The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

I need help with baking sourdough bread

dolph's picture

I need help with baking sourdough bread

I have been wanting to bake sourdough bread, but I don't know what makes a sourdough bread? WHat's the starter for and how can I get it? Please help!

Trishinomaha's picture

This is a great blog and you will learn a lot here. The more threads you read the more you learn. That said, before you can make sourdough bread you need a starter. There are several ways to get a sourdough starter. King Arthur Flour Company sells starter that you can activate in 3 or 4 days or you can grow your own which can take 5-10 days. Here's a simple recipe for sourdough starter that I got from this site in the very beginning:

 How to Make Your Own Starter from Scratch.•

1. Take:2 oz (50g) of Whole Wheat or Rye (Organic if you can)2 oz (50g) of Chlorine free water 70-80F (20 - 25C)(boiled, filtered, bottled,some good tap waters)Mix in a container with a loose fitting lid or film and set aside in a warm(70-80F (20 - 25C)) place.

2. After 24 hours throw half of the mix away and feed with the above.

 3. Repeat until the mixture shows some bubbles, probably on the third or fourth day.

4. When the mix starts to show some bubbles feed, for best results, with the flour you intend to bake with

5. Once the mixture shows a lot of activity two - four hours after feeding and smells of flowers (sounds odd I know) or of alcohol it's ready to use.If you don't want to use straight away, put the starter in the fridge one hour after feeding. If you don't use the starter for more than 3 days or so you'll need to 'build it up' by repeated feedings of 1 part starter, at least 1 part water and at least 1 part flour.  A dryer starter will last longer without feeding. Knead in some flour until it's like playdough. This will help the starter stay active for up to a month and viable for six to ten. This really does work. I've activated them with no problems after 10 months of not being used.

dolph's picture

Thanks for the reply and help. I'm a bit confused tho.

1. In Step 2: after throwing half away, feed with the same amount of ingredients in step 1 again?

2.In step 4, I'm supposed to feed with the flour to be used according to a sourdough bread recipe? And if so, how much flour to feed?

3. WHenever a started is not used, i have to keep adding water and flour or equal amounts?

4.So, whenever I need a started, I just make it all over again?

Sorry for asking so many questions. REally appreciate your help.

SDbaker's picture

The KA starter is the one I use.  Up and running in no time.  They have a few types - I got the "250 year old New England" strain."  I am not learned enough in the ways of the yeasties to be any authority on comparing it to other types.  It's not particularly super sour, but with slow fermentation methods and manipulating the starter in a few ways that you will learn here, you can increase the sour level.  Best of luck.  The folks here are #1 in my book for sharing.

 SD Baker

dolph's picture

Thanks for your comments, SD BAker! It looks like I have to order i online then.

ejm's picture

Rather than bothering with ordering online, I decided it would be much more exciting to capture my own yeast. I used the method outlined in "Piano Piano Pieno" by Susan McKenna Grant. She feeds twice a day, beginning with rye flour, water and a tiny bit of unpasteurized honey and then early on switches to twice a day feedings with unbleached all purpose flour. Using the same method, my friend across the city captured yeast in 6 days. (It took me 17!! days...) It's well worth the effort.  

Here is my take on McKenna's method that creates just the right amount of starter for a casual home baker like me:

Susan at "Wild Yeast" uses this method that begins with rye flour and white flour: 

There is a step-by-step guide to capturing yeast in "Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery" as well but it makes a lot more. She begins with organic grapes and unbleached bread flour... I'm sure it makes terrific bread but it's a bit daunting for the unsure beginner to have to use 3+1/4 cups flour from the outset on an experiment, not to mention finding organic grapes and cheese cloth.

I'm quite certain, as well, that there is a step-by-step method of capturing yeast clearly outlined in "Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves from Your Own Hands" by Daniel Leader. I do not have a copy of his book though (read a library copy some years ago and keep meaning to get my own)

Hope that's helpful! 


Ruth Redburn's picture
Ruth Redburn

   I have been using this sourdough starter since 1989.  It is in the Food Lover's Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells.   She states "This is the recipe that Paris's most famous baker, Lionel Poilane, created for the French housewife, and the closest I've come to re-creating his superb and popular loaf at home."   I have changed very little of the recipe, itself, except for baking at a much higher temperature than she recommends and usually adding whole wheat or rye to the loaf.  But the starter is so simple and has never failed me.  She recommends to save about one cup of the dough to set aside as the "chef"for the next loaf before forming the loaf to bake.  It can be stored, covered with a damp cloth, at room temp. for 3 days, or refrigerated, covered tightly,  for up to two weeks.   

                                 Recipe for Chef

Combine 1 cup (140 g) flour with 1/3 cup (80 ml) lukewarm water in small bowl.  Stir until well-blended. Transfer to a floured surface and knead into a smooth ball.It should be fairly soft and sticky. Return to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, let sit at room temp. for 72 hours.  It should rise slightly and take on a fresh, acidic smell.

After 72 hours, uncover the starter and transfer to a medium size bowl. Add 1/2 cup (125 ml) lukewarm water to the starter and stir.  Add 1 1/2 cups (210 g) flour and stir to blend.  Knead on floured counter into smooth ball.  It will be firm, not too stiff. Return to bowl, cover with the damp towel, and let sit in a warm place for 24 to 48 hours.  Be sure to dampen towel when necessary, but don't let it be really wet.  (From here on you are on your own.  The rest of the Poilane loaf adds 3 to 3 1/2 more cups of flour and water as needed, about1 1/2 cups, plus 1 Tbls. salt. 

The recipe itself is quite long and I have hesitated to add my 2 cents worth because I am sure you all know much more than I do.  But this chef is so easy in comparison to many and is not real sour that I thought that somebody might like it.  And you only have to keep the last cup for the next loaf. 

Ruth Redburn

grrranimal's picture


Hi, Dolph:

...and welcome to TFL.  

I've only just made my first starter in the last few weeks, and it's incredibly easy.  Just takes patience, which is something I'm pathologically short of.  

Check out the posts on this site: easy to do by searching on sourdough, or by looking in the lessons section. Lots of advice on birthing a starter, on maintaining one and on using one.  And a lot of myths usefully debunked.

Good luck! 

Prandium longa. Vita brevis.