The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bread Baker's Apprentice Sourdough

llewna's picture

Bread Baker's Apprentice Sourdough

Hi, guys, this is my first post here and my first sourdough!  I'm really hoping not to mess either one up too badly!

First, let me say I know from reading this forum that you guys don't like the term "barm" as Mr. Reinhart uses it, but I'm going to use it for specificity because it is the term he uses for a particular stage of the starter's development.  The stage I'm having trouble with, as a matter of fact. 

I started my seed culture, had the quick growth from bacteria, waited out the dormancy period until it became spongy and was doubling and then sinking.  It seemed like the right time to convert it into the "barm."  I did that this morning.  According to Mr. Reinhart, in about six hours, it should be bubbly and releasing enough gas to balloon the plastic wrap.  Well, I've got a few bubbles, kind of like a pancake before you turn it, but that doesn't seem like enough action, and it's definitely not ballooning my plastic wrap, nor does it smell at all yeasty or sour.  It just smells like flour and water.  Did I jump the gun and convert it too soon?  Can it be saved?


gaaarp's picture

llewna, welcome!  This is an awesome website, and you will find more info here than you can imagine.

I recently went through the same process you are going through:  making the BBA seed culture and "barm", and like you, I had a few starts and stops along the way.  In fact, at the point where you are now, I pitched everything and started over.  Making a sourdough starter requires three things:  flour, water, and time.  Left to its own devices, once it starts, it's pretty hard to kill.

I suspect that you just need to let it go for a while longer (mine took longer at the "barm" stage than Reinhart said it would).  And for the record, mine never ballooned the plastic wrap.  That said, once I had the patience to wait and the courage to try to use it, I made some great bread with my starter.  It has been alive for about a month now, and I bake with it every weekend.

Good luck.  Keep trying (and waiting).  Your patience will be rewarded.

Eli's picture

Welcome, I think you will find this a great resource! As for your "barm" I think you should stick with it and give it some time. You should be okay and continue feeding. Out of curiosity what temperature do you keep it? Room temp or refrigerator?

Welcome again!




llewna's picture

I can be patient, now that I know I still have a good chance of success, if that makes any sense at all!  I was just worried because every other recipe I've made from BBA has gone like clockwork.

I kept the seed culture in the oven with the light on, and it was just under 85 degrees.    Now that we've entered the "barm" stage, I just have it on the counter.  I keep my house at about 65 degrees, and the book says "It is best for the organisms we want to cultivate... if the starter ferments slowly, between 65 and 75 degrees."

So my plan is to let it sit out on the counter for a day or two, then divide it up, try making bread out of one bit, and feed another bit, and see what happens.  Good thing we're doing Thanksgiving here this year!

Thanks again for your help!


parousia's picture


what timing...   i just started following the rules laid forth in BBA also.

however, i opted for making a very stiff starter and it worked like a champ. the lack of messiness is a plus as well.

sometimes i feel that nurturing sourdough starter is like marriage, there really is no autopilot.

sourdough should be called patiencedough.

last comment....   warm temperature.

llewna's picture

If it's like a marriage, then I'm totally the jealous wife hiring a private detective to spy on her husband!  The only reasons I haven't set up a webcam to take timelapse photos of my starter are that 1) I'm feeling lazy and 2) I have relatives staying with me, and I like to try to hide the crazy from the people who could have me committed!

But it's starting to look a little frothy and bubbly and has a bit of a yeasty tang to it.  The only thing that I'm worried about is that it still hasn't risen at all.  (Not that Mr. Reinhart mentioned that it should rise; but isn't that the whole point?)  However, the oven will be on pretty much non-stop for the next two days, so the kitchen should stay nice and toasty.  I won't give up unless it turns green (or I find lipstick smudges on the edge of the bowl!)