How to keep your starter refrigerated

If you have reached the point where you have an active starter, but you’re not making bread that often, refrigerating your starter is a good way to preserve it without needing to feed it every 12 hours and discard that much flour.

The advice in this article is regarding active, stable starters. If you have a very young starter (younger than one month) or it’s still not stable (if it doesn’t have a predictable behavior after each feed) or if for any reason it’s still not where you want it to be, it’s best to keep it at room temperature and try and address the issues it might have – “What factors does your starter’s character depend on”. If you push it and try and refrigerate it before it is very stable, you risk enhancing its issues or even killing your starter.

The idea behind refrigerating your dough is that a low temperature will significantly slow fermentation, which means that you can stretch out your starter’s fermentation process over a week or more.

Sounds fabulous, we know, why keep your starter at room temperature if you only make bread twice a week? The catch is that if you are not on top of your game when it comes to keeping your starter refrigerated and you don’t quite know how to “read” your starter properly, you could end up killing it.

How it’s done

A few scenarios to maintain your starter depending on how often you make bread:

  • First scenario – you only bake bread once a week (or even less). Then you will use the same feeding ratios as you always use and refrigerate the starter straight after feeding. The low temperature will slow down fermentation and you will need to feed it after a few days (5-10 days, depending on how warm your fridge is, how active your starter is etc.). Even if you make bread less than once a week, you will still need to feed your starter once it is fermented. Depending on how warm your fridge is (the temperature can fluctuate quite dramatically if you open it many times a day), your starter can take as little as 4-5 days to ferment. So keep an eye on it and make sure to feed it once it has fermented. Please make sure you feed your starter at least once or twice before you use it for breadmaking though.
  • Second scenario – you make bread twice a week. Then feed your starter with the same ratios as before, leave it at room temperature for 1-2 hours and then place it in the fridge. What will happen is the starter will start fermenting during the initial 1-2 hours and then fermentation will be slowed down once it’s placed in the fridge. Under these conditions, your starter should be fully fermented in the fridge after 2-3 days.
  • Third scenario – you want to bake daily or every other day. Then the best way for you is to keep your starter at room temperature and feed it every 12 hours.

Of course, these are just 3 potential scenarios out of many.

These 3 scenarios are also not set in stone and of course you can move from one to the other depending on how often you bake. If you chose the third scenario as you want to practice your breadmaking skills doesn’t mean that at one point you can’t leave your starter in the fridge for more than one week (say when you go on holiday).

So how will you proceed if you placed your starter in the fridge but something came up and you need to make bread sooner? You remove it from the fridge and keep it at room temperature until it is fully ripe (a few hours). If you’re feeling very brave you can use it for breadmaking as is, but we strongly recommend you feed it once, let it ripen and then use it for making bread.

You’re basically just playing with 2 factors – time and temperature. The higher the temperature (but no higher than 30 Celsius), the faster your starter ripens. The lower the temperature the slower your starter will ferment.

The only small issue with this approach is that you will need some planning in advance, as you will need to feed your starter once or twice before you can use it for breadmaking.

Happy baking!

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