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I've been making bread with commercial yeast but now I would like to try sourdough. I read about sourdough making and I was wondering if there is a calculator that can tell me feeding times based on temperature. I have a wine refrigerator that is around 10 degrees celcius, so its pretty steady. Can this even be calculated?

Thanks!

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    I won’t attempt to answer this, I don’t have the science. But I will say, don’t be a martyr to your starter. Mine lives in the fridge, so the temp varies according to what shelf there is room for it on, how far back it gets pushed. It gets fed anywhere from 1-3 times a week because I only feed to replenish after I bake. If I’m going away for a fortnight I might do a discard feed, but it survives if I forget. I think if you give sourdough a try you can work out a personal schedule that suits you, don’t let it rule you. – Spagirl Oct 14 '19 at 20:19
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    +1 @Spagirl, I share your experiences. Mine (150% hydration) lives in the fridge too and a day after feeding it's fermenting away like crazy. Does it get sour? Well, yes, but that doesn't really transfer to the bread. Can't really say I notice any difference between it now and before it moved into the fridge. Sourdoughs are hardy beassts in my experience. – gustafc Oct 15 '19 at 9:36
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    @gustafc I know some people are very particular about their starter, and that may be justified for some kind of advanced bread making, but what I'm looking for is a serviceable, everyday loaf that tastes nice, keeps well and toasts well. I make a 65% hydration loaf with a strong Canadian flour and I rarely taste nicer bread outside my home than I do in it. – Spagirl Oct 15 '19 at 9:42
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There are plenty of technical scientific papers out there that show how the main components of sourdough cultures respond to temperatures, but there's not an easy formula that will distill this down to a simple calculation. The problem is that feeding schedule can depend a lot on the hydration level of your starter (i.e., how much water per how much flour), the type of flour used for feeding, the unique microorganisms in your particular starter, etc.

Since you apparently haven't worked much with sourdough yet, you should know that 10 degrees Celsius is a bit low for more sourdough cultures to function continuously. Instead, most bakers will bring their sourdough up to room temperature (around 20-25C) for feedings periodically. Bakers who make bread on a daily basis may not even refrigerate their starter at all, merely feeding it each day to prepare the preferment for the next batch of bread on the following day. Those who bake on a less frequent basis will use a cooler storage location, generally bringing the sourdough culture up to temperature for feeding and growth before mixing a batch.

All of that said, it is possible to grow sourdough starters at a constant 10C range, but in that temperature range, you tend to risk producing a more sour flavor (as the lactic acid bacteria that produce the sour flavor will grow better than yeast at such low temperatures). That can be mitigated somewhat by using a very low hydration firm dough and diluting the starter culture with multiple feedings to build up a final dough, but that's rather complicated and time-intensive for someone just starting out.

Instead, to start I'd recommend instead bringing your sourdough up to room temperature, feeding and growing a bit, then removing what you need for a batch of bread, and storing the rest at a cooler temperature until you need to feed it and bake some more.


Edit: From a comment, I remembered that it is possible to maintain a starter continuously even under refrigeration. I don't know much about that process, though I remember seeing such techniques mentioned. Most standard sourdough starter feeding techniques I know of usually involve removing the starter from the fridge, feeding, then leaving the starter at room temperature for at least a couple hours before returning to the fridge. In my experience, it does lead to stronger yeast growth to do so, but perhaps those with more experience keeping starters continuously at cold temperatures can give better answers.

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    For what its worth, my starter lives in the fridge, it is 100% hydration, I don't bring it to room temp, my bread isn't excessively sour and it rises well on a 18-24 hour total process. I can see that it might be a problem if you were looking for a faster rise, but this system works well for someone who is out at work all day. – Spagirl Oct 15 '19 at 9:37
  • @Spagirl - Thanks. Yes, I remember seeing starter recipes/techniques that call for continuous refrigeration, now that you mention it. I had a friend who maintained a starter that way for a long time. I've forgotten that, since I've never used such a method. – Athanasius Oct 15 '19 at 14:59

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