Restarting a starter

“The recent re-hydration of our sourdough starter shall be an appropriate metaphor for this blog’s return!” I announced to myself this morning. We have travelled wordlessly through a great deal of time and space (swapping seasons then back again) and many lovely and curious things have happened in the interim, such as the surprise of our own marriage; but this post is to be about the starter we started on the last day of 2014 in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand and brought back to Germany (in dehydrated form) one month later. As a result, aromatic breads are cascading from our oven at a terrific pace for two people (please live, little oven).

On collecting yeast spores, here and there
In the quest to narrow the gap between what we know and what we don’t know about sourdough, it has come to our attention that we know Very Little, but this happens to be a lot more than we knew months before – so the trajectory is promising. The first starters we made in Germany last year each had a vinegary aroma and there would often be a grey-ish watery layer on top – we were confused, and we were afraid, so they were terminated. In surprising contrast, our Hawke’s Bay starter resembled yogurt in more ways than one. We made from it some glorious rye, wholemeal and seedy breads, while also contributing to the accelerated demise of my parent’s oven. Since reviving the starter here, we think we have a better understanding of what is actually going on, and our companion is now vibrantly sour and alluringly spongy. This latest version of our starter seems, I think, to be getting much closer to wonderful.

We have since read that wholemeal flours are recommended for getting a starter going. Some of the outer layers of grain are still present, so there are more bacteria (of the amiable kind). It then follows that once the starter is alive and well, you should feed it with whichever flour you deem necessary.

Dehydrating the starter
By the time we left New Zealand, we had diversified our plain white flour starter into a rye starter also, so we took a tablespoon (or so) of each from the refrigerator and smeared them thinly onto a piece of baking paper.

refrigerated starterdehydrating starter small

At first, I put it outside in the hot Hawke’s Bay sun, but then I took it out of the sun feeling the sun was too harsh and I covered it, to deter bugs, birds and cats. I then left it in the sun again (to hell with it) where the thin layer dried in a matter of hours. I feared I had somehow killed it, but we crumbled it up anyway, and tucked it into a container in my suitcase.

Rehydrating the starter
During this process, one may be reminded of dramatic scenes from television; a fraught family member pacing hospital corridors, resting fitfully on a short row of chairs, making a meaningful connection with another lost soul in the waiting room. Finally, the doctor appears; he looks tired: “Come with me Mr so and so”, “Oh god, did she make it? Is she alive?” tears springing to his eyes once more, “Yes” he says “She is going to be okay. It is nothing short of a miracle” and Mr so and so bursts into heaving sobs and sighs. His mirth is so complete, that he runs into a swinging door and hospitalises himself in the name of comedy.

In truth: Tim added the same amount of water (by weight) to the dehydrated flakes and let it sit for two hours. He then added equal parts water and rye flour as one would normally do until it begins to activate bubblingly. He would pace the length of the room, half-convinced there’d be no hope. Our starter took three days of feeding to become happy, and now we keep it in the refrigerator. At the moment, our strategy is to take out 10 grams of starter and feed it with 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour two days before baking, keeping the rest back in reserve.

See how pretty and bubbly he is now!
bubbly starter
Yet also kind of disgusting.

On the weekend, we tested the starter by making three small loaves of bread. The first image below is the result of mixing ripe starter with rye flour and water and leaving covered for 20 hours before putting the rest of the dough together. This one made two little beer breads with toasted sunflower seeds and flaky salt. They are beautiful, and I like them so much. Then we have a lovely 40% rye loaf with coriander and caraway seeds. Yus!

spongy sourdoughBierbrotfortypercent rye bread

I doubt that we will be allowed to bring a tablespoon of dehydrated starter home in the opposite direction next time, considering New Zealand’s strict biosecurity laws! Alas. This wee collection of microbes is a living souvenir (sentimentally, more than anything else).


  1. Hamish says:

    You’re back! Hurrah & congratulations & sadly our own derivative starter has not been so successful & we clearly know Considerably Less than Very Little. We will persevere nonetheless.

  2. Laura says:

    Good news everyone! I think I have managed to revive the starter and will try it out this weekend. So you should be able to return home safely to a reasonably similar starter xx

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