Putting your sourdough starter on hold: for best long-term storage, dry it.

Sourdough baking is endlessly fascinating, isn’t it?

First-time sourdough bakers, excited by the starter they’ve created, happily explore the huge realm of possibilities for its use. (And if you’re a “newbie,” we highly recommend you check out our Complete Guide: Baking with Sourdough.)

More seasoned sourdough aficionados, having mastered the basics, work at fine-tuning techniques, learning to use fermentation temperatures to bring out (or tone down) certain flavors in sourdough’s rich, multilayered profile.

But one thing most of us have in common: at some point, we need to put our sourdough baking on hold. Maybe we’re going on vacation; perhaps the schedule is just too crowded at the moment for the ritual feeding/discarding/feeding/baking process.

Whatever the reason, there comes a time when we need to put our sourdough starter to bed for awhile.

What’s the best way to keep your starter happy, healthy, and vibrant, when you know you won’t be using it for an extended period?

Refrigerate it and hope? Freeze it and forget it?

Neither of the above. The best way to preserve your starter – for a couple of weeks, a month, or even years – is to dry it.

Let’s see how the process works.

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1. Ready your sourdough starter for storage.

First, feed your starter as though you were going to bake with it. If it’s been stored in the fridge, take it out, and feed it with equal parts unbleached all-purpose flour and lukewarm water. Let it rest, covered, until it becomes very bubbly and healthy looking.

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2. Spread it out to dry.

Next, spread it – all of it* – onto two pieces of parchment. It helps to set each piece of parchment on a baking sheet, simply for ease of transportation.

*Don’t want to dry all of it? See the end of this post for advice.

The starter should be spread as thinly as possible; use a spatula, an offset spatula, or a bowl scraper to help the process along.

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3. Dry the starter completely, until it’s brittle.

Let the starter dry at room temperature until it’s completely and utterly dry. This will take a day (if you live, say, in Arizona, in a house without air conditioning); or up to three, four, five days – it totally depends on the weather. In Seattle, in winter? Count on a long dry.

If you live somewhere humid, can you dry your starter in the oven? Yes; but be careful. Rather than turning the oven on to warm it, I’d advise using only your oven’s electric light, which will produce very gentle, even heat. You don’t want to risk turning the oven on and accidentally making it too hot, which would kill your starter. (See step #8, below.)

Completely dry starter should peel easily off the parchment; when you pick a piece up, it will be brittle and easily snap between your fingers. If you have a scale, weigh it; if you started with 4 ounces starter on your parchment, it should weigh 2 ounces (or very close) when it’s completely dry.

4. Break it into pieces.

Break the starter into small chips with your hands; or place it in a plastic bag and pulverize it with something heavy.

Can you run it through a food processor? Yes, but it’s not necessary; just break it into chips as best you can.

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5. Store it airtight.

Store the starter airtight, preferably in a glass container. You want something totally inert, with an airtight cover; a glass jar is perfect. Date the jar and label it; you don’t want someone throwing it away during the course of some pantry spring cleaning.

Keep the jar of dried starter in a cool, dark place, if possible. Not cool as in refrigerator; just not sitting in the hot sun, or over your woodstove. Be sensible.

6. Bring your sourdough starter back to life.

When you’re ready to revive the starter, measure out 1 ounce (or about 1/8 of it, if you’d been following a regular feeding pattern and had about 8 ounces starter on hand at the beginning of the drying process).

Don’t have a scale? Well, depending on the size of your chips, this will be between 1/4 and 1/3 cup.

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7. Mix the starter with lukewarm water.

Place the dried starter chips in a large (at least 1-pint) container. Add 2 ounces (1/4 cup) of lukewarm water. The water should barely cover the chips; tamp them down, if necessary.

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Stir the chips/water occasionally; it’ll take 3 hours or so, with infrequent attention, to dissolve the chips.

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8. Feed it with flour.

Once the mixture is fairly smooth/liquid, with perhaps just a couple of small undissolved chips, feed it with 1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) of unbleached all-purpose flour. Cover it lightly (a shower cap works well here), and place it somewhere warm.

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I like to use my electric oven with the light turned on. Even without ever turning on the heat, it holds a constant temperature between 85°F and 90°F.

You can certainly keep your starter out of the oven, at room temperature; just understand that this whole process, as I’ll describe it, will take longer. The cooler the room, the longer it takes sourdough starter to work.

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9. Let it rest somewhere warm until it bubbles.

Let the starter work for 24 hours. At the end of that time, you should see some bubbles starting to form. Remember, this is at about 85°F; if your temperature is lower, this will take longer.

How much longer? Totally depends on temperature. Once you do this process once – in your kitchen, in your climate, accounting for your weather – you’ll have a better idea.

Sourdough isn’t one of those things you can be all engineering about. Forget your timer; just wait until your starter looks like the picture above.

10. Feed the starter again.

WITHOUT DISCARDING ANY OF THE STARTER, feed it with 1 ounce of lukewarm water, and 1 ounce of flour. Cover, and put back in its warm spot. After “X” hours (depends on your kitchen), you should see some serious bubbling; mine took eight hours to become nice and bubbly.

11. And again.

Feed the starter again – 1 ounce of lukewarm water, 1 ounce of flour – cover, and wait. Again, you’re not discarding any at this point.

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Here’s my starter 12 hours later. It’s exhibiting a host of tiny bubbles, and has expanded. You may also notice, from the side of the container, that it’s risen, and then fallen; this is completely natural.

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12. Put the starter back on its regular feeding schedule.

Your starter is ready to return to its former life – and its regular schedule. DISCARD all but 4 ounces (about 1/2 cup). Feed it again, this time with 4 ounces each lukewarm water and flour. (That’s 1/2 cup of water, and 1 cup of flour, for those of you without a scale. Tell me again why you don’t have a scale?)

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This time, it should really expand quickly. In my 85°F oven, it took just 4 hours for it to triple in size. Your starter is now revived and healthy.

13. At last – you’re ready to bake!

To ready the starter for baking (while saving enough for another day), feed it again. Discard all but 4 ounces; and feed the remainder with 4 ounces each lukewarm water and flour. Let it become bubbly – and let the baking begin!

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Finally, because I know you’ll ask –

Q. Do you have to dry all of your starter?
A. No. Store half in the fridge, if you like. Just don’t store any in the freezer; freezing will kill your starter (more on that in a future post).

Q. If you dried all of your starter, and you only revive 1 ounce of it – what do you do with the rest?
A. Give some to a friend (with a link to this blog post, of course). Or just save the rest for sometime in the future.

Q. How long will dried starter stay good?
A. Not sure, but we’ve heard cases of dried starter remaining viable for over a decade. Thorough drying should preserve your starter indefinitely – just ask King Tut!

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Finally, I couldn’t possibly end this post without showing you what happened to my dried, revived, fed, and baked-with starter. This Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread has NO commercial yeast; it was entirely leavened with my reconstituted starter. Success!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. Roni

      Great Post and most definitely Drying Sourdough Starter works well. I had to do that before going on a 10 day trip. I did thick layers, which took so long to dry, and then with the rest of the Starter I did much thinner layers. The thinner layers for me was very fast to deal with and get put away. Thanks to your post I now have a place to come to refresh my dried starter properly. I was not able to get it to grow again, and now know why. I never used but a Tablespoon of dried starter to 1/4 cup water, and for some idiot reason that would not grow. DUH…Not enough Starter, didn’t think it needed food…geeze. Anyone with Sourdough Starter knows it is a “Baby in the Kitchen” and is tentative work. Not hard but tentative. This time around I just sprinkled a tablespoon of the old dried starter onto the New Mix hoping it would just add some more flavor. I guess it is doing that….lol Only been growing this batch for a month, but it is good n sour, and always thick and bubbly. I never throw out my Starter, for one that is such a waste, two it gets expensive to toss it out all the time. I keep my starter very thick, only feeding about 2 tbls of a 3 -Flour Mixture. Equal amounts of (all King Arthur Flours) Rye, White Whole Wheat, APurpose. Very little to some days no water. This is thick and sticky Starter. Works for me. When I do let it grow up, I make Sourdough Pancakes…DELISH. That way My Starter doesn’t go to waste.

    2. Eileen

      I wish I had known about drying my starter. My first batch of loaves came out great , then I wanted to stop feeding for a while and froze portions of starter in silicone ice cube trays. Months later I tried to restart the starter, but could never get it going. If I try to make a starter again, I will definitely dry it!!!

  1. Greg

    Great advice PJ! Just this week I had some experience on your last question “How long will dried starter stay good?”. About 10-12 years ago I got a great sourdough starter going, and as insurance I dried some of it just as you describe above. (I dry mine overnight in the oven with the light on. Works great!) About 2 years ago I decided to put away my starter and work on other breads, but recently wanted to revive it. I went to my dried stock from 2006 (9 years old!). I was happy to see that I had lots of bubbles in my starter within 24 hours, and I easily had 4 cups of a vibrant, doubling starter within 3 days!! Can’t wait to make my first sourdough loaf with it this weekend!!

    Reply
    1. Cheryl

      I just attended a bread baking class in a local home here in La Mesa, CA. She received a gift of a little starter, “Sour Jack,” that came from a friend who found it this year (2016) in a dehydrated packet in the back of a bread book published in 1969–and this packet came with the book. It makes beautiful bread!

  2. Erin in PA

    This is so cool and informative! I have had sourdough for years, and sadly lost my initial batch last summer due to mold and busy schedules. I have a new batch going, but I think I might dry some to have “just in case”. I love making the basic sourdough loaf in my covered long baker that I bought from King Arthur — It’s so delicious and great for sandwiches. I also really like making a sourdough cinnamon-raisin loaf from a past issue of Baker’s Banter, it makes two loaves so it’s perfect for sharing with friends. Happy Baking!!

    Reply
  3. Nanciew

    Thanks for the very interesting post! I’m thinking that the bread proofing box you guys sell would be handy for this process too.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It certainly would! Yeast love the warm, humid environment that the creates. Jon@KAF

  4. Wendy F

    I am so glad to see this post. I have never tried a sourdough starter (or friendship bread) because we always seem to be gone for a week to 2 weeks every few months. I was always waiting for a good time to try it when I wasn’t going to be gone!

    Reply
    1. Baking since childhood

      I have a busy schedule also and sometimes my starter is in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or so (probably lonely and waiting for me). When this happens, sometimes there is a darker liquid on top, which is ok as it is alcohol. I take it out of the refrigerator. I take the entire starter out (liquid too) of the crock and put it in a glass bowl and stir it. I bring it to room temperature, and start checking it after about 2 hours. When I see it have a bunch of bubbles, I feed it, and stir it until there are no more lumps. Then I put a clear shower cap over it so it doesn’t dry out, and I can check on it. I wait at least another two hours. When it is all bubbly and has risen up and perhaps doubled, I stir it. Then I take one cup and put it back in the crock and into the fridge. Then I use the remaining “discarded” cup for baking, so depending on the recipe, I might feed it and wait again, or use as is.

  5. Gayle Loesel

    I had a starter years ago that I made according to a recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book; every time I used some starter, I replenished the stored portion (that from which the 1/2-1 cup came from), but your instructions say to discard. I don’t understand why both of these methods are so different. Why not replenish, and why discard?

    I finally stopped baking sourdough on a regular basis and threw my starter away. If I’d known I could revive it or dry it, I might have tried that. Alas. I may try to grow another and use this drying method if I don’t use it often. Or just buy from my favorite bakery, which uses KA flour!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You will keep some starter and just replenish or refresh it. What you don’t keep in the main starter- whether you use it for another recipe, dry it, or throw it away- we refer to as discard. The words may change but the actions are the same. Happy baking! Laurie

  6. Jeni in Maine

    This is wonderful information. I think I’ll try doing this the next time I feed my starter so I gain experience in how it works.

    I had once been told to freeze my starter for long-term storage, and it was never the same, so I tossed it and started over. Ever since then, I’ve known what NOT to do, but not what TO do. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. donna edinger

    love this post! so very helpful as we are empty nesters and can only enjoy so much bread! I have been throwing starter away before this so thank you so much. Who’d have guessed!

    Reply
    1. Robin

      I love to have some homemade bread around but my husband and I have begun to eat very little (not from choice we love bread). So I slice it into eatable slices, lay it flat on a baking sheet (waxed paper between layers), put into the freezer until frozen (this makes each slice removable later), and then put the bread pieces into a large plastic bag and into the freezer. When we want ONE piece we always have it handy. Just takes a bit longer to thaw or toast. Tastes just great and there’s always bread.

  8. Carol

    Oh how I wish I had seen this 🙁 A month ago! I just gave up and threw it all down the drain 🙁
    :sigh: Is there a way to make starter from scratch as I can’t justify right now buying it again. :-\
    Love hugs and prayers
    Carol

    Reply
  9. Ric Larson

    Thank you, I will dry some of my starter as a backup, I have been keeping it in the refrigerator for several years with gaps in use of a couple of months, without a problem.

    I have one question, you mention controlling the sourdough flavor with temperature , can you elaborate please, thanks Ric

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Ric, to put it simply, yeast tends to produce acetic acids when it’s fermenting in cool temperatures; more lactic acid when fermenting at room temperature or warmer. Thus, for a bread with assertive, sour tang, let the dough rise in the fridge; and let the shaped loaves rise in the fridge, as well, in order to gain a higher level of acetic acid. For a mellower bread, though still with great, nuanced flavor, do more of your rising at room temperature. Hope this helps – PJH

  10. Louis Lavalle

    Very interesting info. I have a question and a comment. I’ve been baking bread, breadsticks and pastries for a long time in my Manhattan galley kitchen, with results that have improved immensely over the years, as the experience teaches us well.

    For most my bread recipes I use a biga (starter), when called for. By the way let me note that we do not like sour-dough bread and therein lies my question. Does your suggestion for drying and storing starter apply to non-sour dough starters? I would image yes …

    My comment is this: Having read several books on bread-baking and the making of bigas, I came across a technique that eliminates the use of commercial yeast in the initial starter. Guess what I use? After I combine the flour with warm water I instead place several red grapes in the container, wrapped loosely in foil to keep them from sticking to the biga too much. The powdery mold (I forgot what it is actually called) that clings to the skin of the grape works perfectly as a rising agent, in fact much better than commercial yeast. I leave the container on my counter overnight and next day it’s bubbling over. And voila, I have truly natural biga!

    Let me know if you have heard of this approach and your thoughts. Thanks very much for writing an interesting blog on starters!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I’ve not heard of using just grapes for a biga; I’m adding that to my to do list! Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

    2. HMB

      I also use grapes — learned that trick some 20 years ago. I think it’s just that the skins have a lot of wild yeasts on them, but maybe there is also something else in the skins or the grapes besides the wild yeasts that helps promote fermentation.

    3. Robin

      I have read about the grape idea for starters before but wasn’t sure it would work; thanks for the tip- sounds like an idea worth trying.

  11. Kalisa

    The KAF sourdough instructions are part of my zombie survival guide. I figure people will want to keep me around if I’m the only one that can make bread, right?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hah, well it is always good to have your niche for a zombie apocalypse. Jon@KAF

  12. BeckyInGSO

    I wonder if this could be done on a dehydrator. I imagine the temperature would need to be less than 110 degrees F to keep the yeast alive. What do you think?

    Reply
    1. Lea

      I dried my sourdough in a dehydrator prior to a move to Mexico. It worked perfectly. Making a beautiful, crusty loaf in ridiculously high humidity was a challenge but the starter itself was great. When I left Mexico, I donated my starter to two young bakers who hadn’t used sourdough starter before. Cheers!

  13. Joanna Grammon

    I have two starters, plus sourdough buckwheat pancake dough. My favorite began with a brioche yeast my sister brought back from France, and it’s still going strong four years later. I love its mild flavor and texture. (I refrigerate mine and feed them about once a week, including adding about a half a teaspoon of sugar.) The other was from a packet of “Gold Rush” starter purchased in Alaska. The packet sat forgotten in my cupboard for years; the date said 1997. I had bought another packet of the same starter and used it while baking one season at a remote Alaskan resort. The forgotten packet resuscitated well three years ago, and has a more robust flavor and texture than the French strain. I once read that women on the Oregon Trail before leaving home took a piece of cloth, soaked their starter in it and dried it, then reconstituted it with water. A company called Sourdoughs International in Idaho has collected sourdough starters from around the world, including two from Egypt, and one from the Yukon. They are dried and sold in packets. One year, I gave different strains to my siblings as a Christmas present.

    Reply
  14. Leona

    Thanks so much for the post! I purchased the sourdough starter a couple of months ago and have been feeding it regularly for making bread, pizza dough and sourdough pancakes with it that have yielded fantastic results. I am going to utilize this method to set aside a backup starter.

    Reply
  15. Shellie

    What about using a dehydrator set at the lowest temperature? Mine is 95°. It feels more controlled and less likely to be ruined because someone turned on the oven!

    Reply
  16. Alice

    Would whole wheat white flour work for sourdough starter? I checked the King Arthur website for a 100% whole wheat sourdough recipe, but did not find one.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sure, though expect that your starter will be stronger in flavor. You will likely need to add an additional tablespoon of water when feeding. Jon@KAF

    2. Mike Brunette

      Alice,
      Whole wheat works well, but it may be a bit more acidic as Jon on the KAF hotline commented. One post mentioned the Tassajara Bread Book, which recommends using only whole wheat (WW). I used their method when I made my first starter several years ago, but my wife thought it was too “sour”. Eventually I quit baking for a while and discarded the starter. When my desire to make sourdough resumed, I modified the method and used half WW and half white. I really like the tangy flavor that the WW brings to the party and my wife likes it more too. Recently I acquired two other all white starters from friends. One is a 30year old from Alasks. They are both great, but I am still fond of the half WW one that I started. I think I will use this drying technique to save some of each for future use because I don’t bake frequently enough to keep all of them happy.

    3. Sonya

      Alice, the King Arthur Flour While Grain Baking Cookbook (a wonderful cookbook) has a whole chapter of whole grain sourdough bread recipes 🙂

  17. Kristie Anderson

    I’ve been baking sourdough for decades and first I’ve heard of drying starter – thanks for the great tip! One question, though – why must one discard all but 4 oz’s during the revival process? If it’s bubbly & healthy, what’s the purpose – is it flavor, or?? Also, I bake/make starter exclusively 100% whole grain, and my favorite starter recipe contains milk – do you see any issues there? Maybe I’ll just give it a shot and see what happens. Thanks again, and Happy Baking to All!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you don’t discard during the revival process, the yeast may not be present in such concentrations later on, and have the same vigor. In the same line, if you don’t discard while refeeding, you’ll have an enormous quantity of starter! Laurie@KAF

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      You discard to keep the starter at a manageable, balanced level, using the extra for pancakes or other items. Whole grain shouldn’t be any different, but I’m not sure about the milk. Give it a try! Laurie@KAF

  18. Anna

    This is perfect for a “doomsday prepper,” especially if a vacuum sealed canister is used. I’ve heard of using a low iron with the starter sandwiched between parchment paper to dry it as well. Great ideas.

    Reply
  19. wrafter

    Once dried, the sourdough starter is essentially flour. Suppose you processed the dried starter flakes back to the consistency of flour, and then used it in a bread recipe as a replacement for flour (say in a high-moisture overnight bread). Not using the “sour-flour” as a levain replacement, but as a flour replacement for perhaps a half-cup our of a three-cup loaf (i.e. one-sixth).

    Would this not work because the gluten had already been used/overproofed? Or would it work and give you a more flavorful loaf? Presumably a miner in a mining camp would not have discarded anything. Also true for third world countries. Has anyone at KAF done anything like this?

    I can certainly try it, but it would be valuable to learn of any mistakes to expect.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      While I would try replacing part of the flour with a powdered starter, the amount would be experimental. It might give you a more flavorful loaf, though. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  20. Savannagal

    I’m a bit confused. In #13, where you mention “saving enough for another day”, and then you say “discard all but 4 oz.”, are the 4 oz. you are discarding, actually not being discarded but being saved for another day? Am I supposed to use the entire 8 oz. to bake. I’m probably missing something that was explained in another post. I’ve never made sour dough starter. About 35 years ago someone gave me some starter, and I kept it going for a while, but I can’t remember what I did back then. Thanks for your wonderful blog.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You can use some or all of the starter after you set aside that 4 ounces to rebuild the starter again. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  21. Jen

    I dried some starter years ago when I first started my batch. I of course didn’t label the jar and someone had tossed it in the ensuing years so when my starter died last summer when the fridge died I had to buy new starter. this time I am going to label it properly.

    Do you think vacuum sealing the jar would help it last long after drying it or just leave it with a good lid on?

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jen, you can probably just close the jar tightly. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  22. Garrett Michael Hayes

    Any reason you can think of not to vacuum seal the dried starter in a vacuum-sealer bag? (And maybe I’d tape a copy of the revival guide to the outside [grin] )

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Once it’s dry, there’s no reason why you can’t vaccuum seal it for a later date. Laurie@KAF

  23. Erie

    I wish I had this knowledge 3 years ago. We had to move to Europe and I still miss my starter. At this point I don’t have a regular oven (long story) but the idea that I could have continued with my good starter made with KA flour….

    Reply
  24. Wade

    The starter is bacteria, an animal in other words. Lots of little animals. If you are going on vacation you could leave instructions with a neighbor to take care of it. I just finished a batch of Amish Friendship Bread and in that model a cup of starter is placed in ziploc bags and distributed to friends with a copy of instructions to care for the starter. Finally a recipe is included with the Friendship Bread model. Sometime, if KAF does not already have Amish Friendship Bread methodology already, I will email it in. I’ll do it soon.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Hi – I’m not seeing where we refer to yeast as bacteria? If you can give me the URL of the specific page, we can go in and correct that mistake. Thanks – PJH

    2. Ted Fischer

      What is sourdough, anyway?

      Sourdough refers both to bread, and to the starter used to make it. Sourdough starter begins with a combination of flour and liquid. The proportion and type of flour and liquid can vary dramatically, from a stiff starter made entirely with rye flour and water, to a liquid batter of milk and cornmeal, and everything in between.

      Friendly bacteria (lactobacilli), present in our natural environment; and the wild yeast attracted to and living on flour begin to work with one another when flour is mixed with warm water. The result: sourdough starter. These tiny living creatures (lactobacilli and yeast, collectively called the sourdough’s microflora) generate byproducts that cause bread to rise and give it complex, rich flavor.

      But sourdough starter’s not just for bread. Our early settlers used it to leaven pancakes and biscuits; today, we enjoy sourdough starter in treats as diverse as chocolate cake and pizza, where we value it for its rich, complex flavor as much as its ability to make things rise.

      Source: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/guides/sourdough/

  25. Jeanne

    My sourdough starter arrived **today** and I can’t wait to get started! I just fed it and it’s resting from its journey. Looking forward to bread and waffles this weekend!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Jeanne, have fun – and welcome to the wonderful world of sourdough! 🙂 PJH

  26. Carol

    I have heard that drying starters, any starter, is bad, as mold can easily be introduced into it via the air. It was reccommended that either fresh or otherwise preserved starters be used to avoid tainting by mold spores. I had major issues making kombucha, as the starter (scoby) was re-hydrated from a dried scoby, and, although I obtained another dried one, it molded as well, and another blog regarding kombucha mentioned that dried starters have the mold issue, and when using fresh or non-dehydrated, will almost always be just fine…..just a thought!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Carol, several of us bakers here at King Arthur Flour have dried starters; and some have had them for over 10 years, with no mold issues. I assume it’s a case of drying absolutely thoroughly to begin with, then storing very securely. Anyway, thanks for your feedback here – always appreciated. PJH

  27. Sandra

    My husband’s aunt gave me a sourdough starter shortly after our marriage. That was 44 YEARS ago. I’ve kept and used the starter since, but have always kept a back-up in the freezer, just in case. Once I tried drying a cup of it, but used my food dehydrater at lowest setting, so that probably ruined it as well.
    Thanks for this info… I will definitely try it out!
    Oh, when his aunt gave us the starter, she said that it was then 150 years old, and had been back and forth to Sweden several times. It uses milk rather than water and makes the best french bread ever.
    Thanks again!

    Reply
  28. Ken Tibbetts

    Now you tell me! My wife ordered me sourdough starter from which I made several loaves of various kinds of sourdough bread, pancakes, waffles, etc. – all being super delicious, by the way. We decided to leave for an extended period of time and couldn’t take it with me so I just “let it go.” Had I known about drying my starter I’d have done it in a second…well, actually a day or so. Now that I’m on firm ground again, I’ll have her place another order and over I’ll start.

    When ready to travel again, I’m going to use the drying method to keep my starter “going.”

    Reply
  29. EL

    Great post! We have a sourdough starter with a lot of history in our family (inour family for 50 years and gotten from a family that brought it with them west). I have limited time for baking right now and don’t always want to make sourdough. I will pass this along.

    Reply
  30. Kimberley Simpson

    I wish I had known about this before throwing mine away. Husband had bought me KA sourdough starter and container for Christmas. All was well and we were enjoying bread, pizza, etc. until vacation time. I just threw it away not knowing anything else and have not started a new one since. Will definitely try this when I get around to making my own starter. Great tip!!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kimberley, one of the great things about baking is it always gives us opportunities to try and try again! We’re glad you enjoyed this post and will find it useful in the future. Barb@KAF

  31. Terrie

    I’m ashamed to ask this question in front of all you baking professionals, but is there a product that I could just add to my bread recipe to give it a sour dough flavor without having to do the whole starter thing? I love sour dough bread but I just don’t have the time for a long term (starter) relationship! Lol

    Reply
  32. helen

    Great idea, BUT….I have had the same sourdough starter for more years than I will admit in a public forum. Yes, sometimes I go long periods of time without using it. As long as it is in the refrigerator it will keep. If the starter sits unused for a very long time the liquid rises to the top and can turn dark, even black. At that point I pour off the dark liquid, bring the starter to room temperature, and then stretch it with equal parts of water and flour. It has always come back to life, had a wonderful taste, and is completely usable.

    You can also do this if the starter seems to be too strong. You want a good starter with plenty of taste, but every now and then (especially if you have had it over 20 years) it will be too strong. I stretch the starter, dump off half of it after it has been stretched and sat over night, and then stretch it again. Probelm solved.

    My starter has gone from Alaska to Hawaii to Alaska to Florida. It has more miles on it than most people I know.

    I will try the dried version. Thanks for the great idea. But I will always have a container of it sitting somewhere in my refrigerator.

    Bake on!!!

    Reply
  33. Catherine D

    I just used my dehydrator, at its lowest setting, with my starter. Haven’t reconstituted it yet, but it dried well. Just make sure you’ve got very thin layers in the trays and break up / flip over after a few hours to make sure the bottom dries. It didn’t take long after I did that.

    Once dry, I vacuum sealed into two separate bags. One is in the freezer (where I keep my yeast), and the other is in a cabinet. In a month or so, I’ll revive both and see how they do.

    Reply
    1. Roger Z.

      I will look for a report on dried starter kept in the freezer. I just found and started some from my freezer from a year ago. It was out of the freezer for the month of Sept. 2015, as i was out of the country and had emptied and turned off the frig. I will use the blog process to attempt a restart. Also, I will report my progress.

      For future dried starters I plan to use a cool, dark, & dry space.

      My thanks to PJ , the commenters, and all the staff at KAF who make this contemporary site happen.

  34. Windischgirl

    Your timing is perfect! I will be visiting friends in Denmark later this summer and wanted to bake bread for them as a thank you…but wasn’t sure how best to get my starter from here to there safely. (I heard horror stories of liquid starter escaping its container while on board the plane… I don’t want to experience The Blob!)

    I’d like to clarify some terminology: sourdough, starter, levain, biga, and poolish are all variations on yeasted leavening agents. For clarity, maybe we should call this recipe a “levain” because it uses wild yeast (not commercial yeast)?

    . Sourdough is sour because of how seldom the wild yeasts are fed. Feed it more often and the results are sweeter and milder. Biga (thicker) and poolish (runnier) can be made with either commercial yeast or wild yeast. The wild yeasts simply add more flavor!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for your comments! There are different factors that can contribute to the sourness or mildness of a starter, including temperature and consistency of the starter. I wouldn’t recommend starving your starter to make it more sour, as a neglected starter won’t necessarily lead to good results. Barb@KAF

  35. "Jenn L"

    Do you think placing an appropriate sized container into a zo without the bread pan in it would work when you’re resuscitating the starter, or even just a regular feeding now that I think about it. I noticed on the manual cycle, rise 1 is held at 91° and can be programmed up to 12 hours. Would that be too warm? Just a thought!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I just asked our resident expert and she does not see a problem with this, although might I add, we have not done any tests. You may want to speak with Zojirushi directly and ask the question. They may be reached by calling (800) 733-6270 / (310) 769-1900. Good luck! Elisabeth@KAF

    2. "Jenn L"

      Great, thank you! I think I’ll try my own test and see how it works out. My kitchen is sometimes just too cold, and my oven light doesn’t seem to be warm enough, and I am a proud new owner of a virtuoso so I keep trying to find excuses to use it lol 🙂

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Buying a new bread machine is like being in love for the first time-everything is just so much more exciting! We understand your eagerness to bake with your new Zo. Good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  36. Karen Antonini

    I love this blog. I lost my starter a few months ago. I took it with me to California, but it molded. When I got back home, Arizona, I bought another from KAF. This time I will dry some. Also we went to Australia for 3 weeks awhile back. I put my starter in the frig while gone and everything was great. I bake tangy sourdough bread every four to have days. Just had sourdough waffles for dinner last night. Thanks KAF!

    Reply
  37. Pat in FL

    PJ, I think rachiti was referring to Wade’s post:

    “Wade
    May 1, 2015 at 1:36 pm
    The starter is bacteria, an animal in other words.”

    Happy starters make happy endings.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      No, Melinda, sorry – only recipes can be saved to your recipe box. Ill ask our tech people about saving blogs, though – maybe they’ll have a trick or two up their sleeve! PJH

  38. Lynne

    I’m glad I read this. I have a couple of packets of souvenir sourdough starter that I’ve been thinking of tossing, but this has me thinking they might still be OK. Guess I’ll give at least one a try.

    I’ve wanted to try using sourdough as I love commercial sourdough products, but all the upkeep was daunting. Now that I know I can “archive” it if necessary, maybe it’s time to take the plunge 🙂

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I think now’s the time, Lynne! I’ve been baking sourdough for over 12 years and I still find it magical! Barb@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      We’re looking into how to save blog posts to your recipe box – so it won’t happen immediately, but stay tuned, OK? PJH

  39. robstefanik

    Hi PJ,

    You say do not freeze the starter as it will kill it. But I once froze starter I purchased from KAF. After I defrosted it, I followed the feeding schedule and it did not show any adverse effects.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Rob, Jeff Hamelman, our head baker literally wrote the book on sourdough; his book is highly regarded. He’s been experimenting with frozen starter recently, and said while a frozen starter may actually work and raise dough, it’s no longer the same starter; it’s basically a new one developed from “dead” ingredients. His tests show that thawed/frozen starter just doesn’t create as good a loaf. But – that said – glad it worked for you! PJH

    2. PJ Hamel , post author

      Well, then, it’s a good opportunity to try this drying method. I think you’ll find it works just fine. Good luck! PJH

    3. Calchick

      It’s funny that the sourdough dies in freezer, but my Yogurt starter freezes very well and when brought to room temps makes yogurt with no issues.

    4. PJ Hamel , post author

      Well, yeast and the working cultures in yogurt are two different animals (literally) – I suspect that’s the reason? PJH

  40. Ann

    So excited to try this! When Passover comes around I find myself cleaning the fridge and dumping my starter – this is a great idea! Thank you.

    Reply
  41. Anne Wilson

    In step #8 it says “feed with flour and water” but the written instructions are to add flour only at that point. Is this correct? Just dried some of my starter to mail to my son who has never used sourdough before, although he has been baking for several years. I want to be sure I give him accurate information. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Anne, thanks for your eagle eye! Yes, you’re feeding only with flour in step #8; I’ve made that change. I hope your son enjoys his upcoming sourdough journey – PJH

  42. Judy J

    I have never made sourdough bread — I’m actually just starting to get into the “bread thing” in my early 70’s. My grandmother tried to teach me — wish I had listened more closely. Anyway, this forum was absolutely fascinating to me. Never too old to learn something old – or something new.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re so glad you are joining us in the world of bread baking, Judy! It’s truly an exciting and rewarding place to be. We hope you give some of our recipes a try and are pleased with the results. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  43. Mickie Vandenburg

    Have used sourdough for quite a while, but was not aware it could be dried.
    My question is – is there a way to just print
    the recipe and not all the comments
    Love your app

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The drying process is not written in a recipe format, so unfortunately there is no way to print just the instructions. Our best suggestion is to highlight the body of the text that you would like to print out and then paste it into a word document for easy printing. For future blog posts, you can always access an easy-print version of the recipe in an orange link at the top underneath the featured photo or on the blog of the blog post. I hope that helps. Happy sourdough baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Melinda

      The copy/paste suggestion here is probably the easiest, but just FYI, depending on your browser’s print interface options, you can also probably go to the print preview, figure out where the information you want ends, and then just enter the range of pages you want to print. That’s what I did (in Chrome). So, just in case you need an alternative to copy/paste!

    3. JimW

      On a Mac it is easy to print or save as a PDF. Just select what you want with the mouse or trackpad; Use Command “C” or the “Copy” command; Paste it into to a blank “Text Edit” document; then save it, print it, or use the “Print” command and choose “Save as PDF” in the lower right hand corner of the “Print” screen.

  44. Maylien Swenerton

    I have two starters, yogurt-based one I started in 1981 (once unused in the back of fridge, unfed, for 2 years and it revived nicely) and the other white grape-based one started in 2013. I’ve dehydrated both but the grape one got moldy. The other dehydrates nicely and I have mailed it literally all over the world. I keep my dried starter in the freezer because I have a large chest freezer and it’s easy for me. I think I will try storing at room temp.

    Reply
  45. Calchick

    What temperature kills the starter? I have a dehydrator with a low temperature setting of 95 degrees- would that kill it? and where is the recipe for that lovely bread you made in the photo? looks yummy!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      95°F is hotter than yeast likes, so everything will happen very quickly. But yeast doesn’t die until it’s way warmer than that, so I say give it a try. Our Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread was the result of this testing – enjoy! PJH

    2. grandma

      Calchick, did you use your dehydrator? I’m interested to see if/how it turned out at 95 degrees…that is the lowest temperature of mine, too.

  46. kelly

    I just started a started three days ago. Someone turned on the oven and the starter got too hot. I know it is dead, is there anyway to revive or use the starter by adding yeast? Ideas? OR do I need to pitch the whole thing and start over? Much thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Depending on how hot your starter got, you can try peeling off the top layer of skin that likely formed (you’re not the first baker to have your sourdough inadvertently heated!) and adding a pinch of yeast. It may be a lost cause, but it worth giving it a few feedings to see if you can revive it. Reading the blog on Drying Sourdough Starter may also give you a few ideas about reviving it. Good luck, our fingers are crossed! You know where to go if you need a replacement…Kye@KAF

  47. Pat Wallace

    Has anybody tried drying the Gluten-Free Sourdough starter? I’d be interested to know if it dries and revives the same as the wheat-based starter.

    Reply
  48. Denise Corley

    Thank you so much for this. I am moving out of state in a few weeks and thought I would have to toss my starter and start over again in my new home. I’m so glad I wont have to do that! Thank you and I love KAF products.

    Reply
  49. carol

    I made Amish bread / starter years ago. I had so many “starters” that I sealed up many in 1 cup amounts in zipped plastic storage bags and put in freezer. Reading this article reminds me I haven’t used any since then, probably 10 years, still in freezer. I suppose it wouldn’t be good to use or would it? Just curious.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re not the first sourdough baker to have separation anxiety! Many folks find it difficult to throw out perfectly good starter and end up having more starters than they know what to do with! Remind yourself that you can always used unfed starter in recipes that specifically call for it, but as for the starters in your freezer, you may as well try activating at least one of them to see what happens. It will be an interesting sourdough experiment to see how vigorous the cultures in the starter(s) are. Starters usually do not fare that well in the freezer for that long, but who knows…give it a try and share the results with us! Kye@KAF

  50. JLW

    I love this idea. I have had mine in the refrigerator for about two years now. I feed it and stir it about once a week. I give it a little more flour and a tiny bit of sugar. This would be much easier. Thanks for the advise.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Kathy,
      We haven’t tried the drying or freezing method with that type of starter, so we can’t say for sure how that works out. If you do try it, please do let us know how it goes. ~ MJ

  51. Jim St.

    Saw this post on Facebook today, (have seen it before), but it reminded me to set up some insurance. I was feeding my starter to make some Extra Tangy Sourdough and took the “discard” and am making it into a possible lifesaver. Using the oven light method to dry it out… Guesstimating 24 hours total before it goes into a tightly sealed canning jar and put in the back of a cupboard to sit and wait until needed…

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Donna, we haven’t tried this, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I would dry it at the lowest possible setting. Barb@KAF

  52. Gisele

    Will tag my sister with this post. She currently has some of a starter that has been passed down through 5 generations. Hope to get some more from her sometime soon. Want to start back baking.

    Reply
  53. Kate Vachon

    I have a homemade gluten-free starter going well at the moment. There’s no reason your drying technique wouldn’t work just as well as with a traditional starter, is there?

    Reply
  54. Janis Gray

    Just saw this post today. I froze my KAF starter when life got too busy a few weeks ago. If I wanted to use it to try this drying method, how should I proceed?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Janis,
      Your starter is perfectly fine in the freezer for months, so no need to thaw and then dry unless you want to use a different hold method. If you do want to dry the starter, you’ll want to thaw your starter, feed it several times over the next couple of days until it’s full and ripe and bubbly, and then proceed with the drying process as described. ~ MJ

  55. Jan Borofka

    My E-mail is spelled janofjungle@gmail.com w/o the capital J! Your website capitalizes The first letter whether it is correct or not.

    My question is, can I use Truvia sugar substitute in this cookie recipe?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jan, I’m not sure which cookie recipe you’re referring to, but I’m going to try to give you some insight on alternative sugars. We haven’t tested Truvia, but have tested Splenda a little bit, and we’ve found that it works best in recipes that have higher amounts of moisture, like muffins and quick breads. For more info on this topic, check out our blog series called Searching For Sweetness. Bryanna@KAF

  56. Mike Brucato

    Question? I have a newer food dehydrator with digital temp control from 95°F up to 160°F. It’s square and I have made fruit “roll ups” in it. Do you think I could dry my sourdough starter on the lowest 95° setting without destroying it?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      I would try a small piece of starter first Mike, and if it works well you can do bigger batches. ~ MJ

  57. Sheila

    I dried some starter in my oven 3 weeks ago, and just a couple of days ago decided to see how it would revive. It took overnight to really rehydrate, I fed it in the morning yesterday with 2 ounces of water and an ounce of flour, then put it in the oven with the light on. Later in the day (around noon?) I fed it with another ounce of water and ounce of flour – by 3pm it had tripled in size! No time to bake last night, but I am going to feed it 1 more time and bake today. I was afraid it would overflow the 24 ounce jar I had it in if I left it in the oven, so it sat at at room temperature all night, and is still about double what it was after the last feeding, and very active!

    This is going to be great to clear out the jars of starter from my refrigerator, and make it easier to share with far-away friends!

    Reply
  58. Nathalia Tappan

    Drying it was really easy, thanks to your helpful and very elucidative steps…
    I can’t wait to give the dried starter to my dad, who loves to bake and is the one responsible for my fondness for cooking.
    Thanks to this process he’ll be able to travel with it and we’ll be thinking of each other every time we use it, even if in different continents! 🙂

    Reply
  59. Reenee Tree

    Maybe it depends on the kind of starter you have. I froze a starter and left it home while I relocated to another country. I retrieved it 18 months later. It is actually better than the portion of it I used constantly during that 18 months. Frozen starters need to be brought back to life much the same as a dried starter.

    I decided to experiment with drying. This is a fabulous step by step on drying and reconstituting a starter. I am in the process of rehydrating and it is working beautifully. It is looking just like it did before I dried it! A suggestion: if you haven’t used your starter in longer than a month, I would suggest feeding it twice in a row before drying any. Thank you posting this with photos!

    Reply
  60. Jane

    I have to sadly put my starter on hold and will happily follow your advice on preparing it. My question though is, would it be better to leave it in a dark pantry at say 85ºF (we live in AZ) or would it be better to store it in the refrigerator or freezer for a few months?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You have several choices, Jane, so it might be interesting to do a little of each. By each, we mean freeze some, dry some and leave some in the refrigerator. When you return to it, rev ’em all up and see which one comes to life first or is the most active. What a great experiment! Of course, we’d love to have you post your results! Happy baking! Irene@KAF

  61. Herb

    Your remark that Day 1 starter should have the consistency of pancake batter probably saved me. Mine was just a lump. I added water til pancake consistency and within hours the starter was active.

    But here is the real question. When you are finally looking at an active ripe starter, how long do you have til you must use it? If it reaches that stage at 11:00PM, can I wait til morning?

    Obviously I’m a newbie.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Herb, your starter is considered “active” or “fed” for about 8-12 hours. You want to wait about 4 hours to use it after you discard and feed, but you don’t want to wait more than about 10 hours for the best results. After that amount of time, it starts to fall and won’t be as powerful. You can still use it of course, it just might not yield the best results. I hope this helps! Bryanna@KAF

  62. smilingwoman

    I’d always wondered how cowboys carried their sourdough in those little leather pouches around their necks… It was obviously DRIED! Is this right?

    Reply
  63. Silvia

    What a great technique! Has anyone had trouble with their starter growing a fuzz that’s slightly darker than the starter itself? My first batch of dried starter turned out perfect, but 3 of 6 sheets of my second batch (yeah, I had a lot of extra starter!) got fuzzy :/

    Thanks for any advice!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Silvia, if your starter has a fuzz growing on it, I wouldn’t suggest using it, as it sounds as though it’s gone moldy. If you have any questions, feel free to call our Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-2253.
      Bryanna@KAF

  64. Kathi

    I live in Arizona but wanted to send some of my sourdough starter home with my niece who lives in Virginia. This is a perfect way to share my starter without risking making a mess in her suitcase!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Should be fine, Angela. Sourdough starter is quite content to rest at room temperature. I’d feed it now, then wait a few hours and refrigerate. Good luck – PJH

  65. Piotr Połomski

    There is video how to make dry sourdough starter “levain in flour” in 1 minute: youtube.com/watch?v=-23k48hCIZQ

    Reply
  66. Gloria Whitchurch

    WOW!! I am at the right site! I’ve made a good starter, it appears, but now, I just keep feeding, and feeding, and feeding, because I read somewhere that a ‘Young’ starter isn’t really much good. Possible, maybe, but not the most flavorful, or inferior in some way.. LOL, I actually have about 10# of starter on my counter, and am thinking it is time to use it, but I don’t know how, don’t know what to do with it next. Wanted a good, ‘tangy’ bread out of it, afraid it will tame down once I add flour for the bread if it isn’t ‘old’. Due to my schedules, need to make a levain, so I can bake later. I came here to see if I could freeze some, but now, I see, to dry it!

    My problem now, is not knowing when to start using it to actually BAKE with, to start using! Any advice appreciated! I would like to bake a more ‘whole wheat-rye’ type artisian type bread. Thanks!! And, how will I know when/if you have replied?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Gloria, when your starter doubles in size in about 4 hours after a feeding, then it’s ready to use. Part of the fun of a starter is learning the nuances of your starter as you observe it over time, so please bake away! Laurie@KAF

  67. Robin

    I store my dried starter in the freezer, I’ve never had a problem with it not coming back to life. All of my family freezes it also, it’s how our parents did it.

    Reply
  68. Barb

    I want to thank you for this post, I took part of my starter and dried it in March, as a back up and it is easier to give to a person that doesn’t want to start working with sourdough right this minute. A few days ago I took out the discard and started a batch of sourdough pretzels, fed the remainder, because I ended up with the SS bow with a handle on it I couldn’t put it in the incubator I use for warmth. I lit my oven for a few minutes, then turned it off and placed the bowl in the warmed oven intending to later start some sourdough rye bread. Later in the day I was shaping the pretzels and considering the baking soda bath from your other recipe, I noted the two recipes cook at very different temps and times and turned on my oven, by the time I noticed i had a bowl of cooked starter, what a mess, the plastic is all melted down the sides. My heart sank, I have had this starter for 3 years, note the last one died the same death. This was the first time I had put it in the oven, and the last time! Then I remembered the dried starter, I soaked it overnight at room temp ( my house is cold so about 50 degrees), then in the morning fed it the 1/4 cup flour, it was bubbling within 4 hours, so I fed it again and within 4 hours it was trying to overtake the small bowl it was in, since it seemed rather thick I went right to a regular feeding, and placed it in the crock. By later in the evening it was like my old start starter ready to work! Tonight I will make my rye bread with an overnight rise in the fridge. You definitely saved the day!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for sharing your tale of caution, Barb. It never hurts to have a backup, does it? Happy baking! Mollie@KAF

  69. Alan Morrison

    Instead of a jar, could dried starter chips be stored in one of those plastic vacuum-pump food storage bags?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There’s nothing wrong with storing your dried sourdough starter chips in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag, but it’s not necessary to keep the starter viable. Any sort of jar with a tight fitting lid should work just fine, but if it’s equally as easy for you to keep it in a storage bag, more power to you! Kye@KAF

  70. Nicole

    Thank you for this wealth of knowledge as I embark on the sourdough journey! Question: could you dry the weekly discard starter? Or would it not be viable enough?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s important to feed your starter before drying it. If you’d like to dry the discard, simply feed the discard in a separate bowl and then proceed with the drying instructions given here. That way you can maintain a healthy starter and have some dried starter on hand for back up! Kye@KAF

  71. Michelle

    Hello! I dried my sourdough starter using the method PJ described above. It worked brilliantly! I wonder what my foremothers would’ve thought about my making the journey from Maryland to Oregon in less than 24 hours! Anyway, I’m excited to get to share my starter with my West Coast family. Thanks, KAF!

    Reply
  72. Calchick

    anyone try a dehydrator on the lowest heat setting? wondering if that would work and exactly what heat temps kill the yeast?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Most commercial yeast dies between 130-140°F; wild yeast might be slight more sensitive to warm temperatures. You’re welcome to experiment with dehydrating your starter, but remember to keep half active as a control in case things don’t turn out as expected. You can always try leave some starter to dry at room temperature as well to compare it and see which method you prefer. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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