The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

basic lesson on using natural starter?

koloatree's picture

basic lesson on using natural starter?


i have journeyed into the realm of using natural starters for my bread and was wondering how i can tell when a bread is ready for baking? so far, i have been using IDY and typically from the breads i have made, its usually mix, wait till dough has doubled, punch down, shape, rest for 1 hr, and then bake. can i follow similiar protocal with using natural yeast? basically use it in the mixing and wait till its doubled, etc...?


also, do different natural yeast taste different? i am using an italian culture calmaldi(misspelled) and made my first sourdough. i was wondering if i used the san francisco yeast, would it be much different.


thanks all!

Soundman's picture

Hello, koloatree, and welcome to the wonderful world of sourdough!

Generalizing about baking with sourdough isn't exactly easy, but I'll take a shot at it.

Using a levain or sourdough starter, the basic process is generally quite similar to baking bread with commercial yeast, but requires a little more time. The reason it takes more time is because the wild yeast in sourdough are not as plentiful as one finds in typical yeasted bread recipes. This is, in any case, a good thing! Longer fermentation (within limits) generally means more and better flavor.

Though there are other ways to get the job done, many sourdough bakers prefer using a small amount of starter to build a "final levain", which you use in turn to ferment your dough. This process is similar to making a poolish, in that you are pre-fermenting some dough, though with sourdough the final levain is the only leavening in the dough. (If you are not familiar with using pre-fermented dough, as a commercial yeast baker you will want to know about this technique, which you can learn a lot about by doing a search on TFL for "preferment" or "poolish" or "biga".)

A lot of us sourdough bakers don't "punch down" our dough, but instead more gently fold the dough to degas it and to help with gluten development, which provides the structure that enables the bread to rise. As I mentioned earlier, fermentation times tend to get longer with sourdough, but that depends on the ratio of dough flour to flour in the final levain. As an example, I typically use a ratio of 15% pre-fermented flour to the flour in the dough, and let my naturally leavened dough ferment for 5 hours before scaling, shaping, and proofing (you called this "rest for an hour".) During this 5 hour fermentation, typically I'll fold the dough 3 times, at intervals close to 90 minutes. The proofing period I use is usually close to what I do with commercial yeast. The idea is to get the dough to rise one last time, and not completely, more like 85 or 90%, before putting it in the oven to bake.

There are lots of posts on TFL about what happens when you start with someone else's starter and refresh it for a while: does it maintain its original character, or does it change into something unique to you and your flour and your environment? Lots of different opinions on this subject, I think you'll find.

Do some searches, read some recipes, and take the plunge!

Good luck,


koloatree's picture

thank you David for the very informative post! the more i read, the more things start to make sense. i will post question in the sourdough board.


thank you again!



Maverick's picture

It is my understanding that the Italian starters are extra sour compared to others. Whether or not it will continue to keep the same flavor is a matter of contention as mentioned above. If you got the culture from, I believe it comes with 2 different ones. I hear the Ischia Island one is more sour than the Calmoldoli and people like it for pizza and soury sourdough. Of course, how you ferment the dough can make a difference too.