The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Newbie Sourdough Question

sewcial's picture

Newbie Sourdough Question

I am new to sourdoughs and I made up a stiff dough levain starter a few weeks ago, but haven't used it yet. I fed it this morning and couldn't bear to keep throwing away half of it, so I fed both halves. Now I need to bake with one portion tomorrow morning. I want to make a whole wheat loaf, but all the recipes I find for whole wheat bread call for a whole wheat sourdough starter. Converting a white starter takes more time and I want to try it now. 

 Is there any reason why I would really have to develop a whole wheat starter? I would think a white flour starter would raise the whole wheat dough just as well. My wheat is hard white with a high protein content-- 16% and I'll be grinding it just before baking, so it won't lose anything.

Any thoughts?  My original starter began with a bit of rye and whole wheat flour added. In the weekly feedings, there are a couple teaspoons of whole wheat added each time.

The other issue is that the recipe I found that I thought I could use is based on the starter in the KA baking book, which seems to be a liquidy sourdough. Mine is a stiff dough levain so I know I will need to add extra water to my dough.

Although I really want to try using sourdough, it seems so complex to keep the right sourdough alive all the time if not using it every week. I didn't realize I would have to keep making a new kind for each kind of bread.

If I don't see an answer tonight, I'll just plunge in and see what the result is. If it works, I'll post in case any other newbies have the same question.


SourdoLady's picture

You don't have to have different starters for every bread. Yes, by all means you can use a white starter in WW bread. As long as you are aware of the adjustments needed to get the dough consistency that you are after you can use a starter of any consistency. It might be easier to adjust the hydration level of the starter before mixing your dough.

rainwater's picture

You don't need to use whole wheat starter to make whole wheat bread.  Your bread will be plenty heavy with whole wheat flavor and nutrition if you substitute your starter for a whole wheat starter. 

Decide how you want to keep your starter and go from there.  Most the recipes I've read use a more hydrated starter, but you can adjust when you make your builds.  Most sourdough recipes use an initial build, and this can be a stiff or wet levain depending on the recipe. 

Hammelman uses %125 hydration, and I think Reinhart uses %100 hydration.  I like %100 percent hydration for the simplicity of the baker's math.  I know exactly how much flour/water is in my starter.  This makes it easy to transform the starter to a stiff starter if I have to, and also it makes it easy to calculate water/flour for leftover/throw away starter.  Instead of throwing away starter, I can substitute in a yeasted recipe.....

Let's say I have 14oz. of leftover starter....this gives me  7 oz. of flour and 7 oz. of water.  I subtract this from the water and flour in a yeasted bread formula. 

Whiter flour starter will work fine in a whole grain might help to make it a little lighter???

Hope this is helpful...

sewcial's picture

I will do it tomorrow. I will figure the hydration and compare it with the one in he KA book. I like the idea to hydrate the starter before I begin the dough. The other option would be to add a couple ounces more water to the dough.

So, rainwater, it sounds like it might be helpful if I hydrate the starter to be 100% hydration, it would be easier to convert it for more recipes. The Leader book specifies stiff dough or liquid starter for each recipe. He does say they can be interchanged if you adjust the liquid in the recipe.

Thanks for the tips. I have enjoyed using biga and pate fermente, but this will be my first real sourdough bread.


sewcial's picture

my first whole wheat sourdoughWell, I made my bread. It's quite light since it is the Prairie Gold flour, but has browned well. 

I only guessed at the amount of water to add. First I added water to the starter and mushed it up well. Then, on combining with the flour, etc., I added a bit more water and saved back some of the measured flour. It seemed wetter than the description in the recipe, so I added a bit of the reserved flour, causing me to  mix it a bit more than specified before the autolyse. It was slow to rise in the first 45 min. of fermentation (maybe from too much mixing by hand at first) so I gave it an extra 35-40 min. fermentation. 

Here are the loaves. They seem to have gotten a nice oven spring and I can't wait to see inside. I don't have a crumb shot since it isn't cool enough to cut yet, but here is the first picture. I thought all but one slash was about 1/4" deep, but they seem to have spread a lot. I do think I may need to lower my oven temp about 25'F for future whole wheat loaves as the bottom browned pretty fast. It is done through because I checked the temp with a probe thermometer. I'll post a crumb shot as soon as I can cut it.

Thanks again for the tips. 

(edited to add the photo)

noonesperfect's picture

They look great!

FWIW, whole wheat recipes call for whole wheat starters so that the end product will still be whole wheat.  If you use an AP starter, you included some flour that was not whole wheat.  No offense to whole wheat purists, but to me it is not an issue.  Whole wheat starters tend to get active faster and may yield slightly different results due to the higher enzyme activity and the bran content, but as you have found, a white flour starter works well too.


sewcial's picture


Thank you. Here is the crumb shot. I am pretty pleased with how it came out. It definitely has the texture of a sourdough, the crumb is firm but soft and I think the holes are okay. We had it for lunch today with butter and cheese.

After I wrote asking about the starter, I realized the recipe I chose had a bit of white flour in it anyway. I look forward to trying it with all whole wheat or at least all except for the starter. 

My concern with using whole grain flour for the starter is that I had always been told that whole wheat flour can't rise too long or it would eat up the yeast and fall before it went into the oven. I guess that isn't true of sourdoughs. With my straight dough sandwich loaf, I use a fairly large amount of yeast and short rising times, but I'm playing around with my original recipe to see if I can adapt it to use a sourdough starter and just a small amount of commercial yeast...or maybe, when I get brave, none at all.


sewcial's picture

I am still having some issues on how exactly to keep and use my sourdough starter. AS you can see above, I succeeded in making a pretty nice loaf with my stiff dough starter. I just took some of it, soon after feeding and thinned it. I don't think that was exactly the right way to do it and I didn't know its percentage, so I guessed...mixed in some water till it looked good.

I have read and read about maintaining a starter and the concensus seems to be that a 100% starter is best. However, in all the reading it seems to be a pretty high maintenance starter. My stiff dough starter is probably about 50% hydration now that it has been going a few weeks.  Anyway, it is a nice plump little guy, looking like a little baby ball of dough and he is very happy with a feeding once a week. The thinner ones seem to want feeding every day or so. I don't want to convert my little pudgy guy to a liquid that needs daily feeding.

 Mine isn't very big, though, and the instructions usually say to throw half of it out each week when I feed it. Most recipes also call for about 14 ounces of starter for one loaf of bread and that would take all I have or more. Most of the book recipes also usually seem to be wanting a thinner starter. Does it take 3 days to convert the amount I want to use to a 100% starter? What if I just used a smaller amount of my stiff dough starter like I did above?

I often want to bake on impulse and don't have the patience to wait three days to work up the amount of starter called for. If a day seems like a good baking day, I jump into baking mode.

The other issue is that some of the books call for their own type of starter. Reinhart has recipes that call for two or three different complex starters in one bread... seed culture, mother starter, barm, etc. He wants more than one of these. I like his books, but I'm not sure I want to do all those complex. I need to read more about that pineapple juice seed culture he talks about, but, my starter raised a nice loaf without all the helpers.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

when you need a 100% starter, mix it up before you go to bed to make dough in the morning. ( or mix starter in the morning and dough in the afternoon.)  Say the recipe calls for 200g starter.   Take a rounded teaspoon of your starter and add 100g water and stir well wisking it up with a fork or spoon, then add the 100g flour and blend well.  Cover and let stand out overnight.  In the morning it is ready to be measured into your recipe.

Just before your firm starter runs out, take a rounded teaspoon and add water, 50g or 100g water what ever your needs.  Stir it up well breaking the little clumps and add flour until it is thick, maybe a little more, let it stand about an hour or two and then refrigerate.  Don't use for about 5 days while it is ripening. If you leave it out for 4 hours you can use it sooner after refrigeration like in a day or two.

Should you want to use the firm starter sooner, just take out a larger portion of the starter and let it warm up.  You can add water till it reaches about 100% hydration (you should know this by feel)  and decide how close it is to being used.  You may want to let it stand an hour or two or you may want to just start mixing up a dough.  Your rise times may vary but with time, it will get easier to "read" your starter.  I like to mix it into dough when it feels foamy like  almost melted icecream.  There should be a slight sour smell, some kind of bubble structure and it should not have peaked or reached maximum volumn but very close to getting there.  I also want a certain smell from my sourdough.  If it smells like just flour & water, it is far from ready and needs more time before adding to a recipe. 

Currently I have an extra firm starter deep sleeping in the fridge, in other words, I ignore it.  I am however using a small part of it.   It gets used and fed about every 3 days.  Right now mine is rather fast and If I let it stand out after feeding for 4 hours, I can use it directly into a rough 1-2-3 recipe within the next 3 days.  That leaves lots of room for impulsive baking behavior.   I keep a jelly jar of rye starter and use all but a teaspoon.  I don't really pay attention to being exact when feeding and add about 1/4 cup or 50g water and then rye flour leaving 1 1/2" (4cm) head room in the jar.  The starter is doing its job and I have no strict schedules but after mixing up my dough, the ready loaf is about 7-8 hours later in the oven.  A loaf weighs roughly 700g to 850g and can be anthing from 80% down to 15% rye.  Sometimes I add a little extra water and sometimes not.  I use soakers, cereals, roasted flours and nuts.  I just used up the last of my bread flour and am off to the market.  When I get back, the loaf I started at 11 am might be ready for the oven. Too late for supper but perfect for tomorrow's lunch.  The nearest market is downstairs... practical.  

You may want to keep a larger jar of starter, just use two heaped teaspoons of firm starter and add 220g water and 220g flour, that would do it.  4-5 hours on the counter and into the fridge.   Ready when you are.

Mini Oven

sewcial's picture

Mini Oven, Keeping starter sounds so much easier the way you explain it. I thought I had to feed it a few times a day over a few days to convert it. 

It's interesting that you say I can take just a teaspoon and add all that water and it will still be lively enough to raise my bread. I thought I had to have a large amount of starter. I'll do an experiment with a bit of mine and see what results. When I made that stiff starter, I also began a liquid one, but it never came alive and I finally threw it out. I haven't been very keen on liquid starters since then. All I used was flour and well water for both, fed both by the book, but the stiff one is plump and happily rising each time I feed it while the liquid just sat there separating into flour at the bottom and yellow water on top (for 2 weeks). Maybe it will work better making a liquid one from my stiff one that is already active. 

I can't bake for a few days because my new scale went screwy and they are sending me a new one. Actually, I wasn't supposed to be baking last week or this one, but my grandchildren's visit got postponed till this Saturday, so I've still been baking. Now I will need to take a break and get the house ready for the little ones. 

I am eager to try a few more recipes. On Monday I made a dozen of Norm's onion rolls and more lovely Semmeln.

I also tried converting my old favorite whole wheat oatmeal bread to a sourdough with disastrous results. I made a couple pan loaves and a very large batard and a mini one to sample. I used less flour because the sourdoughs with wetter dough look better in most peoples photos. It seemed to do great in the fermenting and proofing.  I decided to slash them for more oven spring and they spread out low and wide...what a mess! They taste okay, but not as good as my old recipe.  it will make strange looking sandwiches, but everyone will have to eat it in spite of its ugliness. That's too much bread to waste.

Your tips will help me on sourdough in general, but it will be a while before I try converting an old standby to sourdough again.