It’s September, and to many that means celebrating everything sourdough. Some of the first content I posted here was for sourdough bread—I’ve even done an instructional on how to make a starter! Now, however, I’m going to tackle one of the biggest problems you’re likely to face when caring for your starter…
Sourdough starters are a big like pets; think of your starter the same way you would your beloved cat or dog. They require care, and love. So, what do you do when you go on holiday? Well, you can’t just leave your pet to starve for two weeks now, can you? Maybe you have a friend who can look after it whilst you’re away? Or, and this is where sourdough is different, you can temporarily put it into hibernation!
In this post, I am going to cover three basic methods for storing sourdough in times when you cannot feed it regularly and/or don’t plan to make many loaves. I’ll also explain which is my preferred method and why.
Method One: ‘The Overfeed’
This method only really works if you plan on being away for no more than a week. Any longer, and you risk breeding mould!
Most starters are kept at a hydration of 80-100% and what this means is that the ratio of water to flour is between 0.8:1 and 1:1. My sourdough is kept at 100% which means, when I feed it, I feed equal parts flour to water and I have done since it was first made.
The lower the hydration (i.e. the less water you add when you feed) the longer it will take the yeast to eat before needing another feeding. I have tried different ‘low hydrations’ to see what is the optimal amount to bring the starter down to for a week and it seems that if you bring the starter down to a 50% hydration (i.e. a 1:2 ratio) and keep it in fridge for the week, your starter should be happy (albeit a tad hungry) when you return. I usually feed 80g flour and water so for this method I would feed 80g flour but only 40g water.
When you arrive home, you need to bring the hydration level back to its original state. If you fed 80g flour and 40g water before you left, you now need to do the opposite: feed 40g flour and 80g water.
It should be noted that this really is only a short-term solution. It’s also my least favourite method, as it means messing with the starter’s hydration level.
With that in mind, here’s my method two.
Method Two: ‘Sub-Zero’
This is probably the quickest of the three methods.
After feeding the sourdough, leave it out for an hour or so. Then, and this is really important, tip it into a freezer bag and put it into the freezer! Simple as that!
The reason I suggest using a freezer bag and not just freezing your tub or jar is that I usually clean my jar between feeds and with the freezer bag, you can just snip the corner of the bag and squeeze the defrosted starter into your clean jar.
When you come home, take the starter out of the freezer and defrost in the refrigerator over night.
I have had mixed results with this method, and you will sometimes need to go through a process of feeding daily for a week (a bit like when you first made your starter) before using it again. This is due to the starter being a bit lethargic after it first wakes up. Well, mine was… Yours may be more resilient. (That’s the beauty of sourdough: they’re all different)
Next is the final method I’m going to cover and the one I use the most.
Method Three: ‘The Air Dry’
About a week before you’re about to go on holiday, feed your starter as normal. An hour or so after you’ve fed it, spread three or four tablespoons of starter onto a lined baking sheet and place somewhere dry. An airing cupboard or larder is a good choice but anywhere dry where flies are less likely to be will wok, as the starter is going to be sat out for a few days.
You’ll notice that, as time goes on, the starter will start to dry and turn white and crispy. It will take a number of days to fully dry out but be patient. Once all of the starter has dried out, break it up until flakes and store in a jar or Tupperware until you want to use it again. This is a pretty good ‘long-term’ method of storing sourdough and you can keep your starter in this suspended state for several months.
When you’re ready to use it again, rehydrate your starter as follows:
- Taking 40g of dried starter and mix it with 40g of lukewarm water.
- Once the starter flakes have dissolved, add 40g of water and 40g of flour.
- The next day, add another 40g of water and 40g of flour (don’t discard any of your starter).
- Repeat feeding at least one more day. After day 3, the starter should be bubbling and ready to use. You can then go back to your regular feeding schedule.
And that’s it! If in doubt, I would always recommend Method 3. It is the most fool-proof method of the three and the one that I have had the best success rate with. It really is worth the bit of extra work.