Its been over a year since I first received a sourdough starter. Honestly, I had no idea that I would still be feeding it and using it over a year later! About 16 months so far, in fact. I feel like I’ve learned a lot in that time. I did a lot of things wrong and a lot of things right. Looking back, this is one piece of advice that I would give myself 16 months ago.
Just start with your starter. Worry about bread later.
I, like many, was a little over excited about making bread. I had couple super sour loaves that barely rose in the beginning as a result--as in totally inedible, not just less-than-beautiful. After those failures, I somewhat desperately took a step back and concentrated on just getting to know my starter and keeping it (and myself) happy. What I did instinctively ended up being a very wise decision. I got into a good rhythm with my starter and was sure that it was healthy and thriving…. And THEN I made bread with it.
Early on, this is what my starter looked like:
I kept an open cup of water with it so the chlorine would dissipate, which helped a little. But look at it--hardly any bubbles, and it didn't double--the rubber band marks where it was when I fed it. It rose, but didn't double and get bubbly. But since it rose, I was excited and tried making bread... which didn't work very well.
Eventually, I got my starter healthy and happy. This is what it looked like:
Notice the bubbles throughout, and the fact that it more than doubled--I was expecting this, and had the paper plate under it to catch the overflow. This starter is ready to rise bread--and I can testify that it does so very well.
I’ve read enough about starter keeping by now to know that there are about as many ways to keep a starter as there are starter keepers--a few principles remain the same across the board, but beyond that, you have to figure out what keeps you and your particular colony of yeast happy.
Here are just a few differences I’ve read about in starter-keeping:
The more I’ve read about sourdough online and elsewhere, the longer this list of differences has become. I am NOT making this list in order to overwhelm someone new to sourdough! I aim to be encouraging. I want to make it totally clear that there is no ONE right way to do this--there are many many right ways, and what works for you is what you should do--even if some amazing baker online says to do it differently.
If your starter is bubbling and doubling (or at least gets close), you’re doing it right. If it isn’t doubling yet, don’t try to make bread until it is.
If you're having a hard time, remember that flour is cheap! And the results are worth it. Let me tease you with a recent loaf...
So what works for me and my starter?
I feed my starter King Arthur brand white whole wheat flour and tap water. It does even better when I remember to leave the water out to let the chlorine dissipate, but I usually forget.
I use it a couple times a week (though not on any particular schedule), and feed it after each use.
I put my starter straight into the fridge after I’ve fed it.
I use my starter straight out of the fridge for most things I bake.
I usually have about 15-20 grams of starter left after baking, which I feed 50 grams each of water and flour. This gives me about 100 grams to bake with, and the remaining 15-20 grams to continue to keep and feed. With only two in the house to feed (for now ;-) this small amount works quite well.
This is what works for me and my starter and my schedule. But it's more than likely that something else will work better for you--you’re not me and you have a different life (I hope... If you didn’t that would be creepy ;-). Remember, you’re working with a batch of live organisms here--many people name their starter, as if it were a pet. Not a bad mindset to have. Figure out how your starter-pet fits into your life and schedule. Give yourself a week or two to do this BEFORE diving into the whole bread-making thing--because bread making gives you a whole new set of things to figure out, beyond just starter-keeping.
Though professionally I'm an Illustrator, I do a lot of other fun and interesting things in my life that I like to write about. This is where I'll put my posts about those things--recipes, projects, thoughts, and anything else going on in my life that is not specifically art related.