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Converting Recipes to Starter

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Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

Converting Recipes to Starter

I need some advice. I'm planning to bake two recipes which I've baked several times but this time convert both to starter only. The first is the whole wheat sandwich bread from Peter Rinehart's Whole grains book. He says to use 14oz of starter instead of the biga when converting.

The second is Hamelman's Multigrain with Rye starter. I'm simply wanting to leave out the commercial yeast in this bread.

What I need is an idea of how long to bulk proof, when to shape and rise in the pans? Can somebody help me? I've having a busy week and having difficulty figuring out how to work these breads into my schedule. As it is, I'm going to have to rebuild my starter as I built it last night and didn't get to put my formulas together today. Here's my schedule this week- I have tomorrow morning from wakeup until 11 am, then get home from work at 9pm, could do something after that for an hour or three. Friday I'll be gone in the morning, home the rest of the day, same Saturday.

So, you can see my dilema. No big blocks of time to do this bread. But, this is part of why I'm thinking my life can become easier if I can get these breads to become sourdough only, once I get them figured out. These are my regular, weekly breads.

I'm also hoping to do Mini's bread but I really need to be here to watch that one as it's a little fussier, takes about 6-8 hours and I don't want to leave it alone. I'll probably do that one Friday afternoon/evening.

Ambimom's picture

First, make sure that your starter is active....This is one of the biggest mistakes I made when I stopped using yeast.  The second mistake I made was to think that I had to reduce the flour in the recipe to account for the flour in my starter. Don't change the flour proportions.  Consider the starter separately.  The amount of starter to use depends on so many variables it is impossible to give a specific amount.  I started with one cup and experimented until I found a volume that worked for my particular recipe.

Starter works much slower than yeast.  You will need to let it rise for much longer periods.  Since you are already experienced in what bread is supposed to look and feel like, judge this.

My bread is a combination of Jim Lahey's no-knead and America's Test Kitchen version.  I think this will fit into your schedule....but since you'll be baking before you go to bed, you won't be able to sleep for that glorious aroma wafting through your house.

I mix flour,water,starter and salt in the evening.  I knead it a few times to form a shaggy ball.  I oil that in a bowl, cover with a towel and let it sit on the counter.  (15-18 hours).  Then I put bran on a wooden board, dump the risen dough onto the bran; turn a few times; shape a loaf and set into a skillet lined with parchment paper, cover, and let it rise for (2-4 hours) before baking.  I pre-heat covered pot in a 500 degree oven for 30 minutes.  I turn down heat to 450, lift parchment paper by sides and place in pre-heated pot.  Cover and bake for 45 minutes, uncover for another 30.

The temperatures and baking times will vary according to your equipment.  This works well.

ananda's picture


I'm pretty sure many of Hamelman's sourdough recipes list yeast as optional.   His text should cover both a yeasted and non-yeasted scenario.   You should be able to set an accurate time schedule using his recipe and method directions.

Best wishes


ermabom's picture

I've made PR's whole wheat sandwich bread from WGB with sourdough starter. I just followed the recipe for the wild yeast in the beginning of the book (don't remember the page #). It makes about 15-16 oz of a refreshed starter. I just took 14 oz of it and mixed it with the soaker to make the final dough.

I believe he says that you can store the wild yeast starter in the fridge for 2-3 days if you end up making it before the soaker is ready.

dlstanf2's picture

I've had the same promblem trying to convert yeast to starters as well. My starter is a dryer & thicker starter instead of  a more loose & wetter starter. I find it keeps better.

Here's what I do:

For the starter:

1 Cup Warm Water (about 105° F)
1/8 to Cup Starter instead of yeast
1 Cup AP Flour
1 tsp. Sugar

For the sponge:

1 ¼ Cup of the Starter
¾ Cup Warm Water
2 Cups Flour

For the dough:

All of the sponge
1 ½ Cups AP Flour (more or less)
2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Sugar
1 Tbsp. Vital Wheat Gluten (boost oven spring)
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil


Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

It's the timing I'm having troubles working out. The formulas are already in the book but they only give you timing for the yeast versions.

I bulk proofed the WW sandwich overnight. Shaped this AM. Had it sitting out about two hours. Since I had to go to work put it in the fridge. Not much rise throughout the day in fridge. Just pulled it out of the fridge. If it hasn't risen much I guess I'll put it back in the fridge and see what I can do when I have time tomorrow. I'm not too worried about the WW as it's resilient.

The rye multigrain on the other hand has so much rye that I'm sure it will be trickier and I know the 100% rye has no leeway for error. I'm thinking on the 100% rye just doing a single rise in the pan overnight and baking in the morning.That would be an easy fix.

The multigrain however, haven't worked that one out yet. Still trying to figure out how I'm going to let it rise for 4-5 hours, shape, let it rise in pans and get it in the oven with my schedule. Not sure it will tolerate overnight retardation with all that rye. I think it might self-destruct because of all the enzymes.

So, I'm still trying to figure it out. Maybe I'll try soaking the soaker starting tomorrow night.  Along with building the starter. Build the formula early Sat. AM before I leave. When I get home shape and put in pans for another rise. Then put into ovens.

ananda's picture

Hi Doc Tracey,

There are so many variables in these complex fermentation formulae.

From reading your post above, you clearly understand sufficient what is going on in these processes to work it all through.

You should just experiment and write things down.   What is the condition of your leaven?   What proprtion of pre-fermented flour in the formula?   What flour types are you using?   What about dough temperatures and what temp-erature are you fermenting your dough at? etc.

You can work all these things out for yourself given your clear appreciation of the importance of every one of these factors in achieving success.   I'm sure you will enjoy working it all through, and as you work it through, you'll understand a whole lot more, and enjoy your baking even more.

So you may make one or two mistakes; we all do, and they are part of the learning process.   Above all, have confidence; it is very clear from all you write here at TFL that you are more than capable of working all this out yourself


Best wishes


Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

I've been amazed at how long the retarded whole wheat loaf has taken to rise, given the 14oz of starter (very active) in it. I took it out of the fridge last night and it still has some rising to go this AM.

I'm giving it another hour or so, plan to stick it in the oven soon. Can't wait to taste it. The dough smell is so much better than with the yeast.

I'll get the multigrain soaker going this afternoon. I had the starter built but couldn't continue with the rye breads without knowing I was going to be around so now I have a big container of rye starter in the fridge. i'll bring it out when ready and give it an hour or so to warm up. It was just about ready to dome so maybe I'll just give it one more feeding and run with it. I'm wondering if even that feeding is necessary as it's so lively and only been in the fridge one day but since I won't be using any yeast at all I'll go ahead and at least double my starter size with yeast.

The builds/hydration are according to the formulas of each bread but I keep a firm starter, one rye and one whole wheat.

I'm also going to give the recipe on here for JMonkey's overnight whole wheat/rye/spelt hearth bread as I have some spelt that needs to be used.

So many breads, so little space and time. Can't wait to get in the house where I can do multiple bakes at once without having the space constraints that I have in the RV-no fridge room, no oven room, no counterspace room. Right now it's all I can do to bake a couple of loaves. I did 3 of my multigrain loaves and one rye last week and it was quite a challenge moving things around, getting those loaves to fit in the tiny oven, getting the timing right so that I had bread going in and out at the right time.

You're exactly right about keeping track of the temperatures. Although I'm not much of a note taker, I'm quite aware of using my senses and do keep a good eye on the temperature swings in the RV. I use various spots in the camper based on temps in the daytime and at night and what my goals are as far as warmth or coolness. I also frequently check with my instaread thermometer so that I know my internal temp is reading pretty accurately. I'm missing the cooler outdoor night weather as that was my perfect overnight retarder. Now it's too warm to do much good.

I think my biggest challenge will be to develop the rye breads that we enjoy on the slower, more doable schedules. The whole wheat sourdoughs are so forgiving. The more you retard them, it seems, the better they get (to a point).

I'm going to attempt Mini's 100% rye by putting it directly into the pullman pan without any bulk proof. It could be a perfect overnight bread with it's 6-8 hour rise if it works out that way. I don't know why it wouldn't. Not like it's really shaped. You just pour it into the pan anyway.

I guess I should have titied this thread baking sourdoughs on a weekday schedule or something to that effect. Only my weekdays/weekends are irrelevant given my Urgent care position so I guess maybe "Baking on a working girl's schedule" would be better?

ananda's picture


Don't be too worried if your doughs take some time to prove from the fridge.   If your starter is as active as you say, and your dough is in good condition, then a long slow rise will be just fine.

Regarding rye, I have never had problems getting it to ferment, and it sounds like you are finding that too.   There's some good discussion to rye given here:  and on 2 of my blogs here: and here:

You may note that I use a liquid rye sour, in contrast to many of the rye fiends across the pages of the wonderful TFL.

Yes you need to be back in a house to do serious baking.   I've got a wood-fired oven on the patio still needs finishing off with a decent chimney.   Until then my electric oven continues to be abused, with 3 bricks on the middle shelf and idling at full heat for hours to try and retain a modicum of heat; what a struggle!

If you're working with Mini on rye, then your fourtunes will prosper.   She knows so much, and what she doesn't know, she'll make a point of finding out straightaway.

Experimenting with rye in a tin is great.   We made 000s of these loaves; either as Rossisky or Borodinsky.   Your rye culture should be sour for maximum benefit.  Look in the references above to the discussions I had with Nico.   He bakes some great rye bread, so check his blog too if you can.  This is a good thread:

Well I'm trying to hold back some long-fermentastion Gosselin dough in my fridge right now...and it's kicking, even tho' the fridge is down to 5*C.   I'm not anticipating baking until late tomorrow morning, so I hope the retard works fast!!

Good to hear from you, and best wishes


Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

Thanks for all the tips. I'll check out that thread when I get back from the dog show this afternoon. Right now I have to go show my dobergirl. Wish me luck!

ermabom's picture

I don't do the high percentage ryes so I can't help there. But when I bake WW/multigrain/transitional sourdough, I find I have to leave the dough out for a while before refrigerating to get a good rise. My timing for all sourdough breads (no commercial yeast) is as follows:

Evening 1: refresh starter, create soaker (leave on counter overnight, refrigerate in the am)

Evening 2: mix final dough at fridge temps (leave on counter overnight, refrigerate in the am). I don't knead, just do 4 stretch and folds at 15-20 mins interval.

Evening 3: pull dough out, shape, proof and bake



Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

Well, baked the WW sandwich loaf this AM. To say the least, it needs work. It rose nicely the for bulk rise. After shaping I gave it about 3 hours on the countertop with very little rising. Put it in the fridge. Brought it out last night and let it rise overnight. It was still 2 inches from the top of the loaf pan this morning but the gluten strands appeared to be breaking and it looked overproofed so I baked it. It is very, very dense. Also, very, very sour which tastes good but makes me wonder-

My thoughts-

This formula calls for nearly half starter to half soaker. This seems unusually high compared to what I'm used to working with. I'm wondering if he did that assuming you would be moving forward with commercial yeast in addition to the starter? I think I should do a much smaller amount of starter vs non-fermented flour. Perhaps put more into the soaker, less into the starter portion?

I'll build some more WW starter today and try JMonkey's WW Sandwich sourdough bread tonight. I'll see  if this formula works better for my needs. I get the feeling PR's is really made to be used with commercial yeast.

Now, this evening I will build my rye starter and try doing Mini's rye without going from a bulk container to the pan tomorrow. If I can do that it can become an overnight recipe. Then, the final challenge will be to figure out how to do that multigrain with rye starter on some sort of schedule.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

When the dough lies undisturbed for a long time rising, the chances are greater for large pockets of gas to form under the surface.  I have had the dough drop just a little bit in killing large bubbles, but it came back beautifully.  Salting the starter and then the dough (each at 2%) ought to give you more time.  Use cold water when mixing up the dough. 

I've picked up 3 kilos of Canadian Rye flour today.  Yeah!

I sleep like a baby when the bread is cooling!


Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

Thanks for the reminder. I'll refresh my starter this afternoon and mix it before I go to bed tonight. I'll make sure I dock it before it goes in the oven with my bamboo skewer. BTW, the amount you made in the original pot fits exactly in my pullman pan. What are the chances of that?

I wonder what would happen if we took this formula and added the ingredients to make a Volkonbrot? Do you think the flours should stay the same percent? Next time I have a few days off I'd like to try Hamelman's Volkonbrot.

I'm running low on rye but Flourgirl51 is sending me some soon.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

...if we took this formula and added the ingredients to make a Vollkornbrot?

If the added ingredients were already soaked, cooked and drained, rye not?  I think it has enough glue.  I would reduce then the starter amount to reduce the entire dough amount or the pan lid would pop.

As far as fitting your pullman pan... it was my elves.  Do you believe in Magic?  <:)