Bread Baker: Reviving a Dormant Sourdough Starter

The last time I used my sourdough starter was a loooong time ago. I did a series of posts about baking with sourdough, then moved on to other baking projects.

The great thing about a sourdough starter, however, is that it can hang out in the back of the fridge for months and then be revived and ready for baking in just 48 hours.

Old starter pulled from the fridge.

Any old starter will have a layer of liquid sitting atop the flour slurry. The longer the starter sits the darker the liquid gets. It might not look very appetizing, but this liquid acts as a preservative. It is alcohol from the fermentation process and prevents anything from growing in the starter. Stick your nose in and take a sniff – does it smell yeasty, with no “off” odors? Then you’re all good to go. Inspect the sides of the storage container and the surface of the liquid. There shouldn’t be anything growing. If you do see pink mold growing, unfortunately your starter is contaminated. Dump it out and start from scratch. This is unlikely to happen.

Pour off the liquid. The surface of the starter doesn’t look any more appetizing. But just below the surface, the starter is still nice and white. Stir everything together ¬†and fill a half-cup measuring cup with starter. Dump the rest down the sink and thoroughly wash the container.

New starter (left); the same starter (right), after fermenting for 24 hours.

In the now-clean container, pour the reserved half-cup of starter back in, then mix with 8 ounces of water and 8 ounces of all-purpose flour. With this new food, the sourdough yeast microbes will wake back up and start feeding. After one day, the yeast won’t be at its maximum strength yet. As seen in the photos above, while the volume of starter increased some, it wasn’t that dramatic.

After 24 hours, reserve half a cup of the starter, dump the rest down the sink, then add another 8 ounces each of fresh flour and water. Let the starter sit and grow again for another 24 hours.

This is active starter that's ready for baking. The right-hand picture was taken only two hours after the left-hand picture.

Repeat the process a third time. Reserve half a cup of starter, dumping the rest. Add 8 ounces each of flour and water. By now, the starter will be very active and ready for baking. After just an hour or two (see the above photos), the starter will be ready for baking.

If it’s not baking time yet, put the starter back in the fridge. If it only sits for a few days, it will just need one feeding to be ready for baking.

  • Guest

    Thanks for this post. I haven’t used my starter in over half a year and am now almost ready to go thanks to your help! Starter revived rapidly. But then it was strong to begin with …

  • Gary Garnier

    Is that 8 oz. of flour by weight? When I mixed in a cup of water and eight ounces of flour I weighed out, the result seemed much thicker than I expected.

    • Jade McGill

      I think it is by volume … usually you add equal parts flour and water by volume for starters, but I agree it is vague

      • Guest

        Hi Jade, it’s not very accurate to measure flour by volume. One cup of flour can vary in weight by 50% or more depending on the brand, how you scoop it, how old it is, etc. I recommend investing in a cheap kitchen scale and measuring by weight for baking! You will have more control over your recipes and more consistent results. I always feed my starter with equal parts by weight of water and flour. Good luck!

        • Jade McGill

          I know quite well about kitchen scales (used to work as a pastry cook, and am getting a masters is food science!) and do prefer to work in weight! I’ve just seen starters done with equal parts by volume, and it seemed as though that was what the post author was implying, though he didn’t specify. You could probably revive your starter either way!

    • Guest

      Hi Gary, I know this is an old comment but I just saw it and wanted to let you know that I always feed my starter with equal parts water and flour by weight. It’s the best way to do it in my opinion because you have a 100% hydration starter. That way you have the most accurate control over the moisture for bread and any other recipe you want to use it for. When you weigh out starter for a recipe, you know from the start exactly how much flour and water is in it and you can adjust your recipe from there.

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