Someone recently shipped me a new starter, which got me thinking about my growing collection. I now have 4 different starters, and they vary in feeding schedules and uses.
Blarf is my first starter, and a San Francisco native. I am currently keeping him at 125% hydration, using a 4:4:5 feeding once a day. He is quite liquidy, and I often mix him using a chop stick, which is very easy. Because of the high hydration, the yeast can thrive fairly well. He also should be well suited to make baguettes, as the enzymes on the flour go to work once they get hydrated; this makes a more extensible dough, which is what you need to make baguettes.
I created Dulce from the Costa Rican jungles, and feed her once a day 2:2:1 for a 50% hydration dough. Because she is firmer, she got quite a bit more flavor and sourness than Blarf. She is also more hearty, since she goes through her food slower, I’m considering feeding her less often. Because the gluten gets developed so well in a firm starter, she is well suited for ciabatta, which need as much gluten development as possible considering it is such a wet dough. She is kind of a pain to feed, as I often still have dry flour after mixing for a few minutes. Rather than mixing all at once, it is helpful to take a break (15 minutes to an hour) after a partial mix, and then finishing the incorporation of the flour.
I’m not sure when Sour Blarf was born, but he is a massive beast which lives in my fridge. He passed the capacity of my scale (12lbs) long ago, and rarely gets fed for fear that he will grow even larger. I just recently started using him, but he requires a bit of special care to use. I take out only a portion of him, feed with plenty of flour and water, and then wait before its final use. He has developed a ton of flavor, but it is quite a bit different than what I am used to. Also, because the flour has been hydrated for so long, I can only use a small amount, or I risk dough degradation during proofing. I am developing a plan to use him more, as many home bakers use their fridge to keep their starter, and I would like to get a better feel for how to best use him.
I am baking my first baguettes using the Trail Baby today, so will have to see how they come out. I am thinking of keeping him at 200% hydration, to push the boundaries on the high hydration starters. Because the yeast will be so effective, this means that I might have to feed him twice a day, or might be able to get away with feeding a lot more than I’m used to, once a day. For example, 1:2:4 might work out, although it will be increasing in size 7X with each feeding.
So remember that how you feed your starter is an extremely important factor in how your bread comes out. There is no single right way to do it, but based on what you would like to achieve, there are different variables you can affect. Let me know what schedule you use, and what advantages you see to that method.