Did you ever make paper mache as a child? Or race out the door to play in the mud?
If so, you’re well on your way to understanding the consistency of a sourdough starter.
Let’s roll up our sleeves, unleash our inner child, and dive right in!
Understanding the Types of Sourdough Starters
There are two kinds of sourdough starters:
A liquid sourdough starter - Commonly used for most types of sourdough breads and baked goods.
A firm sourdough starter - Used in specialty bakeries for things like Panettone.
The majority of sourdough bakers will only ever use a liquid starter throughout their entire career. The stiff starter is harder to make, harder to maintain, and the baked goods you make with it are more technical.
While the stiff starter is worth mentioning, for the rest of this article we’ll focus on the perfect consistency for a liquid starter - the best starter for sourdough bread and most sourdough baking projects.
The Perfect Sourdough Starter Consistency
If you were to abandon measuring entirely and simply combine water and flour until you reached the right consistency, you would want the final mixture to be a thick paste.
If you can hold it like a dinner roll, it’s too thick. If it runs like water, it’s too thin. It will be similar to mud, but more sticky. It should be slightly thicker than the paper mache paste that is used for craft projects.
To see the perfect consistency, Check out this video starting at 2 minutes 25 seconds.
Best Flour to Water Ratio
Feeding your starter by weight
An ideal ratio for a sourdough starter is equal parts flour and water by weight. I usually feed mine 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water.
Feeding your starter by volume
Because water and flour don’t weigh the same, to feed your starter by volume you’ll want to use slightly more flour than water - using ¾ cup of flour to a ½ cup of water usually comes out to about the same amount as doing 100 grams of each by weight.
Sourdough Starter Consistency Too Thin?
This happens when you have too much water in your starter or because the ambient temperature is too warm. The solution is to add another 1-2 Tablespoons, or 10-20 grams of flour.
During the summer months, my starter tends to be a little too runny, so I always feed it a little extra flour to keep it at a good consistency.
Sourdough Starter Consistency Too Thick?
This means you’ve added too much flour. Add another 1-2 Tablespoons, or 10-20 grams, of water.
A starter with too much flour will be difficult to stir and take longer to rise. While a slower rise is sometimes desirable in the summer months, it can add a lot of hours of wait time in the colder months.
Is My Starter Healthy?
Is your starter doubling or tripling in size within six hours after feeding it? That is a sign of a healthy, happy starter.
If you take a break from feeding your starter, forget to feed it for a day or two, or store it in the fridge for a while, it will begin to get tired and less lively.
It may even develop a layer of dark liquid on the top known as “hooch.” But not to worry, unless you heat your starter over 140°F (the temperature yeast dies at), it will always come back with enough feedings. Simply pour off the hooch and feed as you would normally.
It is very rare for a starter to grow mold. But if it does you will want to throw out the starter and make a new one.
There are two kinds of sourdough starters, a stiff starter, and a liquid starter. The liquid starter is the most commonly used in sourdough baking.
The perfect sourdough starter consistency is a thick paste.
If your starter becomes too thin, you can add flour a little at a time to correct it. If it becomes too thick, you can fix it by adding water a little at a time.
Unless your starter is growing mold, it's still good. To keep it nice and healthy, feed it regularly.
Feed it two-three times daily leading up to the day you want to bake with it for best results.
A healthy, active starter should be doubling or tripling in size within six hours after a feeding.