Let’s preface this post by saying I am by no means an expert when it comes to sourdough. I’m constantly learning from my mistakes and figuring out new ways to up my game.
However, I have been baking with the same starter since the spring of 2020, and am excited to finally take the time to share how I take care of my sourdough starter!
Before my sweet friend Emily shared her starter with me, I was absolutely terrified of sourdough. Isaac and I watched a bunch of videos about it, which only overwhelmed me even more. But in true Becca fashion, I just jumped straight in and decided the best way to learn was to just try and see how it goes.
Turns out it was a lot simpler than I thought, and I have absolutely loved using my starter to make some of the best bread we’ve ever eaten!
You’ll see me talk about my starter like it has feelings, and that’s because she does. Candace (what we named it) can be quite the character when she feels like it! We call her our sixth child (after the three humans, one dog and Phineas the Fern) and she is definitely emotional. ;)
I’ve tried a few different methods to care for my starter, and today I’m sharing the easiest one for people who 1. Forget to feed their starter regularly, and 2. Go through seasons of baking and not baking.
First off, let’s go over some important phrases:
1. Starter: this is what you add to your recipes when you’re baking! You need to have an active (alive, bubbly and happy) starter in order for your sourdough to behave properly.
2. Feeding the starter: since the yeast and bacteria in the starter are alive, you need to feed them! They eat the carbohydrates present in the flour you give it, which means if you don’t feed your starter, the bacteria and yeast will eventually die and your starter will no longer be active.
3. Discard: As you feed your starter, you use equal amounts of flour, water and existing starter. In order to not need an exponential amount of water and flour as the starter grows, you pour off most of the existing starter before feeding, which is called the discard.
4. Hooch: if your starter gets hungry, it will produce clear/brown liquid on top. It just means your starter is hungry! Just pour it off and feed your sourdough like normal.
Okay, so let’s get to it.
Before anything, you need a sourdough starter! You can either mooch some off a friend who has an active one, or buy some dehydrated starter (like this one!).
Once it’s active and ready you can begin using it in your baking! In order to maintain your starter and not need to buy/mooch more every time you want to bake, you need to know how to care for it… Which is where this post comes in!
The most important thing to do when it comes to taking care of your starter is to feed it. If it’s not fed, the starter will die and you’ll be left sourdough-less. And no one wants that to happen!
But then that sparks the question… how do I feed it?
Here’s what you need:
– Active starter
– Straight sided vessel (you’ll need a wide mouth quart sized and a wide mouth pint sized mason jar)
While you can keep your starter on the counter, it requires feeding once to twice a day, and let’s be honest… I forget about it and end up with a very hungry and angry starter.
So instead, I have a “mama starter” (100% a term I made up) in the fridge and only have starter on the counter when I’m planning on baking something. By putting it in the fridge, you slow down the fermentation process, and the yeast and bacteria eat up the flour a lot slower. This way I don’t have to feed it as often, and I’m not as scared that I’m going to kill off my baby.
How to make the “mama starter”
First you need a small jar (I use a pint sized).
Scoop 1/4 cup of the active starter into the jar, then add 1/4 cup flour and just a tablespoon of water.
Mix everything together to form a veeeery thick paste. Add some more water if needed to stir all the flour into the starter.
Put on the lid, then place it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake!
To maintain: every couple of weeks (basically when I bake), feed the mama some more flour and water to keep it happy. I also like to add some bubbly active starter to the jar when it seems to be a little extra hungry (aka when I see some hooch forming on top).
How to use the “mama starter”
A couple of days before you’re ready to bake, scoop a heaping spoonful (or two) into the quart sized jar.
Add a cup of flour and a cup of water to the jar and mix together. You want it to be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Add a little more flour if it’s too thin.
Loosely cover (I just use the lid for the jar but don’t screw it on) and keep on the counter.
You will probably see some bubbles and activity begin in the starter after a few hours. Wait about 4-6 hours before feeding again.
To feed, you first need to discard most of your starter. I keep about an inch high worth of starter in my jar (when I first started, I had it marked on my jar, but now I just eyeball it), then feed it a cup of flour and cup of water. Once again you want it to be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Add more flour if needed.
Now your starter should begin to produce more bubbles and “grow” within a couple of hours.
**If you want more accurate measurements, you can weigh your starter, flour and water. Make sure it’s a 1:1:1 ratio – for example, 20g starter, 20g flour and 20g water**
After about 6-8 hours, repeat the discard and feeding process.
Now you should see a much happier and bubblier starter!
Discard and feed once more.
When your starter is bubbly, has grown 2x its original height (this is where the straight sided vessel comes in handy) and a spoonful floats in water, you are ready to bake!
While I’m still not confident enough to create my own sourdough recipes, I’ve gathered a few go to recipes over the years that you should try! I also love adding a cup of sourdough to other baked good recipes (omitting some of the flour and liquid to make up for it) to add some extra moistness and good bacteria to them.
Our Kin and Home Artisan Bread (my fave)
Sourdough Sandwich Bread (THE BEST SANDWICH BREAD EVER!!)
Alexandra Cooks Artisan Bread (the first thing I ever made)
Sourdough English Muffins
Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
Focaccia Bread (yummy for pizza crusts too!)
Discard Blueberry Scones
Pizza Crust (I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s next on the list!)
Check out this comprehensive guide for more detailed information about all things sourdough!
Let me know if you have any sourdough questions in the comments! I’d love to share some of my (albeit limited) knowledge and experience with you :)