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I've recently been looking into long term storage solutions for my sourdough starter. Being on the GAPS diet means no more sourdough for awhile ) : . I'm honestly a little sad about this because I love baking with sourdough and I have so many recipes to share with you all. But I guess, we'll have to put that on hold for now.
At least I get to try out some low carb and grain free baked goods.
Anyways, I have been trying to figure out how to store my starter while I am taking a break from sourdough. I have a more mature starter (more than a couple months old) and I am hesitant to have to restart when I go to bake again. Sourdough starters are one of those things that get better as they age. So I did some research.
Here I have made a list and will describe how to preserve your starter for those times when you need to take a break. I'll have different options based on your situation because let's be honest, unless you bake everyday (maybe you are running a bakery?), you probably aren't going to want to feed your starter and bake every single day.
For all of these different options, your starter should be at least 2-3 months old.
Refrigerating Your Starter
This is a good option for those who bake maybe just once a week or every couple weeks. Maybe you need to take a few days off from baking.
When you put your starter in the refrigerator, the fermentation process will slow down. It will still ferment slightly, but it will give you more time in between feedings.
There is a way to do this though. You don't want to put your starter in the fridge and feed it whenever you feel like it. Actually, if you are one of those people who puts things in the back of the fridge and forgets about them, I would highly recommend setting some kind of reminder whether that be a sticky note or a reminder on your phone. Don't forget about your starter.
That being said, mature starters (starters that are more than 2-3 months old) can withstand a little bit of neglect. If you forget to feed it occasionally for a month or two, you could probably bring it back to life. All you would need to do is feed it a couple times (twice a day for 2 or 3 days) to revive it.
If you ever see a dark colored liquid on top of your starter after its been sitting in the refrigerator for more than a few days, that is called a hooch. All that means is that your starter is getting hungry and will need to be fed soon. You can stir it back into the starter when you feed it.
When I store my starter in the fridge, I try to feed it every 1-2 weeks and it seems happy that way. I usually bake once per week. So the night before I plan to bake, I pull my starter out of the fridge and feed it. I usually keep a half cup of starter in between baking. I will feed the starter with how much flour and water I will need to make my recipe ( how much starter is called for in the recipe) and let it ferment overnight. Sometimes I have to feed it for a couple days before it's active enough for baking (the starter is doubling in size and bubbling a few hours after feeding).
It is important that you let your starter come to room temperature, then feed your starter and let it ferment for at least 2-4 hours before putting it back in the fridge. So when I bake every week, I feed the starter the night before. Then the next morning, I remove the amount of starter that I need for the recipe and put the starter back in the fridge.
Freezing Your Starter
Freezing your starter is great for people who bake every few months. I would recommend this if you are needing a break of 3 months to 1 year.
There are a couple ways to do this. You can just take your bowl or jar full of starter and stick it in the freezer. The only downside of this is that it takes a longer to defrost. Also, if something happens to this batch of frozen starter (it gets freezer burn, etc.), then you are out of luck.
Another option is freezing the starter in smaller chunks, in a silicone mold. This makes it is easy to pull out a small piece and defrost it quickly. When you are doing this, freeze the starter in the silicone molds. Then, after a few hours, remove the starter from the molds and place them in a freezer bag, jar, or freezer-safe container.
It's important to prevent your starter from getting freezer burn. I would recommend putting the starter into multiple freezer bags (layers of freezer bags). Freezer burn will affect the flavor of the starter and the goodies that you bake with it.
When you go to remove it from the freezer, you will want to let it defrost before feeding it as normal. You will have to feed it for a few days before it becomes active again.
Dehydrating Your Starter
Dehydrating your starter is great for people who need a year or more of a break from baking. It is also a great option for having a backup starter. Honestly, everyone should have a backup starter once your starter is more than a few months old. You never know if something might happen to your primary batch of starter and you can keep dehydrated starter in your pantry FOR YEARS.
Dehydrating starter is slightly more involved than freezing but honestly, it is the best option if you want to have it for a few years. This is what I am currently doing at the moment while I am on the GAPS diet.
All you need to do is feed your starter and let it ferment for a couple hours. Then spread it out thinly onto wax paper using a baking spatula. Let it sit for 24-48 hours until it is completely dried out. Then peel it off the paper and crumble it up. Store it in an airtight container and place it in a cool, dry place. You can put it in the freezer too if you wish.
When you want to use it again, weigh the dried starter. Then add, in equal weight, filtered water to the dried starter. Let it rehydrate then feed as normal. It will take a few feedings before it becomes active again.
I hope this is helpful for those of you who need a break from baking with sourdough starter!