The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough starter produced bread with no taste, why?

gretel's picture

Sourdough starter produced bread with no taste, why?

Hi guys,


My babied sourdough starter which I made from scratch from Bertinet's recipe and then refreshed over the next 3 weeks (longest I went without refreshing was 1 week on vacation, otherwise every 3 days.) When refreshing I took say 200 grams starter after bringing to room temp and added in same weight water at 105 F and double weight bread flour. Then I let ferment room temp usually about 6 hours then back in fridge.


When I finally baked with it (2 loaves from Dan Lepard's white leaven recipe), this was an all day process, of kneading 12 times then sit and repeat, all day long. The final rising period after the 2 loaves were in the floured towel lined bowls and shaped was 4.5 hours. Lepard said the loaves should be nearly doubled in height, they were not, but I had to bake them or stay up all night. Anyway, I baked the first one as directed on baking stone spraying with water and it shot up like a puffed balloon. Baked second one an hour later and it did the same. They were misshapen as my slashing procedure was difficult in that very sticky bread dough, the knife wouldn't make deep marks without ruining the bread shape. (Also, note the bread dough was so stuck to the floured towels that before I baked them I had to reshape them into balls as they were glued tight to the towels after 4.5 hours.)

Anyway, the misshapen but tall and well browned loaves (they did not turn out round though they went in the oven that way) had  airy holes in the bread when sliced and tasted fine, but with NO TANG AT ALL, they were not like a sourdough.

Help, what do I do to improve my starter? I added in more rye and spelt 3 days ago when I threw away half of it, left it out on counter for 4 hours and has no been in fridge same day. Any advice?? How to solve these problems, of sticking to floured towels, difficulty slashing stick dough and bread with no tang???

Also, over the weeks I have thrown out so much organic flour starter not to mention trying to clean bowls stuck with very sticky dough- the process seems very wasteful time wise and money wise. There has to be a better way. Please experts help.

Thanks a lot!

awysocki's picture

If your starter is in the fridge, you need to start a few days before to "freshen" it up.  If you keep your starter on the counter you can refresh it once a day and you can change the flavor of your bread by changing when you use your starter.  

If you take a tablespoon of starter and say 200 grams of water and 200 grams of flour.  Using this mix at 6 hours, or 12 hours or 24 hours will change the flavor of the bread,  It will become a stronger "sourdough" flavor the longer you let it ferment.  

Since you are only letting it sit for 6 hours you will have a very light flavor of sourdough.  

I would suggest trying, Say at 7:00pm at night. do your mix of tablespoon of your starter and 200g water and 200g of flour.  Let this sit on the counter at 70-75 degrees temp over night.  at 7am the next morning use what you need of this starter to make your bread, you will have a stronger sourdough flavor.  Remember when you add the starter mixture to your water it should float.  If it's still not strong enough flavor let it sit longer, but no longer than 24 hours.  There is a peek point where the yeast starts to die off.  Temps of the mix will change all this.



gretel's picture

Hi Andy thanks for responding. I am confused though at why I should take only 1 tablespoon of the starter and then so much new water and flour? I thought the rule for refreshing a starter was same amount of grams of starter for the water and doubling the flour. A tablespoon of starter would thus only be 1 tablespoon water and then 2 tablespoons flour added.

I will try this overnight room temp fermenting process before I bake next morning but still not sure how much of the rye/white bread/spelt flour starter to save that I refreshed with many cups of expensive flour only 3 days ago, why would I throw all of that out now except 1 tablespoon and start again with new product?

Sorry, I am new at this starter stuff.

awysocki's picture

There are many ways to use starter,  and make sourdough  and I don't think any 1 way is the correct way, its what works for you.  

I use Chad Robertsons method 

I would read Chad's book Tartine and Jeffery Hamelman's book Bread.  To find a method that works for you.

GregS's picture

Based on a lot of reading and messing around: There are two key "critters" in your starter: 1) Yeast, that produce the bubbles of gas which raise the bread and 2) Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) that produce the sour taste.

Yeast seem to develop best in a cool, to even refrigerated environment. LAB prosper with more warmth. Try refreshing your starter while keeping it at room temperature for several days, then see if the sourness increases.

Another irony here, it seems that too many LAB can dominate the yeast, so you get poor rise but strong sour. It's all a game, depending on your environment and refreshment schedule. Search on this site for "Debra Wink". She is a microbiologist who wrote a brilliant series of posts about creating a starter. It is mildly scientific, but something you should know if you want your starter to behave predictably.

Best wishes,


Pioneer Foodie's picture
Pioneer Foodie

Not an adjective. Imagine that perhaps the "sour" doesn't reference taste but rather age in contrast to freshness. In reading historical accounts of bread (1850s), sometimes diarists reported that the bread turned out sour and as such was no good, and other times turned out sweet and wholesome. This from the same culture, same recipe. Sometimes sour distracts from other favors in the bread. I've had sourdough that was disgustingly sour. Consider beer: a properly balanced ale will not place the alcohol too prominently in the flavor profile. We might rather focus on the malty flavors.

instead of worrying about this little detail, put more work into your dough handling and shaping. Your efforts there will make a meaningful difference in your bread.

isand66's picture

Try mixing in some rye or whole wheat flour in your starter which will also produce a more sour flavor.  You can also do multiple builds on the starter with the wheat flours and it will produce a more flavorful and sour loaf for sure.  I like to bulk ferment my dough for at least 12-24 hours which I find also produces a more sour and flavorful bread.

gretel's picture

Thanks everyone, yes I did add in lots of rye and spelt for more flavor after baking the mostly white loaves, that's why I don't want to now throw it all out except for a tablspoon. I will save 200 or maybe 250 grams and refresh tonight with white bread flour and water and then leave overnight to ferment room temp and then try baking again next day. This time I will let loaves rise longer than 4.5 hours after being shaped. What I will do about sticky dough clinging to towels and not releasing, I have not figured out yet. Maybe I will have to put them in loaf pans for final rising instead of doing the free form loaves. I thought I put enough flour on the towels but they would not release, so don't know how to change this.

Chris asks what my pevious starter smelled like, it was bubbly but smelled pretty mild. Now I understnad why it got the high rise but nearly no sour tas te. I don't want extremely sour bread, but it should have some complex flavor after all of this. I thought that since for the first week the starter was at room temp the whole time, the subsequent 2-3 weeks in fridge would not change the original flavor profile of the starter too much.


gerhard's picture

If you use rice flour, potato starch or semolina flour to dust the proofing cloths you should have no sticking problems.  If you find the dough sticking to your hands use wet hands to handle the dough.


gretel's picture

I waited 1 hour before slicing 1st loaf. Second loaf cooled overnight, was sliced next morning, tasted the same flavor wise. I used exactly 2 % sea salt accord. to Lepard's formula.

I will try the semolina flour on the cloths for next project and think about saving the old starter for pancakes etc, didn't think about that.

I will again use Lepard's books for the next bread recipe as with so much rye in the starter now I know from ist project that I can neither knead nor enjoy such a wild sticky dough that won't cooperate or remove itself from anything; the only way I've found to deal with these wet, sticky doughs so far is the Lepard method of gently kneading on a oiled surface and letting rest and repeating at intervals the whole day.


gretel's picture

Okay, so the fridge temp will slow down both the yeast and the LAB's and a standard room temp of say 70F or 20C is not warm enough to really get the sour going in a starter. So, I think what you are saying is that initially when a person starts a starter from scratch room temp at 5-7 days is not warm enough and maybe I should get a proofing box or whaterver other contraption (I already learned about all the homemade contraption possibilities in previous posts!) to start a starter and keep it at 27-30C. But my question is what about for refreshing this same hypothetical starter: would I need to remove it from fridge, bring to room temp for a few hours, refresh with flour and water the amount I save over and then again put in a proofing box for 12 hours at 27-30C or would room temp be ok for 12 hours since the first week it had the higher temps?

Thanks much!

Also, for now I am sticking with the all day ever- gentle process and the cute little fellow- Dan Lepard. I tried the rough slap down and fold method of strong guy Richard Bertinet with a wet rye dough a few months ago and wrote of my halarious but painful experience. Not ready yet to go that route again, maybe later when I at least get the proper starter understanding!



The Whole Grain's picture
The Whole Grain

I am also fairly new to starters. I looked at many instructions for building and maintaining starters and most of them produced ENORMOUS amounts of waste, and huge starters of which you only use max 70 grams for 2 loafs.

Browsing on this forum I found a post that inspired me. It can be done differently: no waste, no huge jar in the fridge, no stress about having to feed it daily. 
Have a look at this post:

And regarding having to knead so often, even kneading during the night.... Gosh! No way I would spend so much time to bake a loaf unless I get paid for it. 
There are many posts about how to manage baking a SD loaf during a workweek. I also read the recipe for San Francisco SD by Reinhart where he says that you can keep the pre-shaped dough for 3 days in the fridge. Very practical: you can make a lot of dough and bake a fresh loaf daily in the next 3 days.

I think baking bread should be a pleasant and relaxing experience in stead of stressful and enormously time consuming. 

gretel's picture

Thanks for "life with Fred" post. I refreshed my starter today and it isnow sitting on table, I need to downsize the starter perhaps as the man with Fred does to avoid wasting so much good flour in the trash. This whole subject is complicated and has many ways I see now, everyone is maintaining their starter a bit differently. I think if I continue this, I will indeed get a proofing box to get things up to the temp I need to make the starter more effective. The "all day" kneading is very easy as it is just 12 turns for 20-30 seconds then wait. Then do again in a half hour then the intervals of rest increase as the day goes on. At one point you have a few hours to leave the house! I know it sounds funny, but it works well for me and Dan Lepard writes books about it, so it must be good. I love oiling the board instead of flouringit nothing sticks  and you are not adding in too much flour to you bread dough. You are also not over handling the dough in the stand mixer this way. Since I work from home, this 8am to 5:30 pm (the beginning of bake time!) process works ok for me.

Take care.