The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Question about traveling - 'dough ball' method?

lemming's picture

Question about traveling - 'dough ball' method?


I've learned so much from this forum, and I've been able to make some delicious sourdough bread for my family from all of the wonderful information. I recently mailed some different loaves to my family in NY and now they want me to bring some of my starter with me when I fly up later this week. I'm currently drying some of my starter, (who has been named 'Biff'), but I keep hearing about making a 'dough ball' with starter as well. I think that might be worth a try as well, I've got three different houses that want some of Biff-he's quite in demand! ;)

Can someone please explain the dough ball method? Do I just stir in enough flour to make it into a ball? How do I revive it once I arrive?

Thank you in advance-off to make more bread!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I can tell you what I do.  I take about a heaping teaspoon of starter (10g) and dissolve into 40g water (or 1/4 cup).  Stir enough flour to make a thick dough and keep adding slowly until the starter is a very compact ball.  As it gets stiffer, I use my hands to knead and keep it smooth and the crumbs together.  Then I roll it into flour and pop into a zipper bag removing the surrounding air.  I then place the ball & bag into the refrigerator if I need a few days packing.  I write a note to myself not to forget it and before I go,  put the bag into the middle of my suitcase where it is best insulated from heat and/or cold.  When I arrive at my destination, I check for softness. 

As the starter progresses through the flour it gets softer, the outside flour creates a shell and protects the soft starter inside.  If left out at comfortable room temperature, it is ready to use in 2- 3 days.  If kept cool, longer.  If enough flour is added and it is kept cool, it can hold out for months.   The trick is to add enough flour to keep the starter from expanding while traveling.  I find this starter revives much faster than drying.  Simply cut the ball open and evaluate.  If the middle is sour, remove a portion, add water and flour.  If not, just add a little water put in a warm place and wait.

A month ago I prepared two starters in this manner and placed them in lock-top small plastic containers to refrigerate a day while I packed.  When I opened them at my destination after a day of travel, they were under pressure and ready to go into dough but very firm indeed.  I thought they were a bit too tight in their containers; better in the zip lock bags.  I cut up some starter with a scissors and added water to soften, then added flour and the next morning was mixing & baking bread.  I used this firm starter for a good two weeks (storing it in the fridge) before I had to mix up more. 

I also prepared the starter that I left at "home" in the same way except I kept adding flour until I had crumbs that just held together.  I planned to be gone for 5 months.  I put a little flour in the bottom of a small jar twice the size of the starter ball, screwed on the lid and plastered the outside with all kinds of warnings not to remove from the fridge for fear of my wrath or worse!  So far it works quite well.  

Have fun and happy traveling,



Soundman's picture

Wonderfully informative (as usual) and resourceful, Mini!

The stiff levain puts me in the mind of Leader's description of pre-refrigeration SD techniques. The slowed-down metabolic implications are thought provoking indeed.

Great work!


lemming's picture

Wonderful! Thank you so much! It's a short flight, so the entire traveling time should be less than 7 hours from the time we leave our house to arriving at my parents. I'll make up a few dough balls the day before and hope for the best. :)

avatrx1's picture

Although this discussion is WAY over my head, I am very interested in how you dry a starter or preserve it

I plan on starting a starter this week , knowing that I won't be using it on a regular basis.  That was my hesitation in the first place, but after reading this point and hearing about drying it and not having to "feed" it.  I'd like to learn more.

Is there a good article on starter from "start to finish"?  I find lots of info on this site, but so far haven't put it all together enough to feel confident in what I'm doing.




jleung's picture

Try SusanFNP's post on drying a starter:

Good luck!

- Jackie