The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Starter - How Much is Too Much?

  • Pin It
Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Sourdough Starter - How Much is Too Much?

Hi all.  I had a previous post on here with my first sourdough bread - Vermont Sourdough from JH.

As mentioned before, I was happy with most aspects of the bread, just wish it had a more sour flavour.  It was barely detectable.

Now, I have seen recipes with all different amounts of starter, ranging from a teaspoon, to a half cup - for a 1 - 2 lb loaf.  My question is, which ratio would produce a more sour flavour?  The ones with more starter, or less?  I understand that most of the sour is developed in the method of retarding the proof, usually 16-18 hours at 5 - 10 degrees.  But would using more starter in a recipe enhance the sour even more or not at all?


dabrownman's picture

that we use to get a more sour taste.

Use a Rye Sour starter

Use 40% of the total weight of the dough as levain

Put a little minced white onion in the Rye Sour Build in the beginning.  1 tsp will be enough

Retard the Rye Sour Levain for 12 hours in the fridge after building it.

Use 5% each home milled Rye and Whole Wheat flour in your 'white sourdough' bread flour.

Retard the dough for 12 hours after a 90 minute counter ferment after completion of the S & F's ferment

Put 1 tp of vinegar in the bread dough

Final proof the dough at 85 F after it worms up from the fridge.

Let the baked loaves sit wrapped in linen or parc,ment and a towel for 24 hours before cutting them

Others will have other ways to bring out the sour but these are the one I have picked up fron TFL .

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Wow, thanks for the tips dabrownman.  I would have never thought of those.  I did hear about using ascorbic acid, but not vinegar.  To be honest, I was hoping for more of a natural baking method, instead of 'tricks.'  But until I learn the proofessional ways, I will try these!  My starter is already a rye sour, so I'm already partly there.  I will be doing another Vermont Sourdough soon so I will update this post with the results.

dabrownman's picture

whey water for part of the water if you make your own yogurt or cheese.  These really aren't tricks but rather natural techniques used to coax more sour out of the bread.  The vinegar is used to make the mix more acid so the yeast can work bettter to make more sour - not to sour the bread.

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

I guess you're right.  I'm sure that these techniques are used by professional bakers as some of the ingredients you list, I find in the ingredients list of some supermarket breads.  What I was trying to say is, I would love to have a more sour sourdough bread happen just by using the simple recipes that you would find, without any of the 'helper' ingredients/methods.  I tried some recipes where the description says it will turn out with a moderate to strong sour flavour.  These recipes do not use anything more than starter, flour, water, salt and maybe a fat.  I try them and they come out with almost no sour flavour.  I think rather than get frustrated, I will use your tips to bring that flavour out :)

dabrownman's picture

mainly came for David Snyder.  His blog is full of teaching tips on how to make San Francis style sourdoughs and how he coaxs the sour.  His Pugliesi Capriosso, SFSD, San Joaquin development projects through many versions are all great reads. for anyone who wants to make SF style SD.  Retarding the doough and levain lets the sour develop at lower temperatures for a long time and the 85 F final proof also develops more sour. These techniques are used by the best armature and professional bakers.  A proper sour starter that is fully developed and primed for bread making is also key.

Happy Sour SD baking.

billkaroly's picture

You don't need tricks to get a true sour flavor. If you have a good starter you will get the sourness you want. My favorite starter is one of mine I picked up in San Francisco back in the 70's. I call it Valentina's. It has a nice sour taste and the recipe only calls for 1/2 cup of starter. The trick, if you can call it that, is to let it sit in a bowl for 12-16 hours before forming it into loaves. My blog is if you are interested in getting some of Valentina's. I have three other starters and Valentina's is the best of the bunch in my opinion. Second best is one I developed from dark rye flour. Carl's Oregon Trail is so so when it comes to sourness.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and let it build in the bread dough longer.  Try just 10% sourdough  to total flour.  Go with either a cool rise or a warm one.

Play around with your starter elaborations.  I even crumble a piece of sourdough bread into the starter (as food) for more flavour.

I have always been suspicious of starters that have been started using sugar (they tend to lack a sour component) I suspect that in their genes, some kind of switch has been triggered.  It is possible to have a starter that is not sour and still be a sourdough culture.  :)

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Thanks for all the advice!  I will try these soon and let you all know how it turned out.

FlourChild's picture

Debra Wink reported that salt inhibits LAB more than yeast, so that means that one thing you can do to achieve more sour is to increase the prorportion of pre-fermented flour in your final dough.

In my experience, the two most important factors for creating more sour are 1) the amount of acid in your ongoing culture, and 2) the length of the bulk fermentation.  To increase acid in your culture, feed it later in the cycle (well after the peak) and consider adding in a little whole grain.  

So perhaps try a larger proportion of levain, a seed culture that is fed later in its cycle with a little whole grain flour added to the mix, and a longer bulk ferment.  For my cultures and doughs, just letting the bulk fermentation continue until the dough has tripled is almost always enough to produce a sour bread, regardless of all the other factors.  

Editing to say:  ooops, should have check the dates on these posts!

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

No problem FlourChild.  I appreciate the comments regardless.  I have since been able to produce a nice tang in my sourdough loaves.  Sometimes a bit TOO much for my liking.  Now my challenge is to learn to tame it down.


Freudenberg's picture

Hello, John,

It's been a few months since your post of March 7, 2013.

I read the string from your first question about how to get sour in your bread to the last one regarding your success.

I have tried a number of the suggestions--without success.

I wonder if you would share what you did to accomplish your goal?

Much appreciated,




Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Hi Harry.  I would like to help, but I am not quite sure what I did exactly to help bring out the sour in my sourdough loaves.

I think the first thing was that I let my sourdough culture mature over time.  I have had the same starter for over a year now and is very healthy.  The other thing I noticed was that I let the loaves proof for longer times in the fridge.

Overall, I think it's just the healthy starter I have...

I doubt this will be much help to you.  I suggest you seek advice from some of the sourdough experts around here like dsnyder (David).

Hope you find a solution!