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7 Tips to Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter

September 08, 2020 4 min read

7 Tips to Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter

One of the very first and unique steps to sourdough baking is creating the starter. A homemade sourdough starter is a container of fermented dough full of yeast and bacteria that allows sourdough to rise and is the source for its signature tangy taste. Though a starter is fairly simple to make, maintaining a sourdough starter can prove more difficult. Determining where to store and when to feed your sourdough starter is critical to success. Use our top 7 tips below to keep your sourdough starter in optimal condition

1. Choose storage based on your baking schedule

After making a starter, the first decision that will need to be made is where to store it when it is not in use. Though there is no single correct temperature for sourdough starters to be held, there are advantages to storing in different locations. For those baking bread daily, maintaining a sourdough starter at room temperature is the easiest solution as the starter will remain active and more readily accessible. Meanwhile, for those baking only a few times a month, storing it in the refrigerator will be best. Though it will mean a little extra time when readying your starter, it will also mean a much more flexible feeding schedule.

2. Feed daily vs. weekly

Feeding a homemade sourdough starter regularly is key to keeping it healthy and thriving. However, choosing where you store it will determine when to feed your sourdough starter. For starters placed in room temperature, feeding will need to happen more regularly—approximately once every 12 hours. On the other hand, for refrigerated starters, a feeding schedule of about once-a-week should be enough for maintaining a sourdough starter. Sticking to a regular feeding schedule will keep bakers from experiencing sourdough rise trouble.

3. Look out for hooch

If storing your starter in a refrigerator, you may notice a grey or clear liquid has formed at the top of the container. This liquid is known as hooch and is a result of the alcohol released while the yeast ferments. As you experiment with when to feed your sourdough starter, keep an eye out for hooch. Hooch in the container is an indication that the sourdough is ready to be fed again. When feeding, this liquid can be drained off the top or mixed gently back into the starter.

4. Feed by weight instead of volume

Many bakers, especially beginning bakers, tend to feed their starters according to volume. This means using measuring cups to measure out equal parts of water, flour, and starter. Volume measurements will suffice for routine feedings and generally maintaining a sourdough starter. However, when readying your starter for baking, feeding by weight is much more accurate. Use a scale instead of measuring cups to produce a better loaf.

5. Provide ample time for reactivation

Though storing your starter in the fridge between bakes is perfectly acceptable, it does mean the starter will need a bit more time to activate than starters at room temperature. The correct temperature for sourdough starters to begin growing and bubbling at the desired rate is 70° - 85° F or 21° - 29° C. This means a refrigerated starter should be set in room temperature the day before. It typically takes 2 -3 feedings at room temperature for the starter to begin growing at an acceptable rate to begin baking.

6. Use the float test

After discovering when to feed your sourdough starter and how long it will need for reactivation, the final step in determining when the starter is ready is to administer the float test. To ensure the starter is ready to be used, drop a dollop of the starter into a cup of water. If the glob floats, the starter is healthy and sourdough baking can commence! If the dollop sinks, the starter needs more time to revive before baking.

7. Freeze a starter for long-term storage

For those that may be going on a long vacation or unable to keep up with a weekly feeding schedule but do not want to lose their starter, sourdough starters can be stored in the freezer for a long-term solution. When ready to use again, frozen starters can be thawed in the fridge or at room temperature. It will take several feedings for the starter to fully activate again. After freezing a starter, determining when the starter is ready is critical before beginning a bake. Use the float test above before baking with a thawed starter.

 

Whether a new baker experimenting with sourdough or a seasoned veteran, these 7 tips will keep your sourdough starter in top shape. Implement the tactics above to achieve a delicious and tangy loaf every time.


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