The Care and Feeding of Sourdough Starter by Donald Burger, Houston, TX

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Care and Feeding of Sourdough Starter
by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law

During the time when I am not actually baking sourdough bread, I keep my starter in the refrigerator. Just before refrigerating the starter I will give it a good feeding. Then I stir it up, place a pleated sandwich bag on top, and put it in the back of the refrigerator. Most books advocate weekly feeding of your starter each week. However, I have kept it refrigerated without further feeding for as long as three weeks. I have done this several times and each time I was able to reawaken the starter and use it successfully.

Storing the starter in the refrigerator lets me have started available for bread making on my schedule. The only problem is that you have to wake up the starter before you can use it for breadmaking.

In my experience, it takes four feedings (with each feeding being approximately twelve hours apart) to recondition starter so it is vigorous enough to use to make bread. I keep the starter at room temperature during this process. So let's get to the procedure I use.

Most bakers use a kitchen scale to measure their ingredients instead of measuring by volume (cups and measuring spoons). Scales result in greater accuracy, which makes it easier to duplicate results. I use an Eat Smart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale to weigh the starter, King Arthur All Purpose Flour and the bottled drinking water.

I keep my starter in a sixty-four ounce wide-mouth Ball/Mason Jar which I found at Target. Many books recommend using a one quart wide-mouth jar, but I like the bigger jar so I have a greater margin of error when the started starts bubbling. When I started my sourdough adventure I weigh the empty jar. It weighs 748 grams. This is an important fact in determining how much flour and water I will use to "feed" the starter.

Houch is the name for the pale grey liquid that forms on the top of refrigerated starter after several days. Houch is mostly alcohol. When I take the starter out of the refrigerator to wake it up, I pour off any houch that has formed on top.

After I pour the houch off, I use a hong-handled wooden spoon to stir up the starter. After it is mixed, I pour off most of it into a one quart wide mouth jar I use as my "holding tank." I have learned to estimate when there is only 200 grams of starter left in the jar. I verify this by putting the Mason jar on the scale. I am aiming for a reading of 950 grams. (Remember that the empty Mason Jar I use weights 748 grams empty.)

Next, I tare the scale and pour in 200 grams of King Arthur All Purpose Flour. Next, I tare the scale again and slowly pour in 200 grams of drinking water.

I don't use tap water because of the chlorine or chloramines in tap water and I don't use distilled water because all the books say not to use distilled water. That is probably because it tastes "flat."

After adding the flour and water, I stir thoroughly with the long-handled wooden spoon. Then I place a plastic sandwich bag over the top of the jar. These sandwich bags are the ones without the zip lock feature. They are cheap and they are effective in keeping random yeast spores and bacteria from contaminating your starter.

The water and flour feed the starter. It will wake up after a single feeding. However, it will not be strong enough to use in bread making until three more feedings.

Do these feedings approximately twelve hours apart, keeping the starter at room temperature during the reactivation process. On bread making day you will have a vigorous starter that will give you great sourdough bread.

After taking out sufficient starter for the dough, pour off the excess to get back to the 200 grams we started with. Add 200 grams of flour, 200 grams of water and a sandwich bag on top and put the starter into the refrigerator until the next time. If it will be a while before you make bread again, you can loosely attach the lid to the jar after it has been in the refrigerator for a few hours. Don't do that right away because the gases will need somewhere to vent until the mixture cools off.

Happy breading!

Written January, 2015

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