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

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 April 3

Hello soursop,

You'll find that you can't really go wrong if you follow SourDom's beginners blog on this site.  The main thing is to choose a simple recipe (such as SourDom's Pane Francesa) and practice making that until you can produce an acceptable loaf.  Once you have done that, the world is your oyster (so to speak).

With respect to your blog, your starter shouldn't need anything like molasses, just flour , water and your microflora is all that is needed.

Your loaf problems could be down to a number of things.  Doughy on the inside can mean under baking but some more details of your method with respect to recipe, dough development, timing, temperatures (room and oven) etc would be handy.

Whilst doubling during proving is a good indicator it is not absolutely necessary so you shouldn't get your knickers in a twist over that.  Provided that the oven spring is good you should still get a good loaf.  However it does seem as if you are lacking in that area as well.

So, give us some more detail and we will do our best to put you on the right track, if reading SourDom doesn't do that first.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

neko 2012 April 10

 hello, 

i just started making my sourdough starter using water and wheat flour, its bubbling up nice and smells fruity/sour. i forgot to feed it for 2 days but today when i added more flour and water after 3 hours it had started bubbling....very small bubbles. i am guessing its a good starter but before i use it i want to make sure its good. do starters smell fruity/sour?

it smelled like grapes and gave off a very sour smell when i opened the jar after remembering to feed it. it had collected water on top which was not clear but not colored. the water on top looked like a very thin mixture of water and wheat flour. Can i use this starter? i think its been 5-6 days since i started it with -2 days of feeding.

i also want to keep my starter for a long term. i read about drying the starter on parchment paper and freezing it. should i try drying it? i love sourdough bread but i am lazy to feed it on time every day. i forget easily. if i can get one good starter and dry it, i will be very happy. 

 

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 April 10

Hello neko,

It sounds to me as if your starter is off to a flying start.

The thing to remember is that the daily feedings and discards are only really necessary during the initial development stages. Once your starter is well established, you can safely keep it in the fridge and use/feed it maybe once a week.  However, it will survive for at least a month in the fridge without attention - I have done this myself when we went on holiday.  It might take a couple of feeds to get back to full strength.

The idea of drying your starter is purely an insurance thing so that you have a seed to get back going quickly if something drastic does go wrong with your baby.  I would not see it as a way to avoid having to give your starter the attention it needs/deserves.

The separation of layers can be a couple of things.  After a long period without disturbance you can get a layer of alcoholic liquid, called hooch, forming on top.  This is often coloured to some degree.  Some say to pour it off, other to mix it back in - whatever - when you discard and feed the wastes are removed/diluted.  This is the basic reason for discarding - to get rid of waste products.  The other thing that can happen is that if you are working at a high hydration, the flour just settles out of the water.  You can see pictures of this effect if you read LeadDog's blog on Fred Bread.

I would say, from the sounds of it, that you could consider trying to make a loaf from your starter but you should be prepared not to be disheartened if it doesn't quite work out.  It does take some practice to get your methods worked out.  This would apply even if you do another week of development to get a stronger starter.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

neko 2012 April 12

 thanks for your help and clearing my doubts. i will dry half and keep half in refrigerator feeding once or twice a week. i am so happy my starter is really lively and i can use it. i will be baking my loaf tomorrow and see what happens. its my first time baking sourdough bread and making starter too. wish me luck.

Ann_in_Tokyo 2012 April 12

This starter recipe has worked great so far.   I'm only on day 6, but by dumb luck he is developing nicely. I randomly bought bags of flour or what I hoped was flour (In Tokyo and don't read Japanese).  Picking the flour was solely based on the packaging looking "artisan" and not mass produced. Turns out I bought unbleached white flour and finely ground rye.

 

I am keeping my fingers cross that he stays happy.  Can't wait to bake a loaf of "Cherry Blossom" sourdough bread.

 

tedog 2012 April 30

 Hi everyone, this is the start of my journey into the world of sourdough, it's day 7 of my starter, fed it yesterday morning and the jar was about 1/4 full, got up this morning and looked like a volcano had erupted in my kitchen !!

One question, Is it ready ready to use now ? i don't have time to start making bread till the weekend so do i put it in the fridge for a couple of days and give it a feed say, Thursday ?

Any help would be much appreciated

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 April 30

Hello tedog,

I would keep following the method of discarding and feeding until the weekend.  Nothing to lose except a bit of flour and water and everything to gain from a more mature culture.

If all goes well you could then start a keep in the fridge regime where you take out what you need to feed up for your recipe, replace that weight in your culture and store in the fridge.  It can easily go a week without attention and I have even gone as long as a month away with things returning to normal after a couple of feeds.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

tedog 2012 May 23

 Thanks for the advice Farinam, it's been a few weeks now since i made my first sourdough loaf, was very pleased with the result ( allthough i need to work on my shaping ) 

Not quite as sour as i was expecting but that seems to be quite common for UK bakers.

delicious11 2012 May 7

I am on day 2 of the starter and have read via instructions on here that at day 7 you start again from day 1 but after 24hrs of the 2nd 7 day block  it maybe ready to use...am totally confused; so... once im up to day 7 of feeding do i..A. start from day 1 and continue for the full 7 days,or,  B start at day 1 again and if after 24hrs has lots of lovely bubbles use the starter in any recipe?  I hope someone can help. :-)    PS hope this isnt too confusing lol

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 May 12

Hello Delicious,

You don't actually start again.  What you is to continue following the direction for Day 6 each day for however long until your starter is 'mature'.

You might be able to use the discard to make a loaf earlier (as suggested in the instructions) but most recommend continuing with the discard(use)/replace regime out to the 14 days to be sure that the population of yeasts and bacteria have stabilised and become robust (mature) before you change to the use/feed/refrigerate regime that most home bakers use.

Hope this help clear things up.

Let us know how you go.

Farinam

delicious11 2012 May 12

Hello Farinam..thankyou for your reply..will be day 7 feeding in 12hrs but not much happening at the moment. I think it was day 3 i had quite a lot of bubbles and was looking quite good but now has slowed right down.. will let you know how it all goes...  thanks again

 

AZMiller 2012 May 25

 Trying my hand at a starter, used the above recipe although i added a few drops of lime juice to add to the acidity. I did my first feeding this morning and all seems to be going well enough except for a hard crust that developed on the top of the starter while i had it sitting in my garden. Is this normal or did i do something wrong perhaps?

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 May 25

Hello AZMiller,

Mostly people just keep their containers sitting on the kitchen bench or somewhere handy.

Did you have it covered?  A loose fitting screw-on cap or a sheet of GladWrap seems to be the usual sort of thing.  A piece of cloth would probably also be OK.

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

Farinam

AZMiller 2012 May 25

Farinam,

 I placed the jar in the garden since it was a nice warm sunny spot and it was slightly cool in the house.

I have the jar covered with a cloth and rubber band to allow it to breath. Should i switch to plastic wrap?

M.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 May 25

Hello again,

If it was in the sun, then I suspect that the temperature inside the jar could have gotten quite high.  That could have led to the crust formation due to evaporation so a better seal might help.  However the high temperature probably will not be good for the yeasts and bacteria.

How cool (what temperature) do you reckon you have inside your house?  Things might happen a bit more slowly but they will still happen at lower temperature (even in the fridge), so I would be bringing your container inside and carrying on from there.

Farinam

AZMiller 2012 May 25

 Farinam,

Thank you for the quick replies.

The temp ranges from 60 to 75, i was just not sure if the cooler temp would stall the growth too much.

I assume i should feed it less often with a cooler fermenting temp, or should i simply watch for rise and fall?

Thanks again for the help this is my first attempt at a wild culture, or any for that matter!

M.

Wannabe Yeast S... 2012 August 10
Hello! I have a 2 liter pickling/jam jar with a locking latch. Is it okej to use this with starters? Will the inevitable buildup of preasure affect the culture's viability. Obviously it is air tight. Any tips are warmly welcome! Ha det gott! /Brian -Sweden
farinam's picture
farinam 2012 August 10

Hi Wannabe,

I think your jar would be just fine but either don't engage the catch and just let the lid rest on the neck or if you do engage the catch, sometimes you can just half cock it which doesn't give an air tight seal.

The main thing you want to do is to prevent any drying of the surface and to prevent undesirables from getting in.  if you are worried about the efficacy of the closure for this purpose without the catch engaged then you could cover the neck with a piece of foil/plastic film and let the lid rest on that.

Let us know how you go.

Farinam

pebbles28 2012 August 26
Hi, I wanted to start making sourdough because I as told it was a better alternative to wheat grain breads,however I'm bit confused as to what starter I could use? Since the stater above will be still adding wheat? Is there alternative? Thanks Pebbles
farinam's picture
farinam 2012 August 26

Hi pebbles28,

Wheat flour is used for a vast majority of bread made because it has a high content of strong gluten forming components.  Most other flours have lower quantities of these components (or none in some cases) and as such either make a dense loaf or need to be helped along with a wheat flour blend or addition of other materials such as gums to provide the strength to rise and hold their shape.

If you want to get a feel for working with non-wheat flour in the sourdough environment you should check out the blogs of Staffo on this site who has done a lot of testing and recipe development for gluten free bread without additives etc.  There have also been blogs here on using pure rye to make pumpernickel.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

Alison1 2012 October 1
Hi everyone, So excited to have found this site. I tried to make a starter years ago in Queensland and my family all freaked out saying I was growing something that would kill them all and made me chuck it. Now I have my own place so I don't need to let my siblings see my crazy looking starter ( which looked fine actually! ) Now i am in Tasmania so I can't say the heat will be a problem! Will be going off to the store for some good ingredients! Wish me luck Alison
farinam's picture
farinam 2012 October 1

Welcome to our World Alison1,

If you follow SourDom's tutorials I don't think you will go very far wrong.  If you do have any problems, there are plenty of people around to offer a helping hand.

As you are in tassie, Graham and his crew are not too far away and I am sure they would love you to drop in for a chat.

Good luck with your projects.  Let us know how you go.

Farinam

Alison1 2012 October 5
Thanks farinam! I began Mrstarter101 tonight, hope he matures quickly. Finally found rye flour, turns out the tiny organic shop in my suburb was the place to start looking all along...
erectronics 2012 October 13

So, I've been nursing my baby for over 2 weeks now... It's been growing pertfectly fine. But, 3 days ago I got the flu, and was in bed the whole freaking time.... Finally remembered and rushed to my baby... She smells like she's been on a whiskey binge while I was sick... Still a good network of bubbles... Did I kill her? Or, can I still salvage her life.. Please help...

 

Edit 1: After feverishly googleing for help, I decided to try to save her ass. Saved 1 tablespoon from the starter, and mixed well w/ water, rye, flour, and sugar.

Ryplok 2012 October 30

Greetings from Brazil. I am working on my starter - day 2, smells nice, weather is awfully hot here today (some 34 C) and VERY dry. Wonder if I need to add a tbsp of water to my starter once a day inbetween feedings. Well, we'll see. I love to experiment.

Thank for the great blog. Very few things compare to making your own bread and then sharing it with your family and friend.

One quick question (though I'll probably find the answer as I browse through the blog): which recipe do you recommend for a sourdough novice?

Andre

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 November 1

Hello Andre,

I would highly recommend the recipe for pane francesa that is contained in SourDom's excellent series of beginners blogs.

I also recommend that you persist with making the same recipe a number of times to develop your technique and to get a feel for the way the dough develops.  In terms of the timeline that is given in the description you have to be prepared to adjust that to suit your starter and conditions as the timing is very dependent on temperature in particular.  With your higher temperature you might find that you have to shorten the process quite a bit.

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

Regards

Farinam

Ryplok 2012 November 1

First of all, a word of thanks for the warm welcome.

My starter seems to be developing fine - it smells pleasantly fruity. Today, though, the top became infested with white hairy mould. Day 3 diary: Even though I cleaned up everything thoroughly, the warm temperatures this week are hard to bed. I just removed the top "crust"  with the mould, got a tablespoonful of my started and transferred it to a new container. Let´s see what develops...

 

Just a question: I read Dom's advice:

"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." 

My starter has been out of the fridge since day 1 - should I assume that in very hot weather we should place the developing starter in the fridge? I thought I would only to that once I have a full-fledged 'baby'...

Ryplok 2012 November 2

Just a word of encouragement to those who are following the sour path to sourdough...

I managed to rescue my mouldy starter just fine, and today it looks healthy and bubbly.... so, persist and be rewarded!

ujangodong 2013 February 15

Hi Guys...

This my 6th day nursing my baby without discarding it. I made small quantity starter, begin with 1tbsp rye+white flour and 1 tbsp water. So far so good...today I tested in the water and it float, is that mean my starter ready? or need more feed?

Btw what it the intention discarding the starter before feeding? Is that only to give a room for the feeding or is there any intention?

Thx

farinam's picture
farinam 2013 February 18

Hello ujangodong,

I think the real reason for discarding is to prevent excessive build up of acids and other waste products and to get the condistions right for the desirable yeasts and bacteria to thrive and dominate over any nasties.

It also serves the secondary purpose of keeping the volume under control because if you just kept on doubling you would soon need tankers to store the stuff.

If your starter is nice and bubbly and doesn't have any nasty smells about it then i would say that you could easily be ready to start baking with your new found friend.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

OmahaNate 2013 February 20

So I've never attempted this before and will be starting this weekend but I have one question.  I've made other breads before using Quick Yeast Packets you can buy in the local grocery stores here in the States.  If you are using Water, Rye Flour and White flour only, what makes the yeast happy (I'm assuming its some sort of chemistry).  Thanks and I loved coming across this site, really nice to see such a web community all helping out.

farinam's picture
farinam 2013 February 20

Hello OmahaNate,

A sourdough culture is a symbiotic collection of naturally occurring yeasts, enzymes and bacteria associated with grains used to make flours of various sorts.  Wholemeal and unbleached flours will have a higher population available and rye is considered to be particularly favourable and is commonly used as an activity 'booster'.  Some organisms are desirable and some not so. However the combination of acids produced as byproducts of the activity of bacteria, in particular, produce conditions that favour the desirable ones and inhibit the undesirable ones.  This is also responsible for the sour in sourdough but note that the bread produced does not necessarily 'have' to be particularly sour tasting but some bakers do strive to produce a more sour tasting product.  This symbiotic relationship results in a stable environment that can be maintained for long periods with regular use/feeding.

The activity of the various organisms in the culture are affected by temperature (slower at cooler, quicker at warmer, fatal at high - eg baking) and seems to be optimum for growth at a comfortable to slightly warm room temperature. Generally you should develop your culture under these conditions.  Once it has been stabilised (usually a week to ten days) it is possible to store it in the fridge between uses if you are not baking on a daily or two daily basis.  This just prevents the culture from exhausting its food supply and going into dormancy so quickly although it possibly does affect the flavour balance as well.

There is quite a bit about rye bread about but if you are talking about pure rye it can be quite tricky because of the low gluten content of rye and I would suggest that you get yourself going and competent on making a predominantly wheat flour recipe such as the Pane francesa recipe that SourDom gives in his tutotials.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

sumthinclever 2013 February 20

Hi - thanks for the blog!  I started my own starter using a recipe from a different site.  It started very well with all the bubbles and wonderful smells, but then went dormant.  Unfortunately the website didn't have a trouble shooting section.  I threw out my starter this morning in despair.  Then I jumped on the net and found this site - damn!  I could have rescued my baby - double damn !!

Oh well - with all this support and encouragement I know I'm bound to end up with the best sourdough loaves ever.  Thanks for everyone's time and trouble to provide this resource.

Cheers

Brew Cat's picture
Brew Cat 2013 March 5

My starter has seemed precocious since day 1.  After its day 6 feeding, it doubled in size, had a bit of froth on the top and smelled of apples.  I was delighted until I noticed it had "deflated" before its next feeding (still about 1/3 larger); I was expecting sustainable growth.  I saw your earlier blog response suggesting it was an active child, so I have now fed it early and will see how it manages.

My questions:

1.  If it peaks before the 24 hour cycle, should I feed it twice daily or put it in the fridge and feed once daily?  I do put the excess in the compost, but am one of those who really do not like discarding a living, good thing.

2.  I am using a 1.5 liter storage jar with a rubber seal (canning jar), but have not used the rubber seal, thinking that the heavy glass lid alone would be better until I put it in the fridge after maturity.  Is this ok or should I put the rubber seal on now, please?  We live in Switzerland, but even though there is snow on the ground, our home is relatively warm.

3.  I have not been placing the starter in a new, clean container with each feeding, but rather have poured out the majority and fed it in the same one. Is this correct, please?

I am really looking forward to making some of the recipes on your site and creating a few of my own, especially with spent grain.  I am a novice at this but find the chemistry fascinating; wish I knew more!  

Many thanks for your support!

farinam's picture
farinam 2013 March 5

Hello Brew Cat,

The culture will remain active while ever there is food available.  If it is very active (possibly due to warm temperature) then the food will be consumed more quickly, activity will decline/stop but the culture will not die, it will just become dormant to reactivate when a new supply of food turns up.  If you lower the temperature (for example by putting it in the fridge) then the activity will slow and it might take several days to reach a peak and as before it will subside if left long enough.

From what you have described, I would say that your starter is at a stage that you could start using it to make bread.  I would recommend starting with a simple recipe such as the Pane francesa that SourDom gives in his beginner's blogs on this site.  I also recommend that you make it a number of times to get a feel for the handling and development of the dough and the time that your particular conditions of starter activity and temperature require for getting the dough and the loaf to optimum condition.  The time lines that are published are a guide only and you should work to what is right for you.

In terms of managing your culture, generally it is not recommended that you seal the container tightly.  Any covering should be such as to prevent easy access of stray fungi and mould spores getting into it and to minimise evaporation.  However if you do get an infection or a dry skin formed all is not lost as simply removing the offending material and taking a small sample of fresh is often enough to inoculate a new culture very successfully.

I keep my culture in the fridge and generally, the night before I plan to bake, I take a quantity of the culture (90g) and build it to 180g with fresh flour and water for the loaf starter (I work at 100% hydration for my culture and starter).  I also replace the quantity removed in my culture vessel with fresh flour and water and return it to the fridge.  Mostly I bake every five or so days and have no need to feed the culture between bakes.  I have left the culture for a month while on vacation and at most needed a couple of feeds to bring it back to full activity.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

Brew Cat's picture
Brew Cat 2013 March 5

Hi Farinam,

Thank you for your prompt response and good advice!  I must admit that I began this journey seeking the perfect panmarino recipe.  I have been yearning to try SourDoms' recipe and had planned to give it a go this weekend.  I very much appreiate finding recipes with proportions and clear method.  I will certainly look at the tutorial that you recommended and see if my starter would like to have a trial run.  Thank you for your help.

muddypuddle 2013 March 18

OK i'm determined to have a go at this - I can't find rye flour but I do have rye grains that I can grind, and white bakers flour. Should I mix the rye with the white bakers flour, and if so, in what proportion, or should I use 100% ground rye? So excited to get going, so hope to hear soon!!

farinam's picture
farinam 2013 March 18

Hello muddypuddle,

Health food shops can be a source of rye flour if there are no baking specialty shops available.  Sometimes the supermarkets also carry rye flour.  However, home-ground rye should be fine.

The amount of rye can be almost anything you like - it is possible to make a starter from white flour alone.  However flours with a whole-meal component are better because of the presence of husks and germ that are more likely to carry the necessary yeasts etc.  A generally good blend is to use 20% rye but some use more (up to 100% rye).

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

ffoley 2013 March 21

I just started this week, not much action so far as the temperature in my part of the world is cold at the moment its around 10° in the daytime and close freezing at night. The starter is in my kitchen which is usually around 18° And I'm  hoping to see some movement by the weekend. I will keep you posted.

 

davo 2013 March 21

You might find a slightly warmer place than 18 deg C somewhere in your kitchen to speed things up. - eg in the microwave with the door cracked open (if this puts the light on, which warms it up to mid 20s when the kitchen is in the teens (in mine, anyway). Or on the back of the fridge, above where the waste heat rises. Or you could set up an incubator with a small low power light globe and cardboard box (making sure not to construct a fire hazard!). Or you could even put it in a box or insulated shopping bag with a warm water bottle - not a boiling one, and maybe wrapped ina towell to "even out" the heat.

There are a heap of ways to regulate temperature, when it's either too cold OR too warm.

But I'm not sure I'm that good for advice - last night after preparing 4 loaves in banettons ready for overnight retarding, I completely forgot to put them in the fridge, and the warm night took them way, way past ripe to almost soup...

ffoley 2013 March 22

I have moved the starter to the hot press (airing cupboard) I am seeing little bubbles on top of the mixture but no rising action yet. 

davo 2013 March 22

Well this might be because the bubbles are escaping. Some people seem to find that at 100% hydration (equal amounts of flour and water by weight), a lot of the bubbles escape out through the top, rather than raise the mix. If you think it is getting active, and want to see if it will rise, try adding a little less water next time, so it is more towards a wet dough/thick batter, rather than a thinnish batter. If it's making bubbles in the middle, they'll raise the mix and not escape so easily...

 

There's no particular magic with 100% versus 80%. I keep my starter around dough consistency - probably 75% (but I'll confess, I don't weigh it accurately) and it works fine for me. I do weight stuff when I add the small amount of starter to make up a levain and then a bread dough, but for keeping starter I don't consider it that important.

ffoley 2013 March 22

The mix spent a nice and cosy night in my hot press and this morning I could see a lot of action and small bubbles on the top third of my mix. I gave it a good stir emptied half of it and replaced it with half a cup of flour and one third of a cup of water.

This is a picture of my mix after around 2 days, I will put up a current picture later on today.

[url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/francis-foley/8575604082/] [img]http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8507/8575604082_6d99a2b116_c.jpg[/img] [/url]

 

[url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/francis-foley/8575604082/][img]http://farm9...
[url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/francis-foley/8575604082/]Sourdough Starter[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/francis-foley/]Francis Foley[/url], on Flickr

ffoley 2013 March 26

The starter really kicked off today. Added just over a cup of flour and 3 hours later it almost tripled in size.

 

 

[url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/francis-foley/8590718382/][img]http://farm9... has started[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/francis-foley/]Francis Foley[/url], on Flickr

I have made the dough, it's now in the fridge, tomorrow evening there will be bread. 

 

[url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/francis-foley/8590809006/][img]http://farm9... Sourdough Dough[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/francis-foley/]Francis Foley[/url], on Flickr
palmydays 2014 January 22

Hi,

 

I am trying to avaoid wheat & was wondering if it was possible to create a starter with just barley flour??

 

Regards,


Dave.

farinam's picture
farinam 2014 January 22

Hi Dave,

Not a lot to lose other than time.  The suggestion to start off with a wheat/rye one was that it is a reliable well known method of establishing a culture and after a few rounds of feeding/discarding after starting the barley flour feeding, there would be no significant amount wheat flour left and any that was there would be further diluted in the bread dough.

By all means give starting from scratch with barley a go and let us know how it goes.

Farinam

Xigoong 2014 March 16
HiThanks so much for your tutorial! I made my starter out of flour which has protein ratio 13% or above, not sure if it is organic. I made it around 3pm day 1. Day 2 8am, i saw a lot of bubbles and the thick paste of the previous day became loose. Then, i decided not waiting for 24 hrs as instructed but feed the starter right away. 3pm same day, the new paste became loose again, with lots of bubble. The smell is a bit winery, i can feel the gas. I hope my starter does not go wrong although the time is too short for 3 feeds in about 24 hrs. I live in Ho Chi Minh city and the temp now is about 35°C during daytime. 

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