Why The Amount of Starter Matters: What Happens When You Change The Amount of Sourdough Starter?

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Have you ever wondered why the amount of starter in the recipe you’re following has been chosen? Or have you wondered what might happen if you change that amount? This blog aims to help you understand why certain amounts are better and how to manipulate these amounts to better fit sourdough baking into your busy life.

You might have noticed that the amount of starter in recipes can vary from 50g up to around 200g (or maybe more). These amounts are not random amounts. And in fact, you can change the amount of starter in a recipe to suit you.

As a general rule, the less sourdough starter you use, the slower your dough will ferment – resulting in a more sour flavored loaf. The more starter you use, the faster your dough will ferment – resulting in a less sour loaf. Of course the amount of starter is actually a ratio in relation to the flour – so 50g of starter to 500g of flour will ferment at a much slower rate than 200g of starter to 500g of flour.

Using Less Starter To STOP Over Fermenting Your Sourdough

In general, the less sourdough starter you use, the less chance you have of over fermenting your dough during the bulk ferment. As with any sourdough recipe, before you start baking bread, you want to make sure that your sourdough starter is as strong as possible.

My basic sourdough recipe uses just 50g of starter for 500g of flour. The reason I use only 50g is so that there is an option of extending the bulk ferment overnight. This makes it much easier to fit sourdough baking into my day (or night). Creating a baking timeline around an overnight bulk ferment allows you mix the dough after work, ferment all night and shape the next morning.

Some good reasons to use a smaller amount of starter:

  • you can ferment your sourdough for longer periods, which means that you can comfortably do an overnight ferment (as long as it’s not too hot).
  • you can develop a really good flavor with a little starter because your dough can ferment longer giving the bacteria more time to develop flavor in your bread.
  • Using smaller amounts of sourdough starter mean that you can maintain a smaller sourdough starter.
  • You can continue to make sourdough during the summer. If it’s really warm you could even reduce the amount of starter further.

When To Use More Sourdough Starter

Generally, a smaller amount of sourdough starter is all you need. But there are some instances where you might want to increase the amount of starter you use. Some instances could be:

  • If it’s particularly cold, you could increase your sourdough starter to make your bread ferment more quickly. When it’s cold, you could easily ferment 100g of starter overnight.
  • If you’re in a hurry and want to make your sourdough ferment more quickly, you could increase your starter up to 200g and decrease your bulk ferment time. I use a big starter amount in this pizza dough.
  • You want your sourdough to be less sour – using more starter decreases fermentation time, making your starter less sour (in general).

Do I Have To Adjust The Flour & Water Amounts If I Increase Or Decrease The Starter?

You don’t have to adjust the amount of flour and water in your recipe when you increase (or decrease) the amount of starter you use. BUT – you do need to understand that changing the amount of starter will change the level of hydration in your bread. This isn’t always as big a deal as people make out. I think it really depends on how much starter you’re adding and how comfortable you are working at different hydrations.

Remember that in general most sourdough starters are 100% hydration, meaning they contain an equal amount of flour and water. And you will probably find that many starters are slightly less hydrated (I like to work with quite a stiff starter) so this will reduce the effect that it has on your dough too.

You can see in the table below the effect of changing the starter amount has on my basic sourdough recipe. It’s only a change in hydration of 4%. If you wanted to, adding 150g to 200g of starter you could decrease the amount of water by 10 to 20g to bring the hydration back down to around 72% but you really don’t need to.

STARTERFLOURWATERHYDRATION
25g500g350g70.8%
50g500g350g71.4%
100g500g350g72.7%
150g500g350g73.9%
200g500g350g75%

I hope this helps you to understand the ways in which the amount of starter can affect your sourdough. Try experimenting with different amounts in your dough based on your time available and temperature and see what happens!

If you’re looking for the best beginner’s guide to sourdough bread, you’ll find it here!

Find out how you can easily scale your starter here.

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