Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Not long ago, I wrote a review of the Brod & Taylor Sourdough Home, a micro-fridge for proofing and storing a sourdough starter (or a collection of them). I’ll let you read that post for the details on the hows-and-whys of sourdough starter maintenance, and why I think the Sourdough Home is such a useful tool for home bread bakers.

Today I want to take a look at a competitor in the world of small starter proofers: the Goldie, from Sourhouse. The Goldie has a smaller footprint than the Home (a cylinder nine inches tall and five inches wide, compared to the Home’s 11- by 10- by 8-inch box) and a slightly higher sticker price ($129, versus $99 for the Home). The design of the two is very different too: Whereas the Home is literally a tiny, boxy fridge with insulated walls and a door, the Goldie consists of a plastic heater base with an upside-down-mug-shaped bell jar that together form a home for the sourdough starter within.

But the most important difference between the two devices is that the Goldie is much more limited in scope and function. While the Home can both warm and cool a starter (from 41-122˚F, or 5-50˚C), the Goldie does one thing and one thing only: warm a (cooler) starter to its “ideal” temperature zone (around 78˚F or 25˚C) and hold it there.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Right from the start, I’ll say that Goldie does this job very well. I used it to proof my starter for a few weeks straight and set a temperature probe in it the entire time so I could keep a precise eye on what it was doing. The temperatures inside the Goldie held at a steady 78 to 80˚F, despite ambient temperatures on the far side of the bell jar being closer to 68˚F, the temperature I keep my kitchen thermostat on when it’s colder outside. And the starter proofed wonderfully, just as you’d expect. It is large enough to hold a container up to one quart in volume, which is plenty of room for the average home sourdough baker most of the time. And, unlike the Sourdough Home, the transparent glass cloche lets you keep an eye on the state of the starter inside of it, which is nice.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

The Goldie is exceedingly simple to use: You plug it in via the attached USB cord (though you’ll need to supply your own power brick), flip the switch on the rear of the base, and it begins to warm up. The base has a heater built into its top surface and a thermostat that monitors its temperature, turning the heater on or off as needed to maintain that “just-right” temp. (Goldie is short for “Goldilocks,” a nod to that children’s tale character’s desire for a porridge neither too hot nor too cold.) On its front, the base has two small LED lights: A larger one that lights blue when the base is below the target temp, yellow when it is at the target temp, and red when it’s too hot. A smaller light just beneath it illuminates yellow when the device is heating and goes dark when not, so you can see when it is active.

The Goldie only works in one temperature direction (up), so what are you to do when the top light turns red? Unlike the Sourdough Home, which both heats and chills as needed, the Goldie instead comes with a gel-filled puck that you store in your freezer when not in use, and set atop your starter jar, to cool it down from above while the Goldie warms it up from below. This works, but the puck is only effective as long as it remains colder than 78-80˚F. In my testing, it took a little more than four hours at a not-all-that-hot 82˚F for the puck to warm up beyond 80˚F, and it’s not uncommon for starters to proof for 12 hours or more. When ambient temperatures are much higher than 82˚F, the puck will lose its chill even more quickly. (I suppose you could purchase extra pucks and swap them out as needed.)

Another limitation to the Goldie is that it’s really an on-or-off sort of device: Beyond having any real way to cool a starter down, there’s also no way to adjust the “ideal” temperature higher or lower. While 78-80˚F is ideal for proofing most sourdough starters most of the time, there are instances when you might want to use a higher or lower target temperature—many rye starters need to be proofed at around 85˚F, for example—and it would be nice if you could change this setting somehow.

If you have air conditioning in your kitchen or live somewhere where ambient temps rarely exceed 78˚F, the Goldie could very well be the “just right” home for your sourdough starter, and it does work as advertised. But if you—like me—commonly run up against temperatures higher than 78˚F, or if you ever have reason to proof (or store) your starter at another temperature (also like me), I think the Sourdough Home is the better choice, even before you consider the more attractive sticker price.

FAQs

How do I know if I killed my sourdough starter? 

Sourdough starters are actually quite hard to kill, as long as you refresh them on a regular basis and store them at the proper temperature between refreshments! If you refresh it—meaning take a small amount of the old culture and add it to fresh flour and water—the mixture should begin to expand with activity within a few hours; a very weak one might need 12 to 24 hours to wake up. If it doesn’t show activity after 24 hours, it means you need to start (or find) a new one.

Should a sourdough starter be in the sun or dark? 

Sourdough starters aren’t really sensitive to light, so it’s fine to expose one to sunlight. But be careful the light isn’t too intense, because they are temperature-sensitive, and you don’t want it to overheat!

What is the best temperature to keep a sourdough starter? 

This all depends on how often you refresh it. If you refresh it once or twice daily, as most bakeries do, it should remain at “room” temperature all the time, meaning somewhere between 70˚F and 80˚F. If you don’t use or refresh your starter that often, it should be stored in the fridge in between refreshments; long durations at room temperature without refreshments will lead to over-acidification and its eventual demise.

Why We’re the Experts

Andrew Janjigian is a baking expert and Serious Eats contributor. He worked for Cook’s Illustrated for several years and is a baking instructor. He’s currently working on a cookbook. Andrew tested the Sourhouse for a few weeks to thoroughly evaluate it.

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