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How to keep a Small Sourdough Starter

I’m going to show you how to keep a small sourdough starter. Why? If you hate throwing away lots of sourdough discard, or you don’t bake as often as you would like, this system will probably work for you.

3 oz of sourdough starter in a small container
3 oz of starter is all you need to keep between baking sessions.

As I said in my original post explaining How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter, there are a million ways to feed, maintain and use a sourdough starter. I urge you to read through both of my sourdough feeding methods to see which works for you.

If you don’t have one, check out my post to learn How to Make a Sourdough Starter.

Why would you keep a small sourdough starter?

I have always maintained my sourdough starters at 12 oz. Since I write all my sourdough recipes to use 8 oz of starter, that means that each time I use my starter I’m left with 4 oz to continue the feeding cycle.

Keeping a 12 oz starter is convenient if you bake as often as I do. If I’m baking several times per week, I’ve always got enough starter on hand to bake when the mood strikes.

But if you bake less frequently you may find yourself discarding lots of the starter just to maintain it at 12 oz.

It is possible to maintain a smaller starter, which means you have less discard. But the trade off is that you’ll need to allow extra time to grow your starter each time you want to bake.

Once the starter comes out of the refrigerator, it will need a couple of feedings to become active and to have enough volume to bake.

How to feed & maintain a small starter:

  1. Start with 3 oz of active starter. Store the starter in a small container (pint size) in the refrigerator between baking sessions.
  2. 36-48 hours before you want to make your dough, take the starter out of the refrigerator.
  3. Weigh 1 oz of the starter into a quart size container (to accommodate the rising starter). Discard** the other 2 oz of the starter. Feed the 1 oz of starter with 1 oz of all purpose flour and 1 oz of water. You now have 3 oz of starter again.
  4. Leave the 3 oz starter it at room temperature for 12 – 24 hours. During that time it should double in volume and then begin to settle again. If your starter has been unfed for several weeks and is quite sluggish, you might want to repeat steps 3 and 4 again before proceeding.
  5. Now you will feed the 3 oz of starter with 3 oz of all purpose flour and 3 oz of water. You will end up with 9 oz of starter.
  6. Set the starter aside until it has doubled in volume. This usually takes 4-6 hours depending on the temperature of the room and the ingredients.
  7. Once the starter has doubled in size and begun to recede, remove 1 oz of starter to a pint size container. Feed that with 1 oz each of water and all purpose flour. Use the remaining 8 oz in your recipe.
  8. Leave the 3 oz of starter at room temperature for 2-3 hours to allow the yeast to begin multiplying, then refrigerate until next time you’re ready to bake or you need to feed it.

Scroll through the step by step process photos to see how to feed a smaller sourdough starter:

three photos showing how to feed a small starter
Begin with 1 oz of starter. Add 1 oz of flour and 1 oz of water so you have 3 oz of starter again.
a 3 oz starter right after feeding and after 24 hours
3 oz of starter just after feeding and again after 24 hours. You can see it is bubbling and active from the feeding.
9 oz of starter right after feeding and after 4 hours
Move the starter to a larger container and feed with 3 oz each of flour and water. Set it aside to double in volume.
using 1 oz of starter to regrow small starter
Remove 1 oz of starter to begin the cycle again. Use the remaining 8 oz in your recipe.
a loaf of sourdough semolina bread

Since you’ve got your starter fed, peruse the entire list of My Best Sourdough Recipes. Have fun!

**I know you hate to throw away that sourdough discard. Even though you only need to discard 2 oz, you can save-up that discard in the refrigerator and use it in any number of recipes. Check out these recipes that use sourdough discard.

Finally, if you ever find yourself unable to maintain your starter, you can dry your sourdough starter for long term keeping.

If you find this information helpful, I’d really appreciate a 5-star review.

How to Maintain a Small Sourdough Starter

How to Maintain a Small Sourdough Starter

Yield: 3 oz starter
Active Time: 5 minutes
Rising Time: 1 day
Total Time: 1 day 5 minutes
Difficulty: Medium
Estimated Cost: $2

Here are the amounts listed for feeding a small sourdough starter. This is for a 100% hydration starter.

Materials

  • 1 oz (28g) plus 3 oz (84g) sourdough starter
  • 1 oz (28g) plus 3 oz (84g) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 oz (28g) plus 3 oz (84g) water, room temperature

Tools

  • 1 quart glass or plastic container 
  • Wooden spoon or spatula
  • Kitchen Scale

Instructions

  1. Weigh 1 oz of your unfed starter into a clean container. Discard the extra starter or save it in the refrigerator to use in a discard recipe.
  2. Add the 1 oz flour and 1 oz water and mix until combined. Set aside at room temperature.
  3. If you're not baking, refrigerate 3-4 hours after feeding.
  4. Feed refrigerated starter weekly if you're not baking. Each time you feed you will discard 2 oz and use the remaining 1 oz to complete the feeding cycle.
  5. When you're ready to bake with your starter, you'll need to take it out 2 days before baking and grow the starter with the following steps. Feed the starter as described in steps 1 & 2 (see note). Leave the 3 oz starter at room temperature for 12-24 hours. Feed the 3 oz of starter with 3 oz of all purpose flour and 3 oz of water. You now have 9 oz of starter. Leave it at room temperature for 4-5 hours until it doubles in volume and begins to recede and then it should be ready for baking.
  6. Use 8 oz in your recipe and reserve the last 1 oz to continue to feeding cycle.

Notes

If your starter has been unfed for several weeks and is sluggish, you might want to repeat the 1 oz feeding again before proceeding to the 3 oz feeding.

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Melissa

Monday 18th of May 2020

If you keep a smaller starter and want to use the discard in a recipe, would you just keep it in the fridge and add to it as you accumulate more? I am noticing that most discard recipes use a cup of discard and that's obviously way more than with this method. Would it still be useable if some of it is a lot older, or would you still have to feed it sometimes? Thanks so much for this guide! It's really helpful in my first sourdough adventure.

Eileen Gray

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

Each time you feed the small starter you discard 2 oz. So you could save those in the fridge until you get 8 oz for a discard recipe (4 feedings). Otherwise, you just go ahead and discard the discard. The small starter is just another option for folks who don't like all the discard of the regular starter. It really depends on your schedule and how often you bake sourdough recipes.

Jennifer Johnson

Sunday 17th of May 2020

I have a starter that my daughter gave me a couple of weeks ago. I am keeping it in a mason jar and closing the lid tightly after each feeding. I just eyeball taking out half of it when I feed it and discard what I take out. Do you keep yours in the same container each time you feed it, or transfer it to a new one to measure out the right amount and then discard the rest and wash that container to reuse the next time?

Eileen Gray

Sunday 17th of May 2020

I keep mine in deli containers and will sometimes switch to to a new one so I can clean the container. If you are just eyeballing the amount when you feed it is a little difficult to know the hydration of your starter and that can make a difference when you mix a recipe. You will keep the starter alive with your method, just be aware that your starter may be more or less hydrated that what is called for in a recipe. If you have a kitchen scale I suggest you weigh out the starter for feeding.

Keri

Monday 27th of April 2020

I am trying to make a sourdough started and every time I get to day 4 my started is a watery mess. I am thinking my home may not be warm enough. I have tried placing it in the sunlight of a window to make it warmer. Any idea why it is getting so watery. It bubbles and looks great on day 3 then I feed it and it is a thick consistency then is thin and watery the next day. I am using a food scale to be sure my portions are correct.

Thanks, Keri

Eileen Gray

Monday 27th of April 2020

Hi Keri. The starter tends to become watery as it needs to be fed. You may just have a very active starter. Try feeding it 2x per day and see how that works. As long as there is activity and it doesn't become moldy or get red/orange steaks it's probably alive and kicking.