Now that you have an active sourdough starter, it is time to think about how you look after it. Here are my notes on how to maintain your culture of wild yeasts and bacteria.
Maintaining your starter
Carry on feeding your starter every other day if you are planning to make sourdough bread on a regular basis.
Doing this at the same time every day helps. I like to do it in the morning and watch it rise and fall as the bacteria multiply. You will notice a regular rise and fall which helps to plan when your starter is most active and lively. You can also measure this by placing an elastic band around the container at the start of each feed to see the rise and fall throughout the day and night.
Using your starter regularly
If you’re using the starter within the next few days, leave it out on the counter/in a cupboard/ on top of a kitchen shelf and continue discarding half and “feeding” it every other day. It should smell yoghurt-like and tangy when, even slightly fruity if it is fed regularly. If the starter begins to smell sour and vinegary, don’t worry, just remove the top layer of greyish looking liquid (called Hooch) and continue to feed with your regular 50/50 flour/water mix. After a few hours, the sour smell should develop into a creamier and almost custard -like, milder aroma.
Using your starter once a week or less
Give the starter a feed (50g flour & 50ml water) after removing half of the mixture then cover it with a cloth or loose fitting lid. Allow the starter to grow and rise over the next few hours in order for it to achieve maximum activity with plenty of bubbles and a doubling in volume. You could now transfer your starter into a glass jar/kilner jar and place it in the fridge with the lid firmly secured. This is because your starter will be dormant whilst it rests in the fridge so activity and fermentation will be on hold and growth inhibited until you feed it again.
You should take it out of the fridge and feed it at least once a week. After your weekly feed, leave the container out on the worktop for a few hours to give the bacteria a chance to develop and thrive again. When you see signs of life and growth, then you can place it back into the fridge.
Two or three days before you want to make your next loaf, take the starter out of the fridge and start to feed it again daily (50g flour & 50ml water). The starter will quickly come back to life and start bubbling away again once it reaches room temperature. To really encourage your starter to come back to life, you could feed it twice each day – once in the morning and once before bed – this will ensure it is as lively as can be.
I have a white starter, a 50/50 starter and a separate rye starter which bring different taste notes to the breads. A rye starter will produce a more acidic, sour flavour to your loaf while a white stater will produce a milder, less “sour” tasting loaf. The 50/50 starter will be in between the two with a certain amount of acidity and also sweet, creamy notes. You can also adapt a starter you already have and mix in another flour to change the flavour profile. But, you won’t be able to turn a completely white flour starter back into one if you add any rye/wholemal to it so bear this in mind when you make your starter!