Creating a sourdough starter is not a complicated process – you just mix flour and water together and wait – but then what? It is time to start the feeding and maintenance process. There are a few tips and tricks to help you maintain a long and healthy relationship with your starter.
Feeding sourdough starters
There are many schools of thought on how and what you should feed your starter. The truth is that there is no wrong answer and it is just a matter of preference. The starter is fed a ratio of the original ferment to water and flour.
I keep what is considered a fat starter. It is a forgiving and robust fermentation (it is called rose) with a medium to strong acidity. The ratio for mine is 1: 2: 3, which corresponds to one volume of starter, two volumes of water and three volumes of flour. I use a starter with room temperature, only slightly warm filtered (tap) water and unbleached all-purpose flour.
For a typical feeding, I mix 100 grams of starter, 200 grams of water and 300 grams of flour. I leave the ferment at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours (or until the volume has tripled) before I start it up. If I only bake the next day or after, I let them sit for 3-4 hours and then cool. When I'm ready to rock, I bring them out and let them come back to room temperature before baking (about an hour).
Another popular ratio is 1: 1: 1, which means that if you start with 100 grams of starter, you add 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour. This creates a ferment that is thinner (more like pancake batter), but it's also very versatile and easy to convert to other types of flour if you want.
If your starter is healthy, you should find that it is bubbly and fragrant and should double / triple the volume after a few hours.
Can you feed sourdough starters with others? Types of flour?
As mentioned earlier, I use all-purpose, unbleached flour, but you can use whatever you prefer. Whole wheat, barley, einkorn, spelled, rye and even rice flour work well and produce different taste profiles that can be transferred to your bread or other baked goods.
Avoid buckwheat, as it is actually not a grain, but a seed that is related to rhubarb. There are methods of making a gluten-free buckwheat starter that involve a more complicated fermentation process, but adding raw wheat doesn't work for your starter.
Are you currently having trouble finding flour in stores (in person and online)? It might be worth contacting a local bakery.
A special note about rye
Rye flour is a (not so) secret weapon for sourdough bakers! If your starter takes a long time to double, they may lack the microbial strength they need to do their baking work. I regularly replace about 10% of my AP flour when I feed rye flour. I think it charges my starter and adds a sweet and nutty taste.
What happens if you forget to feed your starter?
The general rule is not to let your starter run for more than two weeks without feeding, but we all know it happens.
If you come across a starter that you ignored for a little too long, you may be out of luck. Check the starter carefully: if mold or fluff grows on it, throw it away. If it has been sitting unlined for a while, you will likely see some gray liquid on the top. This is known as "Hooch", a naturally occurring alcohol that is part of the leaven fermentation process. Pour it off and discard the liquid. Feed the desired amount of the remaining starter and feed it more often than usual over the next few days (every 6 to 12 hours) to revive your old friend. Remember that the volume triples every time, so you don't have to start with a large amount of ferment.
For example, if you use a ratio of 1: 1: 1 for your feeding and 20 grams of starter feed, you have 60 grams after the first feeding, 180 after the second, 360 after the third, and so on. So don't despair if you start with a small amount. With a few feeds, your starter is back in action: bubbly, happy and ready for your next baking adventure.
Use of sourdough starter
There are almost endless variations of sourdough bread, but also your sourdough starter is good for many other baking projects! Here are just a handful to get you started:
Extra Spicy Sourdough Bread
This classic loaf has a mild taste for those who want to try some sourdough bread. Get the extra spicy sourdough bread recipe.
Sourdough starters make these pancakes fluffy and light – they will be a family favorite! Get the recipe for sourdough pancakes.
Pizza with sourdough pan
Rich and fragrant pumpkin sourdough focaccia is the perfect comfort food to accompany all your soups and stews. Get the pumpkin sourdough focaccia recipe.
Use this leaven dropper decadently for these flaky yeast cookies that are baked in a traditional cast iron pan. Get the recipe for sourdough cookies.
Soft sourdough pretzels
These chewy pretzels take some time (usually hands away), but it's worth the effort! Get the recipe for soft sourdough pretzels.
Sourdough Carrot Cake
This lavish, modern approach to carrot cake uses discarded starter and chai spices – it's even better if baked in advance, so perfect for a celebration. Get the recipe for sourdough carrot cake.
For more instructions on your sourdough trip, see Chowhound's community tips. See this article for more information. They are for educational and informational purposes only and are not intended for health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified healthcare provider if you have any questions about an illness or health goals.