New guy on tenterhooks with first starter

jas's picture

Really just posting to say Hi - I like the atmosphere on this site and wanted to say thanks to those who maintain/host the site and also thanks to the punters for the enthusiastic info.

I'm Melbourne-based, and have been baking each weekend for my family for a couple of years using instant yeast. I'm still very keen & regard sourdough as the next level in my baking odyssey - I'm hoping for big bubbles and better taste; nirvana for me would be producing something like Teresas' baguettes (

Anyway, on to business...

I'm 9 days into my first starter after following the recipe on Sourdom's beginners blog. My starter still does not expand, but I am going to hang in there with the daily feeding at 100g/100g in the hope that it will eventually come good. I am using Manildra strong white flour only, and it is cool here in Melbourne right now. I'm pretty sure that the starter is not contaminated - it has progressed from a strong fruity aroma to a feint fresh-paint smell, consistent with what I've read. There are always a few bubbles every day, and my jar was sterilised & has a couple of holes in the lid. I'm using tap water.

Because I see this as a long-term hobby, I don't want to be encumbered with undue fuss - that's why I'm stubbornly using tap water and white baker's flour at room temperature.

A word from the wise: Should I hang in there with this approach, or instead start to tweak some parameters such as temperature or feed period?

Cheers & thanks for any tips,


PS: I happily took delivery of my first lame today, and can't wait to do some slashing...

PPS: I may change my username to Jasour once I attain a black baking belt.

171 users have voted.


Maedi's picture
Maedi 2009 May 4

Hey Jas, thanks for saying hello. Maintaining this site can be a bit daunting at times, but it's worth it and I try my best! Let me know if you need help using the website.

Nice to meet you,

jas's picture
jas 2009 May 4

Hi Maedi - you're the "sensible teenager"!? Well, FWIW, I'm a professional software drone, and I think you've done a nice tidy job with this site, so forget about daunting - you're doing well. Looks like you're wrangling Drupal, yes? Hosting under linux, I hope. ;-)

Seriously though; maybe an acknowledgement in the footer about FOSS, Drupal, Creative commons or whatever would share the love.


jas's picture
jas 2009 May 5

Ten days in now, still not expanding. Smells OK, has small bubbles.

davo 2009 May 5


Tap water in Melbourne works fine.

I started my starter (bit over 12 months ago) using baker's white (Lauke wallaby, <$9.00 at coles or Safeway for 5 kg) plus wholemeal rye (which for instance is sold at the organic foods shop in Smith Street for about $12.00 for 3 kg).

Wholemeal flour - rye especially, but also whole wheat - seems to add a bit of spark to the process - whether that's because they have a higher amount of amylase enzyme I'm not sure... The other thing to give white flour a kick - and pretty much a must if you are going to bake predominantly or completely white sourdough, is to get some diastatic malt. It sounds like some weird chemical but really it's just sprouted barley that's dried and ground, then mixed in with a bit of baker's flour to make it measureable in the small quantities you want (it's esaier to measure 10 g of diluted malt for 1 kg of white flour; hard to measure 1 g accurately).

Amazingly I am almost certain you can't get it from a shop in Melbourne, but you can from Qld by post, which is what I do.

Get more than you think you need, so you don't waste on postage, and freeze some of it. A 200 g pack will do 20 kg of white flour - about 30 kg of bread.

Anyway, my point was that this malt (in tiny quantities) will also kick along your starter, as the enzymes in the malt turn damaged starch into maltose, the lactobacilli can then break down the maltose into monosaccharides, and the yeasts eat those. Brewing malt is not diastatic, apparently. When you are baking don't overdo the malt above the recommended rate as it will make your dough go too fast and you will lose gluten in your final bread, and it will go a bit crumbly - use as directed, and only for the white flour amount, when mixing white and wholemeal flours(either wheat or rye).

I baked at 7 day old starter and got a heavyish loaf, it got good after a few weeks, and has been since. Last batch had 10% ground/chopped chestnut, 5% wholemeal rye, 5% wholemeal wheat, and my daughter is demanding we get more chestnuts! Good luck.

musuron's picture
musuron 2009 May 5

Don´t mess with the temperature. You always want to start a starter in the conditions under which you will be using it regularly. For example, if you plan to use organic whole wheat flour in a cold climate, start it out that way. Natural selection will favor those microbes that thrive under those circumstances. So while you might speed things along if you start out with a mix of flours and increased temperature, you are only hurting yourself in the long run.

jas's picture
jas 2009 May 5

Howdy Davo,

Some great tips here - I had not heard diastatic malt, so you've taught me something. My yeast-based bread already rises too quickly for my liking, so I want to be careful. I'll research it some more.

The really salient points for me are that Melbourne tap water is fine, and that your brew took a few weeks to get going. (I also made a brick after 7 days - I did not bake it, but instead performed an autopsy on the dough after 24 hours, and it had one pathetic bubble in its midst.)

On that basis, I will stick to my guns, but might also start adding some wholemeal rye to the starter if it otherwise doesn't take off.

Thanks for these tips,


jas's picture
jas 2009 May 5

Cheers Musuron -

Your evolution/equilibrium observation makes good sense to me. I think my beasties are still fighting it out in there. Sounds like I should just sit tight.


davo 2009 May 5

Good idea to keep the temp range fairly tight, but just for optimum initial growth until it's a stable symbiosis. Once it's a stable culture, you will anyway be likely to store it at 4 degrees C for a week or more at a time before bringing it out to 20 deg to use, then back in the fridge for storage again till next you are a couple of days from baking. This doesn't seem to worry SD cultures too much, and I'm not aware that the culture changes greatly, in terms of selection.

jas's picture
jas 2009 May 8
Status report.

My starter is 13 days old today, and have been feeding it as described above every day at 100g/100g white bakers flour.  It still smells like wet paint, has small bubbles, but does not expand. 

[tears welling up, chin quivering]

I'm still confident that it hasn't been contaminated, because there are no streaks, and the smell is kind of medicinal; i.e. no foul aromas.

Unless anyone provides pearls of wisdom, I think I'll split the starter tonight, and start to run two cultures.  In the second one, I will gradually ramp up some rye flour to 25% as described in Sourdom's beginners guide.

I'm open to suggestions...
jas's picture
jas 2009 May 8
Here're a couple of photos, taken outside for the light.  When I say 'not expanding' I suppose I have not been very scientific in making this statment - I'm only describing what I see by eye; there is a chance that there is some change in volume, but it's a small-order effect.  I've been expecting more like an 100% increase after a feed, based on what I've seen other folk posting.


jas's picture
jas 2009 May 8
BTW, to rule out environmental factors & flour, I've been making instant-yeast-based white bread for years, with reasonable success for a home hack.  When I do that, I make a poolish that sits for 12 hours overnight, and expands dramatically.

Here's a page that I wrote for the local mother's group a few years back when I was getting started.  It shows the poolish:
jas's picture
jas 2009 May 8
I just re-read my old page - I've evolved since then, and would not mix or autolyse for as long these days.  Also getting better results with the proof, and use a banneton or couche to promote an upward rise.
jas's picture
jas 2009 May 9
For the first time (day 14), there is a noticable change in volume with my white starter.  I reckon it has expanded in size by 10%-20%.  Hopefully, this is the beginning!

I am running two cultures now, last night in the second culture, the feed was augmented with wholemeal rye (20% of the flour weight).  It did not expand, but I expected a change in ingredients to mess up any equilibrium.

I have also purchased a starter from Basic Ingredients Home Bread:

and will run this starter too, when it arrives.  I'll then report back here with my experiments.
jas's picture
jas 2009 May 10
So yesterday morning (day 14) I saw some movement as reported in the last post.  When I came home in the late afternoon, both the white and white/rye cultures had doubled in volume.  Amazing.  What surprises me is that it was not a gradual increase in expansion over succeeding days.  Instead, there was no visible increase in volume until day 14, when it suddenly expanded by 100% or more.

Today, both the white and white/rye cultures expanded in volume by perhaps a factor of 3.  This time, the rye/white did much better than the white.

Just for benefit of those who embark on the same journey: I did not change my technique.  I just discard nearly all of the starter every night, and add 100g white bakers flour and 100g water.  This is at room temperature with Melbourne tap water.  My vessel is an italian preserving jar (so that I could sterilise it) with a screw-on lid (so that it's tidy).  I drilled a couple of holes in the lid to let the beasties breathe.

Now that the starter is expanding well, I am only adding 50g/50g so that it doesn't overflow the jar.

I think I'll keep feeding it on a daily basis for another week or two, then start gaining experience with putting it in the fridge so that the maintenance is easier.

jas's picture
jas 2009 May 11
I baked my first sourdough loaves this morning.  They're very similar to the instant-yeast ones that I do, only there is more depth of flavour.  This is what I was hoping for - I was motivated to try sourdough to get better taste as described above.

Because the bulk ferment took most of yesterday, I shaped the dough at around 16:00 yesterday, and put them in the fridge at about 20:30.  I took them out at 04:00, and baked them at 08:00.  I used my white starter and did a first overnight 'build' with this starter to make a 100% hydration poolish that was 33% of the final dough weight.  The final dough was hydration was 70%.

These loaves were baked a metal couche that is for french sticks, I think.  I did it like this so that I did not have to handle the shaped dough before transfer to the oven.  I also made two more loaves in cheap bannetons, but I am generally having trouble with this technique because my dough sags when I remove it from the basket prior to baking.  I suspect that I chronically overproof my dough (would explain the dark colour, too, I guess).

jas's picture
jas 2009 May 11
Thanks for the encouragement Davo.

So now I want to get a better distribution of bubbles.   The base is too dense, probably because I don't proof with the seam upwards and flip when placed in the oven.   I might try with a firmer dough - maybe 65% hydration rather than 75% like this one, and maybe that will give me dough that won't flop when I get it out of the basket.

I'm also shooting for better taste - there was a little bit of sour flavour, but rather subtle.  I'm guessing that this is because my starter is only two weeks old.  I'll also try with the other starter that includes 25% rye to see whether/how this influences taste.

Will probably report back here, since this thread is becoming my diary!

jas's picture
jas 2009 May 12
Well, I s'pose it's a rite-of-passage that everyone probably does once or twice...

After much feeding, measuring, mixing, cleaning, dough was feeling kind of odd this morn after the first proof. 


FORGOT THE @#$% SALT!!    Bwhahahah.  [tears]. 

T'was a solemn walk to the bin...
jas's picture
jas 2009 May 12
In case anyone's interested, I reckon it's handy to knock up a little spreadsheet like this to calculate flour and water weights.

I'm currently running my starter at 140% because I find it easier to mix when it's wet.  I then enter in the yellow parameters, and the grey cells tell me how much flour/water to add.

The table at the bottom is based on my study of basic white sourdough recipes that I have found.  The common pattern so far is that the final hydration is often around 68%, and folk usually seem to use around 33% starter in the sponge, and around 35-40% sponge in the final dough. 

Weight calculator

Total weight (g) Flour (g) Water (g) Flour Ratio Water Ratio Bakers Ratio

Feed routine
50 70 0.42 0.58 140%

Starter 133 56 78

Adjustable parameters
Sponge ingredients
134 133

0.33 Starter in sponge
Final sponge 400 190 210 0.47 0.53 111%
111% Sponge bakers ratio
Dough ingredients
406 194

0.40 Sponge in dough
Final dough 1000 595 405 0.6 0.4 68%


Starter BR sponge BR Starter in sponge sponge in dough Final BR

JG090512 140% 111% 33% 40% 68%

David Lam 60% 60% 31% 41% 65%

Northwest 166% 166% 33% 35% 66%

Brett Noy 100% 100% 25% 25% 68%

Danubian's picture
Danubian 2009 May 13

[quote=jas]Well, I s'pose it's a rite-of-passage that everyone probably does once or twice...
After much feeding, measuring, mixing, cleaning, dough was feeling kind of odd this morn after the first proof. 


FORGOT THE @#$% SALT!!    Bwhahahah.  [tears]. 
T'was a solemn walk to the bin...


I'm not sure about a rite-of-passage but you certainly aren't the first nor will you be the last! Doesn't bread taste terrible without salt?! 

Millciti's picture
Millciti 2009 May 13
Saltless bread... by the way only tried it once, and decided that I would have paid the tax.  Something about the cheap Tuscans wouldn't pay the salt tax but made their bread without, and started a tradition.

Yes you are not alone ... :)  But your other bread looks great!   So I am sure you are already on your way to making some more - with salt of course!

davo 2009 May 13

Not only without salt, but just a bit too little. I once did some baking without a decent measure for salt (iv'e since figured on about 4 g for the size of heaped teaspoons I use) and obviously underdid it. It wasn't no salt, probably 1/2 or even 2/3 of my recipe, but the bread was very very bland!

I haven't forgotten the salt altogether yet, but have come close - I've certainly kneaded it in after I've though all my kneading was done, but that was early in the bulk ferment when it hadn't really started to rise, and I could afford to be fairly rough with the dough. SOunds like yours had done it's bulk ferment dash. Personally (if that's the juncture you were at) I reckon I might have just added a little more flour (say 20%) and water at a dough ratio (to give it a bit more food), and add the salt, re-knead it, ferment a little longer then shape and go for it. It might not have ended up ideal, but I bet it would have been edible... Or you could have rolled it out for pizza crusts to par-bake and whack in the freezer, or...

One thing, Jas, with your spreadsheet, I am a little loose with water and start with the amount in my recipe but often add a bit more based on how it is looking/feeling when I mix up, although perversely I find I need to do this (add more if I want to) before it's completely uniform, as water doesn't add into smooth mixed dough so easily (for me, anyway!). This was based on Boris' (Danubian's) advice that water %s can be variable depnding on humidity, nature of flour etc. And rye likes a bit more water. As well, I am fairly casual with my starter hydration as I do it on feel - I never weigh out feeds! It's probably around 80-85%, but that's a guess, certainly wetter than dough, but thicker than 100% by a fair bit...

I reckon on average I am closer to 70% than 66% in my bread dough, but that's a guess, based on typically adding a bit more water than my recipe says! My real measure is how the dough behaves when kneaded by "french fold". If it's a bit stiff it binds up and won't take more than a few folds, if it's soft enough for me, you can fold forever (although I don't!)



jas's picture
jas 2009 May 13
Yeah, I'll probably loosen up with the measuring & be happier to improvise when I develop some more experience and confidence, but for now, I'm keen on repeatability so that I can see the effect of tweaking the various parameters in isolation.  I'm still fascinated by how bread can be varied by fiddling the ratios, time, temperature, etc.  e.g. one thing I learnt recently was that starter hydration trades off between lactics and yeast.  

I'm keen to succeed with a wetter dough than 68%, but want to nail the banneton -> oven thing first.  I figure that I have more chance of avoiding "dough flop" if it's not too wet.  Hopefully, I am just a chronic over-proofer, and I just need to fix that.

davo 2009 May 14

What's happening with the banetton? One thing I do is liberally flour the banetton and also the shaped loaf before it goes into the banetton, and I must say it still takes a long time to drop out - for me.Hold it upside down over the peel and wait - mine often take 10-20 seconds to slowly loosen. You could no doubt get them dropping out quicker if they were far less proved, or really dry but you don't want them dry/unripe, or caked in 5 mm thick of flour. They will flatten out a bit once on the peel, while you slash and put quickly in oven, but if they really start to flatten out in those few seconds you know they are overproved. Just try get them to the oven with a little spring - on the finger-push test - still in them. If you shake/work the loaf out of the banetton or let it drop a distance onto the peel you will no doubt squash it. Just hold right down over the peel so it won't drop, and gravity will get it out, and get it slashed and in the oven quick.

I reckon some of the super long bulk ferment/prove times you read about might work with very low levain to final dough ratios, but if the ratio is highish like mine, you can't afford such a long time - excluding retard period - (which suits me) once the bread dough is mixed. On the other hand, a lot of the flavour in my bread will come from the long levain ferment, and that fridge retard.

jas's picture
jas 2009 May 14
Oh, it's just when I extract 'em from my el-cheapo baskets, they sag.  The come out easily enough, and I am quick to get them into the oven.  I actually turn the basket over on a silicon mat, and both the dough and mat get placed in the oven - it's pretty gentle.  I throw ice in the oven, and have a smeg (which is good at retaining the steam).  I think they're just over-proven.

I'm with you; i.e. I suspect the long times that I read about everywhere make me err on the side of over-proof.

For others: there are some good movies about how to extract the dough from baskets at the bottom of this page:

I trust Teresa because I covet her baguettes (link in my initial post above).  8-)


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