A method of feeding and maintaining your sourdough starter that uses less flour but still lets you keep the starter on the counter. If you feel like you are wasting flour when you follow the recommendations for feeding your sourdough, read on.
Common recommendations for countertop starters
When you first get your sourdough starter going, it is important to follow the directions and discard a lot of it, add a lot more flour, and baby it a bit. It’s like a newborn, and the fact that it’s alive seems miraculous. You don’t mind the care, the time, or the expense of all the flour you are using.
As time goes on, the magic wears off, and you may find yourself wondering why you have to feed this thing two full cups of flour per day. Yes, the recommendation for maintenance is a cup of water and a cup of flour TWICE a day if you are leaving it on the counter. Madness.
When this starts to irritate you, the most common advice is to put it in the fridge. This sort of suspends its growth and hungriness, and in order to use it, you take it out, let it come to room temperature, do the whole routine, and then bake.
Sourdough starter maintenance video
Fridge vs. countertop for your sourdough starter
I have tried the fridge method a few times, and each time it has resulted in the death of my starter. (Not sure what this implies about my parenting skills.) It definitely becomes out of sight, out of mind. Your starter is a living, breathing element that gives life to your kitchen. Perhaps you have even named it. (Bert.). Putting it in the fridge is just all wrong. It becomes a chore to take it out, instead of just a couple seconds added to your daily routine. The container gets hidden behind things in the fridge. It starts feeling like work, and it’s easy to just not use it. We can’t have this. It belongs on the counter.
Buuuut…. Two cups of flour a day is simply too much. So I set out to experiment how much I could reduce the flour in each feeding and still have an active, healthy starter that would be adequate for baking with no commercial yeast.
The answer for me was that I could go all the way down to three tablespoons of flour and three tablespoons of water, once a day.
Maintenance vs ready to bake
However, these reduced feedings mean that it is not ready to bake with at all times. If I want to bake anything that requires a fed starter, it won’t be ready to do that with this schedule. I will need to give it one or two extra feedings before baking with it. I typically do one the night before and one when I wake up, then another later in the morning, a few hours before I start baking. The point it, get is super active right before you expect it to anything for you,
Let the state of the starter be your guide. When you add the flour and stir, it should start bubbling up immediately. That just tells you its active, but that’s not quite enough for a bread without any yeast. Before you bake with it, it should seem almost uncontrollably alive. It will be trying to escape, wanting to overflow the container, and looking extremely bubbly. If it’s not there yet, feed it again in a few hours.
If you find that you have to make a real effort to get it back to this super bubbly state, it may be that your maintenance feedings are too weak. Try a half a cup of flour once a day and see how that works. The needs of every starter will vary. This can be based on its age, the flour you use, and the temperature of your house.
What about discard?
Every other week or so, I make an effort to discard all but a half cup of the starter. If possible, I bake a recipe that calls for unfed starter. But sometimes I just pour it in the trash, and I don’t worry about it. I find that if I am using the starter three times a week, I don’t have to consciously discard it very often. If you don’t bake as often, you will need to make a conscious effort to discard.
After the discard, I do the recommended full feeding: a full cup of flour and water. Then the next day, I continue with my maintenance feedings.
It is hard to kill a countertop starter
Fridge ones die easily because they are forgotten. But when you are maintaining a sourdough starter on the counter, don’t be afraid to cut back on the flour for fear that it will die. It might weaken, but all you will need to do is increase the feedings if you cut back too much. Experiment with your starter’s limits, and let its appearance be your guide.
A final word about tools
There are very pretty sourdough starter crocks you can get if you want it It to be extra attractive on on your counter. I use a mason jar so I can see how active it is. When the jar starts looking gross from me spilling starter all over it, I pour it into a fresh mason jar so I can wash it. Easy.
As far as stirring goes, a butter knife works great. You don’t need a special spatula. That’s not really relevant but I wanted to throw it in there.