The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

About to give up on this sourdough lark!

TheScruffyOne's picture

About to give up on this sourdough lark!

I'm at the end of my tether trying to get my starter started. I have tried and failed three times, and I'm probably doing (or not doing) something really obvious. I need some help, so here is how I do it wrong.

I have a glass jar with a sealable lid (although I dont seal it in case it goes bang), and I add 1 cup of bread flour and 1 cup of warm water and mix to a batter.

My first two attempts took 24 hours to form a nice bubbly mixture with the texture of melted mozzarella, I threw half the mix away, and fed with half a cup of flour and half a cup of water. the following day the mixture had split in three, with about 1/4" of liquid (hooch?) between a runny layer of starter underneath, and a thick bubbly mixture on top. I tried another feed and the mix split in two, just liquid and very runny flour mixture.

My third attempt (day before yesterday) nothing after 24 hours, so I didnt feed it. This morning, the mix had tripled and flowed all over my worktop! there was about 1/4" of un frothy mix in the bottom, so I gave it a stir. I came home from work today and it had split in two again loads of liquid and a thin flour mix. Have I killed it? or would a bit of patience paid off. (I havent thrown it away yet, just in case it is salvagable)



dvuong's picture

Hi Scruffy,

The explosion is normal, due to bacterial growth.  Just keep feeding it on a daily basis, every 24 hours.  After Day 3-5, you may start seeing your starter go completely dormant, thinking it is dead.  Do not worry, it isn't dead.  Just continue feeding it.  Soon enough,  you will see some activity and growth.  Be patient though.. It may take an additional several days.  It took mine about 7 days before I noticed it coming back to life. 

May I refer you to an excellent tutorial by one of the members on TFL... Another excellent guide that I would highly recommend you reading is one written by SourdoLady.  She uses the Pineapple Juice method in cultivating her starter.

Ford's picture

Mike Avery says, "Baking takes patience and sourdough baking takes patience squared!."

It sounds as though things are going normally.  Just keep feeding the starter, use only unbleached flour, and chlorine-free water.  Most bakers now use a thicker mixture of flour and water, about 100% hydration (equal WEIGHTS of flour and water) or even less water.  A cup of flour (fluffed) weighs about 4.3 oz. (120 g).  So to keep the amount of starter getting to enormous size, you must throw away some as you go.  I suggest you take about a half cup (2.1 oz., 60 g) of flour and the same amount of water 1/4 cup (2 oz., 60 g) and add to  the same weight of  starter (1/4 cup, 2 oz., 60 g). each time you refresh your starter, i. e.  once a day.  Continue this for about two weeks .  The starter should then be ready to go!


odinraider's picture

the previous comment. Remeber that you have a lot of organizms vying for position in your starter. It takes time for the ones you want to assert dominance. They are tiny and they are few, but will eventually grow into a thriving colony. Keep heart.


Chausiubao's picture

My first attempt at growing a starter, it took me 10 days of daily feedings, just the way you're describing. Each day as I saw the sick baby starter, my heart grew so heavy! But on the 10th day, it had doubled in volume consistently and on the 11th I was able to raise bread dough with it! Be patient and never give up!

Persistence in sourdough, just like in many parts of life is what counts.


wally's picture

Rome wasn't built is a day, so why do you think a good starter can be (or by day 2 or day 3)?  It isn't unusual to take 8 days or longer to establish a colony of wild yeast and lactobacilli.  So as Ford said above, patience.

The presence of hooch might indicate that fermentation is proceeding too fast - perhaps because your environment is too warm.  I would increase the flour to water ratio in your feedings so that you end up with a mixture that resembles very thick oatmeal.

BTW- You don't need a couple cups worth of the mixture.  On your next feeding I'd throw out all but about a quarter cup, and then add to that a half a cup of flour and perhaps a third cup water.  You can always add more water if it's just too thick.

Give it time...


clazar123's picture

You could end up with a swimming pool's worth of starter and discard! I heartily agree-decrease the amount so there is not so much wasteage. It's very easy to build the volume up when it's ready.

I actually start out with only 2 tablespoons of flour and enough water to make a pancake batter consistency. Once it starts bubbling,I discard half and feed it another tablespoon and some water and do that 2-4 times a day,depending on how hungry it is. How often do you feed a baby? When they are hungry! If it develops "hootch" (the liquid on top of the pasty mix), that means it's used up all the food and it's hungry.Feed it more often when that happens. I had one crazy batch that needed to be fed about 6 x a day for a few days-it was my wild child! It settled down but didn't last too long-fizzled out after a few months.

Initially,a new culture will rise like crazy but that's just the early bacteria-not great for bread. The lactobacteria get great height but fizzle fast.Not strong/long enough to raise a good loaf of bread. You want the yeast to multiply enough to become a stable colony so it can do the heavy,longer lifting required for bread. After a few more days, the yeast starts taking over and you'll notice a more consistent,longer rise. That is when it's ready for breadmaking.Now build the volume up to whatever amount you need plus a little extra for keeping.

It's still a young culture and you still have to get the yeast to multiply consistently and become a long term colony, otherwise other bacteria (maybe even the lacto guys) will take over.Some of the takeover bacteria can smell like old cheese or dirty socks. Whew! So keep feeding  the new culture regularly for a few more days before refrigerating.If you don't bake with it, then discard and feed. Bake at least once a week or discard and feed once a week and it will build into a more consistent culture. It will make increasingly better bread with each bake so have patience, there, too.

Mira's picture

Please don't give up!  My initial two attempts were attacked by fruit flies and not thriving but I'm finally happy with my third starter.  And yes, it took me 2 weeks to establish.  It's worth it!  One of my most satisfying baking experiences was baking my first sourdough bread this month with my very own starter.  It can only get better from now on:)

Good luck!

grind's picture

I know that there are other ways to get one going but I've done the following and it's always worked.  Dead simple.  I think it works becuase you first establish the wild yeast colony and then the bacteria follow.

2 cup of water

2 organic apple, core and diced

Mix the two together and in some days you'll see bubbles.  Wait until you think it's peaking, then strian out the apples and add flour to the apple water.  Add enough flour to form a paste.

This should rise in twenty four hours.  Sometime longer.  Wait until there's movement.

Throw out 3/4 of this newly puffed starter and repeat with water and flour.

Keep repeating until it peaks in 8 hours.

Many friends have tried this and it's always worked.  It's not sexy, but I started one this way and 5 years later it's fragrant, sweet and sour.  Good luck, grind.

tempe's picture

Don't give up, my first starter I made in May just up and died about three week ago, so I went with the pineapple juice method - Debra Wink has a great post on this (thanks Debra :)).  It's a little cool here, only about 15 degrees celsius inside so it took a while to get going, at least ten days until it double itself after feeding.  I just fed it whenever there was 'hooch' cause I figured it had eaten everything up.  It also really like organic rye flour btw.

There is some great advice given by others more experienced than I above, I just wish that my story will give you some encouragement to keep trying :)


copyu's picture

I just wanted to say to the original poster that, if you give up on 'sourdough' bread, then you should probably increase your consumption of tofu or, better, tempe(h), kimchee, Sauerkraut, traditionally-made olives and other pickles, natto, soy sauce, fish sauce, yoghurt, etc...

It seems to be true that people who eat a fair proportion of food that has been almost 'predigested' by bacteria or fungi live longer and healthier lives

One reason that concerns our vegetarian (and dietetically-similar) members is that only animals, including bacteria, make the important Vitamin B12. There are other good reasons to eat fermented foods, as well...sourdough bread just happens to be one of my favorites...

Nice name!


PS: Tempe(h) seems to be an Indonesian innovation. Tofu is quite different in food value...tempe is made from whole soy and seems to have developed a good reputation as a 'meat substitute'...just FYI. copyu

TheScruffyOne's picture

Wow, thanks for all the advice, I think I'll carry on feeding this batch. The only reason I thought it was dead, was that in the recipe I read, it said that 'after a day or two you should see some action, but if it isn't bubbly all the way down then it may be better to chuck it'. I have another 1/4" of hooch on it today, and it is starting to smell a bit. Time to feed it. I'll post some pics of my first loaf as soon as I bake it.

Thanks again folks!

Aussie Pete's picture
Aussie Pete

Hi Scruffy, If all else fails like mine did look up on this site sourdough starter made on pineapple juice. All of my attempts failed until I read this article and I have not looked back. Also you mentioned making your starter on "bread flour". If this is a bread premix flour it is produced for bread machines it has salt and other ingredients all premixed for you. This may have some side affect as well becuase a starter is generally made on flour and water for a basic starter. Serious home sourdough bakers I think will generally use a good bakers flour or a AP flour and when it is up and going will add the other ingredients by weight when they prepare their starter for a loaf at a later time. Good luck. It took me four goes to get it right but it took reading the pineapple juice article before it happened. Cheers...............Pete

TheScruffyOne's picture

Sorry, when I said bread flour, I meant strong white flour, not bread machine flour. Its made by Allinson, and its what I use for all my other (rudimentary) baking. Will definately have a look at the pineapple method. Thanks

Mira's picture

Ditto on the pineapple juice method (see Debra Wink's article); this is what worked for me.  My first two attempts followed Reinhart's method from his "Artisan Breads every day" book.  It also used pineapple juice, but it didn't call for daily feedings in the beginning and I think that's why my starters weren't thriving.