Dehydrating Your Sourdough Starter

Dehydrated Starter

When people get curious about baking with a sourdough starter and I explain how it works, I can tell they are a little freaked out by this idea of keeping the culture alive, day in, day out, for ever and ever.

“This is too much responsibility,” they say, followed by variations on “This is why I don’t have kids!” or “Houseplants all die under my care!” and “What about my trip to Marrakech?”

I understand the sentiment, so I’m always quick to point out that a sourdough starter can be kept in the fridge for a little while without the skies caving in, and that if “a little while” becomes “indefinitely”, you can always dehydrate the precious blob into a dormant matter that won’t require regular attention.

This is a handy procedure if you’re about to go through a period of time when you won’t be able to care for it consistently or bake with it, but also if you’d like to share your sourdough culture with a friend who lives far away, and also if you’re smart and want a backup copy to restore in the event that your live starter has a disk failure (i.e. dies).

It’s very easy, and requires no special equipment.

First, you’ll need to feed your starter a few hours beforehand, so that it’s at its peak ripeness when you start dehydrating it — in other words, you want it to contain a maximum number of live micro-organisms.

Plop two tablespoonfuls of the starter onto a sheet of parchment paper or a clean silicon baking mat, and use a flexible spatula to spread it as thinly as you can all over the sheet.

Place the sheet on a cooling rack (for maximum air circulation) and set aside in a warm (but not too warm) spot of the house until completely dry and crackly. Depending on the hydration of your starter, the thickness of the spread, and the weather, this could take anywhere from a few hours to a day.

Break the dehydrated starter into pieces, place in a freezer bag and crush into smaller flakes with a rolling pin. Transfer to a small jar, close tightly, and keep somewhere cool and dry until ready to rehydrate. Theoretically, it should keep for years and years, though I’ve only tested it for a few months myself.

To rehydrate, place about 10 grams (1/3 ounce) of the dehydrated starter flakes in a straight-sided jar and cover with the same weight in fresh water. Let stand for 10 minutes to soften, then stir to dissolve. Feed with the same weight of flour and water, as described here, and repeat daily until the starter is back on its feet, bubbling and rising in its jar.

  • http://www.jessicasdinnerparty.com Jessica’s Dinner Party

    I never knew you could dehydrate sourdough starter! How genius!

  • http://www.juicytomatoes.co.uk Edward Norton

    This is igneous!

    I lost my starter when I went on holiday last summer. It was two years old and produced the most wonderful bread. I decided to freeze it and put it in the back of the freezer for safe keeping whilst away. My in laws were house sitting, and for some reason I still don’t understand, got it out, defrosted it and threw it out. It was clearly labelled. I can only assume that they dislike my sour dough. It was my most treasured kitchen item – everything else can be replaced. I’ve started several starters and never managed to replicate. They really are all individual. When I get one I’m happy with, I shall dry several batches and store securely in my house and friends house just in case . . .

    I look forward to you continued adventures with sour dough.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      So very sorry you lost your starter — I imagine how crushed you must have been. I hope you soon manage to create a new one that rivals it.

  • Mike

    Does dehydrating it work better than freezing a portion of it?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I’ve never tried freezing it, so I can’t say, but dehydrating is definitely the way to go if you want to send the starter to a friend in the mail…

    • http://thedelightblog.wordpress.com/ Cassandra PW

      My mother in law freezes it, and it works fine. She buys it from the baker, cuts it into the portions she will need and freezes it in separate baggies.In France, just about any baker, who makes their own bread of course, will sell it to you.

  • http://www.ladystiles.blogspot.com Michelle

    Wow, I learn something new every day! It is time for me to make my own sourdough starter, I have been putting it off, I want to do it now though.

    Thanks!

  • http://thebluedragonarts.blogspot.com/ Deanna

    Thanks, this is a really cool process to know! I’ve really enjoyed your starter stories and learning about all the things you use your starter for.

  • http://willworkforbiltong.blogspot.com/ Adele

    I haven’t performed the sourdough starter miracle yet, but I have a feeling this will be the year…

  • http://three-cookies.blogspot.com/ Three-Cookies

    Excellent tip. If you keep normal yeast in the refrigerator it prolongs the life. My normal yeast is almost three years old and still working. Would you store the dehydrated starter in the refrigerator?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I keep the dehydrated starter at room temperature.

  • http://theinnkeepersdaughter.com Yolande

    THANK YOU! Cooking easy, baking, not so much. Spent some time on it about a year ago…proud of some of my accomplishements (as the French girl, slightly embarrassing to have to throw out the French bread only) Wanting to experiment with starters, but don’t do enough to keep “live”, This will be the next experiment. Thanks again.

  • http://design-smith.blogspot.com/ design_SMITH

    I wish I had done this before my last (1300 mi) move. The starter was never the same and I was unable to rescue it. Sadly I am now starter-less and need to develop a new one (and I’ll keep a safety dried!)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Sorry for your loss! I have heard other accounts of starters not surviving long-distance moves, it’s very puzzling.

  • Julieta

    Hi Clotilde, thanks so much for this valuable information! I started to bake with a sourdough starter during my winter holidays, and all of your recipes have turned out successfully. I received my starter in dehydratated bits, and I built it sort of by instinct, now it works really well. It was given to me by our housemaid, she lives in the countryside and got her starter from a local baker, so, the flavour of the breads is quite complex and delicious. The other day I forgot to feed my starter in the morning, and I did so in the late afternoon… it was more watery and smelled different, I think I saved it… do you think it could have died? what happens if you forget to feed the starter just one day? (mine is called Guillermino, by the way – a diminutive form of William)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      It takes more neglect than that to kill a starter — I only feed mine every 2 or 3 days when I don’t need it, but then I switch to daily meals a couple of days before I use it for baking. Tell Guillermino that Philémon says hi! :)

  • http://www.einkorn.com/ Einkorn Wheat

    I’ve tried this and it really does work! Also, instead of washing the mixer bowl after making naturally leavened bread, you can let the residue dry and then easily pick it off and put it in a small container until it is needed or to share with someone else.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      What a clever idea, thank you!

  • http://beaglebea.blogspot.com Beatrix

    You are a genious…never would have thought to try this.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I can’t claim genius credit for this, as the process is commonly practiced by sourdough bakers, but thanks! :)

  • http://mypantryshelf.com Karen @ My Pantry Shelf

    Great idea! I love sourdough and haven’t made it in ages. I’ll have to go for it again.

  • http://sasasunakku.com Sasa

    Very tempting for a commitmentphobe like me! I’ve never done it for just the reasons you outlined above ^_^

  • http://tinykitchentales.blogspot.com/ Tales from the Tiny Kitchen

    Ah that is really clever! We have a massive jar of sourdough starter that takes up so much room in the fridge and we often don’t have time to use it, and I worry that if I leave it too long it will die, so this looks like a great method. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.OnceUponASmallBostonKitchen.blogspot.com Katie @The Small Boston Kitchen

    Wow, I had no idea you can dehydrate a starter…wow. My mind is blown. Thanks for posting this tip!

  • http://www.estouestblog.com est

    yay! dehydrating starter works perfectly – and so does creating your own – following your advice I started one from scratch with rye flour and it’s alive and kicking! though it has a much deeper and almost glue like smell it’s bubbling away and I can’t wait to use it.
    thank you clotilde for all your help!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Happy to hear that, Marie, hope you make beautiful loaves with it. Bises !

  • dory

    I have commercial yeast in the refrigerator, and have never baked with sourdough for the reasons that have been mentioned above. My life is busy and irregular and I cannot bake regularly, or feed sourdough starter. IF I can dry my own I might try it, although I now have to get a new oven as mine just died (the day before a dinner party.

    Dory

  • http://www.honeyfromrock.blogspot.com Claudia

    Thanks Clotilde, I have a starter, from France originally, that is over 200 years old and would be sad to lose her. An excellent post on how to prevent that tragedy.

  • http://www.londonfoodieny.com Anna

    this is fascinating! I just started up my starter using the Tartine guidelines. 3 days in i couldn’t figure out what the awful smell was in my flat! Gone now and regularly feeding, can’t wait to get the first loaf going!

  • http://thumperoo.blogspot.com Alexis

    This is a fantastic idea – I’m obsessive about backing up EVERYTHING in my life, now there’s another way to do it with my starter!

  • Mike L

    I bought my starter quite a few years ago from King Arther Flour. There have been times when it has sat in the fridge for over 6 months, during which time it produced a fair amount of dark “hooch” on the top. I simply stir it up, use it, and feed it. Within 15 minutes the fed starter is bubbling away. Good stuff!

    I kind of doubt that it is the original starter. My understanding is that in time the local wild yeasts get into the starter and take it over. That may be why some starters do not survive a long trip.

    I think that I will try drying it, just in case …

    Mike L

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I agree with you: when you revive the starter, whether after dehydrating or refrigerating for a long time, part of the new colony is certainly made up of the yeasts from the flour you’re adding. Still, it works better than starting a new one from scratch.

  • janele

    Thank you for this!

    I’ve been trying to find a way of taking my year-old starter with me on a plane, without worrying about whether or not a fully hydrated version would raise suspicions.

    Ma belle-soeur habite à Paris, and for my next visit I wanted to bake some San Francisco sourddough bread for her. I also wanted to incorporate any wild Parisian yeast into my starter, just to see how the flavor turns out.

    Now I just have to remember to keep the dehydrated starter in flakes, and hope they don’t become a white, powdery substance for the TSA to confiscate.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Indeed, it’s important not to crush the flakes too finely, though I’ll note that the color is more off-white than white. :)

  • Madonna

    Thanks so much for this information, Clotilde. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to bake all our bread, and I plan to start experimenting with sourdough soon. I haven’t decided whether to order from King Arthur or try to start my own. We’re planning a 3 week trip to France later this year, and I wondered what would become of a starter that was neglected for that long.

  • http://www.nobluehair.wordpress.com nobluehair

    I’ve been writing about “Great chocolates I have known & loved” and decided to also pay homage to great bloggers about chocolate– and you are my very first shoutout: http://wp.me/p19YC5-5Q. I’ve loved your columns for years and this is my little thank you for keeping at it and inspiring us all.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thank you!

  • http://wolfsilveroak.insanejournal.com Wolf

    This is really good to know.

    If I have a dehydrator, do you think that would work as well as just leaving it in a warm place, or would it get TOO warm, I wonder… Hmmm.

    I might have to do some experimenting with this and my current sourdough starter.}:P

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      You could definitely speed things up in the dehydrator at low temp (~37°C/100°F max).

  • Gill

    What a fantastic tip! Now I can get a starter going and it should survive the three months we spend in France every year as well as the times we are away here.

  • http://www.whatareyoufeedingyourkidsthesedays.com gaelle@whatareyoufeedingyourkidsthesedays.com

    I have a one-year old starter which gives us great baguettes… I have been sharing some with friends in the area but it’s great idea to dehydrate it to keep it “just in case” and to send it to other people…
    MercI!

  • http://flexitarian.christinesusskind.com The Flexitarian Cook

    Brilliant idea! How long do you typically have to wait until the starter is back on its yeasty feet?
    Christine

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      It should be ready again in a matter of days.

  • http://theinvisiblecookbook.wordpress.com/ sophie

    Hello there,
    glad i found you and your lovely blog!! Making sourdough is one of my most favorite things in the whole world but i always lose my starters because i never stay in one place for very long. Always heartbreaking to lose one your in love with. So the solution is here.
    Thank you
    x

  • http://www.lindentea.com megi

    Excellent post! I have been making our bread with a sourdough starter for almost five years and now I can’t live without it. I’ll try dehydrating it just as an experiment. Thank you for sharing, I love your blog.

  • Becky

    I am sending away for some of Carl’s Starter today…
    I can’t wait to get it and try my own starter :)

  • http://www.decarshop.com Cytomel¸

    Great article very useful. I never thought about dehydrating the starter.

  • http://noteworthymusings.blogspot.com Carole

    Dehydrating it is an interesting idea.

    We’ve had a sourdough starter going for years with great success (now watch – it’s in ‘print’ so something is going to happen to it lol). And it’s not like we’ve given it great care. We’ve abused it, we’ve neglected it, and we’ve still got the original starter.

    Will keep this idea in mind though.

  • http://www.ezrecipe.co.uk James

    I started using the Artisan bread in 5 method and it removes the difficulty of looking after a starter but if you give it enough time, you still get the complexity of flavour from dough like in sourdough.

  • http://smultronsoul.blogspot.com Divya

    Hi Clotilde, THANK YOU SO MUCH for this life-saving recipe (literally!). It helped me revive my original sourdough ! !

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I’m delighted Divya, thanks for writing!

  • Sue

    Hi Clotilde, Thanks, I make sprouted wholewheat sourdough for the farmers market. I was concerned, asmy husband and I will be travelling overseas at the end of the year, who I was going to intrust my starter with. Now I won’t have to get anybody to feed it. I’m going to start dehydrating now as I tend to have some sourdough left over each bake. Thanks again for this might tip.

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