Sourdough lovers in Stockholm can leave their starter with a professional babysitter

sourdough starter
CC BY 2.0 Mary Catherine Tee

A bakery in the Swedish capital provides daily care to jars of beloved sourdough starter that would otherwise be neglected in the back of the fridge while their owners are away on vacation.

Forget the cat and dog sitter! The real question is, do you have a babysitter lined up for that bubbling pot of gooey sourdough starter in the back of your fridge? As more people dabble in artisanal baking and feed their precious starter babies on a daily basis, going away for even a few days can pose a real problem.

A bakery in Stockholm, not surprisingly, has considered this problem and turned it into a business opportunity while providing peace-of-mind to sourdough lovers. For $3 a day RC Chocolat (which has a very convenient location in the airport) will care for your starter while you’re away. Upon return from vacation, your starter will be bubbly, happy, and alive, ready to make more loaves.

"I think it's a collector's need. People like to have their own. You get a little obsessed."

NPR quotes Joakim Blomquist, one of RC Chocolat’s owners, who says that most people who use this service are tech-savvy urban dwellers between the ages of 30 and 50:

"But then you have older people who have been doing it for ages. I think we had one [starter] that was 20 years old. You can't tell, but sometimes you ask just for fun. You can see sometimes that the jar is really old."

RC Chocolat is certainly not filled to capacity with starters. During Easter weekend this year, there were only two starters to babysit. “One is bubbling away in a dainty little glass jar, while the other is housed in a plastic guacamole container — not exactly reflective of the level of obsession you'd expect in this situation.”

If you’ve never cared for a sourdough starter before, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. A babysitter for starter? Can’t you just make it from scratch or buy another one? It’s not that simple. The older a starter, the more status it takes on. Many people claim their starter’s line can be traced back for years, decades, even centuries, such as the one that King Arthur Flour claims dates back to the 1800s. As Blomquist says, "I think it's a collector's need. People like to have their own. You get a little obsessed."

Making a starter from scratch is an investment of time, a truly lengthy task. Consider the famous sourdough recipe from celebrated San Francisco baker Chad Robertson that requires two weeks to complete and 38 pages of text and photos. Once you’ve established a good starter, you don’t want to lose it. All you have to do is feed it a cup of flour and a half-cup of warm water daily (on average), which is a small price to pay for fabulous loaves of homemade bread. While it possible to revive old neglected starters, it doesn’t always work and it takes a while before the starter can be used for bread again.

My sourdough starter, generously given to me by a local baker who had established it two years prior, sadly passed away in the back of my fridge last year after several months of sporadic care and many fantastic loaves of bread. I could have used a babysitter for it on several occasions. I think I’ll ask him to give me a second chance, and this time I will not neglect it.

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