How to Care for and Use a Sourdough Starter

What To Store Your Starter In

I prefer to use a wide mouth glass quart jar with a plastic lid.  The glass makes it easy to observe the starter and the markings on the side show how many grams of starter is in the jar.  I find a butter knife is the perfect size and shape to stir the starter in the jar.

What to Feed Your Starter

Flour

I have best results when my starter is fed all purpose flour.  I use organic unbleached all purpose flour.

It is possible to transition your starter to other kinds of flour (like whole wheat), but please do your own research before attempting.

Water

I have successfully used my Sioux Falls tap water to feed my starter, but two other people in the Sioux Falls area have been unsuccessful using their tap water.  It appears that their tap water killed their starter.  I would suggest dividing your starter into two portions and feeding one tap water and one filtered/bottled water to determine if your tap water is safe for the starter. 

How Much to Feed Your Starter

The formula for feeding your starter is:

  • 1 part starter (measured by weight!)
  • 1 part flour (measured by weight!)
  • 1 part water (measured by weight!)

This will maintain your starter at 100% hydration.  When searching for sourdough recipes on the internet, make sure you use a recipe that calls for sourdough starter at 100% hydration.

How to Feed Your Starter

  1. Use the markings on the side of the glass quart jar to determine roughly how much starter is already in the jar.  The amount of starter in the jar will tell you how much flour and water to feed it.  For example, if there is 100 grams of starter in the jar, you should feed it 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour (remember 1 ml = 1 gram).
  2. Place the jar of starter on a scale and zero out the scale.
  3. Add flour until you reach the desired amount.
  4. Zero out the scale again.
  5. Slowly pour in water until you reach the desired amount.
  6. Stir thoroughly and screw the cap on loosely.
  7. Leave at room temperature to activate.

When to Feed Your Starter

Some bakers keep their starter on the counter, feed it twice a day, and discard the extra that is inevitable when feeding frequently (remember each feeding will triple the amount of starter).

I prefer to avoid waste by only feeding it when I am preparing to bake.  Between use, I store my starter in the refrigerator, which "pauses" the activity.

12-24 hours before mixing my dough, I remove the starter from the refrigerator and feed it once or twice before using it.

It will take 4-12 hours for your starter to "digest" it's feeding before it's "active" and ready to bake with or needs to be fed again.  Placing the jar of starter in a warm location will speed up the process

When stored in the refrigerator, the starter should ideally be used or fed once per week, although it can certainly last several weeks without any care at all.

What Your Starter is Telling You

Observing your starter is the best way to tell if it is happy or hungry.  Here is how to interpret the starter's needs:

"I was just taken out of the refrigerator and fed.  Now I'm beginning to digest my food."

"It's been 6 hours since my last feeding and I am ready to bake with you!  I have doubled in volume and will float in water."

"It's been 24 hours since my last feeding and I wasn't used or fed when active (in the first photo).  Now I'm very hungry and I smell like nail polish remover.  No need to be alarmed.  If you feed me, I will perk right up!"

"I've gone several days sitting at room temperature without a feeding and I'm STARVING.  The liquid layer on top is called hooch.  It can be stirred back in with a feeding.  It may take several feedings before I am ready to bake bread, since I have been neglected for so long."

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