How to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter

I’ve been baking sourdough bread since January, so in this series of posts, I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve learned over the last four months from baking my own.

Slicing into a beautiful loaf of bread you’ve created yourself is really rewarding!

In my first post, I gave you an overview of the process in general, with a few perhaps somewhat  deflating truths: what to expect in general, and some things I think you should be prepared to deal with if you want to give this rewarding process a whirl.

In the second post, I explained to you WHY it’s important to only use the ingredients specified in this recipe, and also mentioned specific tools you will need.

Today’s post is the third in this series.

WHAT THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT:

Unfortunately for some of you, this post is NOT about how to begin your very own starter. There is a simple reason for this: I have never done it.

There ARE books that will tell you precisely how to do this, and the one I’m reading and loving right now is called Local Breads, by Daniel Leader.  After checking this book out from the library, I knew it was important and informative enough that I actually wanted to own it. So, that’s a pretty high recommendation. I’m looking forward to trying quite a few of its recipes.

Here’s how I stumbled into unintentionally owning (but not making) my own starter.

I was given my starter by a neighbor who had ordered it for herself, but who upon receiving it,  then realized the level of involvement one needs to be a good sourdough parent, and who (happily, inasmuch as it concerned me) asked me if I might be willing to adopt. I jumped at the chance, produced my first “meh” loaf of bread by following the directions that came with my King Arthur starter,  and began my journey toward making truly wonderful sourdough bread.

 My search took me to Cook’s Illustrated, with whom I have a wonderful track record of finding scientifically satisfying and accurate answers. Using the King Arthur starter, with the directions that I obtained from Cook’s Illustrated, I’ve achieved the kind of simple sourdough loaf I hoped I might be able to produce.

My search goes on for different varieties and uses of sourdough, and so far, I’ve found I can make a scrumptious sourdough pizza crust, and wonderful waffles using my sourdough starter. I’ve also discovered that there are some phenomenally bad sourdough recipes out there on the internet, and that you can’t trust every recipe you run into, no matter how yummy it sounds. But at least I don’t have to make THOSE cinnamon rolls again!

WHAT THIS POST IS ABOUT:

What I will give you in this post are the directions you need for refreshing and maintaining a sourdough starter.

So the very first thing I want you to understand is that these directions have very little to do with actually baking a loaf of bread.

This is just the necessary background work you have to do so that you CAN make a great loaf of sourdough bread.

This is NOT a recipe for sourdough bread.

That will come in the next, and last post in this series.
In other words, these directions, for refreshing and maintaining a sourdough starter, while NECESSARY, are not SUFFICIENT.

Once you have obtained a sourdough starter, (and you can obtain one like I did from King Arthur, if you like), you will need to follow the package directions for getting the starter active, (a one time process), THEN you will follow these directions so that you can be ready to make your first loaf of bread. Following these directions for refreshing your sourdough starter involves around 36 hours, total.

So if you want a couple of loaves of bread on Wednesday, you’ll follow the “refresh the starter” process for 36 hours, beginning on Sunday night, and you’ll be ready to begin the bread baking process on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday, once the bread dough is kneaded and prepared, it needs to enjoy a nice, slow ferment overnight in your fridge on Tuesday night, and then you’ll be ready to let it do a final rise on Wednesday outside your refrigerator, and then, you’ll be ready to bake it.

It’s involved, I know.

But two big loaves of sourdough bread last us for a week. I generally serve it when we have time for a nicer sit down meal together. (And we’re pretty busy these days, with activities scheduled for 3 nights out of each week.) If my menu doesn’t lend itself to a loaf of bread on the night I’ve baked my loaves of bread, then I freeze the uncut bread, and then I have beautiful loaf of sourdough bread available for a special meal when guests come over.

Do you know how great the bragging rights are when you can tell someone you made that wonderful sourdough bread they are enjoying?

Huge! 😀

If you want to be ready to bake bread any day you like, you CAN omit refrigeration of your starter, and store the starter out on your counter, but if you choose to go that route, you must refresh it daily with flour and water. That will cause you to go through a tremendous amount of flour, pretty quickly. But it will give you more flexibility in terms of being able to start a loaf of bread at a moment’s notice. If you need to bake bread pretty often, because, for example,  you have a large family, storing your starter on the counter and feeding it daily might be your best bet.

I took this picture in the early days of learning to make sourdough bread, to show the type container I was using to grow the starter in, and the height in the jar that the starter reached before it was refreshed. Also note that the weight of the starter doesn’t change: I just didn’t have the lid on the jar in this picture .
Very important: please note that I was using the wrong type of flour, because I am pig-headed, and slow to learn.

 

See how much my starter grew overnight? Look how high it got in the jar. (Note that the weight didn’t change: it’s just that after I took the last picture, I added the jar lid.)

The Directions You Need to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter

 (Assuming you plan to refrigerate it when not in use)

How to Refresh and Maintain A Sourdough Starter
How to refresh and maintain a sourdough starter, with instructions so that you can keep it going as long as you'd like.
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Ingredients
  1. Sourdough starter
  2. Bottled or filtered water
  3. Unbleached, all purpose flour with 11 to 13% protein content
How to refresh your starter
  1. Begin this process in the evening, two days before you plan to begin the recipe to bake bread.
  2. Stir the starter well to recombine any liquid that may have gathered on the top. Measure out 1 c. (9 oz.) of starter, and discard remaining starter. (I dump mine down the sink. You also, however, have the option of giving what you would have discarded to a friend who is interested in trying sourdough baking.) Place measured starter in a glass bowl or container with at least 1 1/2 quart capacity. Stir in 1 c. (8 oz.) of bottled or filtered water, until combined. Then stir in 1 1/2 c. (7 1/2 oz.) flour, until evenly moistened. The mixture will be lumpy, like pancake batter. That's just fine. Cover with plastic wrap.
  3. Let stand at room temperature for 8 - 12 hours.
  4. Now repeat this process two more times. The first time will be the next morning; the second time will be the next evening. (For example, if you start refreshing your starter on Sunday evening, you will refresh it a second time on Monday morning, and the last time on Monday evening. You will be ready to USE the starter you have refreshed in a recipe on Tuesday morning.)
  5. Now that your starter is refreshed, you can use the amount specified in the bread recipe that you are baking. Return the unused portion of refreshed starter to the refrigerator for a week. At that point, you will need to give it another feeding.
Long term starter maintenance
  1. If you don't plan to bake for a while, you can store your starter, covered, in the refrigerator, even up to several weeks, and revive it the next time you'd like to bake, following the steps given here. It is best to feed it weekly, however, even if you don't plan to use it that week. Just stir it up, and follow the directions given for one feeding (discarding excess, and adding the prescribed amounts of flour and water). Leave it out for 4 - 6 hours to allow some bubbling to occur (that means the yeasties are doing their thing), and then return it to the refrigerator.
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
That Susan Williams http://www.thatsusanwilliams.com/

 

Please let me know if you have questions, or if anything I’ve said is unclear.
I recommend that you print out these instructions, and pin them to a Pinterest board, as well. Please feel free to share this on Facebook or Twitter, also.

How to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter for Making Sourdough Bread

How to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter for Making Sourdough Bread


Yum
All images and content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or simply link back to this post for the recipe. Thank you.
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