How to produce less sour sourdough bread?


 I grew up with mainly whole rye sourdough bread in Austria and appreciate these flavors. However, 30 years later, I am trying to bake sourdough bread in Canada for myself and my Canadian partner. He is used to grinding flour at home and making whole wheat bread with baker's yeast, beautiful looking and nice tasting bread, but wheat does not agree with him, and I believe that sourdough bread is healthier than bread made with baker's yeast.

My recent attempts at baking sourdough bread with my home produced rye starter, and home milled flour (50 % rye and 50% spelt) produced rather strong  sour tasting bread. A lot of people seem to be after this strong flavor,  I can be O.K. with it,  but his taste buds are rebelling ( he eats it either with lots of honey on the bread, or not at all), and frankly,  I can happily live with less sour. So, the big question is , how do I go about it?

Don't know if it is the starter's fault. I had experiemented with one last year that eventually died, I think I had not given it enough time to devellop fully. This year I spent three weeks babying and feeding the starter, and believe me , after another three weeks of baking, this starter is strong! 

I have read that proofing at lower temps produces more sour bread, so I am proofing around 85 - 90 F in the oven with the light on , yet, the bread is quite sour! 

Any help will be appreciated. 

288 users have voted.


rossnroller 2011 April 5

You might try adding some quality white baker's flour to your dough mix, Doris. I think you might find that diminishes the sourness you're getting from a 50/50 mix of spelt and rye.

I'm no fan of very sour SD - a sour tang is fine, but not so much that the sourness starts to dominate the other, more subtle flavour notes that combine to produce the sort of depth and complexity I like in a SD. Therefore, I favour recipes and processes that give me the flavour profile I'm after. I imagine any of the recipes I use would fit your current brief, and I think this is probably true of most of the recipes posted on this site.

Why not try any of Shiao-Ping's recipes you like the look of, or Karniecoops' great-lookin' breads, or Johnny's, or this one that is a favourite of mine. There's also the very popular and ever-reliable Norwich Rye. And any number of other fabbo recipes you'll find here. The bakers I mentioned above were simply a few of the regular posters here that sprang immediately to mind whose recipes I have found consistently excellent.


Good luck with your search and best of baking! Let us know how you get on.

panfresca 2011 April 5

 Hi Doris

This is something I'm gradually coming to terms with too. 

It's interesting that in another currently running thread, the way to achieve the very sour San Francisco style is said to be by fermenting your starter at a relatively high temperature, similar to what you're doing!

Other than temperature, you don't give much detail on times, hydration etc for your starter, but fortunately there is a lot of really good information on this site if you go digging. Hydration plays a big part, and a shorter ferment should lower the acidity too - the longer the ferment, the lower the pH. Here's a good starting point for you, a comment from Danubian:

andrewd 2011 April 6

Try increasing your starter hydration, as per the comment that Kymh linked to.

My starter is rye at 200% hydration. I've been playing around with different flours using the following formula:


Flour - 100%

Starter (rye, 200% hydration) - 50%

Water - 42%

Salt - 2%


I have read that proofing at lower temps produces more sour bread, so I am proofing around 85 - 90 F in the oven with the light on , yet, the bread is quite sour!

Proofing at lower temps means you need to proof for longer so more sourness develops.

If you proof at higher temps for a shorter period, you get less sourness. That's my guess anyway. I suppose it's similar to the difference between sourdough and commercial yeast. Sourdough takes longer and develops more flavour. Commercial yeast acts quickly but the bread doesn't develop nearly as much flavour.



dorisw 2011 April 7

thank you all for taking time to come up with suggestions! 

At this point I don't want to resort to brewer's yeast or white bread flour. As I mentioned, my fiance knows how to bake fluffy and tasty whole wheat bread with baker's yeast, it's just not agreeing  with him.  I realize that I am facing a challenge, but I want to persevere and learn how to combine the health benefits of a natural fermentation process while using home ground flour ( rye, spelt, and / or kamut, but no wheat), a bread that has maximum health benefits for us, is tasty, and only moderately sour.

First, I will start with increasing hydration. So far, when refreshing my starter, I have used equal parts in weight for sourdough starter, flour, and water. I will increase my starter hydration, plus use more water for the dough as well.  And instead of using 50 % spelt and  50 % rye flour, I will perhaps use 60 % spelt, and 40 % rye.  


Here is the recipe I was following, using home milled flour: 300 g  spelt flour, 300 g  rye flour, 400 - 500 ml water, 3 TBS sourdough starter. 8 h proofing ( until it doubles) in oven with light on. 

Then knead in 150 g  spelt flour , 150 g  rye flour, 1 TBS salt, 1 TBS caraway seeds, fennel, anise, coriander. Let rest for 2,5 h, then bake.  


I may also break up the 8h proofing period into two stages, adding half of the flour in each. 

rossnroller 2011 April 6

I doubt many of us have much experience with the bread you're in quest of, or with the techniques that might deliver the loaf you and your husband are after. Good on you for pressing on without compromise, and hope you are able to glean enough from the information on this site and elsewhere to achieve your objective. I have a feeling you will be dispensing advice, rather than seeking it, once you have gotten there!

I've had caraway in bread - think it's fairly commonly included in some breads in Germany and Austria? - but not the combination in your formula (except in stollen, maybe). Sounds intriguing. Wish you could email a sample once you've gotten your bread how you want it. Matter transfer app urgently required!

All the best!

dorisw 2011 April 7

 Ross, I got the formula from a German site because I am dying  to reproduce similar bread that I had in Austria and Germany and came to love. In these regions the inclusion of one or more seeds ( flax seed, pumpkin seed) and spices, whole or ground,  according to one's preference  is quite common, mostly with whole rye or mixed rye breads, usually worked into the dough, but can be put on the outside.  I grind mine in a little antique mortar ( inherited from my Austrian grandparents ), but some people just grind it together with the grains. You can do a google search for  Brotgewürz (breadspice). One can even buy ready made  Brotgewürz, usually caraway, fennel, anise, and coriander. 

Problem is, baking bread is in my genes, and my taste buds remember the flavor, I just never got into it until recently. My grandparents and later my parents had a commercial flower mill, and also a huge stone oven for bread baking which had to be heated with charcoal! No electricity!  I remember my mother baking up to 24 whole rye loaves one day a week for our family, emloyees and visitors;  this for roughly 25 years.  Her rye sourdough bread was famous in the neighborhood. I never learned a thing about baking because I was just a kid then...and now its too late to ask my mother. ... she did warn me...

TedinOz 2011 April 6

 I picked up a good tip on this subject from the book Tartine Bakery by Chad Robertson in the US. His approach is to give more frequent feeds to his starter with a seed from the previous batch perhaps two to three hours apart before finally using a new seed from the final feed to make the exact amount of leaven required for your bread mix (allowing of course for a new seed to be left over for the next starter). Do this a maximum of 12 hours before mixing your bread dough so as to keep the leaven younger and fresher and avoid the developing acids of a longer ferment. You will only need a minute amount of seed for each feeding, including the final one.


I have tried this several times with great success as it produces an active leaven for the bread dough mix but because the ferment times have been shortened by the refreshment of new flours more frequently, the final leaven is younger and less sour. Although I have to admit I was working with wheat flours at the time.


Might be worth a try in your case even though a reduced % of rye in your mix will also help, maybe 30% and the rest Spelt. I actually have used as low as as 20% rye to 80% Spelt, added 3% honey along with sprouted rye seed to make an excellent Pumpernickel style which was almost sweet so I can see no reason why the same approach wouldn't work without the seed if you prefer.

Good luck with your experiments :)



dorisw 2011 April 7

 Yes, thanks for the info. I can see that I have to do more stages, something I was trying to avoid  ( less babying), but, it may be necessary in order to get what I want...

rossnroller 2011 April 7

...and I imagine Austrian is similar. I mentioned recently in another thread that I 'discovered' quality bread (especially SD) during the best part of a year living in Germany in the 80s. Probably had bread with Brotgewürz during this period, but without knowing of its composition.

Your mother's rye SD sounds amazing. And like you, I discovered an interest in an area in which one of my parents had excelled (vege gardening) too late to ask for the secrets. Never have come close to producing the magnificent backyard tomatoes we ate like fruit during childhood. The quest goes a feeling you're on your way to that loaf you're seeking.

TedinOz, would you mind clarifying something, please? When you say Robertson feeds his starter with a seed from the previous starter 2-3 hours apart, do you mean that every 2-3 hours he discards the starter, retaining a small amount as the 'seed' for the next build (and adding flour and water to that seed)? If so, I assume he makes a fairly small amount of starter each time, until the final build when he makes enough for his bread dough? Or am I misunderstanding you?

Gerard Rubaud's bread is one of my all-time favourites, and also incorporates a series of builds to ensure the final starter is fresh and optimally ripe - but without the frequency of feeding that Robertson favours. I've seen a lot of posts on other forums featuring the Tartine bread, but haven't come across the feeding recommendations you've mentioned. Don't mean to hijack Doris's thread, but if you could just provide clarification as per my previous para, would be appreciated. I'll probably eventually cave in and buy Robertson's book myself, but I'm trying to resist adding yet another to my more than ample collection of bread books.


3petitspains 2011 April 7

hi Doris


i agree with the main advice given already - a younger and/or wetter starter should reduce the acidity i also think that the quality of the starter will play a part - i find that when I occasionally have virtually no starter left at the end of making my doughs (having not made quite enough) and therefore am making the next starter with a minuscule amount of old starter (literally what I haven't managed to scrape from the bottom of the bowl), that the subsequent batches of starter have added zing - for want of a technical term - this seems to tie in with what Ted said about the starter being young or having been created from a very small amount of old starter


8 hours proofing (whatever that means - I am going to post a question about terminology on a separate thread...) seems like a lot, your initial dough (nearly a polish - but a bit dry) will already be quite acid - even though you are then 'feeding it' more flour my breads, from initial mixing to going into the oven, have only 6 to 7 hours (mainly depending on the time of year/temperature)


sorry to sound negative but your final dough sounds like it would be rather too dry - 900 gms flour for only 500 water - unless I have misread your recipe - and this will increase the likelihood of higher acidity i find that rye flour needs even more water than other flours (though saying that, my Big Spelt flour needs a lot less - but this will depend on the specific flour you are using) - rye dough is very sticky and therefore difficult to work the wetter it is - but it needs to be wet otherwise the bread will be brick-like and dry very quickly! Pure Rye can seem like it is not fully cooked - especially straight from the oven - but if you leave it a day or two (or more even) the taste and texture are amazing...


personally, I am not big on recipes/specific quantities - i add water until I have the right consistency - or as is sometimes the case, add more flour if I have been over confident when adding the water ;-) though, saying that, i do know roughly how much water I should be adding for the amount of flour I have


my rough guidelines: nut and raisin bread almost 100% hydration, breads with seeds 70-75% hyd (though less for sesame - due to the oil that it releases and more with linseed - due to the 'glue' that it releases), plain bread (type 65/80) 65% hyd, wholemeal/wheat (type 110) 70%, extra wholemeal (intégrale / type 150) 75%, half white / half rye 70% hyd, pure rye 70-75% hyd. % Hydration = quantity of water in relation to flour (excluding other dry ingredients)

(i am in France - and do not know how to refer to the different flour types in English - again this is something that I hope people can help me with on my other - soon to be posted - topic thread...)


anyway, good luck getting the taste you are looking for - i make a bread which has caraway seeds and use half white and half rye flour (this seems to be a Russian style Rye bread - as there is a recipe in _Bread Matters_ that is very similar...)

ben (from Trois Petits Pains... [



dorisw 2011 April 8

Ben, I just looked at your blog, you produce over 20 different kinds of bread, Wow! And all in a wood oven ( similar to what my mother used way back when...). If I ever get to France, I'll remember where to get authentic bread!

 I like your idea of spending only 6 to 7 hours from initial mixing to going into the oven! The recipe I found on line takes waaaaay toooo long! I just have not yet managed to figure some things out. Either I have to start with a different recipe ( recipes are safe crutches for beginners!), or experiment and fine- tune until I have arrived at what suits me... my main problem was that most sourdough recipies I found either call for the inclusion of baker's yeast ( which I don't want), or for some white bread flour or whole wheat  flour ( which we don't want either). Pure sourdough recipies with rye and spelt, or rye and kamut, or just spelt or kamut, are rare. When you say, " i add water until I have the right consistency", yeah, that's someone speaking who knows what he is doing...

Thanks for sharing your guidlines, I copied them! 

3petitspains 2011 April 12



I think you mentioned that you were interested in using Kamut flour but hadn't found a recipe.

I really recommend that you give it a go! Kamut is amazing in terms of taste and keeps really well.

And as I think you are in Canada, it is local too. We hesitated about using it as it is not very environmentally friendly :-(

I use a pure Kamut starter - but this is for people who want to avoid wheat.

Kamut drinks a lot of water, but be careful to not make it too liquid as it will relax a lot once it is made.

At the moment (as it has suddenly got a lot hotter here) I am using about 10% starter (to weight of flour) and the water is about 28-30 degrees (centigrade!) - but this will simply effect how quickly the dough rises. I wouldn't suggest using too much starter though - as this may well result in a more sour taste ;-)

Anyway, let me (us) know how you get on...




p.s. thanks for your comments on our blog

p.p.s. i don't make all 20 types of bread each bake - 10 or 11 max









TedinOz 2011 April 7


'TedinOz, would you mind clarifying something, please? When you say Robertson feeds his starter with a seed from the previous starter 2-3 hours apart, do you mean that every 2-3 hours he discards the starter, retaining a small amount as the 'seed' for the next build (and adding flour and water to that seed)? If so, I assume he makes a fairly small amount of starter each time, until the final build when he makes enough for his bread dough? Or am I misunderstanding you?'

Yes you have read that correctly. I use 1 Tbs of active 'seed' from the overnight leaven, add 25g each of white and wholemeal flour and 50g water and remix, let stand for 2-3 hours until active again (time will depend on room temp. and could go longer). I then discard all but a Tbs and start again to repeat the process, giving it another 2-3 hours. From that I would take enough of that starter to equal 2.5% of the leaven weight I need for next day's I need 300g of leaven for my bread (I use in this case 30% of bread flour weight), I will use 7.5g (only) of the starter, then add 75g each of white and wholemeal plus 150g water, mix and ferment for 12 hours and then for the bread, add 270g of that to 900g white flour, plus 70% water, mix to dough, autolyase for 1/2 hour, mix again with 2% salt and develop slightly, give three turns and stretches at 1/2 hour intervals to fully develop before using.

Hope this is clear? Tartine Bakery is the book I read on loan from a friend. It's worth a read if you get the chance.

Sorry Doris :(  Hope this of interest to you also :)

All the best to everyone.

HVHB 2011 April 7

 I agree with the comments about fresh starter, and if mine gets a bit sour I give it a couple of refreshes close together.  I also agree that more rye in the starter gives a more sour starter.  Due to the price of rye flour, I use only a small amount in my starter, but I think it has a bit more complexity than when you leave the rye out all together.  Mind you, you can do it (leave the rye out) and just feed it on wheat.  I wouldn't recommend this for rye breads, however, as I believe the starter should best grow with (some of) the food it is destined to be fermenting.


On the other hand, I'm not so sure that a drier dough or starter give you a more sour finish, in fact I tend to find it's the other way.  I'm also not sure that I agree that a warmer fermentation gives a 


I find that: Over-proofed doughs are more sour.  Wetter doughs often turn out more sour.  Rye breads are more sour, especially all-rye - but they mellow after a few days and I've heard of recipes saying not to eat for 5 days...  

dorisw 2011 May 9

O.K. I decided not to use rye flour for now, and use the recipe at Has anyone tried it???  It calls for 50/50 kamut and spelt flour, and a shorter bulk fermentation period than I had done with my rye bread.   I was hoping this would  produce less sour bread.  Hopes got dashed!

 I converted my rye starter to an active spelt/ kamut starter that doubles in 6 - 8 hours.  With this recipe the dough rises somewhat but does not double in the bulk fermentation period suggested, but  my loaf rises enormously once in the oven, and cracks. I'd insert a picture, but this site has a  feature asking for an URL, don't know how to upload here.

The recipe recommended 67 % hydration, but I definitely  had to use more water, probably because I am using home milled flour. Still the first attempt was on the dry side, and the bread cracked badly in the oven, although I had  slashed it and used a water pan underneath the loaf to provide moisture. .

For my second attempt I divided the dough and made 2 loaves. They did not split open, but we felt they were a bit dense and rather small. So, for my third attempt, I tried to keep the dough more moist, but when it came to shaping it after the bulk fermentation, it had gotten too soft and moist. I could not work with it at all nor do any stretch and folds,  so I had to add more flour. Still, it was not possible to lift the dough, I sort of rolled  ( poured) all of it into one glass bread pan. I slashed the dough, but it was so soft, the spaces just filled in. Wish I could show you the outcome. A huge crater on the side.  But what I find amazing is that the exploding happens with too wet a dought, as well as with dryer dough??? And it is all still too sour for our liking. 

Should I be using less starter ?

Should I make a brand new starter?

Believe me, at this point I get quite frustrated when I see posts complaining that someone's sourdough bread is not sour enough!

When will this become fun?

LovingFood 2011 May 12

I'm following this thread with interest as I have just started my 3rd sourdough adventure, the two first failed (so sour I wasnt inspired to continue + like a brick), but I really really want to succeed.  I also don't want a too 'sour' sourdough and am looking for all the tips I can find.  I am doing the starter from the Bourke Street Bakery book and I've got a few more weeks before my starter is ready to use. 

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