The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Reviving Sourdough Starters

Sergio's picture
Sergio

Reviving Sourdough Starters

Last year, before graduating and moving away from Berkeley, I collected two sourdough starters from bakeries that I loved and had special significance for me during my years there. I abided by the instructions for feeding and kept them alive for a few months, but after moving again, I had all but abandoned them in the back of the fridge (I believe they were last fed in late May 07). As expected, both seem to have the greyish appearance and a pool of liquid. I have read in a few places that it is possible to revive a starter after long periods of inactivity, but before I do that, I have two questions:

1. What would be the best procedure to bring them back to a healthy vibrant state? Should I just follow the instructions from each bakery for normal feeding until it appears back to normal, or is there a special treatment for neglected starters?

2. Once I have revived them, would they return back to their original states, or somehow be morphed into something different? Has anyone else had similar experience with reviving starters and remembers the qualities it had before and after?

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Dr. Ed Wood comments that he has always been able to revive starters, even ones that have been neglected and abused.  Some people wonder if the revived starter is truly the same starter that was abandoned.  Still, it is worth the effort.

 

Your goals are to get a good sample of your old starters, to dilute it to reduce the acidity and feed it often with flours that won't add many new microorganisms to give your old starters the bect chance of revival. 

 

If you have mold on top of the starter, this is a sign of a starter in severe trouble since its normal defense mechanisms didn't work.  It requires special care to revive such a starter, and unless the starter is special, I usually recommend against trying to revive a molded starter.  If you have a molded starter, use a number of clean spoons to scrape off all the mold. Use fresh spoons often because you don't want to mix the mold into the starter.

 

The liquid on top is commonly called hooch, and it is a sign that your starter has been underfed.  It contains alcohol, which can also slow a starter.  So, pour it off.

 

Now you should have a clean starter.  Use a fresh spoon to get a teaspoon or so of the starter.  Put it into a clean mixing bowl.  Return the rest of the starter to your fridge in case you have to do this more than once.

 

Mix 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of flour into the starter you put in the mixing bowl.

When I am reviving a starter, I feed it 3 times a day, and feed it enough to triple it in size with each feeding.  So, every 8 hours or so, stir down your starter, discard (or set aside) all but 1/3 cup of the starter.  Then stir in 1/3 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour.

 

When the starter is doubling in size between feedings, you can go back to feeding it twice a day, enough to double it with each feeding. The extreme feedings can favor the yeast part of the symbiosis.  To get the bacteria back in balance, feed the starter about a tablespoon of whole wheat in each cup of flour you use.  After 2 or 3 feedings with the whole wheat additions, your starter should be in better balankce.

At this time, I'd also suggest baking bread with it to see if it is the starter you remember. Also, feed your starter just before putting it into the fridge.  Freshly fed starters last better in the fridge than mature, or ripe, ones.

 

You can do all of this to your second starter also, just make sure you are using fresh and clean utensils for the second starter at each step.  You don't want to risk cross contaminating the two starters.  Even when the starters are healthy and happy, don't use the same utensils with both.

I am not a biologist, so my preferred method is to not handle more than one starter in a day.

Once your new starters are happy, you can discard the ones you were trying to revive.

 

Hope that helps,

Mike

 

 

 

mhtdray's picture
mhtdray

I too have a starter that appears to have "died".  I have read similar instructions to what you gave, but am puzzled on one point.  During the process of frequent feedings, should the starter be kept in the fridge or on the counter?  None of the articles that I've read is clear on this point.  

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

Until the starter is revived and flourishing, it is probably best not to refrigerate it.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Do what Mike wrote above ....And put on some revival music, stick the speakers into the fridge and pump it up....loud,   and...strong, (those skinny little electrical cords don't get mashed in the door anyway)  yes, yes, there's hope for the beasties!   Halleluja!

Mini O

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

I've been so busy baking I haven't even had a chance to lurk!

I have a wild yeast starter (a la Nancy Silverton's instructions), about 3 mo. old, on my countertop. I get some nice bubbling and rise when I bake with it, but not a lot of rise in the starter container. I feed it a bit daily, and the smell and taste seem to be right on. It has become more active as the weather here has warmed. I tend to do the "Italian thing" when I bake and use 30-40% starter and a pinch of yeast.

The thing that has puzzled me about all the starter instructions I have ever read is the

"throw away all but 1 cup."

At close to $1 per pound for flour...not to mention the strong thrift gene that goes with being a Windischgirl--what's with all the "throwing away?" Is there a chemistry reason, or is it simply so one doesn't end up with a bathtubful of starter?

(Being a bit of a radical, I put the excess starter into dormancy in the fridge and either baked it up or gave it away...or did the pancake thing).

Am I missing something here? I can't imagine great-grandpa Kern (who owned a bakery) tossing his starter during WWI. Hmmm.

 

Paula F

Philadelphia PA

jeffesonm's picture
jeffesonm

You can maintain a smaller starter, just keep the proportions down.  I keep 1 ounce starter and refresh with 2 ounces water and 2 ounces flour... you could even reduce further if you want.  Just today I saved the leftover starter, added some flour and made it into a dough ball... it will go into the oven later tonight, we'll see how it turns out.

koolmom's picture
koolmom

I have revived some sourdough starter with the above mention 1/3 c starter, 1/3 c H2O, 1/2 c flour 3 x.

Now If I take what I have and add 100% starter to water, plus 140% flour will this turn into a starter I can use in making a loaf of bread?

Thanks