Whether you use a starter regularly or occasionally, these sourdough tips will help take some of the mystery out of the process.
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Not sure you want to be a 'slave' to your sourdough starter? Even if you'll only use it occasionally, you can have regular success baking with sourdough- and it's worth it for that one-of-a-kind flavor (and the health benefits).
When I started down the sourdough path I had visions of turning out great breads on a weekly basis using just the wild yeast that hovers around us. This, by the way, completely freaks my daughter out- she's always asking about how that works and if we're "killing" them when we cook the bread. My answer? I don't really get how it works, either, I just go with it.
I had read about the health benefits of sourdough and even that some people think all our grains should be soured before consuming. I knew that we loved the flavor of sourdough bread. And if you've been reading here long, you can guess I liked the idea creating my own bread starter and not always relying on store bought things- how frugal is it to not have to buy as much yeast?
However, as I created, maintained, and cooked with my own sourdough starter I've discovered some things about me, my family, and sourdough:
- It takes a lot of planning time. Many recipes have you start the night before, which in all honesty, just doesn't happen for me very often. Even though I perfected a quick and easy sourdough artisan loaf which can be made on a weekly basis, you have to feed the starter to make sure it's good and active, which takes hours.
- After many failed attempts (read: brick-like loaves), a sourdough sandwich bread like our 100% whole wheat sandwich bread has eluded me. (EXCITING UPDATE: I found this soft sourdough sandwich bread from my friend, Gina, that is a wonderful sandwich bread!)
- There are some recipes that just. don't. work. with sourdough. Sourdough pitas? Ugh- awful. Sourdough tortillas? Even worse.
- Sometimes weeks will go by where I haven't even thought about sourdough or the starter languishing in my fridge.
All this has lead me to the conclusion that I am an occasional sourdough user. I want to be able to bake with it once a week or so, but not to be a slave to it. To that end, I've come up with some tips that really make it possible to have sourdough, store, and bake with it whenever you want.
Sourdough Tips for Occasional Use
1. Use an online guide to grow a starter. I made my original starter using these steps. It took 7 days and worked perfectly. I've read that some people have trouble and resort to buying starter, but at $10 bucks a pop, I'd try these steps an awful lot of times before buying anything.
2. Don't try to make bread with it right away. No matter if it looks bubbly to you, it needs to be fed and grow for months, actually, before it will be strong enough to raise a loaf (the key is if it doubles in size after feeding). Make things like waffles, crackers or even English muffins to use your starter as it's growing before trying a bread recipe.
3. A once-a-week feeding is best, but every two weeks is okay, too. Keep it at room temperature for 24 hours after feeding and in the fridge for the rest of the time. When it's in the fridge, keep it in a quart jar with the lid on the top, but not screwed down, and when it's being fed, use a bowl with a muslin cloth over the top and put it in a warm place- like the top of the refrigerator. However, sometimes I forget...
4. Surprise! It doesn't die easily. Fish it out from the back of the fridge, dump it into a clean bowl and feed it with 1/2 c. flour and 1/2 c. warm water. The blackish water that forms on the top is normal and called the "hooch," and wet starters will have more of this. You can pour it off, though some stir it in. If little white things are floating in it, it's just particles from the starter - I've never had mold form. One time it had been almost a month (I think around the holidays) and I really thought I'd killed it, but I saw bubbles 12 hours after one feeding, so I fed it twice more (over the course of three days) and put it back in the fridge. Voila! Wonderful starter again.
5. Don't throw away starter. Many sourdough guides say to throw away almost all the starter and feed only the 1/4 cup or so that remains. I suppose I don't need to tell you that I would NEVER do this- there's no way I could throw away perfectly good food (or potential food). And I'm here to say you don't have to! Just plan to use some of it in a recipe, and feed the rest. But if you don't have time to make anything- go ahead and feed all the starter without taking any out. It's OK, it works, I've done it many times and I've kept it alive for years. No way am I going to all this effort and then throw the stuff away.
My favorite sourdough tip? Use your starter is to make easy recipes like these incredible waffles, as well as the other recipes like bagels, batter bread and crackers. SO good, healthy, and takes care of the growing starter problem without trashing it.
Looking for more about sourdough? Read how to grow, keep, and use sourdough - your guide to all things sourdough - here.
What sourdough tips would you add to this list?