Sourdough Sunday- Keeping Your Starter Low Maintenance
Did you start a sourdough ferment during the shutdown when yeast was nearly impossible to find? I did too, and now, I'm pretty happy I did. I have tried sourdough in the past without much success, but with more experience and a few tips and tricks up my sleeve, I find it much easier to keep a starter going successfully. My husband thinks I am crazy, but I have even named my starter- meet Stella. (Those rays of light are naturally occurring, she is that amazing)
Initially I began with the King Arthur Sourdough Starter recipe here: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/sourdough-starter-recipe using whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour is important to start with because it holds a lot more wild yeast than white all purpose flour. You can try to start with other flours as well, but make sure they are minimally processed. The instructions are easy to follow and the pictures help illustrate what you should be seeing along the way.
When I had a starter before, I thought it needed to be fed daily and used all the time to keep it going (seriously, who has time for that besides bakers?) so naturally I got busy, forgot about it and it died. But it doesn't have to be used everyday (unless you want to) and they are much more forgiving than I thought. I store mine in the fridge and take it out when I want to use it. If I know it will be awhile before I am making something I feed it once every week or two, without using the discard, but there are so many things you can make with sourdough besides bread, you may find other ways to use it more often.
To maintain your starter you need to "Feed" it. By that, you need to discard a portion of your starter and add equal amounts of flour and water back in, and stir. That's it! But it can seem daunting and wasteful if you had to do this everyday. So storing your starter in the fridge helps reduce the work and the waste! Why do I need to discard?, you may be wondering. If you just kept feeding your starter without removing a portion of it, it would be huge (for one thing), and it would require a ton more flour each feeding as it gets bigger. So removing a portion keeps it to a manageable size.
I generally keep my calculations simple at 100 grams (unless a recipe calls for more). So I remove 100 grams of starter (use in a recipe or discard), then add 100g water and 100g flour. Stir and put back in fridge. Easy Peasy. (Fore reference, 100 grams is typically just under 3/4- 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water but it really varies so best to just weigh it).
The first picture below shows how it looks right out of the fridge. That liquid is hooch- just pour it off. It's ugly but does not mean your starter died, just that it is hungry. Second picture is the bubbles after Stella warms up on the counter for a bit, then I discard and feed. Third picture is a few hours after feeding. The volume nearly doubled so I know its good and active.
If you're starter is strong (super bubbly), you may get away with taking the starter out of the fridge and using it right away, but if it is young, plan to feed (and discard) for a couple of days before you make a loaf, to get it good and bubbly and make sure or add a tiny bit of regular yeast to your dough to make sure it rises. Don't worry, its not cheating- tons of bakers do it. If that's what stands between success and giving up, add the yeast!
If you're starter died and you want to try again, you can follow the steps on link above, or get a discard starter batch from a friend! I have dried starter packets I include with our storage jars as well! There are a few tools that I have found are important to have for continued success.
- Glass storage jar that is approx 1 quart (give or take) - no metal containers. I have Stella in a Weck tulip jar like here, and also use a flip lid canning jar like the Le Parfait jars here.
- Scale to measure discard, flour and water in grams. This is super important! All flours weigh different amounts so a measuring cup isn't accurate. I use my food scale for everything so it is definitely worth having one in the kitchen.
- Dutch oven with lid or a bread baker, for crusty loaves. Rectangle bread pan for making slicing bread.
- Bread proofing basket if you want to shape other than round (Banneton)
- Tea Towel or other light cloth
There are TONS of recipes out there for sourdough bread, and you can make it as easy or as complicated as you want. I prefer a hands off, easy sourdough bread, so typically just make a no-knead overnight loaf like this one here. I'll share a step by step of that in a new blog post next week!