The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Keeping Starter on the Counter

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Keeping Starter on the Counter

NOTE: This method works well for those who bake sourdough bread muliple times during the week, and who also like making other baked goods with leftover starter. In this chapter, a stiff starter (60 percent hydration) is discussed, but these techniques will work just as well for a wet starter (100% hydration). This personal account was written by JMonkey.

This is how I maintain my own starter, which I created in 2005. I'm a telecommuter who works from home, and I bake bread for the family two to three times a week. Occasionally, I'll make a loaf with commercial yeast, but typically, I make sourdoughs. Also, on the weekend, I like to make sourdough English muffins and sourdough waffles.

Keeping my starter in the fridge meant I was constantly trying to remember when I needed to take the stuff out to rev it up for bread, and I'd often realize too late that I didn't have enough starter for the muffins or waffles.

After some tinkering, I finally decided to keep the starter on the counter and feed it once or twice a day, which means I've always got at least enough active starter for my overnight whole grain sourdough, and, if I'll need more for a daytime sourdough, I've got enough to seed a bigger amount that can ripen while I sleep. The regimen that I now follow also has the advantage of not wasting anything, because I use all the extra starter stored in the fridge to make all the waffles and English muffins I want. Since both of these recipes derive most of their rise from the interaction of acids and baking soda, using week-old starter from the fridge has enough oomph for leavening and flavor, given that it's gotten pretty acidic already.

Anyway, I'm not saying this is the way to maintain a starter - it's just what works for me at this time in my life.

I usually feed it twice a day, once in the morning and once again before bed. Sometimes I forget, though, and only feed it once a day, but it doesn't seem to mind much. I keep it at 60% hydration, which is pretty stiff, but I find it's less messy and stands up a bit better that the wet stuff would to a missed feeding here and there, due to my forgetful nature. Here's how I feed it (it's a 1-3-5 ratio for starter-water-flour by weight).

In the morning, it hasn't risen much, but it feels puffy, and when I break it open, it's clearly aerated inside. Sometimes, it actually blows the lid off the plastic container.

It weighs about 45 grams, so I take 5 grams of it (about the size of a small marble) and put the rest in my fridge bowl. These leftovers will find their way into waffles or English muffins later in the week.

Then I add 15 grams (1 Tbs) of water and mush it up until it's soft and the water has turned somewhat milky in color.

Then I add 25 grams (2 heaping Tbs or 2 Tbs + 1 tsp) of whole wheat flour.

(If you're maintaining a wet starter, simply increase the water to 25 grams)

Finally, I mix it all up with a spoon, take it out and knead it a bit in my hands, which consists of folding it over on itself four or five times. I then roll it into a ball, snap on the lid and let it work.

That's it. I've found it's not that much of a hassle to feed it twice a day and is much less annoying than realizing I can't make a sourdough because I forgot to take my starter out of the fridge and feed it.