The Fresh Loaf

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Help storing/freezing starter, please

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Marni's picture
Marni

Help storing/freezing starter, please

I need to store my two starters that are just about one month old.  One is rye and the other is pretty much white (I sometimes add a bit of rye or whole wheat)  They are going to be completely ignored for ten to twelve days.  I would like to freeze them.  I've read that I can dry and freeze starter and rehydrate later.  Has anyone here tried that?  I would like to find instructions for preparing, rehydrating and using a frozen starter.  Now that I finally have working ones I don't want to kill them off.  Thanks for any help.

Marni

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

10 to 12 days just isn't that big a deal.

 

I don't know what you are doing with your starters now, so my comments are based on not knowing what you are doing.

 

Freezing and drying are both a bit extreme, and many starters will not survive the process. The Friends of Carl have had faiilures at reviving, so they do a test revival on every batch of their dried starter.

 

A fresh lively starter survives refrigeration and freezing better than a mature one. So, feed your starter a few times to make sure it is lively and fresh. Then feed it one more time and put it into the fridge. It will probably double in the fridge.

 

Different people have different ideas about how starters should be maintained. I find that 100% hydration is as liquid as I want to go. That's 1 part of water to 1 part of flour by weight. Or about 2 parts of water to 3 parts of flour by volume if you scoop your flour, or 2 parts water to 4 parts of flour if you sift your flour before measuring cups. I find that the 1 cup of water to 1 cup of flour is too thin and things happen too quickly. A thicker starter is a bit more forgiving.

 

For longer term storage, I find that even thicker starters have an advantage. I usually am around 65% hydration on the long term storage starters. 100 parts of flour top 65 parts of water. Or around 1 cup of sifted flour (1/2 cup unsifted) to 1/4 cup of flour. The starter is quite thick, but it will rise, and it can be stirred (with difficulty).

 

I have kept starters made this way in the fridge for far longer than I care to admit with good results.

 

Mike

 

breadnerd's picture
breadnerd

I keep my starter in the fridge and try to feed or bake with it weekly, but I'm sure i've left it for two weeks (or more!) once in a while with no ill effects

And yes, firmer is supposed to store a bit better--I'd feed right before you leave, and then do several feedings when you get back to get it up and running well.

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Marni,

I visit my parents in Montana at a cabin there every few months. I leave a starter there so I can bake sourdough bread when I'm there. I follow Mike Avery's method, i.e. I feed it at room temperature repeatedly a few times to make sure it is fully active, then I feed it and thicken it at the same time to 65% hydration and put it in the fridge.

It works for very long periods. I've come back as much as 6 months later and gotten away with baking decent bread within 36 hours, which amounts to taking it out of the refrigerator, giving it one feeding of something like 1:4:4 (starter:water:flour by weight), let it rise for about 12 hours at around 75F (a cabinet above a heating duct stays fairly warm), and then just use it to build a sponge that will then go into a dough after that.

Meanwhile, I also feed the starter on the side a few more times to fully revive and refresh it. I'm usually only there a week or two at a time, but after about 2 years of doing this now, I've had no problem with multiple months of refrigeration followed by a week or two where I revive it and use it a few times before again putting it in the refrigerator.

Bill

knit1bake1's picture
knit1bake1

I will be away from my starter two times during the next year - once for almost 2 months, the next time for 3 months. I had been planning on freezing it. After reading the above, I'm not so sure. I suppose to be safe I could store 2 different ones in the frig, and also freeze two, hoping that one of the four would work OK. Any further suggestions?

Thanks, Beth

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

2 or 3 months is longer than I like to leave a starter without feeding it.

 

Which is not to say I haven't done that.  My "record" is a bit over a year.  I kept using small amounts of my storage starter and never refreshed the storage starter.  The starters started easily and made good bread.  Still.... I don't recommend letting starter sit that long.  When a starter goes too long without feeding some nastier bugs can take over.  Bugs that can digest protein.  And then you've got real problems with your starters.

 

My suggestion for long perioids of storage is to feed some starter until it is fresh and lively, feed it one more time to a thick consistency (like 65% hydration), and then freeze half of it and refrigerate half of it.  That way, you have a fall back plan in case the refrigerated starter doesn't make it.

 

Good luck,

Mike 

Marni's picture
Marni

I won't obsess and now I think I won't even worry.

Bill, your starter story is very reassuring.  I will feed, (and feed and feed and feed), store and put it away. 

Mike-  Just to clear- feed the last time, don't wait for activity, just begin storage?

Marni

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Marni,

I feed my starter and immediately put it in the refrigerator. For example, I would take my healthy, active starter (fed and fed, as you say, at least a few times at room temperature so it's very stable, active, and healthy), and take 10-20g of starter, feed it with 20 grams of water and 35-50g of flour, and drop it immediately into the refrigerator.

This has worked over the years for as long as 6 months at a time. What is more surprising to me is that it recovers enough to make bread in about a day of feedings, between feeding the starter out of the fridge and then making a levain. It's not completely revved up to maximum activity for another day or two, but it still makes decent bread well before that. 

I'd rather not go so long without doing a good room temperature refreshment, but in the case of my parent's cabin, I'm only there every 3-6 months, so that's that. I've always figured the risk of having someone not familiar with sourdough techniques making a mistake trying to refresh it for me while I'm not there was greater than just letting it sit in the refrigerator. So far, so good.

One of these days, the refrigerator will go on the blink or the power will go out for too long or whatever else, and I'll either have to bring some with me again or start one up from scratch if I'm there long enough. Not having the sourdough starter wouldn't be the worst thing anyway, as there's always the possibility of using a sourdough starter disaster as an opportunity to bake some yeast breads for a change. That's what I used to do before I smuggled in some sourdough starter one visit.

Bill

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Exactly!

 

You know your starter is lively or you wouldn't be thinking about putting it back in the fridge.  And you know your flour and water are OK, so there's no reason to wait to see signs of life.

 

If you wait, the starter will be building up acid and that will reduce its storage time.

 

Mike

 

Marni's picture
Marni

I had to laugh as I reached the end of your post.  Since I've started with sourdough, I have hardly baked anything else- and that's saying a lot since I don't like to buy baked goods.  So my family is eating sourdough brownies, chocolate cake, breads, rolls, pancakes... and just now I am about to try a cookie recipe from PaddyL.  It has to stop, but experimenting is so much fun.

Thank you again for your advice, you are always clear with your explainations, I look for your comments, knowing I will learn something new.

Marni

sylablaw's picture
sylablaw

I was wondering how to store the starter. In a plastic container? Or glass? Covred with kitchen towel or plastic cover?

Thanks!