How to Care for Your Sourdough Starter

Now that you’ve learned how to start a sourdough starter, the next step is to learn how to properly care for it.  When properly cared for, a sourdough starter will last you a lifetime!  As long as you take good care of your starter and don’t leave it on a high shelf on your wobbly pantry shelf…ahem…you should be set!

Caring for Your Sourdough Starter

If you have already successfully started your sourdough starter, then you will have no problem caring for your sourdough starter.  You will continue feeding it in the exact same way that you did when you were making the starter.  The only difference is that now you can use your starter to make lots of sourdough goodies to enjoy!

Caring for Your Starter

You’ve made your sourdough starter from scratch, and you’ve been discarding part of it and  feeding it every day for a week or so.  Once it has doubled in size for at least three consecutive feedings, you now have successfully made a sourdough starter. Congratulations! 

At this point in the sourdough process, I usually transfer my starter from a jar to a glass bowl.  It is easier for me to feed it and use it with the much wider opening of the bowl, and I just find it to be more convenient.

Example of a Sourdough Starter  

  • Once a day, remove some of your sourdough starter and then feed it with 3 parts flour to 2 parts water. 
    • For example:  You could feed your sourdough 3/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.  Or 3 cups flour and 2 cups water.
    • Multiply the amount of water that you feed your starter by 1.5  to determine how much flour to feed it.  (1/2 cup water x 1.5 = 3/4 cup flour) (2 cups water x 1.5 = 3 cups flour)
  • Do not feed your sourdough more than triple the amount of flour compared to what is in your current bowl of sourdough. 
    • For example:  If you have 1 cup of starter in your bowl, don’t feed it more than 3 cups of flour and 2 cups of water.   If you have 2 cups of starter in your bowl don’t feed it more than 6 cups of flour and 4 cups of water
    • You don’t have to feed your starter triple it’s amount in flour, but that should be the maximum that you would feed it.
    • How much you need for the recipe you want to make will determine the amount that you want to feed it.
  • After your starter is at least a month old, you may begin storing it in the refrigerator between uses.  Until then keep it at room temperature.
    • You don’t have to store it in the refrigerator in between uses once it is a month old, but that is an option. It will give you a break from feeding it everyday.
    • It can safely be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks.  To do this, simply place in a tightly covered bowl after you feed it and place it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 
    • To use it after it’s been in the refrigerator, simply remove from the refrigerator, feed it, and allow it to get bubbly again. 
    • When storing at room temperature, do not cover with an airtight lid.  You want oxygen to be able to get to your starter.  Plastic wrap or a towel with a plate over it are a good option for covering the starter.  These will both keep the bugs out, but allow air in.
  • Occasionally, transfer your starter to a new, clean container. 
    • I always prefer glass to store my sourdough starter in.
    • When you’re container starts to get crusty starter around the edges, it is time to change it!
    • I usually change my container about once a week, when I am keeping my starter at room temperature. 

Using Your Sourdough Starter

After you feed your starter fresh flour and water, it begins to eat the “food” that you just gave it.  Depending on your starter it can take anywhere from 6-12 hours (give or take) for it to reach it’s “peak”. It’s “peak” is when it is very bubbly and has about doubled in size.  Sometimes you will notice it has formed a “dome” when it is at it’s “peak”.

  • Anytime you are making bread or something that needs the rising power of the yeast in the sourdough, you will want to use the sourdough when it is at it’s “peak” stage
  • Other recipes such as Sourdough Biscuits or Sourdough Pancakes can be made after the peak stage has been reached.  For these type of “quick bread” recipes, you want to use the sourdough within 24 hours after it’s last feeding.
  • When adding your sourdough to a recipe, stir it down before measuring it.
  • After using some of your starter for your recipe, feed it immediately.

Any Other Sourdough Questions?

If you have any other sourdough questions at all, please feel free to ask in the comments or send me and email.  mindy (at) thepurposedheart (dot) com

I am going to write a Sourdough FAQ post and will include any questions that have been asked on previous posts as well as any more you might have!

This post has been shared with Monday Mania.

Comments

  1. Gayl says:

    Mindy,
    Thanks so much for all your help! I am really enjoying using my sourdough starter. One thing I did the night before last was to feed it without discarding any except for pouring off the liquid on top. That was before I read your post about always using or discarding before feeding it. I was wondering if that would ruin the whole thing,but I thought since I only did it that one time it would be okay. And it seemed to be fine when I made the pancakes this morning. I cannot believe how easy this is, and I have you to thank. :)

    • Mindy says:

      I’m so glad that you are enjoying your sourdough, Gayl. That makes me happy! :-)

      It definitely will not ruin your starter if you feed it without discarding some first. You should discard or use some before feeding it as a general rule, but there have been numerous times when I have fed mine without following that rule. Sourdough really is forgiving! :-)

  2. lisa says:

    I don’t follow the rule of always discarding/using when you feed it. This would probably make my starter healthier, but it’s still surviving. I keep a smaller amount and use a large mason jar to keep it in. I cover it by using a rubber band to secure a coffee filter. One thing I read is to always make sure you have a minimum of 1/4 cup starter left. Because I normally only have 1 to 2 cups of starter on the counter I do get down to this 1/4 cup many times, and then I spend a day or two building it back up with twice daily small feedings.

  3. Kelsey says:

    When you store your starter in the fridge, you still need to let oxygen get in, you do NOT want to cover it tightly. Unless you want it to explode in your fridge. The fermenting process is still happening in the fridge, just at a much slower rate. That’s why you’ll see hooch at the top if you leave it in there for a while. Just wanted to clarify! I just place a plastic mason jar lid on top and don’t screw it on. (now, after it has been in the fridge a few days and has basically eaten all of it’s food, then it would be safe to screw the lid on)

    • Mindy says:

      Yes, Kelsey, you don’t want to store your starter in an AIRTIGHT container for sure. I should probably re-word when I said “tightly covered bowl”. You do want it to be covered to keep refrigerator odors and other things out of it, but not an airtight container. When I store mine in the fridge I put it in a mason jar with a lid on it. I do screw my lid on and have never had any problems at all. This is not airtight and oxygen is still able to get in. However, just setting the lid on it like you do is definitely a great option as well!

  4. Elsie says:

    Does one prepare bread dough After the starter has reached its peak? Or will it “peak” in the course of the day while the dough awaits the oven?

    • Mindy says:

      Elsie, you want to make your bread dough when your SD starter is at it’s peak. Then after the dough is made it will rise like a normal yeast bread, but it will just take a longer amount of time. Hope this makes sense. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      • Elsie says:

        Thanks! I let the sourdough starter sit for much longer after its feeding, then mixed in the remaining flour and water for the dough, shaped it, and let it rise all night. It turns out awesome every time now! Thanks! I hope you enjoy the eggnog recipe– and great idea to mix pumpkin with eggnog. I’m going to try that.

  5. sheryll says:

    My starter is watery and has a strong I mean really strong smell that burns my nose when I sniff it I wonder how to thicken it. I have so many questions about sourdough hopefully it is okay to ask here.

  6. Jamie says:

    My mom referred me to your recipe for sourdough and it has been successful so far. I even left it for a couple of weeks in the fridge while on vacation and it survived. Woohoo! I am wondering if I diluted it too much when I revived it though? My bread came out beautifully when I baked it last night, tasty and moist, but what wasn’t eaten spoiled (greenish gray spots) in less than 24 hours. Do I need to start back at the throw half away process or is there some other reason it would have spoiled so quickly? I made pancakes a couple days ago and they were fine. The family snacked on them all day. What are your thoughts? :)

    • Mindy says:

      Jamie, I’m not sure why your bread would have spoiled so quickly. Normally sourdough bread lasts longer than regular bread so that is very odd that it did that. My only thought would be that maybe it didn’t cook quite long enough and it had too much moisture in it still? I’m not sure. I always store mine in the refrigerator also which helps it to last longer as well.

  7. Erika says:

    Hi ! Can you please answer a few questions ? Would a wooden spoon would be best to stir the starter ? Should I lightly coat the spoon with flour so the starter doesn’t stick to it? What’s a good size container for the starter?

  8. julie says:

    what is the difference between a sourdough starter that is flour based verse potato based?

    • Mindy says:

      I don’t have any experience with potato based starters, so I’m not really sure. Sorry I couldn’t be more of a help!

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