The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Keeping sourdough starter while away from home

sojourner's picture

Keeping sourdough starter while away from home

I wonder whether any one can give me some guidance on this. Rather stupidly, I embarked on raising a sourdough starter a week ago. It's active now, although not as active as I'd hoped it was going to be. Because of that, I've decided not to attempt this dough until I get back from a prolonged absence from home. I _could_ ask someone to feed it for me but think I'd be happier just putting it into slumber mode until I get back, in about 4 weeks time. Soooo, my question is whether it will be better to freeze it or to put it into the coldest corner of the fridge. It was one I started from scratch a week ago, it's been mildly active for the past 48 hours but only manages to raise a couple of very small and slow bubbles per minute. I suppose that suggests I should ask a second question - whether to continue feeding it before making it dormant/frozen or whether to leave it weak.

Any helpful advice appreciated.


PS. This is only my 2nd go at a starter. The last one, a few months ago, never becmae active and simply turned into pink/red gunk.


sphealey's picture

One week of growth is a little soon to be missing regular feedings.  But travel you must, so I would suggest a dual approach:

Feed the starter so as to double its amount.  When it has risen and/or is bubbly:

  • Take half and freeze it in a sealed container
  • Take the other half and feed it with the usual amount of starter, but keep working in flour until you have a _very_ stiff dough.  Put this in a sealed container and refrigerate. 

With luck, the stiff version will act like a desem and slowly develop while you are gone.  If not, you have the frozen culture as a backup; restart the process by adding the thawed culture to a mix of whole wheat and whole rye flour and pineapple juice, then resume normal feeding schedule.

Good luck!


sojourner's picture

Thanks for the suggestion to freeze half the baby starter and engorge the other half before abandoning it into the darkest recesses of my fridge.

I'll report back in due course...



Yumarama's picture

I'd agree with sphealy, split it in two and try both approaches. Worst case scenario is you have to start from scratch again. I wouldn't be betting on much with this young a starter, especially if it's not really all that active anyway. BUT you won't know unless you give it a shot. What's to lose?

Otherwise, just consider this a fair test run on the process and simply expect to start fresh when you get back.

sojourner's picture

Yes, I guess you're right when you ask what's to lose? I suppose having tried to nurse this thing into life I'm reluctant to accept it's only flour and water before tipping it down the pan! I think I'll go with the idea of freezing half, chilling half and then putting the results down to experience gained. 8-)



rainwater's picture

I've learned from reading that lower percentage hydration starters are more stable....I keep mine at @75% hydration.......

Ford's picture

I believe that bread bakers, especially sourdough bakers, are a most diverse lot, with as many opinions as there are bakers.  AND none of them are wrong!  Wonderful! 

I am one of the few that use a very high hydration starter, ~188%.  I bake sourdough about every other week, and alternate from white loaf bread to 50% whole-wheat bread.  That means that both my whole wheat starter and my white bread starter are left unfed, and in the refrigerator, for about a month at a time.  Both of them can be refreshed in about 24 hours and be quite active.

My refreshment procedure is"

1/ Take the starter out in the morning (about 18 oz.) and add 4 1/4 oz. of flour, whisk it, cover, and let it sit.

2/ About 12 or so hours later, add 8 oz. water and 4 1/4oz flour, whisk it, cover, and let it sit at room temperature.

3/  Next morning, add 4 1/4 oz flour and 16 oz. of water, whisk it and let it sit for about an hour or two.

4/ Take out 36 oz, of starter and make 3 loaves of bread, about 34 oz. each loaf, before baking.  Return the rest of the starter to the refrigerator.


You see, almost everyone has a different solution, and none of them are wrong.

sojourner's picture

From memory, I think this one called for 200% hydration, ie 50 gms flour and 100 gms water. I must say it's more wet than anything I've tried before.