Your sourdough questions answered
Sourdough starters are actually SO simple to make that it’s hard to believe it can really work. But it does! You just have to provide it with the right environment, food, and water. There are a few things that can absolutely kill your starter. And they are:
Heat – Contamination – Neglect
If you expose your starter to heat (warm is great- not hot!), the good bacteria will die off. Likewise, if your starter gets something in it, or if your flour is bad, or your water contains too much chlorine, your starter can grow harmful bacteria instead of the good guys that make it so awesome. Likewise, like all living things, your started needs regular maintenance- food and water. Your starter’s needs are simple, but they are basic.
At any rate, in the time it takes your starter to mature, your mind will race host a myriad of questions. Hopefully this collection of the most common will help put your mind at ease and enjoy the process!
Frequently Asked Questions
MISSED OR LATE FEEDING: Totally fine. Just feed it and get back on schedule.
WHAT IS THIS LIQUID?: The liquid that forms in your starter is an alcohol called “Hooch”. You can stir it in or pour it off. It is totally normal and just means your starter needs to be fed.
WHY DOES MY STARTER SMELL LIKE CHEESE? Young starters can develop a variety of smells. It can smell like aged Parmesan, alcohol, or even your gym bag. But it should level out after a feeding or two and develop a slightly fruity, tangy aroma. The smell will be slightly acidic if it develops hooch and needs to be fed. If it smells rancid, throw it out.
IT WAS BUBBLING, BUT STOPPED. It’s okay. Just be patient and keep feeding on schedule. Don’t stress and trust the process.
THERE IS SOMETHING GROWING ON IT. If you see white, green, grey or blue fuzz it’s time to toss it. Some people will tell you to scrape the mold out, but the spores could be throughout the starter. Plus, mold growing tells you that some form of contamination has happened.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN IT’S READY? Your starter will be ready to bake with as soon as it predictably rises and falls after feeding. It should form bubbles and double in size. It will follow a daily pattern of being fed, rising/bubbling, falling.
DO I HAVE TO DISCARD THE EXTRA STARTER? Yes. If you don’t you will end up with a ginormous amount of starter. But if you feel bad throwing it out, try using one of my Sourdough discard recipes from the blog. The banana bread is my current favorite!
WHEN DO I BAKE WITH IT? As your starter develops the predictable rise and fall pattern, you will learn to recognize it at it’s peak. You want to use it when it is most risen and active.
WHEN CAN I REFRIGERATE IT? As soon as your starter is mature, you can safely refrigerate it. When you get ready to bake, take it out the day before and feed it in the morning and in the evening. By the next day you should be ready to bake with it. Just watch it to make sure it is getting a solid rise.
So there you have it- your sourdough questions answered. I hope this helps you to relax and enjoy the natural process of wild fermentation!