The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough & Starter

cherylmathew's picture

Sourdough & Starter

I'm new here, actually have been a member for some time now, but had yet to figure out how to start a forum. My new hobby is making bread. I use yeast, but haven't the vaguest idea of what sourdoughs are. I would appreciate if I could get tips. What is a starter? How do I get a starter started? I know my questions may sound foolish, but I need answers to experiment and master bread making. I have made some loaves, mixed grains, semolina and white bread. I live in Karachi, Pakistan, we get instant and active dry yeast but no yeast cakes.

Anticipating several tips!

Have a good day.

ananda's picture

Hi cherylmathew,

a great way to start would be to use the tabs on the top of the TFL hompage to gather together a lot of new ideas for you to work on.

There is so much to read here; see if that inspires you to try out any particular bread.   There is bound to be some really good tips on how to start and maintain a working levain.

Welcome to TFL; it is a great site.   Once you get going, there'll be loads of folks there to help you with the teething problems as they rise [or not]!

Best wishes


RobynNZ's picture

Hi Cheryl

Well it turned out to be an interesting topic!

As Andy says there is plenty of helpful information here.

 Just answering your initial questions first.

What is starter?  Amongst the many microorganisms to be found dormant in flour are yeasts. By adding water to flour and by providing the right conditions we can encourage the growth of these yeasts, which can be then be used to make bread. One of the members of the TFL community has written two very useful articles explaining how to get a starter started. I encourage you to read these two articles, and the comments following them. Feel free to come back to this thread and ask any questions.

There's quite a bit to read but these articles really help in understanding how to provide good conditions for establishing a starter.

In the Handbook, also found in that dark brown banner at the top, the method for preparing a starter based on Debra's work is summarised, but I strongly recommend you read through her articles. Even if you don't understand it all, the information she provides will help you understand more about starters.

It will take a couple of weeks to get your starter to the stage that it should be well established and good for making some sourdough bread, so you will have plenty of time to read through the Handbook!

When you are ready to make a loaf there is a simple formula, that gives very encouraging, delicious results. It was brought to TFL by Susan from San Diego. Another TFL member Eric set up a challenge and the people who took part in the challenge posted on the following thread. Susan also provided her formula (it's the 6th comment) and encouragement to the participants, take a look and be encouraged! There are a lot of threads referring to this bread but I think this thread is a good summary:

Oh and by the way, the word sourdough is a complicated one. It refers to breads made with a natural leavener (a starter). Some people choose to manipulate their processes to make their breads taste sour, but many people prefer a milder flavour, not all breads made with a starter actually taste sour.

I took a quick look online to see what temperatures you are currently experiencing. I see it is very hot there. Temperature is a very important part of making sourdough and when you read a recipe which says room temperature that isn't the temperatures in the mid 30s you are experiencing. So called "Room Temperature" is around 25°C. Come back when you are ready and we can help you find information on here to learn about ways of looking after your dough in your hot conditions.

Don't hesitate to ask more questions. Enjoy reading!

Cheers, Robyn


Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

I'm so glad you're here. Are you Pakastani or are you just living there? By your name, I wonder if you're American or English?

Sourdough bread is an American term for naturally leavened bread. Basically, the starter takes the place of commercial yeast. In French the term would be levain.

Try the pineapple juice recipe. If that doesn't work one of us could probably send you some dried starter. This is fairly simple and when you get it you can add water and then start taking care of it just like any other starter.

Do you have air conditioner? If not, you could also use a small cooler and keep it cooler then the outside air with a an ice pack or something. You'll only need this until you're starter is alive. After that, you can store it in the fridge. But, it's actually good to start growing your starter in warmer temps. Most people like to start a starter in the summer as winter temps are too cold to get one going. I'm just not sure what the upper end of the temperature limit would be. Susan or one of the other more experienced people here would probably know. Mini, EricH would be a couple I might ask.

The taste of sourdough is more complex than yeast bread which is why a lot of people prefer it. Plus, it's probably much cheaper than buying yeast bread. It can be sour but it doesn't have to be. Depends on how you make it. You can also make sweet breads with it. Makes a very nice, complex flavor when mixed with something sweet.

Sourdough starter is almost a requirement if you want to make rye bread. The acidity keeps the rye enzymes from breaking down the flours. Plus, it tastes amazing. So, if you want to try any of the rye recipes from Northern or Eastern Europe you will certainly need a starter.

Glad to have you here. Welcome!


cherylmathew's picture

Thanks Ananda for your suggestion, I will surely thoroughly browse the tabs.

Robyn I appreciate your detailed message...and the fact that you actually looked up what the temperatures is in Karachi!

I'll be back...soon.

Have a good day!


Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

It does contain yeast, and that is where the rise or leaven comes from. The other type of beast swimming around in there is bacteria. The wild yeasts produce the CO2 to leaven the bread, byproducts of bacteria activity are what give it the flavor.....among other things.....acids. The sour is lactic or acetic acid buildup from the bacteria.

In established and proven starters, the two develop a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" relationship. One feeds and protects the other. They not only play nice with each other, but make it hostile for others to join them. That is what is found in the ages old, proven starters. That is rare to find in the wild, which is why folks save and protect them for generations.

On the other hand, you can make your own starter from flour and water. Two theories on this.....and staunch advocates of both theories exist. One being the yeast is found on the grain. More yeast being on organic whole wheat and rye flours.....rye in particular. The other is yeast is in the air. Set out flour and water and yeast will find it and "take root". Both theories talk about yeast and seem to forget the bacteria. Are they attached to the grain, and/or are they floating around too? Apparently so. If you start your own starter by setting out flour and water, the first thing that happens is a bacteria undesireable sort that erupts and tricks you into thinking you have something, when all it is doing is creating a hostile environmnet for itselt with waste products, then dies off. However, the acidic waste products that knocked them off are just right for the ones you want. So after a few days, a second bloom of the right kind of bacteria show up, and at the same time, the yeast spores are waking up and taking off. This is all going to take about 3 to 7 days, depending on a whole host of variables too numerous to mention here. The use of fruit juices, like pineapple...which have vitamin C....ascorbic acid, jump start the process by bypassing the first step and make it an inviting place for the desireable types. Although seldom mentioned on this site, you can do the same thing by setting out a cup of  milk at room temps for 24 hours...which goes sour, then adding the flour to that. In all cases, once going well, you switch to feeding it flour and water. The need to feed is what separates sourdough from commercial yeast (along with flavor).

So, if you wanted to try sourdough, which is no more tricky than using commercial yeast (just a slighly different set of rules and responsibilities), you could try to find a starter locally.....a piece of dough from a local sourdough baker would do....or build your own from locally obtainable flour and clean, fresh water. Or order an inexpensive one from a number of commercial sources that ship internationally.

The only downside to building your own.....and many folks on this site will argue it can be the luck of building one with those active and compatible yeasts and bacteria. If I were in a remote location, I'd try building one. It can be done easily and is relatively simple to do. You may luck out and get a good one. It may not be the same as the high quality commercial versions, but it will work.


cherylmathew's picture

Hi Tracy,

I am Pakistani.  I am digesting all the info I'm getting here on sourdough and starters. The temperatures in Karachi these days is max 38C and min is 26C. I will try to get my starter from scratch and will post the results with pics to make sure I have it okay.  I am excited about making my first sourdough loaf. I am overwhelmed by the response I've received her on TFL. Thank you everyone.

I'll be reporting back...soon.