Sourdough starters are a living breathing thing responding to food, time and temperature. They take a little bit of upkeep ~ feeding. It’s a small task, but a regular one, and you can’t forget, skip or leave it ‘for a day or two’… or your little sourdough culture will starve and die.
After making sourdough for more than a decade, it still makes me smile! However, it is a commitment. Coupled with the steep learning curve to start, kneading the dough and tending to each dough’s development, sourdough bread making is for the persistent and the passionate. This can be overwhelming and put a lot of people off from having a go at making their own sourdough or… giving up if they do try. Really though, it can be easy. So much so, that anyone can make it, whenever they want without all the fuss.
For this reason, I created a simple product, Sourdough flakes, which don’t require feeding. They are made from my 13-year-old starter and can be kept in your pantry or on your kitchen shelf to use when you want to bake anything sourdough. This is all about Beautiful Living Made Easy.
If you want to make sourdough without keeping a sourdough starter
Maintenance-free sourdough makes the same authentic loaf of homemade sourdough bread (and pizza!) as the traditional sourdough process, just without the ongoing feeding regime and the need to have some know-how. I am passionate that anyone, anywhere should be able to do beautiful things easily, starting with, but not limited to, sourdough!
Maintenance-free sourdough is designed to be stored on your pantry shelf without any regular feeding. It is amazing but it won’t be for everyone. If you want to bake sourdough more than once a week, maintenance-free will be a cumbersome way of making sourdough bread. If you bake more regularly but would like to feed your sourdough starter a whole lot less than you do, check out our low-maintenance way of keeping a sourdough starter. If you bake every few days, you will benefit from feeding your sourdough starter every day.
My products and processes are for those starting out, having trouble or time-poor and not so much for the alchemist.
For more information, browse Low-maintenance and Maintenance-free in the Sourdough menu above. Low-Maintenance is anote and check out our unique products.
How to feed a traditional sourdough starter
There are 3 feed factors to master:
Each will affect the health and growth time of your sourdough.
1: FOOD AKA FLOUR & WATER
Cake flour is for cakes, so they are soft and crumbly. Bread flour is for bread so it is chewy and stretchy. All-Purpose flour varies across the globe and in some places like Canada, it is strong flour (bread flour) but in Australia, it’s not for all purposes, such as making sourdough. If you see someone online using All-Purpose successfully for sourdough, it’s worth noting what country they are in and where they are sourcing their flour from.
What flour to feed your sourdough starter
To feed your sourdough, your flour needs to have 13% protein. You may be able to get away with 12% but anything less than that won’t give your sourdough the strength needed to rise a loaf of bread.
For a list of brands and stockists see What bread flour to buy and where to get it in Australia
How much flour to feed your sourdough starter
You need to feed your sourdough starter flour, and water equal to the weight of your starter. So if you have 10g of starter, feed it 10g of bread flour and 10g of water.
This will leave you with 30g of starter. So, next feed, you will need to give your starter 30g of water and 30g of bread flour. Hence the famous ‘sourdough discard’. Unless you bring your starter back to 10g again prior to feeding, by removing 20g of starter and ‘discarding’ it, your sourdough starter will grow exponentially, requiring larger and larger feeds each time.
TIP: When your sourdough starter jar is empty, weigh it without the lid and write the weight on the bottom of the jar in permanent texta. That way, if you keep changing the amount of starter in the jar, you can work out how much is in there, and thus what weight of water and bread flour to feed it.
HOW? When you feed your starter, discard some of it and weigh the jar with the remaining starter in it. Minus the jar weight from the total and you will be left with the weight of the starter – which will also give you your water and flour quantities because they are the same.
2 & 3: TIME & TEMPERATURE
These two feeding factors are inextricably linked. How often you feed will depend a little on your flour and a little on the personality of your sourdough starter, however, the temperature of your kitchen will be the biggest player.
Sourdough cultures grow faster in warm environments than they do in cold. In winter here in Australia, some days, I can go 24 hours between feeds. In Summer, 6-8 hours is the maximum time span before my sourdough culture is starting to wane. Yes, you read correctly. Every 6-8 eight hours. That’s three times a day.
You can of course store your sourdough starter in the fridge and feed it once a week. You need to bring it back to room temperature and feed it the day before you want to use it.
How to know when to feed
This part is easy. Each time you feed, place an elastic band around your jar to mark the level of your sourdough starter. This is the starting level of this feed and it will rise. The elastic band level (or you can use a whiteboard marker too) means you will be able to see when your sourdough has doubled, or more. This is when you need to feed it. How long it takes, will depend on your flour, starter but mostly temperature of your kitchen.
It is possible that this rising process takes place without you seeing your starter double. In particular in warm weather, when you’re out at work. You come home and it looks like it hasn’t risen. But if you move the jar around you will see it’s bubbly but runny. What has happened in this case is the sourdough culture grew so fast that it inflated (doubled) and then deflated because it was exhausted and wasn’t fed at the doubling point. If this does happen, simply discard some of the starter (so it doesn’t grow exponentially through feeding, wasting flour), and feed the remaining sourdough starter with water and flour (each) in equal weight to the sourdough starter. Eg. 10g Sourdough starter > feed it 10g water and 10g flour. You won’t be able to bake with your starter until it’s fed, happy, puffy and rising again.
Make your sourdough dough when your sourdough stater doubles – the same point as when you would feed it.
If your sourdough starter is puffy and bubbly, your sourdough loaf will be puffy and bubbly (as long as the dough process goes to plan). If your sourdough culture is flat and runny (exhausted) or flat and thick (inactive) your sourdough bread will be the same. The state of your culture will determine the state of your sourdough loaf.