Like puppies at Christmas, sourdough starter deserves enduring love and care – the starter you made, bought or were gifted during the coronavirus lockdown will actually live on, in perpetuum. I fear that a significant number of those who developed a newfound love of home baking during the unprecedented Covid-19 restrictions will all too quickly revert to mass-produced pappy, low-nutrition loaves from supermarket shelves as people start returning to their hectic working lives. After all, good sourdough is all about the devotion of time and attention to detail.
There’s hope though. If you baked enough sourdough loaves during the lockdown, developed your process and timing, and savoured the unique flavour that’s only achievable to the artisan baker, you’ll be hooked. Once you’ve tasted the good stuff and appreciated the undeniable magic that is transforming flour, water and salt into open, tangy crumb, you’ll no doubt want to persist with your endeavours.
But, alas, my bet is that most of the sourdough cultures that thrived during the height of lockdown, will have now sadly perished; neglected, and simply starved to death.
So how might we be able to save these vulnerable lives? Read on, my flour dusted friends.
- Refrigerate – covered over to protect it from the cold, dehydrating air of the fridge, your sourdough starter will easily survive for a couple of weeks without feeding. The cold will slow down the activity of the culture, so if it’s been fed just before going into the fridge then it’ll have enough food to keep it going. It may develop a layer of hooch on the top, but you can just mix it all up and feed it over a couple of days at room temperature to get it back to peak performance.
- Freeze – the extreme cryogenic option. Pop some of your starter in a ziplock bag, seal it up, label it and chuck it in the freezer. I’ll admit that I’ve not yet tried to revive any of my own backup starter from the freezer yet, but in theory it’ll just need to be defrosted and then given a good feed, air and warmth (I’ll update this post in due course)
Dehydrate – take a little starter and spread it out very thinly on a sheet of greaseproof paper or a silicone mat. Leave it on a wire rack in a warm, airy environment until it has dried out completely. Once it’s brittle you can pop it into a labelled glass jar and store it for ages. This is an ideal option for transporting a starter.
- Share – keep sharing cuts of your starter with friends and colleagues with instructions on how to look after it (just like the traditional Amish Herman the German friendship cake https://hermanthegermanfriendshipcake.com/). This is the ultimate in offsite backup options – especially if your friends and family keep some in their freezer.
- Perfect – I’m convinced that once you’ve mastered a routine and timing which you can literally ‘work around’, it makes it so much easier to just keep baking! It’s of course sage to retain a backup starter using one or more of the above methods.
In an ideal world, we’ll return to a place where the deep knowledge and experience of baking at home is commonplace once again.
As always, do get in touch if you have any questions.