The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is there a DUMBED DOWN version of building and maintaining a STARTER??

Rico Laguna's picture
Rico Laguna

Is there a DUMBED DOWN version of building and maintaining a STARTER??

Folks, Im in the process of building a seed culture that will eventually feed a mother starter that I will maintain in my fridge and use for occassional bread baking.  however, Im trying to follow Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day formula for creating a mother starter.  It has like 4 phases of Seed building that eventually gets converted to a mother starter that you refrigerate and keep.  I THINK I successfully got to the Refrigeration of the Mother Starter stage but I am NOT certain because the aroma of my Mother Starter isnt intensley boozy or ciderish.  It does have an aroma of something fruity and a bit tangy but not that beerish alchoholic yeasty scent that I am used to when i cold ferment active yeast pizza doughs I make.


I am looking for more of a simplified guide to follow then all the details which I sometimes seem to get lost in.  For example,  I have simply been feeding the seed/dough/starter when ever it just doubled in size and looked fermented,  then I'll stir it or knead it (depending on the consistency and phase its in) then let it sit at room temp for another day. 


Right now I have this starter dough that is the consistency of a pizza dough ball sitting in my fridge and I dont even know if its a legitimate starter dough or not!  LOL!!


Can anyone help me out with some real basic Starter for Dummies type of advice?




AOJ's picture

Seed culture, mother sponge, baby sponge, why we have to use all of these terms...? I found that very confusing at first.

But what you want to do, I assume, is start a sourdough starter.  

A search for starting a starter yields: It's a good method. Flour and water. Follow the directions exactly. Should have you baking bread in about 7-8 days. After that it's easy to keep in the fridge. Just pull some out, build it up to the amount of starter you need for your recipe/formula.

ehanner's picture

The easiest way to get a starter going and also avoiding the nasty bacteria that some times come along for the ride is to follow our resident Microbiologist Debra Winks method. It starts out by using unsweetened Pineapple juice which raises the pH to discourage the nasty biology from gaining a foot hold. Many people have used this method successfully. Scroll down to the part where the formula starts and the feeding schedule. It's a good read and I think it helps to have some understanding of why this stuff works in flour. Good luck.


SteveB's picture

Hi Eric,

The pineapple juice actually lowers the pH, but what's a few orders of magnitude in hydrogen ion concentration among friends?  :>)



flournwater's picture
clazar123's picture

i went throught the same thing when I started using sourdough but I have learned over the last 2 years that growing a starter is easy and actually so is maintaining it.I'm on vacation in Florida and decided tocapture some local yeast. Here is the method I use:

1 tbsp flour,water to make a thin batter.Leave on the coun ter and stir several times a day. I always work with a small amount to make a new starter-much easier and less wasteful.

When bubbles start developing(a few about the 2nd or 3rd day),toss half away and add some more flour(about a tablespoon) and water.Continue to stir several times a day.

Continue to do this the next day or 2. It will start to get a tangy taste.This is the lactobacillus making acid.

On the day you notice it rises(or gets really bubbly) after this morning feeding,feed it again in the evening (toss half away and add the flour and water).But remember-really thin,liquidy batter won't really rise as it can't hold onto the gas. At this point I start making it thicker-like a thick pancake batter. It will start to consistently rise after these feedings.Keep stirring it several times a day as this helps the yeasties come in contact with their food.

Keep doing this for several more days but if you notice any hootch formation- feed it again.Hootch formation means it ran out of food! There are lots of little beasties now!You may need to feed it 3 times a day!Some beasties are more active than others.

You now have a starter to work with.Build up the volume if you want or use it as is in a preferment.

Have fun! I'm hoping to have a different starter to work with when I get home.Mine is at the very bubbly stage at day 3 of stirring.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Are you using "local" flour or "imported?"  :)   See any fields where you are?

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

you could a lot worse than simply sending an envelope with adequate return postage to the Friends of Carl folks. To be brief, they're folks who maintain a starter that is said to have its origins back around 1847 or so. You send them the return envelope and they will send a small packet of dried starter and instructions on how to revive it, build it up to usable strength, but sadly, no guarantee that you'll live happily everafter with it until death do you part.

All joking aside, TFL members do use this starter and have had nothing but nice words to say about it. While it's important to learn how to grow your own starter, if you want to bake sooner with less anxiety, this is an idea. Use the search button at the top left of the page for "Friends of Carl" and Google the same to see if this helps.

Jaydot's picture

I'm surprised no-one has mentioned the Wild Yeast Blog "raising a starter" post yet - a great explanation of the process and easy to follow instructions. I have made starters this way several times with great success.

You can find it here.

(Susan, if you're reading this: the pages seem to be loading awfully slowly).

clazar123's picture

I think that most of the tutorials I have seen have used BIG volumes of flour and water. The result is a lot of flour that goes down the drain. What a waste. I have been guilty of the same but have learned over the years how to do it more efficiently. I encourage you to take advantage of my mistakes.

So,whatever method you use,just reduce the volumes so the end product can fit in an 8 ounce drinking glass at its maximum rise.

Remember that all you need to capture yeast is a carbohydrate and water.Carbohydrate can be flour,fruit,honey,or even sugar. Not every yeast will do a good job of raising bread. The best chance of success at this can be that you capture the yeast associated with the product you are trying to make. So, if you want to make wine, the yeasts assoc with fruit work most efficiently for that. The yeasts caught with flour are most successful for breadmaking.

My vacation starter is bubbling away.Flour,water,stirring,time.No scales available.No local flour is available so it technically is not a "local" yeast.Maybe I should have used local fruit!Hmmmm....I still have time!

Rico Laguna's picture
Rico Laguna

Ok thanks for all the help and other links.....I am in my 7th day of the seed culture and converted it to a mother starter.  Its been out on the counter now for about a day and its the consistency of a paste like pancake batter that would be very difficult to stir by hand....not quite as thick as a dough ball tho.


Its already doubled in size but the aroma still isnt of a strong boozy yeast like odor.  Its more just like a light fermented scent of flour and maybe still very vague traces of the pineapple juice that I used 4 -5 days ago. (Im not even certain I can smell it)


But my question is this.....Should my next step be to stir or knead it at any point throughout the day AND should I feed it more flour and water and remove half the fermented starter? (I already did this late last night)  This starter is about 16oz in size.  


Or should I refrigerate until I am ready to bake?


Or should I just let it ferment more until the aroma gets more concentrated?


Any risks at this point if I DONT make the right the decision?  I've invested a week now and I dont want to make a wrong move with this starter now.



Also, finally, if I want to change the consistency at any point of my starter, ie, make it wetter, or more dough like, can I just simply change up the water/flour ratios at any feeding without risk of harm?


Oooops one more!.....When can I bake with it?....and what are the consequences of baking with a Starter that isnt exactly ready or fully ripe/developed?


Thanks all!

Rico Laguna's picture
Rico Laguna

Wow, thanks for the advice Pointygirl


btw, what is PR's?......Yes I am a beginner :)



Last question,  Once the Starter is consider a legitimate mother starter, do I ever leave it out to ferment at room temp any more or do I just now leave it all the time in the fridge until Im ready to bake with it?


And when providing my starter with an upkeep/maintainance feeding from time to time, do I still remove half the mother starter and discard it or do I just feed the entire starter and mix it together?.....and when it gets its feedings, does it need to stay out at room temp or just feed it and put it back in the fridge?


Sorry for all the questions but this should just about cover all the bases....for now :)


thanks again!!

intelplatoon's picture


i think PR is refferring to Peter Reinhardt (his book and starter technique i guess)

clazar123's picture

I keep my mother in the refrigerator and bake every weekend. So I remove some for baking once a week. Then I feed the mother,leave it out on the counter for an hour or so and then put Mom back in the refrigerator.

 If I'm not baking on a weekend, I remove about half and discard it(or make pancakes or biscuits) and then feed,set out and refrigerate Mom as usual.

It evolves and changes over time. Depending on ambient temps,hydration,setting out time, it can smell beery,yeasty,acetone-y,fruity sweet,sour,etc.but it should never smell like old cheese or suddenly become very watery.Then you have a bacterial invasion.You will have no doubt about the smell-it is definitely unpleasant.

I concur with the recommendation to initially use a recipe with an added yeast for a boost.This will allow your starter more time to develop and get strong.It will improve with age.

Janetcook's picture

Somebody already mentioned this but I will say it again...

I use PR recipes too.  When delving into starters I read a lot and got really confused so I used his starter information out of his Whole Grain BReads book and stuck with it and how he recommends maintaining it and refreshing it.  I stored less than he recommended but stayed with the same percentages. 

I stuck with his until I had a good feel of what was happening and then, a few weeks ago, I took the plunge into confusion again and have been doing all sorts of experiments to see what happens....

I would recommend you stick with one person's method until you have a feel for what is happening and then explore...

I also cheated.  I ordered a dry starter from Breadtopia to make things easier in the beginning.  I also started my own using Dan Lepard's recipe in THe Handmade Loaf. It was a very easy process.

DO what is easiest for you and have fun!

Rico Laguna's picture
Rico Laguna

Folks I made my first Sourdough bread from the above starter that you folks have been helping me build.  Im not sure how it came out and I could use some advice.  The bread just tastes like bread, is it supposed to have extra sour flavor.  I had a feeling that this would be the case because all throughout the starter stages, I never really smelled that overwhelming acidic, boozy, citrusy smell.  BUT during the baking, I could definitely smell something that had a soury yummy bread perhaps I am on the right track?


Maybe my starter needs to come out of the fridge and ferment more??....any ideas?


Here are some pics...I dont know if this will help you to provide feedback








LindyD's picture

Can't comment because the photos are much too large to view clearly.  Do check out the links you've been given so you can learn how to make the photos smaller (and viewable).

Otherwise, you'll be missing out on some compliments!  ;-)

LindyD's picture

Your photos are so huge they can't be easily seen on a computer screen.  Why not download a nice little utility which will let you resize your photos before you upload them?  

I think Picassa and Photobucket also offer the same option.

clazar123's picture

The crust and crumb looks lovely.It might develop a little more flavor the day after the bake. Beautiful loaf! Wish I could take a bite.

As for sourness, natural levain (sourdough) does not necessarily make a sour tasting loaf. The SanFrancisco sourdough image has perpetuated this expectation. There are many threads on how to get more sour from your levain.Do a search. Methods can vary from long ferments to different feeding schedules. 

Have delicious fun experimenting and keep posting!

Rico Laguna's picture
Rico Laguna

Folks, for some reason I dont have the option to delete those posts can a moderator take em down?....I resized them and reposted them here.  Please assist with necessary feedback.  I am tasting a somewhat flat bread, and also it kind of burned outside very early in the bake leaving a very dark outer crust....I would like to bake a somewhat lighter crust.


Breadandwine's picture

Hi Rico

I recently began a starter using this very simple method. (And I've thrown nothing away!)

I like the attitude of S John Ross to sourdough, and I give a link on my blog.

Nice looking loaves, BTW!

Cheers, Paul

meetmike's picture

I'm a little late getting to this, but here goes. Since I bake only for myself and my wife, and only use my sourdough starter every 6 weeks or so since there are several other loaves we like to eat, I need a starter that's very forgiving. I found this in the King Arthur Flour starter which a friend gave me as a gift. Got the starter up to speed per instuctions. It lives in the back of fridge in a large Glad container. I gave up long ago feeding this sucker every week--was throwing and giving away more starter than I ever used myself-- and now am down to feeding once a month, or building it up the few days before I need it. Has always given a good loaf. Probably the key to its survival is sanitation which is promoted by infrequent handling and exposure to competing nasties in the kitchen. So if you can live with a worry-free starter, this might be the way to go. Mike in Maine

clazar123's picture

Your crust is beautiful-I don't think it looks burned. Did it taste burned?

One suggestion is to do a stretch and fold during the fermentation. Notice on the crumb shot how all the large bubbles are on the top and finer on the bottom. A stretch and fold would re-distribute the bubbles.

My latest method for my starter is to use 2-3 tbsp starter,1 c flour,1 c water as a pre-ferment (mix and set out for 4-12 hrs-but no more than 24).Sometimes I set this up before bedtime and bake the next day. Just add the preferment to the rest of the recipe. If the recipe isn't set up for this, then I just do 1/3 the flour and all the water/milk. Great flavor! I'm starting to adapt all my recipes for this.And then I only need a small amount of starter to maintain.

Try different things and see what works best for you and your style.

Rico Laguna's picture
Rico Laguna

thanks for all the help...I have another question,  I just tried to create another batch of dough with some of my starter and I have a strange problem:



I fed my about 4 to 5 ounces of my starter 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup water and let it room ferment for about 8hrs as advised in several recipes


then I refrigerated it and made a sourdough reciped that utilized this starter,  The recipe called for flour, water, salt and yeast


However,  I  added the starter to the sourdough recipe in my bread machine and set it to DOUGH MODE and went to do some other things,  after about a 10min, I came back to check on it and noticed that it was almost like soup and it never balled up.  SO, I started sifting flour into the machine as it was kneading until it got to a tacky ball consistency, then removed and hand kneaded with some more flour until I was able to get it to ball in a sticky tacky shape and put it into a Glad bag lightly oiled and into the refrigerator for another day


Now, I just noticed something wierd again today,  The dough never rose anymore in the fridge and looked kinda of flat and heavy, no fermentation or further yeast development.


Now I have it proofing for about 2hrs and still notice the dough is very lifeless and isnt really rising


My questions are,


What went wrong and should I even bother baking this thing?


If not, what can I do with it at this point?....throw it out?




meetmike's picture

Unless your dough looks or smells really evil, I'd just cover it with plastic wrap and a dishtowel and put in a warmish 65-75F place and leave alone for 4-6 more hours to see what it does. In my limited experience, sourdough takes a long time to get its act together. I'm a little surprised, tho, at your procedure. When getting my started fired up to do the bread job, I usually feed it at least 2 times, and usually 3 times before moving on to making dough. I pull the container from the fridge, add 1/2 H2O & 1/2 cup flour, and leave on warm counter for 4+ hours until I see lots of activity. Into the fridge overnight, then repeat above the next am. Late afternoon or evening, pour off half and feed again. I guess point it to get lots of beasties fired up and ready to go. Trying to remember my King Arthur recipe, but I think the next step is adding a cup of starter to some flour and water (no salt and no other yeast), then this combined with the balance of flour and water, knead etc. But always takes several hours to double. It's a lot like homebrewing--better set aside the day and give your wife lots of advance notice! Mike in Maine


Rico Laguna's picture
Rico Laguna

Mike thanks for the tip,  It smells ok and I gave it about 3 hours to rest, it did rise a little but barely....perhaps Im off with my water to flour ratio,  its a bit on the heavy side so I think next time I'll be a bit more presice with my measurements.  I just threw it in the oven regardless....its baking now,  It sprung in the oven a little so Im not worried anymore,  I'll take a few pics and post them when I pull it out and cut it open.   Maybe you could provide some insight

In regards to my procedure, its by no means a picture perfect workflow...In fact, Im lazy so I just do the minimum and it's flavor will probablly reflect that when this bread comes out.


Im still experimenting, however, I dont think I'll ever be able to do the prep work you illustrated above.  3 feedings of a prepared starter prior to mixing into the final dough is just too much for me to have to be responsible for :)






meetmike's picture

Rico--You know what? You baked it. It smells good. It tastes good. It's cool. If all else fails, go to Marcella Hazan's Italian Cookbook and check out her squab soup recipe: The perfect use for day old crusty bread! Mike in Maine

Rico Laguna's picture
Rico Laguna

As promised here are the pics....I apoligze if they come out too dark I tried to autofix them on photobucket.  The bread was rather dense and the interior was a bit too spongy.  How can I fix that?...Also the flavor was ok but it was that flakey, airy, chewy interior that I am really seeking....what can I do to get that?....and what happens to a bread like this if it is overbaked because this one seemed to take about an hour at between 425 and 450....could overbaking cause the sponginess??

thanks for any feedback you can provide:


clazar123's picture

Ferment for 8 hours at room temp:

4-5 oz. starter   (liquid ounces or weight ounces?)

1/2 c flour (what kind?)                   

1/2 c water                                              


Refrigerated   (For how long?)


Mix with flour,water,salt,yeast(how much?).

I believe your starter was probably pretty hungry if it fermented for 8 hrs on the counter and then was refrigerated. It continues to eat when it's refrigerated-it slows but doesn't stop eating. If it was refrigerated for more than a few more hours, you could also be experiencing a spike in enzymes that can pretty much disintegrate the gluten in the dough thus producing the liquid mass.

Refresh your starter a few times before a bake and use it at its peak activity.It takes a little timeing finesse.

Several ideas for you-decide which one will work for you:

       ***First, make sure your starter is active and at its peak activity***

1. Use less starter in the preferment- perhaps only 1-2 tbsp OR

2 Keep the starter at 4-5 oz but increase the flour/water in the preferment to 1 cup    each OR

3.Keep the starter amount at 4-5 oz and flour/water amount where it is but decrease the ferment time to 2-3 hours.Either use at this time or refrigerate for a short period only.Use within 8-12 hours.This is a guess. You will have to try it a few times to see what your starter will handle best.

If you have a higher amount of starter in a preferment, it has a higher yeast population and the food (flour) is consumed fast-leaving you with a very hungry and spent preferment that will be unlikely to raise the loaf adequately. If left too long,enzymes can be released and cause gluten bond problems. When gluten bonds break, water is released and liquifies the dough. Only good for pancakes then.

So the balance you are trying for is to have enough yest in the preferment to increase the yeast population enough to raise the dough,eat enough to produce the flavor molecules to flavor the loaf but not be too spent and produce undesirable byproducts and enzymes.The timing can be individualized between starters so you have to get to know your starter and keep using it so it grows and stabilizes. It may change characteristics as it matures.

Rico Laguna's picture
Rico Laguna

Wow...thats for that insightful response....There are many variables which can all yield such drastic dynamics.  I really didnt know that


I'll try some of the things you mentioned....I had a feeling this bread wasnt going to be good because the dough just felt very heavy and limp when I removed it from the fridge even after a few hrs proofing, it eventually did grow 1 1/2 times out on my counter but as you can see in the images, the interior is very spongy and lacks an airiness and hole structure that i was looking for more like a ciabiatta bread......Is it possible to expect to attain that with your recommendations?


Oh and another thing I forgot to mention, Im not sure if you can notice it in the interior shots but the crumb is also a bit opaque in areas rather than being completely white.  Its is areas are a bit ....undercooked?  Is that possible?  I had this thing in the oven for almost an hour at 425-450 (I lowered the temp during the last 15mins because the crust was getting really dark)  Is it possible that it is undercooked at all?   I hit it with a wooden spoon on the bottom and it sounded pretty much like an echoed thump.


Would cooking it more have opened up the holes further and evened out the greyer areas??   Or could it be overcooked?

flournwater's picture

"Would cooking it more have opened up the holes further and evened out the greyer areas??   Or could it be overcooked?"

No; the holes opened up in the first stages of your bake.  IMO, the color is probably more a factor of the flour (and other ingredients) you used and how each affected the other.  I'd recommend you forget about how long you leave your bread in the oven and rely on internal temperatures to determine when your bread is done.  No all bread is done at the same internal temperature so some research on those factors will help you make informed decisions.  I suspect that your loaf may not have been allowed to cool sufficiently before cutting  -  just a guess.  The bread doesn't stop baking instantly after it comes our of the oven.  It continues to cook on the cooling rack.  Try making this one again and removing it when the internal temperature (at the center of the loaf) is about 215 degrees; even a little higher.  Allow it to rest on the cooling rack for at least one hour before cutting.

flournwater's picture

"Would cooking it more have opened up the holes further and evened out the greyer areas??   Or could it be overcooked?"

No; the holes opened up in the first stages of your bake.  IMO, the color is probably more a factor of the flour (and other ingredients) you used and how each affected the other.  I'd recommend you forget about how long you leave your bread in the oven and rely on internal temperatures to determine when your bread is done.  Not all bread is done at the same internal temperature so some research on those factors will help you make informed decisions.  I suspect that your loaf may not have been allowed to cool sufficiently before cutting  -  just a guess.  The bread doesn't stop baking instantly after it comes our of the oven.  It continues to cook on the cooling rack.  Try making this one again and removing it when the internal temperature (at the center of the loaf) is about 215 degrees; even a little higher.  Allow it to rest on the cooling rack for at least one hour before cutting.