Once you have a starter it is important to know how to look after it (the Basic Sourdough Loaf … see here … recipe will tell you exactly how much to feed your starter to get it active again to use, and how much to feed it to put it to sleep in the fridge ), but to review that information I’d like to emphasise the following.
After you have used your starter you must always feed it before placing it back into the fridge for it to go to sleep (hibernate).
When you wish to use it remove the starter from the fridge and feed it again. This allows the starter to become “active” over the next 4 to 8 hours (it will usually double in size). Once the starter is full of bubbles and spongy you are ready to use it.
The best temperature for sourdough starter is between 18C to 28C degrees, so a lower temperature (winter) will mean it takes longer for your starter to ferment, and a higher temperature (summer) means it will ferment faster.
If the day is really cold then you can encourage your starter to become active by placing it under your hot plate exhaust lights (I do this on cold days), or on top of the fridge to give it a little warmth, but do not place into direct sunlight as you may kill off the yeast.
It is recommended that the starter be used every week, but if you don’t need to bake weekly, then each week I recommend:
- remove it from the fridge and feed it 60g rye flour + 90g filtered water (which is 150g) so there is now 450g in your container which is a little less than normal so using less flour);
- allow it to become active as per normal (double in size and be spongy);
- “discard” all but 150g of the starter (so remove 300g and put aside to use later, or get rid of); and
- feed your starter 60g rye flour + 90g filtered water to go back into the fridge to maintain your usual 300g base amount
Whilst this may seem a waste of flour and effort, I always keep the “discard” to use in other recipes so it is never wasted. It will keep well in the fridge for at least a week until you need it. Also, by feeding the starter regularly and keeping it “lean” with just 150g starter left after each use (before feeding it to go back into the fridge), your starter will usually always be happy and maintain a healthy disposition
If you find a thin grey looking liquid has gathered on top of your starter in the fridge, that is usually an indication that your starter is “hungry” and is looking for more food. This liquid is referred to as “hooch” (see here for full explanation). Some people will mix that liquid into their starter when they feed it, but that can also affect the flavour of your starter and therefore your bread. I suggest you drain that liquid off and then feed your starter as usual, but take that as a sign that perhaps the quality of your rye flour is not good enough, or you have left it too long in-between feeds and your starter is letting you know.
If you find you continually want more starter to use for your bread making, then you can feed your starter a higher ratio of flour/water when taken from the fridge (stick to the 1 : 1 ½ ratio), or another option is to have a second container of starter that you feed each week so that you always have plenty of starter on hand for additional recipes, or to share with others. This is what I do so that I always have plenty to share around.
To create a second starter container, simply feed your first starter from the fridge as per usual so that you have 500g starter, once it is active remove 150g to a second container, then feed that container 60g flour/90g water to bring it to 300g and that is your second container which can now go into the fridge. You can then use both containers each week, or use them alternating weeks, but you will at least have two to draw on when needed. This is also a way of creating a second container to share with someone else if they have asked you for some (I always give others 300g so they can put it directly into the fridge to use when they are ready).