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Don’t Worry Too Much About Your Starter

Your wild yeast is sturdier than you’ve heard.

When I first started baking, I read all kinds of things about the importance of caring for your starter. Feed it the same time everyday. Carefully measure your flour and water. Use complex mixes of all-purpose, whole wheat, and rye flours. Some posts even said to never use tap water.

I’m here to say most of that advice is goofy.

I tried to abide by the baking snobs’ advice for a couple months, but then I got busy. I’d forget to feed my starter for a few days or run out of special flour. And what I found was that my starter still sprang back and worked just fine for my bread.

It’s best to feed your starter on a regular basis–daily if you’re not refrigerating it–but once it’s established and healthy, it can survive for a few days without feeding.

The starter on the right was fed today. The starter on the left is hungry; there are no bubbles and a little alcohol on the surface.

If your starter starves for a bit, you’ll notice a few things. It will become more fluid and there may be a bit of dark liquid on the surface. To revive it, just pour off the dark liquid, which is the alcohol byproduct of the fermentation, and then feed the starter as you normally do.

Pro Tip: If you plan to bake in the next few days, be sure to feed your starter on a regular schedule beforehand to keep your yeast active and healthy. That will result in the best possible bake.

Don’t mess with mixing flours. Just use all-purpose or bread flour to feed your starter. They work just fine. You may not get the nice color or as many bubbles as you see in pictures online, but that doesn’t mean your starter is any less effective.

As far as water goes, I’ve never had a problem using plain tap water in my starter. However, it’s possible that the chlorine used to treat water in your community could hinder the growth of your wild yeast. If that’s the case, simply leave the tap water on the counter for a few hours before using or use bottled water.

Your starter is tougher than you’ve heard. It’s really hard to mess it up too badly. And if you do kill your yeast, it’s not hard to start over.


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