The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

newbie confusion

enaid's picture

newbie confusion

I have been baking yeast breads for decades.  Now I want to try using a starter. I have been perusing this site for days and am so confused as there is so much conflicting advice.  

I like to make, at least partial, whole wheat bread.  I want to, initially,  end up with a mild sour dough. I want something not too complicated or time consuming.  I only bake about once every week or so and probably bake only one or two loaves at a time. I know absolutely nothing about starters so, with these points in mind, here are some of the questions I need answering:-

1)What do I need to start a starter and in what proportions?

2) Do I keep it in the fridge or on the counter (my kitchen, in the winter, is 68-70 degrees and lower at      night).

3) How often do I feed/discard?

4)  How long before I can use it?

5)  What proportion do I add to a recipe with, say, 3 cups of flour?

I would be extremely grateful for any advice and, remember, I am only in kindergarten when it comes to starters, so use words of one syllable please! 





LindyD's picture

Welcome to TFL, Pollyana.

For questions one through four:  Here's a pretty foolproof method of creating a levain (a/k/a starter):

As to question five, when you get to the point when your levain is strong enough to raise a loaf of bread, just type "sourdough bread" in the TFL search bar and you'll find lots of links and recipes to explore.

wayne on FLUKE's picture
wayne on FLUKE

I recommend getting your first starter from someone and learning to care/feed it and then make bread.

After that, you can start your own if you feel the need.

I got mine from as recommended here:

They will send it for free if you send them a self adressed stamped envelope. Follow the directions in and before you know if you will have starter ready to make bread.

Good luck

ericb's picture

Not to confuse you even more, but...

1)What do I need to start a starter and in what proportions?

I would recommend reading Sourdough 101. I'm sure the pineapple method works fine, but as I have personally tried Gaaarp's Sourdough 101 method, I can say that it works flawlessly.

2) Do I keep it in the fridge or on the counter (my kitchen, in the winter, is 68-70 degrees and lower at  night).

While building or feeding my starter, I keep it on top of the water heater. Your 70 degree kitchen should do just fine. If I'm not going to bake for a few days, I feed my starter and then store it in the refrigerator. I have stored it for up to 2 weeks and had no trouble at all getting it going again.

3) How often do I feed/discard?

I feed mine once or twice a day (unless I'm storing it in the fridge). Discard each time you feed. If I feed it once a day, I like to use a 1:2:2 ratio (1 part starter, 2 parts flour, 2 parts water). If I plan on feeding it twice, I do a 1:1:1 ratio.

4)  How long before I can use it?

It takes about a week to get one going.

5)  What proportion do I add to a recipe with, say, 3 cups of flour?


It depends entirely on the recipe you are using. Rather than modify one of your current recipes, I would recommend finding one on this site, or in a book. One of my earliest successes with sourdough was David Snyder's pain de campagne. It uses a bit of yeast to give it a boost, but I found it to be a delightful learning recipe. Of course, the perennial favorite is Vermont Sourdough.


Good luck, and please let us know how it goes!


Eric B.

enaid's picture

Many thanks Ericb.  This is a great help.

occidental's picture

Hi Pollyanna,

I agee with LindyD on follwing the link but if you find yourself overwhelmed when you get there here are my thoughts/opinions on your questions in  possibly a more simplied format.  I only offer one caveat that you already allude to in your post....there is more than one 'right' way to approach most of the questions you have.  That said, here's my thoughts:

1)  in the most simple form, just flour and water.  I'd recommend the porportion of 1:1 to get started - this is the consistency of a batter (by weight, NOT volume).  You need a scale if you are going to be baking bread.

2) To get started, keep it on the counter, once your starter is going place it in the fridge between bakes.

3) To get started discard and feed every day.  Don't worry about amounts so much.  If you feed small amounts you can discard equally small amounts, if you are feeding larger amounts you will need to discard equal large amounts, so I'd recommend working in small amounts (10 grams of flour/water) instead of large (100 grams flour/water).  Once the starter is active (bubbly and rising) and you are placing in the fridge weekly feedings are good enough, sometimes multiple weeks without feeding are alright.

4)  You may be able to use in as soon as a week.  Keep up the feeding for a week to 10 days, then you should be good to go. 

5) Porportions vary a lot.  I've seen preferment (starter) amounts in the 50% range (that is you would be adding 1 pound of flour and half pound of starter, or you can start with as little as a few grams (a tablespoon).  This is where sourdough gets really fun.  Do a search on bakers math and you can start tweaking recipes to suit your preferences.  One formula I'd recommend is Susan's Simple Sourdough because it produces one small loaf that can be varied a lot by changing flour mixes, sourdough amounts, we are getting beyond introductory stuff...sorry.  Anyway, here is the link for Susan's Sourdough: 


I hope this was helpful.  Keep asking questions, there is a lot of knowledge floating around this site.

enaid's picture

Thank you, Occidental,  for this, it's exactly the kind of information I was looking for.

Jahosacat's picture

I'm VERY new to sourdough baking - after 10 years of using a bread machine - and I'd like to add 1 comment. Take notes about what you're doing - times, if your house is cool where you do things, what seems to work and what doesn't work and note questions you have. This site is the best I've found for help, much to be read and there are other sites and books out there. And... have patience and have fun!