How to look after your starter

Once your starter is alive and active it only needs to be fed either when you need it, or once a fortnight to keep it ticking over.

Store you starter in the fridge; if you’re not going to use it for a while, take it out of the fridge every other week, let it come up to room temperature, discard two tablespoons full of starter, then feed it with 30g of strong white flour + 30g of water. Give it a really good stir, let it sit out for 2-4 hours to become active and bubbly, cover, and put it back into the fridge until the next week.

If you got your starter out of the fridge thinking you were going to have time to make some dough up but it turns out you haven’t, just put it untouched back in the fridge. Unless it been a 7-10 days since you used it and it needs feeding, then do as above.

Your starter stays happily dormant in the fridge in between uses. You’ll see just how magic it is when you take it out of the fridge and it looks sludgy and dull, and then it comes up to room temperature and you feed it and it bounces back.

My Star, above, for the fridge after a few days lying dormant 

Above, after feeding and leaving for 2-3 hours, she’s all bubbly an active and ready to go, as this clip shows:

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It truly is hypnotic, you can see why people fall in love with sourdough, and why some people get a bit obsessive about their starters.

As time goes on, you will get a feel for your starter and how strong it is. You will realise that if you forget to feed it for a couple of weeks, it can still be nurtured back to life. If you’re going to be away for many weeks or months, you can feed it up, get it bubbly and active, and dry it out on parchment paper and store it in a jar until you’re ready to reactivate it.

And the most important part of keeping a starter: give it a name! Mine is called Star.

What you need to know about your starter…

There is a short window of time when your starter is as its peak and ready to use. It should be a lovely glutinous consistency, with a thickness like a thick mini pancake batter, and full of bubbles as you stir it. If it has gone past this point it will be flat and lifeless which doesn’t mean it’s dead, it just means it needs to be fed to bring it back up to its optimum strength.

In between feeds, whilst your starter is in the fridge, it becomes dormant and sometimes it will look like it’s separated, with a layer of murky liquid on the top often called the ‘hooch’. This is absolutely normal. Just stir it all back together again and use the starter as required.

Only ever keep about 100g of starter. If you try and keep more it will become sluggish. If you’ve got more happy bubbly starter than you need on that day, you can make another loaf, use it in other recipes, dry it out and gift it someone else, or merely discard it.

What is ‘discard’?

When you read about sourdough and starters, you will see a lot of discussion about starter ‘discard’; this is the name given to the excess of starter that is generated when making a starter, or from the process of feeding it. It’s basically means the extra, and if you do generate more than you need, there are lots of recipes for using it in different ways, including some on my blog.

I never have any discard because I keep a base amount of starter that is sufficient to feed it when I need it and I know exactly how much to feed it for my uses, so I  ever end up with too much. Sometimes I feed her more than others to be able make more loaves at once or use starter to make something else, like flatbreads or pancakes, but I only ever keep that 100g or so. Which is also what my guide for reviving my dried starter is based on, so that you always end up back at the same amount after feeding and using.

When you want to bake a loaf…

Take your starter from the fridge and let it come up to room temperature. Feed it with 30g of strong white flour + 30g of water, stir it well, and allow it to become fully active and ready to use, this can take 2-4 hours. If you feel that the mix feels a bit thin, add a tablespoon more of flour.