A strong, active is SO important in sourdough baking. You can only get so far by nailing bulk fermentation and shaping. A happy starter is the backbone of every loaf!
Debunking a few myths: ❌You should always feed your starter 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour) ➡️ When you first start, 1:1:1 feedings are good because you want a high ratio of active starter-to-food. But if you’re trying to build up starter strength—which is the ***MOST*** important factor in an open/wild crumb and oven spring—try feeding 1:4:4 or 1:5:5 for a 2-3 days before your next bake. Be careful of repeatedly feeding at higher ratios (1:10:10 for example): this can dilute your starter and weaken it. ❌You have to feed your starter with AP flour ➡️You definitely can, but I find that mine is much happier when I feed with a 10% rye and 90% bread flour mix (from @fullproofbaking). Will explain the science in a later post—main idea is that rye ferments faster than AP & bread flour and that’s what you’re going for with your starter! ❌Frequently feeding your starter is wasteful ➡️It doesn’t have to be this way! I usually do 5g of starter and then whatever multiple of water and flour I’m using to feed. That way, discard is minimized. Hack: In the mornings, I mix my leftover starter with almond milk, sprinkle in some berries, and make a “pancake” for bfast 🥞 ❌Keeping a starter is a big time commitment ➡️ It shouldn’t take you more than 5 min to feed and discard. I keep a flour mix (with a spoon) and water ready to go so I’m not wasting time prepping materials (picture below) ❌A starter that doubles is strong enough ➡️ Y’all... I hate to say this, but if your loaves are spreading and you’re doing everything else right, it’s probably your starter. Pay attention to how much it rises AND how long it holds its peak. My loaves have much better spring and crumb integrity now that my starter is rising 2.5-3x every 6-8 hrs. Also, this is not super scientific, but if your starter holds peak for less than an hour, it’s probably not strong enough. LASTLY... if your starter is very runny (more liquid than thick and viscous), then it is most likely not strong enough. You can still use it, but you likely won't get an open, wild crumb or great oven spring. The only way to achieve that is from a strong starter. Still not sure if your starter is ready? Try the float test. Take a pinch of your starter, drop it in water - if it floats, it's most likely ready! *I prefer to go off of other indicators (e.g. rising 2.5-3x, viscous, webby texture) but the float test works, too. I'd consider the float test the bare minimum. Other indicators will give you a sense of how strong your starter is.