I made my own sourdough starter a couple of years ago, and it has developed this beautiful sour taste that makes a truly lovely bread. For my sourdough bread recipe, click here.
The picture above is what it looks like after it has been in the fridge for a a few weeks. A gray-ish serum separates from the rest of the starter and floats on top like a bit of dirty water. It does not look appetizing, but it is how it is supposed to look. When you take it out of the fridge, just stir that serum back into the starter and let it sit at room temperature to kind of wake it up again.
The picture above also shows that my mason jar has become pretty coated in traces of starter that stuck to the lip and the sides when I made bread in the past. This stuff is like cement. Wash all of your utensils as soon as you are finished with them because it will be very difficult to get the stuff off if you wait.
When my jars get as messy as in the first picture, I transfer my starter to a glass or a ceramic dish with a lid while I wash the jars.
Starters are naturally acidic so I don’t like to use metal for storage. It would take a while for it to do any damage to a metal container, but since it could react over time, I don’t want to risk a metallic flavor transfer.
I don’t use plastic because over time, plastic tends to get scuffed or dinged and I worry about not being able to get it thoroughly cleaned. Sourdough starter has good bacteria. I don’t want to provide little crevices for bad bacteria to grow.
Why, you may ask, am I showing you two starters and two newly cleaned jars? Because, I will answer, I have lost a starter before to bad bacteria. It was a huge loss. I now keep two in case I lose one. If that happens, I will use the remaining one to start another backup batch. I try to alternate my uses between the two so they are regularly fed and activated.
One went back into the fridge and the other was fed and activated to make my sourdough bread post.
Try to find jars like these that have measurements on the side. On one side it has milliliters and on the other side it has cups.
Why are my jars so big, you may ask? And I will answer that it is because I sometimes make multiple loaves of bread, so I feed and grow my starter through two or more cycles. When these little critters get fed, they like to expand. A lot. They need room to grow.
The process should be this
- take the starter out of the fridge and stir the serum back into the rest so that the starter has a consistent substance
- let it sit a room temperature for a while (I try not to go more than 6-8 hours, and it is usually closer to 4 hours)
- feed it with the ingredients above
- allow the culture to become active, which I gauge by size (I use mine after it has doubled in size after the feeding)
- add the active starter to your dough recipe
- seal the mason jar with the remaining starter and put back in the fridge until next time
How much to feed? Depends on how much starter you have in the jar. If I have 1/2 cup of starter, I add 1/2 cup of flour and less than half a cup of water. If I have a cup of starter, I add a cup of flour and less than a cup of water. You get the gist, right?
In the picture above, I had about 1/2 cup of starter, so even though I am picturing the flour in a a full measuring cup, I only used half.
Add the flour and water and stir. I try to work all of the dry flour through so that the starter has an even consistency, but that’s not a requirement. It’s ok if you have some lumps. But try to get it as even as possible.
Then cover it with the lid without the collar. You want it to be able to breathe a little bit, but you don’t want dust and other kitchen debris to fall into your your starter. You want to maintain a pretty clean environment when working with starter. Use only clean utensils.
Look at the active starter. It has more than doubled in size and has all these happy little bubbles. That’s what you are looking for.
Just remember that you need to feed it enough for your recipe plus some left over to go back in the fridge. You can’t use it all or you won’t have any for next time.
Happy sourdough baking!