How to maintain a Sourdough Starter

Suddenly You might be the proud owner of a Sourdough starter.
CONGRATS!!! But how do you keep it alive?

This is my “Sally” from San Fransisco

I noticed that many people do not really know how to maintain a sourdough starter. I have been thinking about it myself and had some experiences with it. So i thought i’d like to share it with you.

Since 2 months i have sourdough starters, that’s not a long time.....but it’s long enough to learn more and more about this natural yeast and how it reacts on temperatures and invironment.
The best way to start a sourdough is to have warm temperatures, so the yeast can go wild. The warmer the yeast, the more active it will become. 
If you put it in the fridge, the yeast will slow down activity and go on hold. That is good when it’s really hot, but make sure you get it out of the fridge again and feed it before you are going to make a leaven.

* Learn to watch your yeast......see how it reacts. Treat it like a pet. Feed it regulary (that means at least every 24 hours) if you keep it outside the fridge.

* If you keep it in the fridge >> Watch it every day. see how it rises and falls down again. If it starts to smell really sour and becomes liquid and looking half dead, then it’s really time to feed it. Give it a bit of air every day, so it can breath. In the meanwhile you can smell the sourdough and notice changes. Depending on the temperature of your fridge you can keep it from a week to 2 weeks without feeding.

Don’t wait till there is a brown liquid on top. you could still use it if you throw away the liquid and discard all except for 2 tablespoons and feed as usual.

Now you hear “discard”?

Well yes, if you are new to feeding yeasts, and when you don’t bake every day, the yeast will grow and grow when you feed it, untill you have a huge mass which will not be able to get enough food anymore. The mass would be too large to feed it. That’s why you take a small amount of the yeast (starter) and feed it with new flour and water. it’ becomes the new starter again and will go active and rise again. It’s a circle of feeding, rising, dropping. When you bake more often, part of the yeast will always be used and you will not be forced to throw some out.

The ratio i use is  : Approx 35 to 40 gr of starter, leave the rest aside 
                                : 100 gr of bottled water
                                : 100 gr of flour of your choice

Mix it well with a spoon, till no dry lumps are in it anymore. Put the lid on, but not too tight >> Air is important for the yeast. it will feed with the flour and air. This is The normal ratio of 100% hydratation.

You can make your starter thicker, to have a sturdy starter. 
Then add 125 gr of flour instead of 100gr. This is interesting to do with a Rye starter, since the flour acts faster and is ready in approx 3 to 4 hours.
I always clean my bowl before every feeding. i think it’s important to have a clean environment and i always 'only' use water to clean it. No products!
This way i never get mould or so......

So i told you to leave the rest what?

You can use discarded starter in many ways. Like in pancake mix, cakes, waffles or you make a sourdough powder. Never heard of this? Well now you have :-)

I use my discarded starter to dry it out in the oven, then mix it with a food processor and sift it into a bowl. That smell of dried sourdough starter is heavenly and can also be used as extra taste on top of your bread just before baking or with muesli / granola for breakfast.

How to dry your sourdough starter

1. Take a baking tray, do not line it. Put some sourdough left over on it and flatten it evenly. I use a cake server to do this. Make sure it’s not spread out too thick, or you will not have fine powder after the milling / mixing. 

2. Then turn on your oven on approx 180 degrees to 200 degrees Celsius. 

3. Slide the backing tray in and let it bake for approx 25 minutes. You will see the starter coming together nicely and come off the tray. It will also start to brown. 

4. Once ready, get the baking tray out of the oven and let it cool completely.
When cooled down, break it apart with your hands and put it in your foodprocessor. Mill (mix) it and then use a sifter to sift out the large pieces into the bowl.
Et voila..... the smell of heaven :D

Now you have “Fleur De levain” or also called “Sourdough powder”.

One more thing : 

if you notice your started has a strange smell, brown layer on top, smelling really sour, or has a paint smell. Don’t panic.
It means you must take better care of it. Watch it, smell it. Place it cooler or warmer. Feed it more often. You expect your starter to give you amazing bread, so make sure your starter is happy then.
Don’t throw it away!!! 
Feed it, or put it in the fridge if it is too hot inside. Discard the upper layer and keep the rest.
I had to put mine in the fridge for the last 2 days, since they started to smell really sour and color brown. it was simply to hot inside. Now i see they are coming alive again. Happy me!

When it’s too cold to make your starter ready for a leaven, then place it on a warmer spot.....Sometimes i turn on the oven on 50 degrees for 45 seconds. Measure your oven with a thermometer and you will get around 24 to 25 degrees.
Your starter will get active and bubble up. Keep an eye on it, it will rise and bubble up.
I use the same trick to activate my leaven :-)

>>> TIP <<<  

* In summer i use cool water for feeding my starters, however not from the fridge. just around 18°c.

* In colder temperatures i warm up the bottled water till 26 degrees Celsius and feed my starter with it. 

When is your starter ready to use?

Well, it’s easy >> Look at your starter first. Does it bubble up? At least doubled in size? 
Take a coffee cup and fill with lukewarm water. Take a little bit of your bubbly rising starter and slide it into the cup. If it floats, then congrats! Your starter is ready for the following step.
If it does not float in the water, then wait for another hour or so and try again.

So you see, you have to work together. it’s a real teamwork and so much fun to do.
it will give you amazing results for sure!

And last but not least : Make sure you have a Back up starter. You never know what happens.
I have seen pictures of people who dropped the glass bowl of starter. Then you're screwed!

Rye starter (Still needs to get a name :-)

My “Sally"

My starters :)

* Woodwell sourdough starter is made by me and i use water from a well in the forest to feed it.
* Sally sourdough starter is a survivor of the Parisian Bakery in San Francisco 
that closed it's doors in 2005. The starter is pretty’s established in 1856!
* My Rye starter comes from a bakery in Mechelen and is approx 4 to 5 years old.

I hope you liked this post.
If you have any more questions or ideas, do not hesitate to contact me.