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Brains Trust

Questions answered by Emily Stokes of @fermaculturefarm who has been running sourdough workshops for 10 years, teaching people how to keep their sourdough starter fit and healthy.

SOURDOUGH

How long can my starter go without being fed?

If you are leaving your starter on the bench all the time then it’s best you feed it every day. If you are not baking bread every day, then feed your starter, put it in a clean jar with the lid on it and store it in the fridge.

How long can my starter survive in the fridge?

If you are storing your starter in the fridge, try to feed it once a week. It will survive for a few months in the fridge without feeding, however it will take longer to revive when you want to bake again, usually between two and three days, feeding every 12 hours.

Why does my starter go smelly more quickly in summer?

The bacteria proliferate and thrive at higher temperatures (30–35 ºC), whereas yeasts in an acid environment prefer slightly cooler temperatures (18–25 ºC). To stop the bacteria taking over and allow a healthy yeast population to grow, it’s best to keep your starter and rising bread dough at the cooler temperature. You will need to find the perfect spot in your kitchen, which might be different for summer and winter.

Have I killed my starter?

If your starter is looking flat, has mouldy growth on the top and smells a bit like something has died, then you may have killed it. Don’t throw it away, though. Scrape off the top and see if you can find a teaspoon of fresh starter underneath that you can feed up and get going again. Your compost will enjoy what you can’t use.

Why does my bread have doughy bits?

Look first at your starter. Make sure you at least double the volume of your starter at every feed (you can also triple it). That means if you have one cup of starter, you should have at least two cups (or more) after feeding. You could try taking a heaped tablespoon of your current starter, put it into a clean bowl, and feed with half a cup of flour and enough water to make a thick paste. Do this every 12 hours for a few days, taking only a heaped tablespoon each time, and you should start to see some bubbly activity. It also means you will have a bit of sourdough discard, but don’t throw this away. You can use it to make pancakes, crackers and more (see page 50). Make sure your starter is always at room temperature, in a warm spot if you have a cool house. Use your starter 12 hours after feeding it – it needs to rise (and fall) before it can make your bread rise.

I’ve made a brick

This could be because of one of two things. Your starter needs to be bubbly and active to make your bread rise. Feed it morning and night (every 12 hours) for a day or so, doubling its volume each time, and use it 12 hours after it’s been fed. The second thing to consider is how quickly your bread is rising. Optimal temperature for this to happen is between 18–25 ºC. If your kitchen is a little warm, the bread may rise too quickly and collapse before you bake it (it will not rise again in the oven). You can slow this process down by letting your bread rise in a cooler area or putting it in the oven to bake once it has doubled in size.

I would like my sourdough to be more sour

Interestingly, the amount of starter you add to your bread has a converse relationship to the sourness. So the less starter you add to your dough, the more sour it will be. Also, more sourness will come with a longer, slower rise. You can have your bread dough rise for up to 36 hours if you include a bit of time in the fridge while it’s rising.

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