Can You Use Sourdough Starter Straight From The Fridge?

In the world of baking, sourdough bread stands out for its distinctive tangy flavor and chewy texture.

Central to the process of making sourdough bread is the sourdough starter, a mixture of flour and water inhabited by wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria.

This starter serves as a natural leavening agent and imparts the characteristic taste and texture to the bread.

A common question that arises among both novice and experienced bakers is whether it’s possible to use sourdough starter straight from the fridge.

It’s okay to bake with sourdough starter straight from the refrigerator. Are you looking for a way to make bread using cold, unfed starter? Yes, you can!

For most starters, you must feed them and let them peak before baking bread. Some exceptions do exist, however.

Using Sourdough Starter Straight From The Fridge

Do you love baking with a sourdough starter, but wish it was a bit easier and more flexible?

My recipes will show you just how stress-free it is to bake with sourdough, from simple but delicious loaves to countless innovative ways to use your leftovers.

Are you ever tired of waiting for your freshly fed starter to grow if you are a regular sourdough baker like me?

Perhaps not. Your starter has been feeding your bread dough for quite some time, and you know how to use it to make bread dough: Feed the starter, make sure it is active, then use it to make bread dough. There is a reason why it is tried-and-true.

It happens to me sometimes: I discover a new sourdough recipe that I just have to try. There is a requirement for “ripe (fed) starter.”

As a result, I feed my refrigerated starter once … twice … three times … and wait impatiently after each feeding to see if the starter has doubled in size (a sign that it is ripe and healthy).

The process has already taken me 24 hours, and I haven’t even read the first line of the recipe, let alone tasted a hot slice of freshly baked bread. As a result, my initial enthusiasm begins to wane.

Why You Shouldn’t Bake With Your Starter Straight From The Fridge

As a result, your sourdough starter is put on hold in the refrigerator. Cold sourdough starters don’t make good bread, which is why they’re not recommended for bread baking.

It is unpredictable to use a starter straight from the fridge. It usually takes about 4 to 6 hours for a mature and active starter to reach its peak.

As a result, it is closely correlated with the length of time it takes for your starter microbes to ferment your dough. The sluggish nature of yeast in cold temperatures makes it difficult to predict how long bread will rise.

Before using your starter in a recipe, you must activate it first if you are a beginner.

The majority of sourdough recipes require an active sourdough starter and assume that it can rise dough in 4 to 6 hours if it is healthy.

Your dough will take much longer to rise if your starter is too weak, and you won’t be able to follow the time cues specified in recipes. A dense, gummy bread is usually the result of under-fermenting.

A starter that is stored in the fridge is not only sluggish and weak, but also highly acidic. The acidity of your starter could cause the gluten in dough to break down if your starter isn’t efficient enough to make bread rise within a reasonable time frame.

As a result, gluten bonds aren’t formed during fermentation, preventing yeast from capturing carbon dioxide.

When gluten breaks down, the dough’s surface tears, preventing it from rising as it ferments.

In this case, the dough will have less oven spring and the resulting bread will be flat and gummy. This type of loaf is called a “flying saucer” by many bakers.

Best Time To Use A Sourdough Starter

Sourdough starters should be used a few hours after being fed and at their peak to bake bread.

It should have a mousse-like texture and be bubbly. By the time you feed it again, its volume will have more than doubled.

Your starter won’t rise your bread if you use it before it’s at its peak, so don’t use it before it’s at its peak.

You can wait until it reaches peak stage and then add it to flour, water and salt, and let it work its magic!

My starter always peaks when I’m asleep or I’m never around when it peaks. Although there are some little tips and tricks you can try to speed up your starter’s peaking time, they are not foolproof.

How To Bake Bread Without Feeding Your Starter First

I’m going to tell you a little secret I’ve learned while baking. You don’t need to wait for a ripe starter before using your sourdough starter for recipes that call for it if you’re an experienced sourdough baker.

Simply remove the starter from the fridge, measure it out, and combine it with the remaining ingredients cold and hungry.

In the meantime, if you are new to sourdough baking, please keep feeding your starter the traditional way to get comfortable with the nuances of sourdough baking.

What’s more? Instead of going into a sulk, the unfed starter sees the enormous meal of flour and water, which it happily consumes. Now you don’t have to wait 24 hours.

Does this moment feel like a light bulb to you? Maura Brickman’s Pain de Campagne recipe certainly captivated me when I read it for the first time. According to the recipe, Brickman is a “serious home baker who does not let her bread’s schedule control her life.”

According to her recipe, Maura mixes the dough with a small amount of cold, unfed starter rather than ripe one.

As a result of all the flour and water, the dough has been allowed to rise for approximately 12 hours before being divided and shaped. This allows the unfed starter to grow exuberantly.

Compared to the way we usually prepare starter with a feed and rest before use, this method is simple, straightforward, and … well, a lovely surprise in that regard. 

Do any sourdough bread recipes calling for ripe starter will work with this “no-feed” method? In fact, you are feeding the starter, but you aren’t feeding it prior to the start of the process. Where’s the catch? 

This dough will definitely need to rise longer than the recipe recommends.

I’m confident you’ll feel confident using this nifty method again and again after you’ve tried it a few times to nail down the general fermentation timeframe for your starter.

Using this method and not feeding your starter for more than a day won’t magically revive it if it hasn’t been fed in quite some time and is looking miserable (e.g., covered in dark liquid).

Before trying this, you should feed it the standard way a few times to make sure it’s healthy and good.

The Bulk Ferment: A Sourdough Starter’s Happy Place

The unfed starter won’t produce lickety-split sourdough loaves straight away; it will take time for the starter to develop.

As the dough rises prior to shaping, growth occurs during the “bulk ferment” – the period after the ingredients are combined, folded, kneaded, and folded again.

Given that you didn’t feed your starter, how much more rising time will you need to give your dough? I have found the following:

  • The recipe may only require a few extra hours if your cold, unfed starter is generally healthy.
  • The initial rising time may have to be extended quite a bit if your refrigerated starter hasn’t been fed in a couple of weeks.

What are the signs that your dough is ready to be shaped? Just like you would have waited for your starter to double in size before using it, you want your dough to double in size before you shape it.

We are taking a casual approach here, so don’t fuss. It will all work out in the end if the dough is a bit undersized or has more than doubled in size.

What If The Recipe Calls For Ripe Starter As Well As Commercial Yeast?

For a sourdough bread recipe to rise properly, both active dry yeast and ripe (fed) sourdough starter must be used.

This means your bulk ferment won’t need to be extended as much if your chosen recipe calls for it. If it takes a long time, then simply wait until the dough has doubled in size.

Buy Yourself Some Wiggle Room

What? It’s still taking so long to make bread? There is a difference, though: You are not checking to see if your starter has doubled after eight hours.

There’s no need to rush to catch it at its peak, when it’s domed and maybe just starting to settle back down.

My regular routine incorporates a more relaxed approach to the whole sourdough baking process thanks to you.

What’s The Best Time To Bake With Your Starter From The Fridge?

Every baker’s experience with sourdough is unique, just as each starter is unique.

You can use your starter straight from the refrigerator if you’re experienced, have worked with cold sourdough starters that have been kept in the refrigerator for a long time, and have had success.

When not using your sourdough starter as a leavener, you can use your starter straight from the fridge. Any sourdough discard recipe can be made with a cold starter.

Why It’s Best To Wait Until Your Starter Has Doubled Before Using It

Starters should be used once they have doubled or tripled in size to guarantee consistently good results.

When your starter reaches its highest level, just before it falls or deflates, it is at its peak. Yeast is most active and most efficient when there are the highest concentrations of yeast.

Can You Feed Sourdough Starter Straight From The Fridge?

Sourdough starter can be fed straight from the fridge. Generally, you will need to discard your sourdough starter if it has been stored in the refrigerator before feeding it.

You would discard all the starter except 50g and then feed it 50g of flour and 50g of water. When discarding and feeding a frozen sourdough starter, you do not need to let it come to room temperature first.

Once you feed the starter, it will quickly come to room temperature. You could speed up the process by feeding it warm water.

Final Words

Using sourdough starter straight from the fridge isn’t the best practice, but there are some cases where it might be acceptable.

An active, fed starter will always produce a better sourdough. You could use straight from the fridge if your starter is very mature, at least 12 months old, and was fed before going into the fridge.

It is especially important if the starter was fed and placed straight into the fridge less than a week ago. If your starter was in the fridge for only a short period of time, it may not have exhausted all of its food.

When you check the fridge, you’ll see if it’s peaked. Using it cold is perfectly fine in this case, there is no need to let it warm up.

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