How to Convert a Liquid Starter to a Stiff Starter

I normally maintain my sourdough starter at 100% hydration. That is, every feeding, and therefore the starter itself, consists of equal parts of flour and water, by weight. It has a batter-like consistency and is therefore a “liquid” starter.

But not every sourdough recipe calls for liquid starter; some call for a stiffer starter, often at 50% hydration (that is, the ratio of flour to water is 2:1). It’s easy to take a portion of liquid starter and convert it to a stiff one.

The easiest way to do this is to start with a small amount of liquid starter, say 10g, and feed it with 20 g of flour and 10 g of water. Then at every subsequent feeding, continue to feed with a flour:water ratio of 2:1.

The absolute amounts depend on feeding frequency, temperature, and individual starter characteristics. After a feeding, it should be able to at least double itself in several hours and hold there without collapsing until the next feeding. During cool winter months, I find feeding every 12 hours at a ratio of 1:2:1 (starter:flour:water by weight) works well. In the summer it might be, say, 1:3:1.5 or 1:4:2. But flour:water is always 2:1.

After a few feedings the new stiff starter is ready to go. Use it at its maximum volume, a few hours after it’s been fed.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Linda Torrance says

    Wow I have been trying to make an authenic panettone for years. I have even tried using sourdough to get the right flavor. Your explanation really helped me understand panettone better. I can’t wait to try the recipe.Thanks.

  2. paolo says

    thanks a lot…i’ m planning making panettone and I’ m usually using 100% hydration sourdough…thanks again and I’ll send u some pics of the final product!! Cheers from Quito

  3. says

    I am stuck trying to figure out sourdough hydration formulas. I currently have a nice 200% hydration rye culture in my fridge, and I’m growing a 200% hydration whole wheat culture on my counter.

    I cannot figure out the basic formula to convert starters to different hydrations, I’m having serious blond moments. I can’t figure out why the actual amounts of starter/flour/water are used for particular hydration formulas. For example, and not a true formula, if I want to take my 200% hydration starter and make it into a 65% hydration formula I should measure out 2 oz of my 200% hydration starter, then feed it 5 oz of flour and 2 oz water. Why those particular amounts? Another thing I don’t get is I have read that for a 50% hydration starter you feed it in multiples of 3s, which again makes no sense to me.

    Sorry to post such an odd comment, but I was wondering if you could maybe explain these things in such a way where a math blocked trained monkey such as myself could understand. :)

    Thanks so much!

  4. says

    Kitchen Geisha, the hydration of the starter indicates the amount of water relative to the amount of flour, by weight. Forget about converting one hydration to another for the moment, and just think in terms of the feedings. For a 100% hydration starter, you feed with equal weights of flour and water. For a 50% hydration starter feed with twice as much flour as water (i.e., half as much water as flour). These ratios are independent of the amount of starter you are starting with, assuming that that starter is already the same hydration.

    If you are converting from one hydration to another, I find it easiest to disregard the discrepancy in hydrations and just start feeding with the new hydration ratio. Initially the hydration of the “converted” starter will be off, but after a few feedings the difference will be negligible.

  5. says

    Ah! I see! So essentially I can just start with a bit of the culture I have on hand and manipulate it with subsequent feedings.

    I didn’t even realize that my starter had a hydration percentage until I read JMonkey’s post over on “The Fresh Loaf” about getting more sourness from the sourdough starters. That’s what sent me off on the mind numbing quest to understand different ratios.

    I just assumed that everyone’s starter started with a 1:1 by measured cup as all mine did. Both the starter formulas I used called for either 1 measured cup of flour to 1 measured cup of water, or 2 tbs flour to 2 tbs pineapple juice.

    Honestly, I thought the hardest things about sourdough would be keeping it alive, not trying to figure out it’s hydration.

    Susan, as always you impress me with your helpfulness and knowledge, and I *very* much appreciate your taking the time to answer my ramblings. Thank you so much! – Jeannette

  6. says

    I opened Hamalman’s “Bread” randomly for a recipe for tomorrow, and what shows up? “Building the Culture (also known as ‘Elaborating’)”, pg 146, all about ratios and why the specific amounts are used to feed given starter amounts.

    Now I understand. :)

    • says

      Hi KitchenGeisha,

      I went am going thru the same predicament wit hydration levels! I understood your feelings in your entire thread above! One minute I think I understand hydration, the next minute I don’t. Mind numbing indeed. But I sat down and pencilled someof the stuff out and found some interesting figures.

      It feels like it’s coming together now though. And incidentally, am also reading hamelman’s book, the new edition.

  7. Iso Guerrero says

    we love Panettone, and is a costume for us to eat a lot of it on November./December, I did a 100% starter with your recipe and i just did the 50% stiff starter right now to have for the panettone recipe, but the recipe do not said who many times a have to feed it and in how many hours , please, i need the answer, because i want to do the panettone this Sunday . sorry about my English i try my best. Dec-7

  8. donna says

    So help me here and tell me what the ratio would be for a 60% starter? One more example and I may actually “get” it ;)

  9. alexis bader says

    Can someone explain to me how to determine ratio of stiff starter when the recipe just calls for 1 1/2 cup of sourdough starter? Does not indicate stiff or liquid.
    I’m just now learning to work with sponges and sourdough starters. Having fun and so far great success. But I came across a recipe that specified stiff starter and wondered if I can use a stiff starter in most recipes and if so, how would I adjust the amount/weight. Should I just weigh/scale it or measure by cups? Seems to me the stiff starter would weight more by cup measures.????????


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