Feeding and Maintaining Sourdough Starter

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There’s something about sourdough starters that just seems to fascinate people. Maybe it’s the way they can be used to make delicious bread, or the fact that they require very little maintenance in order to stay alive. If you’re new to sourdough baking, or if you’ve been struggling to keep your starter alive, this post is for you! I’ll share some tips on feeding and maintaining sourdough starter. So get ready to learn all about sourdough starters – and hopefully become a bit more obsessed with them yourself

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Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter

There are two main ways to store your starter for maintenance: at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Whichever way you choose, you will need to care for it. It is alive and needs to be fed.

Room Temperature Sourdough Starter Storage

Storing your sourdough starter at room temperature is the best way to keep a really active and vigorous starter. Feeding your starter consistently will keep it the strongest. However, keeping it at room temperature does mean you need to feed it at least once a day. I work this into my evening routine and honestly it doesn’t take much longer than it takes me to brush my teeth.

But I completely understand if you do not want to do this everyday. If that is the case, then you can store it in your refrigerator.

Refrigerator Sourdough Starter Storage

Cold temperatures will slow the yeast and bacteria in your sourdough culture way down which means you don’t need to feed it as frequently. Ideally, if you keep your starter in the refrigerator, you want to try to feed it at least every 7-10 days to keep it really healthy.

But if you forget to feed your starter for a few weeks, do not throw it out! Starters are much harder to kill than you think! It might get very weak, but it probably isn’t dead. Give it a few consistent feedings and it should spring back to life. They are very resilient.

To store your sourdough starter in the refrigerator, feed it your normal feeding and then let it sit out at room temperature to get bubbly. Once it looks lively, you can move it to the refrigerator.

When you go to feed your refrigerated starter, take it out of the fridge and feed it as you normally do. Let it sit at room temperature to wake up and start feeding for a few hours. Once it looks bubbly, you can place it back in the refrigerator.

Schedule for Feeding Your Sourdough Starter

  • Your starter needs to be fed about 1x per week if refrigerated, and every day if left at room temperature.
  • Generally, about 5-6 hours after feeding my starter is ready. The time may vary based on room temp, dough temp, etc. The starter should have doubled in volume and started to recede and/or pass the float test.
  • I take my starter out of the refrigerator once a week for feeding, even if I’m not baking.
  • After you’ve removed the portion of starter for baking, feed the starter again and leave it at room temperature for 3-4 hours before putting it back in the refrigerator.

How to Feed Your Sourdough Starter Daily

Once you starter is doubling in size in 4-6 hours after feeding, you can start feeding it what I call “the maintenance feeding.” This is the feeding that I do every time I feed my starter moving forward.

We are going to keep the same ratio of the 1:3:3 feeding. Depending on if it is a baking day or a non-baking day, you can keep more or less starter, feeding it this same ratio. If it is a non-baking day, I will often only keep 5 grams of starter and feed it 15 grams of flour and 15 grams of water. If it is a baking day, and I need more for my bread dough, then I will keep and feed a larger quantity based on how much I need. If this is too confusing for you, you can continue with the 25:75:75 feedings.

After you feed your sourdough starter you have 3 options: You can use part of it in a bread dough, you can leave it at room temperature until the next feeding, or you can store it in the refrigerator.

The Best Flour and Water to Use

Any wheat flour can be used to maintain your starter. Two common and economical varieties are all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour.

Spelt, rye and einkorn varieties are also good choices for maintaining your starter. You can use a mix of flours in a sourdough starter.

A sourdough starter can be used to make bread recipes that call for flour that is different than the one you maintain it with.

For example, if you use 100% all-purpose flour to maintain your starter and you want to try a recipe that calls for whole wheat flour and bread flour, your existing starter will work fine. There is no need to feed the starter with the same flour as the recipe calls for.

Bottled water or tap water can be used. Tap water usually contains a small amount of chlorine, which could possibly affect your starter in a negative way. If you are concerned, remove the chlorine from tap water by evaporation. Fill a bottle with tap water and let it sit uncovered for 24 hours.

Tips for using and maintaining your sourdough starter

  • Since I don’t bake every day, I keep my starter in the refrigerator.
  • If I’m making a 2-day recipe I take the starter out of the refrigerator early in the morning of the day I’m making the dough. If the starter is inactive I feed it right away and it should be ready by early afternoon.
  • If I’m making a 1-day recipe, I’ll take the starter out the night before and feed it if it’s inactive. It should be ready to use first thing in the morning.
  • When the starter is cold from the refrigerator, I feed the starter using fairly warm water, warmer than body temp. The warm water will jump-start the cold starter.
  • If the starter has been fed within the last 2-3 days, and has been refrigerated, you can probably go ahead and use it without feeding.
  • If you’re not sure if the starter is active, drop a dollop into a bowl of water to see if it floats. If it does, it’s ready for baking

How to Make a Backup

How to Dry Sourdough Starter

Spread 200 grams of sourdough discard into a thin layer on a silicone mat or a piece of parchment paper. Allow it air dry completely, about 3-4 days depending on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen. I place the sheet in a cold oven to keep it free from any debris that might be floating in the air. Place a sticky note on the oven so that you don’t forget it’s in there!

The dark spots on top of the starter in the picture on the right are wet spots. Make sure the starter is completely dry before storing to avoid mold.
Once it’s dry, break the starter into pieces and place them in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Store in a cool dry place for 6-12 months.

To revive the dried sourdough starter, add 50 grams to a clean jar with 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour. Let sit for 24 hours and repeat daily until active and bubbly.

Recommended Kitchen Tools

If you’re looking for more information on sourdough starters, we have a few other great articles on the topic. Be sure to check out our articles on Sourdough HERE.

And of course, if you still have questions after reading all this, feel free to get in touch with us – we’d be happy to help!