Having recently given a friend some starter I wanted to point them to one of my blogs or tutorials so they could follow my guidance on feeding and maintaining it…then I realised I didn’t have one! So this blog will hopefully put that right.
In previous posts I have spoken in more general terms about starter maintenance, but here I want to give you an instruction manual that any beginner can follow to keep their starter healthy and active.
Whether you have created, received or bought a starter, you will need to establish a feeding routine to keep it alive and ticking along happily. There are many different schools of thought on this and lots of differing methods, but the simplest and probably the most common way is to keep your starter at room temperature and feed it daily.
I only keep one starter which I feed with a combination of wholemeal rye flour and strong white bread flour – one third to two thirds respectively. I like using rye, but a proportion of any whole grain flour will be fine, it’s the higher concentration of wild yeasts in the bran and outer layers of the berry that you are after. I find whole wheat flours lead to a thinner more liquid starter, which I don’t get with the rye, but the choice is yours.
I feed my starter at a ratio of 1:2:2. That means one part starter to two parts flour and 2 parts water. You can experiment with the ratios, predominantly to control the time it will take for the starter to peak and be ready to bake with. A ratio of 1:1:1 could be ready to go within two to three hours, whereas a 1:5:5 ratio might take six to eight hours to get fully active.
I like to use a glass Kilner jar as my storage vessel; they are strong, easy to clean and allow you to see how much the starter has risen (…or not!). I remove the rubber seal from the lid, but this is not necessary. In fact if you are someone who finds their starter dries out and forms a crust on top, then keeping the container well sealed might help. The starter is never going to create enough gas to blow the jar and as the fermentation process is anaerobic you do not need to let air in.
When you are just starting out it helps to know the empty weight of the container you are keeping your starter in. This can then be deducted from the total weight of your starter filled container at any time, to find out exactly how much starter you have. The amount of starter you keep is up to you, but I like to maintain around 150g as it keeps all the calculations simple and gives me the 80g of leaven I generally use per loaf. So this is the amount I will base my calculations below on.
So let’s get feeding:
Discard all but 30g of the starter. If your container weighs 450g empty for instance, then you want to discard as much as it takes to bring the total weight down to 480g (30g starter + 450g container).
Add 20g of wholemeal rye flour and 40g of strong white bread flour.
Add 60g of room temperature water.
Use a spatula to thoroughly mix the ingredients together into a thick batter. Make sure there are no clumps of dry flour and that the original starter is well distributed and incorporated throughout the mixture.
Use the spatula to scrape down the sides of the container and coax the mixture into a single neat mass.
Put the lid back on the container.
Mixed at this ratio and kept at around 20c, the leaven should have doubled and be ready to use within six to eight hours.
Now not everyone is going to be baking every day or even every week, if this sounds like you, then you might want to store your starter in the fridge. In its sealed container it can sit in the fridge quite happily for a week or two without being fed. Beyond that you might find that it ‘splits’ and develops a layer of hooch on top (a brown liquid), so to avoid that, I recommend refreshing it with a feed weekly.
This feed can done following the instructions above, but it might be worth using tepid water (i.e. 32c) to help wake up the dormant yeast and get the starter active again. Once fed, leave it at room temperature for a couple of hours and then return it to the fridge if you are not going to be using it. It’s important to let the starter become partially active again so the lactobacilli cultures can re-acidify it, preventing contamination by the non-sourdough organisms found in the ‘feeding’ flours, which could spoil your starter and cause it to mould. When I am using my starter from the fridge I like to get it out the day before I will be using it. This allows me enough time to give it a couple of feeds and ensure it is up to speed and fully active.
And that’s all there is to it. As one financially savvy Russian meerkat would say – Simples!