The Fresh Loaf

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Keeping a stiff starter on the counter

JMonkey's picture

Keeping a stiff starter on the counter

I'm a telecommuter who works from home, and I bake bread for my family two to three times a week. Occasionally, I'll make a loaf with commercial yeast, but typically, I make sourdoughs. Also, on the weekend, I like to make sourdough English muffins and sourdough waffles.

Keeping my starter in the fridge meant I was constantly trying to remember when I needed to take the stuff out to rev it up for bread, and I'd often realize too late that I didn't have enough starter for the muffins or waffles.

After some tinkering, I finally decided to keep the starter on the counter and feed it once or twice a day, which means I've always got at least enough active starter for my overnight whole grain sourdough, and, if I'll need more for a daytime sourdough, I've got enough to seed a bigger amount that can ripen while I sleep. The regimen that I now follow also has the advantage of not wasting anything, because I use all the extra starter stored in the fridge to make all the waffles and English muffins I want. Since both of these recipes derive most of their rise from the interaction of acids and baking soda, using week-old starter from the fridge has enough oomph for leavening and flavor, given that it's gotten pretty acidic already.

Anyway, I'm not saying this is the way to maintain a starter - it's just what works for me at this time in my life, at least for my primary whole wheat starter. (I also keep a rye starter and some white Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail starter in the fridge that I only take out when I want to bake special breads.)

I usually feed it twice a day, once in the morning and once again before bed. Sometimes I forget, though, and only feed it once a day, but it doesn't seem to mind much. I keep it at 60% hydration, which is pretty stiff, but I find it's less messy and stands up a bit better that the wet stuff would to a missed feeding here and there, due to my forgetful nature. Here's how I feed it (it's a 1-3-5 ratio for starter-water-flour).

In the morning, it looks like this.

It hasn't risen much, but it feels puffy, and when I break it open, it's clearly aerated inside.

It weighs about 45 grams, so I take 5 grams of it (about the size of a small marble) ...

... and put the rest in my fridge bowl. These leftovers will find their way into waffles or English muffins later in the week.

Then I add 15 grams of water and mush it up until it's soft and the water has turned somewhat milky in color.

Then I add 25 grams of whole wheat flour.

Finally, I mix it all up with a spoon, take it out and knead it a bit in my hands, which consists of folding it over on itself four or five times. I then roll it into a ball, snap on the lid and let it work.

That's it. I've found it's not that much of a hassle to feed it twice a day and is much less annoying than realizing I can't make a sourdough because I forgot to take my starter out of the fridge and feed it. Since the overnight sourdough I make requires just 40 grams of stiff starter, I'm pretty much always set.

Anyway, it works for me.

One note: for what it's worth, I haven't detected any difference in flavor or performance for the starter on the counter vs starter rev'd up from the fridge.

Second note: Since I'm working with stiff starter, I increase the liquid in both the sourdough muffins and waffles by about 1/4 cup or so.

Paddyscake's picture

I was wondering why you only take it out when you want to bake special breads? Is it that different from your regular starter?


JMonkey's picture

... but I use it every so often when I make a white flour sourdough. Truth be told, I keep it around mostly because it's really romantic to think I've got something in my fridge that's been propagated for more than 160 years -- probably longer than that, since 1847 was the year that Carl's ancestors brought the starter West from Virginia. Who knows how long it had been around prior to that?

To be honest, I've not been able to tell much of a difference in taste between Carl's and my own. But I can't bring myself to throw it out ....

MaryinHammondsport's picture

Sure is! I discovered is about a month ago, and have baked it every Sunday morning, using left-over starter. I hve to use frozen blueberries this time of year, but they work if you put them in the batter unthawed. I also experimented with using raisins and walnuts in place of blueberries, and that made a good muffin too.

So I'll be trying the carrot-pineapple cake recipe the minute I see it. (Don't let me hurry your or anything, but tomorrow is my burthday and I could use a carrot-pineapple cake!!!)


JMonkey's picture

I like them, too, but my family prefers a much sweeter muffin, so I typically make Mike's recipe in small batches for myself, only. I also increase the salt a bit to 1/2 tsp and the amount of berries by about 50%.

Tasty stuff.