At some point in your career as a sourdough baker, you’re going to want to put your sourdough baking on hold. Maybe it’s just a busy time in your life, you’re going on a vacation, or your kitchen is already so full of bread and baked goods that you’ve run out of counter space.
Whatever the reason, have no fear! There are multiple ways to put your starter on hold once you have it established. I recommend to my students that their starter is at least 3-4 weeks old before they take a break from regular feedings. They need to be robust and fully active for these steps to work. If you haven't made your sourdough starter yet, check out our free class here.
One to Two Week Break from Baking
If you plan on baking weekly, or 1-2 times per month, I’d recommend keeping your starter in the refrigerator. While your starter is in the fridge, cover it with a lid, and then take it out weekly for feeding. When you’re ready to feed, take it out of the fridge, discard, and then feed with equal parts flour and water - following your usual ratio.
At this point if you plan on baking, leave your starter out at room temp and feed twice a day. By the third feeding, your starter should be very bubbly and doubling in size - meaning that the yeast are creating enough gas to leaven bread.
Once your starter is active, figure out how much starter you’ll need for baking. If you don’t have enough starter for the recipe you plan to follow, simply feed again - discarding less than usual and then feeding with the correct ratio of flour and water, based on weight.
Long Term Break
To preserve your starter for more than a few weeks, the best method is to dry it and then rehydrate when you want to start baking again.
Start by feeding your starter with your usual ratio of equal parts of flour and lukewarm water and make sure that it’s bubbling and happy looking. Then, spread two pieces of parchment paper or wax paper on a baking tray and spread your starter thinly on the paper. It’s important to get it as thin as possible here, so you may want to use a spatula to make this step easier.
Now comes the waiting. Leave your starter out at room temperature until it is completely dry and can be snapped off in brittle chips. This can take up to a week, depending on the humidity in your house. If you have a dehydrator, you can also use that to speed up the process.
Once your starter is dried, break it up into very small pieces and store them in an airtight container. A glass jar is a perfect vessel for this situation, as you want to make sure it is completely sealed. The jar should be kept in a cool dark place - a cupboard is perfect. It’s that simple! If you want to gift starter to a friend, you can also mail them dehydrated starter to reactivate.
To Rehydrate A Dried Starter
When you’re ready to bake again, measure out about an ounce of your dried starter and mix it with two ounces of lukewarm water. Stir them together until the chips are completely dissolved, which can take a couple hours. Once the chips appear to be dissolved, add 1 ounce of all purpose flour, stir well, and then place the starter somewhere warm.
If your home is on the cooler side, consider leaving your starter in the oven with the light on (turned off), or in a cooler next to a jar of warm water. Keeping your starter in a room less than 75 degrees can mean your starter may take a couple days to start bubbling.
Once you see that happy bubbling, it’s time to feed! Without discarding starter, feed it with another ounce of water and flour. Stir, cover, and put it back in a warm spot. After another 24 hours, feed again with the same ratio (without discarding) and put it back in a warm place.
Finally, it’s ready to go back to its usual feeding schedule. Discard down to about 4-5 ounces of starter, and then add 4 ounces of lukewarm water and 4 ounces of flour. Ta da! After another feeding or two, you should be ready to bake.