hydratrion.. after a fairly unsuccesfull loaf today i'm going to take on your suggestions using 50g and see how i get on this week..

how do you recommend storing the starter? i'm keeping it in a large glass mixing bowl, tightly covered with cling film in a high up cupboard in my kitchen.. i've seen a few suggestions but i'm still a bit unsure and to me it seems that any of these things could have an effect?

+ container material and size

+ covered? (air tight, loosely covered or not covered at all?)


farinam's picture
farinam 2011 December 19

Hello again doughnut,

Depending on circumstances, I usually only bake two or three times a fortnight.  I keep the starter in a wide mouth glass jar with a screw top lid that is closed just enough to retain it. If you look at some of my earlier blogs you will see pictures of it.

Since my initial build and development, I have kept it in the fridge and the mass is, I guess about 180-200g.

Normally, on the night before I am going to bake, I take out 90g from the stock jar and feed it up with 45 g flour and 45g water (in a 500ml pyrex jug), cover it with GladWrap and leave it on the bench till morning.  The amounts will obviously depend on your recipe.  The stock jar also gets 45g flour and 45g water to replace the material removed and to feed that lot and back into the fridge it goes.  Occasionally, I leave the stock jar out on the bench as well and only put it to bed next day - no particular reason - just me /;-{)}

As I use rye flour in my stock, if I want a 'white' loaf, I will use a three stage build from a small amount of stock (see one of my earlier blogs and spreadsheet).  This technique is also useful if your recipe calls for a different hydration of starter than you maintain in stock and you don't want to just convert the other components of the recipe.

Hope this helps.


chazzone 2011 December 20

 I used to have issues with my starter in the winter, too.  But, I think you've gotten some good advice.  I only keep 4 oz (@114gm) of starter on hand (in a wide mouth quart mason jar), and feed them up to the starter size I need (I actually keep 3 starters).  this has resulted in great vigor, and excellent baking results.  

But to add, I've been experimenting with cold proofing, and although the time in the fridge slows the beasts down, they seem to really like the treatment, and although my proofing time is a couple of days, instead of 6 hours, the results are fantastic.

I'd recommend this technique for anyone who has limited time for baking.  

I pull my starter out on Sunday night and feed.  Monday, I make my recipe, and re-feed the starter.  I let the starter sit for an hour or two (depending on when I get a chance to get back to it), then the loaf goes into the fridge to proof, and the starter hangs out in the fridge until next week.

Tuesday I stretch and fold once in the morning, and once in the evening.

Wednesday, I stretch and fold some more, and do the final shaping and put it back into the fridge.
Thursday, I pull it out of the fridge, and give it a couple of hours for a final proof, before I bake.

BTW, many times, the bread will double overnight in the fridge, so I only need to leave it out while the oven is heating up, and no extended 2nd proof.

This spaces the time I have to give to the bread out over the week, and makes it much more convienient.  Plus, I've never had better results.

Ruralidle 2011 December 20



I find that a 50% hydration starter (1 part starter; 1 part water, 2 parts flour) keeps well for a week in the fridge and still has the power to raise a loaf - but it does take the sort of timescale you use.  If you want to speed up your starter give it a feed in which you substitute 50% (or all) of the wheat flour with dark rye - it's like steroids for starters :) .

zarniwhoop 2011 December 21

Definitely cover it, and leave it in the fridge between times.


For wheat-based breads, my starter is 60% hydration and wholemeal flour (a *stiff* dough). It lives in my fridge door in clingfilm wrapped in a plastic bag.  It sometimes sits there for several weeks before I'm next baking - the surface can start to dry out, but the rest is good to go. To refresh it, I let it stand at room temperature for an hour or two. Then I mix all the starter (about 90gm) with 175gm wholemeal flour and 105gm water, kneading until all the flour is mixed in. I leave the mixture in a covered glass casserole for about a day (I can see it is working by the bubbles at the bottom, the top is normally not bubbly), then save 1/4 and use the other 3/4 to make bread - typically three loaves of 90gm refreshed starter and 180gm flour. In practice, I try to save 90-95gm and then use 80-100gm per loaf in the baking - the weight of the refreshed leaven varies. Must get around to writing this up properly.


I'm in Brighton, so temperatures are probably similar to London, but the type of house, and how warm or cold it gets, are more significant than where it is. I'm lucky enough to still have a warm water cylinder in my airing cupboard, which definitely helps - if you have multiple rooms, check to see if anywhere is both suitable and warmer than where you have been putting it.


ĸen (or 'ken' if that gets garbled by the software here)

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