Taking the time and effort to grow and maintain a sourdough starter is a game changer when it comes to baking delicious bread. Keeping your starter in the fridge is great way to keep it alive and reduce feedings.
If you have taken the time to cultivate your own sourdough starter then you already know that the process is not as hard as some make it sound. You probably also know that keeping your starter in the fridge makes maintaining your sourdough starter even easier.
But you don’t always want to fuss with your starter before finally getting to baking. Will doing this cause an extra step – or more waiting – before you get to the fun stuff?
Can you use sourdough starter straight from the fridge? You can use a sourdough starter straight from the fridge without feeding it, but it is best not to. Fermentation is slowed by the cold temperature and an unfed starter may not be as effective. Also, a cold and unfed starter will result in sourer bread.
Ideally, you should still let the starter come to room temperature and feed it. However, if for some reason you just can’t wait, you can go ahead and try making your sourdough without the normal steps. Just know your results may not be perfect.
The truth is that while the starter will still work straight from the fridge, there is more to consider. Read on to find out the dos and do nots about using your refrigerated sourdough starter!
Sourdough Starter Care
Depending on how much experience you have with making your own starter dough, it is likely that you have learned that while keeping a strict feeding schedule is best, you have wiggle room when it comes to feeding frequency. Especially if you keep your starter refrigerated.
While sourdough starters are technically a living yeast culture that has some maintenance needs (mostly being fed), they are not as fragile and easy to harm as some people think.
A mature sourdough starter can handle a few missed feedings. The key word there is mature.
You will get the best results from your sourdough starter if you feed it the day before you plan to use it, and of course keeping it cold helps reduce the frequency of feedings.
That being said, you will still get results if your starter is unfed and cold when you use it. They just may not be 5-star results.
How Do You Use a Sourdough Starter from the Fridge?
The temperature of your sourdough starter is less important than how old your starter is and how frequently it has been fed.
We will talk more about the maturity and feeding aspects shortly. For now, let us just focus on how to use sourdough starter straight from the fridge.
Why It’s Better Not to Use a Cold, Unfed Sourdough Starter
The only thing to keep in mind is that a cold sourdough starter will slow down the fermentation process and therefore prolong the proofing period. Cold sourdough starter may even appear to be inactive at first, but your bread will eventually start to rise so long as the starter is mature.
If your sourdough starter is both cold and unfed, there is a chance that it is no longer viable. Especially if your starter was still young.
If your starter is not at least a few months old, you will want to feed it again before using it.
The time you save by using cold sourdough starter straight from the fridge will be negated by the extended rise time, so we recommend you let the starter sit out for a few hours before you use it.
Sitting out will allow your starter to become more active if it is a mature starter. This is not recommended if you have not fed your starter in a while. In that situation, you will need to use a different approach.
If Your Starter Is Young
This alternative way to bring your refrigerated sourdough starter back to its optimum state before baking is only useful if you give yourself at least one and half days before baking.
The process will take anywhere from 30 to 48 hours, depending on the flavor you are looking for.
You are basically going to be feeding the starter again. This may be the best option if you have not fed your starter in some time, especially if you are looking for a sweeter bread. This is the only option if your starter is young.
1. If you typically keep your sourdough starter in the fridge (and have at least 36 hours before you plan to bake) then what you will want to do is remove about a ¼ cup of the cold starter once you pull it from the fridge.
2. Next you will need to measure how much you have left. We recommend using a scale for this step:
Weigh how much starter you have and then feed that starter an equal amount of both water and flour. For example, if you have 10 grams of starter, you will add 10 grams of water and 10 grams of flour.
3. If you have to use measuring cups, you will need to use slightly less than double the amount of flour. In this case, ½ cup of starter would be combined with ½ cup water and then ¾ cup of flour. After adding the flour and water you will need to mix your new starter vigorously.
4. Next you just cover the starter and wait. For a tangier dough, put the starter back in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. For a sweeter dough, leave the starter out and wait 8 to 12 hours.
5. After the amount of time has passed based on your desired flavor profile, you will need to repeat the process two more times.
You will notice your starter coming back to its full potential about 4 to 8 hours after the third feeding. Look for those characteristic bubbles and expansion.
Can You Bake With Unfed Sourdough Starter Straight from the Fridge?
This is where it can get a little tricky. The simple answer is that you can still use unfed starter straight from the fridge, but you will not get the same product.
Unfed starter dough from the fridge will have less oven spring and take much longer to proof. We don’t recommend doing this unless you are really rushed.
Cold, unfed starter dough will also produce a sourer loaf, but this could be ideal if you want more of a tangy flavor profile versus a sweeter flavor profile. That being said, an unfed sourdough starter will still undergo fermentation and rise your dough…slowly.
The rising process will take longer, so you will still need to be patient. It may even seem like your dough is not rising at all!
Give it time, not only was the dough cold but the starter was not anywhere near its peak state. Think about how well you work when you are tired and hungry.
Can I Feed My Sourdough Starter When It Is Cold?
Since leaving your sourdough starter at room temperature means you have to feed it twice a day, we understand why you would want to keep it in the fridge. This can cut feeding down significantly.
The next question is can you feed your starter straight from the fridge?
The answer is yes, but you will need to make a few changes to the process. Here’s how to feed a cold starter straight from the fridge:
1. The first thing you will notice is that there may be some liquid at the top of your starter. You can drain this off or mix it in with the starter, but this liquid needs to be gone before you feed your starter.
2. Next you will remove all but a ½ cup or your starter. Add 1 cup of flour and a ½ a cup of lukewarm water to your starter and mix it well.
3. After you have mixed your starter, cover it and let it sit out for at least two hours before returning it to the fridge.
This is very important. If you put it back in the fridge immediately the yeast will not warm up and get to feed. The lukewarm water only helps to activate the yeast slightly, so the time spent out of the fridge is the most crucial.
Can I Bake My Sourdough Straight from the Fridge?
Yes, you can use your sourdough straight from the fridge. In fact, this may be a better way to save time on baking day.
If you want to make your sourdough the day before and refrigerate it, you can certainly remove it, proofed and otherwise ready to go, from the fridge and slide it into the oven.
The cold temperature may slow the rise down but if you have the time to wait, let it proof in the fridge.
Once you are happy with the rise on your sourdough, you can pop it right into the oven. However, we recommend still letting it sit out at room temperature while the oven pre-heats. This just helps the process a little but is not necessary.
How Long Will Sourdough Starter Last in the Fridge?
The answer to this question really depends on how strong and mature your starter is.
The frequency of your feedings will also impact this. While storing your starter in the fridge can drastically reduce the feeding frequency, unfed starter will still eventually become useless.
A young and poorly fed starter will not last more than a week in the fridge, but once your starter has matured you can expect it to last anywhere from 2 weeks to as much as 2 months without a feeding.
Of course, after two months you will definitely need to feed it again before using it.
You raise a strong mature starter by feeding it daily for at least two months out of the fridge. After that point, you can put it in the fridge and can expect to get at least a month before you will need to feed it again.
Up Next: Banana Sourdough Muffins