How (not) to maintain a sourdough starter

I know many bakers will tell you sourdough is finicky. I’m here to tell you I wholeheartedly disagree. I imagine sourdough is tricky to maintain if you expect the same outcome every time. It’s difficult to get sourdough to follow a recipe. Sourdough is not jarred yeast. It is not baking powder or baking soda – providing a measured chemical reaction.

Sourdough is alive. And like any creature it prefers staying alive. It does best if you feed it regularly. But lucky for me it doesn’t die as quickly as a houseplant if you forget.

It’s been a couple of weeks (two? maybe three?) since I baked a sourdough loaf. It was Christmas time, I did a lot of baking, all of it sweet. I was pretty sure I’d fed the sourdough the week before Christmas. But when I pulled it out Tuesday morning there was just a sad little half-cup of flour sitting under some grayish liquid. It smelled sour-but-not-spoiled. Good enough for me!

I put two thirds of it (plus the liquid) in a big bowl with three cups of flour and 1.5C of water. I mixed it all into a paste and put it in my warming cupboard.*

I mixed another half cup of flour and water into the mason jar with the remaining starter. Quietly apologized for neglecting it, and stuffed it back in the fridge.

10 hours later my dough was bubbly and happy. I added salt and enough flour to keep it from being sticky. I kneaded it, divided it in two, and formed loaves.

Sometimes my sourdough is amazing and tangy. Sometimes it’s yeasty. Sometime it is dense and maybe could’ve stood to rise a bit longer. Sometimes it’s poofy and baked a little too long. I imagine I’m more like a medieval peasant than a professional baker. My bread is a little different every week. But it’s always good. If I need it to ferment faster I keep it at room temp. If I need to make two loaves I feed it daily. If I’m not using it as often I keep it in the fridge and feed it every 5-7 days (if I remember.) Obviously all this variation is why I never get the same thing twice. But I also haven’t killed it yet!

*I’m not some fancy baker with a fancy setup. I just keep the cupboard over my fridge empty enough to hold a bowl of dough. I imagine everyone here could put bread dough on top of their fridge with a little rearranging.

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2 responses to “How (not) to maintain a sourdough starter

  1. “Medieval peasant” made me laugh so hard! I’ve decided 2019 will be the year I learn to bake bread, so this post just made me feel a whole lot better about what will doubtless be a year of erratic-but-enjoyable results!

    • baking bread is easy! Sometimes even baking good bread is easy ;-) But even when it’s a little dense or a little under-salted home made bread is sooooo good. Have fun!

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