Troubleshooting Your Sourdough Starter

People often come to me with questions about sourdough, what’s right, what’s wrong etc so I thought I’d collate some of my knowledge (and learn some more) and share it with you.

Sourdough starter is a living culture, reacting to changes in its environment. Usually, minor changes to feed frequency or temperature of culturing location might be all you need.

sourdough bread

Is my starter bubbly enough?

  • It really needs to be almost foamy on top, bubbly like bath bubbles on the surface.
  • If it’s been 8 hours and it isn’t bubbly enough feed it again and wait. Sometimes, particularly from dried starter, it can take a couple of days to get the starter ready to bake with. You need to feed it to give the yeast sugars to feed on.
  • The problem may also be with the temperature in the room, particularly in winter. You want the temperature in the culturing area to be between 20℃ and 30℃. You can go down to about 18℃ but the cooler it gets the slower the process.
  • You can also use the ‘float method’ as a rough guide, you can put a spoonful of your bubble starter into a glass of water and if it floats it’s ready to use. Although I have used starter when it sunk and it was fine.

My sourdough bread isn’t very sour.

It may be the starter:

  • Lactobacillus is a friendly bacteria that is present in sourdough culture.
  • Lactobacillus feed on sugar and produce two kinds of acid as a by-product: lactic acid that gives the sourdough its mellow rich flavor and acetic acid that gives its tang and punch.
  • Depending on the conditions of your starter, one or the other of these acids is produced in greater abundance. Liquidy starter (near equal balance of flour and water) makes more acetic acid and your bread will have a more distinct sour flavor. A stiff starter (higher percentage of flour to water, about 2:1) makes more lactic acid, giving your final bread a more mellow, rather sweet taste.

It may be your dough.

  • A more sour flavour is developed over a longer slower proof, you want your bread to rise in a cool environment, maybe even punch it down once or twice during the rise or put your dough into the fridge for at least 4 hours or even over night, leave it on the bench for at least 1 hour to come back to room temperature.

How long will my sourdough starter last?

  • If you have purchased a Sourdough Starter Pack you will receive your starter in dried form. As is, the starter will last for up to 12 months at room temperature, but can be kept in the fridge or freezer for more than 12 months.
  • Active sourdough starter takes more care
    • If you keep your starter at room temperature you will need to feed your starter at least once every 24 hours.
    • In the fridge your starter can go 1 to 2 weeks between feeds but can last up to  months.
    • In the freezer the starter can last for a year or more, but may take several feedings to revive.

Can I use a bread machine to bake my sourdough bread?

  • Most bread machines have too short a rise cycle. The machines are meant to accommodate commercial yeast, which rises much faster than sourdough.

I’m just not feeling bread baking at the moment, how do I give my starter a rest?

Short break – 1 or 2 weeks

  • Simply keep the starter in the fridge and feed it weekly, discarding some if you get too much.

One month break

  • Continue feeding weekly, discarding when you have excess. Start to consider dehydrating some sourdough starter.

Long term preservation

  • For long term storage you should dry some ripe bubbly active starter to save for later use. Simply spread your active starter thinly on a sheet of baking paper and leave to air dry. Blend it into a fine power, put into zip lock bag and save in the freezer.

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Please let me know below if you have any other sourdough questions.

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