Learn a simple trick that will help concentrate, develop, and mature your sourdough starter to lead to successful use in breads and more! It’s easier than you think and will leave you with a beautiful and thriving starter.
Have you jumped onto the sourdough bandwagon? In 2020, sourdough seemed to really take off. And it’s popularity hasn’t died off and for good reason! Sourdough tastes fantastic and has the added benefit of fermentation which is so good for your gut health. My gut doesn’t love wheat and breads – they make me feel bloated. But using sourdough breads and eating fermented flour goods has allowed me to enjoy these types of foods without the excessive bloating. It’s really a win/win situation because I think the flavor is better anyway!
Trial, Flaws, and Success
When I started my own sourdough starter in 2019, I became easily discouraged. I started it completely from scratch and was having difficulty getting my starter to multiply quickly so that I could successfully use it for breads. I had followed the strategy that so many recommended of combining flour and water and following a schedule of discarding and feeding. And after one to two weeks, my starter was indeed growing but it wasn’t very strong. I continued on with it for a month, feeding and discarding, but by the end I wasn’t any better off. My starter still was weak and not ever doubling in size. And honestly, I was tired of the schedule with no results.
I had heard that some people put their starter in the fridge for a period of dormancy to keep it while they weren’t using it. I had two thoughts regarding this.
My first thought was that it would give me a break from feeding and discarding everyday. I had grown tired of messing with my starter and was ready for a break.
My second thought was that it might actually do my starter good to go on a break. I had definitely acquired yeast in the starter. And just like any other living organism (say mold), they can grow and multiply at lower temperatures, it just takes longer. The growth is slowed but the yeast would become concentrated.
So I left my starter in the fridge for a period of about a week. There was some clear liquid on the top when I took it back out. From later research, this meant that my yeast was still there and thriving and feeding off the flour. I poured the liquid off and gave it a feeding. And boom! My starter was starving and it showed. The yeast in the starter had grown quite concentrated and was ready to go! My starter doubled in a matter of around 4 hours.
The Secret to a Successful & Concentrated Starter
So what’s the secret to a successful sourdough starter that’s concentrated and will work well for all the sourdough goods? Once you have yeast active in your starter, go ahead and feed your starter and place it in the fridge for a few days or until you see a clear liquid forming on the surface of the starter. It should also have a sour smell (more than just flour and water).
Then go ahead and pour that liquid off and feed your starter with roughly equal parts water and flour until it’s a thick batter consistency. This should be pretty much what you’ve already been doing when feeding it. Some people wait to feed the starter until after it’s warmed to room temperature. However, I am impatient and tend to not do this.
Place it on your counter and wait for it to get bubbly and active. By how quickly this happens, you will see and be able to tell how much it’s improved. If it doubles in the matter of around 4-6 hours or less, I would say you have a pretty active sourdough starter.
Really, that’s it! This will help the starter grow concentrated and hungry to multiply. I do think that depending on how developed your starter was prior to placing in the fridge, you may need to repeat this one or two times.
Other Starter Tips
I do have a few other sourdough starter tips that I like to mention when I discuss my starter and so I figured I would throw these in here as well. Because reading how to make a sourdough starter from scratch is easy as of late since there’s so many great resources! But a successful sourdough starter usually is the benefit of some small but majorly helpful tips.
Don’t overthink it. Here’s what sourdough starter is – flour, water, and some yeast from the environment and that was on the flour. That’s it! Don’t make it difficult by adding in combinations of who knows what. I’ve seen instructions that have potatoes being used. No. It’s just flour and water and yeast. Period.
Use unbleached flour to feed your starter. This might seem a bit silly but I have definitely seen better results using unbleached flour. Definitely a more active and bubbly starter.
Why? Because bleached flour doesn’t contain the natural environmental yeasts in it because they’ve all been killed during processing.
I’ve also heard that bleached flour can actually kill off yeast in your starter as a result of the flour’s processing. Personally, I haven’t had this happen. But as a preventative, I just like to use unbleached flour.
The consistency should be somewhere between a thick cake batter and cookie batter. I see sourdough gurus always advocating for cake batter consistency. In my experience, this is too runny to actually see your starter double and know that the yeast is strong and at a good level. You want your batter to have enough water so that the yeast will thrive, but enough flour to feed on. Trust me, as the starter rises, the yeast will put off a liquid. By the time your starter starts to fall, the liquid content will be very much increased and the starter will be runny.
It’s ok to use starter that’s fallen or is on the edge of 24 hours since being feed to bake bread or other products. YIKES! I feel like I just crossed a line. But here’s the deal… everyone always advocates to use starter that has doubled in size to go and use for bread making. They want it to float in water. I personally have found that my products take much longer to ferment and rise if I do this. Why? Because the yeast isn’t as concentrated!
At this point, the yeast have just started to get going. I want a concentrated yeast starter to use in my bread products. So I go head and take starter that was fed closer to 24 hours prior, but usually not past 24 hours. At this point, the yeast is ready to really get going again, it’s concentrated and hungry. It will float in water if it’s just a small amount. But large amounts will usually halfway float and sink. But when I throw it in a bread recipe, the yeast really just takes off. This results in my rise and fermentation time to be slightly shorter which I prefer.
You can leave your starter in the fridge for many months and still resurrect it. No joke! I don’t necessarily advocate that you do this, but it’s definitely possible. I recently just pulled my starter out of the fridge and really got back into baking with it again. The last time it had been pulled out of the fridge and fed? 6-9+ months prior. To resurrect my starter, I just took a small little bit of it and fed it in a new jar. Within 24 hours we were going strong again and doubling in size very quickly. A good and successful sourdough starter will be very resilient.
All there is to a Successful Sourdough Starter!
So those are my biggest and best tips that I have to date to help your sourdough starter thrive and be successful. It’s not all that complex, but the smallest things can make the biggest differences.
Have you every made anything with sourdough starter? Wishing you all the luck with yours!