Starter starter kit
A quick refresher
I thought it would be useful to reiterate how I tend to feed my starter, especially since so many here are new and/or have newly-reconstituted dried starter that I have sent them.
I tend to use two main approaches: either a relatively quick (4-6h) build or a slow overnight (12-14h) one. Either serves the same purpose, though I think the latter might be a better option if your starter has been neglected or otherwise seems to be a little sickly, since it uses so much less starter—5% rather than 50%—and probably helps “clean” the mixture of excess acid. Most of the time I choose one or the other based upon how quickly I need it to be ready or when I remember to feed it.
Both use the same basic approach, the only difference being the amount of starter you add and the length of time it takes to be ready. While you can use a refreshed starter up to the point that it peaks, I almost always use (or refrigerate) mine when it has just doubled in volume, both because I like the mild acidity it has at that point, and because it tends to keep better in the fridge when it hasn’t exhausted itself of nutrients yet.
I’ll go into more of the details in the formulas below. Let me know if you have questions.
1. Quick Levain Refreshment (2:2:1)
Useful when you want a starter ready within 6h.
This is scaled for a quart deli container or jar. It can be scaled up or down if desired, of course, as long as the ratio is retained.
Try to do your best to get the levain temperature to 78˚F by adjusting the water temperature using the simplified DDT (desired dough temperature) formula below (2˚F to either side is fine, so don’t stress if you are a little off):
A + B + 78 = water temperature A = 78 - [flour temperature] B = (78 - [preferment temperature]) x [50%] C = [DDT, 78 in this case]
In other words: Measure the temperature of your flour, and subtract that number from 78. Measure the temperature of your starter, subtract that number from 78, and multiply the answer by 0.5. Add A + B + 78 and the number you get is the temperature your water should be to get the mixture to land at 78˚F.
During times of temperature extremes, adjust the DDT (“C” in the formula above) up or down. If your kitchen is above 85˚F, set it to 65˚F or so. If it’s well below 70˚F, aim for 85˚F or so.
For an “accelerated” refreshment—doubling in just 3-4h—at normal temperatures, set the DDT to 85˚F.
You want to the levain to be covered well to prevent drying out, but still able to breathe. If using a mason jar, invert the lid and leave the ring loosely secured; if using a deli container, poke a small hole in the lid with a thumbtack.
150g high-protein AP or bread flour
1. Combine the flour, water, and starter (return any remaining starter to the fridge as a backup in case of disaster) in a bowl and stir until uniform. Transfer to a clean, tall, and straight-sided container and cover. Mark the starting level with a rubber band or marker. Proof at 75-78˚F until about doubled in volume, 4 to 6 hours.
2. Use and/or transfer the mixture to the refrigerator. Store for up to 14 days before refreshing again. (Cold-stored levain is generally best used for baking within 7-10 days.)
2. Slow Overnight Levain Build (20:20:1)
Useful when you want to start a dough in the morning or only remember to feed yours just before bedtime.
When ambient temperatures are high, use cold (60˚F) water and/or set the culture somewhere cool if possible (but not the fridge). (When ambient temperatures are really high, this method is less than ideal, unless you can keep an eye on it to catch it when it has doubled in volume.)
If ambient temps are cold, you can increase the amount of starter to 10%, or 15g.
150g high-protein AP or bread flour
Combine and leave at 75-78˚F until about doubled in volume before using in a dough, 12 to 14 hours.
Remember if you are a paid subscriber, you can ask me to mail you a packet of dried starter at any time. (Hopefully just once, but I’ll gladly send another one if something goes wrong.) If not, you can also order one from me here.
Maybe a little off-topic, but can you give me some kind of idea for a fridge based starter v countertop since I am in Peru (last week it was over 90 every day dry, this week its 80s and damp.)
Thank you for the super clear post! A little late to this but wondering whether using colder water is advisable for slowing fermentation? As opposed to adjusting the ratio of culture to added water/flour, as you do here. I've done the former a whole bunch without really considering how it's impacting the resulting levain, but wondering now whether I'm doing my bakes a disservice somehow (e.g., taste, rise, etc.)