Sourdough starters were the hit counter pet of the 2020 yeast shortage. With bread hard to find and yeast still even more impossible to source, the masses turned back to traditional wild yeast. What many found after carefully tending the symbiotic colonies of yeast however, is that feeding something as often as you feed your pet that never snuggles on the couch sucks. Pulling out the kitchen scale, carefully measuring, discarding half, and tending the bubbly starter loses its sparkle quickly. But the bread! The delicious, tangy, healthful sourdough stays delicious.
After three years of tending starters dutifully before letting them die on the counter, or putting them in the back of the fridge for so long even the healthiest starter can’t survive, I can say we’ve finally found how to simplify starter care in a way that works for a house with no time for fuss.
Before you Begin
Before you move off into feeding your starter simply and without measuring, it’s important to note that this applies to active, established sourdough starters. While this may work for some just beginning to nurture a starter from flour and water, it will save a lot of frustration to just begin with precise instructions and follow them. There are an abundance of resources online that detail exactly how to create a sourdough starter from scratch. I would personally recommend any tutorial that advises using equal weight flour and water. After the starter is bubbly and active, usually about a week after beginning, pay attention to the texture of the starter after feeding perfect ratios. Take note of the consistency of the mixture and grow familiar with it in this beginning stage.
The Simplified Process
When your starter is established, active and healthy, you are ready to simplify the feeding process. Take your hungry starter and gather your flour and water. Discard or bake with any that you don’t intend to feed and grow. Looking at how much starter you have left, add what looks to be about twice as much flour to starter. For example, I keep my starter in a half gallon mason jar. Typically at the end of each day I have about a half cup of starter left at the bottom of the jar, as is marked on the side of my jar. Eyeballing where the starter is, I add about double the flour to starter. So in this case I add what looks like a cup of flour.
If I have more starter, I add more flour and so on. From here add your water. You’ll want to add far less water than flour as you want to be near equal weight, NOT volume. Start with less water and add more as needed. Continue to tweak by adding a touch more flour or water as needed until your starter has the consistency of thick pancake batter. Since you have been tending your starter for a while, at this point you should be confident in the look you are going for. And that’s it! Sourdough starters are far more hardy and simple than they’ve been made out to be. As long as your general texture stays the same I have found no difference in using it for any recipe. If you try the method for a few days and feel that you’ve gone off track somewhere and need to reset, just take your starter back to the kitchen scale and feed it precisely for a day or two. It will even back out. After a time or two you will grow more confident as you see that your starter is just as vigorous as before, and far less work to maintain. Happy baking!