When your sourdough starter is ready, what should it look like and how do you know it’s ready?” are two of the most frequently asked questions I get.
As you embark on your sourdough journey, knowing when to bake with your starter is very crucial.
This detailed guide will help you know when your sourdough starter is ready for baking. It’s no use baking with sourdough starter if it doesn’t rise, right?
The purpose of this blog is to guide you through the signs that your sourdough starter is ready and when it is mature.
Is My Sourdough Starter Ready To Bake With?
After starting your sourdough starter, it will take at least 14 days for it to be ready. The bread will taste better if you wait 14 days rather than trying to bake it earlier.
It is common for people who bake with their starter before day 14 to have their bread fail to rise and the crumb to remain gummy and tight. You can look for some signs of readiness once your starter is 14 days old.
Several methods exist for determining whether your sourdough starter is ready to bake sourdough bread. Here are some things to look for.
1. Float Test
To check if your starter is ready, perform a float test. Add a small spoonful of starter to a glass of water. A starter that floats indicates that it is sufficiently active and ready for use.
The aroma of a mature and healthy sourdough starter will be pleasant and slightly tangy. You might smell hints of acidity and fermentation, but you shouldn’t smell anything offensive, such as a vinegar-like smell or foul odor.
There should be a light and airy texture to the starter. Starter should be fluffy and slightly stretchy when you scoop it up or take a small amount.
Your starter should double or triple in size after feeding, and bubbles should appear on the surface and sides.
Temperature, feeding schedule, and your starter’s specific characteristics all play a role in the readiness of your sourdough starter.
You will be able to tell when your starter is at its peak activity and ready to bake as you gain experience and become more familiar with its behavior.
Here Is How I Know When My Starter Is Ready
After every feeding, you’ll know the starter is ready if it consistently doubles in size (at least). It should take 6-8 hours for your starter to double if you feed 1:1:1 (equal parts of old starter, water, and flour).
It is still necessary to give your starter regular feedings even if it is consistently doubling. To strengthen your starter, increase the feeding ratios to 1:2:2 (1-part old starter, 2 parts water, 2 parts flour).
If you want to bake without increasing the feeding ratios, you could try that. Using a stronger starter means you can be more confident your bread will rise well.
As another piece of advice, be sure to freeze some or, preferably, dry some starter once it’s strong and ready.
You should also keep the most recent discard in the fridge until your next feeding. It is possible to rebuild your starter from the discard if anything happens to it (container breaks, baked accidentally, etc.).
Some Other Signs Of Ready Starter
The signs of a sourdough starter may appear as early as 14 days, but it might take 4 to 6 weeks for your starter to really be ready for baking. Sourdough starters display the following signs when they are ready:
- The consistency should be thick – similar to peanut butter on a warm day or pancake batter on a cold day. The consistency will be aerated and mousse-like when it doubles.
- Despite being stretchy and elastic, it will still pour easily. Ensure that it isn’t runny or watery.
- When you tip the jar on its side, you will see a honeycomb-like network of bubbles.
- When viewed from the side of the jar, the starter appears sponge-like. The jar will feel light when the starter peaks and you will see a lot of bubbles;
- When it peaks, its surface has a domed shape;
- When it peaks, bubbles break on the top;
- This smells quite lovely and yeasty – if it smells like acetone, parmesan cheese, stinky socks, or anything unpleasant, keep eating it!
- When your starter is ready, it should double consistently within 4-6 hours after feeding (this is the most important sign);
There is no way you can build a sourdough starter within five or seven days. During this time, your starter may double, but the good bacteria will still be trying to dominate.
During this time, it’s not a good idea to use your starter. Even the discard cannot be used. You need to toss it completely until at least day 7.
How Can I Give My Sourdough Starter A Boost?
Here are a few methods you can try to boost the activity of your sourdough starter:
Your feeding routine should be consistent and follow a regular schedule. It establishes an environment conducive to the growth of the microbial population in your starter.
The Pineapple Juice Method
The pineapple juice method is effective for some bakers in boosting their starter. Make your feeding more nutritious by substituting pineapple juice for some of the water.
Incorporate Whole Grains
Include whole grain flour in your feeding routine, such as whole wheat or rye. There is a higher level of natural yeasts and bacteria in whole grain flour.
Which can contribute to an increased fermentation activity and a more complex flavor profile.
To feed my sourdough starter, I mix 75% all-purpose flour with 25% whole wheat flour.
Use Warmer Temperatures
A warm environment is ideal for sourdough fermentation. The top of a fridge or a countertop with a gentle heat source can help you create a warmer spot for your starter if your kitchen is cooler. Make sure it isn’t too hot so that the starter isn’t damaged.
Adjust Feeding Ratios
Consider using a 1:2:2 ratio of starter:flour:water to feed your starter more food between feeds if you are currently using a 1:1:1 ratio.
To feed my starter, I typically use a 1:4:4 ratio, which allows the starter to rise slowly for 12 hours. My starter can be fed before bed and my dough can be mixed in the morning by using this ratio.
The ratio of 1:1:1 will speed up the rising process of my starter if I want to make dough within a few hours of feeding it.
Adjust Feeding Frequency
Feed more frequently. Feed twice a day, approximately every 12 hours, rather than once a day.
Maturity of A Sourdough Starter
In general, sourdough starters can be used for baking from around 14 days – provided they double consistently after feeding – however, it will not fully develop and mature over time.
To really see your starter come to life, you need to wait at least three to four months. That’s right. You really have to be patient with sourdough!
There are hundreds of beneficial bacteria and yeast colonies embedded in your sourdough starter due to its environment.
Adapting to changes in temperature and the physical environment as well as changes in the flour and water you feed them is part of their natural growth process.
Taking the time to let them develop and flourish will result in amazing bread! When your sourdough starter matures, you will really notice a difference.
Within a few hours after feeding, it will smell amazing and double in size. Your loaves will have the best crumb – worth your time and effort!
Advice From A Hobby Baker
The best advice I can give you is not to put your sourdough starter in the fridge until it has matured.
Your starter goes to sleep when you put it in the fridge. In the short run, this is great as it saves you from constantly feeding it – but if the plant isn’t mature, you are basically stunting its development.
The development of the plant will be much slower if it is kept in the fridge and only fed once a week (or even less).
Also, you have to feed sourdough starter first, it can’t be used straight out of the fridge!
The one I use doesn’t go in the fridge. There is a backup jar in there just in case something goes wrong.
But I have a faithful starter on the counter in my kitchen.
Every single day, I feed it. Due to my daily baking, I usually feed it twice a day.
In spite of this, it is very resilient. If I miss a few days of feeding (for instance, when one of my kids is ill or life gets hectic), it stays at room temperature just fine.
After neglecting it for a few days, I just discard and feed it as usual, and it’s normally back to normal within a day.
Sourdough Starter Float Test
The float test has generated a lot of controversy. There is a lot of criticism about its accuracy. There are others who swear by it.
At the stage where your starter is, it may be a good pledge.
There is one caveat, however. For the float test to work, your starter must be at its peak.
At the peak of its performance, the starter has the most gas. As it rises or deflates, it will not have enough gas and, as a result, won’t float.
How To Perform The Float Test:
Fill a glass with water. Remove a small spoonful of your starter from the jar without stirring it first. Add the starter to the glass of water.
You can bake with it if it floats. It’s not ready if it sinks.
In all honesty, the float test isn’t necessary. It is much better to use the readiness signs listed above. Their accuracy is much higher.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Necessary To Triple My Sourdough Starter Before Using It?
It’s not necessary to triple your starter before you use it – it only needs to double. There are some people who like to see their sourdough starter triple, but it isn’t necessary – simply doubling will do.
Can You Make A Sourdough Starter From Scratch Or Should You Buy One?
Decisions like this are influenced by a variety of factors. Making a starter from scratch is not that hard, and it’s a great way to get into the sourdough baking process.
However, if you don’t want to take the time to make your own, you can always buy a ready-made starter from a bakery or specialty store.
Why Do Some Recipes Say That My Sourdough Starter Will Be Ready In Just 5 Days?
There is no such thing as a sourdough starter that’s ready to use in just five days. Rehydrating mature sourdough starters that have been previously dried is fine.
The time it will take to get started from scratch will be much longer than just five days. Typically, it takes at least 14 days for sourdough starters to become viable.
As the good bacteria and yeast establish themselves as the dominant colonies, a sourdough starter will go through many stages in the first week.
Do You Stir Sourdough Starter Before Using?
Sourdough starter doesn’t need to be stirred before use. The weight of your sourdough starter will remain the same whether you stir it or not since ingredients are measured in grams.
Using weight instead of volume is another reason why you should never measure sourdough ingredients by volume.
How Long Before Baking Should You Feed Your Sourdough Starter?
The ideal amount of time for your starter to peak (double) is 4 to 6 hours.
If you increase or decrease the ratio at which you feed your starter, you can manipulate the time it takes to peak. By doing this, you will be able to fit sourdough into your lifestyle.
It is important to keep in mind that every sourdough starter is unique, and it may respond to various methods differently.
To ensure that these techniques are effective, you must observe and adapt them according to the specific needs and behaviors of your starter.
It is important to experiment and fine-tune your approach as you try to boost the activity of your sourdough starter.