Half a century ago, I used to be kind of fanatic about sourdough. I baked bread at least weekly, and had several strains of starter going at once (a couple of treasured favorites, plus creating a new one hoping for an interesting, new taste). Those days are long gone, but in the months since covid lockdown I’ve gone back to baking my own bread and recently (after months of intention) got a new sourdough starter. I’m a lot busier these days, and I share a kitchen and crowded refrigerator with others, so I’ve been toying with ideas for keeping the starter going without having my housemates ask about all the bubbly, fragrant jars floating around the kitchen.

The first problem is that I can’t really bake as much as I used to. Even though I still get a lot of exercise, I’ve found that too much bread consumption enhances my waistline. Who could have known? Okay, sure, I could bake a loaf of bread and not eat a slice while it’s still hot. I’ve actually done that, perhaps dozens of times. Dozens. But the truth is that there is always a high likelihood that I’ll want to eat a slice, probably with Irish butter, moments after a loaf comes out of the oven. It’s also a tragedy to let good bread go bad and have to be tossed. So, at most, I’ll probably be baking a loaf only every two weeks or so. That’s a bit too long to just leave the starter bubbling on the shelf. So here’s what I’m doing now, and I’ll come back and update this as I modify my procedure.

The goal is to not have this little fermentation process dominate my life or the kitchen. I’m also not talking about activating a dry starter, or creating a new starter, just maintaining an already active one.

I store my starter in 21 oz working glasses in the refrigerator. It seems to keep well that way for weeks.

  1. The day before I’m going to bake, I take the jar of starter out of the fridge so it can warm up and become active. Once it’s out of the fridge, I take ¼ cup of starter out of the jar, and put it in a new jar along with ½ cup of warm, filtered water (chlorine can kill some of the more sensitive microbes) and ½ cup flour. This will become the new starter for the next baking session. I’ve been just using all-purpose flour, but I kind of like the bite that rye flour adds so I’ll probably go back to it after I’ve finished moving to the island. Stir it all up and leave it loosely covered.

  2. Also add ½ cup warm, filtered water and ½ cup flour to the original starter jar, stir, and leave loosely covered. This will go into tomorrow’s baking.

  3. Let both jars of starter sit out on the shelf overnight.

  4. The next day, use the old jar of starter in your recipe.

  5. Add ½ cup of warm, filtered water and ½ cup of all-purpose flour to the new jar, and place it in the fridge.

sharing your sourdough starter

If you have friends that would like some starter, you can just perform steps above, but instead of baking just give the original jar of starter to your friend and put the new jar back in the fridge.


Addendum 2024-05-04

The procedure above is kind of messy. I wanted to modify it slightly just to create fewer dirty dishes. I highly recommend using a scale to measure your flour, which is why I include gram equivalents for flour in my recipes. Digital kitchen scales are inexpensive and quite useful. Keep in mind, too, that these measurements don’t need to be very accurate, unlike the actual baking. Start the day before you need your starter. Since you have a scale:

  1. Stir the starter well and pour 60 gm of the it into a clean, fresh jar.
  2. Add ½ cup (120 gm) of filtered water to each jar.
  3. Stir 64 gm all-purpose flour into each jar.
  4. Put the new jar, covered, in the fridge — it will be your starter for the next project.
  5. Leave the old jar out, loosely covered, to sit at room temperature overnight. It will be about 1½ cups of starter for baking the next day.

These procedures are quick, off-the-top-of-my-head things that focus on simplicity and laziness. There are folks around the ‘net who are hardcore serious about their sourdough starter and doubtless have more more refined ways of doing things. It might pay to search and learn.

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