The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Wild sourdough starter questions (newbie)

nstoddar's picture

Wild sourdough starter questions (newbie)

I'm attempting to create my own wild sourdough starter. I took a look at Sourdoughlady's recipe for starter, but it was a bit intimidating, so I went for the Joy of Cooking recipe. I've been following it pretty closely, but I'm not sure when it's done.

First, a couple of facts:

  1. It doesn't smell weird -- just normal ... maybe a little "yeasty"
  2. There are bubbles in it ... not a tremendous amount, but a decent amount
  3. It does rise some ... maybe 20% after each feeding.
  4. Also, no hooch on the top.

During the feeding last night, I was playing around with it and noticed that it's very creamy ... nothing at all like a dough. It looks to have the same texture as very creamy melted cheese. I'm not sure what that means ... something I read implied if that happened it means the yeast had already consumed (?) all the gluten and there wasn't anything else to feed on (therefore less bubbles).

The Joy of Cooking recipe doesn't include throwing any out ... not sure if I'm okay as it is, or if I should continue feeding on 12 hour schedule until it doubles, or if I'm doomed.

Marni's picture

I don't know much, having a starter (from Sourdolady's instructions- it's really not too hard) that's only about two weeks old, but if you could post the recipe you used  and how old the starter is it might help you get some useful advice.  I think all the details might help.  As far as I know throwing some out is just to prevent it taking over your house.  It just needs to be fed enough to maintain itself.

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I run a web site dedicated to sourdough. And I have three very good recipes for starting a starter on it.


I get lots of, "Thanks for the good advice, my starter is great!" letters. However, I also get more upset letters from beginners who want to start their own starters and have troubles than letters about ANY other topic.


When you try to do something for the first time, the more times you use the word "new" to describe what you are doing, the greater the chance of failure. Yes, almost anyone can start a starter. However, if you don't know what starter should look like, what it should smell like, what it should feel like, how it should act when fed, how will you know when you have a good starter?


I STRONGLY encourage sourdough beginners to get a known good starter from a reliable source. Once you are experienced with sourdough, then try starting your own.


If you have friends who bake sourdough, get a starter from them. Or, go to the Friends of Carl web page and get an excellent and free starter from them.


Good luck,



Trishinomaha's picture

After several months thinking I would send away for this I finally did. For the amount of postage to and from I got a great starter! It bubbled right away and I used it about a week after I reconstitued it. Great work and thanks for a great starter!


subfuscpersona's picture

For the price of two stamps this sourdough starter can't be beat. Those who maintain in Carl's memory deserve our thanks. It takes awhile (4-6 weeks in my experience) to get your starter but it is well worth the wait.

For those who don't want to create a sourdough starter from scratch with flour and water (and well timed feedings) this is an excellent alternative.  

leemid's picture

I have been using this starter for over a year, although I am convinced I have cross-contaminated it with Franco from SF. One of these days I will send off for a new dose of it. It is fast and vigorous. I think the time for shipment has to do with timing. They probably ship when there are enough requests to warrant making a batch and drying it. Then it's not sitting around for weeks losing potency.

Just a thought.


andrew_l's picture

Hi nstoddar.


Here's a link to a starter and method several of us on this forum use and swear by. Zola Blue produces some ace bread from it! It may look a little complicated - but it really is straightforward.

My starter using this method is now about 3 years old and very very easy to live with! It takes being ignored and just bounces back - very tasty too!


You could contact zolablue - very helpful lady!



nstoddar's picture

Thanks for all the comments. I realize it's tough for somebody that's never made a starter to successfully make a starter since they have no context for what is good and bad -- but I couldn't help myself. Where's the fun in getting one in the mail ... maybe if I get desperate in the future.

So, I've changed things up somewhat. I'm now putting it in the oven with the light on, which has seemed to give it an extra boost of temperature needed to rise. It hasn't risen all the way though -- not doubled -- only by about 50%. I've been throwing away all of except for a cup of starter, adding in a cup of flour and about 3/4 cup of room-temperature water.

Previously it was a bit thicker (before the yeasties broke everything down), so now it's a bit thinner. Much more bubbles and rising. We'll see how this goes. Do you think I should be doing this feeding schedule every 12 hours or every 24?

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

nstoddar made sad comments about his starter and then asked:

We'll see how this goes. Do you think I should be doing this feeding schedule every 12 hours or every 24?


YES!!! YES!!!! YES!!!!!!


I have been a very active sourdough baker for about 10 years. I've baked professionally and I am active in the Bread Baker's of America Guild mailing list.


My experience, and that of the professional bakers in the BBGA mailing list, is that a room temperature starter should be fed no less than twice a day. A number of professionals wanted to cut this back to once a day and played with temperatures, feeding quantities and hydration. And ALL of them went back to feeding no less than twice a day.


I get more emails on my web page from people who are having trouble starting their starters than any other topic.


The second most frequent question relates to maintaining a starter. My experience is a room temperature starter needs to be fed no less than twice a day. and each feeding should be enough to double the size of the starter. Each feeding should be no more than 100% hydration. I suggest 1 part of water to 1 part of flour by weight for beginners. Some more advanced bakers prefer a thicker starter. I find for most people who scoop flour, that's 2 parts of water to 3 parts of flour.


You may want to discard some of your starter before feeding it - if you keep doubling the size of the starter you'll have a swimming pool full of starter before you know it, and two swimming pools full of starter 12 hours later. You can save the discarded starter and use it to make pancakes, waffles, biscuits, cakes, pizza shells and all sorts of other goodies so you won't feel like you're wasting the flour.


When I have a slow starter, I feed it 3 times a day, and each feeding is enough to triple the size of the starter. About two days of the aggressive feeding and the starter is revitalized. It's worked for me when I let my starter maintenance slip, and for many correspondents.


Also, if your starter begins to taste bland, or the bread from it is starting to taste bland, Didier Rosada suggests letting about 5% of the flour you feed it with be whole wheat or rye flour for a few feedings. He says this will restore the balance between the yeast and bacteria. About a tablespoon per cup is a close approximation.



bwraith's picture

Although starters are fairly forgiving, it's possible to either underfeed or overfeed a culture. The right amount of time between feedings depends mainly on feeding ratio and temperature.

For example, a 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour by weight) feeding at 80F would be active and stable if fed about every 6-8 hours. A 1:4:5 feeding at 65F would be active and stable if fed every 18-24 hours.

Firmer starters ferment a little more slowly and keep substantially longer without being fed.

Starters will rise more than twice as fast at 80F as at 65F all other things equal. A doubling of the feeding ratio will add very roughly 2 hours to the rise times at 65F, and a little less than an hour to rise times at 80F.

Other ratios and temperatures will be in between the above examples. I regularly use a feeding ratio of 1:4:5 (starter:water:flour by weight) or 2:4:5 every 12-24 hours, depending on whether it's cool or warm in the kitchen and whether I am around to feed the starter twice per day or not.

Small quantities work well - you don't have to use cups. For example, the above feeding could be 5g starter, 20g water, 25 grams flour for a total of 50 grams of maintained starter. A volume equivalent could be something like 1 tsp starter, 2 tbsp water, 3 tbsp flour.

The feeding cycle should allow for a full rise, peaking, and dipping (when it hints of the beginnings of a collapse), and then can be left a few hours beyond that. The organisms multiply at different rates, and some of them catch up later in the cycle, so you don't want to cut the cycle too short and feed too soon. If you feed too soon repeatedly, the culture will never recover to full strength and can slowly weaken, become unbalanced, and die out after a while.

On the other hand, once the cycle has run it's course, the culture begins to weaken and die off, so you don't really want to wait way too long after it starts to dip or collapse, either. It probably won't die right away, but if you repeatedly feed it too infrequently, the culture may die off enough each time and successively weaken more and more or even die out completely.

Even though the above sounds dire, cultures will take a fair amount of abuse and stay alive. Once a starter is up and running, you usually would have to repeat the offenses above over a period of time to really kill it off.

An example of too much of a good thing: temperatures that are too high can kill a culture fairly quickly. Avoid temperatures over about 85F. It helps a lot to hover right around 80F when getting a culture started, but it's a common mistake to become too enthusiastic with the oven or other heat sources. A probe thermometer is an extremely useful tool to monitor the temperature of your culture, especially when figuring out the right warm, but not too warm, spot in your home.

You should also expect a 5-10 day startup before your starter is active and stable.


leemid's picture

First, let me say that I am not arguing with any of the above. That said, you may disagree that I am not arguing. But I am only relating my experience.

I keep two firm starters (50% hydration) which at one time were Otis and Franco, two different guys. Over time and sloppy maintenance and bread making they have cross-contaminated and can't really be identified as different. I feed them when I start making bread by growing the old starter for use in a batch of bread. So Friday morning I add 1 part water and 2 parts flour by weight, based on roughly 1 part starter, and that's how accurate I am. This is actually 100g starter, 100g water, 200g flour and 25-30g starter, 35g water, 70g flour, all done together in a single batch. Confusing? What I am doing is making 400g starter for bread and 125+g to store until next week. I don't feed any other time unless it has been a long time since, and will be a long time before I make bread again. My bread is quite good; I can't say I have had better. Does this mean it wouldn't be better if I followed the suggestions above? No, but I don't have a schedule that would allow me to do so. Someday when I retire I may start a bakery and learn that I was too lazy all along. If I didn't have the starters I do, and the success I do, I would be fishing and trying every suggestion I could find. I would do everything Mike says to make it work. Then, when it worked I would be loath to stray from that routine.

On another note: I also keep a wet starter at 100% hydration. This guy gets used only for quick breads and rye, both of which I seldom make. This weekend I wanted to make rye so I fed the dude. Nothing. Fed again. One bubble, fed again. Fed this morning. I will look at it tonight. Hopefully by the weekend it will be vigorous again. I can't say when I fed this guy could have been months. STARTER ABUSE! 

And now, for something completely different:

This is the rare weekend when I didn't have time to make sourdough so I fed the starters and retired them to the fridge. But there was that 200g of weak-old starter ;) that I just can't throw away. I tossed it into some flour and water and, gasp, yeast. Bugger didn't work well. Tastes alright, but no decent rise or kick. Didn't occur to me that there wasn't anything left for the commie yeast to digest. But I can't believe that 3/4 tsp of yeast to 450g of total dough weight was too little.

And now for Mikes challenge to identify the movie:

Originally the phrase began in H. Bogart's Sierra Madre, but was only "Badges, we don't need no badges." The phrase as it is currently quoted far and wide, "badges, we don't need no stinking badges" comes from Blazing Saddles when they are recruiting thugs to sack the town.

That's my story,


bwraith's picture


I'm not arguing here either, just elaborating. Sorry if it doesn't come out that way.

It makes sense that if you bake once a week or even every other week, and you have a firm starter in the refrigerator, which will keep very well, that you could feed it once and that would be enough to bring it back to a fully active or at least back to as active as it was when you stored it last. That's enough for it to be stable. It's hard to say if it is absolutely as active as it could be doing it that way, but if it makes good bread, then it's doing what you need it to do.

If you keep a very wet, thin starter and only double or triple it when you feed it, then although it may still only need a day of feedings, it would probably make sense to feed it more times, since the feeding cycle is so much shorter with a low feeding ratio and a wetter consistency, especially if temperatures are warm. It may not bounce back in one feeding and may be significantly weakened after a day of only one feeding.

With the slightly higher feeding ratio and firm consistency I normally use, I'm usually only feeding it once a day, particularly in winter, so it's not a big time waster. I've gotten it down to a 10 minute procedure, including cleaning and putting away everything. I follow a feeding routine much the same as yours, although my ratio is a little higher, except that sometimes, I continue to feed it for a couple of days on the counter, just to make sure it's really cranking along. However, if it's only been in the refrigerator a week or two, it will bounce back fully in less than 24 hours, just as you describe with yours. I'll plead guilty to being retired, so I don't focus on the schedule as much, but I still care about convenience.

I think my main point in the previous post is that the time in between feedings is not fixed. It depends on what type of starter you maintain. You can overfeed a Glezer style firm starter if you feed 10g starter:30g water:50g flour every 12 hours at 65F. Similarly, you can underfeed a wet starter by feeding 1 cup starter, 1 cup water, 1 cup flour at 80F only once a day. People here on TFL have posted about starters with these problems at various times. The first problem is more likely to be heard about in winter, the second in summer.


leemid's picture

I've been at school most of my life for the last 6 months so this response is a bit late...

but I agree with all that you and Mike have said. I didn't hear you arguing, but I didn't want to sould like I was. This thread and many others about this subject have helped shape my skills. What I pity the newbies for is the lack of confidence to just do it. I remember being chicken (please, no one take offense. I've been there too) and knowing what will happen and how to do things is so much better. 

I was trying to remember how long I have been making bread this time around and time seems to slip away. I've been a member here for 1 yr, 13 weeks so I've been baking sourdough for at least a year and a half, probably more like two, almost every week. What is certain for me is that when it finally works for someone, just keep doing it even if everyone disagrees. Then down the road after acquiring experience, change things up and carefully note the differences.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience,