Keeping a sourdough starter isn’t really time consuming but you have to pay some amount of attention to it. I’ve been a bad sourdough mom and left mine in the fridge for several weeks without feeding it and all it took was a couple of feedings to bring it right back up to a nice condition. I’ve also dried some of mine and store it in the freezer for when/if I neglect it and lose it. There’s info here on how to dry and store starter, and then info here on how to revive it from a dried state.
Ideally, if the starter is kept in the fridge, it should be fed at least once a week, whether you’re going to use it or not. If left on the counter, which probably should only be done if you’re using it almost every day, it is recommended that you feed it twice a day. I keep mine on the counter when I’m baking a lot and I feed it once a day and it does fine.
Before you begin feeding the starter, you may sometimes notice a liquid has formed at the top. I stir that back into the starter. Some will say it should be dumped. The liquid will add more “sour” to your starter so if you’re happy with the amount of sour you have, pour it off. If you’d like a little more sour, stir it in. If you’re taking good care of your starter, you shouldn’t see that dark liquid.
As with everything, there are exceptions. Depending on the flour your using, some flours absorb more or less water. I use King Arthur or Wheat Montana and both work great with the formulas below. If you’re finding your starter to be too dry or too moist, add more or less water or flour. These measurements do not have to be so precise that a little variation will ruin your starter.
There are two ways to feed the starter. One is by weight and one is by measure. I find the weight method easier but if you’re feeding by measure, simply add one part starter, one part flour and two parts water. Example: 1 cup starter, 1 cup flour, 2 cups water.
Here’s how I do it by weight.
Start with a food scale, an empty and clean wide mouth jar, and the starter.
Place the empty jar on the scale.
Hit the “tare” button to get the scale to zero. If you don’t have a tare button on your scale, write down the weight of the empty jar.
Once the scale is reading zero or you’ve written down the weight of your empty jar, you’re ready to begin the process of feeding the starter. For the weight method of feeding, equal parts of starter, flour and water are added. Start with any amount you wish, keeping in mind that it’s going to rise and may overflow if you put too much. If you put in 3 ounces of starter, add 3 ounces of flour and 3 ounces of water. If you’re putting in 4 ounces of starter, add 4 ounces each of flour and water. I usually use 5 ounces of starter.
Without stirring or doing anything, I add 5 ounces of flour. You will see that my scale now reads 10 ounces. That’s 5 ounces of starter and 5 ounces of flour. Sometimes I go over or under just a bit and that’s ok. The starter is very forgiving.
Next, I pour in 5 ounces of lukewarm water. It is recommended that you use water that has no chemicals added. If your water is highly chlorinated, you can put water in a jar and leave it sitting on your counter, shaking it a couple of times a day and the choline may dissipate. I use well water so it’s a bit hard but it has no added chemicals.
Now, there are 15 ounces in the jar – 5 each – starter, flour and water.
I keep two starters going so I’ve now fed both of them. Using a tea spoon, I give each jar a quick stir . . I don’t spend a lot of time with it because it’s really a lumpy glob and it works itself out during the night.
This is what it looks like once it’s been stirred and is ready to spend the night on the countertop. It’s lumpy and quite thick.
This is what those jars of starter look like in the morning. It’s very smooth and liquidy — no lumps or globs. It has risen and is quite bubbly. This is a fed starter and is ready to use in recipes that call for a well fed starter.
Yesterday I told you that my sponge is quite shaggy. This is the sponge I made this morning for tonight’s bread. This is actually half a recipe (1/2 cup starter, 1-1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 tsp Kosher salt). I’m making half a recipe tonight because I’m also making rolls. The rolls will be for dinner. The loaf of bread will be for tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch.
When I make a whole loaf each day, that’s bread for dinner, then for breakfast and lunch the next day. Anything that doesn’t get used will be cut up and used either for croutons or for bread crumbs.