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- Why Make a Small Sourdough Starter?
- The Benefits of Keeping a Small Sourdough Starter
- How to Maintain a Small Sourdough Starter
- How to Store a Small Sourdough Starter
- The Best Jars for a Small Sourdough Starter
- When to Keep a Large Sourdough Starter
- ❓ Small Sourdough Starter FAQs
- Other Sourdough Guides You May Enjoy:
Creating and maintaining a small sourdough starter has many benefits, including reducing waste. Plus, it’s easier to manage for most home bakers.
While many believe that they need to keep a large crock of sourdough starter on hand, the fact is that maintaining a large sourdough starter is wasteful and unnecessary for most home bakers.
By keeping a small starter as I do, you can better manage the size of your starter before bakes, feed it less flour (thus, reducing waste and costs), and keep your starter healthier.
This in-depth guide will cover how and why you should maintain a small sourdough starter, including many tips on doing so and all of the benefits.
Why Make a Small Sourdough Starter?
In my day-by-day sourdough starter recipe, I walk through exactly how I create a small sourdough starter from scratch. I intentionally made a small sourdough starter recipe for many reasons.
Unlike many other sourdough starter recipes, my guide doesn’t go through bags of flour to create a sourdough starter.
Instead, I create my own sourdough starter by only feeding it 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water (equal parts) each day. This smaller amount results in less waste (or discard) and is more sustainable.
And while you can save sourdough discard for sourdough discard recipes, you can only save and bake with it once your starter is active.
That’s because an unestablished starter still has bacteria, yeasts, and harmful germs from the raw flour that can make you sick (it’s why you shouldn’t eat raw cookie dough or raw flour).
Once the starter is established through natural selection, you’ll have a symbiotic culture of bacteria and wild yeast that can leaven bread and you can bake with. No commercial yeast required!
Because it can take up to a week or longer to make a new sourdough starter from natural and wild yeasts, creating a small sourdough starter reduces waste and saves you money in the process!
It’s another reason why I recommend keeping your starter in a warm location (75-80ºF) and feeding it rye flour (or whole wheat flour). Doing so will hasten the process and give you the most success, while reducing waste and costs.
The Benefits of Keeping a Small Sourdough Starter
There are many benefits of making and creating a small sourdough starter, which I’ll detail more below. These benefits include:
- Reduces waste and cost savings
- Easier to manage
- Keeps a healthier starter
- Easy to scale up for any recipe
Reduces Waste and Cost Savings
I’ve already detailed above how making a small sourdough starter reduces waste and discard. But this also results in cost savings, because you won’t need to feed your starter as much flour to keep it healthy and active.
I recommend feeding an established starter with unbleached bread flour and maybe some rye or whole wheat flour for best results.
With that savings, you could decide to feed your starter with organic flour, which will make an even healthier and more active starter.
Easier to Manage
A smaller starter is easier to manage because you can keep it in a smaller jar, which takes up less space, and you don’t need to feed it as much flour and water.
Some keep their starters in large crocks or giant containers, which is unnecessary for most home bakers who occasionally bake with their starters.
A large starter will ultimately result in more waste and sourdough fatigue because you’ll constantly need to feed and discard large amounts of your starter to keep it healthy. While you can store sourdough discard for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, there is only so much discard that you’ll want to bake with!
Thus, keeping a smaller starter makes the process more manageable for most home bakers and you won’t have a monster amount of constant discard in your refrigerator to use (or waste).
Keeps a Healthier Starter
A healthy sourdough starter is one that is fed on a consistent schedule, at least doubles in size, and is strong enough to leaven breads.
By maintaining a small sourdough starter, which is easier to feed, you’ll have a healthier starter. That’s because you won’t have to feed it much flour and water as often. Plus, you’ll feel more comfortable discarding a larger amount of your small starter, which results in a healthier starter.
Discarding is a necessary part of sourdough baking. It helps you maintain the size of your starter, but it also benefits your starter by keeping acid levels down (or pH).
A more acidic starter will smell strong, need to be refreshed more often, and will, over time, result in a weaker and weaker starter (and in turn, worse bread).
By discarding more of your starter when you feed it, which I’ll review in my process below, your culture will rise slower and become less acidic because the microbes won’t be “starved” of food so much.
Think of the discarding process as the flour having served a necessary purpose for the health of your starter.
Easy to Scale For Any Recipe
Finally, a small starter is easy to scale up for any recipe or use for small batch sourdough recipes.
There are a couple of methods you can use to make a larger starter for whatever recipe you’re using.
One way is to simply feed your starter a larger amount of flour and water a day or two before you bake with it. That way, you’ll have a larger starter on hand that you can bake with.
However, my preferred method is to make an offshoot of my starter, called a levain.
I use a levain for my bread recipes so my small starter (or mother culture) is consistently fed on the same schedule with the same amounts.
I take a portion of the starter that would normally be discarded and then use it as the seed for my levains (or preferment).
This creates a separate culture that I can feed with other flours or sugar (for a sweet levain) without affecting the mother culture. That’s a method I use for recipes such as my Buckwheat Sourdough, Spelt Sourdough Bread, and Beginner’s Einkorn Sourdough Bread.
Plus, you can scale it up to whatever size I need it to be.
For example, in My Everyday Sourdough Bread recipe, I make a levain using 30 grams of starter and 30 grams of flour and water (a total of 90 grams of levain) to be ready in 4 to 5 hours.
I can easily alter the ratio of feeding for my levain to make it larger, rise slower, or feed it different flours without affecting the health of my smaller mother culture.
How to Maintain a Small Sourdough Starter
This is the process I typically use to feed and maintain my small and mature starter.
- Discard almost all of the starter, leaving just scrapes of the starter left in the jar (about 5 grams). This little bit is all you need! Save the discard in a container in the refrigerator and add to it for a couple of weeks to use in sourdough discard recipes.
- Place the jar of starter on a digital kitchen scale, tare it to 0, and add 30 grams of flour and 30 grams of room temperature water. This is about ¼ cup each of flour and water.
- Stir it with a silicone spatula until it’s the consistency of pancake batter.
- Ideally, keep it at room temperature or a warm spot until it peaks and falls slightly, typically by the next day. If it’s warmer, it may be ready in 12 hours, but you can adjust the feeding ratio as necessary (notes under the chart below).
- Repeat the process.
Here’s a visual chart of what my refreshment feeding looks. This is a 1:6:6 ratio feeding schedule.
|Unbleached bread flour
You can easily adjust this feeding schedule and ratio to fit your needs.
For example, if you’re keeping your starter in a warm location or in a sourdough warmer like Goldie by Sourhouse, you may need to feed it every 12 hours.
To reduce feedings and make it rise slower, either keep it in a slightly cooler location or feed it at a higher ratio, such as a 1:7:7 or 1:8:8 ratio with 40 grams of flour and water or more, for example.
How to Store a Small Sourdough Starter
If you bake often, you can store your small sourdough starter at room temperature and feed it daily.
For longer-term storage, keep your starter in the refrigerator and feed it every few weeks. To do so, feed your starter, leave it at room temperature for a couple of hours, and place it in the refrigerator. Feed it a day or two before using it to get it strong and active again.
To store your starter indefinitely, you can dry it out on parchment paper, break it apart into flakes, and store the starter in the pantry.
Simply spread your starter thinly on a piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat on a baking sheet, let it dry completely (better if in an arid environment) for up to a day or two, and then break apart pieces of dried starter. Rehydrate the starter at the same feeding ratios above.
The Best Jars for a Small Sourdough Starter
Glass jars are the best containers for making and maintaining a sourdough starter because they’re easy to clean, non-reactive, dishwasher safe, and can be used indefinitely.
My favorite jars have straight sides, flat bottoms, and a wide mouth that lets you easily feed and mix your starter. Wide-mouth mason jars or old jam jars are affordable options to hold your small starter.
The Goldie by Sourhouse small pint jars are excellent because they don’t have any threads where starter can stick like a mason jar, come with a soft and breathable silicone lid, flat bottom and straight sides to easily mix and clean, and have markings and a silicone band to mark how much your starter has risen/fallen.
They also sell a quart-size larger jar as well.
Another great small sourdough starter jar option are these small 1/5 liter Weck jars.
Weck jars are great for other storage options like spices and jams. They come with canning seals but you can purchase other lids, such as cork and wood.
I do not use the canning seal and simply rest the glass lid on top to release any gases or carbon dioxide.
I like their wide-mouth lids and how thick the glass is in case you knock it over. Plus, they have various sizes, including their popular ¾ liter size, which is great for starting a new starter.
When to Keep a Large Sourdough Starter
While this article is all about keeping a small or mini sourdough starter, there may be times when you need to maintain a larger starter.
Some reasons why or when you may need to keep a larger sourdough starter are:
- If you have a large family and bake large amounts of bread and baked goods with your starter often (once a day or more). In this case, you may not even have to discard.
- If you don’t make a levain and you need to build up your starter to have enough for a recipe.
- If you’re building a large sourdough starter to give out as gifts, presents, or selling. This is what I do a day or two before my sourdough starter workshops when I give out starter at the in-person events.
- If you run a cottage business, bakery, or restaurant and you need to keep a large amount of sourdough starter to bake with.
Otherwise, for most home bakers that bake with their sourdough starters occasionally, a small sourdough starter is more than enough!
❓ Small Sourdough Starter FAQs
How do you grow a small sourdough starter?
The process of growing a small sourdough starter is the same as growing any sized sourdough starter, except you use a smaller amount of flour and water to create it.
My sourdough starter recipe creates a small sourdough starter with feeds of only 50 grams of flour and water each. This will create a healthy starter, while also reducing waste.
Does jar size matter for sourdough starter?
Once a starter is active, it will at least double in height. Thus, you need to use a jar that is at least twice the size of your starter.
If you’re maintaining a small sourdough starter, then a pint-sized jar will work. A quart-sized jar is good for larger starters.
How big should my starter be?
It doesn’t matter how big your starter is as long as it’s healthy and active.
I maintain a small sourdoigh starter because it reduces waste. If you’re baking often and using your starter a lot, you may need to keep a bigger sourdough starter.
Do I still have to discard a small sourdough starter?
Typically, yes. You’ll still need to discard most of your small starter when you feed it in order to maintain its health and size.
However, if you store your starter in the refrigerator or bake with it often, you will have less discard or none at all. It’s easy to adjust your feedings to whatever works best for your baking schedule.