Care and Keeping of Sourdough Starter

Are you dreaming of successful sourdough baking? Does it seem complicated or intimidating? It really doesn't have to be. Follow along with me and I'll show you how to make sourdough baking simple! Here is what I know about the care and keeping of a happy sourdough starter.
Once you have brought a vibrant bubbly sourdough starter to life you will need to give it a little love and care to keep it happy and healthy. Not to worry! This is a very simple thing to do. Even Goldminer's and Sheepherders had time for this and they were seriously hard working people back in the day as I've been told.
Storing your Sourdough Starter:
 
Storage Method #1 - Counter Top Method:
 
If you keep your starter on the counter top, as I often do, a few minutes a day is all you need . If you don't have the time for baking with it, you also have 3 other options for storage so this just gets easier and easier!
 
 

I keep my starter on the counter like this a lot of the time and feed it just once a day and it does very well. Occasionally I forget and skip a day and it's still fine. Here is how I tend to mine. Although they vary a little each day, they are essentially the same steps and take less than 5 minutes.

 

1. To discard or not to discard:

 

If I have an over abundance of starter or if it's beginning to become too sour for my taste, I remove some of the starter, let's say about 1 cup. This is called discard starter because that's what we're doing, we're discarding it. You can, however, make pancakes or bake something with it if you like rather than literally throwing it away.

If I'm bulking up the volume so I have enough for baking without using it all, I do not discard any of the starter.

2. How to Feed Your Starter:

 

Feeding the starter involves a quick addition of equal parts flour and water.

 

Tap water has always worked for me. Many people are concerned about using water that has been chemically treated (city water) and if it concerns you, use distilled or spring water. The truth is, unless the chemicals in the water are abnormally high, your yeasts will thrive. I have always used treated well water or city water with complete success. I use cold to room temperature water for this step.

 

Use at least 1/4 cup but as much as 1/2 cup equal parts flour and water to feed your starter.

 

Stir well until blended for about 45 seconds.

Once your starter has been fed, place a loose fitting lid, screen, cloth or paper over the top of your jar or crock. I cover the crock with a screen to allow air circulation and to keep out debris. The lid puts enough weight on to keep the screen in place and limits the air flow so the top of the starter doesn't get dried out.

Storage Method #2 - Refrigerator Method:

 

The simplest option is probably to put it to sleep in your refrigerator. Fed or unfed, it will keep for several weeks sleeping away until you are ready to wake it up for your next bake. I store it in a glass jar with a loosely fitted lid then put it in the coldest part of my refrigerator. It should be brought out and fed once per month or so. I'll go into more long term storage methods a bit later in this post.

This is my refrigerated jar of starter I'm preparing to wake up for baking. When storing your starter in the refrigerator, make sure to leave some room in the jar for expansion and the lid loosely screwed on so gasses can escape. The yeasts are sleeping but some feeding and fermenting will occur only at a much slower rate.

About the life cycle of your starter:

You will notice that your starter will go through a cycle after feeding, becoming very active and bubbly, then becoming very creamy and almost slimy in texture a few hours later. This is good!

 

The aroma should have a nice acidic scent, nothing off or rancid. The acids keep the bad bacteria from taking hold.

 

When baking something that needs heavy lifting like whole wheat bread, you will want to use your starter at its maximum active and bubbly state, especially if you are baking without the help of any other yeast or leavening agent.

 

Common Questions: 

What is that weird liquid building up on my starter?

The liquid is called liquor or hooch! It's an alcohol by-product of the yeasts working their magic on the flour they are eating and it's a lot of what makes your sourdough starter so flavorful. I stir the liquor back into the starter when I do my regular feedings unless it's been working so long that the hooch gets a bit too hoochy for me. When it's getting strong, I simply pour it off the top before each of the next few feedings to mellow it out.

What if I forget about it tooo long and it starts to turn discolored or grow icky stuff?

Pour off the icky stuff and remove as much clean starter as you can to a clean container then feed it to double in volume.

 

Example: If you have 1/4 cup starter, add 1/4 cup each flour and water to feed.

 

If it's too far gone for that or smells really off, just remember how easy it is to start another culture with just those 2 ingredients, flour and water.

Click this link to visit my blog on how to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter.

How to get ready to bake from refrigerated starter:

I like to take the starter out of my refrigerator the night before I intend to bake and feed it once in my small crock with the screen and lid. The next morning it's warmed up and bubbly. Depending on what I'm making, I might use it as is in the morning. If I'm making muffins or pancakes it's ready to go but if I'm going to make a nice big loaf of harvest bread I feed again.

 

4-6 hours before I intend to start baking, I add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water to the starter in this small crock and stir well.

I Leave this to sit at room temperature until I'm ready to mix the dough. At the peak of it's cycle it should be very bubbly and if I were to drop a 1/2 teaspoon of the starter into a glass of water it should float.

To store your starter for more than a few weeks, I have some other options for you!

Storage Option Number 3

 

The ultimate long time storage option is dehydration.

I have a food dehydrator that makes this incredibly easy. I spread the starter out very thinly on parchment paper or plastic wrap and I use the "living foods" setting so it doesn't get too warm and kill the culture.

After it dries, break it apart into chips and store in an airtight container indefinitely! 

If you don't have a dehydrator you can use the oven but don't turn on the heat. Use just the oven light and convection fan if you have one. You can also simply leave it out to air dry on a counter top if you like but keep in mind you'll want to cover it with something that allows for air flow but keeps debris and fruit fly's out.

To rehydrate: Add some chips to a small clean container then add just enough warm water (not hot water) to cover and wait until the chips melt. Your yeast will be hungry upon rehydrating so feed it right away. Give it a regular feeding and watch it magically come back to life!

You may want to feed it once or twice for a day or two to get the activity of the starter up to par for baking again. That will depend mostly on the environment in your kitchen.

Storage Method #4 - Freezing Your Starter

 

Another super long term method for storing your starter is freezing it. 

Take 1 cup of starter and place it in a quart zip lock freezer bag and place it in your freezer. It will store there well for many months. To bring it out of hibernation, leave the bag of starter in a bowl on the countertop until it has thawed 3-4 hours, then feed it immediately as it will be very hungry. Give it a regular feeding and watch it magically come back to life!

You may want to feed it once or twice for a day or two to get the activity of the starter up to par for baking again. That will depend mostly on the environment in your kitchen.

Dehydrating Sourdough Starter in a food dehydrator with a little bit of Summer Savory below just because I could fit it in.

 

Now you should have plenty of knowledge to keep your sourdough starter healthy and happy so it can reward you with tasty, healthy more digestible foods with minimal care. Please don't hesitate to ask me questions if I haven't answered them in this post. 

Happy Baking!

 

Melisa

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