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Starter’s Resilient. Here’s Proof.

A starter left on the counter for a week came back to life.

After I wrote Don’t Worry Too Much About Your Starter, I did an experiment. I left a jar of my sourdough starter on the counter for a week and neglected it. No flour. No water. It just sat there while its yeasts ate away the sugars in the flour and produced hooch.

The results look pretty rough. All the gas bubbles have disappeared and there is a quarter-inch pool of alcohol on the surface. This starter could never be used for bread in its current state.

This sourdough starter is in a sad state, but don’t throw it away.

It’s not too late to recover, though. The yeast is weak…starving, really. A yeast barely alive. We can rebuild it. We have the technology. Better than it was before. Better…stronger…faster.

The process is simple. Pour off the hooch and follow the normal feeding schedule for the starter. As a reminder, the recipe is easy: 20 grams starter, 100 grams all-purpose flour, 100 grams of water, and stir it all up. That’s it.

Here is what it looked like the morning I fed it.

Freshly fed and ready to rise.

Later that day, you can see the starved starter on the right compared to a well-fed starter on the left. The weak yeast is slow off the starting blocks; it’s not rising much and doesn’t show the gas bubbles of the healthy starter.

Contrast the weak starter on the right to the well-fed starter on the right.

The next morning, you can see that the unhealthy starter is beginning to show some signs of life; it’s rising and showing a few bubbles. It’s just a little slow to rise, like it had a rough night out on the town the evening before. But the life is there.

Life returns, albeit slowly.

After one more feeding, the starter is really springing back. The rise and bubbles are on par with the consistently well-fed yeast. You might never know that the yeast on the right was neglected for a week.

And it’s back!

A word of caution though. Don’t expect the neglected yeast to be great for baking just yet. It has been weakened and will need to be consistently nurtured for a few days before it will provide the results you are looking for from a loaf.

Feed it each morning, or even in the morning and evening for three or four days. It will again become well-established and strong for baking.

Sourdough starter is easier than many people think. Try to feed it consistently, which is the best way to achieve good baking results, but if you forget or get busy, take solace is knowing that your starter is forgiving.


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