Let’s say you’ve got a sourdough starter on the counter. I bet you’ve made some awesome bread; maybe some sourdough waffles or cinnamon rolls.
The daily task of refreshing your tangy companion slowly becomes yet another chore.
Honestly, I have woken up at least once in the middle of the night worried about whether I had updated my starter before falling asleep.
I’ve learned to relax some after the same starter has been maintained for almost a decade, and countless loaves of sourdough bread have come out of my oven.
Throughout my research, I’ve learned that an established starter is incredibly resilient. The bacteria that live symbiotically with yeast in a sourdough culture want to continue living.
For your starter to remain healthy (and to make the most of its natural leavening), you should maintain it on a regular basis.
Baking is about making sourdough starter work for you, not the other way around, and that’s something every baker quickly learns.
The key is to get your starter on a regular refreshment schedule that revolves around your schedule, so that you can give it fresh flour and water whenever you have the time.
As well as accommodating almost any schedule (and even a little neglect), there are some techniques we can use to maintain your starter’s vitality.
My Sourdough Starter Is Ready But I Am Not Ready To Bake, What To Do?
If your sourdough starter is ready, but you’re not ready to bake yet, you have a few options to keep your starter healthy and active until you’re prepared to start baking:
Refrigerate the Starter
You can refrigerate your sourdough starter, which will slow down its activity. Before refrigerating, feed the starter as usual, then store it in an airtight container.
This will allow you to take a break from baking for a few days or even up to a week without having to worry about maintaining the starter.
Feed the Starter Regularly
If you don’t want to refrigerate the starter, you can keep it at room temperature and continue feeding it regularly, typically once a day or every 12 hours. Make sure to discard a portion of the starter before each feeding to prevent it from overflowing.
Adjust Feeding Schedule
If you can’t feed the starter daily, you can adjust the feeding schedule to every 2-3 days. Keep in mind that the longer you wait between feedings, the more sour your starter might become. Ensure the starter has enough food to sustain itself between feedings.
Freeze a Backup
If you anticipate an extended break from baking, consider freezing a small portion of your starter as a backup. This way, you can revive it when you’re ready to bake again.
Share or Gift Some Starter
If you have more starter than you can handle, consider sharing it with friends or family who are interested in baking their own sourdough. You can give them some of your mature starter, which they can use to begin their own baking adventures.
Remember that maintaining a sourdough starter requires regular attention, so choose an option that aligns with your schedule and baking plans.
By following these tips, you can keep your starter healthy and vibrant until you’re ready to bake with it.
Is There A Way To Adjust My Starter Refreshments To My Schedule?
Keeping your starter at the right temperature and the amount of starter left in the jar every refreshment are two powerful tools for adjusting a sourdough starter refreshment schedule.
Temperature Adjustment For The Starter
The fermentation process is generally more active at warmer temperatures, while the fermentation process is less active at cooler temperatures. Using colder water to refresh your starter will slow the fermentation process, giving you more time before you need to refresh it again.
The temperature in my kitchen fluctuates with the seasons, but I usually keep my starter in a warm spot (or in a proofing box).
I could use cold mixing water in the summer to offset the warmer temperature in my kitchen, preserving my 12-hour refreshment cycle during the sweltering heat of the year.
The mixing water can also be heated in the winter or kept in a warmer area of the kitchen to speed up fermentation.
The fermentation activity of a sourdough starter increases in the summer and slows down in the winter if you’ve kept it for at least a year.
This could become instinctual as time goes on, and you’ll notice that when it gets hot at the beginning of summer, you naturally reduce the amount of starter left in your jar at the next refreshment or use colder water to compensate for it.
Make Adjustments To The Starter Seed Amount
By varying how many seeds are left in the jar, I am able to keep my refreshments in sync with my work, family, and personal schedules.
The more starter I leave in the jar, the sooner I can serve refreshments (speeds things up). The less starter I leave in the jar, the later I can serve refreshments (slows things down).
To make my typical refreshment, I add 100 grams of fresh flour and 100 grams of water to 10 grams of ripe starter (discarding the rest).
After about 12 hours, I have a fully ripe starter that is broken down, loose, bubbly, and smells sour and pungent.
Since I bake almost every day, I refresh my starter twice a day. Every morning at 8:30 a.m. and every evening at 8:30 p.m., I refresh it so it’s ready at any given time.
To speed things up, I might shift that evening refreshment up to 6:00 p.m. if I wanted my starter to ripen earlier at night.
Is There A Way To Put A Pause On Everything With The Refrigerator?
A refrigerator is also very important to consider. Sometimes life gets in the way of baking, perhaps we travel or just do not have time to bake for the upcoming week.
Sourdough starters can be paused by refreshing them as usual and letting them sit on the counter for 1-2 hours before putting them in the refrigerator.
The starter should last for one or two weeks in there without any problems. To bake, take the starter out, refresh it, and it should return to its original form.
How Long Can My Starter Stay In The Fridge?
I wouldn’t want to keep it for more than a week without giving it a refresher. Two weeks is okay, and in extreme cases, I have gone up to four weeks.
To keep your sourdough starter healthy and robust, pay attention to how it progresses throughout the day, knowing that you can adjust the amount of seed or the temperature to keep it on the schedule you want.
Don’t worry if you forget to feed it one night before bed, it’ll be fine.
What’s The Longest I Can Go Without Refreshing My Starter?
I wouldn’t make your starter a habit of not feeding it for a couple of days—you might see a decrease in performance eventually. My starter will usually stay in the refrigerator until I’m ready to bake if I can’t refresh it once a day.
How Often Should I Refresh My Starter?
At least once a day, I refresh my starter to keep it working. I keep the flour, scale, and starter in the same spot in my kitchen to make the process simple.
The refreshment process takes me only five minutes in total. I discard, add flour and water, stir everything together, and go about my day.
What If I Forget To Refresh My Starter For A Whole Day?
It doesn’t need to be an issue; all you need to do is pick up your regular beverages, and you’ll be fine. This only becomes a problem if you neglect your starter for a prolonged period of time, especially during warmer weather.
What’s That Layer Of Liquid On Top Of My Starter?
Starters usually form this layer when they are not refreshed frequently. Although the clear liquid (sometimes referred to as “hooch”) is not harmful, it indicates you need to refresh sooner, or use one of the tools listed above to slow down fermentation, increasing the time between refreshments.