The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

So after all this work the bloody loaf isn't sour! AHHHH! I think I might double up on the levain... or start fresh...

Jean-Paul's picture

So after all this work the bloody loaf isn't sour! AHHHH! I think I might double up on the levain... or start fresh...

So after all this work my sourdough isn't sour! If i double up on the final levain, do you think it'll give me a loaf of sour, sourdough? I'm following the books to the letter of the law... but I think the culprit is that my local wild yeast is not up to making a tasty sourdough. So, as another request, is there anyone in downtown San Francisco who has an active, fantastic, sour sourdough starter they wouldn't mind sending this wretched soul just trying to make a great loaf of San Fran sourdough bread? Thanks for your thoughts!

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Jean-Paul.

How did you make your starter?

How old is it?

What recipe are you using for the bread that isn't sour enough for you?

Is the starter raising the dough? Are you happy with the bread you've baked, other than how sour it is?

I'm sure we can help you bake the bread you desire, if we know more about what you have done up to this point. I doubt the problem is your local yeast.


wally's picture


Without more specific info on your sourdough composition and how you're feeding it, it's hard to suggest specific remedies.

Two things in general:

1- Start adding whole wheat in direct proportion to your bread flour.  Whole wheat will produce a more acidic starter (in other words, split your total flour weight evenly between whole wheat and the flour you're normally using to feed your starter).  After 3 -5 days, you should have a more sour starter, and at that point you can revert to the flour you've been using and dispense with the whole wheat. (Or, as I'm doing, you can add a percentage of whole wheat to each feeding).

2- If you're not feeding it twice a day, start doing that in addition to #1.

Best of luck,


Soundman's picture

... PiperBaker is right. Lowering the inoculation percentage significantly (ratio of flour in the levain to the total flour in the dough) causes a significantly longer fermention time for the dough, resulting in a more sour loaf.

A couple of other angles:

Slowing down the activity of the process, by lowering the hydration of the levain as well as lowering the dough temperature during fermentation, can (indirectly) increase the production of acetic acid, which is where most of our sensation of sour in sourdough comes from. Cool it!

Lastly, like a lot of part-time bakers I use the refrigerator for my starter when I'm not baking. I found this technique diminished the sour flavor I got when I first created the culture. Eventually I found that treating my starter as 2 separate processes brought the sour back. This strategy, splitting your starter and treating the 2 parts differently, one part to accentuate the leavening power, i.e. the yeast action, the other to accentuate the bacterial component, is used by TFL participant Alpine in his Colorado bakery. It's a little more work, but if all else fails, it's sure-fire. Alpine described it in this post:



Paddyscake's picture

I believe, is in Corvallis, Oregon..not that it makes any difference.


foolishpoolish's picture

Lowering the inoculation percentage does not necessarily increase the 'sour'. I've worked recently with several 16-24+ hour pizza doughs (at around 3% starter, 56% hydration) in which the whole exercise was to keep it fairly mild. There was barely a hint of sour in the final dough. This was deliberate and had a lot do with the way the starter was maintained/built before mixing the final dough.

Cooling the fermentation does not necessarily create a more sour result either...especially if you're using a very low percentage of starter. Better would be to use a reasonable percentage of starter in the final dough. Then, crucially, allow the dough to ferment in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours (80-85F) BEFORE retarding the fermentation in a cooler place.

'Splitting the starter' (ie using more than one starter) is something I've been using on and off for a while now and it does work but it's a fudge in that you have to adjust your formula. You can't simply add different starters to a dough and expect it to behave like the original formula - it requires a whole new calculation and ultimately will give a markedly different result. I think it would be a little premature to go down this road just because there wasn't enough sour in the bread.




Soundman's picture


Thanks for correcting that! Corvallis, Oregon, it is of course.


I'm interested to hear that these techniques don't work for you.

I was commenting from my own experience (and experimentation) on all of the points I mentioned, as well as from some of the scientific information that's available. That doesn't mean everyone will get the same results from the same methods, obviously. In the end it comes down to the LAB in your culture and what they're capable of.


foolishpoolish's picture

Hi David,

Sorry if my post sounded a little negative.

I wasn't trying to imply that the techniques you mentioned didn't work period...rather that they weren't sure fire methods to obtain a sourer loaf. Like you say it's hard to generalise for every starter culture - and therefore there is no definitive method to obtain sour.

I guess this is the problem when one tries to tackle one particular characteristic of the bread in isolation. Changing any one parameter has an effect on other aspects of the bread also.

To clarify - cool fermentation CAN result in a sour loaf but you need things 'tipped in the favour' of LAB  for that to happen. The salt in the final dough and low temperature is kind of like a double whammy for bacteria.It's a little more complex than this, of course, but I'm probably not the best person to write in depth about the microbiology - other than to say that I have discovered through my experiments this can result in a very mild bread.

Hence I suggest fermenting at a warm temperature (in a humid environment if possible!) for several hours prior to refrigeration. 



mbass7mile's picture


It is my understanding that whatever starter you get from anywhere else, the yeast , will eventually revert to the taste of the wild yeast in your area.  In other words it will end up tasting like the local wild yeast floating around in your kitchen.

I hope I explained myself and made sense.


mbass7mile's picture


It is my understanding that whatever starter you get from anywhere else, the yeast , will eventually revert to the taste of the wild yeast in your area.  In other words it will end up tasting like the local wild yeast floating around in your kitchen.

I hope I explained myself and made sense.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Yeasts floating around in your kitchen?  Oh dear!  I'll stick with the yeasts in the starter and flour please.

I have a new week-old rye starter and it works like a charm! Lots of rising power and flavor.  Opps, I'm bragging.... (does it help to add that I forgot my starter balls in the fridge as I went out the door to the airport?)  I picked up some wonderful organic rye downtown Mt. Vernon, Iowa to start it.


Pablo's picture

Hi Mini,

I, too, have a 1-week-old rye starter that I'm starting to rely on.  I was wowed by Hamelman's 40% Rye with Caraway and went "rye simple".  I'm going to use this rye starter exclusively for awhile to really get to know it.  I named him "Sparky".  My other starters are on cryogenic life support in the freezer.


Pain Partout's picture
Pain Partout

Jean-Paul...  Don't feel bad. Getting an EXTRA SOUR flavor is elusive for many of us.  At least moi (me), and I have tried just about everything to achieve this end.  Is it the STRAIN of Lactobacillus bacteria that we are seeking?  I agree that using a rye-based starter (this does make good sourdough) helps, but my attempts are still downright disappointing.  My "sourdough breads" get many compliments, but just don't get the "San Fran" level of sour. Great link to Alpine's comments, Soundman.   Daniel Leader, in his book Local Breads, suggests that any of our local strains of Lactobacilus may be "contaminated" by whatever is floating around in our own kitchen.  Makes sense to me....but I haven't a clue if this is correct.  Alpine may be right in his "washing" theory to maintain the correct strain? 

Kuret's picture

It´s true, but from what I can gather then sour flavor develops mostly at room temperature or higher. I seem to remember a diagram showing specific levels of activity for yeast contra lactic bacteria wich indicated that yeast does best in a narrower range than bacteria, so therefore increasing dough temperature beyond what the yeast likes without killing them will boost your bacteria.

check this out if you are interested:


Remeber, your fridge slows down bacterial activity ass well as yeast activity thus you whould have to keep your dough in your fridge for insane amounts of time to get the sour you want. Higher temperatures does this for you a lot faster.

pjaj's picture

Have you seen this thread on this forum? There's a lot of discussion on the same topic, including my 2 cents about extended fermentation.

I think that you probably get more sour from 2 sources.

1) The luck of the draw - what strains of yeast and / or bacteria your starter contains.

2) A long slow cold fermentation.

But then I'm just a beginner at sourdough.