In How to Tell if Your Sourdough Starter is at its Peak we talked about how to determine if your starter is at its peak, but is this actually the best time to use it for making sourdough bread?
After all, when it reaches its peak, it is at its strongest right? Actually, the answer is not so obvious.
Sourdough starter must be used when it is DEFINITELY ACTIVE. That is actually the only real prerequisite to making sure it will ferment your dough!
But understanding what stage your starter is at, will help you have more control over how your bread turns out.
Here’s what can happen to your bread when you use your sourdough starter during different stages of its activity levels.
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What Happens when Sourdough Starter is Used Before it has Peaked
When sourdough starter is active but hasn’t peaked yet, it is on its way to increasing its activity levels. Adding it your bread recipe at this stage will cause the dough to ferment quicker. This will result in a sweeter tasting bread.
Don’t worry, the starter will still make your bread rise as long as it is active enough, even though it is not at its peak.
What Happens when Sourdough Starter is Used Right at its Peak
Peak time is considered to be within 20 to 30 minutes of the sourdough starter being at the highest level in the jar.
This is the most common activity level that is used when adding starter to the recipe. It is when the starter has the most leavening power (how much rise it will give to the bread). This will generally result in a better rise in your bread but with a more balanced flavor of sourness to sweetness.
What Happens when Sourdough Starter is Used After it has Peaked
Once the sourdough starter has peaked, it will start to run out of food, and hence start to lose its leavening power.
In fact, using it at this time will actually be when the starter has the least amount of leavening power (whilst still remaining active enough to raise the dough).
But this isn’t such a bad thing for your bread. As long as it hasn’t been left for too long, using sourdough starter after its peak will result in a bread that has a much more developed flavor because at this point, the starter has slowed down, and will take longer to ferment the dough.
If the priority in your bread baking is simply to get the biggest rise, then using it at its peak is best. But if you want to adjust the flavor of your loaf to be sweeter or more sour, then using the sourdough at its respective activity levels is a good idea.