Maintaining my Starter

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First, let me explain how my thinking goes. I like to do extensive research, follow directions, proceed with trial and error and then go crazy with my own inventions which of course greatly improves the original. I know some will think I’m full of myself but let me explain. These pages will reflect all of the above with the end result being what I believe is a great product for me. I encourage you to follow my steps or branch out as you deem best for you. There are only a few absolutes when dealing with sourdough. Extreme heat will kill your starter. Leaving your starter out on the counter-top for weeks without feeding it will kill it. Using dirty utensils can introduce bad bacteria and not cleaning starter from used utensils right away will allow starter to get rock hard and near impossible to get off your utensils.

Otherwise, get some experience and you can go crazy with me and discover all kinds of variations on making sourdough. There is no right way or wrong way to this so long as you keep in mind the above absolutes. My good friend that got me started with sourdough never measures and uses tried and true methods he has gained over quite a few years. I prefer to weigh all the ingredients precisely and proceed with exact step by step procedures in order to insure I haven’t forgot something and for consistency. Therefore, I’ve laid out my step by step process in exacting detail for maintaining healthy, aggressive sourdough starter. Again, this works for me. You may discover your own way of doing things and that’s just fine. If you are a total novice then give my methods a try.

Feeding your starter

If you got your starter from a web site it will need to be woken up. That procedure will be described by the company so follow their directions completely and thoroughly. Taking shortcuts here will almost always end in tears so be thorough.

If you are lucky enough to have scored fresh sourdough starter from a friend then you are closer to making that wonderful first loaf. Follow these steps;

  1. Inspect the starter. It should smell yeasty. If you’ve never smelled yeast, get a friend who has to help with the smell test. Another comparison is it can smell like beer. Most starters are white to off white. Wheat or rye starters are pretty dark. If it smells awful or is discolored throw it away and start again.

  2. starter-w-hooch
    Starter with Hooch

    If your starter has a layer of dark brown liquid on top you’re in luck. This layer is called “hooch” and is the result of the fermentation process. It is not safe to drink but you can stir it down into the starter or simply pour it off. The “hooch” does provide more sourness so if you want sour, stir it down. The starter must still pass the smell test above.

  3. You are now ready for its first feeding. If it was refrigerated, let it come up to room temperature. I can’t stress enough the necessity of clean hands and utensils. I also highly recommend using a scale to weigh out your ingredients instead of measuring. Old timers can measure out accurately, newbies not so much. Feeding is quite simple. 1 part of sourdough starter to 1 part of water to 1 part of flour by weight. Measuring requires different amounts and is not as accurate.

    1. Start with 50 grams of starter to 50 grams of water. Stir these together until the starter is pretty liquid. Then add 50 grams of flour and stir everything together. It should be thick enough to pass for a stiff glue. Depending on how active your starter is it will grow in size due to the gas being created. My starter is so active it will triple in size on a warm day. Plan your vessel for this growth. This is where you will start to learn about how active your starter is.

    2. There are different formulas which make for different types of starter but I suggest you start here and work your way up to hydration and baker percentages. (We will cover this later.)

    3. Use purified water at room temperature or slightly warm.

  1. Place your fed starter in a warm spot in your kitchen. Not near the stove or on a window sill that gets sun. (Personal experience here.) The top of your refrigerator is a good spot. A good average is around 70 degrees but starters can survive short durations up to 85 degrees. The colder it is, the longer it will take so patience is required on cold days. Cover the container with cling wrap or a loose covered lid. A tight fitting lid will trap all the gases resulting in an explosion of starter. (Again, personal experience here. Not dangerous, just real messy.)

  2. Depending on how active your starter is to begin with, you might need to feed it again after about 12 hours. If after 12 hours it just lays there and hasn’t produced any bubbles then feed it again. If it still doesn’t respond with a second feeding you can try a third feeding and maybe it will come “alive”. If it still doesn’t revive you will need to get a better batch of starter.

  3. Each feeding should only weigh 50 grams to begin with. As you gain experience you can feed more. Throw the excess into your compost bin or save in a separate glass jar for use with unfed starter recipes. (More on this later!)

  4. Troubleshooting:

    1. Room temperature too hot or too cold. Shoot for a constant 70 degrees.

    2. Not following suppliers directions.

    3. You were given a bad or fake batch of starter.

  5. Once you have active happy starter you are ready to bake something. If however, you find yourself unable to commit to making amazing pretzels or waffles immediately, then simply put your starter in a clean glass jar and refrigerate for a week or two. I’ve experimented by leaving my starter untended for a month in the fridge and it came back with only a few feedings. If you are ready to jump right in and start baking stuff, then feed your starter every 12 hours and leave it out on your counter top remembering to keep it at a constant 70 degrees.

WARNING! Resist the urge to keep feeding your starter without making something. Think about Fantasia and Micky doubling and tripling the brooms. (If you haven’t seen this classic, check it out.) I start with 50 grams which is just a few spoonfuls. After the first feeding I have 150 grams. Feed this amount and you end up with 450 grams! Most recipes use anywhere from 100 grams to 200 grams so you will need to plan accordingly. There are recipes using unfed starter right out of the fridge but if you aren’t careful your starter will take over your fridge! (I once had three jars in my fridge because I couldn’t bring myself to throw any out and we can eat only so many waffles per day.)

I would also suggest you keep around 50 grams of original starter while you figure out how to feed the rest of your starter. I call this jar “Mother” and keep it deep in my refrigerator and feed her every two weeks that way if something goes sideways while I’m experimenting, I can always start again with “Mother”.

Make it Happy, Make it Sour!

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