Starter help?


 So, basically, I have been following SourDom's starter recipe from the beginners blog for about 9 or 10 days now.  The trouble that I am having is that my starter appears to be stuck around day 5/6.  I keep feeding it and waiting, and it goes right back to the same progress after 24 hours.  It hasn't started to gain volume more than about 1/3, and the bubbles are the size of the circular bubbles in the Day 6 photo on the starter blog, though there are many more of them than there are in the picture.  There are no bubbles and no froth on the surface either.  

Of course, I am no expert, but my guess as to the issue here is the temperature.  It is not especially cold here, but it is getting colder daily.  The temperature this past week that my starter has been working with has been between 10-15C, averaging about 12C and a typical daily high of 13C or 14C.  I know that this temperature should be just fine for the yeast to live in, though I wonder if it is just slowing down the process somewhat.  

Should I wait longer than 24 hours between feedings in hopes that the bubbles will grow and the volume increase, or should I just keep plugging along as I have been? Would it possibly help to throw out less starter before feeding, so the colony population is higher and will eat through the food quicker?

Hurry, please, I am SO EXCITED for sourdough!!!  ...I've even got a name picked out for my starter, and it's genius! :)

278 users have voted.


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 November 9

 Do you have a warm spot where you can store your starter?  I start mine on top of my upright freezer.  People have used a microwave with the door left open to keep the light on to warm up their starter.  What kind of flour are you feeding your starter?

Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 November 9

When I kicked my starter off I put "him" on top of the heated towel rail with a folded towel under his backside so he didn't get too warm.

I'm guessin you're not going to share your starter's name before you know he's alive are you?  Kinda like naming a baby before its born!  I originally called mine Fritz, but he's since morphed into 3 starters that I inventively call rye, liquid and stiff!  Looking forward to the birth notice Shane! :o)

shane.d.ulrich 2010 November 10

 Pretty much my entire apartment is that temperature, unless I feel like paying $150 a month to heat the place.  My starter (which will be a he), he is being stored in my kitchen's cabinet.  I've unplugged and removed my microwave from the kitchen (long roommate story... ugh).  I had considered leaving him in the oven on the lowest setting possible, but I am worried about possible temperature shock when I do finally take him out.  Is that a concern at all?

He is currently being fed 30% Organic Rye and 70% Unbleached White flour.  Water supply is bottled spring water (no chlorine) from my grocery store where you can fill up gallon bottles and bottles up to (I think) 10 gallons.

I was just wondering if it might just take a few extra hours over the 24 hours because the low temperature may be retarding the growth speed of the colony...

shane.d.ulrich 2010 November 10

 @ karniecoops

Exactly... I don't want to waste possibly the best starter name on a baby that may not be born! :p

When and if my bundle of joy comes to life for sure, I'll post a birth notice somewhere... maybe the starter section? hmm... we'll see.


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 November 10

 Shane some people just turn the light on in the oven to warm the oven up a bit to help the fermentation along.  I think your water and flours should be very good choices for feeding the starter.  The fact that it making some bubbles means there is some microbial activity in the starter.  You might try feeding it less often if you can't warm it up a bit.  You might look at my blog I just did on making my starter.  There might be something helpful there but I'm not sure.

shane.d.ulrich 2010 November 10

 My oven has no window, and therefore, no oven light. :(

 I am thinking about knitting or crocheting a sweater or cozy for my starter jar, since I can't seem to find a way to keep it warm :p  I didn't really feel comfortable leaving it to sit for longer than 24 hours, so this time I tossed less of the starter before feeding it.  I left probably twice as much as I normally would have (maybe a bit more - about 3/4 inch from the bottom, about a 3.5-4 inch diameter jar), in hopes that a larger initial colony will devour the new food a bit quicker.  Tonight, I think I will wrap a towel or sweater around the jar to see if that helps keep it warm until I can find something to keep it near  ***just thought of something! I could leave it closer to the water heater in the bedroom closet? I think it might be warmer above there***   what do you think, LD? Karniecoops?


breadlover 2010 November 10

Hi Shane,

I was confused for a minute there about whether you were leaving your housemate or your starter in the oven on the lowest setting :)

I am a beginner too - had my starter going since Feb this year - but from my limited experience I would suggest persisting with your current nameless one. Given your excitement (I get that!) for sourdough, perhaps you could try starting another one in the meantime (in case no.1 does in fact fail). I tried numerous different starters when I began (various combos of rye, white, wholemeal etc) but have had the best success (and best bread results) with my 100% organic wholemeal starter. I think my Rye flour was old and I didn't get good results. What brand of flour are you using? And is the white flour bread flour (rather than all-purpose)?

Also, I found that it took a good few weeks for my starter to get active enough to rise a loaf of bread properly (I was using it in dough before this stage though and had passable results) - and that was in the height of Australian summer and probably somewhere between 25-40 deg C (I am in Melbourne and the temp can vary A LOT and rapidly!). Putting yours next to the water heater sounds like a good plan. You could also perhaps wrap a hot water bottle around it (not too hot though) when it is first fed to get it going? I haven't done this, just a thought.

Mine never got frothy on top and I certainly wasn't getting a doubling in size early on. Now that it's more mature it doubles in size in 5-8 hours after feeding. So, keep going, it might get there eventually!

Let us know how it goes with throwing out less before feeding. I have found that I get more activity when I throw out more (i.e. when my proportion of starter to flour and water is lower), but that is with a mature starter.

Good luck, the wealth of knowledge on this site will surely get you there in the end.


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 November 11

 Shane putting the starter next to the hot water heater sounds like a really good idea.  I would even take my hand and run it all over the hot water heater to see if I could find a warm spot.  Then I would set the starter on the warm spot.  If you think that setting it on the heater would make it to hot them maybe placing it on something like a cooling rack that you would cool your bread on would do the trick.  You will need to watch your starter if you do this as the microbes will become more active and need to be fed more often.

One more thing that I don't think any of us have asked you.  How does it smell?  Note the differences of the smell right before you feed it and right after you feed it.

shane.d.ulrich 2010 November 11


Believe me, if it was my housemate that was to be in the oven, I would most definitely leave it on BROIL (not even a second thought :p). 

My starter hasn't yet reached the 24 hour mark for this feeding, but it has grown more, I think, since throwing less out. My jar is about 7 inches tall.  Usually, I would throw away all but enough to cover the bottom of the jar when feeding. Yesterday, I left about 3/4 inch on the bottom when I fed him.  Usually, throwing out more, the resulting feed will total a little over a 1/3 of the jar, and it will grow in volume about 1/3 of that.  This morning, it seems to have grown from a little under half of the jar to a little over 2/3 of the jar! :)  Still no froth on top, and the bubbles seem smaller than before, but there are many more than there were before yesterdays feeding. (I totally spaced and forgot to put him above the water heater though, so that variable is not present).


If you have not seen my previous posts on starter attempts (which I posted in the starters forum section), I originally made a cheater starter with a small amount of commercial yeast (which didn't seem to provide any different rise or taste than using commercial yeast in a loaf of bread. I was very disappointed, but I kept it for a while to see if the flavor would develop more. It didn't. It's fate was to attract fruit flies and they were crawling on the surface, so I definitely tossed it and stopped poking holes in the jar's covering on the true starter that I kept going).  At the same time, I had a true starter going, it was just unbleached white flour and was before I had a scale, so it was made equal parts by volume.  It was very watery and developed funny layers and smelled like acetone to me, even though my girlfriend said she thought it just smelled sour like SD (I wasn't convinced). I tossed that one and started again with an all white starter after I got my scale.  It didn't develop the weird layers, but it still got to smelling acetone-y, so I tossed it and gave up until I bought some rye flour. This is when I made my current starter project, and it's been going just fine.  The smell is COMPLETELY different. It smells very yeasty and slightly sour towards the end of the feed cycle, and just a bit yeasty immediately after feeding.  I should note here that the yeast smell is NOT that of commercial yeast.  It is much more pleasant (I actually hate the smell of commercial yeast, it makes me gag, almost), it is more of a full-bodied and complex smell and does not have any indication of smelling "off". The smell of the starter is very consistent; never once have I opened the jar and found anything other than what it smelled like before, with the exception of it becoming stronger as it progresses from stage to stage.


My starter is going on the water heater now, wrapped in something warm until I crochet up that cozy or something... I will probably be feeding him this evening.

Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 November 11

It does delicious Shane.  i was also going to suggest sitting it on a hot water bottle (with a towel or something under it's bottom so it doesn't get toooo warm), but the hot water cupboard idea is even better - more even temp without cooling off.

When a white starter runs out of food, it does produce a "watery" layer of "hooch" (and it is indeed hooch), mine does this after storing in the fridge for a week, I just mix it in and fed before making a loaf.

Sounds like it's going well, perservere with the "warm spot" thing - you could always tuck it up in bed with you! ;o)

shane.d.ulrich 2010 November 11

 The layer of hooch was a clear yellow color and when it developed, that's when it started smelling like acetone.  Also, it wasn't a layer on top like most people have described, it was a layer in the middle.  The top layer was bubbly starter, then hooch (I assume) in the middle, and a layer of completely inactive starter on the bottom (this was by far the largest layer).  I think the watery consistency made the layers appear in a strange order, but I'm not certain.  All I know is that I am glad to have a scale and be working with mass instead of volume :p  

I would love to tuck my pet in with me at night, but I already have a cat, dog, and a girlfriend to share the bed with, plus, there's a chance my poor starter could get messy all over the place! =o

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 November 11

 Shane I did see your post but I was busy making wine and other people were helping you.  The smells of your current starter sound very good.  The acetone smell is from the starter not being fed often enough.  You could have increased your feedings and the acetone smell should have gone away.

shane.d.ulrich 2010 November 14

 LD, I was also using warm tap water then, and I just didn't trust that there wasn't something in there that I didn't want in there. 

Alas! Good news and much rejoicing! =D  My starter just LOVES hanging out above the water heater... What I did was put a small dinner plate upside down over the warmest spot on the WH to create a chamber of warmth and a warming stone kind of effect.  My starter lives bundled up in a small beanie-type winter hat on top of that plate, and Voila! - He doubles in about 11-14 hours and peaks at just under triple volume in a total of 15-17 hours! This happened the very first night and has continued every night (three times in a row it has had this much activity). I drove up to the vet to have our dog neutered yesterday, so I didn't get back until five or six hours after peak, but he responded just fine to last night's feeding, and he was just fed again about 45 minutes ago. Should a starter be fed when it has doubled, or when it has peaked? *if it peaks beyond double volume*

My current wondering is if he is ready to bake with yet... He rises and peaks relatively quickly, but he doesn't have as large of bubbles as the finished starter in the beginner's blog.  Is it typical of every starter to have bubbles that large when they are ready to bake with, or is every one different? The bubbles in my starter are about the size of the circular bubble in the center in the day six picture:


However... there are TONS of bubbles that are that size, as many if not more than the total number of bubbles in the final starter picture in the blog.  The smell has only grown in strength (and pleasantness) since it has been doubling every night, and I am so excited to make some delicious bread!

So, do we think he is ready to claim a name and make some bread, or is it worth waiting a few days to see if there is more development?

Another question... After reading several descriptions of SD bread, I have become aware of the fact that the name sourdough is somewhat of a misnomer.  What is done differently to make SOUR sourdough bread as opposed to just using the starter for wild yeast to rise the dough? Does one add a larger amount of starter when making the dough, or is it a difference in the bulk fermentation times? Both? Something entirely different?

Thanks a ton!


LD - I noticed when looking at your profile that you were a wine chemist and thought that was pretty awesome.  Is winemaking your actual job or just another hobby/addiction?  I love wine, though I can't say that I am anything of a connoisseur - I feel no shame in admitting that I don't have the money to buy the good stuff :p  Anyway, I thought I might ask what your favorite wine is.  I am of limited experience, and of course with limited fundage, but I have found my favorite so far is a White Merlot of which I completely forget where and by whom it was made.  Sadly, I had a bad experience with real white wines and haven't dared try them again after getting very sick one night (it was the fault of the food, not the wine... I can't eat lasagne anymore either. Sad days.)

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 November 14

You neutered your dog?  And you expect me to ever help you again?  Just had to say that because of my nick name.  

I think you for sure have a starter so next up is to make some bread with the starter to see what happens.  If you haven't made bread before I suggest a flat bread since you don't have to worry about getting the shape right.  You will be able to tell if the starter did its job when you tear into a flat bread you will see holes in the crumb.  The other nice thing about flat breads is they have a very large area of caramelized crust to eat.  I have never named a starter but if the first bread turns out ok then I would think that is when to name it.

The starter has the most yeast and bacteria just after it peaks.  Try to pick a feeding that fits into your daily routine that way your life will not be controlled by having to feed the starter when you want to be doing something else.  Starters are best if they are feed the same way day after day.  I reduced the hydration of my starter to 66% to 75% and feed it once a day after the evening meal.  I keep 2 to 3 grams of starter from the previous starter and feed it 12 grams of flour and 8 to 9 grams of water.  I don't waste a lot of flour this way.  I have been doing single builds from this starter to use in my bread with 2 to 3 grams of the starter with the water and flour for the build.  This is new for me so I'm still seeing if it is going to work for me.

Sour sourdough has a very long thread here on the board and should be a recent topic.  Almost everything I know about how to make a sour sourdough is in that thread.  It is a complex subject one that I don't have a definitive answer to.  If you want a mild sourdough bread just store your starter in the fridge it is said to make the starter a mild sour producer.

Wine Chemist my full time job.  I have six acres of grapes planted and might start my own winery.  The most important thing about wine is drink the wine you like, there is nothing wrong with that.  My all time favorite wine was a 1979 Monterey Vineyard Late Harvest Pinot Noir.  I'm sure it is all long gone.  Here are a couple more of my favorites Beringer Nightingale and Meridian Late Harvest Riesling.  I work for the company that makes both of them just for the record.  We also make a White Merlot just look for it under the Beringer label.  The Beringer White Zinfandel is a similar wine and should be a lot easier to find.  Now if you want my next favorite wine it is the wine I make from my grapes.


shane.d.ulrich 2010 November 14

 I didn't neuter my dog... the vet did!  Technically, it's really my girlfriend's dog.  He is just the best little Australian Shepherd you could ever ask for.  He's about 9.5 months right now.  Neither of us wanted him to be clipped, but my girlfriend's mother paid for the puppy care package and demanded that he either be neutered or we pay her back the monetary amount that the neutering made up for in the package, which was a good couple hundred $$$ :(  Sigh... we miss his manhood ='(

Alright, well, I believe my starter will be peaking tomorrow between 6 and 8 AM. Awesome--I can mix up some dough and perhaps it will be ready by dinnertime! (later dinnertime :p)

I have made bread before, both yeasted and SD (well, with that cheater starter, if that even counts).  I have baked 1 sandwich bread loaf, 4 french loaves, and several french bread rolls with comm. yeast dough, and I have baked 2 batards with the cheater starter, following sourdom's ciabatta a'lancienne recipe (, the first of which turned out amazing, though due to our friend having her baby on the same day, I had to transport my dough with us to my girlfriend's mother's house while we went to visit (something always seems to come up :p).  The dough rested a good 3 hours longer than the recipe mentions, but it didn't overproof--it had some amazing oven spring and turned out just about perfect!  It was much more stable than I expected it to be, so I just shaped it into a batard instead of making ciabatta rolls.  The second one was an attempt at making a pumpkin and chocolate bread, and it didn't work quite so well.  I forgot about the water content of the steamed pumpkin (oops!), so it was dense, heavy, and nearly burnt the crust before the middle even had a chance to fully bake. Sigh.

So... at the advice of LeadDog, a flat bread it is! =D In fact, I think I will go for a Foccacia.  That's pretty flat-lookin' to me!  I'm going to look up a few recipes and combine some elements from each, most likely.  I'll have to remember to take pictures so that I can post them up on here for all to see!  The debut unveiling of my starter (bout time!)


p.s.? - As for the wine... I might just go try to find that label tonight! :)  What work do you do for those labels, and how much of your work is in the typical bottle of those labels?

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 November 15

 Foccacia is a great flat bread.  I think all will go great for you in this bake with your new starter.

I work for Meridian Vineyards so it depends on where the wine is made.  The Nightingale is made 100% at Beringer.  The Beringger White Merlot I think is all made at our winery.  The White Zinfandel is made at many different wineries but I believe that we make over 50% of it.  The Meridian Late Harvest Riesling is one of our reserve wines and we make only a limited amount of it.  So the amount of work that I do for each of those labels depends on how much of it is made at our winery.  I do take special interest in the Riesling since I have a special like for it.  The wines made at our winery are tested by the lab for 15 or 20 different things.

shane.d.ulrich 2010 November 15

 Albeit an interesting baking schedule, all seems to be working out fine.  I didn't get to stick to the recipe's exact timing directions, but it will still work :p  

I've got Dom's Focaccia in the works with some minor tweaks (no malt, about 7 grams less starter due to not having quite enough, I added some honey before the bulk fermentation for the yeasties to eat on).  I started the second I woke up after having about 7 half-waking dreams of checking my starter and it being way beyond peak.  It was a strange morning.  It was probably only an hour after peak when I finally woke up.  I went instantly to the kitchen and started mixing the starter, water, and flour to autolyse and realized that I didn't have any olive oil! =o  So, I went to the store and found a really tasty sounding oil (California Arbequina Varietal). The dough had about 2.5 hours time to hang out before I got home with the oil (it takes a while to get two people and a dog out of bed and ready to go to the store).  I added the oil as soon as I got home and let the dough sit for a half hour, then added the honey and salt just before the bulk fermentation.  It got two folds over two hours of bulk and then was stretched carefully into "somewhat circles" and has another 30 out of 60 minutes of final rising before baking. I've had onions and bacon with pepper and balsalmic vinegar roasting in the oven at 275F for the last half hour.  The focaccia will be topped with the onions and bacon and some rosemary as well.  I picked up a bottle of that Beringer White Merlot wine too, to enjoy with my first ever real sourdough bake!  Thanks again for all the advice; should all go well, you may expect a post of my focaccia in the next few days, with pictures and everything! :)


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