The primary goal in this post is to help you get into a schedule for baking fresh, healthy bread every weekend without having to worry about refreshing your sourdough starter during the week. Ok, I know it’s hard to bake every weekend, but I do believe this post outlines a manageable schedule for fresh bread most weekends. It can be challenging to carve out time from our busy work schedule day after day to devote to sourdough starter maintenance — with two kids at home, believe me, I get it. So what can we do? What kind of weekend baking schedule can we devise to help reduce the amount of worry while still ensuring we can have fresh bread when we want it? This post will go day-by-day through an entire week and outline exactly what I do each day to address exactly that.
Help! I don’t have time for anything bread during the week, how can I ignore my starter most of the time and just bake on the weekends?
I get the above question at least a handful of times during the week and thus the motivation for me to put together this entire post. The key to reducing the maintenance required for a sourdough starter, of course, relies on the use of the home refrigerator. I’ve mentioned many times in the past that a starter can be placed into the fridge and taken out when needed, but given the number of questions, I think this sample schedule might give some concrete ideas for how it can be done and still make great bread — and sourdough pancakes (!).
A high-level outline goes something like this (click the link on each day to jump down to that day’s schedule):
|Day of Week||Action|
|Monday||Starter is in the fridge resting1|
|Tuesday||Starter is in the fridge resting|
|Wednesday||Starter is in the fridge resting|
|Thursday||Take starter out of fridge after work, let ferment for a few hours and refresh at night|
|Friday||Refresh starter in morning before work. Feed again at night before bed|
|Saturday||Build the levain early in morning. Refresh starter and let ferment all day until night. Mix dough in afternoon, bulk in afternoon/ evening. Shape dough and place proofing baskets in fridge overnight. At night make sourdough pancake batter and refresh starter before placing it into the fridge|
|Sunday||Make pancakes in the morning. Bake loaves in the late morning. Starter is in the fridge resting|
I think most people are turned off with baking sourdough bread at home mostly because of the overhead in dealing with a sourdough starter. It’s true that it does take a few minutes each day to care for but believe me, this is a weekend baking schedule that’s manageable and one that you can work right into life’s hustle.
First, let’s talk about what I refresh my starter with when I keep it in the fridge.
Starter Maintenance Refreshment Before Refrigeration
I like to slightly reduce the hydration at the refreshment right before placing my starter in the fridge. The lower hydration helps to reduce the fermentation activity slightly and I prefer it a little on the stiff side so it’s not quite so gooey when I take it out the next week.
Here is the general refreshment process prior to placing my starter in the fridge2:
- Using a mature starter (at its peak, ripe), discard down to 20g
- Refresh starter with ingredients listed in the table below
- Let sit on counter for 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Place in fridge for up to 3 weeks3
|20g||Mature liquid starter (100% hydration)||20%|
|100g||Malted Type 85 Flour (Central Milling T-85 Malted, but you could also use a mix of 50% whole wheat and 50% white flour)||100%|
|80g||H2O @ room temperature||80%|
Lately, I’ve been using 100% Type 85 flour to refresh my starter (a departure from my usual rye/white blend) but if you don’t have Type 85 a mixture of 50% white flour and 50% whole wheat flour will work equally well or whatever ratio you typically refresh with.
For more information on starter maintenance, including when I refresh it, signs to look for when it needs a refreshment, and much more, have a look at my Sourdough Starter Maintenance Routine.
One tool I mention occasionally (and have been frequently asked about) is my proof box. In the past, I’ve considered building one of these on my own with a digital controller and ice chest but in the end, I bought this Brød and Taylor dough proofer. It’s been plugged in and turned on ever since. I keep my starter in the box (seen below in the top corner) 24/7 so it’s at just the right temperature (76-82°F / 24-27°C, depending on my schedule) for maximum activity.
Additionally, when making a levain for a single bake I’ll place that in the center alongside my starter (also seen above). After I mix my dough, I can also easily fit my standard 2kg dough in the box which is then also maintained at the right temperature during the entirety of bulk fermentation.
The nice thing about this temperature-controlled box is that I can quickly get my starter back up to a warm temperature after taking it out of the fridge. Once I take it out, I place it into the proofer set to 76°F (24°C) and it will return to full activity in short order.
This proofer is one of those tools that really help me achieve more consistency with each bake. It’s dead simple and does exactly what I want when I want it. In case someone asks, I also keep a small thermometer in there next to my starter that not only tells me the current temperature at that spot but it also tells me the highest, and lowest, temps recorded (handy to know if there were any spikes up or down).
For more information on dough temperature, how I use my proofer, and a calculator for calculating all these numbers see my post on The Importance of Dough Temperature.
A Weekend Baking Schedule
Before we begin I want to show a picture of what my starter typically looks like when it’s at full strength, regularly receives refreshments and is kept at a warm temperature in my proofer:
You can see its typical height and activity level at its most mature point (it’s peak). My starter usually takes about 11-12 hours to get there using my typical refreshment (15g mature starter, 100g Type 85 flour, 100g water at room temperature) when it’s kept in my proofer at around 76ºF.
I followed the exact process I’m about to outline with my own starter for a week and I took photos of each step to better illustrate the method. In addition, I baked two loaves of bread and made sourdough pancakes to illustrate the effectiveness of my resuscitated starter. You’ll see my starter transition from states of high activity, reduced activity, “rest” and the reverse when taken back out of the fridge. This progression will help me explain the cues to look for and what to expect as your starter undergoes changes through each of these states.
I find that my stater performs best when it’s given at least 2-3 refreshments before being used to create a levain for baking — and you’ll see this in my photos to come. However, it might be possible to reduce this by one refreshment (so you only refresh twice the day before making a levain) and still get good results, but I do prefer to stick with 3 refreshments over two days prior to baking.
Our starter has been in the fridge for several days at this point (since last Saturday). Fermentation has continued but it’s slowed due to the cold temperatures. Nonetheless, there will still be signs of fermentation (as seen above and below): some scattered bubbles and potentially a layer of thin liquid on the top that’s gathered. This liquid sometimes called “hooch” is a byproduct of fermentation and consists of alcohol. It’s not harmful in any way and I usually just stir this down into the mixture during the first refreshment4.
Evening: Remove Starter from Fridge
When you get home from work take your chilled starter out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature (or place it in a proofer set to warm temperature) for a couple of hours. I give mine enough time to warm up, become easier to stir, and potentially finish fermenting just a bit longer.
You can see the clear layer of liquid on top, some bubbles in the interior and on top but overall nowhere near the vigor you’ll see in my starter when kept in my proofer.
Before going to bed, discard the contents of your jar down to 30g mature starter and add 100g room temperature water and 100g flour (or your normal refreshment flour mixture). Place your starter in a warm location or a proofer (76ºF – 80ºF would be ideal), and let ferment until the morning.
In the morning you can see above that my starter is still a bit sluggish to rise and overall still not up to full activity (compare the above picture to the one at the beginning of the schedule). It has only had a single refreshment since it was pulled from the fridge and with 24 more hours to ferment after this refreshment we’ll see the activity pick up quite a bit by Saturday morning.
Morning: Refresh Starter
Before you head off to work refresh your starter with whatever ratios you typically use to have your starter last for 12 hours before needing another refreshment. For me, I discard the contents of my starter container to 15g mature starter and refresh with 100g type 85 flour and 100g water at room temperature. Stir everything up, place the loose-fitting lid back on and put the jar into your proofer or on the counter. Let ferment until later in the evening.
Evening: Refresh Starter
You’ll see that by the evening your starter will display signs of even stronger fermentation — things are starting to pick back up to normal. In the evening, before bed (or when your starter needs refreshment) do a normal refreshment. I did the same refreshment as the morning.
In the morning we’ll finally build a levain to mix the dough on Saturday.
As seen above, by Saturday morning my starter is back at full strength. Super strong signs of fermentation occurred overnight with lots of bubbles, nearly the same height as usual, and a smell that’s ever so slightly sour and yet quite mild — pleasantly reminiscent of creamy yogurt.
Morning: Build Levain
First thing in the morning build a levain that will be used in a dough mix later that day. The recipe I decided to use here is based on my Beginner’s Sourdough Bread formula but you could make a levain from any of the recipes here at my site.
After mixing up a levain, place it in the proof box, or somewhere warm in your kitchen, and let it ferment until it’s ready to be used later in the day. From here, follow whatever bread recipe you’re baking.
Morning: Refresh Starter
After building a levain also refresh your starter and let sit in the proofer or on the counter until the evening. Why do we bother refreshing the starter? I do this to give my starter enough food to get through the day to nighttime, where I will prepare sourdough pancake batter for Sunday morning. If you want to skip making pancakes5, you can refresh your starter (as outlined Sunday morning, below) to prepare it for cold storage until next week.
Afternoon: Mix, Bulk, Pre-shape, Shape and Retard Dough
Proceed to follow whatever sourdough bread recipe you started this morning, culminating in the dough being placed into the refrigerator for an overnight retard (the bread will be baked Sunday morning).
Evening: Make Pancake Batter
To make the pancake batter, I actually use my overnight sourdough waffle recipe but form them into pancakes in the morning. Add a little extra liquid in the morning if the batter is too thick. I made a few modifications to these sourdough waffle-pancakes:
- Make sure to not add the eggs to the overnight batter (so they don’t sit out overnight)
- In the morning, separate the egg whites and yolks before adding to the overnight batter. Add the yolks to the batter and then whisk the whites to stiff peaks and fold them in just before making the pancakes
Make the pancake batter and let sit out to ferment overnight.
Evening: Refresh Starter with Maintenance Ratios and Refrigerate
After making the pancake batter, refresh your starter using the maintenance ratios I described at the beginning of this post. Let sit out 30 minutes to 1 hour and then finally place back into the refrigerator until next week (or whenever you want to bake again).
The past few days have built up to this final day, the day we get to enjoy not only fresh sourdough pancakes but also fresh sourdough bread later in the afternoon. Remember, at this point, your starter is in the fridge and resting until next week. There’s no need for a refreshment this morning.
Morning: Make Pancakes, Preheat Oven
In the morning, preheat the oven to prepare for baking bread after breakfast. Additionally, get that smoking hot griddle (or 12″ steel skillet like I use) going and get ready to make some pancakes. Finish making the pancake batter, cut up some fresh fruit and whip some heavy cream. Make the sourdough pancakes and enjoy while the oven continues to preheat.
Afternoon: Bake Bread
Continue to follow whatever bread recipe you started and bake the sourdough bread once the oven is preheated. Let cool and enjoy just in time for lunch. Again, your starter is still resting in the fridge, nothing to do there until a few days before you want to bake again.
Lately, I’ve also been experimenting with baking my usual 900-950g batard shape (instead of being forced to make a boule in a combo cooker) in a 5.75 qt Staub Cocotte and, as seen above, the resulting bakes have been fantastic. The steam trapped inside is sufficient to get blistering on the crust and the radiating heat from the cast iron colors the crust beautifully. I’m definitely going to continue using this, especially for single loaf bakes6 when steaming the entire oven isn’t necessary.
The various bread shots throughout this post were baked using my refrigerated starter — all fantastic bakes! I’ve found using a schedule like this to help offset workload during busy weeks while still ensuring I get to enjoy fresh bread on the weekend and into the next week.
At first glance, this weekend baking schedule post might come across as packed with lots of steps, but really the fridge is doing most of the work. This way our starter only needs attention a few days at the end of the week, removing many maintenance refreshments while still allowing us to make great bread. The key is using the cold temperature of the fridge to slow fermentation Saturday through Thursday and then only three refreshments before baking. And while our starter is out for bread, we might as well make some sourdough pancakes that make the weekend go from great to amazing.