Sourdough Diary - Beginners please ask questions here

Graham's picture

Please feel free to ask questions or talk about your experiences making your first sourdough.

408 users have voted.


Graham's picture
Graham 2006 April 30

Last time it was Jeremy with botrytis (noble rot) and now you have given me "ketones" to look up:


My interpretation of the above info is that ketones appear in humans when there are no carbohydrates to feed on, so the metabolism starts feeding off the fat. Now I know you are just having fun and it may or may not apply to leaven, but there are parallels in just about everything. We just need the right head to figure at a viable relationship.

Sounds like your husband is on the way to doing just that. We can make up a new forum for him to work it all out if you like. It could be fun watching him go crazy.


Graham's picture
Graham 2006 April 30

After coming back from a jog re-reading your last post I realise hubby was probably serious about the ketones in leaven. Science degree urgently required .

SourYumMum's picture
SourYumMum 2006 April 30

Graham, Pete (hubby) loves science and loves to explain what, why and how just about everything is happening! Even YOU mentioned 'keto-acids'!

This morning I asked for an explanation of why the toothpaste I buy for the kids seemed to me to have more flouride in it than the adult toothpaste does (which I thought was a wise thing to do before I fired off a cranky salvo to the toothpaste manufacturer). Turns out there are two different types of flouride (in toothpaste) and the kids' toothpaste contains flouride that instead of having a single particle of flouride and a single particle of something else, contains 1 x flouride particle and a few other things that effectively 'dilute' it.


Sometimes I just shouldn't ask questions.

When I mentioned your offer of a forum, he said, "But I'm a lousy at chemistry!" and ran away.

I have since tended my wildeyeests with lots of water and flour and thrown out the bulk of their extended families.


PS. It is pouring outside ... one of the best sounds in the world!

Graham's picture
Graham 2006 April 30

Even YOU mentioned 'keto-acids'!

So the lactic and acetic acids I have been talking about for 12 years are keto-acids? Interesting. It makes me realise why I have been so tolerant of chembake (hi chembake)...because that type of in-depth technical knowledge is so valuable when it comes to problem solving. Incidently, chembake has posted some fantastic replies to technical questions recently.

When I mentioned your offer of a forum, he said, "But I'm a lousy at chemistry!" and ran away.

yeah..doesn't it make you sick when naturally talented people profess to being untalented? But seriously, thanks hubby because I think the point should be that you could have solved the riddle of the acetone smell. Is that what ketones smell like? We definately need to look into this further.

Wish it would pour down here. It is spinkling at the moment in Mapleton.

SourDom 2006 April 30


my organic chemistry is a bit rusty (attempted to sleep through most of it), but I don't think that lactic acid or acetic acid are 'keto-acids'

lactic acid and acetic acid are very familiar compounds. Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its characteristic acidity. Lactic acid is the souring component of yoghurt (and one of those in sourdough!). [It is also accumulates when we execise anaerobically - giving rise ot aching muscles].

'Acetone' is a ketone (which just describes a characteristic chemical bond in its make-up), that I think can be derived from acetic acid by oxidation. I am not sure whether the paint-stripper smell is acetone, but I don't think that there would normally be much acetone in a healthy starter (I don't konw that for sure).

Keto-acids are compounds with a ketone and acid component. IN the human body they are a breakdown product of metabolism of fatty acids (metabolised in diabetics because of a critical failure of sugar metabolism). I don't think that fatty acids have much to do with sourdough though.


amcleavy 2013 March 20

Hi, I have started 3 starters for the first time following instructiosn in the below link. I have a Barley Flour Starter a Rye Starter and a Wholement Spelt Starter. My spelt starter appears as if nothing much is happening and it is day 6.  On the first day it was pretty hot and I got alot of bubbles in it - but now it just gets watery with no bubbles.

Any ideas?



farinam's picture
farinam 2013 March 20

Hello Alison,

I assume that, as they did not rate a mention, the other two are going OK.  In that case the fact that the spelt, which has, presumably, been getting the same treatment in terms of temperature and feeding, is not working as well is a bit odd.

A few options.  One is to keep going as is for a few more days to see what happens.

The second is to inoculate your spelt starter with some of your active starters and keep feeding with the spelt.  Or, produce a duplicate of one of your others and then progressively increase the proportion of spelt in the feed over a number of days until it becomes all spelt.

The third is to start from scratch and try again (but probably only after trying the first two options).

Good luck with your projects.


tinkodaat 2013 March 24

Hi.  I am a  home baker now working part time. I started up a sourdough culture and am somewhat successful so far. Then I stumbled upon this site. There is so much to learn!  The lingo is hard to understand though.  What is hydration, and is there a glossary of terms?  Thanks. 

Brew Cat's picture
Brew Cat 2013 March 26

I have had my starter going for a few weeks now and have been pleased with my results until today, when my bagels failed miserably.  I would be cited by the ASPCA and allied groups for cruelty to ducks, if I lobbed them in their general direction.  I think my starter had peaked too far before its use and consequently I produced unleavened bagelettes:-(

I am now resusitating my starter and wondered about cleaning of the container.  I have been careful to keep foreign agents away from it, but the container does show that it has been used constantly for some time.  What do you recommend, please?  Should I alternate containers so that I can keep it a bit cleaner?


davo 2013 March 26

You could just take it out into a clean bowl, clean the container and put it back in. But I never bother. Lots of stuff up around the top which I scrape in periodically. Never had an "invasion" of mould or anything, and there have been plenty of dodgy microbiological experiments going on in the fridge where it mostly lives, so I think it's pretty resilient...

Brew Cat's picture
Brew Cat 2013 March 26

Thanks Davo; I know what you mean about "shelf life"!  As soon as I can find a suitable Pyrex jar that can survive boiling water, I'll give it a go.

amcleavy 2013 March 29

hello,  i have a mother culture that i have been getting ready for the last two weeks. i am about to put it in the fridge.  i understand that i can keep using small amonts to make my levain, but when my mother starter gets low do i need to take out of the fridge to feed and and rise, or can i feed then put back in the fridge.  Do i also need to remove some of the moher strater before feeding?

thanks ali

farinam's picture
farinam 2013 March 29

Hello Ali,

One option is to replace as you use.  This is the method that I use.  I keep a base stock of a couple hundred grams of stock.  I take out 90g and bulk that up to make my levain and replace the 90g in the stock with flour and water and put it back in the fridge straight away.

If you run your stock down, my inclination would be to build it up in a few stages over a day or two on the bench before returning to the fridge so you are sure that you have built up a good concentration of yeasts and bacteria.  A small quantity of culture will inoculate a large quantity of new feed but it will take some time. This is particularly so if you are baking fairly regularly because activity and growth rates will be much slower in the fridge.

This is why I think the use and replace technique is probably a bit better because you always have a reasonable quantity of fully populated culture available.

Good luck with your projects.



martinbudden 2013 May 17

Hi, I've been reading the beginner's tutorials with great interest as I am keen to try making sourdough*.

I can see that the total time needed is not huge, however it does look like I need to be at home all day to end up with a loaf in the evening because there are lots of little jobs to do scattered through the day. What I'd really like is to have a loaf ready to eat on a Saturday lunchtime, however I do need to go out a couple of times each Saturday morning for the kid's sports.  I am home on Thursday and Friday afternoons from about 3:30 so I am wondering how much of the process I can bring forward to those days, and keep the dough in the fridge overnight, so that all there is to do on Saturday morning is the bake? Is this possible? How would I adjust the timetable given in the beginner's tutorial to make this work?

*I already make yeast breads, homebrew beer, cheese, chutneys, jams etc, so sourdough seems the obvious next step!

grandmamac 2013 May 17


It depends on your proofing time/temperature and method but you can make your loaf on Friday, shape it and retard overnight in the fridge. It's best to let it warm up a bit in the morning before putting it in to bake but then the oven has to warm anyway. You can fit this in with your Saturday morning timetable but remember to allow for time for the loaf to cool. That's always the hardest part!

When I was starting, I worked to the method used in Azelia's Kitchen which gave very reliable results. She makes a levain at lunchtime, mixes the bread at 7ish,folds and shapes over the course of the evening, then puts it in the fridge overnight. I've been experimenting with not using the fridge at all since then but may have to go back to it soon. I"m told there is a more pronounced flavour if the loaf has spent time in the fridge.

tomopteris 2013 May 19

Hello all, I'm new to the forum and have been having fun with my first few sourdough loaves, following the recipes in Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters. I've had what I think are pretty good results and like that, other than when getting the starter going at first, there is no wastage, even with long(ish) gaps between loaves and storing in the fridge. I'm getting the impression that folk here do a lot of intermediate refreshments and discarding of excess between loaves to keep their culture active. From my very limited experience (but also Whitley's advice), it seems this isn't so necessary. Am I missing something here?


jaywoo's picture
jaywoo 2013 May 28

I’d say I’m frugal starter feeder. I’ve had no problems in feeding my starter once after a week in the fridge then using it to leaven 12-24hrs later. I can’t remember the last time I had to dump off excess starter. I am baking a loaf a week on average, though this is on the rise due to my continual enjoyment of the sourdough experience.
My starter maintenance is very simple.
Remove ripe starter for baking.
Feed starter if it is low (less than 200g) and wait for it to start to show early signs of bubbles, then place it in the fridge.
A week passes. 24hr before I'd like to create a dough, I remove the starter from the fridge, let it come to room temperature (or not) then feed to around double it’s volume and leave at room temperature.
I use a 50/50 – white/wholemeal @ 100% hydration for my starter.

grandmamac 2013 May 20

Hi Tom. I lent my copy to my daughter but I thought Whitley keeps a lot of starter in the fridge and just takes out what he needs to bake. He is so experienced and bakes often but I think I remember he writes that it's easy to culture a starter.

I'm just a beginner and I like I just keep a small amount of starter on the kitchen worktop at the moment and refresh it every day. There's a little waste but I like to keep it in an active state. I had problems in the winter when it was too cold in the fridge. Now it's getting warmer, I may revert to keeping it in the fridge to cut down on the refreshing. It took a while for my starter to develop the consistency and flavour I like. Now I've got a little experience, I would be more confident about starting again. Whitely has a great set up to keep dough and starters warm and active, I don't .

There are lots of different methods in sourdough baking and it's worth trying them to see what fits in with your life and how you like your sourdough loaf to taste and look. I don't like too hard a crust (aging teeth!) but others do. 

I've followed the advice to dry a thin layer of starter on parchment paper and store the flakes. If my starter dies, I would use them to kick-start a new one to save time.

anne42perry's picture
anne42perry 2013 May 30

I started a wholemeal wheat sourdough starter, and used it sucessfully for 6 or 7 months.  I fed it with whatever was at hand (even leftover porridge).  It seemed pretty resilient and relaible.  Suddenly though, it started behaving like commercial sachet 'yeast'.  It consumed feeder very quickly and made hooch in 6-8 hours.  I tried re-feeding a micro amount of starter, but it was even more yeasty and less sourdoughy.  Then I let it progress to alcoholic, thinking it might kill off the yeasts and leave resistant sourdough organisms.  No luck.  What should I have done?  

shasta's picture
shasta 2013 May 30

My guess is the feedings. Regular consistant feedings of a good flour equals healthy consistant starter.

inconsistent feeding of what was on hand would not promote longevity. Just my two cents worth.

faridmehdizadeh 2014 April 24

Hi Graham 


I am based in Iran and there are not Meany resources available her, I have a good sourdough going on for past two years and its quit active but I have some problems I was wandering if you could help,

I can’t achieve big bobbles in my bread witch I like to have a more open texture

Also when refreshing should I mix till gluten strands appear or not?

I do have a few more questions but u don’t want to impose 

Thank you 



farinam's picture
farinam 2014 April 25

Sob bkher Farid,

This is not very scientific but in my experience the size of the pockets in the bread can be controlled to some extent by the method used to develop the gluten in the dough.  I have found that if you use vigourous kneading for a relatively short time until the dough becomes elastic and then leave to prove you end up with more numerous evenly sized small holes.  If you use the stretch and fold technique and rely more on time than energy to develop the gluten you end up with larger and more variably sized holes.

Higher hydration doughs also can give a similar effect possibly because of greater steam generation and slower setting of the starches during baking and also because you need to be much more gentle handling the softer doughs.

As far as developing gluten strands in your starter, I would say just mix until the fresh flour and water is incorporated is all that is necessary.

Good luck with your projects.


roger.phillips 2014 May 24

This is my first sourdough attempt but I am using freshly milled wheat (60%), spelt (25%) and rye (15%) using my Skippy Grain mill.  I bought a Starter pack from Soughdough Companion and have been developing it for the last 2-3 weeks.  The starter seems reasonably healthy with small bubbles throughout but doesn't rise.

Yesterday, I attempted to make my first bread.  I halved the recipe from the Notes that came with the Starter but used extra starter, i.e.  500gm starter, 350gm freshly milled flour, 440gm filtered water and 10gm salt. 

I followed the process in the Notes - 1st proof, fold & short rest, shape and rise.  I cut the dough to make two loaves and left them, covered, in bread tins.  However, the dough had only risen maybe 10% after 5-6 hours at around 20C.  I left it overnight (about 14C) and then in a warm place for another 5 hours today (around 25C) but still no further rising.

As you would expect, the bread came out like bricks!  Also, it tastes very sour.

Am I doing something fundamentally wrong or does the starter need more weeks to become stronger?

Is anyone else using only freshly milled grains?

Thanks very much for anyone's help and advice!


farinam's picture
farinam 2014 May 24

Hello Roger,

You don't say what the hydration of your starter is (ratio of water to flour) so it is a bit difficult to work out the hydration that you are working at.

As you are working with home milled flour, I am assuming that it is whole grain and hasn't been sifted in any way so that will absorb significantly more water than white flour and one possibility is that the hydration of your dough was too low.

The other thing with whole grain flours is that the bran and germ affect the continuity of the gluten strands and so it is more difficult to get a really strong dough that will rise as well as white flour.

In your method you mention that you did 1st proof, fold, rest, shape and rise.  You then mention cutting the dough in two and placing in tins.  Was this during the former phase or after.  Perhaps if you can give some more detail of exactly what you did and details of the timing.

As to the management of your starter, I am not familiar with the method that comes with your purchase but the amount that it will 'rise' will depend on a number of things including the hydration, the size and shape of container and so forth.

If you haven't done so already, you would do well to read SourDom's Beginner Blogs on this site which gives you a blow by blow description of establishing and maintaining a starter as well as the sorts of procedure for making the bread.  His Pane francesa recipe is a good standard to start with and as much as you might want to use your whole-meal flour, perhaps you could start with a white flour blend (as in Pane francesa) until you get some practice in and then progressively build up the proportion of whole-meal as your confidence builds.

By all means, get back with more details that might allow some further advice and good luck with your projects.


roger.phillips 2014 May 25

Hi Farinam and thanks for your quick response.

To answer your specific questions:-

 -  I have read the Beginner's Guide and various other items on this site - although couldn't find much mention of using home-milled grains.  Also - I did create my own sourdough starter many years ago and made some reasonable loaves - however, I used a mixture of home-milled grains and a commercial wholemeal breadmix (shame on me!!).  My starter died when we went on holiday and I could never successfully recreate one - hence my purchase of a Sourdough Companion starter this time round. 

 -  I always add equal quantities of flour (self-milled) and water to my starter so I assume it's at 100% hydration. I store it in a sterilised pyrex glass container with a loose-fitting lid.

 -  I understand what you say about home-milled grains needing more water, however, intuitively, I felt that the final dough may still have been too wet as, although it felt perfect for kneading and was very elastic, once left in the tins, it spread across the bottom and did not retain any shape.  However, I guess this might have been due to the fact it didn't rise and therefore has no structure.

 -  The process I followed was (1) Mix flour, water and starter for a few mins.  Leave for 1 hr.  (2) Add salt, knead for 10 mins.  Leave for 2 hrs until appears puffy. (3) Stretch and fold dough several times, cut into two and shape.  Cover and leave to stand.  (4) Place in lightly oiled tins, cover and leave to rise.

I really do want to make good bread using 100% freshly milled grains but will take your advice and start with a mix of this with mostly commercial flour.  If successful, I will gradually increase the proportion.

Thanks again for your help and advice


farinam's picture
farinam 2014 May 25

Hi Roger,

Based on your recent info and the ingredients that you gave in your first post I calculate that your dough hydration was 115% which could easily explain why it spread out.  Even for 100% whole-meal flour I think that you could be looking to make a less hydrated dough.  If you halved the amount of water (220g) you would come in at 78% and 250g would give you 83%.

Over what period did you do the stretch and fold and how long did you leave it stand before tinning? How did the dough handle getting into the tins?

What were the ingredient weights in the recipe that you started with before you changed them to what you posted?


Malcolm White 2014 June 13

I have been making bread from my own starter for about two months now (an expert!)

I save about a fifth of the dough each time and usually three days later to make the next loaf I just mix it with all the water and 20% 0f the flour and leave overnight and then add the remainder of the flour and leave to ferment then knock down, rise, and bake.

This seems to work but I cant find any reference to anyone doing similar which puzzles me, its so simple. I dont have a seperate "starter" I have to admit to having problems with a flying crust but hope to solve that with what I have read

Could someone direct me to where this method is developed.

Great site



farinam's picture
farinam 2014 June 13

Hello Malcolm,

You are right, this method doesn't get too many mentions but it has been around for a long time I imagine (probably as long as breadmaking itself).  This link gives a bit of discussion on the method and some of the potential shortcomings.

Like so many things in sourdough, whatever works for you and whatever suits your lifestyle is perfectly valid and OK.  There are no absolutes other than if it doesn't work or doesn't suit.

Good luck with your projects.


Uncruliar 2015 January 4


I was given a starter and some very basic instructions by a friend during the summer. Since then I have been baking sourdough loaves which have been very tasty but haven't risen terribly well. For Christmas my wife gave me a copy of "Do Sourdough" by Andrew Whitely. I read it inside a day and was full of enthusiasm to bake.

From reading this book I realise that the loaves I had been baking were quite dry, not much different to a normal yeasted bread dough, and that this is probably the reason that they were not rising very well. I have followed the basic recipe from my new book but I am having reall problems with it. From my calculations it seems that the hydration rate of this recipe is 77% and it is so wet that I just can't do anything with it without it sticking to my hands. The book advocates kneading on a wet surface. That prevents sticking but just makes the dough wetter. I have also kneaded it on a floured surface which obviously results in a drier dough, although not as dry as the dough that I had been making before.

I have also had a look at some sourdough tutorial videos on Youtube and my dough (even after kneading on a floured surface) doesn't look like or handle like the dough in the videos.

If anyone has any suggestions for me I would gratefull receive them.

If it would help I could add some pictures next time I am baking.


aka Uncruliar 

farinam's picture
farinam 2015 January 4

Hello Sean,

A hydration of about 70% is a good place to start which generally gives an easily handled dough with a strong white wheat flour.  If you are using a proportion of rye flour the consistency of the dough will be significantly altered and it will require special techniques to handle with any success.

I have found that people who follow SourDom's Beginners Blogs on this site have had good success and his Pane francesa recipe is a good one to get started with and to practice with to get your techniques right.  Once you have mastered that, then you can start to branch out into more exotic and complex recipes.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, when a time line is given for a procedure, the timing is dependent on a couple of factors of which the most important is the temperature at which you are working and it pays to be observant as to the look and feel of the dough and to adjust the timing to suit.  Higher temperatures translate into shorter working times and vice versa.

Also the characteristics of flour with respect to water absorbancy do vary even betwen batches of the same flour and between the seasons and the breed of grain used and it is often recommended that, until you get used to a batch /type of flour, you should hold back some of the water/liquid amount specified and only add more (a little at a time) to achieve the required consistency.  Because flour takes some time to absorb and start reacting with water it is very easy to add too much flour to a too wet dough and end up with too stiff a dough as a result.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a dough that starts off, seemingly sticky and lacking in strength, will transform into something that is quite lacking in stickiness and which will resist stretching and tend to return to its original shape after the gluten in the flour has been developed.

Hope this helps and good luck with your projects.  Let us know how you go and, yes, some pics would be good along with more detail of your recipe and method - maybe in a new posting rather than tagged on here.


Uncruliar 2015 January 5

Hello, I tried to post yesterday but now I can't see the post that I wrote so I am trying again.

Basically I have been baking sourdough since the summer when a friend gave me some starter and some very brief instructions. The bread that I have made so far is very tasty but quite dense. I think because my dough was quite similar to a normal bread dough and so wasn't wet enough.

For Christmas my wife gave me a book called "Do Sourdough", written by Andrew Whitely. It was a very interesting read and I couldn't wait to get baking again. When I tried his basic recipe though it was so wet that I couldn't knead it without it sticking to to everything it touched. The hydration rate of the recipe in the book is 77%. The only way that I have been able to work with it is to knead it on a floured surface so that it picks up more flour and beocmes more manageable. Even doing this it has collapsed when turned out of a bannetton and so made a very flat loaf.

I would be very grateful for any advice that anyone can give me.

Many thanks,


aka Uncruliar

farinam's picture
farinam 2015 July 2

Hello Savagejen,

When starting from scratch, different yeasts and bacteria multiply and fade away at different rates as the conditions in the culture change to either suit or to discourage them.  Each produces different substances that can smell quite different and so you can experience a range of smells that range from quite pleasant to not so nice.  These can last for a day or so and are nothing to worry about unless it gets really revolting and persistent.  These changes in the environment on the way to a stable symbiotic culture are the reason that it usually takes ten to fourteen days in the usual scheme of things to get something that you can rely on.

Cheesy is not a description that I have come across but is not beyond the realms of possibility.  So, I would carry on with your feed/discard regime and you might find that it all comes good.  You don't say which method you are following but it is hard to beat the one covered in SourDom's Beginners blog on this site via the link at the top right.

Good luck with your projects.


Frozzen 2015 August 31

I'm not real new to sourdough, i make nice bread a couple times a week, but there are some problems i havn't been able to solve. Maybe you guys can help me out.  I've tried making bread with very wet dough, an it comes out very tasty, but flat as a pancake. I've watched vids on kneeding the dough an enjoy that process, but after fermenting the dough in the fridge, forming loaves, an final proofing, the loaves will not maintain their shapes from the banatons......they flatten right out. So does anyone know how to handle wet dough after the initial kneeding?? I would appriciate any insight!


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