My sourdough starter has been through many phases. It has smelled bad, it has gone grey, it has even accidentally baked in the oven! There have been many successes and failures with my starter and I feel like I am only just starting to really hit my stride. My first starter was from a local bakery. I bought a pastry and asked nicely if they would give me some starter and they did! This is a great way to get started with a sourdough starter if you don’t want to worry about cultivating your own.
Keeping a starter can be challenging, which is why I have created this FAQ to answer all the questions of a new or seasoned baker looking to do some troubleshooting:
Why does my starter smell so bad?
This is probably happening because your starter is hungry. Discard most of it, give it a generous feeding and monitor for bubbles and activity. It is also important to become familiar with the smell of your starter so you can recognize when something is off.
What is Hooch?
Hooch is a brownish liquid that will develop on the top of your starter. This usually happens when the starter hasn’t been fed recently and is hungry.
What do you do with Hooch?
Don’t throw your starter away! Simply drain the hooch from the jar and discard most of the starter. Give your starter a large feeding that day and the next day and monitor it.
Do I need to weigh ingredients when feeding?
Ultimately, no you do not. Some people like to start by weighing water and flour to feed (I did!) and then switch to going by consistency. This worked well for me because now that I know what the starter needs to look and feel like, feeding is a breeze! You are looking for a very thick cake batter consistency. I always start with flour and then slowly add in water until I reach my desired thickness.
When do I need to feed less and when do I need to feed more?
When your starter hasn’t been as active and bubbly as you would like, feed more and often to revive it. You will also need to feed more when you discover hooch or any grey at the top of your starter (see above).
When your starter has been active and you don’t want to discard any before your next bake.
When should I feed my starter and when should I put it in the fridge?
It depends on how often you want to bake. If you plan to bake with your starter every few days, keep it out and feed small amounts roughly every day. If you are baking only every week or every other week, you can keep it in the fridge until a few days before baking. Pull it out a few days before baking and feed twice a day to get it active and bubbly.
What kind of container should my starter live in?
I like to keep mine in a large mason jar with a trigger closure, but you can keep it in any container with a lid and room to expand. I also love to sew a linen cover to make it look cute and homespun on my windowsill.
When should I throw out my starter?
Most any starter can be revived. I have only had to throw mine out once and that was because I accidentally baked it in the oven….not my finest hour, I will say.
Usually, my solution to an inactive starter is to discard most of it and give it a large feeding a few times until you see activity.
When does temperature matter?
I always like to feed my starter with warm water. I find that it helps a lot with activity.
The temperature of the air will change as the seasons do, but as long as it isn’t cold inside, your starter should be fine. It may take longer to rise in a winter kitchen, but that’s okay.
What flour should I use for feedings?
I like to use organic unbleached bread flour and rye flour. I usually use a larger amount of bread flour and then just a touch of rye (depending on the size of the feeding). Using rye in your starter is a great way to bring more activity and flavor so I would highly recommend trying it!
A simple feeding schedule for an active starter:
Day 1: feed in the morning
Day 1: feed at night
Day 2: feed in the morning
Day 2: bake in the afternoon
Day 3: feed in the morning
Rinse and repeat!
If your starter is inactive, follow this schedule but increase the amount you feed.
I hope this was a helpful guide to all your starter questions. I’m sure I missed a few things, so feel free to add more questions in the comments!