Learning how to feed your sourdough starter can seem very daunting in the beginning. I’m here to clear up the confusion and show you the easy (aka lazy) way to feed and maintain your sourdough starter.
This method will lead to the best, extra sour sourdough you have ever made.
There are many tutorials available to teach you how to care for and maintain a sourdough starter, but it can quickly become overwhelming. The reason for much of the confusion is because there is no one way to feed and care for your sourdough starter. It is very similar to a child in this aspect. Each is unique and responds differently to it’s environment.
So now that you have made your sourdough starter (or bought/received from a friend), now it’s time to feed and maintain the starter.
- What does it mean to “feed” your sourdough starter?
- How to feed your sourdough starter
- What to do with the unused sourdough starter
- Dealing with Sourdough burnout
- How to decrease feedings
- Storing in the refrigerator
- Drying the sourdough starter
- What to do with your sourdough starter
- Frequently asked sourdough starter questions
- How To Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter
What does it mean to “feed” your sourdough starter?
Once you have made your sourdough starter by combining flour and water and are seeing signs of activity with bubble, it is time to feed it. Feeding means adding flour and water to a small portion of your sourdough starter to maintain a balanced flavor and control the fermentation.
How to feed your sourdough starter
Feeding your sourdough starter is really very easy.
Just scoop out ¼ cup sourdough starter and place it into a clean and dry jar.
Add ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
and ¼ cup filtered warm water
and stir well.
Then set it in a warm location for 12-24 hours or until bubbles start to form.
After 12 hours, repeat the feeding. Continue to feed every 12 hours until the sourdough is well established and bubbly. The bubbles indicate the starter is alive, active, and ready for baking. You can decrease your twice a day feedings to one time a day after 3-5 days.
Sourdough starter are typically ready to use in about a week when you see it doubling in size. However, if you want a really sour sourdough then it will require longer.
If you notice the starter is having a hard time becoming active then you may want to alter the environment by adding moisture and warmth. When I want to ensure increased activity then I will fill a Crockpot with hot water, turn it on low, and set the sourdough jar near it. This creates a nice moist and warm environment to get your starter going. Just make sure it doesn’t get too warm or this could negatively effect your sourdough.
What to do with the unused sourdough starter
The original starter, after you have taken out the ¼ cup, is referred to as the “discard”. Yes, you could throw this away but that does seem like a waste of precious sourdough. However, unless you have a very busy baking schedule you will find you will have more sourdough than what you need. Your discard is typically what is used for your recipes. Just remember that you want to feed the discard and wait for it to become bubbly and active prior to using. If you are not ready to use it then you could you put it in the refrigerator for long term storage or give it to friends, family, or neighbors to use.
Dealing with Sourdough burnout
Sourdough burnout is a thing. Those first few days of starting and feeding your sourdough is full of excitement and anticipation for that first wonderful bread or baked good. Then, after you have fed this living thing for what seems like the millionth time YOU ARE DONE!
There are several things you can do to decrease sourdough activity so you don’t have to feed it all of the time:
How to decrease feedings
If your sourdough is alive and at room temperature then it must be fed daily. In order to decrease the feeding you need to make your sourdough starter go dormant. This can be done by storing the sourdough in the refrigerator, drying the starter, or freezing the starter.
- Store it in the refrigerator.
- Dry it.
- Freeze it.
Storing in the refrigerator
This is my favorite preservation method by far because IT IS SO EASY. Simply put your sourdough starter, jar and all, into your refrigerator and walk away. That’s it! Traditionalists will tell you to feed your sourdough every 1-4 weeks to keep it alive and going strong.
However…I must admit I have went MUCH longer than this and was still able to bring it back.
In fact, leaving it in the neglected in the refrigerator is my favorite thing to do and is how I store my sourdough long term. As in I place it in the refrigerator, walk away and don’t don’t come back to it until the next Fall…8 months later!
Drying the sourdough starter
King Arthur Baking has a great tutorial on how to dry a sourdough starter for long term storage.
The Spruce Eats explains the best way to freeze your sourdough starter for long term storage.
What to do with your sourdough starter
Now that you have an amazing sourdough starter it’s time to bake. This easy rustic dutch oven sourdough bread recipe is my favorite to date. It produces the bakery quality sourdough bread at home.
Frequently asked sourdough starter questions
In the beginning? Yes. In the long term? No. A sourdough starter that is new will need to fed daily to develop that signature sourdough flavor over time. Any sourdough starter that is stored at room temperature will also need to be fed daily. Once it is established then you have several options for storage when you are not baking regularly. These storage options with decrease the sourdough starter activity and therefore decrease feedings. Long term storage options include refrigerating, freezing, or drying.
You will need to feed your room temperature sourdough starter 1-2 times per day to keep it active, bubbly, and ready for baking. Starter that is kept in the refrigerator can be fed much less often, 1 time every 1-4 weeks. Or you can see how I avoid feeding my sourdough for up to 8 months.
The most common flours used to make a sourdough starter are unbleached All-Purpose flour, bread flour, rye flour, and wheat flour. The kind of flour you use will depend on the flavor and characteristics you want your starter to have. To see an in depth review on types of flours used and appropriate ratios you can check out Serious Eats Best Flour for Sourdough Guide.
Once the sourdough starter is made, then use unbleached all-purpose flour to feed it. If it is sluggish then adding some rye flour into the feedings may give it an extra boost.
If you don’t have the time to feed your sourdough daily then you can place the starter in the refrigerator which will decrease the feeding to 1 time every 1 to 4 weeks (or not at all).
Take ¼ cup sourdough starter from the refrigerator and add ½ cup flour, and ¼ cup water to a clean glass jar with a loose fitting lid. Give it a stir. Feed the sourdough this way every 12 hours until it is bubbly and active, then it is ready to use. At this point feedings can decrease to one time per day or you can place it back in the refrigerator so you don’t have to feed it.
No, you cannot use sourdough starter straight from the refrigerator. It is in a dormant state and needs to be fed and warmed up to become active. Sourdough starter should be used when it is bubbly and active.
To revive an inactive sourdough starter that has been removed from the refrigerator you will need to feed it with purified warm water, unbleached flour, and set it in a warm location.
When deciding the best way to store your sourdough between baking periods it is important to know the length of time you anticipate between baking. If you plan on baking within a few weeks or even a month then then refrigerating your sourdough starter is the best option. If you need very long term storage then drying is likely the best preservation method, though freezing is an option as well. With this said, I have kept my sourdough starter in the refrigerator, unfed, for 8 months and it was fantastic!
How To Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter
- 2 glass storage containers (needs to hold at least 3 cups) with loose fitting lid
- 1 cup water warm, filtered
- ½ cup rye flour
- ½ cup flour unbleached, all-purpose
- additional flour and water for future feedings
Make the sourdough starter
- Combine the flour and warm filtered water in a glass container and stir to combine.
- Add a loose fitting lid.
- Allow the starter to sit in a warm location for 12 hours and then begin feeding the starter.
Feed the sourdough starter
- In another clean glass jar add ¼ cup of the sourdough starter, ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, and ¼ cup warm filtered water.
- Stir well and add a loose fitting lid and sit in a warm location for 12 hours.
- Feed the starter every 12 hours (using the method just described in the step above) for 5 days, or until the starter becomes active, bubbly, and rises. At this point you can decrease feedings to 1 time per day.
- If you are unable to feed the starter daily, or just need a break then place the sourdough starter into the refrigerator so it will go dormant.
- When you are ready to resume baking, then remove the starter from the refrigerator and resume the same feeding schedule as described above (twice a day until the starter becomes very active and bubbly and then decreasing to one time per day).