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If you like baking with a sourdough starter, the best thing you can do to make sure you can continue using it for a long time is to make a backup sourdough starter.
Even though sourdough starters are usually pretty resilient and hard to kill, if you neglect feeding it for too long, or if you go away on vacation and completely forget about your starter, the wild yeast can die off.
(Note: If you need to go away and won’t be able to feed your starter, you can simply put it in the fridge while you’re away. The cooler temperatures will slow down the growth of the yeast, so it can be stored there for several weeks without needing to be fed.)
While it’s not a huge problem to just start over again with a brand new sourdough starter, once you’ve gotten one well-established and you’re familiar with how often it needs to be fed and how long it takes to rise, etc. it’s just so much easier and more convenient to keep using it without having to start a new one from scratch. Not to mention the fact that it’s hard to be patient to wait for a new starter to become active enough to bake with!
I found the instructions for creating a backup sourdough starter in The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread (a book that give lots of great information about the history of bread and sourdough as well as recipes and tips for how to work with sourdough yeast). It’s very quick and easy to do, and this method will work equally well whether you captured your own wild yeast at home or purchased an established sourdough starter culture.
How to Make a Backup Sourdough Starter
- 3 Tbs liquid sourdough starter
- 2 Tbs flour (I usually use an organic, unbleached all-purpose flour for my sourdough because I’ve heard people say that whole grain flavors can sometimes cause an “off” flavor.)
- Combine the flour and sourdough starter together, mixing well. The texture will be a bit wetter and thinner than bread dough but thicker than pancake batter.
- Let the mixture sit out in a bowl for a couple of hours. I left mine out for about 2 hours. It’s ok to leave it for a little bit longer, but you just don’t want to leave it out long enough for it to rise.
- After 2 hours, spoon the mixture into a small freezer-proof mason jar or a freezer-proof plastic bag and label it, then store in the freezer until needed.
Directions for Re-Activating the Sourdough Starter:
- Remove the backup starter from the freezer and let it thaw on the counter until it is room temperature.
- Feed the starter with about a half cup of flour and as much water as it takes to reach a thick pancake batter consistency. (The amount of water will be close to half a cup, but the consistency is more important than the amount. Basically you want to return the backup sourdough starter to the usual consistency of your original sourdough starter.)
- Feed the starter about every 12 hours until bubbles start to form again, and then you can resume your usual feeding schedule (depending on the climate where you live, how active your particular strain of sourdough yeast is, the temperature inside your house, etc.) The backup starter should be ready to bake with within a day or two.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I decided to try making a short video so you can see what the texture looks like. It’s similar to bread dough in that you have to almost “knead” the flour into the starter a bit.