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Emergency Starter Rescue

If I've seen this email once, I've seen it a hundred times. Someone writes me and says, "As I pulled the last loaves out of the oven, I realized I just used and baked ALL my starter. What can I do?"

Well, the first thing to not do is panic. The second thing to not do is send me an email. By the time I get and answer an email, starter crises are over, one way or another. Its not that I'm not sympathetic, its that the starter isn't patient.

So the question is what DO you do? If you haven't baked the last of your dough yet, you can pinch some off a loaf or out of a rising bucket and use it to re-start your starter. It works. Really.

However, the premise here was that you had already baked the last of your starter. So, the answer is to use the last scraps of starter in your starter jar. For this experiment, I simulated running out of starter. I scraped out all the starter from my starter jar and just left the faintest hint of starter in the jar. I cover what I did in the video to the right. (Next time, we'll rehearse the video.)

As mentioned in the video, I put some water in the starter container, cap the container and shake it to dissolve all the starter film and remnant in the water. I use about 1/4 cup of water. The water looks rather milky after the shaking. Then I add 1/2 cup of unbleached all-purpose white flour. I use this instead of whole wheat because I am trying to revive a weakened starter. Whole wheat has so many organisms in it that it would tend to just start a new starter, which is not the goal of this exercise. I did this Saturday evening.

Sunday morning, I checked out the starter. It was bubbly! It looked and smelled happy! So, I fed it, another 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour. There has been a good amount of recent research that shows that the thickness of the starter and the temperature of the starter greatly influence which organisms grow in the starter. I find thicker starters tend to work better than thinner ones.

If the emergency recovery procedure doesn't work, and it may not, then your next step is to start a new starter. You might try Professor Calvel's method - since I found that method, I rarely use the older method I used to use.

Of course, the ultimate cure for this is prevention. I never use all my starter. When I know I'm going to bake I take a teaspoon or so of starter out of its container in the fridge and start feeding it up for 2 or 3 days. By then, I have enough active starter for my bake. When you double the size of your starter each time you feed it, it doesn't take long to get a lot of starter. Every month or two, I feed up the starter in the fridge to make sure it's still active and healthy. We talk about that a lot in the Starter Primer Pages.