Sourdough Starters – How Do you Care For Yours?


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:

  1. Get your starter going – follow Dan Lepard’s method or get a sachet
  2. Keep your starter in the ‘fridge in a plastic Kilner pot
  3. A day or two before you need to bake, then remove it from the ‘fridge.
  4. 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.
  5. Just before you bake, put some starter back into the pot (I half-fill a 250ml Kilner) and return the pot to the ‘fridge.
  6. With the remainder, follow your favourite recipe.


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  1. Me too, I do much the same and do not throw away any of the starter either. I think that there is a possibility that the starter can become too acidic although I have not found this. As long as a teaspoon of the revived starter floats in water (so has lots of gas) then it is ready to go.

  2. Jane Hoskyns on

    I am a bit puzzled by all the people who feed their starters regularly. I keep about 50g of starter in the fridge and have no problems with reviving it even after several months in the fridge. I revive it overnight with about 50g of flour and 50g of water and then feed again if I need lots of starter for a big bake. I did once have one that went off and smelt awful but I have kept starters going for several years this way. I also pre-ferment overnight in the fridge and sometimes prove for one or two nights in the fridge to develop the sourdough flavour which I really like quite strong.

  3. Hi

    Sorry for the late response. I’ve been too busy to bake or anything.
    Anyway, I think I’ve cracked it. I’d been feeding my starter and watched it bubble, but it still didn’t float when I tested it. Then the penny dropped. The starter looked too sloppy, so I discarded some of it and just added flour with no liquid. Because of the heat of the days we’re enjoying, I left it for about six hours and then tried it. It passed the test, so I used it for baguettes from the recipe in Tartine Bread. Due to put them in the oven in about an hour!

    Thanks for your help


  4. Once you have your sachet up and running, which you have (bubbling away), it will then perform like any other sourdough starter. If very warm then you may find that the flour you add is exhausted in less than 24 hours, similarly, if very cold, it may last longer. I find that outside extremes of temperature, that my sourdough sitting on the kitchen worktop, fed once a day over 3 days gives me lots of vigourous starter, in my case, enough to make 6-8 loaves. Maybe try a feed very early in the morning after feeding over the previous couple of days, see if that gives you the vigour. There are only a few things that it can be – the water, the flour or the temperature. I don’t think it would be the flour so really only water or temperature to consider (I suppose time too).

  5. Hi, it was my iPad that changed it. It should be regular feeds. I have been feeding it twice a day and used cool boiled water, as well as water left in a jug overnight and bottled. I followed the instructions from Bakery Bits and fed it 24 hours before use, but after 24 hours it was as I had described and would not float in water even after an extra hour or so. I don’t know what I have done wrong at this point, but I am thinking that I should try leaving it for just 12 hours before use.
    I know there will be no stopping once I’ve cracked it, but it is very frustrating. I am also going to prepare some Sekowa as back up. I only get to bake at weekends.

  6. Hi

    Thanks to my ipad correctional system that should have been “regular feeds”. I fed it daily, twice a day because I didn’t refrigerate it and I tried tapwter left overnight in a jug, cooled, boiled water and bottled water.
    I was happy enough, then followed the instructions from the BB leaflet for the herb bread. I fed the starter with the suggested amount and left it for 24 hours. 24 hours later, it was very quiet and liquid was just beginning to appear on the surface. I tested a spoonful in water and it didn’t float, so I left it for an hour or so and tested it again. Needless to say, I couldn’t use it, which is most disappointing.
    I am beginning to think that I should feed it and use it after only 12 hours. I only have the time to bake at weekends, so there is a long period before I can try again and it is very frustrating. I know that once I’ve cracked it, there’ll be no stopping me, though.

    Thanks for your help. It is very much appreciated.

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