The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


sandrasfibre's picture


Hello.  I have several questions about starters.  Please bear with me being new at this.  First, the starter I am using is 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, 1 tsp yeast.  First question.  Can I use wheat flour in my starter?  Second question.  I have read that after being refrigerated, it will last for two weeks.  Can I just work from this one starter for two weeks and not add to it to make it grow.  In other words, I would like to have a starter, use it and then make another starter.  I don't want one that I have to feed.  Is this possible?  Also, can I add starter to any bread recipe?  Can I use very small amounts of this starter, say 1/4 cup or so.  Is a starter to make your bread sour or flavorful or is it also for its rising capabilities?  Lots of questions here.  Hope someone can answer each one for me, thank you.

Marni's picture


I would suggest that you take at look at this section of TFL  where you will find a variety of links to information about using and maintaining sourdough.  I'm also learning about sourdough.  There are many knowledgeable bakers here who will hopefully add their advice, but meanwhile you can start with that link.

I hope this helps.


fancypantalons's picture

I'd definitely suggest reading that link Marni posted. For a quick answer to your questions:

1) yes.

2) 2 weeks, yes, but after more than a few days, it'll need to be woken up and run through a few feedings before it'll be fully active.

3) not if you want a true sourdough starter.  I'll get to this.

4) certainly, but be mindful of adjusting flour/water content in the recipe... this is where having a scale is so important.

5) see below :)

First off, yes, a starter is used to create sourdough.  This makes the sourdough... well, sour.  That said, a true sourdough starter is a culture of wild yeast.  You see, wild yeast thrives at a lower ph (more acidic environment) than commercial yeast.  Furthermore, wild yeast isn't able to consume maltose, and as such, other bacteria can thrive in the starter, generating the acid which produces that sour flavour. As such, if you want a nice, sour tang, you really need a proper wild yeast starter.

Thus, what you're building, using commercial yeast with flour and water, really isn't a sourdough starter.  It's probably better described as a preferment, which is very nice for enhancing flavour in a bread, but won't create a sour flavour.  And if you're going that way, you're probably better off creating a firm preferment, or pate fermentee (eg, "old dough").  As I understand it, such a preferment will last longer in the fridge, and you can basically build the next batch by holding over some dough from a previous batch of bread.

That said, if you want to create actual sourdough, you'll need to culture and maintain a wild yeast starter, for which there are many tutorials available, just search around.

subfuscpersona's picture

Maintaining a sourdough starter is like having a pet turtle. It doesn't require a lot of time but you do have to feed it and make sure it has the proper living environment.

Making a preferment is like having a pet rock. Once you have it, it requires nothing of you.

I'm a pet rock kind of baker. I'm not very good about maintaining a sourdough starter but I do use preferments in most of my breads.

Preferments are made with commerical yeast. The rise is very long (6-24 hours) - the long rise is controlled by [1]adding a very small amount of yeast in relation to the amount of water and flour and [2]slowing yeast action by having the dough rise at cooler temperatures. They are used as an ingredient in bread, primarily to add flavor.

There are three basic kinds of preferments...
> poolish - a thick batter made of equal portions by weight of flour and water plus a small amount of yeast
> biga - more dough like but also made from flour, water, small amount of yeast; the proportion of water to flour varies
> pate fermentee (French for "fermented dough") - this is the one that includes a small amount of salt, otherwise it is quite similar to biga

I find a biga to be the most flexible of the 3 kinds of preferments. I routinely make several pounds of biga and freeze it in 8 oz packets (it will keep frozen for up to 6 months). I defrost what I'll need the night before I bake.

I make many different kinds of bread that all use the same biga. Saves a lot of time. Happy to share recipes if you're interested.

Judon's picture

I'd also like your recipes.  Did you develop them, collect them or convert them for use with a biga? If you have converted yeast recipes to bigas or preferments, would you share your techniques?

I'm about 5 months into baking with wild yeasts starters and have produced amazing breads!! (Thanks to you all at Fresh Loaf, Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread, Daniel Leader's Local Bread, Peter Reinhart's BBA, and my husband who had his own bakery for years. His coaching saved me so much time in trial and error bread baking.)

 you can email recipes to

Thanks so much.

sandrasfibre's picture

thank you for all the wonderful comments.  I would like to ask subfuscpersons if I can email to talk further on preferments.  How do I email someone on this forum?

subfuscpersona's picture


happy to contiue discussion via email - here's mine

mynewsetc [at] earthlink [dot] net

just shoot me an email and tell me a little about what kind(s) of bread(s) you're interested in baking - please put "Bread" in the subject so I'll know what its about.

looking forward to hearing from you - SF 

subfuscpersona's picture

Awhile back there were discussions on TFL about this book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (the link is to the Amazon site - check out the customer reviews of this book if you're interested).

The basic idea is to make a large amount of dough (on the wet side), give it a brief rise at room temperature and then keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, removing just what you need for a single baking over this time. I think the TFL members who tried this (I did not) said that it was better to leave the dough in the refrigerator for about 2 days before starting to bake with it.

If you like to bake just one or two loaves every few days, this approach may interest you. Here is the master recipe...

New York Times on November 21, 2007 wrote:
Recipe: Simple Crusty Bread

Adapted from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)

Time: About 45 minutes plus about 3 hours’ resting and rising

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough


1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).

2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 loaves.

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.

The TFL interview with the authors is at this link; the interview is followed by many comments from TFL members.

In addition, here are links to some TFL threads that discuss members' experiences with the recipes and techniques in the book...

The author's website for this book is