The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sour dough HELP!!!

daysi's picture

Sour dough HELP!!!


Hello everyone, I have been following this site for the last couple of months, I learned about sourdough starter and though of giving it a try. The first recipe I used called for 4 days at room temperature and then keep it in the fridge, it was bubbly up to the point when I put it in the fridge then I tried baking with it and the dough didn't rise. So I discarded it. a couple of weeks later I decided to try again, so I used another recipe I found here which called for 8 days at room temperature, I saw bubbles and "active" for the first three days and then nothing happened, the bubbles disappear and by day 7 I added white wine vinegar (what I had available at that moment) so the following day it was alive, then I decided to start baking bagel (recipe found here as well) it called for 100% hydration, now I am not a baker at all, I love homemade, and that's why I am here (in fact I'm a nurse, so I do not understand this hydration language) anyway I did my Google research and understood what I had to do, so I took 1/4 cup of starter and mix with 1/4 cup of unbleached AP flour and 1/4 cup of filtered water. Next day my starter was dead...  :( I went ahead and baked with it but cheated by adding yeast (ha-ha!) because I knew what the result was going to be. anyway even with the yeast my bagels came out very hard like a rock, at first the dough was way too wet, when I boiled them one of them fell apart, and the baking was supposed to take 8 min, mine took like 1 hour.

What am I doing wrong? I discarded the rest of my dead starter, but I see the pictures of perfectly and delicious looking breads I don't want to give up, please give me some advice.

By the way one thing that kills me really kills me about starter is the fact that I have to discard so much flour and I am not the type of person that would do it, I actually collected it and tried baking with mine but the same thing happened, it  didn't work. Also I don't own any baking books, I see many of you praise somebody call Reinhart, sorry I don't know him. I guess he is an excellent baker, I should buy his books.

Thanks for any advice 



ananda's picture

Hi Daysi,

Welcome to TFL; I'm sure you'll find all the solutions here to help you overcome the baking problems you are having.

I can offer the following advice:

You mention baking books.   There are a lot of excellent books to be had, and I would not feel a need to recommend any one over another to you as a relative newcomer to baking.   Have a good read through the reviews here on TFL; go and have a quick nosy through the books on bookshop shelves; have a trot to the library; but make your own mind up which you like the best and, yes, buy a copy.

The best help I can be relates to the types of recipe and formula offered in the book you choose.   Pick one which has plenty of detail that makes sense to you, and that you can follow exactly and with confidence.   Peter Reinhart would, I believe, fit that bill for many who use this site.   The main criteria for me is the recipe itself, and I think this may be at the root of many of your problems.

At the same time as you are going to buy a new book, invest in a set of accurate, decent quality digital scales.   I prefer to use the metric system, as it is easy to multiply up and divide down using 10s, 100s and 1000s.   And you can, with great care, become accurate weighing to a single gram.   For a home baker using tiny quantities of yeast and salt, this is very important.   I urge you to ditch the volumetric measuring system as soon as possible, and weigh all your ingredients, water included.   Use the old imperial system if you must, but metric really is easier.   Once you have done this, you will never want to go back to cup measurement.

Maybe with your starter you need to invest in a thermometer so you can control the temperature regime used.   I think there are some excellent instructions here at TFL on building and maintaining a starter.   Check the tabs at the top on "Lessons" and "Handbook"

From there, select one recipe at a time from your shiny new book, and learn to make that recipe exactly the way it is supposed to be made, and how you want it to turn out.   Your book will start to become shabby, worn and characterful as your bread repertoire increases.   You will then want to buy more books, and equipment to keep on expanding the horizons.

TFL will be there for the ride: a source of support, and a source for you to post about all your baking exploits.   We look forward to reading about your future success stories; I'm sure there will be many.

Best wishes


jj1109's picture

a great post, ananda.

Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

Welcome to sourdough baking! Don't give up yet. First of all, do a search on starting a pinapple starter. Follow these steps until you have an active lively starter. In the meantime, do the lessons on the TFL website to bake some yeast breads and improve your baking skills.

When your starter is alive and well, start learning how to maintain your starter in the fridge. Keep a small amount of firm starter. This way you won't have to discard much, if any flour past the first weeks of getting your starter alive. I almost never throw any starter away at all. (any discards get used for english muffins and doggy treats, they love starter discards) But really, I build my starter each week to exactly the amount I need, plus the amount to put back in the fridge. So, the only time I have discards is if I build and don't get a chance to do my planned bake.

As far as books. I have three. Two by Rinehart-Bread Baker's Apprentice and Whole Grains. One by Hamelman "Bread". I think for a true text on how to bake bread I'd go with "Bread". It has a really, really good section on maintaining your starter and every sourdough recipe includes the "build" for your starter with an amount to keep back to put in the fridge. So, for a beginner that's a really good thing. Once you've read that book 2-3 times you'll have a lot of useful knowledge on baking.

A scale. It's an absolute must. Mine cost $21.00 plus about $3.50 for shipping from It does metric and imperial measurements. You have to get a scale. More important than the books!!

jeremiahwasabullfrog's picture

I wouldn't be too confident with a new starter which had only spent 8 days out of the fridge.

The longer it spends out there stretching its legs with regular feeding (at least daily), the stonger it will get. If it is no good after say 2 weeks, start again. Even with a nice strong starter that lives in the fridge, I bring it to run and play every now and then before it goes back in.

In terms of wastage, once it is in the fridge, you only have to feed it weekly, and it is like 20 c worth of flour. If you are keeping it out, you might like to make it smaller. The bacteria are obviously small enough that they don't care whether you use 1/4 cup or one teaspoon to feed. I just takes longer to build up to bake.

Also, you are on the right track, but 1/4 cup flour plus 1/4 cup water is not 100% hydration. That normally works out to about 166%. To get 100% hydration you need equal weights - ie 50g flour, 50g water. But knowing the hydration is more important for baking than for feeding. Just mix up to a paste - tend towards less runny in you can - say just wet enough to mix with a spoon.

I love sourdough, and its not as hard as people tend to think, but it might be good advice if you are new to baking to make some yeast bread while you wait for your wild culture to strengthen. A lot of people have their first sucesses with Jim Lahey's no-knead bread (google it), and Peter Reinhardt's "The bread baker's apprentice" is a bit of a standard. I haven't read it yet, but I suspect his "artisan breads every day" might rival it.

Also, bagels might not be the easiet thing to start on! Very few stick with it as their main bread, but the no-knead bread can really be a bit if a revelation - try it!

In terms of equipment, a probe thermometer and a digital scale make a big difference.

Best of luck




staho88's picture

Some great points above.  I would also say to get some experience with yeasted breads.  I have not yet tackled sourdoughs but plan to soon.  I have made quite a few recipes from Bread Baker's Apprentice with good success.  Besides great tasting bread it is a real confidence booster and it has helped me learn about different breads, hydration, etc.  Not every venture turns out perfectly, but overall I can sense improvement.  Some will suggest picking one recipe and just making that one over and over until you know it backwards and forwards--really understanding the intricacies of the dough and how it feels and responds.  Too boring for me, but I do have a list of breads I make over and over so it is a similar approach but will take a little longer to really understand the recipes.   

Get to the library or bookstore.  Check out some books.  Find one.  Use it or buy it (eventually buy it--a great investment).  You will get better.

daysi's picture


Thank you all for your advice, I guess I got too excited about baking, I started making my own bread about 5 months ago, when my baby starter to eat solid foods, I think that store bought bread has waaay too many ingredients (chemicals) in it for my little one. My family liked a white bread recipe I made a couple of times but in my efforts to feed husband and baby healthier food I tried to bake a whole wheat bread, my first attempt was not the best, taste wise it was good but it was hard solid, then I baked a second recipe which came out quite nice but like I said before I got too cocky and thought I had become a "professional baker" I came across this website and I thought I was ready for more advanced breads, I finally realized it (thanks to all your comments) I have a long long way to go.  I will go back to those two recipes and bake them 'til I reach perfection (once we finish all this solid bread that is hanging around in the kitchen).

I'll be posting my result for some feedback

Thank you all!!!

Sam49's picture

Search Debra Wink in the site's search box.  Look for the hits that have the Pineapple Juice solution - there are 2 and they will be in the first 4-6 items that come up.  (I just repeated the search to be sure.)  Read those and also fine a link to a simple "how to build a starter" plan she wrote.

Don't give up on a starter, follow the plan.  Sometimes it will go slower than what happens for others, but still be alive.  Sometimes it will smell a bit off, but in time the yeast and bacterial you want will lower the pH enough to kill the others.

It took my starter a few extra days to get going.  I almost threw it out, but followed Wink's advice (she is a professional scientist and has gotten deep into this as you will see if you read her posts) and kept on with it for an extra day or two. 

I've now been baking with it for over two months and making marvelous breads.   And I wasn't even sure that I'd like sourdough.    My first batch or two were more sour than I wanted but that has calmed down also.

Hang in there, forget the books, read Debra Wink, whose name I learned from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grains bread book.


gingerbread girl's picture
gingerbread girl

Hi there,

a really good primer in sour dough is here:

the important thing is to not stress about it.  Honestly, follow the directions above and it will work.  If you live in the UK, there is a sour dough share-save scheme which is great - it means you don't have to start a starter (if you see what I mean).  The starter comes in the post!  Details are here:

Sour dough should be NO STRESS.  It was developed by people who were itinerant and had no access to yeast!  Think about someone travelling across the plains in a covered waggon and you will have a great picture in your mind of how to think about sour dough!

Good luck!