Baking Ventures

A (mostly sourdough) baking adventure blog

How much starter should I use?

My current sourdough recipe calls for 67% (baker’s percentage) of starter. As I’ve been doing more reading, I’ve noticed that a lot of recipes call for much less starter than I currently use. I looked through ten different recipes, and found that for doughs with hydration levels around 80% (blue dots), bakers used ~ 25% of starter. For doughs that had around 65% hydration (orange dots), bakers used ~35% of starter. In contrast, my current recipe (red diamond) calls for 67%!!

10 recipes starter percentage

So, what’s the effect of using so much starter? Well, I expect my bulk fermentation time to be faster with more starter. But, I don’t know how it would affect the taste. To test the first hypothesis, I made small batches of dough (~60g) using 30% and 67% starter, while maintaining the same hydration in both doughs. Some caveats – since the amount of dough was very small I didn’t add salt since my scale isn’t sensitive enough to accurately weigh out such small amounts of salt. I also did the same number of stretch and folds to each dough. While I lost some dough during mixing due to stickiness, the difference in mass transferred to the jars was just 1 gram.

The result? In the time it took for the 30% starter dough to get to 1.5X in size, the 67% starter dough had doubled in size.

30-and-67-percent-starter-bulk-ferment

And what does it mean for the taste? Both doughs are in bulk fermentation right now, look out for the next post that will compare their taste!

How much starter do you use?

Here are the recipes used for these graphs:

Recipe Starter (%) Water (%)
Gerard’s apprentice loaf 18 78
Tartine Basic Country Loaf 18 77
Bread Magazine Sourdough Bread 22 73
Higher hydration sourdough bread 24 83
100% Whole grain spelt 26 79
Rye Whole Wheat Sourdough 32 76
Diane Andiel’s Norwich Sourdough 30 65
Easy Sourdough bread 32 63
Norwich More Sourdough 39 68
Zeb bakes 46 63
My current recipe 67 74

2 Comments

  1. This is a very interesting comparison! (Thank you for including our recipe :))

    Last week, I baked two batches of the overnight sourdough bread in Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Yeast Salt. While the amount of starter in the recipe is around the same as what I use (20% or so), he says it’s got a small amount of starter.

    Both times, following his recipe, my bread overfermented. Next time, I’ll try halving the amount still.

    What I’m saying is that I’ve started to think that the right amount of sourdough starter in a recipe might not have one true answer. Instead, things such as the starter’s activity, the flours used, and the room temperature play a huge role.

    Thank you for making me think about this question! And happy baking!

    • Hi! Thanks for your comments 🙂
      I actually just got Ken Forish’s book in the mail today, and can’t wait to start reading it! I’ve baked for a long time, but only recently got into sourdough bread. There are only a few variables, but still so much to optimise for my schedule/weather/kitchen/tools/etc.
      You make a great point about room temperature. Here in New England, my kitchen is 62-68 deg F, and I observe (not surprisingly) very big differences in bulk fermentation time at the upper and lower ends of this band. I should plot these soon. I’ve also wondered about(but not tested) how the starter’s activity impacts the final product – so would using it just when it becomes active enough to pass the buoyancy test have a different result to a few hours later when it is still buoyant, but slowing down? My non-baking experience with cells suggests that catching them in the exponential phase would be ideal, but that using them too early in the exponential phase would still result in a lag during bulk fermentation. Thoughts?
      Happy Baking to you too!

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