Ah the magic of a sourdough starter, the active bubbly thing that lives on your kitchen counter. It’s like a new pet, and with any new pet you have to care for it and feed it for it to survive! Well same goes for your new sourdough starter, but this pet rewards you with tons of delicious things like crusty, chewy, scrumptious homemade bread!
In this guide you will learn in an uncomplicated no- fuss manner how to feed, maintain and store your sourdough starter. We also will learn how to make an extra “back up” starter just in case. Keep reading to dive into the world of sourdough!
Lets talk Sourdough starter
Any time I mention that I bake with my sourdough starter or I post a picture of mouth watering bagels I get flooded with questions. ” How do you keep up with it?” ” Is it hard?” ” What is a sourdough starter?” The list could go on. So I figured I would write up this article to answer all your questions and guide you through your sourdough journey!
I am so glad you are here and wanting to learn. I can promise you that once you have your system down you will love baking with sourdough and won’t even have to think as you are maintaining your starter.
Let me just start by saying that there are many different ways to maintain and feed your starter. I think this is why people get confused and discouraged. It always seems so technical and if you don’t have it perfect you will ruin it. Well I’m here to tell you, starters are pretty resilient! I truly believe anyone with the yearning to learn sourdough can do it.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to what to do with your starer. Recipes from a crusty loaf of artisan bread, to waffles, pizza dough, bagels and so much more. You may not even realize how many options there truly are. I have been baking with sourdough for a long time and still I am finding new things I can whip up with my starter.
I am going to break down to you guys how I choose to feed and maintain my starter. Firstly though I will go through the supplies you will need. Let’s dive in shall we?
2. Sourdough Starter (You can make your own, or source it online.)
3. Filtered Water
6. Two Small Kitchen Bowls
7. Mixing spoon
Questions asked often.
Before we dive into the “how to” part of this article I want to answer the questions I was searching for when I started researching sourdough.
What is a Sourdough Starter?
A sourdough starter is an active colony of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria cultivated by combining flour and water and allowing it to ferment. By feeding it continually and keeping it in happy conditions you will have a “natural yeast” culture.
Sourdough has become a widely discussed thing these last few years, and for good reason! I think it is safe to say if you are reading this then you are ready to embrace slower more mindful cooking and baking. Getting back to our roots!
Humans have been naturally leavening their breads for thousands of years, and with basic ingredients like flour, water, and salt, you’ve got a delicious and nutritious loaf of bread. Sourdough is simple it’s literally just flour and water, but it’s also magic! It is a living thing. It needs to be taken care of just like any other living thing and it is easy, I promise.
Is sourdough a fermented food?
Yes! Sourdough is a fermented food and it is known for all of the same wonderful gut healthy bacteria that other lacto-fermented foods have. This is why sourdough recipes are undeniably a healthier option, that lacto-ferment is helping break down the wheat therefor making it easier to digest and with the perk of added probiotics.
Keep in mind that sourdough starter, like all fermented foods, has kind of a vinegary or “funky” smell. This is totally normal and means it is doing it’s job!
What kind of water should I use?
Let’s talk water real quick. Most water that comes out of your faucet is going to have chlorine so I would recommend instead using a filtered water. I personally use the filtered water out of my fridge. Some people have bottled water or already have a water filtration system on hand like the Brita, if so, great! If you have none of the above don’t fret. Instead fill up a bowl of water, with a tea towel on top and let it sit on the counter overnight. The chlorine will evaporate right out.
Now for temperature of the water, which does matter. If you add cold water out of your fridge it will slow down the rise of your starter. Warm water on the other hand will help speed up that rising time. So, what I like to do is heat up my water to right about room temperature. Warm but not hot. This isn’t an exact science and don’t think too much into it.
What kind of flour should I use?
There are a multitude of wheat flours and you really can use just about any of them. I prefer to use Organic white bread flour to feed my sourdough starter regularly and my brand of choice is definitely King Arthur. I have experimented with different brands of white bread flour and noticed my starter did not seem quite as active and not as quick to rise.
I sometimes will use half bread flour and either whole wheat or rye flour for the other half if I am feeling like my starter is a little sluggish. Whole wheat and rye are known to quickly increase the activity and rise of the starter due to their higher nutrient content. There are also flours like Einkorn, Kumat, spelt, and more that you could use.
I suggest playing around here and seeing what you and your starter like the most! I will go into more detail on this later. Also keep in mind, just because you chose to feed your starter with say white bread flour, that does not mean you have to bake with that same flour.
What type of jar is best for my sourdough starter?
This Weck Jar is my favorite. It is a great size and I personally think it is adorable sitting on my counter. Some people like to use large jars and keep them in the fridge filled with their sourdough starter and then pull out a small amount of that starter and feed it in the smaller Weck Jar. This would be beneficial for two different reasons, one being you are not having to worry about feeding it as often since it is living inside your fridge. The other benefit of this would be having a larger amount of sourdough starter on hand. But like I said I bake 2-3 times a week and have not felt the need to have a large amount like that on hand. (Yet!)
Where do you store your sourdough starter?
You have a couple options here and the answer is really going to depend on how often you are baking with your sourdough starter. If you are like me and you bake 2-3 times a week then I would suggest just leaving it out on your counter. If your more of a once a week/ every other week baker then go ahead and pop your starter in the fridge.
You can leave your starter in the fridge for about a month before having to feed it, but keep in mind to get it back to active (nice and bubbly) you will have to feed it 2-3 times if not more prior to baking with it. Even if you choose to leave your starter in the fridge for a week or two, and you take it out to make a recipe like sourdough bagels that calls for active starter, I would suggest feeding it twice prior to baking with just to be sure your starter is nice and active. I am going to break it down and give you a feeding schedule of each option, keeping on counter or keeping in fridge.
Example feeding schedule of keeping starter on counter :
- Feed starter first thing in the morning, 8:00am. By 12:00ish starter should be ready to bake with.
Example feeding schedule for keeping starter in fridge:
- The night before your wanting to bake, 8:00pm take starter out of fridge and feed. The next morning, 8:00am repeat the feeding process. Starter should be ready around 12:00ish.
Pretty simple right?
I want to mention one more thing while were on the topic of storing your sourdough starter. Lets say you are going on vacation for 3 weeks (Ah dreams right!) Or its summer time and you are not a big baker in the summer but you don’t want to let all your hard work of keeping this starter alive go to waste right? I have an option for you! Freeze that starter! Grab a cheap silicone ice tray and pour your starter in. Let it freeze until solid. Transfer the cubes into a freezer safe container and keep them frozen for up to 1 year.
Ready to start baking again? To reactivate the frozen starter, place a cube into a jar and let thaw. Once thawed, feed your starter 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour of choice.
When should I feed my sourdough starter?
We talked about your starter being a new pet right? Well we have to feed said pet for it to survive! Same goes for your starter. So the number one reason for feeding your starter is to keep it active and alive. This goes hand in hand with how you choose to store your starter. If its on the counter then you should be feeding it around every other day to every 3rd day. If you are storing it in the fridge you can go more around once every week or two mark.
As far as when to feed it, you need to feed your starter before you are baking with it if the recipe calls for active starter. When feeding your starter, you need to feed it in equal parts water, flour, and starter. You are looking for the consistency of pancake batter. Refer to feeding schedule up above. Now you will come across recipes that call for sourdough discard, which means starter that has not been fed.
Once you have your sourdough starter going and you are baking with it on a consistent basis, your starter is going to grow. For instance, if your feeding it 2-3 times a week without getting rid of some then you are going to quickly to have a very large amount of sourdough starter. This is where the term sourdough discard comes in. Before feeding your starter you are going to want to discard some. Say you start with 300 grams of starter and you are only wanting to feed 100 grams of your starter, well 200 grams of that would be your discard.
Some people choose to simply dump their discard down the drain. But I am here to tell you to use it up! There are an array of discard recipes like, sourdough discard crackers, Sourdough discard pancakes, Sourdough discard flatbread and many more! Or if you have chickens go ahead and give them a little treat every once in a while!
How do I use my sourdough starter?
Using your starter is very simple! You have fed your starter and she’s ready to use! Find a recipe you are wanting to make and it will let you know much starter to use. For example, it will call or 100 grams of sourdough starter or some recipes will used measuring cups, 1/2 cup of sourdough starter. Just scoop out the amount you need and continue on following the recipe.
Some recipes recipes will call for you to make a specific levain, which may look like, 70 grams starter 70 grams water and 70 grams flour and let rise. You would then use all of this levain for the said recipe, which means that you would take from your original starter jar the 70 grams of starter and feed it in the new jar and then let that levain rise and use it all in the recipe.
Never use all of your starter, always leave some behind to re-feed it and continue on! If you use all of your starter you are left with nothing and have to start all over making a brand new starter. If you maintain your sourdough starter it can last forever! I have heard stories of sourdough starters being passed down generation after generation and being over 100 years old! How amazing is that!
What do I use my sourdough starter for?
There are many ways you can use your sourdough starter! I would suggest starting with a yummy focaccia bread! In my opinion, it is a very easy first recipe to try.
Take a look at a few of my favorite, delicious sourdough recipes:
- Sourdough Parmesan Rosemary Loaf
- Sourdough Pizza Dough
- Sourdough Cardamom Rolls
- Sourdough Morning Glory Muffins
- Sourdough Flat Bread
What is that dark liquid sitting on the top of my starter?
This is called hooch and this is a sign that you have not been keeping up on feeding your sourdough starter. Hooch is going to appear when your starter has run out of food and is very hungry.
But don’t worry, it is an easy fix and though it looks scary, it is not harmful! This liquid is the alcohol given off as wild yeast ferments. Hooch is created by the hungry yeast and bacteria.
If this happens you can either pour the hooch off the top or simply mix it back in, then go ahead and discard and feed as usual. But note that your feeding schedule may need to be adjusted to keep your starter more happy!
How to feed your sourdough starter
Are you ready to see how easy and no-fuss this is?
Grab all your supplies, I like to get my first bowl filled with water, warmed up and ready to go. In the meantime grab your bag of flour and scale to be ready on the counter. Take your second bowl and set it on the scale set to grams. Tare scale it out so it says 0 grams
Pour in your bowl the desired amount of starter. I typically start with 100-150 grams of starter depending on how much I am planning on baking. You will get the feel for the amount you need and adjust accordingly. If you are only planning on baking say, one loaf of bread then starting with even 50 grams should be plenty. I like to always have a good amount of discard on hand so I’m ok if I feed it more then I need for a specific recipe.
Like we talked about previously, some recipes will call for you to make a specific levain, which may say, 70 grams starter 70 grams water and 70 grams flour and let rise. You would then use all of this levain for the said recipe. In that case you are going to take from your original starter jar the 70 grams of starter and start a new jar for that levain to rise in.
This is where I like to rinse out my Weck Jar and then I transfer the starter in my bowl back into my clean Weck jar. Now that you have your jar on the scale with desired amount of starter in grams you can go ahead and tare your scale to 0 again. Time to add the water. Remember equal parts, so if you added 120 grams of starter then add 120 grams of water.
Time to add your flour. Tare out that scale to 0 for the last time! Now add your equal parts flour, so in this case 120 grams of flour. Once you have everything added its time to stir it up. You really want to get everything mixed in well, especially leaving no clumps of flour stuck in the corners of the jar. Mixing well also introduces extra oxygen into the starter which is great! The consistency you are going for is like a pancake batter.
Add your lid on top and set aside to rise! If your starter has been recently fed it typically shouldn’t take too long to rise and get bubbly! You are really looking for it to double in size. I recommend when you’re starting out to mark where your starter starts on the jar, then you can see how much it has risen. Plus, when you’re brand new to sourdough it’s so much fun seeing your starter rise! You can do this by grabbing a rubber band or pony-tail and wrapping it around the jar at the top of the line of where your starter sits. Or grab a dry erase marker and make a little mark. Either way works and you get the excitement of watching it rise!
My Sourdough Starter Feeding Schedule
A feeding schedule is really going to be depended on you and your lifestyle and how much you’re baking. Overtime you will figure out a schedule that works for you. Like I said I typically bake 2-3 times a week and for me picking specific baking days works really well with our busy schedules. I find if I don’t have some sort of plan with baking, it doesn’t happen. For me, baking days are Sundays and Thursdays and then sometimes I throw an extra day on the weekend, typically an unplanned discard recipe type of baking.
Here is an example of my usual routine: Sunday morning while I’m waiting for my cup of coffee to brew I go ahead and feed my starter. Typically by mid day my starter is bubbly, active and ready for me to bake with. I then will spend Sunday prepping whatever I am making, say a couple loafs of sandwich bread for my kids for the week. Once I have gone through the process of prepping my bread I will pop it in the fridge to ferment overnight and then bake my bread first thing in the morning. Nothing like waking up to the smell of bread baking! This goes the same for my Thursday baking day.
Remember if you are taking your starter out of the fridge then you would want to change this up a bit. Instead of waiting to feed Sunday morning I would take it out of the fridge Saturday evening and feed it before bed and then feed it again come Sunday morning.
What do I do after i remove a portion of my sourdough starter to bake with?
Once you have removed a portion of your starter for your recipe, you have what’s left of it in your jar. There are a few different things you can do with it.
- You could feed your starter once again, letting it rise on the counter for a few hours to bulk it back up and then either leave it on the counter or pop it in the fridge.
- Feed the starter and put it right back in the refrigerator as soon as you are done. This will slow down the fermentation process.
- Last, which is what I generally do is just leave it be. I put my starter right back in the spot where she lives on my counter and walk away. Do keep in mind though that if you do this, you will be short on starter considering you just took some to make your recipe. That is why I don’t worry if I feed it more then what the recipe is calling for. If you have very little you may want to just go ahead and feed it again, or the next time you plan to feed it, go ahead and skip the discarding part.
My Extra Tips For Your Sourdough Starter
Here are a few extra tips I found helpful when I started my journey of sourdough!
The ideal temperature for your sourdough starter to reach peak activity is between 70-75 degrees. So in those cold winter months if you feel like your starter is a little sluggish, I have a couple ideas for you to try!
If you are a gardener and have a seedling heat mat, go ahead and plug that bad boy in and set your starter on top to rise! Another thing you can do is pop your starter jar inside the oven with the light on. Please make sure that your oven is OFF and that you do not forget about your starter. If I do this I set a timer on my phone so I don’t forget. Lastly, you could put your starter up on top of your fridge. The heat from the running fridge and the fact that heat rises can sometimes help.
Playing around with different flours.
Previously we talked about the best types of flour to use when feeding your starter. I mentioned playing around with different types to see what works best for you and now I want to go into a little more detail about that.
If you know me, you know I believe the way to figure things out is simply by doing. Whether you try something new and it totally flops or you come out on top! You will never know especially if you don’t try. Failure in my opinion, is the key to success.
Once you have the maintaining and feeding part down, do some experimenting with flour! How are you going to do this? Let me tell you!
Grab 3 jars, any will do really. Mason jars, large cups, whatever you have lying around the house. Take your starter and split it into 3. (or however many flour varieties you would like to try) Let’s say jar 1 is for Organic White Bread Flour. Jar 2 is for Organic Whole Wheat Flour, and jar 3 is for Einkorn Flour. Label your jars and then feed them all with the correct flour. Add your rubber band to each, see which rises the fastest and which seems the most active and bubbly!
Naming Your Sourdough Starter
You may have heard of people naming their starters. I know it sounds a little silly, but like I said a sourdough starter is just like a new pet! We name our pets right? Some say its actually bad luck if you don’t give your starter a name! So go ahead be goofy and come up with a cute name for your new pet! My starter’s name is Mabel and I love her. Google sourdough starter names, you will find plenty!
Making a back up sourdough starter
Its time to make your back up starter. The next time you feed your starter, double what you need to create an extra amount. Ok so, there are two things you can do here, one we already talked about up above and that was freezing. Once frozen you can keep for up to a year.
The other thing you could do is dehydrate. If you have a dehydrator I recommend this option! it is easy and simple to store. I have the Excalibur dehydrator and I highly recommend it! I especially love it for stuff like this because it has a living foods options, which is a very low temperature setting. This low temperature maintains the foods enzymatic and nutritional properties.
How to dehydrate sourdough starter:
Before drying, you will want to make sure that your sourdough starter is nice and active. Feed it about 4-6 hours before you decide to dehydrate.
Spread your extra sourdough starter in a nice thin layer on a silicone mat and slide into your dehydrator. Set your dehydrator on 90 degrees and then set the timer for 12 hours. Once the 12 hours is up check if your sourdough starter is completely dry, if not then continue on until it is fully dry. You should be able to easily break up the dehydrated starter into chips or flakes and all the moisture be completely gone. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark, dry location for well over a year.
You made it through your sourdough lesson! I truly hope that you are now feeling less overwhelmed when it comes to feeding and maintaining a sourdough starter, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and dive into the world of sourdough! I know you will love it!