One of the questions I get asked the most is “how will I know when my sourdough starter is ready to bake with”? This blog will take you through the signs to look for, as well as how to know when your starter has reached maturity.
When Is Your Sourdough Starter Ready To Bake With?
Your sourdough starter will not be ready for at least 14 days from when you started it. You can most certainly try to bake with it before 14 days, but honestly, you’ll be rewarded with better bread if you wait.
You’re looking for the following signs once this period has passed:
- Doubling consistently within 4-6 hours of feeding (this is the most important sign your starter is ready);
- Smells yeasty and quite lovely – if it smells like acetone, parmesan cheese, stinky socks or anything unpleasant, keep feeding it!
- It has bubbles that break on the top when it peaks;
- It has a domed shape to the surface when it peaks;
- There is a sponge like look to the starter when you view the side of the jar. The bubbles will be quite large and the jar will feel light when the starter peaks;
- There will be a honeycomb like network of bubbles visible when you tip the jar on its side.
- It should be thick – like the consistency of warm peanut butter or thick pancake batter.
The most important sign of readiness that your starter is ready to bake is that it is doubling every single time you feed it. Ideally, it should be doubling within 4 to 6 hours of feeding – but it can sometimes happen within just 2 hours if it’s warm. If your starter is not doubling, it’s not ready and it will not have the ability to rise bread.
The Float Test
There is a lot of controversy around the float test. Many people say it is inaccurate. Others swear by it. It is a good gage at where your starter is at. However I will add one caveat. Your starter must be at its peak for the float test to work. This is because when the starter is at its peak, it has the most gas present. If it’s still rising or is deflating, it will not have enough gas.
How To Perform The Float Test:
Take a glass of water. Scoop a small spoon of your starter out of the jar – DO NOT STIR IT FIRST. Drop the starter into the glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready to bake with. If it sinks, it’s not ready.
How Long Should You Wait?
If you’ve been feeding your starter consistently every day for more than 4 weeks and it’s still not showing signs of readiness, try the tips listed here to get it moving.
Maturity of Your Sourdough Starter
While you can generally start baking with your sourdough starter from around 14 days (as long as it’s doubling consistently after feeding) – your sourdough starter will not actually fully develop and mature for quite a while.
Your sourdough starter is full of amazingly beneficial bacteria and yeast colonies that have developed from the environment which you live. They adapt, change and grow with temperature changes, physical environment changes and changes to the flour and water you feed them. Your patience in letting them develop and flourish will be rewarded with amazing bread!
You will really notice a difference once your sourdough starter is mature. It will smell amazing, it will double within a few hours of feeding. You’ll get the most amazing crumb in your loaves – it’s definitely worth the work!
One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is – do not put your sourdough starter in the fridge until it matures. When you put your starter in the fridge, it goes to sleep. This is great to stop you having to feed it all the time – however – if it’s not mature, you’re basically stunting it’s growth. It will take much, much longer for it to develop while being kept in the fridge and only fed once a week (or even less).
I never put mine in the fridge. I do have a jar in there as back up – just in case something happens. But my faithful starter lives on my kitchen counter. I feed it every single day. It is very resilient though, so if I miss a few days of feeding (like when my kids are sick or life just gets busy) it is totally fine at room temperature. If I’ve neglected it for a few days I just discard and feed as normal and it’s generally back to its happy self within a day.
If your starter isn’t quite ready you could try making this easy sourdough discard sandwich loaf.
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