Sourdough Baking

The complete guide.

Maintaining your starter

Once you've successfully created your starter, you need to feed it regularly in order to sustain it. Regular feeding could mean anything from twice a day to once a week, depending on your schedule and how often you bake.

Understand that the less frequently you feed your starter, the longer it will take to get it ready for baking. If you forget your starter in the back of the refrigerator for months on end, you can probably still bring it back to life; but it will take nearly as long as creating a new starter from scratch. For best results, feed your room-temperature starter twice a day, and your refrigerated starter at least once a week.

Baker's Tip

Starter is difficult to measure by volume

Why do we denote starter amounts in grams first, rather than volume? Because starter volume can vary wildly, depending on how thick it is and whether or not it's fully stirred down before measuring. Weight will always be the most accurate way to measure starter — plus it saves cleaning a measuring cup!

Refrigerator storage: Feed once a week

Measure out 113g (1/2 cup) of the starter; discard the rest (or bake something with it). Feed this 113g of starter with 113g each water and flour. Cover it and let it rest on the counter until it starts bubbling (1 to 2 hours) before returning it to the refrigerator.

Refrigerator storage calendar

Room-temperature storage: Feed twice a day

Starter that's kept at room temperature is more active than refrigerated starter, and thus needs to be fed more often. Room-temperature starter should be fed every 12 hours (twice a day) using the standard maintenance feeding procedure: discard all but 113g, and feed that 113g starter with 113g each water and flour.

Room temperature calendar
Baker's Tip

How to increase a starter

If your recipe calls for more than 227g (about 1 cup) of starter, feed it without discarding until you've reached the amount you need (plus 113g to keep and feed again).

Be sure to feed it in the same proportions as usual: for the first feeding, 113g each flour and water; for the second feeding (since you're not discarding and will be feeding 339g existing starter), 339g each flour and water. This second feeding will yield more than 2 pounds, which should be sufficient for most recipes.

Why are time frames vague?

Want to be a successful sourdough baker? Relax! There are so many variables in sourdough baking that there's no possibility you can control them all every time out.

The vigor of your starter, the quality/complexity of your recipe, the hydration of the dough, even the weather outside — all combine to determine how much your bread rises, its texture, and what it tastes like. Experience is your best teacher: the more you bake with sourdough, the more comfortable you'll become with its "personality."

In addition, as you become familiar with sourdough baking you'll realize it doesn't have to rule your life; feeding every 12 hours doesn't mean, if you feed it at 4 p.m., you have to get up at 4 a.m. and feed it again; 7 a.m. will be fine. And if you miss a day or two of feeding (or a week, or two weeks, or...), don't worry. Your starter can almost certainly be revived by feeding it every 12 hours until it's healthy, then putting it back on its regular feeding schedule.

What about using whole grains?

Whole grain flours — chiefly wheat or rye — are often used when creating a new starter. They tend to bring more wild yeast to the game initially than all-purpose flour, since they're less processed; and they also provide a bit more food for the yeast to feed on.

Once your starter is established, it's not necessary to feed it with whole grain flour; all-purpose flour is fine. If you're baking a whole grain loaf, however, try using whole grain flour for the final feeding (setting aside some of your original starter to feed as usual); this will add a bit more whole grain to your final loaf, and also speed the starter up a bit, due to the extra yeast food in the grains.

How to dispose of discard starter

Dislike throwing away your excess starter? Rather than simply disposing of your discard starter, you can choose one of our "discard" recipes and bake something tasty.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to get rid of it.

If you compost, scoop it into your bucket or bin; it will quickly disappear into the mass of fermenting organic materials.

If you want to throw it away, it's best not to do so in its liquid state, as it can start to smell. Instead, pour it onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper and either bake it or let it air dry until it's brittle before throwing it away.

If you have absolutely no other choice, you could throw liquid sourdough starter down the drain — but do so with caution. You don't want the starter clogging your pipes. Place your discard starter in a large bowl and add cold water, stirring to thin it to the consistency of milk; then pour it down the drain, flushing the drain with additional cold water.

Will sourdough starter hurt your septic system? No, it shouldn't; it's simply organic matter and yeast. But again, make sure it's thin enough that it won't clog your pipes.


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