The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Where to start?

jbaudo's picture

Where to start?

After a few years of considering making my own sourdough bread I think I am ready to take on the responsiblity of a sourdough starter.  BUT I have no idea where to begin.  I have made plenty of beautiful loaves using regular yeast so I know the basics pretty well but I hear that sourdough can be completely different.  If someone could point me in the right direction I would be very grateful.   Everything I have tried to read on this website has only confused me more.   It seems everybody has a different way of making a starter and I have no way to know which is the best. (I am looking for something relatively easy in terms of work involved and a very reliable method) And then once I make the starter, then what?  I don't have any recipes that call for a starter.   I guess I just need a very clear concise explanation on how to begin.  Also, I need to make sure to keep the bread (and starter) dairy free.  Thanks in advance.

flournwater's picture

Here's a good place to start:


sphealey's picture

Just a reminder that there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting started in sourdough by ordering a known successful live starter from King Arthur or other suppliers.  This is the method recommended by Alan Scott in _The Bread Builders_ in fact.  By ordering a starter you can be baking with a proven, fully mature stater within 2-3 days of its arrival and be concentrating on the bread and the technique rather than messing around with feeding a baby starter (which can take 5-10 days and often fails). 

Once you are fully into sourdough you can grow your own starter (I recommend sourdolady's pineapple juice method from this site and elsewhere) for fun and variety, but to me the important thing is to get started with baking.


G-man's picture

Hey there,

I just started turning out excellent sourdough loaves consistently with my starter, so maybe my recent experiences can help. You can find all of this elsewhere on the forums, and others probably say it better, but here it is anyway.

First off, from what I've gathered there are a lot of ways to make a starter and most if not all of them work eventually. The only necessary ingredients seem to be flour (of some kind or another), water or juice, and patience. The third ingredient is the one that everyone seems to think is implied but novices sometimes don't pick up on. You need to wait for this thing. Provided you've followed a regular feeding schedule of some kind and used water and flour, it will become active and you'll have a successful culture...but it won't be on your schedule. You might even start to lose hope before it shows any signs of activity. This is normal.

Second, your first real goal after raising a living, strong starter is to consistently produce a loaf that you can not only eat, but enjoy eating. Choose one formula, make it over and over until you turn out a loaf that you are proud of, and then make it again until you can make it with your eyes closed. Once you can do this, then move on to other types of bread. The idea behind this is twofold: One, you will learn a LOT about how sourdough responds from this first basic loaf, and two, you will be able to bake a loaf that you or your family can eat if the other loaf doesn't turn out.

Third, and this is an opinion not shared by everyone, I gather: Use Your Hands. The feel of the dough tells you everything you need to know short of how the dough tastes, and you can always pinch off a piece and taste it as you go. When you use your hands, it is easier to stop wherever you are in the process and add just as much of whatever you need. For example, whether I wet my hands or coat them in flour when kneading, stretching and folding, or shaping depends entirely on how the dough feels at any given point. The windowpane test is good, but how a dough feels is more instructive. Just my opinion.

Hope this helps a bit.