If you are going away for a period of time and don’t have anyone to look after your starter, here are some options.
Firstly, please be assured that your starter will be fine in the fridge for up to a month without attention if necessary.
If I am going away for just two or three weeks, I feed my starter the day before I leave to activate it, remove what I need to and feed it again to go back into the fridge so I know it has been freshly fed and is happy. When I get home, the next day the first thing I do is repeat this process and usually the starter is totally fine. It may be a touch sluggish for your first bake but it won’t take long to bounce back.
So these are the other options for longer periods of absence:
Dry your starter (this is also a great way to post your starter to others interstate or overseas):
Smear your starter as thinly as possible on a silicon mat and let it fully dry (be patient as this can take up to 48 hours).
After 24 hours, gently peel off the pieces that are still damp and turn them over so that the air can get to both sides: once all the starter is completely dry break into flakes and store in an airtight container – dried starter can be stored for months.
To restart it:
- On Day 1 – dissolve 30g of flakes in 120g filtered water, stirring occasionally until the flakes have fully dissolved, then stir in 120g rye flour and allow to become active (which is when you see bubbles), this can take a whole day but leave on the bench overnight to mature;
- On Day 2 – feed the starter 80g rye flour and 120g filtered water and allow to rise as per normal. The starter in now ready to use.
Make a thick starter:
Activate your starter by feeding it as per usual until bubbly; then add as much rye flour as necessary to make it into a solid mass; keep it in the fridge until needed (the thick batter will maintain the yeast better over longer periods of inactivity in the fridge); before using rehydrate the starter with filtered water until it’s a thick pancake like batter; then feed it as per normal and keep in a warm place allowing it to become active.
Freeze your starter:
Whilst I have never done this myself, I have read that you can freeze your starter for few months at a time. The longer the starter is frozen, the less viable the microorganisms will be, so plan to only do this for a few months and preferably not a year, although I have read that is possible too.
To freeze the starter, combine 75g active starter with 75g rye flour (so that you have 150g). Mix and knead these ingredients together until you have a stiff ball. Allow it to ferment at room temperature for an hour then place it into a container or freezer bag, mark date on it and freeze. When you are ready to use it, thaw at room temperature and feed it as you would normally.