The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Alt Altus's picture

Alt Altus

Here is a simple method for processing leftover starter into a versatile ingredient that can favorably increase the complexity of a bread's flavor profile.  It's a "toadie" in dabrownman's parlance. Perhaps a “cheat” in yours. Ok, it's not strictly altus. It had aspirations to become bread but never got the call.  Hence “Alt”. Here’s the...

What for

A few reasons. Uses for Leftover Starter is a recurrent theme at TFL.  Periodically air-drying some as a backup should be #1 on everybody’s list.  Baking it into croccantini is a favorite, especially if you accumulate large quantities of spent fuel (true, that link is not about leftover starter, but her video is a hoot.  You’ll never hear Mary Berry say, “Oh shit I forgot to add the rosemary!”).  Or you can just make another loaf with it (try mine or fernerz).  Here it gets baked, pulverized and christened “ingredient”.  Another nobler destiny for your spent fuel than an ignominious plop into the bin.

Second, I harbor a bit of an obsession with the Maillard reaction, likely owing to the relative dearth of its craveable products in our home’s vegetarian cuisine (me by choice because of my dearest’s inherited intolerance of meat).  Dry-toasted “toadies” and grano arso are short on Maillard products owing to their deficit of a key reagent required to mobilize reducing sugars and amino acids so that they can encounter each other and spontaneously react: water.

Third, I discovered a while back that fearless flavor prospectors Cortney Burns and Nick Balla included pulverized, blackened bread in Bar Tartine’s wacky cache of flavorings.  Fancy that. Right there on the rack alongside turmeric and allspice (as well as powdered dehydrated beet, kale and parsnip).

Fourth, I’ve noticed that when our oven steam apparatus shamelessly drips where it shouldn’t -- onto the loaf baking below -- the resulting bit of wet-burned crust can be surprisingly tasty.

Finally, a fellow loafer recently posted a query about preserving starter by drying it down in the oven – a strategy doomed to be about as gratifying as drying a bathed cat in the microwave.  Maybe he meant “proofer”. Regardless, that suggestion may have catalyzed the coalescence of the above sources into the process and product described below.  I have serially tinkered with the method over for the past several months. It’s very simple and forgiving. All loaves pictured here are 60% fresh-milled wheat with 1-3% Alt Altus-coated oat porridge added.  Without further ado, here’s the ...

How to

 1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.  A countertop toaster oven serves well if you have a small amount of leftover starter to process.  Avoid convection as it will render your Alt Altus case-hardened (crisp outside, soft inside) or quickly blackened if you are not properly attentive.

 2. Dilute your leftover starter, if necessary, to turn it into a thick batter (*see footnote).  Don’t add too much water – just enough to make it viscously pourable. Aim for 110% hydration if your starter is less than that.  [Note: Fresh leftover starter is best, so make this soon after serially refreshing your starter for a bake.  For example, bake your Alt Altus while the dough from which the starter was left over is final-proving and the oven is pre-heating.  Ancient starter dredged from deep in the fridge yields a bitter product.]

3.  Position parchment paper on a sheet pan and pour diluted starter onto it in a tight switchback pattern of narrow bands close enough to one another to ooze together into a very shallow irregular puddle.  A baking sheet with an efficient non-stick coating can be used instead of parchment paper. Recommended: Sprinkle fine salt over the surface of the puddle now.  This can make the final product somewhat snackable, especially if you bake it more blonde than bold.  It’s always reassuring to add an ingredient to bread dough that already tastes good enough to eat by itself.  Salt does that here.

4.  Put your preparation into the oven or toaster oven.

5. After 6-8 minutes, when the surface has become dry to the touch and is beginning to tan, flip the paper over with the lightly baked product still attached, now underneath.  Return it to the oven to dry the parchment-product interface sufficiently to free the paper when you next open the oven.

6.  After another 6-8 minutes, remove it from the oven and carefully peel off and discard the paper.  Separation anxiety may necessitate gentle encouragement with a spatula.

7.  Return product to the oven and repeat flipping and rotating it every 5-7 minutes.  Begin to break off product to a countertop plate as edges acquire a shade you’re comfortable with along the blonde > chestnut > black spectrum.  Parts will brown at different rates, so keep a close eye.  Reduce the time interval between tests as the process accelerates to completion.  Reward your patience by toasting some pistachios on the baking tray ;-).

8.  Turn off the oven, open the door and put the plated product back inside until the oven is barely warm.  Convection (with no heat) helps here.

9.  Cool fully on the countertop.

10.  Like dried herbs or coffee, the product is best stored intact and pulverized just before use.  A modernist might store it under vacuum. The rest of us: a ziploc bag. When ready to use, pulverize in a mortar, food processor, coffee/spice grinder, grain mill or ziploc bag+rolling pin. 


The amount of Alt Altus to add in any application depends upon the boldness with which it was baked and, of course, personal taste.  The darker product can be quite potent and is best deployed sparingly for optimum effect. Otherwise its strident notes can overwhelm others with which it should gracefully harmonize.

•  Add granulated product equal to 1-3% of total flour to any bread formula. Our preferred method is to mix it, coarsely ground to drip coffee sized bits, at 3% into cooked, cooled, broken-up porridge that is ready to be added to dough at the second fold. This also conveniently reduces clumping of porridge additions.    

•  Fold it at 1-3% of total flour into pizza or pasta dough (al grano arso) or polenta (to give it an authentic saracena look, if not exactly the flavor).
•  Jump-start a gumbo’s roux with finely powdered product (Warning: May be a capital offense in some Louisiana parishes).
•  Add powdered product to any chili, gravy, sauce espagnole or veggie burger mix.
•  Consult Burns & Balla.


It has not escaped our notice that creatively varying the ingredients in this method could yield some novel flavors. Sourdough starter is just flour (here wheat, spelt and rye) fermented in water by sourdough microbes. One could prepare an Alt Altus batter from scratch (i.e., not from leftover starter) in which the flour was replaced or supplemented with powdered substrates prepared from other cereals, legumes or even dehydrated vegetables.  The liquid in which they are suspended (with or without fermentation) to create the batter could alternatively be apple/raisin yeast water, other populations of fermentative microbes or simply water supplemented with a suitable solute (shoyu, Marsala, Marmite, liquid aminos*). Toasting such batters and pulverizing the products to generate “spices” would subtly expand the flavor space represented by most pantries.

Happy Baking,



* Including liquid aminos (up to 10% v/v of total leftover starter - more than that becomes Weapons Grade) in the dilution liquid makes a somewhat richer Alt Altus. Reduce added salt when including this or other salty supplement.


Danni3ll3's picture

What a cool way to using up extra levain! Oh and thank you for my chuckle of the day. Love how you wrote this up!'s picture

Thanks Danielle.  Beats pouring it into the compost bucket.  Give it a try if you have some left over.  And thanks for your kind words about the post.  I enjoyed writing it up about as much as pursuing the project itself.

Happy Baking,


dabrownman's picture

you can grind it up and use it to make instant SD bread.  Just add water, flour and salt.  

Love your latest Toady inclusion.  Instant sour - perfect for yeast breads :-) 

Toadies remain one of the best flavor enhancers for bread of all kinds. 

Well done Tom and

Happy Toady baking's picture

Thanks dab.  I figured I'd hear from you :-).   

Look what confusion you've stirred up -- all these poor innocent bakers wondering What in the world is a "toadie"???  Fait attention mon ami, Alt Altus puts all prior toadies to shame.  IMHO.  But neither has it escaped our notice that the whole AA enterprise is irrelevant to you of the NMNF persuasion since you never have any left over starter.

Like you, I'm retired, but I have little interest in anything "instant", least of all instant sourdough.  Maybe I should, since us old-age P's have less time left than the young'ns.  But I find myself humming more often than not, "...taking the time for a number of things that weren't important yesterday".  "Do what you like, no longer just like what you do".  I think it was you who said that.  Words to retire by.

Starter is about the only edible I've not run through our dehydrator.  I routinely just air-dry some as backup.  Interestingly, Mr Leo does the opposite: Rather than removing its water, he adds flour (among other strategies). Haven't tried it.

Stay cool down there my friend.



dabrownman's picture

we did.  Now we do what we love instead  - there is a huge difference.

Toadies, for the uninitiated,  are Toady Tom's Tasty Toasted Tidbits.  They were named by Lucy after you;, who was the IE-  Inventor Extrodinare

Yep..... No left over starter is ever allowed in Lucy's kitchen.  No left over levain either:-)  Lucy is going to work on her latest invention -  Instant SD Bread.  She wants to sell it as a dry box kit in the bread aisle or pre-made in the frozen section of a grocery near you.  She has a billion dollar Idea every day and is always to lazy to actually do anything with them.  Being Lazy in retirement is right up there with all the stuff we love to do most - nothing.

Stay Toasty

Elsie_iu's picture

I have to experiment with Alt Altus after I discovered how much more flavourful my bread is with the addition of toadies and dark malt powder! Really look forward to trying this out. Thanks so much for sharing!

I've just taken a look at your 60% fresh-milled wheat post, it's definately a professional bake. I hope I can bake beautiful bread like that some day...Considering my current obsession with porridge bread, I must soon give it a try. It must taste amazing with toasted oats.'s picture

Thanks Elise,

By all means try it.  Nothing to lose but ~a half hour and derelict starter that was destined for oblivion anyway.  And yes that 60% ww bread became our house standard a year or two ago and hasn't since been challenged significantly by any pretenders to that throne.  I'm not sure I'd call it "professional" but you are very kind to suggest that.  Indeed, I fuss so much over the details of each bake that no "professional" could ever make a living doing it the way I do (especially the oven steaming).  And please note that I abandoned toasting the oats long ago:  Alt Altus rendered that step obsolete.  Plus, the benefit of coating your cooked, cooled porridge with something that prevents it from clumping is not trivial.  I roll my own oats in a Komo Flicfloc and porridge made from them can be clumpy (but always tastier than that made from store-bought rolled oats).  All the better that the Alt Altus adds a rich, albeit subtle, flavor.

Happy baking,


Elsie_iu's picture

It's indeed very difficult to aim for perfection when something becomes your career. I can hardly stop myself from rolling my eyes whenever someone suggest me to open a restaurant since I like cooking so much. Seriously, how can I be a chef when I can't stand people who don't finish the food when it's hot or don't finish everything on the plate? 

Regarding the AA, do you think I should use the upper value (3%) for 100% whole grain sourdough (that's what I bake most of the time)? 

Looking forward to your next bake and great 'innovation'!

Elsie's picture

Hi Elsie,

If you're adding AA to 100% wholegrain sourdough, you can easily go with 3%.  The flavors of chestnut AA are subtle in our 60% ww and will be even more obscured by your additional 40% wholegrain.  You could easily go to 5% without it overwhelming the profile.  Then again, I'm not sure 100% wg needs AA, unless it's predominantly hard white flour, which always needs flavor help.  Our 60% is 40 white / 20 red and AA is a perfect supplement there.

Nobody's suggested I open a restaurant or bakery, but then again only a few neighbors have tried our bread.  It gets good reviews and indeed is weekly bartered for eggs from one neighbor.  Another did say I should sell it.  But that's not about to happen anytime soon. 

Regarding other culinary 'innovations' -- that's kind of a hobby with me and I've considered starting a blog, just to share some of the silly things I've stumbled upon.  But I'm sedentary enough and don't need another draw to my laptop at this point.  And don't hold your breath for my next post -- they come at one per year lately!

Happy baking,