How to look after your starter (2024)

How to look after your starter (1)

Once your starter is alive and active it only needs to be fed when you want to use it.

Store your starter in the fridge with a fitted lid on in between uses. Your starter stays happily dormant in the fridge, you will see just how magic it is when you take it out of the fridge and it looks sludgy and dull, and then it comes up to room temperature and you feed it and it bounces back.

How to look after your starter (2)
How to look after your starter (3)

My Star, above, for the fridge after a few days lying dormant

After feeding and leaving her to do her work, she’s all bubbly an active and ready to go, as the photo at the top of the page shows. This may take 2-3 hours in the summer, or 4-5 hours in the winter, your room temperature will have a big effect on how your starter behaves and responds. Warmth will speed it up, cold will slow it down. Watch your starter and see how it behaves for you in your environment, and take a note of its activity, the temperature and timings for future reference,

It truly is hypnotic, you can see why people fall in love with sourdough, and why some people get a bit obsessive about their starters.

As time goes on, you will get a feel for your starter and how strong it is. You will realise that if you forget to feed it for a couple of weeks, it can still be nurtured back to life. If you’re going to be away for many weeks or months, you can feed it up, get it bubbly and active, and dry it out on parchment paper and store it in a jar until you’re ready to reactivate it.

And the most important part of keeping a starter: give it a name! Mine is called Star.

What you need to know about your starter…

There is a short window of time when your starter is as its peak, which is when it’s at its most bubbly and active and has grown in volume the most; this is a glorious thing to see. It should be a lovely glutinous consistency, with a thickness like a thick mini pancake batter, and full of bubbles as you stir it. If it has gone past this point it will reduce in size again, and become flat and lifeless but this doesn’t mean it’s dead, it just means it needs to be fed to bring it back up to its optimum strength.

In between feeds, whilst your starter is in the fridge, it becomes dormant and sometimes it will look like it’s separated, with a layer of murky liquid on the top often called the ‘hooch’. This is absolutely normal. Just stir it all back together again and use the starter as required.

Only ever keep 100g or less of starter…

You don’t need any more starter than that, keeping your starter lean enables you to feed the whole starter every time your use it, which helps it make it stronger and stronger with every use.

If you try and keep more it will become slow and sluggish and inactive.

If you’ve got more happy bubbly starter than you need on that day, you can make another loaf, use it in other recipes, dry it out and gift it someone else, or merely discard it.

Don’t change the container…

Your starter lives happily in the bowl or jar or whatever you made it in, it does not need to be cleaned and changed, if it’s happy where it is, leave it, don’t disturb it. The bowl does not need to be spotless or pristine, it’s a working vessel. Any dried flour or starter up the sides of the bowl is all good extra power, scrape it off and stir it in.

TheONLYtime that the bowl needs changing, or indeed that your starter is at risk, is if it develops mould. In this case, your starter is lost and you will need to make a new one in a clean bowl.

What is ‘discard’?

When you read about sourdough and starters, you will see a lot of discussion about starter ‘discard’; this is the name given to the excess of starter that is generated when making a starter, or from the process of feeding it. It basically means the extra, and if you do generate more than you need, there are lots of recipes for using it in different ways, including some on my blog.

I never have any discard because I keep a base amount of starter that is sufficient to feed it when I need it and I know exactly how much to feed it for my uses, so I ever end up with too much. Sometimes I feed her more than others to be able make more loaves at once or use starter to make something else, like flatbreads or pancakes, but I only ever keep that 100g or so. Which is also what my guide for reviving my dried starter is based on, so that you always end up back at the same amount after feeding and using.

In between uses…

If you’re not going to use it for several weeks, keep it safely stored in the fridge with a firmly fitted lid. It will be perfectly fine and you do not need to take any special action. Many established starters have lived unused in fridges for weeks and months and have been absolutely fine, working perfectly when next used.

Change of plan…

If you got your starter out of the fridge thinking you were going to have time to make some dough up but it turns out you haven’t, just put it untouched back in the fridge. Unless it been a 7-10 days since you used it and it needs feeding, then do as above.

When you want to bake a loaf…

Take your starter from the fridge and let it come up to room temperature. Feed it with 30g of strong white flour + 30g of water, stir it well, and allow it to become fully active and ready to use, this can take 2-6 hours depending on the room temperature. If you feel that the mix feels a bit thin, add a tablespoon more of flour.

Forget ratios

You may have read about needing to feed your starter based on ratios and even quantities of starter, water and flour. This is not necessary. As you will see fromabove, I feed my starter based on what I need for my dough, NOT based on how much starter is in my bowl, and this works perfectly. I don’t portion any out, and I don’t keep jars of extra unneeded starter. I also give my starter what she needs; for example, if your starter has become thin, and therefore weak, for any reason, give it extra flour to thicken it back up to its previous consistency and strength.

Don’t worry

Most importantly, don’t worry about your starter. It’s very easy to worry about our beloved pots of joy, but they are far more resilient that you may be thinking. Follow the steps and guidelines and it will work perfectly.

How to look after your starter (4)

Starters can be made with any kind of wheat based flour, this one above is made with wholemeal/wholewheat flour; all of the same tips and notes apply.

For more help visit my frequently asked questions page.

How to look after your starter (2024)


What do I do after I feed my starter? ›

Cover with either a tea towel or a glass lid. I like using a glass lid, because a towel tends to get really messy. Allow to sit of for 4-12 hours before using in a recipe, once it has about doubled in volume. If not using for baking, feed about 12-24 hours after last feeding or place in the fridge.

Do you feed a starter every day? ›

I like to feed it at least once a day to keep it strong and ready for baking. If you aren't baking for a while, you could store your starter.

How do I know when my starter needs feeding? ›

At some point, you'll experience a dark, grayish liquid on the surface of your sourdough starter. Don't stress. Hooch is just a sign that your starter needs to be fed. Simply pour it off, removing any discolored starter underneath and give it a fresh feeding.

How long can a starter sit? ›

Let everything sit until it looks like it needs another feeding, usually 12 to 24 hours, at warm room temperature. It's important to try and keep the mixture warm during this time. A temperature between 78°F (25°C) and 82°F (26°C) would be ideal.

Can I skip a day of feeding my starter? ›

Don't worry — everything will be just fine. A sourdough starter is often likened to a pet, but unlike a puppy, if you forget to feed it when you're supposed to, nothing bad will happen. Because even though starters are technically alive, they're incredibly resilient.

Do I need to discard every time I feed my starter? ›

Experts recommend feeding a starter twice daily. And at each feeding, you hold onto 1/2 cup of your original starter, discard the rest, and then add its same weight in water and flour.

Can I overfeed my starter? ›

Premature discarding and overfeeding will weaken your starter and elongate the process. Don't discard and re-feed a weak starter before it shows increasing bubble activity or height from the previous feeding. If you don't see more bubbles or a faster rise each day, skip a feeding, and give it more time.

Should I stir my sourdough starter between feedings? ›

stir your starter in between feedings - try stirring it twice in between feedings and really give it a chance to get oxygen into the mix. This will help to activate your starter without too much effort.

How many hours after feeding my starter can I use it? ›

How do I know if my sourdough starter is ready to use? When your starter is reliably rising to double or triple its size and falling in the jar anywhere between 4-8 hours after you feed it (dependent on your ambient conditions and the flour you feed with) it is ready to bake with.

Why is my sourdough starter bubbling but not rising? ›

If your starter gets completely covered on top with bubbles but does not rise, it is healthy but may just be a wet mix. Try reducing the water in your next feeding and see if you have different results. Also, the type of flour you are using can impede the rise of your starter.

What does a hungry starter look like? ›

Hungry yeast will eventually produce hooch if you don't feed them. A hungry starter will collapse. It may be more runny than when you first fed it and it can also start to smell like acetone if it's left hungry for a little too long.

What should starter look like after feeding? ›

There is a short window of time when your starter is as its peak, which is when it's at its most bubbly and active and has grown in volume the most; this is a glorious thing to see. It should be a lovely glutinous consistency, with a thickness like a thick mini pancake batter, and full of bubbles as you stir it.

How long can a starter go without being fed? ›

A starter stored in the fridge can be fed once a week. If you plan to use it often, you can store it for up to two months without feeding. When you want to use the starter again, remove it from the fridge for a few hours, then feed it every 12 hours for 36 hours before you make bread with it.

How do I keep my starter from going bad? ›

best bet for long starter life is to only crank engine when you have a fully charged, known to be good battery. One doesn't know if the battery is bad until they try starting the engine. Tester: One doesn't know if the battery is bad until they try starting the engine.

How often does a starter need to be fed? ›

Daily Feeding: If you maintain your starter at room temperature (around 70-75°F or 21-24°C) and want it to be ready for baking within a day or two, daily feedings are recommended. Discard a portion of the starter and feed it with fresh flour and water every 24 hours.

What should I keep my starter in? ›

Glass is the best material for a sourdough starter jar. Glass won't degrade over time or absorb aromas or flavors, and most glass jars can safely be washed in the dishwasher. Plus, with glass, you can easily see the signs of sourdough starter fermentation.

How do I bring my starter back to life? ›

You can try to revive it by pulverizing it and adding water, then feeding it on a regular schedule. But if it doesn't respond at all (no growth, no bubbles) after three or four days of twice-a-day feedings, you might as well start over.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jerrold Considine

Last Updated:

Views: 6092

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (78 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jerrold Considine

Birthday: 1993-11-03

Address: Suite 447 3463 Marybelle Circles, New Marlin, AL 20765

Phone: +5816749283868

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Air sports, Sand art, Electronics, LARPing, Baseball, Book restoration, Puzzles

Introduction: My name is Jerrold Considine, I am a combative, cheerful, encouraging, happy, enthusiastic, funny, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.