Managing Your Sourdough Starter

Before you watch this video on sourdough starter maintenance, please know that it really isn’t a big deal to keep your sourdough culture alive and healthy. A good starter is naturally very hearty and robust. If I were as strong as my starter is, I’d be competing in Iron Man competitions. At a minimum, all you have to do is throw some flour and water in once in a while to keep it alive during periods when you’re baking infrequently. To keep it near optimum health, feed it once a week or so and keep it refrigerated.

If you’re baking regularly, say weekly or bi-weekly, it’s easy enough just to feed it after using the amount called for in your recipe before returning it to your refrigerator. If you really want to be sure your starter is in optimum shape, feed it once or twice the day before baking or the two days prior to baking day. In addition, here are a few points that are worth noting…

  • When you feed your starter, feed it with approximately equal weights of flour and water. That equates to about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of water for every cup of flour.
  • As a general rule of thumb, the amount you feed your sourdough starter depends on how much of it you have to start with. When practical, you want to approximately double the amount of starter you have each time you feed it. However, if you already have a couple cups of starter on hand and typically only use a cup of starter in your recipe, it doesn’t make sense to have to double the existing two cups of starter. In this case just dispose of a cup or more of the starter and then double what remains.
  • If it’s been a long time since you’ve fed your starter and you don’t plan on baking for a while, don’t feel like you have to go through a big rigamarole to keep it happy, just stir in a 1/2 cup of flour and about the same amount of water and forget about it. That will at least buy you a few more weeks before you have to worry about it again.
  • If you really don’t think you’re going to use your starter at all for a very long time, (some people don’t bake during the summer months, for example), you could dry some starter and freeze it. It will store this way indefinitely. Then revive it in the fall. See the videos on drying starter and reviving dried starter.
  • If you need a whole wheat or rye starter, it’s easy to convert your white flour starter by just a few successive feedings with the flour you want. You may have to adjust the water as some flours are thirstier than others.
  • Be sure to store your starter in a container that’s not air tight. This comment from Madelyn dramatically (and humorously) illustrates why.

I’m really belaboring this subject. Once you’ve played around with sourdough starters for a while and baked some with it, you’ll know all you need to know and develop a sense for what works best. If your bread is not rising as much as you think it should (you’re not getting the desired oven spring) then try what I said about feeding your starter a couple of times in the 12-24 hours before starting your recipe.

As with anything on this web site, if you have any questions or comments about anything please ask in the space below.

Jan 13, 2011 Update: In this video I mention a favorite recipe of mine that calls for 2 cups of sourdough starter. It’s been so long since I shot the video (and many favorite recipes ago), that I’ve forgotten exactly which recipe I was referring to. I do know it was in Ed Wood’s book, Classic Sourdoughs. He has many recipes in there that call for 2 cups of starter.

{ 1387 comments… read them below or add one }

Hila July 6, 2014 at 8:35 am

Thank you so much for your helpful video! I have a batch of starter that I’ve recently created, and have had 2 successful bakings with it. I normally keep it in the fridge and feed it 1-2 times a week. I have 3 questions… 1. If I want to bake, I understand from your video that I feed it to double the quantity the day before, and let it sit out overnight or so. Can I do this every day? 2. When it’s out, how do I cover it? Is a cloth towel ok? 3. When it’s in the fridge just “keeping alive” – how do I cover it? Does it need to be in an airtight container then? Thank you very much!

Reply

richard July 3, 2014 at 8:55 am

I have a starter that is very old from Tuscany, I am still travelling and adding organic whole grain flour and glass bottled water every day, I throw out half and add more water and flour, it smells ok and looks ok, how do I know it is alive and will work?

thank you

Reply

kathnell oshea June 22, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Very pleased to have discovered you folks–your videos are fantastic–products are great–my I have a copy of Erics,’ receipe for sourdough bread that calls for two cups of sourdough starter–or where to find it–many thanks–Kathnell

Reply

Luc June 22, 2014 at 11:46 am

Hi, thanks for the great website. I’ve been making no knead sourdough bread for almost two years now and I bake several times a week.

About a couple of months ago, I started getting a greyish coloring in my starter and even after reading some stuff about it on the web, I’m not quite sure what I’m doing wrong. Of course, I can still make bread and other stuff with it cause it’s working fine, but the color bothers me as if I’m not feeding it the right way. Also, the odor of my sourdough isnt only sour, it’s stronger than that, kind of reminds paint!

Anyway, if you have any idea what I could be doing wrong, I thank you for your assisatance.

Reply

Anthony June 19, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Hello, I have been storing my starter for a few months and have not fed it lately. It smells Ok but a dark liquid has formed on top. Is the starter still OK to feed again ?

Reply

Ashley June 19, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Hi, I’ve got a question. Can you leave your starter on the counter and just feed it once a week? I’ve seen different opinions all over the internet and wondered what you thought about it. I’ve seen some say you can leave it out but feed it twice a day, others saying they feed it once a week. Then others saying refrigerate it and feed it once a week, and others saying feed it once a day and don’t refrigerate it.

….is it one of those “opinion” things and up for experiment or is there a more appropriate guideline to follow? Refrigerate or done, feeding once a week or not kind of protocol.

I am excited to get into sourdough and making all sorts of things, but maintaining a starter intimidates me, I’m a busy mom of 4 young kids and tend to not do well with things that are high maintenance with my crazy schedule.

Love your site by the way, SO glad to have found you! :) Thanks for any help you can give me on this topic.

Reply

Breadtopia June 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Hi Ashley,

I’m firmly in the refrigerate and feed at least weekly camp. I don’t think there’s any way around daily (once or twice) feeding if it’s left on the counter. Given your lifestyle, you pretty much have to go the fridge route or you might as well figure you have 5 kids ;-).

Reply

Ashley June 20, 2014 at 5:20 am

Thank you! That’s the route I’ll take then. One last question, can I use my starter the day after I started it or should I wait for the first week to go by before using any of the starter? I hate throwing it away, but I have seen some places say that it’s not established enough the first week to use it yet. What do you think? Thank you again. :)

Reply

Breadtopia June 20, 2014 at 4:16 pm

The real test is if it rises well within a few hours of feeding. It should tell you when it’s ready. It usually does take at least a few days to get there.

Reply

Ashley June 25, 2014 at 6:01 am

Can I ask one more question? For the first week while you’re getting your starter established can you leave it out and feed it twice a day or so and just add equal amounts of flour and water to the starter without having to take a portion of the starter out each time?

Reply

Anita June 26, 2014 at 9:12 pm

You don’t have to discard or remove some of the starter, but if you don’t, you will end up with a huge amount! I have tried to use it all up, but it is very dificult. When you are just beginning to make it from scratch yourself, it ususally takes several weeks of feeding twice a day to get peak activity, and you really need to double the amount that you are working with to get the best results. Here is a link to a good explanation of the process -http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2012/04/08/maintaining-your-sourdough-starter-food-water-and-time/

Noni June 15, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Hello
I bought some starte from you a few months back, but so far have not yet had a successful loaf. But I have been a bit sporadic with it and sometimes forget to feed the starter for awhile.
Recently I noticed that it is forming a pinkish skin on top. Is this ok? I think it happens when I don’t refrigerate the starter. I usually remove the skin and stir in the liquid and then feed it. I live in Florida.
Thank you

Reply

Angela June 15, 2014 at 6:33 am

Hi

I have the starter on day 2 only.

When I would like to bake bread, I take it out for a day or two and feed it everyday, is that right?

Then do I feed it again and leave it outside at room temperature and when do I put back in fridge?

I don’t bake bread every week.

Thank you very much

Ang

Reply

Robert June 14, 2014 at 10:04 am

My starter formed a skin on top. Should I start over? I started it 6 months ago and used it weekly. No problems. The loaf last week was really sour. This week I went to use and this skin had formed. Seems quite tough. It does not dissolve in water. I maintain in a half gallon cookie jar, because of the lid allows gas to escape. I did not refrigerate. I store in the basement. The basement area is low light and cool.

Reply

Breadtopia June 14, 2014 at 11:02 am

I would toss the skin and feed the rest. Once you’ve got it back to a healthy state, store in the fridge between feedings and use.

Reply

Adrea June 13, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Hi, when I feed a starter the day before baking, do I leave it out at room temp until the next day?

Reply

Cath Hitchens June 5, 2014 at 2:53 am

Started to make a sourdough starter on Sunday .It smelt okay until yesterday when it started to develop a brown liquid on the top.
It doesn’t seem to bubbly today.I fed it last night as usual.
What am I doing wrong and can I save my starter,
Many thanks Cath

Reply

Breadtopia June 13, 2014 at 9:17 am

It may be too late to help you this time, but when you say that you “started to make a sourdough starter on Sunday”, do you mean that you literally were starting from scratch on making a new starter on that Sunday? New starters often take a while to get well established and strong. They require frequent feedings. During the process of getting them going, it’s not all that uncommon for hootch to form (the brown liquid (alcohol) on top). You can just pour that off and proceed with the next feeding.

Also, even if you’re doing everything right, getting a starter going doesn’t always work and you end up having to start over.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Optionally add your bread image (.jpeg image format)

{ 2 trackbacks }