The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starting down the path

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Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

Starting down the path

If you read my intro, you know I'm new at this, so be gentle. Anyway, a few months ago I decided to expand my repertoir into sour dough. Not knowing where to go for the starter, I turned to the Internet and found a site that explained how to make my own from water and whole wheat flour. After two attempts, no joy. At that point, I rememembered my sole bread book had a section on sour dough and that included "how to" make starters. Three of them in fact.

The options presented were:

Starter from wild yeast in the air, using milk and flour.

Starter from bread yeast, sugar and water.

A potato based starter.

Note all three include some type of sugar, along with the liquid and flour to get this going.

I used the milk version that depends on wild yeast. Basic process is to take one cup of milk (skim or whole.....I used whole), put that in a container and leave out on the counter covered loosly with cheesecloth for 24 hours. I'm guessing this is an innoculation period. Then add one cup of AP unbleached white flour, cover with a double layer of cheesecloth and let it sit on the counter until it starts working. Mine kicked over at about 36 hours. At that point, you start dividing, adding equal parts of milk and flour to your starter. After about 5 days, if it's going well, it's ready to use.

Maintenance and feeding is by volume: one part starter, one part milk, one part flour, although in practice and out of ignorance, I've varied that a lot. Sometimes one full cup of "week old" starter (dumping liquid hooch off the top), stirring down and then adding 1/2 cup skim milk and 1/2 cup flour. It will start actively bubbling, rise about 25% for about 2 or 3 hours, then fall back to the original level. At that point.......about 3 or 4 hours.....back in the refer, where it may sit for up to a week. Dump the hooch off and repeat.

This basic process appears to be similar to the famour Carl's starter. It's maintained as a fairly wet starter. Note, all these include some type of sugar in the liquid, which from my beer making days, I realize is attacked instantly by the yeast. To me, it has a nice smell about it and if you taste it, it's "fizzy" from the carbonation. It has a sour taste that is not at all unpleasant. But it's nothing at all like what you folks seem to be using. It seems to work well for some SD applications like biscuits or batters (pancake, waffles, etc), but iffy on the breads. Or maybe I'm not doing the breads right either?

Now before you spank me for doing wrong, know that as of this morning, I've mixed together an infant starter of orange juice and organic whole rye flour. I'm blessed in that a local store has an extensive bulk foods section (source of my rye flour), stocks a wide variety of KA flours and the option for me to grind my own high gluten hard red spring wheat flour from whole wheat kernels. Its ground fresh in the store.

So with that, kudos or critiques. I'm all ears.



Nickisafoodie's picture

Use rye flour and water only, equal parts by weight. room termperature.  feed every morning for a week, then go to 3 times a week for one week.  at the end of two weeks, use as often as you wish, and then start storing in refrigerator.

Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

Thanks for the reply. From some reading I've done, I presume one doesn't keep adding to the original. After some period of time you start dividing, so it's some quantity of starter, plus equal parts of water and rye? Perhaps 1:1:1 (all by weight)?

When do you switch out from rye to wheat, or do you?

Whole wheat? White? All purpose? White bread?  High gluten  whole wheat?


Nickisafoodie's picture

Use rye flour and water only, equal parts by weight. room termperature.  feed every morning for a week, then go to 3 times a week for one week.  at the end of two weeks, use as often as you wish, and then start storing in refrigerator.

Nickisafoodie's picture

yes, one to one by weight you only need a tablespoon or two discarding same amount at each feeding.  You can do this by eye once you get the feel, looks like a very thick pancake batter.  I used to use a scale when feeding the starter but it is not neccessary once you get the sense of it.  Use a glass jar that holds about 1 cup.  You do not need much as you can build your starter in the recipe as I mention below when starting the day before. 

I use the starter even if making 100% whole wheat, or white bread or pizza, the amount is rather tiny and if anything adds a subtle hint of complexity.  When I make pizza, I usually use 20% whole wheat and 80% white, and a few tablespoons of the starter, plus commercial yeast. Re pizza, the dough will taste fabulous and complex if you refigerate the dough 2-3 days. 

Rye is the best starter flour given its enzyme structure is very condusive to fermemtation.  I would use 100% whole wheat if you cant find the rye.  I grind my own and nothing, I mean nothing tastes better then fresh ground flour even if you compar to KA or other high quality flour.  Like fresh squeezed OJ vs frozen; frozen is better than powder and fresh is better than frozen.  Get yourself a Whisper Mill if and when you feel ready.  Whole Foods has the bulk wheat (but not rye- and SAF yeast, by far the best) and any decent health food store can special order a 25lb bag that should be stored in a cool dry space.   Many use white flour and have good results, but I would rather the complexity of the whole grains and an unadulterated product with nothing stripped out or added back.

When making bread, I use a sponge mixing most of the liquid with 50-65% of total incredient weight with enough of the flour to make a thick (stiff oatmeal consistency) sponge. - 5-7 hours is the typical time for a fresh starter feed to build to peak.  Feed your starter at 6pm day before, at 11 add half to the sponge (then feed starter and store in fridge).  cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave on counter.   at 7am baking day add salt, and rest of flour and ingredients other than yeast, then knead to incorporate, let rest 30 min to autolyze. Add yeast then kneat 10-12 min with your mixer- study the dough, you will see it changes at 10-12 minutes, dough should stick to bottom of bowl as it mixes.  I use a 68% hydration ratio andn sometimes you need to adjust by adding more water or flour when mixing. let rise 50 min, (stretch and fold once at 30 min).  form into loaves, let rise another 45-55 min.  I get great oven spring by starting at 450 degrees, then lowering to 350.  I throw in 1/4 cup of water onto oven floor (do not hit the light bulb) after loading loaves, same at 5 min again, and at 10 min.  Helps with oven spring. After 10 min, lower to 350.  After 45 minutes of total bake time I insert a probe themometer into the loaf quickly, close the oven door and connect the probe cable to my themometer ($20 at Bed Bath and beyond, $16 after 20% coupon).  I set the alarm to go off at 201 degrees, usually 50 min total bake time.  remove and let cool on wire rack

Scales are useful, both a small one for things like yeast and salt, and a larger one that can handle 6-12 pounds depending on how much you make- the larger likely not accurate for the small measures e.g. if you are measuring 20 grams of salt in your recipe- and table salt weighs twice as much as the larger flecks of kosher salt so a scale is a must.  I do 5 loaves at a time in breadpans or close to 10 lbs of dough at a time.  Salt is typically 2% of flour weight and yeast is 1%.   Start with 50/50 whole wheat and white and go from there.  And have fun!  It will surely become addicting

Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

I use a 1:3:4 or 2:3:4 way of feeding, depending on what I'm doing.

1:3:4 is for the days where I feel like being lazy. My starter is a very happy, healthy one that doubles in about 4 hours when it's fed. One part starter to 3 parts water to 4 parts flour will keep my starter pretty happy for a couple days, as long as I stir it in between.

2:3:4 is what I feed my starter to build it up for baking recipes that are my own.

1:2:3 is also an easy way to go.

Once you get it to the point where it's nice and active, you can even divide it into more than one starter. I'm trying to decide if I want to start a rye flour starter since I've become quite obsessed with that grain. I've also been considering creating a whole wheat starter since I'm slowly going to focus more of my baking on whole grains.

There are many, many ways to do this. I suggest sticking the phrase "sourdough 101" in the search box up in the left corner of the screen under the header graphic of the site and use that method. It works. Just read through the entire thing before actually doing it as there's a lot of information there about a certain part of the process during which you'll question whether any of this is a good idea. :D

Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

Are those ratios by weight or volume?


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Let me help you understand your starter. 

the milk:  good souce of lactic acid here... cup of milk... loosly with cheesecloth for 24 hours. I'm guessing this is an innoculation period.

Guess again...  This is to let the milk start to sour dropping the pH of the liquids so it is more acidic, a better starting point to help wake up yeast spores in the flour. 

Sometimes one full cup of "week old" starter (dumping liquid hooch off the top), stirring down and then adding 1/2 cup skim milk and 1/2 cup flour.

I have no qualms about variations in feeding but your starter may... you can feed more but you should never feed less.  After 5 days it's hungry (hooch is a sign of under feeding) and full of hungry little beasts.  You do not do yourself a favor by keeping all of them because to feed them properly, you will use more flour and have more waste.  You need to discard and reduce to a smaller amount.  By keeping one cup and feeding half the weight in flour, you are seriously threatening their preformance.  Your starter will get weaker and return to a spore mode to survive the lack of food. So don't be surprised when it refuses to lift your dough.  It is better to reduce their numbers and feed well.  They will then increase their numbers and strength and raise your bread like good little workers.

It will start actively bubbling, rise about 25% for about 2 or 3 hours, then fall back to the original level.

That is because the yeasts have consumed the food in a rather short time and ehausted the food supply they have reached an acid level that slows them down and stops CO2 production.  Something to keep in mind when mixing a bread dough with half the dough as starter and the other half as flour and liquid.  A very short time window to work your loaf before baking and not much rise using a starter that had peaked the week before.

So now, what would help build up your starter to acceptable levels?   Food!  Did you want to keep the milk?  Still can or you can change to water.  Both acceptable.  The food is the flour.   That is the important ingredient.  Reduce your starter and feed.

Get your starter stronger in the next few days.   You may find feeding every second day and leaving it out on the counter a good place to start.   If you refrigerate it do so before it peaks not after.

The rye & orange is a different story so follow the directions carefully.  You can leave it as a rye starter or when it's working after about a week, start introducing some wheat with the rye flour.  Over a week with daily feedings twice a day, increase the wheat amount while reducing the rye amount until it's running only on AP wheat. Wheat will slow down the starter somewhat and the reactions take longer.   Rye flour tends to speed up starters.


Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough


Thanks, as that is type of information I did not have. I have suspected for some time  I was going about this all wrong, but didn't have anyone to set me straight. I'll start feeding it more and see where it goes.

FYI, about 5 days ago when I found this site, I pulled 100 grams of starter 1 day after feeding, then combined that with 200 grams of water and 200 grams of white bread flour. Six hours later, some 400 ml of total starter had turned into about 900 ml:


Red line on the jar was the original level. Starter rose all the way to the neck, then settled back to about 700 ml mark by the next morning. BUT, consistency was about the same as marshmellow cream, and not even sticky. As this was a test, I may pitch it and "start" again with smaller quantities, but keep it at room temperature and feed it more often. I'll pull the start from the milk base version and try again.

In the meantime, my curiosity with the rye versions is running wild and I have both OJ/rye and water/rye infants underway as of this morning.

I'm also intrigued by Nick's reply, although I fear he has me headed to college and I've not graduated first grade yet! I hope to walk before I try to run.  :)




Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I hope you keep a little of this and don't pitch all of it.  Cultures do take a little time to grow and time would be wasted if you pitched all of it.  Marshmellow cream sounds good!  This was 5 days ago!  Good then, not so much recovery time needed.  a couple of feedings and your're back in business!  Be sure you keep notes on all those starters and label well.


Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

Knowing a lot of lurkers (like myself) read through these, here is an update on my starter options.......three of them:

At the start (OJ/Rye on the left, water/rye on the right):

At 48 hours for the two new rye options, and after 18 hours with a coversion of my existing milk/flour starter:

OJ/Rye (1:1 by volume) on the far left. Fed once by adding to the start. Looks like there might be some tiny little pin holes developing, but no change in volume. Red marks after start and first feeding.

Water/Rye (1:1 by weight) in the middle. This has been fed once, by adding to the start. Red marks after start and first feeding. Has more than doubled in size. To believe what you read, this is not from yeast, but from bacteria. It has an odor that is not like my other starter (read not pleasant).

As viewed from above:

Third starter on the far right is a new version taken from my original milk/flour starter. It's  1:2:2 (starter:water:flour) by weight, and it doubled in volume over 18 hours, and is holding. I notice a BIG difference between using AP flour, vs. white bread flour. One is a sticky, but flowable mass. The other is a thick, plastic glob. For feeding, it's AP for me. If it matters, I'm using all KA products.

Not shown is a feeding of my original milk/flour starter, now at 1:1:1 by volume. Right on schedule, it rose to 125% for a couple hours, then fell back and by this morning, had a nice layer of hooch on top. Apparently still alive and kicking, despite being on a starvation diet. Remember, this was started a few months ago so it not to be compared with the two rye options.

Stay tuned.



Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

Update at the conclusion of day 4:

OJ/Rye starter is now being fed 1/4 cup starter, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup white flour. Making this change, for whatever reason, caused the starter to show signs of life. Too thin to rise, but it now has a scattering of small bubbles on top. Could be the move away from the OJ as liquid allowed the ph to rise, so this may be nothing more than bacteria waking up.

Water/Rye start is moribund.  Very few  bubbles and no rise at all. Right on schedule?

My 1:2:2 conversion from the milk/flour starter is kicking up it's heels, more than doubling in about 8 hours at 64* F room temps.

As an aside, what to do with the part you throw away? For a long time, I've been feeding my bread making mistakes and surplus to the wild birds out back. Instead of dumping the excess growth, I've started saving it in a bowl, mixing with bacon grease, some baking powder and enough water to form a soft, sticky biscuit dough. Roll it out, and bake it for 10 minutes at 500*F. It's gone in 60 seconds!

clazar123's picture

That is an eternal question! It seems so wasteful. If you have many mouths to feed,pancakes,waffles,banan bread,sweet muffins and english muffins can absorb a lot of discarded starter.Birdfood is another. It becomes more of a flavoring/bulk agent than a leavening agent. You will need something to rise these things- like baking soda or baking powder.

This is why you want to be able to keep a small amount of culture viable and be able to use it often.Baking often is the key to not having any discard.You are always in the repleneshing stage of the smaller amount of starter and never have to worry about discarding any.

I haven't mastered that,yet. As we speak I have at leaast 6 jars in the refrigerator of sourdoughs I've "collected" at various locations with various flours. I always get the best culture from work! I work in a basement office that has a musty odor.I just put a tbsp of AP flour/water out uncovered and 3 days later have some bubbling starting. If I discard and feed over the next few days, I have a great starter.I guess I have it easy.But apparently I'm a starter hoarder!

Have fun!

curvyrivergal's picture

This is so interesting! I bake often, but have noticed just today that my starter seems sluggish and hooch is beginning to form for the first time since I received my starter approximately 6 weeks ago. I have been feeding the starter based on observation more than anything prescribed.  Thank you Mini for your enlightenment. I am sure it will be helpful:)

Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

To close this out for the benefit of those following along (I hate to find a story that was never concluded) are the results at the end of one week (end of day 7):

The 1:2:2 version from my milk/flour starter was doing well, so it was fed and put to bed in the fridge.

At the end of Day 6, the OJ/rye starter had come alive. Still working with the recommended 1/4 cup starter: 1/4 cup water: 1/4 cup white flour mix. By the end of day 6, start of day 7, it was not rising much, but was full of tiny bubbles....with a fluffy froth on top like it had egg whites beaten into it....


As this starts working, it is remarkable how it changes from a thick gravy like consistency to a thinner frothy fluff. I seem to recall somewhere in one of Debra Wink's posts that when the starter is on the verge of a yeast bloom, it goes through a "thinning" phase. At the same time, the odor went from something pleasant to something more like medicine. The taste is sour/tart to the point it has a pucker factor. Not a bad thing. I went back and tasted it 3 or  4 times to make sure!

Water/rye starter started to show signs of life at the end of day 5 and by the end of day 6 was doubling in size:

We have come full circle with this one. It too has a very potent, sour/tart flavor. It has a pleasant pucker factor as well.

So in conclusion to this "starting a starter" summay, my results are very much like those of others. The process works!

For those that missed it, Rainbowz has a blog piece on this very topic. In my opinion, he as put together one of the best instructional series on how to start a starter. My experience follows along with his example almost to the letter, and I'm confident this will repeat almost every time it's tried.

On my journey down the path, I've come to a fork in the road. Going forward, I now have half a refrigerator full of various starters. Its my intent to pare these down to no more than 2. Seeing and tasting these two starters done from this method, they appear to be far superior to what I did on my own from the milk and flour. The way these new starters perform is different. Their flavor is much better. I'll watch them for another week or so, but these may be the keepers. One with white flour. One with 100% rye for whole grain efforts. Going forward, both are being well fed on a 100% hydration diet.

Let the fun (baking) begin!