Dried Sourdough Starter: how, why & why not
Dried sourdough starter (SS): I’ve heard of it, seen it, touched it, and many years ago even ordered some online from overseas. But only recently did I begin drying my own excess SS.
The process is simple: take active SS, spread (or roll out) thinly on baking paper or silicone, and allow to airdry.
Or a longer explanation: place the excess SS on a piece (approx. 30x30cm) of good quality baking paper (I suspect the cheap papers will stick and tear), spoon the excess starter onto the paper and use the spoon to spread it, whilst holding the paper steady. Spread fairly thin.
When completely dry and flaking, break up into pieces (if required) and place into a sealed container for storage. I’ve read it keeps indefinitely but have only tested a few months so far.
I’ve started drying SS because I figure it’s better than throwing the excess in the bin. But I didn’t and don’t have a plan for my expanding containers of dried wheat and rye SS.
Grinding and using for decorative loaf dusting appears a good use; milling and replacing a portion of flour for pasta making seems a possibility; adding a bit to bread doughs to use it up and develop extra flavour could be advantageous; and there are surely many more opportunities too.
But is dried SS valuable for sourdough bread making? My perspective is yes and no.
There are a few good reasons to use dried SS. For example, I recently travelled overseas (the featured photo is from our time in Cyprus!) and taking a small portion of dried SS - only a couple of tablespoons - was simple, mess free and didn’t require refreshments or refrigeration over the days of travel. Fortunately, the customs office was nonchalant about the mysterious powder!
Also, for the very occasional home baker who bakes a couple of times a year, it may be a good long-term storage option, rather than the slow degradation which happens if SS is stored in the fridge.
I tried two slightly different methods for re-booting the dried SS. One portion was re-hydrated first with water overnight. Then flour was added, and fermentation commenced. The other portion simply had water and flour added, a quick stir and left for fermentation. This portion fermented quicker, and the chunks of dried SS were barely noticeable. So, this second option seems more overall effective.
But I suspect for most regular home bakers it doesn’t offer any specific advantages over simply refreshing and storing SS in the fridge for the week or two between bakes.
My experience suggests the dried SS took an extra day to ferment compared with my SS taken from the fridge and refreshed; a slightly delayed process. Either way, an active, healthy SS is of upmost importance for the best naturally leavened bread – whether stored dried or in dough form in the refrigerator.
So, do I dry my excess SS? Yes, to avoid wasting it. Do I use it for bread-making? No, my SS stored in the fridge is active enough after storage. Is it still useful then? Yes, I’m looking forward to testing it with other recipe ideas.