How to Take a Break: Proper Sourdough Storage


In reading about how to feed and care for a sourdough starter you might be thinking it is a twice-daily commitment for life. Rest assured that is far from the truth!

At one point or another you may a break from feeding your sourdough culture. Perhaps you are taking the summer off bread-baking so as to not heat up the house. Perhaps you are moving and won’t have the time. Perhaps we have a new baby and bread-baking is the last thing on your mind.

Whatever the case may be, there are options for short- and long-term storage of the sourdough culture. This can be done easily and your sourdough starter, if treated properly, should come back at least as strong as when you first started it.

Short-term Preservation

Perhaps you would just like to store your starter in the refrigerator for weeks or months at a time without using it for baking. It can be done, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be sure that your starter is robust and at least 30 days old before you attempt longer refrigeration storage. The starter has to be vigorous to begin with if you want it to be vigorous after refrigeration.
  • Gluten-free sourdough starters will not store as well as their gluten-containing counterparts. If you are storing a gluten-free starter, you might see whether a friend can feed your starter every few days if you are unable to.
  • Lower the hydration level of your starter to around 65%. You can do this gradually by decreasing the amount of water that you feed the starter until for every ounce of flour in the starter you have .65 ounces of water. The low moisture content creates a more conducive storing state for the live organisms in your sourdough.
  • Keep in mind that your starter will most likely double in volume in your refrigerator over time. So be sure not to overfill the container you are storing your sourdough in and make sure you don’t create an airtight environment for the starter if you are using a glass jar with an airtight lid. The gases could build up enough in the jar to shatter it.
  • You will still need to feed the starter if you plan to keep it in the refrigerator for more than a couple of months. Feeding and reviving the starter every 6 to 8 weeks is a good idea, and you can create some delicious loaves of bread every now and then if you still wish.
  • When you wish to work with your starter again, plan on at least one extra feeding cycle to bring the sourdough out of hibernation.

Long-term Preservation

Perhaps you will be spending months or years away from bread baking. Perhaps you want to send a friend some of your starter but they live across the country. Or perhaps you have a wonderful starter and you’d hate to lose it so you would like a little insurance.

For long-term storage, you can dry the fully active sourdough culture for later use. This process is simple:

  • Spread a bit of the fully active sourdough culture on a piece of parchment paper, a plate, or other clean flat surface.
  • Once fully dried the starter should separate from the surface and can be removed.
  • Crush or grind the now-dried sheet of sourdough.
  • Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place. You could even store it in the freezer for extra insurance.

This dried starter, if kept in the proper conditions, should keep for years. See the directions for reviving a dried starter when you want to put it back to use.

Vacation from Sourdough

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