A lot of people have written to tell me that my foolproof sourdough starter has worked for them. Many of them had tried numerous times to create their own starter, only to give up at some point in the process. Following my tutorial, though, they’ve found what others have discovered: anyone can create a successful sourdough starter.
Once they have their starters going, the question I get most often from people is, “How do I keep it alive, especially if I don’t bake that often?” Or, more often, the question goes something like this: “I forgot about/didn’t use/neglected my starter for several weeks. It’s all greyish and nasty looking. Did I kill it?”
The good news is, it’s almost impossible to kill a healthy starter. They can take a lot of abuse and neglect and still bounce back. And believe me, I know this from experience.
As noted in my tutorial, I keep my starter in the refrigerator, since I don’t bake with it all the time. When I was first learning to bake sourdough bread, I baked with my starter every week, keeping it in the fridge between bakings. Since I was baking weekly, my starter was being fed at least once each week.
When I ventured into other types of baking, I found I wasn’t using my starter as often. I still fed it weekly, but eventually that became every few weeks, and sometimes even longer.
A few weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t even seen my starter for about three or four weeks, so I dug it out of the fridge to feed it. This is what I found:
The greyish liquid floating on top of the starter is called “hooch”. It’s basically just dead yeast cells. When my starter has a little hooch on the top, I stir it back in before feeding the starter. In this case, I poured it off.
If you read the starter tutorial, you’ll note that I generally feed my starter at a 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour) ratio. If I know I won’t be using it for a while, I might feed it at a higher ratio, sometimes as much as 1:3:3, to give the yeast more fresh food to work on while it sits in the fridge. In this case, I wanted to ease the starter back to an active state, so I stuck with a 1:1:1 feeding.
Within 12 hours, my severely neglected starter had come back to life and was bubbling away happily on the counter.
Since I had neglected it for so long, I gave it two more 12-hour feedings before returning it to the fridge. I haven’t baked with it since I fed it, so I got it out today to feed it up again. Because it was well-fed and active the last time I got it out, this time it didn’t look so bad.
So don’t worry if your starter has been sitting, neglected in the back of the fridge. Chances are, if you take it out and give it a few feedings, it will spring right back to life and be as good as new.