There are many online resources and tutorials for feeding and maintaining a sourdough starter, and we encourage you to explore and read as much as possible. The specific flour you feed your starter, in what proportions and how often are all very subjective and at your discretion. What is most critical is that you understand the activity cycle of your starter and that you are able to judge when it is active, happy, and ready to leaven your bread.
At Grist & Toll, we keep a firm starter. What that means is we feed it a higher proportion of flour to water, so that it resembles a soft dough, rather than having the consistency of a thick batter or porridge. The basic formula we use is here for your reference, but you are free to make your own decisions. I’d just like to point out that if you prefer a higher hydration starter, or a liquid starter, when using Grist & Toll flour for the feedings/refreshments it won’t look like the white flour starter pictures you see on the web. It will always be a bit thicker, and of course darker in color due to using whole grain flour instead of white refined flour.
Grist & Toll Basic Feeding Ratios
70g Warm Water
100g Grist & Toll whole grain flour
You will need:
- A mature starter
- An accurate kitchen scale that measures grams.
- 2 Identical non-reactive containers that could hold 2-3 cups of liquid. A 32 ounce wide mouth canning jar works well, but your regular starter container and a mixing bowl will work just fine too.
- 100g Grist & Toll whole grain flour
STEP 1 – Place a clean empty container on the scale and zero out the scale. Measure out 25g of your starter culture in the container.
STEP 2 – Discard the remaining starter (see notes below on what to do with the discard). Wash and rinse your previous starter container while you are refreshing your starter so that it’s ready for the next feeding. Having 2 identical containers is ideal for this so that you just switch back and forth between each container for each feeding.
STEP 3 – Add the 70g warm water and 100g whole grain flour to the 25g starter.
STEP 4 – Mix well to make sure all of the flour is hydrated and there are no dry lumps.
STEP 5 – Put a rubber band around the container to mark the top level of the starter so that you can monitor how far it has risen. * this is not needed if you are using a starter container from G&T because it has markings on the side.
STEP 6 – Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth and let ferment at room temperature for at least 4 hours. You are looking for the starter to at least double in size and be bubbly and active. If after 4 hours your starter has not doubled in size see the FAQ below. During the colder months, it can take a little longer.
STEP 7 – Return your starter to the refrigerator or leave it out at room temperature depending on your baking needs (see feeding schedule below).
THE OCCASIONAL OR WEEKEND BAKER
It is best to store your starter in the refrigerator when you only bake occasionally. When kept chilled, your starter will remain in a semi-dormant state but will still need to be fed at least once a week to keep it active.
*If you are maintaining a starter that is stored in the refrigerator, it is important to leave it at room temperature after a feeding to make sure it becomes bubbly and active again. This depends on ambient temperature, but usually takes about 4 hours. Look for your starter to double in size and be bubbly before returning to the refrigerator.
THE ACTIVE BAKER
If you are a very active baker and prefer keeping your starter at room temperature, you will need to feed it more often if using whole grain flour, twice in a 24-hour cycle instead of once. See our notes on room temperature and whole grain differences in the FAQ below.
FEED/REFRESH A STARTER AND BAKING BREAD AT SAME TIME
If you would like to feed/refresh your starter and build a levain for a bread recipe at the same time, you will first discard all but 50g of starter, add 140g of water and 200g of flour. Stir and set out on the countertop as usual. Once the starter has risen to double it’s size and is bubbly (approx 4 hours after feeding depending on the kitchen temp) measure out 100g of that starter to begin your sourdough bread. That is now your mature levain. Store the remaining as usual.
REFRESHING A STARTER
If you have kept your starter in the refrigerator for longer than two weeks you should give it two feedings at room temperature before making a levain for bread. We suggest taking it out in the morning, feeding it, leaving at room temperature, feeding again at bedtime and the next morning make a levain using the instructions below to feed a starter and bake at the same time.
WHY DO I HAVE TO FEED MY STARTER?
Think of your starter as a container of little workers in your personal bread factory. If you never fed your workers they wouldn’t have the energy to work and make bread for you.
WHAT IF I GO ON VACATION OR I DON’T WANT TO BAKE BREAD FOR A LONG TIME?
You can leave it in the fridge for weeks or you can actually freeze your starter for months. You will need to feed 2x per day and leave at room temperature to revive it when you plan to bake again. People make the mistake of thinking their starter is dead and starting over when in fact the cultures are there, they just need to be given food and time to grow active again.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A STARTER, A MOTHER AND A LEVAIN?
The starter can also be called a mother, some people even like to name their starter. The levain is the portion of the starter you will use to make bread. Building a levain is essentially just feeding the portion of starter you will use for the bread and letting it grow to maximum activity.
WHAT IF I RUN OUT OF G&T FLOUR CAN I USE ALL PURPOSE OR WHATEVER I HAVE ON HAND TO FEED THE STARTER?
Yes, you can use any flour to feed the starter. Each type of flour affects the starter differently, imparting unique qualities. One important thing to notice is that G&T flours are more active than conventional flours and the time it takes to reach peak activity may be shorter. You are building a culture and that culture will change with what you feed it. Many people swear by their 100% rye starter but you might like Red Fife. As you continue to bake you’ll discover the amazing nuances of each grain.
WHAT IF THE STARTER GETS A LAYER OF LIQUID ON THE TOP?
Starters will sometimes get a layer of liquid on top that is called a hooch. Just stir it in and feed as usual.
YOUR FEEDING RECIPE IS CONSIDERABLY DRIER THAN OTHERS I’VE SEEN, WHY IS THAT?
Sourdough is an incredibly forgiving bread. Each and every baker has their own recipes and techniques and none are wrong. We prefer to work with more of a stiff starter, and this is the formula we use after years of baking sourdough with whole grains. That isn’t to say that another recipe won’t work with our flour, it’s just the recipe we’ve developed and this amount of hydration works with our sourdough bread recipe. You’ll find that as you bake you will get more confident and you’ll be able to play around a bit and find what you like best. Don’t worry about doing it wrong, or finding the perfect recipe, just bake.
I FED MY STARTER AND LEFT IT ON THE COUNTER FOR 4 HOURS AND NOTHING SEEMS TO BE HAPPENING WHAT DO I DO?
Your starter might have gone too long between feedings and it needs to be revived more. Leave it for another 4-8 hours, discard all but 25g of starter and feed with 70g Warm Water and 100g flour, leave out overnight and in the morning, discard and feed again. See what’s happening after another 4 hours. By then you should definitely see activity. If not, something else is going on.
I’VE BEEN FEEDING MY STARTER REGULARLY AND IT’S REALY LIQUID NOW AND I DON’T SEE MUCH ACTIVITY WHAT DO I DO?
An overfed starter can be too diluted and it will be very watery. Your workers are there, they are just overwhelmed with too much food and water. When this happens, first leave it out in the warmth overnight. In the morning discard all but a tablespoon of starter and feed it. Feed it 2x per day until you see it rising to double its size.
WHAT CAN I DO WITH MY STARTER DISCARD INSTEAD OF THROWING IT AWAY? I HATE THE WASTE!
First, you’ll notice that the total amount of grams we recommend above for regular feeding and refreshing doesn’t keep enough on hand for more than 1 or 2 loaves of bread. This is intentional so that you don’t build up excessive volumes of starter which can feel wasteful. However, there are many ways you can use your starter discard as an ingredient in all sorts of baking. We particularly love it in crackers, pancakes and waffles, but a quick online search will bring up a world of options for you. Do not fear the discard!
MY FRIEND WANTS SOME OF MY STARTER, DO I GIVE HER THE CAST OFF FROM ONE OF MY FEEDINGS?
Yes, the next time you go to feed the starter just give her the cast off before you feed. When you give it to her tell her to feed it and leave it out for 4 hours before putting in the fridge.