Sourdough starter seems to be a mystery to a lot of people, but once you have it going it really is easy to manage. This post will focus on live sourdough starter that you receive from a friend or perhaps a bakery, not the kind that is powdered and you need to reconstitute.

What you need:

  • A clean jar or container, not very big. It should have a lid that you can screw on loosely so that gas can escape.
  • Flour
  • Water
  • A spoon

Really, that is it. I keep my starter on the counter and feed every 2-3 days. You can also keep your starter in the refrigerator and feed once a week. The reason I keep mine on the counter is that I like looking at it and it reminds me to feed it. In the fridge it tends to get pushed back and forgotten.

How do you know your starter needs feeding? An active starter with rise up and be very bubbly, usually the day after you feed it. The following day it will look flatter, and by the third day it will be decidedly flatter and might have some liquid on top. The liquid is just alcohol, just drain it off.

This is actually a little bit past the peak and is starting to deflate. I’d usually leave it for another day before feeding.

Regular feeding (without baking) is the same for each. Scoop out most of the starter. I use a quarter canning jar, which is a little too big, but right now I don’t have a pint one handy. I leave the equivalent of a tablespoon of the starter on the bottom of the jar.

You can either throw out the starter you scoop out or some people store it in another container in the refrigerator and just add it to whatever they are baking (like pancakes or biscuits). Frankly, most of the time I just throw it out.

Add 1/4 c flour to the jar. I used whole wheat. It has a little more of the vital minerals and sugars that the yeasties feed on, but white flour works fine too.

Add a scant 1/4 c of warm water to the jar. I just use the same measuring cup as I used for the flour, fill to the top and then dump a little out. Added bonus, you don’t really need to wash the measuring cup!

Stir it up until no dry flour is showing. I try to take care in stirring it to keep the starter on the bottom of the jar and use a clean paper towel afterwards to wipe down the inside of the jar. This is just for aesthetics and the fact that starter turns to concrete if left to dry.

I use a regular Mason jar lid with a ring for the cap and just barely screw on the ring. This allows gas to escape and some air to get in.

After feeding. (I forgot to snap a picture of what was left after discarding)

If you store on the counter, your starter can be used when it is bubbly for baking. If you are doing a long, slow rise with a levain, you don’t really need a super bubbly starter in my opinion. I mix up the levain with the starter in a bowl and stick in the oven with the light on. After 12 hours it is nicely bubbly and active for adding to the rest of your flour.

If you store in the refrigerator, plan on taking your starter out and feeding the day before you make your levain (or just bake). It needs time to come to room temperature and get active if you want a good result.