How To Care For An Established Sourdough Starter

If you’ve been lucky enough to receive a sourdough starter as a gift, you may be at a total loss of what you’re supposed to do with this jar of flour and water!

How To Gift Sourdough Starter | Gathered In The Kitchen

Believe me, I know! The first several jars I gifted of my beloved sourdough starter, the recipients were like “ummm, ok, thanks??? What the heck do I do with this?”

There was a blend of excitement, because I talked up the amazing goodness of sourdough, and a blend of sheer confusion.

I get it! The people I had gifted my sourdough starter to hadn’t spend hours upon hours watching YouTube videos explaining the sourdough process or spent failed attempts at trying to cultivate an active starter like I had.

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After thinking about it, I didn’t set my recipients up for success. So I’ve written an entire series called Sourdough Starter Guide to help get them off on the right foot! (p.s. there’s lot of troubleshooting articles in the guide!)

So, if you find yourself in this same position as my gift recipients, then this post is for you!

What Is Sourdough Starter?

First off, let’s discuss whaat sourdough starter even is and why you would have any interest in baking with it!

Sourdough starter is a blend of flour and water that has fermented over a period of at least 7-14 days and has become full of bubbles. These bubbles signify that the starter is active and ready to be baked with.

You would use an active, bubbly sourdough starter when making a bread that that needs to rise/lift. In more modern baking, we use yeast to give our breads that fluffy rise. Without it, it would be a pretty hard brick of flour and water mixed together.

The active sourdough acts as the leavening agent when baking bread. The gases release causing the bread to rise. Interestingly, using sourdough starters is an old-world process of making breads! It’s fun to think you are making breads like they did hundreds of years ago!

Soon you’ll be be able to bake amazing loafs of sourdough bread, bagels, cinnamon rolls, biscuits and more!

Homemade Sourdough Bread and Bagels | Gathered In The Kitchen

How Do You Feed An Established Sourdough Starter?

If the sourdough starter is older than 7-14 days, it is most likely already active, meaning it creates bubbles 4-8 hours after being fed.

If this is the case, then there are a few options you have when it comes to feeding this established starter.

*Note: when “equal parts” are mentioned this means that if you have 1 cup starter, then you would use 1 cup flour and 1 cup water. The equal parts are always to the same amount of sourdough starter you have.

*Note: evaluate the size of your jar. The jar you may have been gifted may be too small to have much more flour and water added to it. You may have to up the size of your glass jar.

  1. Planning on baking right away: Store the starter in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator in between uses. When you plan on baking, pull the sourdough starter out of the refrigerator the night before. Place equal parts of starter in a glass jar and feed with equal parts flour and filtered water. Stir, cover and let rest in a warm spot. The next morning, the starter should be active and bubbly and ready to be used in baking.
  2. Do no plan on baking right away: If you do not have any plans to bake within 2 days of receiving a sourdough starter, it is best to store in the refrigerator in a sealed glass jar. This will slow the fermentation process.
    • Before placing the sourdough starter in the refrigerator, it is a good idea to feed it equal parts flour and water.
    • Once weekly, take the sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and feed it equal parts flour and water and stir very well.
    • At this point, you will have a lot of sourdough starter, you may want to consider starting a discard/inactive jar. See this post for How To Store & Keep Sourdough Starter Discard | aka Inactive Starter

Establish A Feeding Schedule Going Forward

An active sourdough starter needs maintenance. It needs to be fed, or else it will become hungry, dormant or even die.

Once the starter is active, it is important to establish a feeding schedule. Feed it once a day or once a week, depending on your preference and baking schedule.

  • Daily – If you keep it at room temperature, feed the starter once a day. This would be if you bake a lot! Like plan to bake daily.
  • Weekly – If you keep it in the fridge, feed it once a week. This would be if you plan to bake once weekly or when you feel like it. If this is the case, follow these steps:
    • Remove 1/2 cup of sourdough starter from your jar in the refrigerator. Place it in a different glass jar with lid, like a mason jar. Stir in 1/2 cup of filtered water and 1/2 cup of flour (I use unbleached all-purpose flour). Cover and let rest in a warm area of your kitchen for 4-8 hours or until it has doubled in size and has become bubbly and active, like the photo below.
Active and Bubbly Sourdough Starter in a glass canning jar | Gathered In The Kitchen

Important Notes

While you may have been gifted a healthy, and strong active sourdough starter, don’t be surprised if the starter has a difficult time becoming extra bubbly 4-8 hours after you feed it in your home (your environment).

It will seem odd, but the good bacteria and yeast in the starter, now need to adapt. They were formed at it’s previous location, so now it needs to change and flourish with the bacteria and yeast in your own home.

One way to think about this is similar to when you change the water in a fish tank. You never change all of the water at once, because you will kill the fish. The fish actually need the beneficial bacteria that is in the water to survive. When you change out the entire water source, the fish die. (believe me, I know! haha).

When you do only a partial water change, the fish still have enough of the “old/dirty” water (aka good bacteria) in there for them to survive. This is similar to sourdough, don’t change too many things at once. Start slow and have patience and don’t expect rapid results.

***This is why I suggest not discarding upon your first few feedings of your starter. I would simply feed it equal parts flour and water to that of how much starter is in the jar. Stir well and let sit in a warm area.

In Conclusion

If you’ve been gifted a jar of active sourdough starter, I would recommend feeding it equal parts flour and water before either storing it on your counter in a warm area or before placing it in the refrigerator to “take a nap” (slow fermentation process).

Be sure to check out these other helpful articles for getting started with sourdough!

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How To Care For An Established Sourdough Starter | Gathered In The Kitchen

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