Home » How to Bring Sourdough Starter Back from the Dead 💀

How to Bring Sourdough Starter Back from the Dead 💀

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Bringing Sourdough Starter Back from the Dead | Feed Your Skull

Happy Fermentation Friday! Today we’re veering away from sauerkrauts and beverages to look at fermented breads.

Specifically sourdough bread! Sourdough has to be one of my favorites, it’s a bread I remember loving as a kid. My first affair with carbs if you will. Toasted with a bit of butter, there’s nothing better than when that sourdough tang spreads along the tongue.

Mmmm! I wish I had a slice right now!

Most bread has a simple base of flour, salt, water, and yeast. Sourdough is that plus the addition of ‘fermented’ flour water concentrate. You can’t just leave flour and water out on the counter, you usually have a starter—the existing culture—to jump start things. It’s like a SCOBY to kombucha. The starter/concentrate grows and develops at room temperature before adding it to the rest of your bread mixture. You can find starter online, at a health food store, or snag some from a friend.

Here’s the truth about maintaining sourdough bread starter. It’s HIGH MAINTENANCE. Incredibly so.

You have to feed it–on a schedule and use it regularly for fear of being swallowed whole or dump some out regularly.

I went through a couple phases with it where I was pretty good at maintaining its glory and baking with it to ignoring it for months to reviving it to ignoring it again and throwing it out. I just couldn’t keep up. I’m a bad person.

But if you see the picture above, I want you to know that I revived that mess. That grey strange looking mess. I brought it back to life and baked with it for several months. So, never fear, you too can bring your sourdough starter back from north of the wall. Just like Jon Snow. Although he wasn’t north of the wall when it happened. You get my gist.

Bringing Sourdough Starter Back from the Dead | Feed Your Skull

The grey liquid has a special name. Hooch. Low-quality booze. If that. But that’s where we begin.

How to Revive Sourdough Starter

  1. Discard the hooch, drain it off, send it on its way
  2. Skim off the top layer of discolored starter using the back of a spoon
  3. Use a spoon or tablespoon to transfer some starter into a large clean bowl
  4. Reseal the original starter and put back in the fridge (for back-up purposes)
  5. Measure out 1/4 cup filtered water + 1/2 cup plain unbleached flour
  6. Add the water to the bowl with starter and whisk well
  7. Using a sieve add the flour and whisk until it forms a nice looking dough
  8. On an 8-12 hour schedule repeat the feeding with water and flour
    I’ve seen sources recommend tossing half the starter before each feeding – I don’t remember doing that, but you do you
  9. If you set the time up right, you can end up with a morning/after work feeding schedule that doesn’t require trips home at lunch time
  10. In about 3 days it should be ready to use

Bringing Sourdough Starter Back from the Dead | Feed Your Skull

This will get thick and fluffy over the next 3 days. It doesn’t bubble or make noises like sauerkraut, but it smells good and you can tell it’s alive.
Homemade Sourdough | Feed Your Skull

Here’s a batch of homemade sourdough bread baked in our Lodge cast iron dutch oven. Swoon.

Local peeps, if you’re interested in making homemade sourdough, there’s a gentleman—Ray Templeton—with a booth at the Moscow Farmers Market. He sells spice mixes, starters, and even a sourdough recipe book.

Cheers! xx

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  1. Guest says:

    You say “You can’t just leave flour and water out on the counter, you usually have a starter,” but that’s exactly how you make a starter! 🙂 Just leave flour and water out on the counter, lol! For my sourdough bread, I mix together starter with some more flour and water and let that sit out on the counter. Then I knead in some salt and bake it! (It’s a more specific recipe, but that’s the gist of it.) So actually, leaving flour and water out on the counter is exactly how you make bread! 🙂 (Also, you shouldn’t need to add any extra yeast if you’re making a true sourdough bread. The starter and time is all it needs.)

    • Sorry for the late reply 🙂 I do keep mine in the fridge between feedings. If you were planning to bake/cook with the starter daily you could leave it on the counter, but fridge is the more sane route 🙂 I feed/bake about once a week. Cheers!

  2. yakfactor says:

    I’m going to have to give this a try. I lived in Alaska for years and kept my pedigreed starter bubbly by adopting a Sourdough Sunday’s approach: sourdough pancakes once a week. Living in Idaho now, with older kids and hectic schedules, I’ve neglected that starter in the back of the fridge for a few years. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Gloria says:

    thanks for the tips Michelle. I had two containers of starter that turned to hooch as you say. I am going to ‘revive’ them this morning. I will let you know in the next few days how it goes.

  4. vic medore says:

    can I please get the measurements on your recipe in the photo of the bread you made
    good tips on bringing back my starter thank you .
    The family I did get my started from had it for 35 years here and it was all together a 70 year old started from their family from Spain. It has a more mild taste and very strong in the rising action verses others I have bought on line from San Francisco. It has also a lighter taste then the rye fed versions I have baked with. In taste test of breads most all like the bread with this starter best so I do not want to lose it
    Note un like the others . It is fed with flour, sugar and potato flour.

  5. Carolyn Tracy Staub says:

    Mine was bubbling yesterday but thin and had no elasticity today. I am new at this. I fed it flour and water 2 days ago, stirred it with a stainless steel spoon (oops!) and left it out on the counter at room temp. (not sealed but covered w plastic wrap). Now I put it in the fridge bc I think I may have killed it. Although it does smell sour-y, doesn’t smell good but is not bubbling. Please help! Can I revive?

    • Hi Carolyn! As the years have taught me I wouldn’t worry about the spoon too much as that’s all I’ve used lately 😄 While bringing it back, try to feed it at least once a day or twice if you can – like upon waking up and before going to bed. Of course I can’t say for sure but I don’t think you’ve killed it, sourdough is remarkably resilient!

  6. Diane Hamrick says:

    I followed the steps to revive my starter (drain hooch, etc) , Do I put in back in the frig & refeed in 8 to 10 hrs or leave out of frig ?

    • During a revive/refeed I would leave it out and feed it every 8ish hours for 3-4 days, then bake something and from there you can put back in the fridge between bakes (unless you are baking quite often-then it might make sense to leave out) 🥖🍞🥐

      • Annie says:

        Yikes, Hubby thought he’d help me and stirred my neglected starter hooch n all! He did add flour and water as my recipe called for. Is this the demise of my starter? Maybe just add more flour?

  7. Martin says:

    So what was your recipe for the sourdough loaf in the cast iron Dutch oven? I’ve tried using Jim Lahey’s no-knead technique with sourdough, but without success.

  8. Cleo says:

    I’ve had a starter “sleeping” in the fridge, horrifying my housemates, for a few months now. Seen as the world seems to have a lot of spare time on their hands currently, I’m going to attempt to revive it (housemates even more horrified) and make bread for the people on my street who are also on lockdown!

  9. Krista Ellis says:

    Thank you so much for this easy to understand revive. I was feeling so guitly as a friend brought me a starter and I just wasn’t understanding what to do with it – so I have gone through the revive steps though no hootch it sured smelled like low grade alcohol!
    My question is this…while it is in the revive doughy stage…do I cover it? with cloth cling wrap?
    Thanks again

  10. Frederick Jackson says:

    Hmm..prompted by no yeast in the stores.i started my sourdough starter..oops i think the oven light was too much no houch but no bubbles.,and no yeasty smell..shall i keep on feeding it to revive it.and leave it out of the oven..my condo is chilly.wife does not like the heat on. so im talkin 60’s thanks for your help.. fhj

  11. Cindy G says:

    HELP! I received sourdough starter as a Christmas gift. I did not realize it had to be fed every 1-2 weeks. Its been in my refrigerator for 4 months. Can I bring it back to life? I drained the Hooch and mixed in the water and flour. Ir is sitting on the counter now. Will it work?

  12. Russ says:

    You say to “reseal” before putting in the fridge to rest. I did that the top popped off. Is that normal? First try with a friend’s donated starter

  13. Barb Seely says:

    I am trying to revive my starter from the freezer. I screwed up the first few days and dumped out most of it at each feeding and was only feeding once a day. Then I found out that I shouldn’t be dumping and to feed the whole amount..This takes a lot of flour. So can I feed it only 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water at two feedings a day..It is starting to get a little more active but is very runny is this ok?

    • When bringing it back or feeding it, I’ve always gone with the dump 60-70% out and then feed. I try to do a morning and a b4 bed feed but sometimes I only do the morning. I do this for 5-7 days after a dormant period in the fridge.If using glass you can mark a line in sharpie right above the mix after a feed, when it’s really getting vigorous the dough will rise above that line by 50%.

  14. Mariflor Cruz says:

    Hi, thanks for the advice on awakening a starter. A question: When I use let’s say Xgrs of levin to bake, should I feed the exact amount of flour/water? That would be enough to keep it alive?

    Thanks you. A lot.

    • Not hopeless, I would say still waking up and figuring out how to eat. Keep feeding it on a schedule and usually within a week you’ll see that rise. If you’re feeding all purpose flour, try adding 1 tb of whole wheat, I find that’s like an activity jump starter! Best of luck!

  15. Helen anderson says:

    Hi Michelle, when reviving a starter do we leave it covered or uncovered? Cling film ok? Or
    Is a tea towel better? Will it dry out too much? (Sorry new to this)

  16. Maddy says:

    So I have a starter which I have tried to maintain, feeding it every night. But I followed your recipe I’m trying to revive it but it didn’t double in size or get bubbly at all. I’m confused if I revived it at all or not, this isn’t the first reviving thing I’ve tried. Both were very similar. My sourdough starter also did not have any of the brown liquid on top.

  17. Linda Cooper says:

    I’m reviving my starter. I assume I should cover the starter I’m feeding, and keep it out at room temperature for the next three days?

  18. Helen says:

    Hi Michelle! I think you may have saved me! 🙂 I just followed all your steps, and am wondering in the revive stage whether I should leave the dough-like starter in an open bowl or cover it?

  19. Ivy S. says:

    Oh my! I read this great article and am glad you now use your hooch. I am the most neglectful sourdough mama, and have been repeatedly for 30 years now. When I was 17, I worked in a bakery that specialized in ahhh-mazing bread! Our specialties were sourdough and salt-rising bread. I remember an older gentleman that came in months before his order was to be complete and said he wanted salt-rising bread that stunk like old gym socks. Well, he certainly got our attention and we thought he was a little touched. Well, I am now 49 years old and I get him. That funk, imo, applies equally well to sourdough. I love it best when my sourdough is seasoned and fermented to the point it smells like sweet apples. A black-ish liquid on the top is my fav place to be (I’m a hoochie-girl). I just moved and have left my poor starter neglected for 2 months, yeah, that’s right, I said it! I have done this before, and everyone wants my secret, they can’t understand why my bread is the texture and taste that it is. I never have developed mold, just hooch…and I love it! My 27 year old daughter tried her hand at a sourdough with a purchased starter and hated it. She said, “why isn’t it sour, mom? It tasted like plain white bread.”It’s the hooch! Love your hooch, mix that puppy in and embrace the faceted dimensions that will bring your bread up 10 levels! Beautiful article!! Love your style you Beautiful Baker!