Using the fridge to keep your starter is a great way to save waste and time when you don’t bake daily. It’s the perfect environment for home bakers to store their sourdough starter! But is a starter ok to use straight away? Let’s see if we can use a sourdough starter straight from the fridge.
You can use your starter straight from the fridge, providing it’s active. An old starter or one that’s not been fed for a while will need refreshing before use to re-activate the yeast and lactic acid bacteria inside.
Yes, you can use a sourdough starter from the fridge without refreshing it. A starter stored in the fridge works just the same as if left on the counter. It still rises, although not as high, and it can be a lot slower. After feeding, we would leave a starter at room temperature for 3-4 hours for the bacteria to multiply. As the process is slower in the fridge, we should wait 2-3 days before using it.
A straight-from-fridge starter can make great sourdough bread. If the starter has been in the fridge for a day or two, the bread should be similar to a warm starter. But if not, the result won’t be quite as good as what a warm starter will make. Expect a slower rise, weaker gluten structure, less oven spring and a more acidic aroma. These are signs that the starter is weak as it’s exhausted its food supply.
A cold starter will lower the final dough temperature and slow down the levain. We can counteract this by warming up the water used or bringing the starter up to room temperature. If you don’t do this, your bread will just be slower to rise!
If the starter has been fed and left in the fridge within 48 hours, letting it warm up can be a good idea. This allows the yeast and organic bacteria to consume the flour. These will replicate, creating more activity in the starter.
If the starter has been left for more than a couple of days, it shouldn’t matter if you warm it up or not. You will be able to bake using the starter when it’s cold. However, you might want to warm it to increase its activity before making your dough.
If it has been left for over a week in the fridge without refreshing, then we might want to change tack. If the starter has consumed its food, risen, collapsed and left dormant. It won’t be as active as one close to its peak rise. In this case, it’s best to refresh the starter again to restore its activity. You might be able to make a decent loaf without refreshing it, but I recommend you feed it before using it to make bread.
After a starter is fed, it has its lowest concentration of yeast and lactic acid bacteria. Fresh flour and water have naturally diluted them. The existing yeasts and bacteria feed on the sugars that are derived from the flour, and they multiply. The starter increases its yeast and lactic acid bacteria content alongside producing gas. The higher and higher a starter rises, the more leavening qualities it will have.
Depending on the temperature, the starter will reach the top of its rise in around 3-10 hours. It will sit at its peak for a while – usually 1-2 hours. At this point, organic acids multiply whilst yeast content stays roughly the same. Then, as it runs out of strength to retain the gas, the starter collapses.
After the starter collapses, it can still be used, yet it won’t be as effective as one that’s taken at its peak. It will also be more acidic. The same thing happens when a starter is left in the fridge. It just doesn’t rise as high!
If a starter is left in the fridge for more than a week without feeding, it will have risen to its peak, collapsed and started to deteriorate. After this, it will need to be refreshed to bring it back to life. The older the starter, the more refreshments will be needed. A starter will keep for up to a month unfed in the fridge. If longer than this, it is likely to get infected by mould.
Take the starter out of the fridge once a week. Feed it in the morning and place it in a warm spot. In the afternoon, remove some of the starter for making bread (or discard it). Feed again and place back in the fridge.
To use your starter straight from the fridge, you must keep it active by feeding it regularly. Refreshing an old starter or one that hasn’t been fed for a while will require more time and effort. But you can get to the desired point of activity with regular care.
If you’re wondering if it’s okay to use your starter straight from the fridge, yes! Remember that your inactive sourdough starter might take longer to rise than usual. See my beginner’s sourdough recipe to get started.
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Hi, I’m Gareth Busby, a baking coach, lecturer and bread fanatic. My goal is to help you become a better baker.
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