In your hand your are holding a small jar of starter. Before you begin to panic, let me tell you how easy it is to keep a starter alive! All you need is flour and water and it will reward you well.
Sourdough starter is very resilient. It just needs food now and then. It can even live in your fridge for weeks/months at a time without being fed. If you have received a small jar out of the 1800+ jars I have shipped, let me tell you how to care for it.
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Utensils and Flours for Feeding Your Starter.
Here are the items I use when feeding my starter. My flour of choice is King Arthur Brand. This brand is dedicated to high quality and I love it. My starter does the best when I feed it strictly this brand of flour. King Arthur flours are never bleached, no bromate, no artificial preservatives of any kind, and certified non-GMO.
Feeding your starter! The instructions below are for the mature starter I send along with my cookbook, Around the Family Table, and the starter I gift people.
Water–Do not use chlorinated city water to feed your starter. I have used untreated well water (from 2 different wells) and mine does great. If you have city water, I highly recommend buying spring water to use with your starter.
Starter Container: I use glass measuring cup/bowls simply because it is easy to see at a glance how much starter I have and how much to feed it. I will also use Tupperware Mix-n-Fix bowl when I am doing a big baking day. It is not recommended to use metal for a storing the starter. If you stir your starter using a metal spoon it will not hurt it but do not store starter in metal.
1st feed--In your small jar is approximately 1 tablespoon starter. Remove the starter and place it in a larger container. Feed it 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon water, mixing it like you would pancake batter. Let it set uncovered on your kitchen counter for 12 hours. You can lay a cover over the top but do not have a sealed lid. You should see a few bubbles in the starter after a few hours. Below you will see a video showing you how I feed my starter. Be sure to watch all the way unto the end to see the 3 jars of starter side by side.
2nd feed–– Stir your starter. You should have approximately 1/4 cup starter. Feed your starter 1/4 cup flour and 3 tablespoons water. Stir it well to combine the water, flour, and starter well. A few hours after this feeding it will be very bubbly and should have doubled in size. If you do not want to bake with your starter in the next day of two, put it in a quart jar with a tight lid and stick it in the fridge.
3rd feed–Stir your starter. It will be approximately 3/4 cup. Feed it 3/4 cup flour and 2/3 cup water. Stir it well to combine the water, flour, and starter well. After this feeding you should have a little over 2 cups of starter and you can bake with it!!
Feeding Ratio–always remember this ratio when feeding your starter. 1 part starter 1 part flour and 2/3 part water. This means if you have 1 cup starter you will feed it 1 cup flour and 2/3 cup water. So if you have 4 cups starter you will feed it 4 cups flour and 3 cups water. The reason for using this ratio is that you want to have enough food for the bacteria to eat without starving. If your starter is fed correctly it will have a sweet yeasty smell. If it has an extremely sour smell that will tell you if is starving and the bacteria is dying off.
How much starter should I start feeding to bake with? I start with 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup starter because after I feed it 3 times using the above ratio I have plenty to make bread. If you want to do a big baking day with multiple recipes start with 1 cup. If you start with 2 cups starter and feed it 3 times you will end up with 2 gallons starter. Feed a few more times and you will have a bathtub full!!! Start with a small amount of starter when feeding as it keeps the amount manageable.
Can I feed my starter as soon as I get it out of the fridge? yes, remove your starter from the fridge and feed it right away. It may look like it is not doing anything the first 2-3 hours but let it set in a warm place and it will.
How often can I feed my starter in a day? When I want to bake I feed my starter 3 times the day before my scheduled baking day. 1st feed–in the morning, 2nd feed lunchtime, 3rd feed just before I go to bed. These feeds do not have to be at exactly the same time but 3 feeds starting at 7am and the last feed at 9pm. This will give you a super active starter and give you a successful baking day!!! If you work away from home you can feed your starter in the evening, the next morning, and evening again. It will be ready to bake with the following morning.
How long do I wait after I feed it until I can bake with it? I have experimented with using my starter 4, 5, 6 hours, and overnight. I would recommend waiting at least 6 hours from the time you feed it until you mix bread dough. My starter is fed before I go to bed and I will mix the dough the next morning which is usually 10-11 hours later. That is what works the best for me.
How do I know if my starter will bake nice bread? If your starter rise and falls in a few hours after feeding it so will your bread dough. Your starter should rise and hold its peak for at least 7 hours after feeding. A well fed starter can hold its peak for 16 hours after it has been fed.
What do I do with the starter that is left after I measure out for my recipe? If I have any starter left in the container after I mixed my sourdough items; I dump it in my starter container in the fridge. You can keep adding to the same container. This is called discard starter and can be used without feeding to make pancakes, waffles, etc. I remove starter from this container to feed when I want to bake again. I will add more about discard starter further in this post.
Measuring your starter when mixing your recipe.
How do I measure my starter? Your starter should be bubble and poofed up like this photo. Stir it well to deflate it. Then I spray my measuring cup with just a bit of olive oil so the starter does not stick to the cup. If your starter is thick like mine you can scoop it up with a large spoon.
Storing your Starter!
If you are not planning to bake for a while when you receive your starter, feed it twice and then put it in the fridge. There is no need to let it ferment on the counter after you feed it. When you feed the starter and put it directly the fridge it will take longer to eat through its food. The starter can remain in the fridge for a few weeks. I have already had a starter in my fridge for 6 months without feeding. I don’t recommended letting your starter go that long without feeding but I did as an experiment.
What do I cover it with? When I store starter in the fridge I put it in a glass jar with a tight screw on lid. The lid will prevent it from absorbing any smells in the fridge.
How long can I store my starter? I have stored a mature starter in the fridge for 3-6 months without feeding. I removed the starter, poured off the hooch, and fed it three times. It made wonderful bread. It is not recommended to keep a young starter more than a few weeks in the fridge without feeding. There is a greater chance that it will starve and die. A young starter is one that has been started with flour and water and is less 3 months old. The starter you receive from me is at over 7 years old.
Drying Starter–If you want to keep starter as a bake-up, air dry it. Spread a thin layer in parchment paper. Allow it to air dry for a few days. DO NOT add heat as that will kill it. I store the dried flakes in a glass jar in a dark cool place. OR after you empty your sourdough starter container, make sure you let starter on the edges, and let it set on the counter to air dry.
What is Discard Starter?
What is discard starter? After you have feed your starter to mix your bread dough—you will have some left. I put the this remaining starter in a glass quart jar and store in my fridge. It is called discard starter. The next time I want to bake, I remove some of the starter and feed it. If I have any starter left over after I have mixed my sourdough items I put it into this jar. You can keep adding starter to your discard jar without feeding it for weeks.
Can I use this starter without feeding it? If you want to make pancakes, waffles, crackers, noodles, ect or any recipe that takes an additional leavening agent like baking powder/soda, you can use the starter from this jar without feeding it. This starter can also be called unfed starter.
Do I have to throw starter away? I do not dispose or throw away any starter. I keep my starter in the fridge and only feed it when I want to bake with it.
You will find many more recipes, troubleshooting tips, ect in the spiral bound 600+ page Around the Family Table Cookbook. All recipes are sugar-free and label with the correct fuel. Books can be purchased using this link. You can purchased a book with sourdough starter or without. Buy It Now.