The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help please

Penelope Garnham's picture
Penelope Garnham

Help please

I have made my first starter which is now ready for use (I think), it looks good and smells good. 

I am not sure how to use the starter, is it to be used as an alternative to replace the yeast in a basic bread recipe? Or should I find specific recipes that use a starter? 

Sorry to be ignorant on what must be a simple question!



amolitor's picture

You probably want a specific recipe ;)

However, if you already have a yeasted bread recipe you like, you could try converting it. It'll probably work. Here's how I do it: I make a "levain" out of part of the flour and water from the recipe, and some of the starter, and let that sit for a while, like, overnight. It should get bubbly and rise, and eventually stop rising and start to fall, at which point it is "ripe". This will take longer or shorter depending on your starter, and the temperature. Overnight should be safe, unless it's pretty hot where you live. Mix it up just before you go to bed, and take a look at it when you get up in the morning.

When it's "ripe" is when you should use it, ideally, but honestly you can use it any time after it gets super bubbly and excited, and before it starts to separate and produce lots of clear liquid and whatnot. As long as it's Bubbly Frothy Batter, it'll be ok ("ripe" is about ideal, not good-enough, in my experience! "ripe" also makes the rising of the dough move along fastest)

Let's suppose your recipe is a "normal" size. 3 to 6 cups of flour (16 to 32 ounces, or 450 to 900 grams).

Pull out 25 percent of the flour, and at least 50 percent of the liquid from your recipe. To this add about 2 tablespoons of your starter for each cup of flour (1 ounce of starter for each 6 ounces of flour). If the recipe has a mixture of whole grains and white, use whole grains.

Here's a couple of totally made-up recipes:

  • 250g white flour
  • 250g whole wheat flour
  • 300g water
  • some other ingredients

You have 500g of flour, so set aside 125g of flour, of the whole wheat since it's the whole grain flour. Set aside half the water, or 150g. That's not quite a cup of flour, so you're going to mix up the 125g WW flour, 150g of water, and maybe 1 and a half tablespoons of starter. That's your "levain"

  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • some other ingredients

Set aside 1 cup of flour, and 3/4 cup of water. Mix in 2 tablespoons of your starter, that's your "levain" for this recipe.

Ok, so now you've got a "levain" which is really just a big eager ecosystem of yeasts.

Your recipe probably has some point in it where you add the yeast to some water and let it dissolve and rest a bit, right? Then you mix that water in to the recipe. This is the stage of the recipe where you're going to add your levain INSTEAD of the yeast.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: Only use the flour and water leftover after you set aside for your levain! You're making up the same recipe, you're just using some of the flour and water earlier! So in the first recipe, you're going to use:

  • your levain (which contains 125g WW flour and 150g water)
  • 125g whole wheat flour
  • 250g white flour
  • 150g water
  • whatever the other ingredients are

and in the second made-up recipe:

  • your levain (which contains 1 cup flour and 3/4 cup water)
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • whatever the other ingredients are

So, you follow along your old recipe just like you used to, with the reduced amounts of flour and water, as best you can. Add the levain in whenever you'd be dissolving and adding the yeast. Knead and so on as usual.

Now everything is going to happen MUCH MORE SLOWLY than you're used to. Commercial yeast is much more vigorous than a sourdough starter! But, you kind of know what your bread recipe is like, right? So, continue to follow the recipe, but all the rising will take longer. Be conservative -- if you're used to the dough "doubling", well, see if it'll "almost double" and move on to the next step. Poke your dough, and try to remember what it felt like when you used yeast. Let the way it looks and feels be your guide, rather than the original "let it rise for 1 hour, it will have doubled!" instructions.

It'll work out! Your first loaf might be a little ugly, it might be a little heavy, it might be tear in the oven and get all blobby with blowouts -- whatever, it'll taste great!


ehanner's picture

The one thing you need to keep in mind is that your starter is more sensitive to changes in activity due to changing temperature. The ideal range is 72-80F dough temperature. Your bulk rise will be more effective if you stay at the upper end of this range as will your proofing.

Time is your friend when using natural levain. Using a see through plastic or glass container that lets you see the development of small bubbles during the bulk ferment helps you determine how things are going. Find a place in your home that is continuously warmer than room temperature to use for bulk fermenting and proofing. Above the refrigerator is my spot.


Nickisafoodie's picture

Hi Penelope, welcome!  There are many possibilities, suggest you use the search box in two (three)  ways:

1) search "starters" and "sourdough" - many many posts to read, each being informative

2) recipe search - pick one that feels right and go from there.

What I can tell you it is a facinating journey and overtime I am willing to bet that you gravitate to almost exclusive use of sourdough vs. yeast - more flavor, easier digesibility, longer keeping, and more...  And broader nuances such as how to increase and decrease sour levels from hardly noticable to outright tang and many variations in between - whether by soft sandwich style in a loaf pan to hearth loaves on a stone.

It may seem a bit daunting, but it is very doable.  So don't too crazy - just bake the one you like and go from there and it will all seem easy fairly soon.

The journey never ends...

Jaydot's picture

Or you could try using Flo's 1.2.3 formula.

That's what I did, and although I tweaked it a bit (slightly less water, for instance, because I do all dough handling with wet hands), I love this formula, it's the basis for every bread I bake.