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I'm lost - how to add sourdough to my breaddough

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Stoertebeker's picture

I'm lost - how to add sourdough to my breaddough

Hello fellow bakers,

I'm at a loss and need some advice.  I have been baking spelt bread with yeast for a while.  It worked well but I really want to use my spelt sourdough starter instead of yeast (instant),  First of all my sourdough starter is very watery. I followed the recipe on this page

When I tried to bake with it I didn't know how to include it into my baker's math (see image).  My dough ended up to watery. The spreadsheet says fresh yeast, but I use instant dry yeast for now.


How can I calculate the amount of water and flour when using my spelt sourdough starter? 

dosco's picture


You need to determine the hydration of the starter. Suggest you start a separate container of starter for a batch of dough (a "levain" of sorts) ... get a bowl and do something like this:

Starter: 50g

Water: 110g

Flour: 200g (you can mix white, ww, rye, whatever)

If your starter is "watery" (thin, not thick) this should get you close to 65% hydration which is what it looks like you are trying to do with your dough.

Regardless of what you decide to do, you should measure the mass of your ingredients for your starter and then try to get the hydration of you "levain" to match or be reasonably close to that of your dough.

I am not an expert ... so your mileage may vary.



golgi70's picture

So if your starter is watery maybe you need to be feeding it more frequently so that you can use it when it is ripe.  Alternately you can feed let rise partially and then retard overnight.  None the less that is starter maintenance which you can search using the toolbar above.  There are countless variations on the matter all with different nuances they add to the bread.  But if you use a collapsed starter it won't have the power you need to raise your loaf.  

As for incorporating into your formula that is not too difficult.  

So after looking at the page lets clarify something.  A 1/2 Cup of flour does not weigh 4 oz and 1/2 cup of water does. I strongly suggest doing this all with a scale.  If you did then your starter is at 100% hydration which is very common.  

The amount of pre-fermented  flour in a recipe varies quite a bit but a good average is 20%.  It all depends on what bread and method you intend to follow and what characteristics you'd like to achieve.  When I say pre fermented flour i mean the amount of the total flour that will be in your starter.  

So if it is 20%.  


Copying from your table above on the right column

Flour  650   (20% of this would be 130 g)  650 - 130 = 520

Salt      10   (i would increase this myself to at least 13 which is 2%)

yeast     9  since you are using a sour you can remove this completely so = 0

water   423  (423 - 130 which is the water in the starter =  293

flax        52  


Formula with levain

260 g   ripe starter (be sure to feed this 8-12 in advance to mixing of dough.  it should be peaked and not collapsing.                                    the timing on this depends on many things.  How much starter you built from, temps, etc..)


Final Dough

Bread Flour  520

Water           293

Flax                52

Salt                 10 (or more if you choose too increase it)


Autolyse the flour and water for an hour

Add the levain and mix to incorporate

Add salt and incorporate on low speed

Develop dough to medium consistency on medium speed.

Add flax and mix on low until well incorporated.

Bulk Ferment : a guess at timings would be 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 hours or so adding stretch and folds at a couple intervals 

divide preshape rest

shape, proof, bake

or shape and retard

bake 8-12 hours later straight from the fridge


I hope this is helpful


Stoertebeker's picture

Thank you both very much, Dave and Josh. I have about 800ml of sourdough starter at this point.  By watery I mean that it has a layer that is mayby 5mm thick which is mostly water.  The surface looks frothy and smells really good.  The problem is now that I don't know with how much flour and water I should mix it.  My grandmother would have done this just by feel I am certain but i don't have that confidence yet.

So, I would be better off with a new starter where I keep close attention to the amount of flour and water that goes into it.

That makes sense but I want to bake now.  ;-)

I think i will start a new levain and just wing it with this one.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

How many days have you been working with it?  You seem rather eager to ditch and start a new starter, that is why I ask.  Most folks spend weeks getting a culture going, developing yeast and would rather just thicken the starter.  With consecutive discards and feeds, the starter is soon at the desired hydration.  

You can thicken it up by just adding flour, or pouring off the extra water.  800ml is a lot.  Reduce first before thickening to a paste.  Got a picture of the separating starter?  Seldom does an active starter separate.  The gas mixes the starter.

Stoertebeker's picture

Actually I would rather not start over.  It looks and smells good and I am ready to go.  I have actually already done what you said.  I poured about 1/2 c of water out and added 1/2 c of whole spelt flour w/o water at that point. I will attach a picture if I can. At this point I don't see an option to upload a picture yet.

Here is a link:


isand66's picture

If your starter is nice and lively you can simply use that as your "Mother" starter and create a levain for your current bread you want to bake.  You need to figure out how much starter you need for your recipe and then you can take a small amount like 40-65 grams and add flour and water in the proper amounts to get to the total amount of starter you need for your recipe.  This is what I do all the time.  I mix the mother starter with the new variety of flours I want for my final dough.  If your mother or main starter is made with white flour and you need a rye or whole wheat starter or spelt starter you can build the final starter for the dough in 2-3 stages which will ensure you have a nice strong active starter for your final dough.

yozzause's picture

I think im with Ian 

i work on a 3:2;1  flour: water:culture ( My culture is 100%hydration that is equal parts water and flour a consistency close to porridge) I am not sure  on Spelt's ability for taking up water

So as you want to finish with 1kg of dough

480g flour : 317ml water : 158g culture 

9.5g salt :38g flax.

So what i would do if your watery starter is active i would take 80g and to it add 40ml water and 40g of flour to feed it , either Spelt or bakers flour this will be the amount of culture you require. If the starter is in good fettle it should be ready to use in 4 hours , doubled in size and peaking. If you dont achieve this then the activity of the starter has to be in question! and possibly best not to proceed further, However if all good then  add to the other ingredients and mix and process as you would normally.

This will give you a dough and certainly be close to where you want to be, the rest will be tweaking to suit your preference. 

Good luck and kind regards Derek


Stoertebeker's picture

Thank you, Derek.  My starter has the consistency of porridge, just like you mentioned.  Your instructions are clear and precise and easy to follow for a newbie like me.

I will try to post the result if i remember. ;-)

Thanks again.


yozzause's picture

Very good Thomas, i hope it all goes well, sometimes hard to give advice sight unseen. i shall look forward to seeing a result. 3:2:1 works for me and hopefully it will for you.

Stoertebeker's picture

I did as you advised. Unfortunately the prepared 160g of starter did not rise at all.  I waited almost 6 hours while the starter was left in the warm kitchen in a stainless steel bowl.

Is it possible that spelt flour is a poor medium for a sourdough starter?

yozzause's picture

I was afraid that the starter might not be up to the task and  and that is why i suggested  feeding up a part of the starter enough for the dough. but if we dont have the activity at this stage we will lalmost ceratinly not have activity in the dough which would be most disapointing and a waste of good ingredients.

I have not used spelt enough to know if it is a good medium for your starter, it may be that you will need to use bakers flour or rye  as the medium  and the addition of spelt in the main mix.

So try again this time using flour to make up the 160g required for the culture for the dough. again if little or no activity then what we are setting off with is not up to the job.

I'd gladly give you some of my starter but as i am in Perth the lonliest city in the world there is a good chance distance will be a problem.

We are however working our way through possible problems.

kind regards Derek

Stoertebeker's picture

Well, Derek and everybody else.  Thank you for your kind assistance.  I have already baked 6 or 7 loaves of Dinkel-Roggen or Spelt-Rye bread with a healthy dose of ground flax and some sunflower seeds.

I have used equal weights of water and flour for the hydration of my starter.  I also used 1:2:3, in my case that meant:

  • 250g culture
  • 500g water
  • 750 flour (250g rye, 500g spelt)

I baked the loaves without preheating the oven at 400 F until the internal temperature was between 180F and 185F.

The loaves had a very nice texture and were moist and not crumbly.  I was able to slice them very thin which I like to do for a heavy bread.


yozzause's picture

great result, happy is what we are after. thanks for posting

regards Derek

ElPanadero's picture

Hi Stoertebecker

Glad things worked out here.  Take heart from the following fact.  I've worked voluntarily for 2 great artisan bakeries and for both the spelt doughs were without doubt the most finicky and difficult to get right, often having been too wet to handle easily and form.  The right hydration level for spelt seems particularly difficult in comparison with other grains so well done on persevering and getting a result !

BTW, I also experienced the starter hydration level problems you mentioned.  I prefer to keep my starters fairly sloppy because it's far easier to stir in flour that way when it is feeding time but as you noticed this means your overall hydration level is affected when you add the starter to your dough mix.  I don't work from technical recipes and hydration tables, I just "feel" the dough and if it feels too wet I add flour and if too dry more water.  This is why I encourage home bakers to mix and knead by hand and not using a mixer.  With a mixer you can't "feel" if the dough is too strong and resisting kneading or if it is too sloppy etc.  As a result of doing everything by hand I use the "10 second knead" process for kneading rather than old traditional long slog kneading :-)

Stoertebeker's picture

Thank you, ElPanadero.  It is actually impossible to knead my dough.  It is far too sloppy for that.  I manage to fold it a couple of times by hand with lots of flour on the counter and sprinkled on the dough.

Next time I will try to add more flour to make it 'kneadable' (if there is such a word.


ElPanadero's picture

Out of interest are you kneading the "traditional" way, i.e. kneading straight after mixing for 5mins or more?

Stoertebeker's picture

No, I mix it at the cuisinart's lowest speed for 10 minutes.  Afterwards I let it rise for about one hour in the warm and humid oven.  I then scrape it out of the mixing bowl onto a flour strewn surface where I proceed to fold it several times before transferring it into the breadpan.

Stoertebeker's picture

Interesting how this website grabs the first few words of your text and puts it into the subject, if you leave it blank ...

mrfrost's picture

Think about that, a bit.

Stoertebeker's picture

Are you referring to my topic? I guess I should have said "how to add sourdough starter to my bread flour."


ElPanadero's picture

ok fair enough.  Using the mixer I guess it's hard to know if the mix is too wet or not ?.  Maybe I just like things simple :-)  If a dough is too sloppy to knead (initially) I would either add a little more flour or I would wait and let the dough stand for 5 mins before trying to knead it.  That way the gluten has some time to develop and create structure before you try to work it.  As I said I use the 10 second knead process which involves just 10 secs of kneading then letting the dough stand for 10 minutes then 10 more secs of kneading, 10 more mins standing etc repeated 4 times in total.  I've never ued a mixer and never kneaded any dough by hand for long periods, just for 10 secs at a time.  Always worked fine for me at least till now :-)

Stoertebeker's picture

I usually autolyze the flour mix, sometimes over night, but usually for at least one hour.  I knead it in the standmixer for about 10 seconds after adding the water. I have put my starter in the fridge for now.  I have enough bread to last me for a few weeks.  I will try your method when I am ready to bake more.