The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bad Mistake to Make, Yet So Easy to Avoid

umbreadman's picture

Bad Mistake to Make, Yet So Easy to Avoid

I may have lost my sourdough.

Uh oh.

I had a small-ish amount remaining in my container in the fridge and thought that since it hadn't been used in a little while, I'd take all of it out, refresh it, use it as the sponge for a fresh batch while saving a chunk to propagate the culture, like it's normally done. So I did that, getting most of the goop out of the jar and doing my thing. Except I forgot to remove a bit to put back in the jar.

Now, I'm hoping that there's enough stuff stuck on the bottom and sides of the jar that I could use to revive the culture very slowly, if I could scrape it into a small ball of dough or dissolve it in some lukewarm water, and slowly resuscitate it from near death. If that fails, I guess my only hope of saving this culture is to take some of the multigrain honey bread dough i made and use that to seed a new sourdough...though traces of salt, honey, and wheat berries might remain for a little while.


I'll try to frankenstein it tomorrow. 

So remember kids. Always leave some goop in the jar! or container of choice. 

dmsnyder's picture

I haven't personally faced this problem. I generally err on the side of keeping way more starter than really makes sense.  

I have read that all you should need to do is disolve the bits of starter left in your container in water, add flour and re-build it.  

Good luck!


GrapevineTXoldaccount's picture

You can actually do both. Scape a wee bit, and trust me, it really doesn't matter as a teaspoon of it is more than enough, just add some flour and water and do as you normally would on a rebuild. And yes, you can take a bit of the dough from the bread making and thin it out, leave it on the counter and allow it to mature. The sodium and the honey will be out of your starter over the next few weeks and gradually you will be back to where you began.

Trust me on this. I have done both of the above. So, take that bit of panic you have been experiencing and put it in the trash can. You'll be fine.

Happy baking to you!

starchmouth's picture

Umbreadman, your situation is a great fear of mine.

As an insurance policy of something going horribly wrong, I always have a "dry back-up" in the pantry. This doesn't help you a bit, but maybe will save someone else who reads this a little grief.

Here's what I'm talking about - taken from "Carl's":

Drying starter

Cover a dish or a pan with plastic wrap or waxed paper to prevent sticking. After you have fed your starter and let it get active, pour some onto the covered dish. The thicker the layer the longer it will take to dry. I use a broiler pan and pour it 1/4 inch deep as I use a lot of it. This takes nearly a week to harden.

Set aside at room temperature till it gets brittle - may be a few days. Break into small pieces and grind in a blender, coffee grinder or food processor. There you are! It will keep a long time. The yeast has sporulated and will stay that way for years. At one time it was used to "chink" the walls in log cabins and some of that stuff has been reactivated.

Lisalovestobake's picture

starchman, where do you store the dried starter, and can't it be stored in any plastic container or jar?

ehanner's picture

umbreadman, I experimented with this a few months ago by cleaning out my starter bowl as cleanly as I could with a spoon and then refreshing with a small amount of water and flour. If you refresh with a very small amount so the inoculation percentage isn't overwhelming it won't take long to see activity. However.

In the time you take trying to coax the old starter back from a small inoculation, you can start a new one using rye flour. In 48 hours you can be using a new culture that will work fine.


TRK's picture

Shudder. How sad would I be if I lost my starter? I actually have a friend that I gave some to who could be a backup for me in desperate need, but it would still be horrible.

What I do to make sure it never happens is not to rely on the sponge to refresh my starter. When I make my sponge, I take out 1/4 cup (as I do when I refresh) and save it aside. I use the rest of the starter to make the sponge, and then take that 1/4 cup and use it to refresh my starter immediately. That way when I mix the bread in the morning, the starter has risen to full capacity and is ready to be stored in the fridge. That way I can never get so excited by baking that I forget to save some out as starter. It also allows me to add other things to my sponge that I don't want in my starter (for example I made a recipe fron Nancy Silverton last week that included half water and half milk in the sponge).



holds99's picture

I know this may be "heresy" but when I know that I am not going to be using my sourdough starter for a long period I put it in the freezer in a plastic jar with a lid until a few days before I am ready to use it.  Then take it out, thaw it at room temp. and refresh it.  I have never had a problem re: freezing it.  Years ago I made the Nancy Silverton's grape starter (which I am still using from the original batch) and dried some in a dehyrator on a pan lined with parchment then broke it into small chucks/kernals and froze them in a zip lock for backup, in case my original wet starter went bad.  On a couple of occasions the dried starter has saved me from having to redo my starter from scratch.


Oldcampcook's picture

I assumed that everyone kept dried starters in storage as insurance.  I have quite a number of different starters (I belong to a sourdough group and we swap).  I like to experiment with them.

But I dry at least one batch of every one I revive.  I keep one batch in zippies in the freezer and one batch in zippies on the counter.

That way I have back up, just in case, and also so I can mail some without having to dry another batch.

andrew_l's picture

Umbreadman, it's probably too late to be of any use, but I've more than once added water and flour to a "scraped out" starter bowl (i.e. empty all but scrapings) stirred them up and it's turned into a fully fledged starter after leaving overnight and refreshing the next morning - the amount clinging to the side of the bowl is enough to get it going. The little yeasts and bacterias seem to have a tremendous will to live!!