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Starting a Starter - Sourdough 101, a Tutorial

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gaaarp's picture

Starting a Starter - Sourdough 101, a Tutorial

(The following started as a blog, but I've had enough questions and comments about it that I thought I'd repost it as a forum entry so it would be easier to find.  Of course, if Floyd wants to add it to Lessons, that would be OK, too.)

Like many people, I found TFL in my quest to learn how to make sourdough.  I had a starter going and was sure I had killed it.  The advice I found here gave me the knowledge and confidence to make a starter that I've been using for months now, with ever-better results.

Although there is a wealth of information here, there was no one source that detailed the method I used, which was based on Reinhart's "barm" in BBA.  Now that I have succeeded in making several starters, I've been thinking about making a video tutorial to walk through the process step-by-step, day-by-day.  My own experience and that of others here has taught me one thing:  sourdough starters don't read baking books, so they don't know how they are "supposed" to behave.  I could have been spared the angst, the wasted time, and of course, pounds of precious flour, if only I had known what to expect and what to look for. 

I don't have the technical part of video-making worked out yet, so I have decided to do a tutorial blog.  This will be a real test, as I am trying out a modified starter that I haven't made before.  It's still based on Peter's starter, but I have altered the amounts, and possibly the times, to suit my own fancy.  If all goes well, I will end up with a more reasonable (i.e., much smaller) amount of starter, and I will get there with much less wasted flour.

So here goes:

Day 1: 

Ingredients:  1/3 cup rye flour and 1/4 cup water

For the flour, I use stone-ground rye.  Nothing special, just what I got from the grocery store.  My water is tap water run through a filter.  Before I had a filter on my sink, I used bottled drinking water.

Mix the flour and water in a bowl.  It will be thick and pasty, kind of like the oatmeal that's left in the pot if you don't come down for breakfast on time. 

Day 1 - thick and pasty

Once all the flour is mixed in, put it in a pint-sized or larger container and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave it out on the counter. 

Day 1 - ready to rest

And that's it for today.


Day 2:

Ingredients:  1/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/8 cup water

There should be little, if any, change in the culture from yesterday.  Again, I'm not really particular about the flour.  I would just recommend staying away from bleached flour.  I am using AP flour for this batch.

Mix the flour, water, and all of the starter from yesterday in a bowl.  It will still be thick but a little wetter than yesterday. 

Day 2 - still thick, but not quite as gooey

Put it back in the container (no need to wash it), press it down as level as you can get it, and mark the top of the culture with a piece of tape on the outside of the container. 

Day 2 - nighty night

Put the plastic wrap back on top, and you're finished.


Day 3:

Ingredients:  1/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/8 cup water

Around Day 3 or 4, something happens that puts terror in the heart of the amateur sourdough maker:  they get a whiff of their starter.  When you check your starter on Day 3, you may notice a strange, and not at all pleasant, odor.  And unless you know better (which you will now), you'll swear something is drastically wrong.  In fact, I would venture to guess that that smell has been the ruin of more amateur sourdough growers than anything else.  It's an acrid, sour, almost rotten smell, and it's perfectly normal.  And rest assured, your new baby sourdough starter will soon outgrow it.  So, take heart, and press on.

You may also notice that your starter has begun to come to life.  It probably won't grow a lot, maybe 50%, but you will start to see bubbles, like these:

It is ALIVE!!!!!

Regardless of the amount of growth, stir down your starter, throw out about half (no need to measure, just eyeball it), and mix the rest with today's flour and water.  You will get a slightly more doughy-looking mass:

Is is soup yet?

Once it's well mixed, put it back in the container (still no need to wash), pat it down, and move your tape to again mark the top of the starter.  From this point forward, keep your starter at a moderate room temperature, 70-72 degrees F.  Lower is OK (it will just grow more slowly); but don't keep it at a higher temperature, or you will encourage the growth of the bacterial beasties at the expense of the yeasty beasties.

Let 'er rise

Put the plastic wrap back on the container, and take the rest of the evening off.  You worked hard today.


Day 4:

Ingredients:  1/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/8 cup water

And now, a word about measurements.  If you bake regularly, or even if you've just been nosing around baking sites for a while, you are no doubt aware that the ingredients in most artisan bread recipes are listed by weight rather than volume.  I measure by weight for my baking and for maintaining my sourdough starter. 

You might wonder why, then, am I using volume measurements here?  Two reasons: first, I have tried to make this starter as simple to follow as possible -- no special tools, no monkeying around with the scales, just a couple of measuring cups and a bowl.  And, when it comes to starting a starter, the measurements aren't as critical as when you actually go to bake with it.  So for now, we're just using measuring cups. 

Today is another one of those days where novice sourdough starter makers often lose heart.  Your starter is now coming to life, and like most living things, it kind of has a mind of its own.  Up until now, we followed the clock, making our additions every 24 hours.  Now, we will be letting the starter dictate the timeframe. 

Before you do your Day 4 additions, you want to make sure your starter has at least doubled.  If it doubles in less than 24 hours, you should still wait until the 24 hour mark.  If it takes more than 24 hours, be patient.  Let it double.  It may take another 12 or 24 hours, or it may take longer.  Again, be patient.  It will double.  Just give it time.

If your starter hasn't doubled after 48 hours, you can boost it with a shot of rye flour.  Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of rye flour and a bit of water (try to keep the hydration level about where it was) and mix it up.  Then wait for it to double before proceeding with the Day 4 additions. 

Eventually, you'll end up with a nice, bubbly starter:

Day 4 - rising to the occassion

You can see that mine more than doubled.  But I still waited for 24 hours.  Once it doubles, throw out half of the starter, then mix the rest with the flour and water, and back into the bowl it goes:

Day 4 - Edwina, back in bowl

Replace the tape and plastic wrap.  Then wait for it to double.   It could take as little as 4 hours, or it may take more than 24 hours.  This time, you can move on to Day 5 at any point after doubling.  It's OK if you let it more than double; it's also OK to move on right when it hits the double mark.  So, hurry up and wait.


Day 5:

Ingredients:  3/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/2 cup water

Once your starter has at least doubled, it's time for the final mix.

Day 5 - alive and kicking

Combine flour, water, and 1/4 cup starter in a bowl and mix well.  Transfer to a clean container with room for the starter to at least double.

Day 5 - final mix

OK, one last time, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter until it gets nice and bubbly.  Don't worry so much about how much it grows, just so that it's bubbly looking.  This will probably take around 6 hours, but, again, don't stress about the time.  Let the starter tell you when it's ready.

Day 5 - Congratulations, it's a bouncing baby starter!

When your starter gets bubbly, pat yourself on the back:  you are now the proud parent of a bouncing baby starter!  Put a lid or other cover on your container and put it in the refrigerator.  Let it chill overnight, and you can begin using it the next day.

Day 6 and beyond:

By today, your starter is ready to use.  The flavor will continue to develop over the next several weeks to month, so don't be disappointed if your first few loaves aren't sour enough for you.  I would still recommend beginning to bake with it right away, especially if you have never made sourdough bread before.  That way, you can hone your skills while your starter develops its flavor.

Feeding your sourdough:  If you keep your sourdough in the fridge, you only have to feed it about once a week.  And you can minimize your discards by keeping only what you need and feeding it when you want to bake with it.  I recommend a 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour) feeding, which means each feeding includes an equal amount, by weight, of starter, water, and flour. 

Start by weighing your starter, subtracting the weight of your container.  Then add an equal amount of water and flour directly to the container.  So, for example, if you have 100 grams of starter, you would add 100 grams each of water and flour.  I generally add the water and flour at the same time, although some people recommend adding the water first and whisking to dissolve the starter before adding the flour. 

If you feed your starter right out of the fridge, as I do, warm your water to lukewarm (90 - 100 degrees F).  After you mix in the water and flour, leave it out on the counter for a few hours, then put it back in the refrigerator.  It's best if you feed your starter a few days before you intend to bake with it.

To illustrate, here is an example of my feeding routine, starting with the Day 5 starter and assuming that I finished making the starter on Friday night:

  • Saturday morning, I take out what I need to bake bread (2/3 cup using my normal sourdough bread recipe) and return the rest of the starter to the refrigetator.

  • Wednesday of the next week, I get out the starter, weigh it, and add equal amounts of flour and water in a 1:1:1 ratio, as outlined above.  My goal here is to build up as much starter as I need to make bread on the weekend, and enough left over for my next build.  It's OK if I have more than I need to bake with.  If I don't think I'll have enough after a 1:1:1 build, I will increase my ratio of flour and water, maybe to 1:2:2 or 1:1.5:1.5.  In that case, I will let it sit out until it almost doubles before returning it to the fridge, which might take a bit longer, as I'm using less starter relative to flour and water.

  • Friday night or Saturday morning, I again take out what I need to bake with and return the rest to the fridge, to be fed again mid-week.

This is just an example of how I keep my starter.  You can feed yours more often if you bake more than I do.  It's also OK to let it go more than a week between feedings.  If you do that, though, you might want to feed it a few times before you bake with it.

So, that's it.  Hopefully I've unravelled some of the mystery of sourdough starters and given you the confidence to try one yourself.  Good luck, and let me know how it works out for you!

Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

If it grew, feed it. You might be surprised. Liquid on top means starving yeast, generally.

RobynNZ's picture


I have just seen your last couple of messages here, sorry I missed the one last night. Great to hear your starter has started to show signs of life. Plenty of activity going on in there just not visible to us until there is sufficient gas produced to observe a change.

As Stephanie says, feed it. I hadn't realised that you were not feeding it sorry. I've just gone back and re-read Gaarp's instructions - he suggested waiting a maximum of 48 hours before feeding at this stage (allowing time for the colony to get established before swamping it with more food). From what I understand you haven't fed it for more like 100 hours, the by-product liquid you are seeing let's you know that the waste products are building up and its really time to feed again. I suggest you go back and read right through Gaarp's instructions and look at his photos and you will see that your starter is behaving pretty much as expected seeing as it was a bit cold to start with. Well worth reading right through the comments here too. Just take care not to go the other way and overfeed, from now you will be establishing a balance between amount fed and timing of the feeds.

The fact that you got some rise also means the level of chlorine in your water isn't a factor.

You might like to take a look at Paul's (rainbowz on TFL)  series of posts and photos on his blog on the development of his starter (he did a side by side with water  and pineapple juice to compare) starting with this post:

kiwimum's picture

Hi all - Stephanie and Robyn, thanks especially for your suggestions.  I did feed it again this morning and popped it back in the hot water cupboard.  Sorry if I ask dumb questions, I'm an at-home Mum with two kids and pregnant so my brain is basically mush - can't take it too much information at once!  But I appreciate you trying to educate me.   :)

I'm not sure what to do from here - in Gaaarp's tutorial it says to wait for it to double, then feed it the larger amounts of water and flour and wait for it to get bubbly.  So I'm playing the waiting game again?  I'm starting to think the light at the end of the tunnel will never come!


(Especially today when it's cold, horrible, rainy, our heater's broken, my kids won't sleep and I'm exhausted!)  - a footnote  LOL!

MangoChutney's picture

If your starter is rising but not actually doubling, followed by subsiding, then it is doing the best that it can under the circumstances.  It still needs to be fed after it has subsided.  Hang in there, as long as it responding each time you feed it, it is not dead.  :)

Starter: "I'm not dead yet!  I'm getting better!"

kiwimum's picture

Yeah it never seems to double.  It's struggling along!  Poor little starter!  I don't want you to die!

It rose a little bit today, I'll give it another feed tomorrow and put it in a sunny place (it seems to like that).


It's like having a third child already, although the attention I give it is fairly neglectful by comparison....  LOL.

kiwimum's picture

Hi all, just wanted to let you know I've had some progress on my starter!

Yesterday it 'only just' managed to double, so I did Day 5 of the tutorial above, fed it with the 3/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, and put it in a new container, and it's gone lovely and bubbly and creamy-looking.  It hasn't risen much but it does look nice.  The only thing is, I'm worried about the smell - I would describe it as VERY chemical-y, almost like a marker pen or strong glue!  Should I still refrigerate and use it to bake with, or will I end up poisoning my family?   ;)

MangoChutney's picture

Marker pen solvent would most likely be acetone.  It is the same smell as is on the breath of people who are dieting (ketosis).  It means that your culture ran out of glucose to ferment, and is consuming other parts of the mixture.  It won't harm your family but it means the culture wanted more to eat.

placebo's picture

I had a new starter that had that smell. I don't think the smell is due to underfeeding as I was feeding the starter well when the smell developed. I ended up throwing it away since I only made it as an experiment and didn't really need it. From what I've read, the smell is due to ethyl acetate, produced by some bacteria. Some people found that the smell eventually went away on its own after a few days as their starters stabilized.

kiwimum's picture

Well, I thought I had an 'ok' starter, although as MangoChutney says above it was probably a little under-fed - smelled really yucky and paint-stripper-y.  I used some in a bread recipe this morning (though, true to form, I found the recipe on the web, and then inadvertently closed the tab, so now I can't find it again). 

I mixed the ingredients, and left the dough to rise in a sunny place - I guess rising will take a lot longer than if I was using normal baker's yeast.


However, I have checked it after 3 hours and there's no rise, and the 'finger test' reveals a hard lump of dough when pressed.


I'm starting to think that I'm just not cut out for this!   Maybe I should try buying a starter online?   I seem to be totally useless at getting one of my own going!


Sad  :(

MangoChutney's picture

The bulk fermentation for my sourdough bread takes 4 hours.  The proofing takes 1.5 to 2 hours.

If the dough is a hard lump, it may not have been kneaded well enough, or it may be too dry.  Even before it rises the first time, bread dough should feel elastic.

You want the starter to be actively bubbly when you add it to the rest of the recipe.  I usually leave mine out overnight on the counter, having fed it well just before my bedtime.  I bake in the morning.

Even so, the yeast should be finding something to eat now that it has all that flour.  If it were me, I would try kneading it for a while, just to see if I could get it to feel like bread dough.  If it is too stiff to knead, add a tablespoon or so of water and try again.  If all else fails, cover it and let it rise overnight.  If the starter is having problems because it is so cold in your house, the yeast in the dough isn't any warmer.  :)

rossnroller's picture

As MC says, you need to use the starter, assuming it's ripe and active, around the time it's peaking. It will form a dome if it's not too highly hydrated. You want to use it then, or around an hour or so either side, at least...this window will open even wider if your room temp is cool. It's impossible to be more precise than this about the timing, because there are so many factors involved. Whatever, it's not difficult, and you have a good span of time during which your starter will work well leavening your dough.

But is it really ripe and ready to go? Your description sounds promising - "creamy and bubbly" is good. There should not be an unpleasant odour if it's ready, though. Is it the consistency of mousse - ie: aerated and light with bubbles all the way through? Or is the bubbling just on the surface? If the latter, you need to keep feeding it a day or two longer until it attains that mousse-like consistency throughout. I'm assuming your starter is quite liquidey. If it's a stiffer starter, the mousse description won't be appropriate. For lower hydration, whole-grain flour starters, ripeness appears more as a sponge-like quality (visually) when you penetrate the surface, and the sponginess should be apparent all the way through the mix. And whatever the hydration or ingredient mix of your starter, it will swell and rise hours after a feeding. If it's not doing that appreciably, I'd say it's not ready.

You know, you don't even need to knead. Another way to develop the gluten in your dough is with hourly stretch-and-folds. That could be a time-saver for you in your busy situation, although you do have to be physically present every hour or so to do it. The actual S&F only takes a minute. There are plenty of video demos of the technique on youtube: here's one that makes it all very clear.

Finally, I reckon you might be well-advised to start off with a trusted bread recipe that will definitely work for you as long as your starter is a goer, and you follow the directions. Many folk, including me, have found the good ol' Norwich Rye to be ever-reliable, and it's an easy dough to work with. Link here.

Maybe you've taken note of MC's comments re bulk proof and final proof times and have already salvaged that dough you mention in your last post. My kitchen is very cool at the moment - about 18C. I'm finding I've needed to extend my proof times far beyond those MC mentions to avoid underproofing, so don't under-estimate the importance of allowing adequate proofing times in cool conditions.

I'm going to add my voice to the chorus urging you not to give up. You're almost certainly very close to turning out a lovely first SD bread, and if you're anything like the rest of us here, you'll find there's no turning back...

Best of baking!

kiwimum's picture

I really, really appreciate those insights, MangoChutney and Ross, it means so much to a novice like me to know those little details about what I should be noticing at each stage - I'm the type of person that really needs that specific detail! 

I had an interesting day today at least going through the breadmaking process - I used a recipe I found on here (but have since lost), mixed it all together (Ross, I have a KitchenAid style mixer so kneading is not an issue really), and left it to rise in a sunny place.  I left it there for 6 hours and it still hadn't risen much, so I took MC's advice and gave it another good knead by hand and it was quite elastic, so I shaped it and left it again to proof for another 2 hours.  Then I baked it at 225 deg Celsius (437 deg Fahrenheit) in a steamy oven on a baking stone, and HOPED FOR THE BEST!  And.......


A small, windowless building emerged.

Actually, the crust was ok.  And the flavour was nice.  But it was a brick.  Dense in the middle with no real holes in the crumb.  And patchy on top with almost-burned bits and lighter bits.  ARGH!

My first loaf was a clanger.

Should I have left it to rise more in the first fermentation?  Or what?   I felt like I left it to rise pretty much all day... although Ross, it is pretty cold here, so I guess I need to be patient...

placebo's picture

From another thread, it sounds like you used 1/4 cup of starter, which is a relatively small amount for a typical recipe. You also mentioned somewhere it is relatively cold in your house. That combination can lead to very long fermentation times.

A brick can also be the result of a dough that's not hydrated enough. It's better to have a dough that's too wet than too dry.

King Arthur Flour has a relatively easy recipe for a sourdough loaf. I've used this recipe with good results. You might give it a try.

kiwimum's picture

Re: Ross, thank you for your link to the Norwich Sourdough recipe, which does look great. 

I was wondering though, if I didn't want to make such a large batch, could I halve the quantities of ingredients?  I don't know if my mixer will cope with a mixture containing 900g of flour!  ;) 

Thanks again.



rossnroller's picture

Hi kiwimum

Yep, you most certainly can halve the dough quantity of Susan's recipe - I do that all the time.

BTW, just one point of clarification. I now understand that you use an electric mixer rather than hand-mixing, but this applies to the dough mixing stage. The kneading/stretch-and-folding comes later, during the bulk proof. Susan's Norwich SD recipe directions make this clear.

You're not alone in producing a brick first bake. Have a look at mine on this page of my blog. Bet yours was no worse than that - I didn't even manage windows in that miserable squat of a 'building'...more like bubbles in the mortar! The pics of an unripe vs a ripe starter on the same page might be useful for you, also.

Keep've gotta be close! I'd feed up the starter for a couple more days if it's not obviously raring to go.


MangoChutney's picture

Oh yes!  Here is a picture of my first three attempts at making whole wheat sourdough in my USA*Pans Hearth Loaf pan.  I call it Evolving Bread.  The first loaf is white because of frost.  I was keeping it in the freezer for use as stuffing bread.  It tasted very good, even if it was not edible as bread.  I eventually got loaves that were even better, but at the time my husband and I both declared the loaf on the right as a success.


kiwimum's picture

Those photos are AWESOME.  Haha, thanks for sharing those with I feel better.   :0)


I thought I'd let you know that I had a small triumph - I fed my starter ('Murray') last night with some whole wheat flour and water and he seemed to really enjoy it, he was extremely bubbly and frothy this morning, he'd doubled and had loads of holes throughout and that lovely mousse-like texture you were talking about, Ross.  I've just given him his breakfast and now I'm going to wait until tonight, feed him again (I'm getting him in condition!) and then hopefully bake with him in the morning.  I'm excited about using the Norwich Sourdough recipe!   Off to buy some kitchen scales today (embarrassing but I've never had any!)  


Woohoo!  Wish me luck!   :)

rossnroller's picture

But I don't think you'll need it. You're on your way! Looking forward to the pics!


kiwimum's picture

Hey all.  I am trying to make a loaf of SD this morning using the Norwich Sourdough recipe from Wild Yeast blog.  I don't have a good feeling about this though...

I halved the recipe because I didn't want quite so much bread, so I am using exactly half of the amounts of flour, water, starter, and salt given.  I measured everything out - all good.  Put it in my mixer - gave it a rough mix, then left it to autolyse for 30 mins as directed.  Started the mixer up again and it put up a little bit of a protest because the dough was very firm, I had to add a little more water, and even then the mixer wasn't too happy so I kneaded it a little by hand too (about 5 mins).  I don't think I reached the medium stage of gluten development though - in fact I don't know if my dough has reached ANY stage of gluten development, it's fermenting at the moment, I've tried two stretch and folds and both were tricky.  The dough is not lovely and supple-looking like in Susan's pics from her blog. Should I have added more water to the initial mix?  My starter is quite liquidy.

I'm worried... should I just carry on or scrap it all and start again tomorrow?  If I fed my starter this morning will it be ready to use again tomorrow?

Sorry about all of this, and I probably shouldn't be using this thread anymore, but hopefully someone can help.



MangoChutney's picture

Take a look at your starter tonight.  If it has already risen and fallen, feed it again so it works overnight and is ready for you in the morning.  If it is working slowly enough that it hasn't risen fully before bedtime, on account of your cooler temperatures, then let it alone until morning.  I am feeding mine the night before I want to use it, but I am in summertime right now.

A typical beginner's error on dough hydration is to make it too dry.  I think we all went through that stage, unless we had good teachers and listened well.  Make the dough so that it seems a little too wet to you, before the bulk fermentation.  The stretch and folds will miraculously dry up the excess so that it is easy to handle be the time you go to shape it for proofing.  Your flour may be more or less damp compared to the flour that the person who wrote the recipe was using.  It being winter where you are, most likely the air is relatively dry.  Add another tablespoon of water when you start the mixer after the autolyse, if it acts like the dough is too stiff.  It doesn't take much extra, but that little bit will help a lot.  If it isn't enough after a minute or so, add another tablespoon.  Just give it a little time to work into the dough from the surface, where it will at first make a mess.  I've even been able to add it halfway through the bulk fermentation, when I was desperately sure I had made the dough too stiff.  It made the dough start rising when it hadn't before.


rossnroller's picture

Hi kiwimum

If you weighed the ingredients exactly according to the recipe, the dough should not be dry. It's a medium hydration dough that should be easy to work with. I've made this one many times, so I'm not talking theory here.

There are a few possibilities that spring to mind:

1. Are you sure you stuck to half quantities with all ingredients? I know there have been times I've halved the recipe quantity and had the 1/2 measures written down next to the original ones, then inadvertently defaulted to the original quantity for one ingredient without thinking. (Fortunately, I've always realised what I've done in time and switched mid-mix to the original quantities!)

2. It's possible you are using a very high protein white flour, which absorbs more water than lower-protein flours. Could you check the protein count on the packet and get back on this?

3. Since this is your first bake, maybe you've got a mix in mind that is more like a cake batter than a bread dough? Just a thought, but probably not a valid one - and one your mixer would protest about, by the sound of it. I always hand mix, so can't comment on that aspect of your post. If the dough is heavy going for your mixer after the autolyse, though, it's probably not a bad idea to just switch to hand to cut in the salt (I use a dough scraper) and give the dough a bit of a knead before transferring to the oiled container and beginning the bulk proof. Alternatively, you can hold a bit of the water back during the initial mix and dissolve the salt in it, then add the saline solution to the dough and mix in after the autolyse.

4. I'm surprised that your dough seems so dry, but whatever the reason, you can add water if your intuition tells you to - Mango Chutney's tablespoon-at-a-time recommendation is a good one. M. C. makes a good point, though, that beginner bakers do tend to think the dough is too dry initially, not anticipating that when it comes together it will seem more moist.

This is intriguing! You've GOT to be close. Keep the updates coming.


MangoChutney's picture

"M. C. makes a good point, though, that beginner bakers do tend to think the dough is too dry initially, not anticipating that when it comes together it will seem more moist."

Actually, what I said was that beginners tend to make the dough too dry because they don't realize that it will get drier as they work it.  Thus, they add more flour than they should and it is too dry later on.

rossnroller's picture

I was evidently projecting my own experience on to your comment, MC - and that appears to be contrary to yours! I only do sourdough breads, so maybe that's the reason for our different experiences here? Whatever, apologies for confusing your meaning.

kiwimum's picture

Yeah I ended up throwing the dough from this morning out - it was so dry it reminded me of Playdough! 

Another couple of kg of ingredients bites the dust....  :(

Anyway, Ross, I checked the back of the flour packet (just plain ol' high-grade white flour) and it tells me that there is 11g of protein per 100g flour. I don't know if that's normal or not... and I've made lots of bread before in my mixer, just none with such a firm dough.  That's what made me think there was something wrong... and I measured all the ingredients out on my new scales and checked them again today to make sure I had it all straight, so I don't think that was the problem.

I really appreciate your and Mango Chutney's advice and comments, they are helping enormously!  And I'm not giving in!  I will keep trying until I get this!





MangoChutney's picture

I'll drop out here, as Ross is trying to walk you through a recipe with which he is familiar.  He knows exactly how it should look at any given point, and I can only advise based on my own learning process.

I'm sure that you will succeed.  Bread is forgiving.  So many types of breads have been made that even if the bread you eventually produce isn't the one the recipe was meant to produce, it will probably resemble some kind of known bread.  Also remember that loaves that are too dense can be cut up and used for cooking ingredients.  Cut the bread into cubes, let those dry, and you have croutons.  Crush the croutons and you have bread crumbs.  If the loaf is crumbly enough, you can even skip the cubing and drying step.  I crumbled pieces of that loaf on the left in my picture above directly into stews as a thickener.  Of course you want to eventually make bread that you can slice and eat, but you can reduce the feeling of having wasted good food by finding uses for the less sliceable loaves.



rossnroller's picture

11g per 100 of protein is not high - typical plain flour. Something else was obviously wrong though, kiwimum, going by your description of that dough. There's no way it should have been as dry as you describe. And now I see you've made plenty of bread before, so that dispenses with one of the other possibilities I floated. I can't help wondering if there was some sort of error with the flour or water weight measurement. Maybe try again. This time if the dough is just as dry I will be dumbfounded, but this being the case just do as Mango Chutney suggested and add water by degrees until the consistency seems right to you.

Can't think of anything else to add at this point. BTW, I had no intention of taking over the 'mentoring' - so please, MC and others, come in and add whatever seems pertinent as you see fit. All assistance is good assistance if it helps to get kiwimum up and running with a good SD bread.

Best of baking!

PS: I assume your starter is 100% hydration? ie: equal weight of flour and water?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

to rise in cooler temps...  If you are waiting over 24 hours and it's not rising to your satisfaction, don't waste the dough.  Spread it out and lightly wet it with your hand, sprinkle two teaspoons or so of instant yeast onto it.  Roll it up and give it a few kneading turns then let it rest.  After it has relaxed in about 30 minutes, knead it a little more to spread the yeast around, then treat it like regular dough, something familiar.  Let it bulk rise until doubled and then degas and shape for your loaf.  Let it final proof and bake.  

No crime in helping a new starter along.  The new starter might not be strong enough in yeast concentration and there's a risk in waiting too long (2 days) a break down of the gluten while waiting for the rise.  Long fermenting tests the limits on normal flour and that is why bread flour can be popular with sourdoughs.  Adding additional yeast at this stage after some flavour has developed in the dough will make your life easier (by timing it) with less waste until the starter is stronger.  

I've made a lot of crackers from slicing "bricks" very thin to dry and toast in a low temp oven.  :)  

kiwimum's picture

Hey all.

I made my first sd loaf yesterday, thought I'd upload some pics so you can assess  :)

The crust was really nice and crunchy and even a little blistered and bubbly, and the taste was yummy too.  However, the loaves turned out quite flat - more like a ciabatta shape and size.  I'm not quite sure what I did wrong here - although maybe I should have let them proof at room temperature for longer instead of proofing them in the fridge overnight?  The mixture this time was a really good consistency to work with - not dry and not too squidgy.

Check it out - I wait with bated breath for your comments...


Huh, those pics haven't shown up...I might need some advice on how to do that... 

MangoChutney's picture

Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!  They are even setting off fireworks ... oh wait, that is the 4th of July.  Oh well, congratulations anyway.  *grin*

The pictures don't show up because we haven't got permission to view your photos on Facebook, even if we are logged in.  If you go to your account area here and click on the File Browser tab, you can upload some photos to TFL.  Then you can display them in your post.

kiwimum's picture

Ok, well I've tried to resize my photos but Photoshop won't let me save them any smaller than about 100KB so it seems they're still too big and I can't upload them here... hmmm, maybe I need some computer classes as well as breadmaking!  Sorry about that.  :(

kiwimum's picture

Ok, well I've tried to resize my photos but Photoshop won't let me save them any smaller than about 100KB so it seems they're still too big and I can't upload them here... hmmm, maybe I need some computer classes as well as breadmaking!  Sorry about that.  :(

kiwimum's picture

I've been playing around with the darn photos and I managed to resize them to 800x600 pixels like the uploader is asking me to....but it still won't upload them...don't know what I'm doing wrong but it's very frustrating!  You'll have to take my word for it that the loaves were flat, and the crumb was fairly un-holey....

MangoChutney's picture

Are they jpg files?

kiwimum's picture


snfoster's picture

Reading the comments and looking at the photos on this post has made me envious. I've been trying to get a sourdough starter going for about a year with no success. I've tried 4-5 different variations multiple times: raisin water, pineapple juice, filtered water, potatoe flakes... all to no avail. They all start fine, lots of bubble and rising action, but within a week, they invariablylose the capacity to rise, and after about 8 hours have a layer of liquid resting on the top. The smell and taste of the starter at that point has always seemed pretty good to me ... everything I desire in a sourdough. But the starter won't rise. When I've tried to use it to bake I end up with a flat and dense, albeit delicious, loaf. In the past I've usually given the startet another week, while I watch for signs of rising, but with no improvement I throw the starter out and start anew. Does anyone have any suggestions? I live in a cool, humid climate. Perhaps I need to wait for a warmer/colder month of the year to get a starter going?

Thanks for any assistance, Scott (

cranbo's picture

As some of the other respondents have said, you must be patient with it. Sourdough only rewards the patient :)

It will take at least 10 days for a new starter to get going. 

If your starter is bubbly and then you get a layer of liquid separating on top that smells of alcohol, that means you need to feed your starter more. 

After 10 days, you should be feeding 2x per day, at a ratio of 1:2:2 (1 part starter : 2 parts water : 2 parts flour ) by weight. This will give you a 100% hydration starter. If you plan to feed by volume, I recommend a 1:2:3 feeding ratio (1 part starter : 2 parts water : 3 parts flour); this will keep your starter close to 100% hydration. Always leave your starter at room temp for at least 2-3 days with this feeding schedule before you're planning to bake. 

snfoster's picture

Thanks for the fast response. I'll definitely give it some more time. 

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

You have just been too impatient, especially in a cooler climate. You need to dedicate at least 6 weeks to the process. If you come in under that, that's a bonus. Throwing it out after 1 or 2 weeks is simply throwing it out before you really gave it a chance. I know that a majority of starter tutorials give the impression that you'll be baking in as little as a week, but that only happens for a lucky few - let's call it the starter lottery. The rest of us have to go the distance and show a lot of restraint and patience.

- Keith

Ford's picture

Hello snfoster,

First, I agree with Keith.  Patience is an absolute necessity!  The temperature of the starter should be in the range of 70° to 85*F.

I cannot tell from your note whether you are continuing to feed the starter during the life of the starter.  You should continue feeding the starter in the ratio of starter:flour:water - 1:1:1 by weight.  Feed it once every day, some people recommend twice a day.   You will need to discard some of the starter each time you feed the starter, otherwise you will end with a tremendous amount of flour paste.

If you have already discarded the starter, then I recommend you try the pineapple juice method, otherwise just keep going with what you have.  I also recommend you use chlorine-free water and unbleached flour (AP white, whole wheat, rye).  No point in feeding the starter with unbleached bread flour.

If you have not invested in scales, then a cup of sifted or gently spooned finely ground flour weighs 4.3 ounces (120 grams), and  a cup of water weighs 8.3 ounces (236 grams).


Aussie Pete's picture
Aussie Pete

Hi All,

I also have just recentily began a sourdough starter combining  W/meal spelt and white bakers flour. My old starter after being ignored for a very long time. The starter came alive on the 5th day and  I was baking by the 6th day.  These  loaves are my 3rd lot of loaves using spelt. However it is my Ist attempt at a spelt sourdough loaf .

Starter recipe

Day 1 Originally I mixed to a slurry 50grms of white bakers flour, 50 grms of wholemeal spelt flour and 100 grms of unsweetened pineapple juice.

Day 2 I added 50 grms of white bakers flour with 50 grms of unsweetened pineapple juice.

Day 3  I now took out half of the starter(no sign of life as yet but day 3 is early) and fed another 50 grms of both of white bakers flour + pineapple juice. Instead of throwing out the excess starter I began another one but feeding it 50 grms of  both W/meal spelt flour + pineapple juice. 

Day 4 I now see small bubbles appearing along the sides of the jar and on top of the surface. I was confident we were under way knowing that the mix was not yet ready to begin baking with. Another feed repeating day 3 but throwing away the excess insteading of growing another starter. A pungent yeasty beer smell was now in the air when I removed the lid.

Day 5. We have lift off. The first starter grew over night to a point where it came out of the holes in the jars lid. It is a bubbling thriving mass of sourdough starter. I will only feed this on White Bakers flour from now.  The 2nd mass also grew but it was in a bigger jar. It had doubled in size. I will now go back to feeding this one white bakers flour with every 3rd feed using spelt flour  for a different flavour and approach. I am also confident I can now replace the pineapple juice with water for future feeding.  Althoung it was a young starter  it was so alive I decided  to bake. 

My Spelt and white sourdough Sandwich Loaf Recipe

150 grms of the original  starter.(100% hydration on Pineapple juice)

400 grms of white bakers flour

50 grms of W/meal spelt flour

300 grms of luke warm water(approx. 67 % hydration using water X combined  flour weight)

10 grms of salt.

This mix was placed in my bread baker and set on the knead only setting. When the cycle stopped I turned the machine off and let the dough rise for another hour as S/Dough starter is slower to rise than instant dried yeast.

I then removed the dough from it's kneading basket and divided it into two on a floured surface. I gave both dough's a small stretch and fold and shaped them to place in a traditional sandwich loaf tin. They were then left to proof for the next 6 hours and cooked at 200 Degrees for 40 minutes.  The result was 2 X 500grms sourdough loaves, my best to date.

Although a more mature taste has yet to come from the  starter I was surprised that such a young starter gave good proofing and oven spring . The crumb was light in texture and taste with a chewy crust. Next time I will use 5% less hydration in the recipe hoping for a slighty denser crumb.

Based on my first efforts  using Spelt Flour I am happy. 


Cheers...........Aussie Pete.

noobbaker's picture

So pleased, just started this yesterday, took it out and it already looked like sourdough bread on the inside, for those who have temp problems just put in a jar cover with plastic, wrap in towel and place on top of you computer, who whould of thunk that but its perfect, just make sure everything is clean and sterile

MangoChutney's picture

I had to truly laugh out loud at this, as the tops of our computer equipment are usually occupied by heat-seeking kitties.  The same things goes true for our entertainment electronics.  Any inconvenient object occupying such a nice warm spot would be slowly edged off by our fat, lazy cats.  *laugh*

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

I incubated my last starter on top of our cable box/DVR unit. I found that by putting a low profile cake cooling rack on top of it, I could keep a very consistent and toasty 90° F. In addition, there was no fear that someone might pre-heat the oven with my starter in it. Creativity works!

- Keith

Ford's picture

The lactobacteria may like the 90°F but that is dangerously high for the sourdough yeast.  At 97°F the yeast dies.  See if you can get the temperature down to about 85°F.


Bruce28's picture

Is there any reason or benefit in using rye flour to initiate a starter? Can starters be initiated by using AP, Bread, or a High Gluten flour?

Once you've gone through the beginning steps and have the starter does it matter what flour you use to replenish/feed it with? I too have tried

Reinhart's "BARM" formula/recipe. It failed three times, then I realized that I was on a time table and starters have their own time table, right?

Look forward to your reply.


PMcCool's picture

Rye flour is quite different than wheat flour, in terms of its chemical constituents.  Those differences seem to benefit the yeasts and bacteria that we want to culture in a sourdough starter.  That said, one can initiate a starter with virtually any flour, including those you list.  Some will ferment and stabilize more quickly than others.

Whole grain flours, whether wheat, rye, or otherwise, seem to launch a starter sooner than their white equivalents.  My untested hypothesis is that by removing the grain's outer sheath and bran layers during white flour production, many of the microorganisms are also removed.  Similarly, if the flour has been bleached, many of the remaining microflora die as a result of the toxicity of the bleaching chemicals.  Finally, I suspect that the outer layers of the grain, along with the germ, contain nutrients that are beneficial to the yeasts and bacteria that we want to cultivate.  Those, obviously, are no longer available in a white flour.

As you read about sourdough starters here on TFL, you will come to realize that feeding regimes are every bit as varied as the people who use them.  Some are very rigorous about flour types, hydration levels, temperatures, or maintaining multiple starters for specific purposes.  Others are more flexible.  Many maintain a single starter, fed primarily with one type of flour, that they adjust to fit specific requirements.  For instance, I typically feed my starter with AP flour.  If I need a rye starter for a bread, I will feed it with rye flour for 2 or 3 refreshes.  By that point, it is nearly indistinguishable from a starter that has been maintained with nothing but rye flour for its entire life.

Yes, starters have their own timetable!  And it is driven very strongly by temperatures.  You will see very rapid growth if temperatures are in the 75F-90F range.  Growth rates below 70F are much, much slower.  ("Rapid" in the context of starter growth rates, which is still far slower than the growth rate for commercial yeast.)

Although Reinhart's directions in BBA for beginning a starter are predicated on Debra Wink's pineapple juice method, he makes it rather more complicated and wasteful than it needs to be.  Not to mention the misuse of the word "barm".  Use the Search box at the upper left-hand corner of the page to search for pineapple juice solution.  Read Parts 1 and 2.  Part 1 gives a very good description of what goes on inside a starter and Part 2 provides a very effective method for beginning a starter.

Best of luck with your new "pets".


Bruce28's picture

There is a lot of conflicting information out there and confusing to say the least. My failed attempts at making a seed-culture with pumpernickel flour using Reinhart's BBA formula/recipe caused me to try one with KAF High Gluten Flour, Sir Lancelot (14.2%). Too, PR replied to my email questions telling me to be more patient. That's when the next culture made it to starter stage. But down inside of me was that failed feeling about the rye flour. So, here just recently I tried again using pumpernickel initially and then high gluten flour, as is called for in the BBA. It came through finally but had me very concerned for a few days. I have to teach myself to be more patient when it comes to "sourdough.? Without yeast sourdough really sets its own pace!

Then too, I recently read a paper by a "Doctor G" who shared a very good fact, as you mentioned, about 75F to 90F. I set my proof box (Brod & Taylor) at 85F now and watch things happen so much sooner. But then again, right now here in Oregon things are a bit cooler - if you know what I mean.

Your mention of the use of the word "barm," PR did mention, and wrote somewhere, how he came to using that word. It would seem that he got the word from his "sourdough mentor" Ms Monica Spiller, who from what I can read is quite up on sourdough. She being English used it cuz of being raised with it. But when PR used it in a book I guess she mentioned to him what the word BARM really is.

Further you mention that the BBA "directions are complicated and wasteful." Would I love to be able to pick your brain. I know this is not the medium for "back and forth." Such is life, eh?

Last but not least, I am even as I am writing here, doing another seed-culture using only "high gluten (KAF, Sir Lancelot flour). Seems it is slow to get going. Slower than I remember from when I last tried it in July and August. But, as you said, my pet is continuing it path. Lest it be at its own pace, eh?

Thank you for your reply Paul. For sure, you seem to have a very good   grib on this thing called "SOURDOUGH."


Silverlobo's picture

spe1793's picture

Really a great article and very simple lesson on making the starter.  Thanks for taking the ime to do that.  What I would like to know is what your basic recipe for your bread is.  If it's not a family secret I would appreciate your sharing it with me.

Thanking you in advance

Steve Evans

michael p's picture
michael p

Note for bakers at altitude / extreme dry:

I just moved to Idaho at about 5800 ft. and tried to get a starter going, for the life of me nothing was happening.

I then doubled the H20 and now the starter is going gangbusters.  Only thing I can figure is either altitude, or the extreme dry here.

anny99's picture

Hi there,


This is amazingly helpful infornation here - thank you!


I've tried and failed at sourdough starter a few times in the pwarden was ready to try again when I found this post. I had a veryactive starter on days 1 and 2, but since then it's slowed wat down. the starter doubled on thosForrest days. Nothing happened after my Day 3 feeding, so I left it alone for 24 hrs. Reading through the notes above, I realized my kitchen was a bit cold - in the 60s - so I moved my starter to the microwave with the door ajar, a comfy 80 degrees. After another 24 hrs, still nothing - no bubbles, no growth. It had had that stinky sour smell on day 2, btw. So after 48 hrs on day 3, I fed it another 1/4 cup rye flour and 1/8 cup water.12 more hours and no bubbles, no growth, no sour smell.


Any suggestions? I'm using Brita- filtered water. Could it be chlorine? Other ideas? Thank you!!

chris319's picture

The stinky smell in the first day or two is a well-known and well-documented phenomenon. It is really of no consequence in the long term (it's actually starting to spoil but it will turn into starter).

One problem is, you're measuring your progress in hours rather than days. It's going to take 7 days or more to get a starter that's ready to go.

Cover your starter, leave it out at room temperature, stir every day and no feeding for a week. You want it to smell yeasty, which it eventually will.