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Unlocking Sourdough Success: Comparing Traditional and Dry Starter Methods

Updated: Feb 23

I still visit and glean from various sourdough groups and see how people struggle with their traditional starter. I am so HAPPY to have found the dry starter method. I have to say that for years I played with traditional starters off and on, but the constant task of feeding and discarding perfectly good ingredients got old pretty quick. By shifting to a dry starter, the maintenance and the ingredients wasted are minimal. It is such a win-win and I can't even imagine why anyone would want to keep one using the traditional route. I am guessing it is because they don't know of a different method, or they bake a lot, and it just works for them to always be baking with starter. As I was making sourdough lemon blueberry poundcake and sourdough pretzels yesterday, I was thinking of all of the benefits. I can bake when I want and know my starter is happy if I don't. In the summer I don't have much time for indoor projects, so baking is usually at a minimum, but during the winter it is the time to bake. Today I am going to walk thru with you the difference between traditional and dry...

To begin, it's important to understand that sourdough is a living culture. The amount used for inoculation isn't crucial; what truly matters is creating an environment conducive to its growth. This entails maintaining a warm temperature and providing nourishment of the proper consistency for its thriving existence. If you use a little starter and there's a substantial amount to inoculate, it might take a bit longer for the culture population to grow and your starter to be ready, comparing this to when the initial starter concentration is higher to the same amount of mix. The bottom line is if we keep our starter strong and happy, it will work for us no matter how much we want for the end starter for our recipe. So don't get hung up on how much starter for each feeding, we truly make this more difficult than it is, and I hope that after reading this you will have the foundation to make it easy. Now, let's delve into discussing each type of starter and the regimen for their usage and maintenance.

  • For a wet traditional starter, regular maintenance is key and should be practiced frequently based on how often you use it. Alternatively, it can be fed and stored in the refrigerator for about a week, but when taken out, it must be fed again to reactivate it. Typically, it's advisable to maintain a smaller starter to avoid wasting ingredients in the discard. Here's an example scenario: Your starter has been in the refrigerator for a week, and you've been too busy to bake with it. Aware that without feeding, it might lose effectiveness due to lack of food, your goal is simply to feed it and return it to the refrigerator. When maintaining a traditional starter, keeping the minimal amount is preferred, knowing that if you only feed it, and are just trying to keep it going, most of those ingredients will go to waste. Let's say you take your starter from the refrigerator, and you have a cup of starter (about 300 grams), to feed. In a wet starter the ratio to feed is to add equal parts starter, flour and water. This would mean that with your 300 grams of starter you would add 300 grams of flour and 300 grams of water, resulting in about 3 cups of starter mix. Considering many recipes only call for 1/2 cup of starter, that's a lot of recipes to make, just to use this up. This is ideal if you plan to use your discard in a recipes, but wasteful if you are just feeding it and putting it back. There is another option, and you have a decision to make: As I said you can take this cup and feed it, resulting in 3 cups of starter, However, if you're only feeding it, then the remaining 2 cups of starter will be discarded to maintain your 1 cup of starter.... this is a big waste of money and ingredients. Another option is to keep it smaller for easier management. For example, your one cup of starter weighs about 300 grams. If you take 100 grams of that starter, you'll need to add 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour to feed it. This will give you a total of 300 grams, which is equivalent to about 1 cup. Since we are just feeding it you'll end up discarding the remaining 200 grams of your initial starter. In the process, you'll have to discard the equivalent of 1/3 cup of flour from the previous starters discard. Over a short time, this can result in a lot of wasted flour and grocery budget. It is because of the constant waste, not only in time of feeding and maintaining, but the sheer waste of ingredients that I always lost excitement to keep up with the sourdough journey. Until now~!

  • A dry starter is a very small amount (about 80 grams) that is stored in the refrigerator for a week or two. If it is a mature starter, it can be left for up to a month with no feeding or maintenance needed for a couple of weeks. When I want to make a sourdough recipe using this starter, I will see how much starter is needed. For instance, If I have a recipe that calls for 200 grams of starter. I will take out a piece of my dry starter, only 10 grams. To the 10 grams I will add a 50:50 ratio of flour and water that together will make the total amount needed for my recipe in weight. So, in this case I need 200 grams for the recipe. I will add to my 10 grams of starter, 100 grams of water (stirring to dissolve) and then stir in 100 grams of flour. After the time to warm and get happy, this will give me a final starter with just over my 200-gram target for my recipe, with little to no waste! All of the rest of the dry starter is still tucked away in the refrigerator not needing to be fed and still happy, no ingredients were thrown out in this feeding. In a couple of weeks, I will refresh my starter to keep it happy by taking only the 10 grams needed and remixing the flour and water.

Here is a link to my sourdough recipe collection and dry starter combo if you are looking for help in your sourdough journey.

In the picture I am comparing what my dry starter looks like in its refrigerator storage container, (upper left) compared to the traditional starter in the bowl (bottom). The small dollop on the side (upper right) is my 10 grams of dry starter and is all it takes to inoculate whatever amount of starter I will need for my recipe. I have put a teaspoon in the picture just for size comparison.

During the winter or my "baking season" I keep an ongoing bowl of starter already in the refrigerator along with my dry starter. I do this by first using my 10 grams of starter and making my "wet starter". When I use starter from the bowl for my recipe, I don't scrape the bowl out if I know I will be baking again soon. I scrape and combine the little bits of starter that is left in the bowl, and I just add equal parts of flour and water to equal the amount I want to end with. I then let it sit to "inoculate" on the counter. In a while it will start to work and puff, and this is when I put it in the refrigerator for a few days when I am ready to bake again. When I am ready, I take it out and let it sit on the counter to warm and start to puff again or feed it if I need more starter to use for my recipe. When I do it this way, I can usually get a starter ready a little faster than if I was to take and use my refrigerated dry starter from scratch. If I know that I won't be baking soon I just wash the bowl and I have thrown nothing away! It is the benefit of both worlds and utilizing all of the benefits of both methods to serve you, instead of you serving and maintaining your starter.

In summary, whether your team traditional or team dry starter, the key is keeping your sourdough culture content. Experiment, observe, and adjust as needed to find what works best for you. Remember, baking with sourdough is as much about the journey as it is about the end result. So, have fun, get creative, and enjoy the delicious rewards of your sourdough adventures! If you would like to purchase a culture and recipe collection, we have one here to help!

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So happy to share that I love Katrine’s sourdough dry starter method. I have had great success with everything I have made. Katrine provides detailed instructions and it is awesome to be have this readily available even when you have a busy work schedule and cannot bake on a regular basis🥰

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