A starter from scratch

SourDom

Welcome to SourDom's beginners blog, the tutorials are:

How to make your own starter.
How to use short kneads to handle moist doughs and bake a loaf with a yeast-based preferment.
The subtleties of proving a loaf using a ‘biga’.
How to shape a loaf using a hybrid recipe.
The final crucial steps and putting it all together to bake a 100% sourdough loaf.

Contents:

  • What you will need
  • Background
  • Recipe
  • Troubleshooting
  • Looking after your starter
  • Glossary
  • References

What you will need:

  1. White flour (preferably organic)
  2. Rye flour (preferably organic)
  3. Water (preferably filtered)
  4. A large clean jar or container (ideally transparent so that you can see what is happening)
  5. A spoon (to stir with)
  6. a little patience…

Background

Sourdough is the oldest form of leavened (or ‘risen’) bread. Baking presumably existed for a long time before that, mixing a paste of dried ground grains with water, and then baking it. However at some point someone must have discovered that if the paste or dough was left overnight, or for a couple of days, it started to change in appearance and odour, and that the bread when baked was lighter in texture, easier to digest, and stronger in flavour.
The oldest form of leavening was almost certainly due to this sort of accidental development of a starter, with small amounts of dough/paste being kept aside from one batch to leaven the next. At some point residues from fermented grapes or hops were used to provide an alternative source of yeast. Of course nowadays most baking is done with commercially isolated yeast.

Sourdough baking uses a technique akin to that earliest form of baking leavened bread. In this tutorial we are going to try to do deliberately what the ancients did inadvertently - to create an environment in which flour and water will naturally ferment. Once that fermentation has established we can use that culture of microorganisms to make our bread indefinitely (at least as long as we look after it properly).

Established starters contain a mixture of yeast and bacteria. Don’t worry, these bacteria are quite friendly (they are the same ones that are present in yoghurt, or that people consume deliberately in preparations like ‘Yakult’). The yeast and bacteria live together in a special sort of cooperative existence, with the yeast eating and breaking down sugars from the flour, and the bacteria feeding off some of the breakdown products from the yeast. The yeast provides the leavening action for the bread, but the bacteria are responsible for much of the flavour.
There are lots of different ways of generating a successful starter. If you are interested I have previously compared a couple of different methods.
One question is where the yeast come from that populate the starter. One theory says that they come from the environment (the air). Adherents of that theory (eg the ’starter doctor’ Brian Dixon) suggest leaving the jar/bowl open to the air - even having a fan over the bowl so that airborne yeasts will land in it. An alternative theory argues that yeast spores can be found in the flour (particularly wholewheat flour?), or alternatively on the surface of grapes/sultanas (that’s why some starter ‘recipes’ suggest using organic grapes or sultanas to get things going). If that is the case, then you can cover your starter with plastic wrap. I confess that I have always covered the top of my starter jar, without discernible problems.
To start with (lots of unintended puns here), here are some general principles gleaned from different sources.

1. Make sure that your containers are clean before you start. (I poured some boiling water in my jars and left them for 10 minutes beforehand, then tipped the water out). The idea is to try to avoid contaminating your starter with unpleasant organisms (the starter is especially vulnerable early).

2. Use filtered or spring water where possible

3. Use organic ingredients where possible (to maximise the concentration of microorganisms in your ingredients, and to prevent any inhibitory effect from preservatives/fungicides etc)

4. The aim of the refreshing steps is to add extra food for the organisms that you are culturing. Each time you refresh you need to add extra flour and water. You will need to throw some starter out to make room for this - otherwise you will rapidly accumulate litres of the stuff…

5. If you read around a bit the instructions all seem to differ, but are all quite dogmatic - you must use this, you mustn’t use that, you should cover, you musn’t cover etc. I think that what this probably means is that actually creating a starter is not that hard - there are lots of different ways, all of which can work.

6. Use a glass jar/bowl - you can see what the starter is doing…

The technique that I am going to use in this blog is one of the simplest of all. I am going to use flour (a mixture of rye and white) and water only, and we will see how we go.

Starter Recipe

The flour that I have used here is a combination of

Kialla white unbleached organic flour and

Wholegrain Milling organic rye

I made this starter in the middle of a Melbourne winter, so it was reasonably slow to get going. You may find that your starter becomes active quicker than these photos would suggest. If so that is great. You would still do well to follow the schedule for refreshing the starter daily for 2 weeks (see below).

Day 1:

Clean your jar and stirring spoon with boiling water

Add to the jar:

  • 50g water
  • 35g white flour
  • 15g rye flour

Stir, and set aside for 24 hours.

Depending on the time of year and the ambient temperature, you may find it harder or easier to get a starter going. The best temperature for yeast activity (at least the sort that are found in sourdough) is about 30 degrees C (that’s 80F for any imperialists out there). If the weather is cool your starter may be slow to establish. If it is very warm there is a bigger chance of the starter getting contaminated with unpleasant bacteria. I have had most experience with getting starters going at about 20C.
Starter day 1Starter day 1 (from above)
Day 2

There won’t be much to see yet, but that’s OK.

Starter day 2

Add to the jar

  • 50g water
  • 35g white flour
  • 15g rye flour

Stir with a clean spoon, cover and set aside for 24 hours

Day 3

Still not much to see

Starter day 3

Add

  • 50g water
  • 35g white flour
  • 15g rye flour

Stir with a clean spoon and leave for 24 hours

Day 4

Starter day 4 (bubbles)

a few definite bubbles visible below the surface

Discard most of the starter (put it in the compost or the bin), leave about a tablespoon in the jar

Add 100g water, 70g white flour, 30g rye

stir and leave for 24 hours

Day 5

Starter day 5

More bubbles visible, but the starter hasn’t increased in volume perceptibly.

Discard most. Add 100g water, 70g white flour, 30g rye.

Day 6

Starter day 6

The starter has increased in volume (by a 1/3 perhaps), and has now lots of bubbles below the surface. It has a complex slightly fruity odour.

Discard most of the starter (leave a tablespoon at most in the bottom of the jar). Add 100g water, 70g white flour, 30g rye (getting the idea yet?).

Day 7 (onwards)

Using the above technique you will need to continue to refresh your starter daily for at least another week. Each time you will need to discard the majority of the starter, and add in new water and flour.

Your starter is ‘active’ when after 24 hours it has increased (doubled) in volume, has a thick layer of froth on the top, and a rich network of bubbles below the surface. It is now ready to use for baking.

Day 8 Starter

(this photo was taken on day 8 of the above starter. You can’t see from the photo, but overnight the starter had reached the top of the jar, and a little had escaped. It had subsided since then (ie it is past its peak) - but I wouldn’t have any qualms about using it.)

Troubleshooting

1. Timing of refreshment

After your starter is refreshed - if you watch closely over the next 24 hours or so you will see bubbles start to appear, and the starter expand in volume. It will reach its maximum volume (’peak’) at a variable time, depending on the activity of your starter, and the temperature of the room.In a warm environment this might be at 12 hours or earlier, while in a cold room it might take more than 24 hours.

Generally speaking we would aim to use the starter at or close to this ‘peak’ time, though it will probably still work fine if it is used a few hours either side of this.
2. Low starter activity

If there is no sign of activity despite following the above instructions there are a couple of options. It may be worth while persevering for another week, refreshing daily. Alternatively it may be worthwhile starting again. You could try a different flour for your refreshment. You could also try adding about 10g of organic sultanas with the flour and water on the first day. Yeasts on the surface of the fruit will help to seed your starter and get things going.
3. Contaminated starter

If your starter smells unpleasant - like rotten eggs, or vomit, or something equally disgusting it may have become contaminated with less friendly bacteria. Don’t give up - it is often possible to resuscitate your starter. Wash a clean jar, and add a teaspoon or so of starter from your smelly batch. Add 100g water and 100g flour. Stir and leave for 24 hours.

Brian Dixon suggests leaving your starter out for 12 hours, and then putting it in the fridge. This might be worthwhile if your starter becomes contaminated in warm weather.

Avoiding disasters

Once you have carefully nurtured and raised your starter, you don’t want to lose it. Make sure that you leave a little starter behind when you are making your dough - so that you have enough to make more. This is important - don’t forget!

If there is someone in your house who intermittently has a cleaning frenzy and empties the fridge of UFOs (unidentifiied fridge objects), make sure they know what your starter looks like. Strange smelling white slurries in unlabelled jars would be fair game otherwise!

Other troubleshooting - have a look at the starter doctor

Looking after your starter

Your starter is bit like a pet, it will respond best to a bit of regular attention and food. On the other hand starters are quite resilient, and will often survive a fair bit of neglect (it is a good thing that there is no such thing as a Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Starters…)

Starters will have most activity if they are fed every day. However unless you are baking every day this necessitates discarding a lot of starter, and many people find the waste of flour and starter distressing. An alternative is to put your starter in the fridge when you are not using it. It will happily sit in the fridge without feeding for days or even weeks, ready to come back to life when you need it. However it is probably worthwhile trying to refresh your starter at least once a week to keep it lively. Also if your starter hasn’t been refreshed for more than a few days it will probably benefit from 2 refreshes before baking with it. Make sure your starter is covered in the fridge or it will dry out.

Refreshing starter (recently used)

If your starter is active and has been used recently it will probably only need one refreshment before using it.

Pour all of the starter in your jar out (into the compost or bin). (Don’t worry - there will still be some left in the bottom of the jar - this will be enough to seed the next batch of starter). Add half the weight of starter that you need in flour (plus a little bit), and the same of water. For example for 200g of starter add 110g flour and 110g water to the little bit of starter left in the bottom of the jar. Stir well and leave covered in a warm place for 24 hours.

Pour your starter into the mixing bowl. Add 50g of flour and 50g of water to what is left in the jar (this will replenish your stock of starter), and leave for 24 hours before putting back in the fridge.

Refreshing starter (not used for a while)

This is Mick’s recipe for bringing a starter back to life. It uses 2 refreshes 12 hours apart (if the temperature is cold you may need to make this 24 hours apart). This has the advantage of minimising waste.

Divide the amount of starter that you need by fifteen.

To this amount of starter add twice the amount of flour and water (1:2:2). Leave for 12 hours. Add equal amounts of flour and water and leave for 12 hours (1:1:1).

It is less confusing to talk in real numbers. For example for 300g starter. 1/15 x 300 = 20g

Add 20g starter to 40g flour and 40g water (total 100g). Leave for 12 hours

Add 100g flour and 100g water (total 300g). Leave for 12 hours.

Don’t forget to leave a little bit of starter behind to replenish your stock.

Other types of starters

Some recipes call for rye or wholemeal starters. You don’t need to keep multiple different starters going (though some enthusiastic people do). You can convert your stock starter into a rye or wholemeal starter by simply refreshing it with that flour for a couple of days.

Note, that sometimes starters will go on strike when their usual food is changed. For example you might see a sudden drop in activity with the change to a different flour. If that happens you can either persist (the activity will often come back), or revert to your usual flour, and then add in the new flour more gradually. For example you could start with 30% rye, and then progressively increase the proportion of rye with each refreshment.

Glossary

Chef - see starter
Leaven - see starter
Levain - see starter
Mother - this is the starter that you keep aside to replenish your stock, and use to create enough starter for baking

Refresh - to add flour and water to a small amount of starter
Starter - this is a mixture of flour and water containing bacteria and yeast, that is used to leaven sourdough bread. (aka leaven, levain, chef)


References:

Sourdough starter experiment

the starter doctor (Brian Dixon’s FAQ from rec.food.sourdough)
Dan Lepard’s instructions for sourdough

Replies

TheMadScientist 2011 June 21

Hi,

 

I'm currently living in China but I'm Canadian.

Getting all the ingrediens is not always easy (Language barrier)

Do I have to use Rye when I make starter?

 

I have access to flour and yeast, but haven't seen Rye here yet.

What is the absolute minimum I can get away with?

 

Thanks for your time.

 

*Mad.

:-)

TheMadScientist 2011 June 22

Well,

 

I went to Walmart here in my city in China and picked up one of the only 2 bags on flour which

is high gluten flower or low gluten. I chose high gluten for the fact of I would rather have more

of something than less of it..... what ever that might mean.. no idea. haha

 

So i mixed 78g flour and 156g purified water.

After about 20 hours at about 30 degrees Celcius i opened up the sealed plastic clear container

(which was poured boiling water over it before I put the ingredients in it) I see the water has

fairly seperated from the floour and the flour is sitting at the bottom in a very pastie state, not to

mention it smells like vomit.... Hard to digest I'm going to be eating this stuff.... YEUCK!

 

Any ways, I put 78g more flour in and about 120g more water in, stired it up and put the air tight

cover back on it. It's definetly more thick now but still pastie.

 

If you can see anything I am doing wrong please let me know.

 

Thank you very much.

 

I'm having fun doing this!

 

P.S. Is it possible to add some dried yeast to speed up the proccess or is that a no no?

I'm not really sure why it is to have starter and what exactly it does.

viccough 2011 June 22

Hi, MadScientist.

The vomit smell will disappear once the starter really gets going. What you're doing when you make a starter is trying to encourage wild yeast and lactobacilli in the air (or the flour) to feed on the natural sugars in the flour. To begin with a few undesirable bugs get in, hence the smell, but the yeast and lactobacilli will soon kill them. Carbon dioxide gas and alcohol are produced as the yeast feeds. It's the gas you want - it's what makes the dough rise. It's also why you shouldn't cover the starter too tightly or the gas pressure will build up too much. This could be dangerous, also you might not get enough of the yeast and right bugs getting in.  As to adding dried yeast, why do that? It's totally unnecessary and it wouldn't be genuine sourdough. I should add that I'm also a beginner with sourdough, having produced only 3 loaves that way so far, but I know quite a lot about  fermentation (which is what this process is) from many years of making beer and wine.

TheMadScientist 2011 June 22

Thats a great reply, thank you very much!

 

Now I know, and knowing is half the battle. Yo Joe! :-P

 

ok, so I hope the darker tint also goes away that as sitting on top, I read some where that could be

contamination in the cocktail.......?

 

I released the clasp on top of the lid and cracked it a bit, not sure if that was a good idea?

Maybe I should keep it sealed? Which way to go on that?

 

Ok, I'm clear on not adding yeast, what we ae going for hear is a totally natural way of getting the yeast

growing in the mixture. Got it!

 

What about this Low and High gluten flour? Which way should I go with that?

 

Cheers.

 

*Mad.

viccough 2011 June 23

 The dark colour should disappear around the time the bad smell goes. Don't worry too much about the lid. I believe some people don't cover their starter at all. I cover mine loosely. Use high gluten ('strong') flour for bread, low for cakes. 

TheMadScientist 2011 July 7

Well as the title says....... POOF!

Just when I was really starting to give up,

My started started to gain activity. Slowly at first with some bubbles on the top,

then I threw most of it out, adding 100g of water and 100g of flour.....

 

Kept that same cycle up for 3 days then one night after about 5 hours my starter over flowed with bubbles!

It seems to be rockin now!

 

Now, what is the next step? How do I time it to be ready to cook with in the afternoon?

 

Thanks for everyone's help and advice!

 

*Mad.

 

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 July 7

Hi *Mad

Have a look at SourDoms blogs.  He gives a range of timing schedules that should help you select one to suit your needs.

Let us know how you go.

Farinam

TheMadScientist 2011 June 26

Each and every day it seems I have the same result.

 

I add the same amount of flour and water as I did the first time to refresh.

I'm adding it to a seperated mixture of flour and water. Water being on the top.

The water is slightly tinted brown.

The mixer smells like vomit.

The is no growth other than the expected growth of adding the volumes to the already volume.

Thats about it.

 

What am I suppose to do with this?

Should I add some dried yeast on the top to kick start it?

Any advice would be helpful.

Thank you.

*Mad.

eyendall 2011 June 21

 No, you don't have to use rye in your starter. Straight unbleached white flour will work. If you can add some rye or whole wheat flour so much the better because these flours generally are more coarsely milled and hence contain more of the yeast and bacteria you want and so may give a faster result, but white flour will also contain these beasties as long as it has not been bleached and processed to death.

SourDom 2011 June 26

 Hi Mad,

 

how are you going?

Are you discarding your mix before adding fresh flour and water?

From your writing it sounds as if you are adding more flour and water each day, so the whole thing just keeps getting bigger.

I would suggest that you get a clean sterilised container. Take a teaspoon at most of the starter that you are working on, and put it in your clean jar. Then add the fresh flour and water. Mix, cover and leave

 

The next day chuck out all except a teaspoon of what is in your jar, and add fresh flour and water.

 

 

Do the same each day.

If your starter is still smelling unpleasant make sure that you use clean water (bottled if you have to). I would have tried the high gluten flour too. (High gluten flour is better for bread making as it has more of the protein that you need to make bread hold its shape as it rises).

 

cheers

Dom

 

panfresca 2011 June 27

 To add to SourDom's advice - the vomit smell is the leuconostoc bacteria, a common stage early in starter development. By following SourDom's method above, that stage will give way to the sweet smelling starter you're after. 

I have also read that adding unsweetened pineapple juice at the beginning prevents this leuconostoc stage. Both of the starters I now use went through this unpleasant stage, but are now active, healthy and sweet smelling.

Kym

TheMadScientist 2011 June 30

Hello Friends.

 

Well, I'm on my 5th day about, or more. I lost track after the 24th when my daughter was just born.

Things just got way too busy.

I am getting no results with this mix.

It just keeps growing in size with no signs of life.

Just stink.

The mix keeps seperating, darkish water on top and a pastie white glue on the bottom.

Also the temp here is about 29 - 32 C during the day and not much change a night.

I'm starting to lose my hope.

What can I do to make this work?

 

I really hope someone can give me some advice that will work for me.

I have been trying what Sour Dom said here:

 

Author: SourDom
| Title: starter blues

Hi Mad,



how are you going?

Are you discarding your mix before adding fresh flour and water?

  From your writing it sounds as if you are adding more flour and water each
day, so the whole thing just keeps getting bigger.

I would suggest that you get a clean sterilised container. Take a teaspoon at
most of the starter that you are working on, and put it in your clean jar.
Then add the fresh flour and water. Mix, cover and leave



The next day chuck out all except a teaspoon of what is in your jar, and add
fresh flour and water.

 

I sterilized a glass container and added a teaspoon of my starter and added the same as above flour and water.

But this hasn't worked so far.

 

Could it be that the flour has been bleached? Maybe thats why it's not fermenting like it should?

I can't read Chinese so I have no clue if it is bleached flour or not. My wife say it has not been

but I'm not sure if she can understand for sure what I mean by "Bleached" (She is Chinese)

{Not the bleach for clothes honey!}

 

So can someone help me with my stuck no life starter?

Should the starter be more thick or watery when first mixed?

 

Wating.

Thanks.

*Mad.

SourDom 2011 June 30

 Hi Mad,

 

there are a couple of things that might be worthwhile trying

This is what I wrote in the original guide

2. Low starter activity

If there is no sign of activity despite following the above instructions there are a couple of options. It may be worth while persevering for another week, refreshing daily. Alternatively it may be worthwhile starting again. You could try a different flour for your refreshment. You could also try adding about 10g of organic sultanas with the flour and water on the first day. Yeasts on the surface of the fruit will help to seed your starter and get things going.
3. Contaminated starter

If your starter smells unpleasant - like rotten eggs, or vomit, or something equally disgusting it may have become contaminated with less friendly bacteria. Don’t give up - it is often possible to resuscitate your starter. Wash a clean jar, and add a teaspoon or so of starter from your smelly batch. Add 100g water and 100g flour. Stir and leave for 24 hours.

Bleaching flour isn't going to matter, but if the flour is very refined it may not have any of the naturally occurring yeasts that are necessary to get your starter going.

Also, it sounds very warm where you are - I think 24 hours is going to be too long to refresh.

So, this is my suggestion

a. Try to get some wholemeal flour (You might find this guide to flours in China helpful)

I would look for quanmai fen or mianbao fen or Rye flour (heimai fen)

b. Try adding some (preferably organic) dried fruit at the start - for example sultanas

c. Don't leave the starter for 24 hours - do the refresh every 8-12 hours instead, or do as Brian Dixon suggested and put it in the fridge after 12 hours - then get it out the next day and do your refresh

 

hope this helps

cheers

Dom 

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 June 30

Firstly, and this might be a silly question, are you sure that it is wheat flour?

Second, if you are following SourDom's method, then the mixture should be a thick batter consistency - it will flow out of a spoon but quite slowly.  The fact that, from my reading anyway, it separates into layers 'overnight' suggests that it is far too dilute (too much water).

Hope this helps and gets you on your way.

Farinam

vitalgirl 2011 July 16

Hi

 

I have just started making a gluten free sourdough starter, and it's about a week old. I have been feeding it every day. I noticed 2 days ago that on top of the layer of hooch there was a clear film with whitish streaks on it. Does this mean that it is bad? I think it smells alright. It has certainly been smelling sour. I think to be on the safe side I will throw most of it out and start again with a new batch, adding a bit of that. I have rinsed it. I just wanted to know your opinion on the phenomena! I have been using bottled mineral water. I have been keeping it loosely covered in plastic but there were 'vents' at the side (it was a bit like a canopy there), so it was well aerated.

 

thanks

Rebecca

AgiB 2011 August 2

I just came upon this site, I want to bake my own sourdough bread since over a year now but my first attempt was a flop! I got the initial recipe from another website. It was smelling lovely (smelt like beer according to my kids)and did really good for 4 days but then it started to smell different and by day 5 or 6 it had hairy fungal infection on top of it. I am very scared now to start again as I was so disappointed after the encouraging start. My kitchen is as clean as any well cleaned normal home. I was just wondering is it possible that I will never have a good result as my kitchen has something in the air that will contaminate my culture? My baking is ok with just making a poolish from dried yeast and storing it overnight, I produced light and fluffy white bread but I really really want my own soudrough culture, I would greatly appreciate you input! Many thanks Agi

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 August 2

Welcome Agi,

If you don't try, you will never succeed.  If you follow SourDom's beginners blog you should be well on the way.

I think you were just a bit unlucky to get a nasty mould infection in your starter but provided that you have sterilised your container before starting and keep it loosely covered with a lid or kitchen wrap you should be absolutely fine.

I look forward to hearing of your progress and successful baking in a couple of weeks.  If you are baking good yeasted bread then you are well ahead of the game.

Farinam

SourDom 2011 August 2

 Hi Agi,

 

as Farinam suggests - don't be disheartened. Your starter sounded promising, and you will get there.

Try following the instructions for a 'contaminated starter' ie

3. Contaminated starter

If your starter smells unpleasant - like rotten eggs, or vomit, or something equally disgusting it may have become contaminated with less friendly bacteria. Don’t give up - it is often possible to resuscitate your starter. Wash a clean jar, and add a teaspoon or so of starter from your smelly batch. Add 100g water and 100g flour. Stir and leave for 24 hours.

cheers

Dom

 

ak 2011 August 4

Thank you so much for your site -- and to all of you for your questions. It's all been helpful. My sourdough starter is on day 15, and is looking beautiful -- but it has been doubling in size within 3-4 hours. I am wondering if this something I am doing wrong, or whether I simply have a very active starter... I live in Belgium, where the weather is currently alternating between 22 C and raining and 35 and not raining! The kitchen, where I have the starter, is probably 22 or 23 C.

I will try to bake this weekend, and see what happens!

Thanks!

 

 

SourDom 2011 August 4

 Hi ak - 

a quickly doubling starter is a sign of a healthy starter, certainly not a problem!

It is likely to be a combination of the warm temps there, and the particular organisms that you have growing in your starter.

Having said that, occasionally you may want to slow things down. (For example if you are going to work or are wanting a more pronounced sour flavour). You could mix the flour with cold or even iced water, which will slow down the doubling time. Alternatively, you could find a cooler spot in the house (even the fridge) for your dough. A third possibility that I have never personally used, is to add a little salt to your starter.

good luck

Dom

 

sarahjohnson 2011 August 5

I have read over and over these instructions and I just don't get it. Why do you keep having to throw the stuff away every day? If it's bubbly why can't you use it for a loaf? I've used my starter twice since last Friday (It's Thursday today) and the loaves have been fine.  I notice that with these instructions you are throwing away nearly a pound of flour before you even bake one loaf. I have a family of six and I make a loaf a day in my bread machine but I'd like to try my own starter, but I'm baffled by these instructions, I don't want to have to throw away nearly half the flour I buy. I know, I'm really stupid.

 

sarahjohnson 2011 August 5

I have read over and over these instructions and I just don't get it. Why do you keep having to throw the stuff away every day? If it's bubbly why can't you use it for a loaf? I've used my starter twice since last Friday (It's Thursday today) and the loaves have been fine.  I notice that with these instructions you are throwing away nearly a pound of flour before you even bake one loaf. I have a family of six and I make a loaf a day in my bread machine but I'd like to try my own starter, but I'm baffled by these instructions, I don't want to have to throw away nearly half the flour I buy. I know, I'm really stupid.

 

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 August 5

Hello Sarah,

During the establishment of a starter, it is recommended that you discard some each time to remove waste products from the culture (a bit like flushing the toilet really).  I think it also helps to encourage the beneficial components of the biota present.

Once your culture is well established, you can keep it in the fridge between uses.  You take out what you need to refresh and activate for your loaf and you replace that with fresh flour and water as a feed for what is left.  Give the latter a little while ( an hour or so) at room temperature to start feeding and then pop it back in the fridge until next time.  If you are baking a often as you seem to be there will be no need for intermediate feedings and no waste.

Keep on bakin'

Farinam

SourDom 2011 August 5

Once your starter is going, as Farinam notes, there is little waste.

If it has been in the fridge for a while there are two possibilities.

The first option is to do a small refresh (for example with 50g of flour and 50g of water) first to get the starter back to life, to discard most of this, and then make the amount of starter that you need to bake (plus a little extra to store). For example that might be 110g flour and 110g water for a large loaf. You end up discarding 50g flour each time - so not a huge amount.

The alternative is what Mick (of bethesdabakin fame) always used to suggest, and described above:

Refreshing starter (not used for a while)

This is Mick’s recipe for bringing a starter back to life. It uses 2 refreshes 12 hours apart (if the temperature is cold you may need to make this 24 hours apart). This has the advantage of minimising waste.

Divide the amount of starter that you need by fifteen.

To this amount of starter add twice the amount of flour and water (1:2:2). Leave for 12 hours. Add equal amounts of flour and water and leave for 12 hours (1:1:1).

It is less confusing to talk in real numbers. For example for 300g starter. 1/15 x 300 = 20g

Add 20g starter to 40g flour and 40g water (total 100g). Leave for 12 hours

Add 100g flour and 100g water (total 300g). Leave for 12 hours.

Using this method you will end up throwing a small amount of your fridge starter away, but that is all.

cheers

Dom

ak 2011 August 9

Dom,

 

Thank you for the advice on the active starter; I went ahead and made bread. It's not as beautiful (anywhere as beautiful!!) as your loaves, and the crumb is fairly dense, so I've got a few things to work out yet (but it was tasty!). I'm playing around with it and having a great time. So thank you so much for this blog (I've tried to get a sourdough starter going before, but never managed) and your help. :-) If I work out a beautiful loaf, I'll post!

 

 

Pop Larkin 2011 October 25

 Am I readings the instructions correctly? It appears that you only cover the jar on day 2. Do you really leave it open for all other days?

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 October 27

Hi Pop,

I think that the covering instruction was meant to be understood for all days and the fact that it got a mention for day two was just an authorial aberration.

Farinam

SourDom 2011 October 31

 thanks Farinam, Pop,

Farinam is right, the instructions should tell you to cover the starter every day. The yeasts come from the flour rather than floating in from the air, and leaving uncovered tends to just make it all dry out.

cheers

Dom

Elvie 2011 December 15

Hello Baker Community,

I have not begun a starter myself, yet. So I was wondering if the av. temp, room temperature is low, can you or should you use a yogurt maker to help it along?

And, do up and down temps adversly affect the starter, e.g. fluctuating temperatures.

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 December 15

Hello Elvie,

The temperature will affect the rate at which the yeasts and bacteria work and will require a longer time at lower temperature.  The temperature will also have some effect on the 'taste' of the starter as it also changes the balance between yeast activity and bacteria activity.

You can certainly use any device to raise the temperature so long as it doesn't get so hot as to kill the beasties.  Microwave oven with light on, ordinary oven with the light on, computer tower, modem, heat mat or even, probably, a yogurt maker.

However, my advice would be to go with room temperature unless your house is extraordinarily cold.

Let us know how you go.

Farinam

Erna Dyanty 2012 January 2

 Hi, 

 

I live in Kuala Lumpur where the weather is humid and its 34C/92F currently. I have been following a number of blogs and websites on cultivating your own starter... and my starter seems to be alive and kicking faster than others.

Here is my working timeline:

DAY 1 / STARTED : 9AM / Sunday morning.

DAY 2 / REFRESHED: 10AM Monday morning. 

DAY 2 / 12 NOON - by this time, my starter looks like the result of Day 7 in the photo above.

 

The starter smells nice, fruitty.

So does this mean, I can start baking with it? 

Could the climate that I am in caused this fast forward process?

Can I start baking with the starter now, or should I stick to the 5 - 7 day course and be patient?

 

thanks for the help. 

 

 

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 3

Hello Erna,

Given that the signs are good, I can see no harm in giving it a go.  Not much to lose other than some flour and water.  Plus you would be discarding some of your starter in any case.

I would say that the relatively high temperatures are contribution to the speed of action and you will have to adjust your dough and loaf preparation timings to suit.  I'd think in terms of kneading to readiness up front with maybe only an hour for bulk ferment and an hour for proving.  Of course this will depend on your observations of how things are progressing in terms of dough volume increase.

Let us know how you go.

Farinam

littlechef 2012 January 25

I had a go at a sourdough starter last year in our East End warehouse conversion but ended up with a really foul smelling disaster that I then promptly forgot to feed or fix. We have since had a kid and live a bit more organized. Had a try with the help of River Cottage's instructions and this site - now have a flourishing little jar of a starter that I can't wait to have a first bake with.

 

thanks, Per

H.A.B. 2012 February 4

What about the Alaskan way a starting with potato water?

My recent starter was made with potato and rye, and I like it better than one or the other. It was easier than the above starter because you don't have to discard any of it. If the starter ever gets limp just add potato water for its next feeding, instead of strait water, and it comes right back.

I find that I often don't have as much starter as I need. Many days I could go through 6 cups. If I had only a table spoon on the bottom how long would it take for six cups of flower water to become 100% active?

rcrissinger 2012 February 10

Pizza envy led me to this sourdough community.  For years I have been wanting to visit my old hometown of Livermore, California, just to eat at place called Pinky's.  I'm a pizza fanatic, and to me, the sourdough crust they used made theirs product the best I've ever tasted (Pepe's in New Haven is a close second).  My pizza dreams were dashed recently when I heard from a friend that the restaurant had closed its doors.  So, instead of mourning the loss of the world's greatest sourdough crust, I decided to try to recreate it at home for my family.  It may be a lost cause since I'm a baker by no stretch of anyone's imagination, but finding this community gave me hope, and I'm excited to learn!  I'm on Day 5 of making the starter and the bubbles of joy are springing forth.  Thanks! 

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 February 10

Hello rcrissinger,

Welcome to our world. 

Sourdough certainly does make good pizza and there are a few blogs on this site that attest to that fact (including one of mine).  Making pizza also takes a lot of the angst out of dough shaping and scoring and so forth and you can get some practice with dough development and handling before venturing onto the (slightly) more challenging aspects of free form loaf preparation.

Let us know how you go.

Farinam

TheDirtyZombie 2012 February 18

Hey Sourdom,

 

After creating a starter, what bread would you recommend for a beginner baker? I have been cooking for 20+ years but have never tried fresh bread. I guess I'm looking for an easy but "tasty" recipe. Not just an easy recipe.

 

Regards, 

Matt G

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 February 19

Hello to TheDirtyZombie,

Welcome to Sourdough World

The Pane Francesa recipe that SourDom gives in his blog is both simple and tasty.  I would recommend to any one as the best place to start.  Keep making it until you get your techniques right and can reliably make an acceptable loaf.  Then you can branch out to try things more adventurous.

Good luck with your projects and let us know how you go.

Farinam

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 February 19

Hi Matt,

My experience with spelt is minimal (read none).  My reading on the topic indicates that a lettle less water (lower hydration) might be required but that would be a matter for experimentation.

Keep on bakin'

Farinam

TheDirtyZombie 2012 February 19

Hi Farinam,

Thanks for your fast reply. I think I'll just stick to the recipe until i get it perfect.

I'll send you some photos of my first batch!

Regards,

Matt

 

Caro cherry 2012 February 28

 I am trying to build a starter. So far made three flat loaves todays loaf is a bit better. I think it may be the water we have  very hard water should I use bottled water? The starter is nearly two weeks old it has been quite cold.

Lisnya 2012 March 19

Hi,

I have a question: I think I've made starter, it smells fruity and it rose a lot, so that's great. Except then I realized that it's not so great, because I am a college student and I will head back home for 15 days in Aprin and then I'll also go home during the summer... So, I have no idea what to do with the starter when I leave. I seem to have bonded with it because I'm weird and I don't want to throw it away. :P Can I take it on the train with me? Is it going to die if I do?

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 March 19

Hello Lisnya,

Provided that your train ride is not more than a week long your starter should be fine, particularly if you feed it just before you leave.

As a precaution, you could also dry some and carry it home in a plastic bag.  Just spread a thin layer onto a sheet of baking paper and leave to dry.  A rehydration with some water and a feed will see it spring back to life.  Just as long as you don't have to go through customs or something - they often look askance at plastic bags full of white powder ;p

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

Lisnya 2012 March 20

Thank you so much! I'll probably go with the second option since I'm not in the US nobody looks for anything when we travel by train, here. And it's whole wheat flour so I'd probably be safe anyway? I don't really know.

Soursop 2012 April 3

Hi - I found B Dixon's starter page helpful and entertaining. Have a fortnight old starter, split into plain and one I've given a little molasses to which seemed to get it going.  Haven't had great success with the loaves tho'-great crust but still little dense and "doughy" on the inside .  Maybe starter needs to be started again or bake longer?  Not many bubbles in the baked loaf, and when it proved didnt quite double..any tips welcomed!

 

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