Powerfeeding is probably one of the most important/useful posts on this blog. No matter how proficient you get at keeping a starter, you will never outgrow this technique. I never recommend techniques that I do not use myself, and powerfeeding is a well-worn tool in my belt.
Life happens. Kids, work, pets, holidays, lazy days(…weeks…months), schedules that bend and break. We’ve all been there. When life happens to your starter, recovery can be an exercise in extreme patience. Especially when you want to eat bread TODAY and you just can’t bring yourself to buy the store-bought crap. This is a critical moment in starter baking. Do you give in and give up? Do you decide to try again only as long as the starter is ready to use by tomorrow afternoon? A combination of the two?
First of all, don’t worry. Just because your starter is “under the weather” does not mean you have to buy crappy bread. There is a great recipe here on the blog that I posted just for these situations. Yogurt Bread uses tiny amounts of commercial yeast and gives the dough plenty of time to deal with harmful antinutrients in the wheat.
Now back to the starter.
Here is a tip. Your starter is not a circus monkey. “Token” efforts, tossed into the jar from time to time will not be enough to coax show-stopping performance from your starter. If you’ve consistently neglected feedings, chances are your organisms have been slowly dying off, leaving only a weakened percentage in your starter. The quantity of yeasts left will not be enough to raise bread however, no matter how hard each individual yeast works. You need to strengthen the yeasts you have, and increase the population before any real work can be done.
Powerfeeding is the key.
Powerfeeding creates a fresh environment for your organisms that is full of food, and replenished on a regular basis. Sure, it also means that you don’t make bread with it for at least 9 days, but the investment pays off in the long run. Much easier than trying to coax/manipulate/threaten your family into eating the dense-as-concrete flat loaves that you’d be making otherwise, right? Right.
Before we start with Powerfeeding though, there are a few things we need to make sure you have under your belt. If you already have Beyond Basics with Natural Yeast, glance over the 5 Critical Keys to Success chapter (page 5). If you do not, then please take a second and read through these posts to make sure we are on the same page about a few things.
Ready? Okay let’s jump in.
How To Powerfeed Your Starter
This process is covered in great detail on pages 4-5 of my cookbook Beyond Basics with Natural Yeast. I do highly recommend that if you have access to Beyond Basics (“borrow” your mom’s if you have to!) that you look over that chapter for more detailed info.
During this process we will be feeding our starters over about 9 days without taking any away.
- Pour off any liquid on your starter.
- Stir well, and reduce starter to 1/4 cup. (Save the remainder for compost, chickens, or one of the bonus recipes in Beyond Basics).
- Feed your 1/4 cup starter according to instructions in the How To Feed Your Starter post.
- Put starter back in fridge.
- For the next 4 days, watch your starter. When liquid accumulates on top (more than a pocket or two), or by 4th day, it’s time to feed again (step 2-3).
- Pour off liquid on starter (if any).
- Measure starter amount and feed.
- Put starter back in fridge.
- For the next 4 days, watch your starter. When liquid accumulates on top (more than a pocket or two), or by 4th day, repeat this step.
- You should now have approx. 2 cups of starter.
- Look at your starter. Do you see bubbles that follow the guidelines in THIS post on good bubbles?
- Smell your starter. Does it smell sweetly yeasty or more like pungent vinegar?
- If your bubbles are good, and the smell is good, you are ready to bake.
- If your bubbles are wimpy and the smell tangy, reduce your starter to 1/4 cup and try one more powerfeeding cycle.
Note: I have rarely had to use more than 2 powerfeeding cycles to heal a starter. If you have tried powerfeeding for 3 cycles and your starter is still languishing, I would consider other troubleshooting options. Could your water be the problem? Your flour? If not, then I suggest getting new starter from a friend or starting your own new starter (post coming soon).