There are just a few days left of the 2nd Annual Sourdough Giveaway. If you haven’t yet requested your starter, get it now—the giveaway goes through January 31, 2019. You’ll be joining several new sourdough bakers. This post features some of the creations they’ve shared. I also share how I prepared the packets of sourdough starter I’ve been giving away. Dehydrating starter using this technique not only lets you share starter over long distances but also lets you save some starter if you’re concerned about losing your primary culture or don’t plan on baking for several months.
I began sharing bubbly jars of sourdough starter almost 5 years ago. My starter loved it—the more I shared, used, and fed it, the better the starter looked and tasted. My friends loved it—they began learning to bake with sourdough and started handing out jars of their own culture. Last year, I started dehydrating sourdough starter and sharing it with more people over longer distances. My little jar of starter now has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren around the world. It’s quite an incredible foodstuff.
Every person who has received and activated their dehydrated Twice as Tasty starter has told me they had no problem waking it up. Many people fed their starter right away, following my instructions, but some stashed their starter in a cupboard until they were ready to play. One person even held onto hers an entire year. It responded as soon as she tried to rehydrate it, and a day later she had a gorgeous loaf of bread.
People have been sharing their photos of successful pizzas, breads, and even one of my newest recipes: Sourdough English Muffins. My sourdough brioche recipes, the basis for burger buns and cinnamon rolls, get more hits than any other post on the blog. Some people have reported that they prefer my recipes with a few tweaks—a few more minutes in the oven under the bowl, a little more salt and/or sugar in the recipe, a loaf made entirely from white flour. Others have used their Twice as Tasty starter with recipes from other sources or in a bread machine with great success.
If you’re trying other recipes, just be sure to check the hydration level: You’ll be working with a 100% hydration starter if you’re following my instructions, but some recipes call for a stiffer or wetter starter. You can learn more about changing the hydration level of your starter here.
The biggest challenge for many people is getting in the habit of using their sourdough starter. A sourdough starter needs less attention than you might think. But if you bury it at the back of the fridge for too many weeks or months, it starts to look unappealing. I now have a neglected jar of sourdough starter in my fridge; I’ll be sharing photos of it in the coming weeks on Instagram at @twiceastastyblog with the hashtag #forlornsourdough.
Forlorn sourdough starter that’s sat for weeks or months in the fridge looks scary: A dried-out cap can form on top as the water in the culture evaporates. A dark liquid, called hooch, can also develop as the starter runs out of flour to eat. In both cases, the starter is usually still good to use. It’s just been hibernating and needs to be woken up.
There are only two reasons you might need a new starter: It got extremely hot, or it sat out so long that it developed mold. Extreme heat means you essentially cooked your starter: Don’t zap it in the microwave, and don’t fire up the oven with your starter jar inside it. At 140°F, and likely anywhere above 115°F, your starter won’t survive. Long periods of extreme cold aren’t good either. It’s best not to freeze your starter. Mold looks different from the gray, brown, or black hooch that forms with neglect. It’s usually a pink or orange streak or patch; it could be fuzzy. These bad bacteria usually only get a chance to take over if you’ve left your starter unused at room temperature for a couple of weeks.
I’ve helped many people salvage starters that have dried out or sunk beneath a layer of dark liquid. Usually all they need is a feeding or two, with a few hours in a warm spot. But often people throw out their forlorn starter without realizing it’s still alive and can be revived. Before you get to that stage, you can save your starter.
Saving Your Starter
Sourdough starter is incredibly resilient, but you aren’t alone if, as a new sourdough baker, you worry about killing your starter. You’re also in good company if you know you won’t be able to use your starter for many months. One solution is to put your starter on hold by dehydrating some of it. This is the technique I used to send you your initial batch of dried starter.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
All you need is your sourdough starter and a place to dry it.
1. Feed your starter.
2. Spread some out on parchment paper.
3. Let it dry.
4. Break it up and store it.
Dehydrated Sourdough Starter
Feed your starter and let it sit for 8–12 hours, until it’s bubbly and has almost doubled in volume. When the starter is bubbly, stir it down and weigh the jar, making a note of the weight.
Line a couple of dehydrator trays or a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a rubber spatula to spread the starter as thinly as possible, almost like you’re painting it on the paper. Reweigh your starter jar, and subtract the new weight from the original. Note the weight; this tells you how much starter you are drying. If you removed a large amount from the jar, feed your starter again before baking with it or returning it to the fridge.
Let the starter on the paper dry. If you’re using a dehydrator, dry the starter on the machine’s lowest setting, ideally 95°F or lower, for 8 hours or overnight. If you’re drying on a baking sheet, let the starter dry in a clean place at room temperature for 24 hours or longer. Check the starter; ensure that it is completely dry and crisp and peels easily from the paper. Check its weight; when it’s ready to store, the starter should be about half its original weight.
Break the starter into small chips with your hands or by placing it a plastic bag and crushing it with a rolling pin. Transfer the chips to a glass jar with an airtight lid. Store the jar in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to revive it. Makes about 1 jar.
Tips & Tricks
- You don’t need to dry a lot of starter to put your batch on hold. I give away 30 grams of dried starter at a time; that’s only 60 grams of freshly fed starter.
- If you’re using a dehydrator, you may want to dry more starter so that your machine runs efficiently. Check its instructions: My dehydrator works best with at least two trays, so I dry at least 165 grams of freshly fed starter at a time. You can still save just 30 grams for your use; just pass the rest onto friends, along with my rehydration instructions.
- Most dehydrators don’t hold a steady temperature: they cycle above and below the target temperature, sometimes as much as 20°F. The starter won’t get as hot as the ambient temperature of the dehydrator, but consider air-drying if your machine doesn’t have a 95°F or lower setting.
- Air-drying is easy if your house is warm and dry, but it can take several days if you live in a humid climate or cool house. Spread your starter thinly and check it daily to ensure it’s drying steadily.
- You really don’t have to worry about killing your sourdough starter. The only things that can kill the yeast are extreme heat (it dies at 140°F) or a long period of extreme cold. So if you do dry your starter, don’t store it in the freezer: a cool, dark place, like a kitchen cupboard, is ideal.
Like what you’ve learned? To learn more in a Twice as Tasty workshop—in your own kitchen, among friends, and with my personal help—click here. If you’re not yet a Twice as Tasty subscriber, get this newsletter and weekly post notifications delivered straight to your inbox by clicking here.