Sourdough Saga: Episode 5 – how to look after your starter

Imagine, if you will, someone arriving at your house for a party, and bringing with them as a gift a rather odd looking jar with a label on it which says ‘Feeeeeed meee!’… Congratulations on being the new owner of a bouncing baby sourdough starter.  It’s rather a rude hostess present, I suppose, a bit like giving someone a puppy without asking them first (ok, maybe not *quite* that bad!).  But now you have this living thing someone’s entrusted you with, and you’re stuck having to look after it.

What sort of person would do such a thing, you might ask? Guess what I took to my little sister and her husband yesterday…

Feeeeed mee!

Isn’t it pretty?  I had to promise her a full set of care instructions, so here they are!

I keep my starter in the fridge between uses.  So far I’ve been feeding & baking once a week, so I haven’t tried to extend the gap between feedings more than this, though I believe it may be possible to go two or three weeks.  My starter is a wholemeal starter, but you could convert it to white flour, progressively, if you prefer.

Assuming you’re planning to bake on a Sunday, this would be my schedule –

  • On Friday morning, take your starter out of the fridge, stir in a couple of teaspoons of wholemeal flour, and leave it on the countertop (I like to think the beasties would appreciate a small breakfast snack as they come up to an active temperature).
  • Friday evening, once you’re home from work, it’s time to feed your starter.  In a bowl on your kitchen scales, weigh out equal weights of wholemeal flour and warm water (about blood heat) and combine to form a loose paste.  The starter has been started and fed on cheap bottled water so far, filtered water would be absolutely fine, if you have it, and converting my starters to tap water has also been successful (but might be a bit of a gamble if your water is particularly high in chlorine / chloramine).  I use locally stoneground wholemeal flour – avoid anything bleached or treated.
  • The total weight of the feed should be about equal to the starter that’s in your jar.  I’ve written the weight of the empty jar on the lid for you to simplify working this out!
  • Combine the feed with the starter (you could do this in the jar but I prefer to tip it all out into the bowl to give it a really good energetic mix) and put it back in the jar.  Leave the jar on the countertop for the next 24 hours.
  • Watch in wonder as the whole thing fills with bubbles and doubles in size over about the first 12 – 18 hours, before it settles back down a little.
  • On Saturday evening, take a good ladle-full or two of your starter (about half the total volume) and use it to start your overnight sponge.  Return the rest of the starter to its spot in the fridge.
  • On Sunday morning, let the baking begin!

If you’re not baking this week, do all of this but then discard the ladle-full of active fed starter (or better still, use it to start a new jar of starter to give to a friend?).

When you get your starter out of the fridge next week, you may find a layer of greyish liquid has formed on top, and the smell isn’t quite what you expect.  This doesn’t seem to be a problem, I’ve just been pouring the liquid off the top before going ahead and feeding the starter in the normal way.  I imagine this would be more marked if you went longer between feedings.

I hope you sourdough starter gives you as much baking pleasure as I’ve already had from mine!

Read all the posts in the Sourdough Saga >>

Read more from the Country Skills blog >>

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9 thoughts on “Sourdough Saga: Episode 5 – how to look after your starter

  1. Thanks for the pet big sis, we’ve called it Seymore.

    So far it’s been rather naughty. It seemed quite happy in the fridge this week – though it did develop a layer of greyish liquid that I threw away before it’s warming snack.

    I did wonder: should I use or avoid any specific types of utensil?

    Last night I fed it wholemeal flour and tap water. This morning we found that it had made a very messy bid for freedom overnight. (Photo to follow)
    This evening I’ll try to make up a sponge with spelt flour.

    • I’ve now made up my overnight sponge – using spelt. Now I just have to be patient … not really my style I know – but here goes.

      • I used a plastic bowl – would I have been OK using a metal one?

        And is it just me or is it necessary to clean anything that touches the starter immediately for fear it turns to wholemeal concrete?

    • I was very surprised at how it behaved in the tea-towel lined bowl. I had really expected a tea-towel flowery wholemeal concrete mess – whereas it really turned out politely into the stoneware pie dish I’m using as a baking container.

      Incidentally – what should I be using?

  2. Pingback: Sourdough Saga: Episode 7 – six months on, life with my sourdough starter | Country Skills for Modern Life

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