How to Use and Maintain Sourdough Starter

Last Updated on January 20, 2024 by Gabby Hatten

You finally took the leap and created a sourdough starter, yay! But, now what? You might be worried because there is this great myth that sourdough is a delicate little life force that can be killed just by looking at it wrong… but I’m here to tell you that is so not the case!

Sourdough has been around for ages (ancient Egypt circa 3000 BC). Do you think they were constantly killing it and having to start over? I’m going to take a guess and say probably not. In the age of technology, we have overcomplicated an ancient practice. In this article, I’m going to lay out all the information you truly need to know to understand how to use and maintain a thriving sourdough starter.

What is Sourdough Starter?

Sourdough starter is a natural leavening agent created by mixing water and flour and putting it through the fermentation process. Natural yeast = no more relying on commercial yeast!

Creating a Sourdough Starter

All you need is equal parts flour, to equal parts water. It’s truly that easy at its coreHowever, your environment plays a huge role in how your starter develops. This is where adjustments need to be made, but that’s okay! It is not a one-size-fits-all. To create your own sourdough starter, read my Sourdough for Dummies: Glossary Included.

To generalize it, you should be aiming for a thick pancake batter consistency. Environment-dependent, you may need more flour than water. How will you know? You will see a thin layer of water develop on top of your starter. For the first month, you’re going to need to do daily feedings, but once it’s ready to use and strong, you can store it in the fridge and feed it weekly.

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What Tools do I Need?

While you don’t need anything fancy, there are a couple of items I recommend starting out. Firstly, you need a clean jar to keep your starter in. You can use the ol’ faithful Mason jar, or you can explore other options in my Best Jars for Sourdough Starters article. Secondly, I do highly recommend using a kitchen scale so that it’s easier for you to know when (and how) to make adjustments. Eventually, you will be comfortable enough to eyeball it! Lastly, a good silicone spatula or high-quality spurtle. If you do not want to buy these items, you can use the measuring cups you probably already own and a trusty butterknife. Just keep in mind water water weighs more than flour so your measurements will look more like 1 cup of flour to 1/2 cup of water.

Best Flour

The type of flour you choose to use is purely a personal preference. I’ve successfully maintained a healthy sourdough starter with all-purpose flour, bread flour, and whole wheat flour. A popular choice in the sourdough community is rye flour, at least in the beginning to give it a good boost. You can even use fresh flour you mill at home. I use King Arthur’s organic flour, but make sure it is unbleached whatever you choose.

I Bought a Starter, How do I Maintain it?

To bypass the start-up time, you can purchase a starter online, locally, etc. While I always recommend going to the source and asking what their feed schedule is, you can change it up and get it adjusted to your environment. The key to easily maintaining your sourdough starter is to figure out your baking schedule. Are you going to bake daily, weekly, or maybe just a couple of times a month? To give you an example, I prefer to keep an active sourdough starter on hand as I usually bake daily. Because of this, my starter stays happy and healthy on my kitchen counter and gets fed daily. If you’re not baking daily, store your starter in the fridge and feed weekly. You can go indefinitely without feeding it, it will just take longer to get bubbly and active once you do start feeding it. Disclaimer, there is a chance it develops kahm yeast when going long periods without feeding. I’ve had a jar in my fridge for over a year that I have pulled from and reactivated. It’s always good to have backups and store some in your fridge. 

How do I use my mature sourdough starter?

The most common pushback I see is, well no one should eat that much bread or I can’t possibly make enough bread to make it worth it but I am here to tell you it is so much more than bread! You can use it for muffins, cakes, cookies, scones, puff pastry, pizza dough, noodles, crackers, and even to thicken soup or sauces. Seriously, the possibilities are endless! I even use it to batter onion rings and chicken… and my goodness it is life-changing. My favorite thing about it is that you don’t even have to combine it with other ingredients to make something, you can truly use just the starter in a pinch! My favorite lazy meal is cast iron pizza; all you do is preheat a cast iron skillet, pour some sourdough starter to coat the bottom, bake for 10 minutes, pile on your toppings, bake for another five minutes, and voila! A delicious made-from-scratch meal.

How you choose to use your starter is solely up to you! Once you have a mature starter, the possibilities are endless. If you don’t want to maintain it daily simply store it in the fridge and aim to feed it once a week (no biggie if you miss a week, or two). Sourdough is as easy or complicated as you make it.

Helpful tidbits

  • the float test is a myth
  • use a rubber band or expo marker to keep track of how much it rises
  • starters behave so much differently because of the wild yeast in our environments
  • when creating a starter, the only good sign you need is no mold
  • sourdough discard recipes are awesome and yes you can use active starter for them 
  • you only need a small amount of starter to maintain
  • regular feedings keep your starter the happiest
  • the sourdough journey is just that, a journey. buckle up for the ride!
  • never toss over-proofed sticky dough, you can turn it into sourdough focaccia or make a loaf
  • experiment with different flour until you find what you like best.
  • don’t use tap water (unless you live somewhere with good tap water)
  • if you want a really happy starter, add some honey to a feed every once in awhile.
  • cover your bowl with plastic wrap during bulk ferment to avoid dry dough.
  • not discarding will lead to rising acidity levels
  • keep it in a warm place to speed up rise time
  • let your starter rest every once in awhile

Author Profile

Gabby Hatten
Gabby Hatten
Hello there, I'm Gabby! I am a mother of three, married to my wonderful husband Marco, and I have a deep passion for simple living, vintage homes, and cooking everything from scratch! Although I grew up in Las Vegas, my husband's military service brought us to the east coast, where we have now made coastal North Carolina our home. While I didn't grow up on a farm, I have always been fascinated by that lifestyle and have dedicated my adult life to learning and embracing those skills, which I am excited to share with all of you!

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