The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

"Seeding" a new Tartine bread starter with existing culture?

chris d's picture
chris d

"Seeding" a new Tartine bread starter with existing culture?

I have been baking breads for years with my sourdough starter that began it's life in as a bit of dried starter from the Friends of Carl network of sourdough culture conservationists.  This starter has been vigorous and forgiving, always springing back no matter how much I neglect it (within reason, of course). 

I recently read (four of five times) the first few chapters of Chad Robertson's "Tartine Bread" and was wondering...He has the reader build a starter from flour and water over a couple of weeks.  Is there any reason why I shouldn't expedite this process by adding a tiny bit of my existing starter to the 50/50 bread/whole wheat flour mix that he recommends?  I like to always do a thing "by the book" first, so I know that I've not introduced some weak link in the process before I change things up.

My questions stems from a broader confusion about sourdough.  I've read that once you have a culture going for a few months (a few years in my case) in becomes "yours."  For example, if you had a sourdough culture shipped to you from Egypt and one from Alaska, within a few months of use these would become the same culture after picking up yeasts and bacteria in your baking environment no matter what efforts you made to keep the cultures separate.  I can't remember which of my many baking books I read this in, but it was definitely in a book by a pro baker, not a forum post.

So if that's true, it stands to reason that it shouldn't matter if I give the starter a kick=start so I'm not chancing it with just a mix of flour and water and hoping for the best.




Thanks in advance - Chris

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

Go ahead and try your idea. While you may not be following everything according to the guidelines of the formula, it's the results that count. If it tastes good, then it is good.



ElPanadero's picture

"if you had a sourdough culture shipped to you from Egypt and one from Alaska, within a few months of use these would become the same culture after picking up yeasts and bacteria in your baking environment"

My view on this is that predominently, the wild yeasts are present in and on the grains used and thus are already in the flour you feed your starter with.  I personally don't think there is likely any impact from the yeasts "floating" in your kitchen.  After all when you feed a starter it's a pretty quick process and the mix is back in its pot soon afterward so exposure to the air is minimal.

So, yes I agree that if you were to take a starter from Egypt or elsewhere and then regularly fed it at home with flour sourced locally then it stands to reason that the "Egyptian" yeasts could easily be overtaken by local yeasts.  It depends however which is the stronger strain of yeast.  All the different yeasts in the mix will be competing for space and food so it might some down to how quickly a given strain will replicate.   Typically yeasts multiply every 90-100 mins and each yeast can only do this 26 times before expiring.  The actual time taken to replicate and the success rate will likely depend on the environment you give it, i.e. temperature, hydration level etc.

Overall I think you'll do just fine with your establised starter in the Tartine recipe.  GL.

PetraR's picture

Hi Chris,

If you have your established Starter already you really do not need to start a new one to follow a recipe from a book.

My Wheat Starter is 13 month old, my Rye Starter about 7 * I guess * and  I use either of them if I find a new recipe online or in a book.

If want to go by the book and start a new one, you would not achieve that if you add a bit of your old Starter with it, that would make it just your old Starter again.

dabrownman's picture

66% hydration rye sour in the fridge.  IF I want to bake a Tartine bread, or any other bread, I just take a small amount of starter say 5 g and build it up over 3 feedings, throwing nothing away to what ever levain is required if it a white 166% hydration I feed it white flour and water.  IF it is a multigrain SD with a MG 100% hydration, I feed it multigrain flour and in 3 stages.

A starter is a starter in my book - its the kind and amount of flour and water that changes it to to fit needs of the the recipe. 

PetraR's picture

I fully agree.

I have a Rye Starter and a Wheat Starter.

The Rye Starter I use most of the time, the Wheat Starter I use to change to Wholemeal Starter ....

I think it is easier to * convert * a Wheat Starter.


chris d's picture
chris d

Thanks for confirming my suspicions.  I'm pretty excited to try this method of baking, having only recently discovered vast improvements in oven spring since I took to covering my loaves on the baking stone with a stainless steel bowl for the first 12-20 minutes of the baking.  I have to admit that I like my sourdough pretty tangy, and am a little off-put by Robertson's disdain for sour naturally leavened breads, but I'm curious enough to see what all the hubbub is about to try this method of producing a more mild loaf, and I'm really excited to see the results of baking in my new double dutch oven.  Expecting great things!


Thanks again



chris d's picture
chris d

Just to follow up, using a miniscule amount of my regular sourdough starter worked great, and has yeilded tremendous results right away!  

My take-away from the Tartine BCB method (as opposed to other great ways to bake bread) is that what makes it special is the high hydration, the mix of a modest amount of whole wheat, and (of course) baking for the first half in an enclosed environment.  I really like the double dutch oven method, despite being able to bake only one loaf at a time.  Worth the wait!

Here's a few of the loaves I've made so far:

The crumb is tender and airy!  I need to figure out how to get a more tender crust.  It's pretty tough once the bread cools.  Maybe there's nothing to be done, but I'd like to have a crisper more tender crust...never have much luck getting that with lean breads like this.  Still really pleased with the results!