You have lovingly nurtured a wild yeast, flour and water concoction. But how do you keep your sourdough starter alive?
Lots of people who love sourdough bread don’t bother to make it themselves because they think it’s too much work to keep the starter alive. I have one friend who has a “no pets” rule in her house – and that means no sourdough starter too! But once the starter is established (see how to do this here) it’s pretty easy to keep it alive without catering to it every day. Here are some easy methods:
Discard half of the starter and add 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of filtered water to the remaining starter every day. Not a very useful method unless you plan to make bread almost every day.
Store any remaining starter (after making bread) in the refrigerator and feed it once a week. To feed, discard half of the starter and add 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of filtered water to remaining starter one day each week. Allow the starter to ferment at room temperature for at least 2 hours before returning it to the refrigerator.
Three days before you want to bake another loaf of bread, remove the starter from the refrigerator and feed daily, following days 5-7 of Make Your Own Sourdough Starter for best results.
Keep the starter in the refrigerator for several weeks at a time without feeding. Then follow Method 2. However, it may take more than 3 days of feeding to get it bubbling again.
Remove your remaining starter from the refrigerator. Let it come to room temperature. Add ¼ cup flour and about 2 Tablespoons filtered water. Stir, let sit on counter overnight. Repeat this step the next day. On day 3, if the starter is starting to show signs of activity (bubbling), add ½ cup flour and ¼ cup filtered water. On day 4 add 1 cup flour and ½ cup filtered water. Day 5 you should be able to use the starter to make a loaf of bread.
This is the method that I use to keep my sourdough starter alive and useful. Since you don’t have to discard any of the starter, it doesn’t waste flour. It also works well if the starter has been in the refrigerator for weeks.
Tending Your Sourdough Starter
You cared for your starter from infancy; feeding it, keeping it warm, moving it to larger containers when necessary. But a mature starter is like the college kid who moves out and doesn’t even call for weeks. A mature starter can hang out in the refrigerator for 2-4 weeks, sometimes even longer, with no adverse results. But just like that college kid who eventually comes home with two months of laundry, your starter needs some periodic TLC.
At least once per month follow the first few steps of Method 4; feed the starter for two days or until it starts to show some bubbling. Then you can return it to the refrigerator if you don’t plan to use it in the near future. It’s always best to keep a mature starter alive as long as possible. Some people keep their starters alive for decades. A mature starter develops increased flavor nuances that aren’t present in a fresh starter.