Select Page

Queenie is dead, long live Queenie

I’ve assumed a bit of prior knowledge to sourdough baking in this blog post. I’m happy to answer any questions where things aren’t clear because of that, though I might just point you off to other more baking-focused sites to read up on stuff.

During the Christmas break, I decided to start baking sourdough bread again. My problem was that my sourdough starter, Queenie, who I’d been keeping in the fridge, had gone off. I’d killed her through neglect.

Fortunately, a while ago, I had the foresight to freeze some samples of Queen when she was at her most active. Rather than start with making a new sourdough starter from scratch – which is admittedly not that difficult but can take up to a week – I decided to see if the cryogenics had worked.

Here’s the bag containing those starters I divided up into 50g discs nearly three years ago. Why discs? Well, I think my theory was – still is – that flattened discs will thaw out more quickly than a ball. I took just one of these discs and let it thaw out for a day before feeding it a standard 50/50 water and flour mix (I think I started with 25g of each).

To be honest, my hopes weren’t high after the first couple of days. Queenie was a bit sleepy and there were only a few bubbles in the sourdough starter mixture. I probably could have achieved the same level of activity by just starting from new. Looking back now, I think the discs weren’t a 50/50 mix so could probably have done with some more water to start with.

Queenie the overactive starter

It was a good four days before I got some proper signs of life but once Queenie woke up, she really woke up. She was bubbling so furiously, she was spilling out of the jar and I had to transfer her into a large Tupperware container. But my objective was achieved and I had a usable, active starter again and one that I could smugly proclaim was several years old. (I won’t go into why a sourdough starter can’t really claim to be that old. Not today, anyway.)

So there you have it: freezing a sourdough starter for long-term storage and subsequent revival is a viable option.

These are the options as I see them for storing an active, lively sourdough starter.

  1. A 50/50 mix is fine if you’re going to bake sourdough regularly and have the time and organisational skills to feed it every day. Probably overkill for those of us who don’t bake three or more loaves a week.
  2. A newly-fed 50/50 mix will keep in the fridge for at least a week, sometimes up to a month, without feeding but do keep an eye on it. You’ll also need to remember to take it out of the fridge in time to bring it up to temperature to start using it in a recipe.
  3. Credit to Dan Lepard for this particular tip. A 65/35 flour to water or even 70/30 mix will keep longer than the standard 50/50 mix. Instead of a gloopy batter, you have more of a malleable dough. For the occasional sourdough baker, it’s a good way of keeping a starter without having to worry too much about tending to it. Obviously don’t leave it for a year or something stupid.When it comes to using it to make a loaf, you need to adjust your recipe to compensate for the fact there’s more flour than water in your starter. You might even want to mix it with a bit of water to bring the balance back up to 50/50 and leaving it for a while before mixing it in with the rest of your ingredients. (Kind of equivalent to activating commercial yeast in warm water first, I guess.)
  4. Credit to Dan Lepard for this tip, too. For the lowest maintenance, freeze your starter. I don’t think it particularly matters if you freeze a 5050 mix or a stiffer one like I’ve just mentioned, though the 50/50 mix makes it easier on the maths because you just need to add your frozen disc to a similar 50/50 mix. Then just keep working with it like you would a normal starter, feeding it a 50/50 flour/water mix each day until you breed a monster clone like I did. I wouldn’t advocate using a frozen starter direct in a recipe. The way I see it, you’re using it as a shortcut to a fresh starter and saving yourself several days of cultivating new yeast.

I stumbled – well, ambled towards, really – a method of making a sourdough loaf that puts an end to the ‘how sleepy or awake will the starter yeast be today’ guessing game but I’ll save that for another post.

Antisocial media: why I decided to cut back on Facebook and Instagram

Arwa Mahdawi writing in the Guardian:

In the next decade, we are going to see a social media public health crisis unfold as the effects on our brains, relationships and democracies unfold. We are getting previews of what that might look like already: there is a growing mountain of evidence that suggests Facebook negatively affects people’s mental and physical health.

I was approached about a job at Facebook last year. Had I not been coming to the end of a contract, I wouldn’t have entertained the idea, given that I deleted my Facebook account in 2016 and had been feeling the benefits of that. But the timing being what it was, I took the conversation further than I should have. Fortunately – for both sides, I think – it didn’t work out so I never had to work out for what price I could be bought.

Every time I know the way it ends before it’s even begun…

It’s traditional at this time of year for me to state that I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. In fact, here’s me on this very blog in 2013 in Then off goes the bell ringing through my head, signifies that all’s been said…: “I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.”

And then I’ll set some. And then not keep them. And then try again around the time of my birthday because I think it’s better to start off with resolutions on a personal date rather than at the same time as everyone else. Here’s me again, from Then off goes the bell ringing through my head, signifies that all’s been said…:

So instead of going for New Year’s resolutions, I tend to have my birthday resolutions instead, following my own personal new year, rather than the calendar new year. The period between 1 January and my birthday serves as a useful trial or run-in period before the serious business starts on 25 February.

Apart from the idea of the ‘trial period’, not starting resolutions at the same time as everyone else makes sense: someone making a resolution to go to the gym more is less likely to keep that resolution when they get to the gym and find it’s absolutely packed and they can’t get onto any machines. But I would say that, being an introvert. I imagine, for an extravert, it can be motivating to have loads of other people around you with the same aims and goals, even if they are delaying your own achievement of them. And something like giving up smoking could be easier for some people if you’re part of a group motivating each other.

Whatever your resolution, best of luck with it.