Hello my friends and family! My Pookies and Apple Dumplings! I am going to share with you how I maintain my sourdough babies. (Although my oldest, Tiffany Bubbles, is probably 20 years old?)
I am no longer baking in ‘la petite kitchen’, having moved to Alabama. (there’s a whole other story which you may already know about. ). I had been thinking of starting a new blog site with a different name. I used the name “la petite kitchen’ because I worked in such a small kitchen. I figured, if I can bake all this in this little kitchen, you can too. But what would I call the new one? How about “Recipes of mine for when I’m dead and buried.” Because that’s kind of why I do this, so my loved ones can go back and see how I made things. But the idea of starting over, with a new blog, it just doesn’t ring my bells, know what I mean? So I’ll stay here for now. (Probably updating some lazy recipe writing I’ve done in the past).
These days I am at the lake house kitchen and this is whats going on outside today. We have an appetizer of showers, and entrée of serious steady rain served with a dessert of wild-thing downpour, to flood low lying creeks and such. It will be bouncing back and forth between those three today. With the side dish of a possibility of tornado. Hmm. No thank you, I’m full.
Lets get to business.
I’m going under the assumption that you have some starter. Maybe you got it from a bakery or a friend. Maybe you bought some or even started your own. But you’ve got it and now aren’t quite sure what to do with it. There are lots of opinions out there and you may hear conflicting ideas.
I am here to sooth away those conflicting ideas. Just do it my way.
Okay, I’m just saying I’ve been maintaining sourdough now for a couple of decades at least and I’ve tried a few things. Some work better than others. I will show you what I use and what your options are and how it may turn out. So cuddle up with your jar of sourdough and lets get started.
I like to keep my pet sourdoughs in little 1 cup/8 oz mason jars. I used to think you had to keep a cup at least on hand and each time you fed it, you were using up cups and cups of flour. It distressed me to waste so much flour. Because I would end up throwing some of it away each feeding. Sometimes I would turn the throw-away dough into pancakes or biscuits. But not always. Besides, mason jars? Who doesn’t love using mason jars? Cheap, cute and easy to get replacement tops if you want. Dishwasher safe, need I say more?
I found out that you only need, really, to keep a tablespoon or so on hand. That was mind blowing, let me tell you! Liberating. I really only have to keep a tiny bit on hand? YES! I have about 3 tablespoons worth of starter in my jar and I keep the jar hibernating in the fridge. (I had the two, Tiffany and Dazzle, in an ice chest driving out here from California to Alabama, with a banjo on my knee.) Its all the seed you need to feed indeed. (hee-hee)
I last used Tiffany Bubbles to make sourdough bread, so Dazzle has been feeling neglected. Even if I don’t plan on making bread (which of course I am) they all need to be fed now and again. I can keep them in the fridge for months on end. They will begin to look slumbery with a gray liquid slowing building up on top. That liquid is called ‘hooch’ and you can drain it off or mix it in, it doesn’t matter at all. So about every 3 months or so I get them out to feed them, usually making some bread in the process.
Oh, I also have Sourdough Sam now as part of the sourdough family. It was a dry powdered starter my aunt brought back from Alaska in an envelope that is now a jar in the fridge. He’ll get fed next.
So I’ve fed Dazzzle…
She will be sitting out all day. I will keep an eye out for bubbles forming. That’s the nice thing about using glass. You can see what’s going on in there. Peek in the sides and watch as bubbles form.
So, get out your starter. Get out a glass bowl (ceramic is fine. plastic in a pinch.) You will just need some water and flour.
All you need is flour and water and I don’t really have to talk about water do I? Its tap or bottled or filtered, room temp. That’s it.
I have organic Arrowhead Mill white flour (it was on sale) so I am using that. Sometimes I use Wheat Montana. But organic is best, if you have it. King Arthur, Bobs Red Mill, Lily White bread flour, whatever. I steer clear of store brands. It just makes me cringe a bit inside. But I’m a flour snob, so take that into account and decide for yourself.
Some people recommend using a 50/50 blend of white and whole wheat flour. (Tartine bakery for one) They use that to feed their starter and make the bread. Go for it if you want. I once tried a full on 100% whole wheat starter. It died a miserable moldy death. Since then I’ve been afraid to use whole wheat. But I’m thinking a 50/50 blend should be good. I use white for the starter and add whole wheat in the bread itself, sometimes just a little for flavor, sometimes a lot. This is what I’m comfortable with. Its one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” things. Of course, I now have three sourdough babies. So the day may come when I try a blend to feed it. (Don’t worry Tiffany, I won’t experiment on you.)
You’ve got your starter, the bowl and flour and water on hand? Lets pull out the starter into the bowl.
Then I add water. About a half of my little jar is what I use.
Now I mix it up until it is a milky white soup looking thing. More like a chowder really.
Start scooping in the flour. You do not need to measure. You are going to learn to do this by feel, looks, texture.
I add 2 heaping scoops from a large spoon and mix.
I add a little more until I have this thick goopy dough. Thicker than pancake batter.
Now before we continue, lets stop and have a talk about our friends, the bacteria.
You see, there are two kinds of main bacteria living in your starter, hand in hand with the wild yeast. (The acid is, in fact, given off by the yeast. I don’t want to say ‘yeast waste’ or ‘yeast pee’ because that would be gross.)
That would be Lactic acid and Acetic acid. Warmer starters kept at room temperature and more runny, liquid starters tend to have more lactic acid and are milder in flavor. This is how I used to keep my starter because I didn’t know there was any other way. Cooler, less wet dough tends to grow more acetic acid, which is more sour. At Tartine bakery, they like it less sour, make bread every dang day and have the starter at room temperature and, while not runny, definitely goopier. Cool and groovy.
I bake sourdough less often. I must needs to keep the starter in the fridge or I would be wasting an enormous amount of flour feeding it every day, sometimes twice a day. I also like a more tangy sourdough flavor. Hence, I keep my starter in the fridge between bakes and I keep a firmer dough.
If you made lots of bread, at least twice a week, then you will probably be keeping your dough out at room temperature. So thats a factor in favor of lactic acid. If you keep your dough looser, thats also a plus for lactic acid. Firmer starters, like silly putty and chilled starters favor the acetic, sour taste.
What if you want a less sour taste but need to keep it in the fridge because you don’t run a bakery and don’t bake bread every day? Don’t worry my little sugar lumps. That’s easy. Keep the dough more jiggly, looser. The rest will happen during the break making process, when you bake the loaves. For example, I frequently ‘retard’ the bread dough by putting it in the fridge over night. This chilling and aging stimulates acetic acid. I bake it the next day and it has more flavor. So if you don’t want it more sour (and its really not all that sour in the end) then don’t do this. Don’t retard it. Don’t chill it. But thats not until you get to the bread stage. We are still at the ‘feeding of the starter’ stage.
Besides, don’t over think it. The bread will be awesome either way. The more you make it, the better idea you will have on what you like. You probably have bigger things to worry about then what kind of acid is in your starter anyway.
See that picture above? How the dough is pretty thick, leaving a trail in the bottom of the bowl?
FROM HERE ON OUT, YOU ARE IN THE SAFE ZONE.
You can do no wrong. If you leave it like this, its good.
If you add more flour to thicken it like so…
…its still good. You can stop here and let it grow bacteria babies.
Add even more flour until you can knead it a bit.
ITS ALL GOOD. WHAT EVER WAY YOU DECIDE, IT WILL WORK.
I’m just saying that for those nervous Nellies out there who think they may be ruining it.
The best way to ruin starter is to overheat it. That will kill it. Because its alive. If you are trying to keep it warm in the unlit oven with a lightbulb on because its winter and you are giving it a ‘push’, then you forget and decide to bake chicken for dinner and preheat the oven without removing the starter because you forgot it was in there, yes, that will kill your starter baby. If you mix it with really hot water (over 110 degrees), you will kill your starter baby.
But adding more or less water or flour will not kill your starter babies. Of course, they could starve to death if you put them in the fridge and forget about them for, oh, a year. But I’ve heard of people taking them out of the fridge after 6 months and feeding them, waking them up and they are still alive. I prefer to feed them at least every 3 months. (But since I don’t keep it written down anywhere, who knows? I should mark the date on the jar when I feed it. Yes! Brilliant! I will start doing that now.)
Your starter is fed. Now what? Let it sit in its bowl at room temperature to grow. The wild yeast is growing in the starter. It may be slow and sluggish at first, especially if its been in the fridge for a great length of time. The hibernating yeast is waking up, eating sugars found in the breakdown of the flour, winking at other yeasties and making yeast babies. By the end of today I should start seeing bubble action. At that point, tonight, I will take half of the starter out and either throw it away, or put it in a jar in the fridge to make pancakes or something out of it.
Out of whats left in the jar I will now add more flour and water. I have more to start with so I will add less water and flour. But I will get it back to the consistency I like. Runny, sticky, pasty, whatever. For me, thick and pliable. I will let this sit until morning.
NOTE: YOU NEED TO REPLACE THE JAR STARTER FOR NEXT TIME.
When do I put some back in the jar to hibernate again?
Good question Sonny-Jim.
After its showing signs of life and has been fed, so lets say after the second feeding. I fed mine this morning, thats the first feeding. Tonight will be the second feeding and they should be waking up by then. (especially Tiffany. Shes an active lady.) I wait a couple of hours after the active starter has been fed, then I take a scoop out, Put it back in my clean, sterilized jars and put it back in the fridge.
If I take starter out right after feeding, the yeast has not had time to wake up and multiply. If I wait too long, until its time for another feeding, there may not be enough flour food left to maintain the starter through hibernation. So
Second feeding, let sit 2 hours, take some out to replenish your starter jar for future loaves of bread.
So, recap. I will feed the starters again tonight, wait 2-3 hours then replace starter in my jars. At that point-technically I am done! I have fed my starters and replaced my stock. I can make biscuits or pancakes or cobbler or whatever out of the sourdough I have left.
But I am going to make bread with it.
Well, to be more specific, I am going to use this leftover sourdough to make the leaven which goes in the bread.
But that is for another day.
Happy feeding my dears!
PS I sterilize my jars by either putting them in the dishwasher for a load OR I wash them by hand. Fill half way with water, put in the microwave for 2-3 minutes until it boils. The steam created by this sterilizes the jars. Then I don’t have to replace my cheap masking tape labels.