Ask a dozen bakers how they look after their sourdough starter (or leaven), you’ll probably get a baker’s dozen replies. Everyone starts by avidly following guides to get started – Dan Lepard’s method in his excellent The Handmade Loaf is how I started mine, several years ago now.
After a little while, and probably with too much confidence and too little experience with a healthy touch of laziness, I wondered about just keeping the starter in the ‘fridge and just “feeding” it every-so-often rather than following the strict tending routines as some guides suggest? What would happen? Is there an easier way?
Well, I think there is and it is what I do. Some suggest tipping away the excess starter when feeding it to keep the culture vitalised. I’m a bit too mean for that – even though I’d give it to the chickens rather than the kitchen sink. So, I don’t throw any away, and only feed the starter when I need to bulk it up for a bake…unless it is going to be a long time until the next one, in which case I treat it with a bit of flour and water once in a while, when I remember.
So, now I live with a couple of starters in small Kilner pots (the plastic ones, 250ml, with clip-on lids – better than glass and metal), one white and one wholemeal. They sit in the ‘fridge from one week to the next, undisturbed and apparently happy. They have been left for a good 3 weeks – probably more if I am honest – with no ill effects that I can detect. They don’t look pretty, but they don’t need to win beauty contests.
When I want to do a bake, I take the starter from the ‘fridge and empty all of it into a bowl and add the flour and water that I need for the recipe I am to follow. I add in the ratio of about 5:4, that is for every 100g of flour I add 80g water, stir it up and leave covered at room temperature for about 24 hours – 48 makes it more lively.
When I come to bake, I put a dollop – to about 1/2 full – of the starter back into the Kilner pot and put it safely back into the ‘fridge before I forget and bake the lot. With the rest, I follow a recipe and proceed as usual.
It isn’t the most scientific method, but is really easy with no waste and little effort. For me that is perfect!
In a nutshell:
- Get your starter going – follow Dan Lepard’s method or get a sachet
- Keep your starter in the ‘fridge in a plastic Kilner pot
- A day or two before you need to bake, then remove it from the ‘fridge.
- Add flour:water in the ratio 5:4, stir, cover and leave at room temp 24-48 hours. It’ll begin to bubble away in a few hours.
- Just before you bake, put some starter back into the pot (I half-fill a 250ml Kilner) and return the pot to the ‘fridge.
- With the remainder, follow your favourite recipe.