I recently read about drying sourdough starter as a way to keep it alive without having to feed it. It sounded too good to be true and, frankly, impossible…
How could it possibly survive being completely dried out? Was the process as easy as it sounded? Would it actually produce good bread once restored?
Spoiler alert: it does, it is, and it did!
I decided to try it and find out how to dry and revive my sourdough starter. Recipe below!
First, what even is a starter?
A starter is made of two ingredients: flour and water. If this seems too good to be true, it’s not! What we don’t see are the hidden ingredients that bring the starter to life: millions of wild yeasts and bacteria that digest the flour and turn it into carbon dioxide and lactic acid. You can’t see it, but it’s happening as soon as you add the water to the flour.
There are many ways you can get a starter without making it yourself. You can post on neighborhood groups on Facebook, request some on Nextdoor, or simply ask someone that you know makes their own sourdough. Most people are thrilled to share their starters! You may even luck out by calling a local bakery and asking them. They may guard their starter more than a neighbor, but it’s worth a shot. King Arthur Flour also sells starter online! One ounce is only $9, and it’s descended from a century-old starter.
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That said, there’s a certain beauty in making your very own starter. It’s truly amazing to watch as this glob of flour and water suddenly starts bubbling away, growing and expanding and full of life. When I made my own, I was totally geeking out the entire time!
What kind of flour is best for sourdough starter?
Different flours produce different results in terms of microbial and yeast activity. Depending on which you choose, your starter could be ready to bake with very soon, or may take several weeks. Below, the three most common types of flours (all-purpose, whole wheat and rye) are listed with explanations regarding their activity in a sourdough starter.
· All-purpose flour has been stripped of most of its nutrients, so it doesn’t have much to offer the microflora to eat. As such, building a starter on only all-purpose flour is a slow process.
· Whole wheat flour has a lot more nutrition for the microbes because it’s less processed. Starters built with whole wheat flours grow faster.
· Rye flours tend to attract the most yeasts of all the flours, which causes the starter to ferment the fastest, and takes the least time to grow strong.
It’s up to you which flours you would like to use. Most bakers use a blend of two or sometimes three flours. I like a half-and-half blend of all-purpose and whole wheat flours, but you might find a different blend that works better for you.
How do I dry my sourdough starter?
First, I fed my starter. I gave it equal parts white and whole wheat flour, then let it become active and bubbly.
The starter has to be good and active when spread on the sheet!
At the peak of its activity, I spread it across a silicone baking sheet, as thin as possible.
Then I put it in the oven with the light on inside. This creates a nice ambient heat to allow the sourdough to dry, and doesn’t risk the starter’s life, like the heat of the oven does.
After two days, it was done! I peeled the silicone mat from the dried sourdough and crumbled it into a jar.
To be completely honest, I put mine in the freezer at first. I read a few days later NOT to put it in the freezer, so I promptly moved it into the pantry!
And there it sat for about five weeks, until I decided to try reviving it.
I took a small handful and added water, then mashed the flakes around until they were somewhat submerged. I stirred them every few hours as the flakes absorbed more water. Altogether it took about four hours for the flakes to dissolve completely.
Then I fed, and fed, and fed.
I fed it and left it on the counter for about a day, until it became bubbly.
Then I fed it again, and it became bubbly after only 12 hours.
Then I fed it again, and left it for 12 more hours.
I could see a predictable rise and fall, which meant my starter was healthy and active again. I couldn’t believe that these dried flakes actually came back to life, but they did.
Later that week, I used my revived starter to make sourdough, and it was a huge success.
How long does dried starter last?
I’ve seen varying answers, anywhere from six weeks, to years, to decades. I plan to leave mine as long as I can, occasionally reviving it to see if it’s still alive.
Drying your starter is also a fun way to gift it to someone. Crumble it into a little jar with a cute lid, attach a tag with revival instructions, and voila! A personal, homemade gift.
Let me know if you’ve ever dried starter, revived dry starter, or anything in between – I would love to hear your stories!
How to Dry (and Revive!) Sourdough Starter
- Silicone baking mat (or parchment paper)
- Cookie sheet
- Mason jar
- 30 g Sourdough starter
How to Dry Sourdough Starter
- Feed your starter as normal. (For me, I put 60g lukewarm water in a Mason jar and add 30g starter. I screw the lid on tightly and shake until incorporated. Then I add 30g all-purpose flour and 30g whole-wheat flour, stir to mix well, then place the lid on the jar without screwing it on. Then I let it sit for 6-8 hours, or until at peak bubbly-ness.)
- When your starter is nice and active, spread it thinly onto your silicone baking sheet or parchment paper, on a cookie sheet. Try and get the starter as thin and uniform as possible. Use however much you want – to revive it, you only need 30g of dried flakes, or about 1/4 cup. If it's a gift or you don't want to dry it all, make sure you save some!
- Once spread thin, place the cookie sheet in the oven but do not turn it on. You don't want to cook the starter whatsoever. The oven functions as a holding place. Plus, you can turn on the little light inside to raise the temperature slightly – this is the best way to achieve fast, safe drying.Pro tip: If you're like me and you frequently forget things are in your oven, write yourself a sticky note that says STARTER IN OVEN!! and stick it to the control panel. This way we won't have an accidental starter fire on our hands. 🙂
- When the starter is completely dry, use your hands to crumble it into pieces and place in a mason jar. Close the lid as tightly as possible, label it, then store it in a cool dark place, like a kitchen pantry or cupboard. Never in the fridge or freezer!
How to Revive Dried Sourdough Starter
- Weigh 30g of dried starter flakes and add to a glass measuring cup or small bowl. Add 60g lukewarm water, and try to submerge all flakes.
- Over the next two to three hours, stir the flakes every half hour or so. Eventually they will completely dissolve.
- Once the flakes have disappeared, stir in 30g all-purpose flour. Cover lightly with a kitchen towel and let it sit somewhere warm, like your oven with the light on, or a warm sunny room. Leave it alone for about a day.
- The next day, take a look at your starter – you're looking for small bubbles. If you see some, or lots, great! Move on to the next step. If you see none, return it to its warm place for a few hours, and check again.
- Feed your starter with 30g flour and 30g water. Don't discard any; it's not ready for that yet. We're still trying to build it up. Mix well, and put your starter back in its warm place. Watch for more bubble activity – this could take anywhere from six to 12 hours depending on, well, many factors. If you're seeing lots of bubbles, move on. If you're seeing none or only a few, wait a couple hours and check again.
- Repeat the step above. Feed with 30g flour and 30g water, don't discard, mix well, and put it back. Keep an eye out for activity. This time, you want to see lots and lots of bubbles. This could take anywhere from six to 12 hours.
- Discard all but 120g of your starter. Feed it using 120g water, 60g all-purpose flour and 60g whole-wheat flour. Stir to mix well. Placed in the oven with the light on, it will double or triple in size in about three to four hours. Your starter is now alive and healthy – time to get baking!
- This is a sourdough boule I baked with my revived starter!