How do I know if my sourdough starter is ready to use?
When you first start baking sourdough you need a starter. Once you have either created one or been given one then you are ready to start baking.
You’ll need to follow a refreshment process, but understanding when a starter is ready to use takes time and you’ll need to get to know your flour and your environment. It’s not always straight forward. Why? Well, let’s just start with the fact that every flour is different & every kitchen is different.
It is about learning to recognise the way your starter behaves. So there are a few key points a beginner needs to know. So a good guide is that it will almost double, and a rough time guide for how long this will take.
- Rye will double in about 3 hours
- Wholegrain will double in about 4 hours
- White roller milled flour will double in about 8 hours
- Chocolate can take 8 – 10 hours
Tasting it is also a great way to recognise the acidity and texture of your starter and different points of readiness.
- If it not ready it will still taste of flour and water
- If it is ready it will have a slight tang
- If it has gone too far then it will be acidic and it will be more viscous
You will see the openness of the structure in a starter that is at its optimal point. I don’t tend to recommend keeping a starter in a glass jar simply because I once lost a shard of glass in 50kg of dough and had to throw the bread away. However, when you first start baking a glass jar is useful to see the texture and CO2 creating bubbles in your starter. As you get to know your starter you will recognise the way it looks and the viscosity of the culture.
As the microbes take hold and ferment the dough it changes in texture, becoming more open at first and lighter. As time goes on the flour then loses its structure. It will eventually break down altogether. A starter that is ready is light and almost has a kind of lusciousness to it
If it slower then re refresh check:
- That your water temperature is optimal between 22C and 27C
- Your ambient temperature is about 22C – 24 C
- That there is enough water to facilitate fermentation.
- That you used the correct quantities
The easiest way you can do this is by marking and watching your starter. Try to get to recognise the peak point by watching it and marking and timing how long it takes to double. Every flour, every kitchen is different so this is about you getting to know your starter and recognising when it peaks.