Keeping a natural yeast starter can be tricky. There is so much to learn that success or even progress can seem out of reach. While starter needs vary from kitchen to kitchen and starter to starter, I have found that there are a few elements that never change. These 3 critical keys to success are the answer to probably 80% of the troubleshooting questions I get on a daily basis, and make a huge difference in starter activity when followed on a regular basis.
*Note: Here on The Bread Geek I keep a refrigerator starter that requires less maintenance than your average countertop sourdough starters. These keys to success are most applicable to refrigerator starters, but #2 and #3 can work for countertop starters as well.
For countertop starters, here are two links that could be good resources for you:
Now on to our keys to success!
3 Critical Keys to Success
1. Visibility: Keep your starter in the door of the fridge. Make a habit of checking your starter every time you open the door.
This habit is important for two reasons:
- The door is the warmest spot in your fridge, and will keep it from getting too cold.
- The door keeps your starter visible, and prevents it getting shoved to the back where it will probably die a cold & lonely death.
When I first started this habit, I would put a post-it note on the door that said “STARTER” written on it until I checked my starter every time without needing the note. This habit ensures your starter will not become neglected, because let’s face it, we all open the fridge a few more times a day than we like to admit.
2 .Consistency: Thicker is better than Thinner
I did a great post on this called Using Your Starter as a Parachute. When your starter is thicker, you know you have enough food in your jar to feed all the microorganisms living there, and it gives you the opportunity to actually see the bubbles your starter is making. If you are going to err in any direction err on the side of too thick rather than too thin.
3. Feed your starter whenever there is liquid.
When you have liquid that lightly covers the top of the starter, FEED IT. The longer the liquid stays on top of your starter, the greater chance it will begin to “sour” the starter, and the yeasts don’t like the increased acidity (this affects the fluffiness of your bread). Sometimes you may get little pockets of liquid here and there, those aren’t a problem. But liquid accumulating top, bottom, or middle of your starter should be considered a sign that it is feeding time. Do your best to pour off the liquid, but don’t worry too much if you can’t get it all. This liquid won’t hurt you one bit!
Starters are living things, and the variables will always be there, but as we practice good starter habits, those variables will decrease in severity and duration. If you’re having trouble with your starter, especially if you find you are getting liquid on your starter more quickly than you should, it can help to revisit these 3 critical keys to success and make sure you aren’t forgetting something.
Want 2 bonus Keys to Success? Of course you do! Check out my book Beyond Basics With Natural Yeast from the library or on Amazon to get even more tips for keeping your starter healthy and happy!