Reconditioning Sourdough Starter

The last time I made sourdough bread it was awful. No, really, it was. We each had part of one roll, then fed the rest of it to the chickens. I haven’t made anything sourdough since then, and it’s been months. I thought about writing an article called ‘Yucky Bread’, but first I wanted to figure out what had gone wrong. One thing that was different was the recipe. It called for mixing up the bread dough, then allowing it to proof overnight, instead of only mixing up the sponge and allowing it to ‘sour’ overnight. I thought maybe this new technique had somehow made the bread way too sour, which was what was wrong with it. 

So, off to my cookbooks I went. It took a while and much reading, then I finally found this information. When you don’t use your sourdough starter for a length of time, and have it stored in the refrigerator like I did, it becomes more and more acidic. This will make your dough, when you finally use it, much stronger. Well, when I made this last batch of bread, my starter had been in the frig for quite a while. I was anxious to try my latest sourdough cookbook, until I made that batch of yucky bread. It has full instructions on how to make sure your culture is fully active and not too acidic on page 30. Now, that I have figured out how to de-acidify my starter, I still look forward to trying out some of these recipes.

I followed the directions on how to ‘sweeten’ up the starter, and it worked great. Fast forward to the present. Even though I reconditioned the starter back then, I never used it to make bread. Since then we have had back

surgeries, accidents and other interruptions in our lives, and throughout that, I barely even fed my starter. When I finally grabbed it, and decided to at least feed it, the dark liquid that is usually on top of the floury dough was dried up. I figured the starter was dead. It still had that sourdough kind of smell, although it was a VERY strong smell, it didn’t smell rotten, which is what I expected. I didn’t think it would hurt to try reconditioning it once again. That is what I am doing now.

Believe it or not, even after several months of neglect, the starter is back to perking along. Reconditioning starter is very easy. Set it out at room temperature, and each day feed the starter about 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of filtered water. It should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Remember to only use wooden, glass, ceramic or plastic with sourdough. It doesn’t like metal at all. Leave the starter out at room temperature covered with a towel and let it percolate and bubble. Since my container for storing the starter in the frig doesn’t hold much, I fed the starter for several days to build up volume before I started discarding some of it.

After feeding for several days, keep about 1 1/2 cups of the starter, put it in a new bowl, and discard the rest. Feed the starter you kept, letting it bubble up well between feedings. I will go by several times a day and stir it up, almost in a whipping motion, to add a good amount of air to the mix. You may need to feed it again for several days to build up the volume before you discard any more. Repeat this process until the starter returns to it’s original state and smells like normal sourdough starter instead of the real strong, almost stinky, smell of an acidic starter. How many times and over how many days you repeat this process will be determined by the condition of your starter and your own personal preferences.

A warning. While you are reconditioning your starter, be prepared for your kitchen to smell a little off for a while. It took Frank a few days to figure out it wasn’t the trash or something rotten in the kitchen that needed to be discarded, it was the starter. If you are going to have company, you may want to warn them ahead of time what is happening in your kitchen, especially if you are going to feed them. It is not a rancid smell, it is just rather strong and most people would think it stinks.

A side note. While I have my starter out in this working state on the counter, I have learned to keep it away from my kefir. We always have a quart of kefir in the works and that spot on the counter is the ideal place to keep the sourdough as well. But, the last time I reconditioned the sourdough next to the kefir, the kefir almost stopped working. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it until I remembered reading an admonition somewhere that the yeasts from the two cultured items don’t play well together. Now I keep them across the room from each other, which works out much better.

My first sourdough bread, 2013


I have been reconditioning this starter for a week now and still have several days to go before I will be satisfied with the results. When I walk by it, I still smell some of that ‘stinky’ strong smell, which tells me it is not at the state that I would like for it to be. After it’s in good shape again, I hope to make another batch of bread, and this time, I hope it’s edible. Frank appreciates a fresh batch of bread much more than the chickens. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Until next time – Fern

8 thoughts on “Reconditioning Sourdough Starter

  1. I use a Wonder Mill for grinding wheat now. But I've been thinking. I really need to get out our manual grinder and give it a whirl. I'd rather try it now than wait until I need it to figure it out. Who knows, I may need one that is easier to operate. I'll let you know about the book. Thank you again, Spinnersaw.Fern

  2. I do mill wheat in my Blendtec blender. I also have a Country Living mill. My daughter-in-law has been using the recipe with molasses in it for sandwich bread and has been very happy with it. Let us all know what you think after you get the book.

  3. This looks like a great book, Spinnersaw. I will add it to my bookself. After all, you can never have too many books! The reason I wanted to get started with sourdough is to have a perpetual source of natural yeast for bread making. I will be looking up the recipe you refer to since whole wheat is my favorite type of bread. Do you grind your wheat? Fresh ground makes great bread. Thank you again for sharing this resource.Fern

  4. Thank you Frank and Fern for this post and thank you Anonymous for the suggestion to dry some starter to use later, I will try that. I have been using a book called \”The Art of Baking With Natural Yeast\” by Caleb Warnock and Melissa Richardson and am loving the fresh whole wheat bread made without any yeast at all.

  5. If you would like to let us know some of your difficulties, maybe the readers can give you some good recommendations. I will pitch in any ideas I have as well. Because, you're right Fiona, there is nothing like fresh hot bread straight from the oven.Fern

  6. Bread making is my Rubicon! From day one I just cannot seem to do it right. My Father used to say that Archeologist's students in the future will wonder what these strange shaped rock hard artifacts were used for? Weapons maybe? There really is nothing like fresh bread is there!

  7. Fern-I have been making sourdough bread for about three years. There have been a few times that I was not able or just didn't want to bake bread for a few months' time, especially during the summer. I take some of my starter and thinly spread a tsp. or two of the starter on parchment paper. I put the paper on a cookie sheet and set it in a cold oven overnight. When the starter is dried, I break it up and store it in a glass jar in my pantry. About a week before I am ready to bake again, I take two tsp. of the dried starter, add a few tsp. of flour and a little water. I cover the bowl of starter and let it set out on the counter. Every day I add a little more flour and water and let it continue to grow. When I get about a cup of starter, I feed it as I have in the past and store it in the fridge for a few days. I usually feed it once more before using it to make bread. I want to make sure I have enough starter. I have found that there is no \”off\” taste to the bread; in fact, it tastes the same as it did before I dried the starter. It has been a great way for me to take a break from baking bread without worrying about losing my starter.

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