The Fresh Loaf

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need help w/ temp for sour starter

gretel's picture

need help w/ temp for sour starter


Some hours ago I started a sourdough starter from Richard Bertinet's book "Crust". It uses spelt flour, organ. bread flour, warm water and some raw honey. My problem is there is nowhere in my home to keep this starter at the temp he wants which is 86F. It has been at around 73 all day. Accord to the recipe I am to leave this mixture covered with plastic for 36-48 hrs at 86F. So, if it will take longer to ferment at a lower temp, do I leave it longer sitting around than this until I go to his second stage instructions? And then what would I do at stage 2 which he also wants to be no colder than 75 F.  I don't want to put this thing in my garage which would be a lot warmer as there is so much fuel and chemicals and sometimes even a mouse scurring around (we live in the country- it's gross I know).  Please advise! Thanks a lot.



pmccool's picture

It will still work, just more slowly.  If this is your first starter, you will learn that starters proceed at their own pace without paying any attention to clocks.  Yes, they move faster at warmer temperatures than at cooler temperatures.  However, I've had success with beginning a starter at the temperatures you are presently experiencing.  Just watch for the physical indicators that Bertinet describes and don't worry about the time it takes to get there.


gretel's picture

Thanks Paul for your reply. So I will just assume each stage takes longer. How important is it to have a bread proofing machine? I have baked breads off and on for 15 years without one but this is only my second starter experience and I eat more and more sourdoughs so I want to get a hang of baking them. My oven is new and gets very hot so that part works out but I often don't get the exact rise I want when my doughs are proofing. I don't like a yeasty commercial yeast taste so I often lower the yeast amount a little to get better flavor. I must have 10 bread books and have tried a few recipies from each. The artisan bread system in 5 minutes a day I did not like. The breads were yeasty tasting. Would a proofing machine be a good idea? Do you use one?

dabrownman's picture

I use 4 tricks to increase the temperature. Take a heating pad and put 2 kitchen towels over it and set it to medium heat with at thermometer between the towels,  Too cold, up the temperature too warm, set it lower put your stater betweren the towels  Heat up a cup of water in the microwave to boiling,  When it is ready, then put the starter in the MW with it.  Or turn your oven light on and put the starter in the oven.  Last is to put a hot cup of water in small ice chest and put the starter in there with it covered with a kitchen towel.  All work great.

gretel's picture

Both of my heating pads turn off automatically after 2 hours for safety reasons. Using the light bulb in the oven for a a 6 day starter seems impractical and might blow the bulb. The microwave system would work until someone wants to use it for their coffee. But the last one might work with the ice chest, assuming I would only need to put a new cup of hot water in there once a day. I can see how all these systems would work for a bread already shaped that needs to rise for 2 hours but a new starter that will go through stages over a good week might need something more professional, not sure. But I will try your ice chest system in the morning and put my day 2 starter in there with a thermometer.Thanks a lot!

dabrownman's picture

built proofers that will maintain 86 F out of various electronic parts, thermostats, light bulbs or terrarium heaters and some kind of insulated or un-insulated box.  Or you can by a small portable one from B&T. Just search for proofer in the search box.

I have started all kinds of SD starters over the years and temperature wasn't all that important like Paul says.  What is important is patience - you need lots of that :-)

snowdrop's picture

Hi Gretel

I have been baking sourdough bread for a few years now but there is only 2 of us so I make it only once or twice a week.

The starter is very adaptable. Because I don't want to waste lots of starter I keep it in the fridge, this makes it ferment a lot slower but it copes very well. When I want to make bread I just put it straight in with the flower and knead the bread. Summer or winter it rises in the kitchen without any other gadgets. It works very well and just because it takes a little longer really doesn't matter.  I wouldn't worry too much about the temp of the starter as long as you don't kill it by having it too cold or too hot.


Good luck


DavidEF's picture

This is from June of last year, so I don't know if you will find this around any longer. But, here is a link to a post from Nickisafoodie about a device that is basically a plug-in thermostat that you could use to control temperature.

If you got this device, or something like it, and a heat lamp or small heating device (could even be a hair dryer, I guess) you could make a hot box and keep it at practically any temperature you need.

edit: Just did a quick search in Google, and these do still exist. You can get one for less than $40US.

cranbo's picture

To maintain a temp in the high 80's (or higher) I usually leave the starter in my oven with the oven light on. Some readings with my Thermapen show that depending on how close it is to the light, the temp can range from the high 70's to over 100F.

I believe Bertinet has a reason for specifying 86F or higher; it's not just about speed, it's about getting the optimum amount of yeast and lactic acid bacteria (LAB) growth/replication rates. Yes your starter will grow in time but keeping specific temperatures will establish specific quantities of LAB that will affect the level of sour (and therefore flavor) of your starter.  

Read my comments on a related thread here

So yes, while higher temps makes the process go faster, it also results in a different flavor profile. If you don't care about making your starter faster, and you don't care about achieving a specific flavor profile, then by all means continue to use you room temp, as you indicated, it will "work" but it will take longer. 

hanseata's picture

Cranbo, you are right about the optimal ratio/growth rate of the sourdough microorganisms and their influence on the flavor. I once made two identical rye breads, one with a 3-stage rye sourdough starter, and one with a 1-stage starter fermented at the prevalent room temperature.

The 3-stage starter smelled fruitier, and performed better. And, not only that, the bread tasted better, too.

But, unfortunately, most of us don't have the ideal kitchen environment that commercial bakeries might have. For a 3-stage rye starter I leave it for the first stage in the oven with light on (6-8 hours), for the second stage in the warmest room in the house, and for the third, timed for overnight, in the coolest room.

In my experience, for a wheat starter the difference was much less noticeable.

Baking Bertinet's breads, I aim for the best environment I can create with my means, not for the ideal that I can't without going to extreme lengths. The difference you would probably know only, if you tested two loaves side by side, one ideally nurtured, the other with the ordinary means you have.


gretel's picture

Thanks for all your replies. When I looked at the stage one starter this morning which I had kept at 73F for 48 hours (except when I baked almond rolls yesterday and I put starter closer to the stove, it was maybe at 76 for half of the day)-- it looked and smelled like it ws suppossed to accord to Bertinet's book. So this morning I took it to stage 2 and will continue this at same room temp. Now I learned from you guys however that I won't be getting the ideal amount of lactic acid bacteria or best taste/flavor profle that I could have. So, I think if this sourdough bread with a 4 stage starter  turns out well and tasty enough after this big long process of weighing everything with a scale accord. to his measurements and watching this thing like a baby-- I will buy that pricey European proofer/yougart maker everyone is raving about on Amazon.

Another ques: I noticed when I baked the yeasted almond rolls yesterday that my Electrolux Icon oven was running 50-60 degrees higher than the knob read, is this becasue I have a large baking stone in the bottom of the oven? I read it is good to keep it in as it spreads the heat more evenly. What is your experience about leaving it in

Also, some baking books advise using convection mode only for bread, pastries with butter in them but not to use it for breads that need to rise a lot w/ no enrichments. Other souces say convection is good for all baked goods? Is it best to bake this upcoming very studied sourdough on regular heat mode on top of the baking stone?



gretel's picture

I pulled out Julia Child's book and looked under her section on bread. She consulted and worked at length w/ Prof. Raymond Cavel before she wrote this. She says the function of yeast is not only to raise the bread but to provide the flavor and texture.She says you don't want to speed anything up w/ bread, either by using too much yeast or by letting your bread rise in a warm atmosphere. She says a tepid 70-74 F room is the ideal to slow things down and that you should have several risings. She specifically says if you leave your bread to rise in a 85 F room, it will ferment too quickly and result in an unpleasant yeasty-sour taste. If this is so, I should rather not purchase the electric proof box.

This seems the opposite to what Cranbo advises and to what Bertinet (a Frenchman) advises, so I am confused to say the least. They say warmer temp. is better.

Would what Julia is saying only apply to fresh or dry yeast and not to when using or creating a natural starter?




mcs's picture

As you are finding out (and will find out more and more as you gain more baking experience), much of what is passed off as fact with bread baking, is in fact somewhere between fact and opinion. 

Bakers of all levels learn from their predecessors, experiment on their own, and form their own opinions on the best ways to make the best bread.  The methods Julia Child used obviously worked for her with her equipment, ingredients, and environment, but they might not work for you. 

As Paul stated in the first reply, it's important to pay attention to what the dough is telling you and not necessarily the clock or thermometer.  Even with the exact room temperature Julia Child uses, your flour and handling of the dough would create a slightly different timing schedule than hers. 

Most important with bread baking, is that you use the environment and ingredients that are available to you, and you pay attention to the dough as you work with it.  This will always give you the correct indicator of how long it needs to be kneaded/handled for, how tightly it should be shaped, and how long the final proof should be before it goes in the oven.


cranbo's picture

Hi gretel,

What I wrote doesn't contradict Child or Calvel in any way, so allow me to clarify. Yes, lower temperatures and longer fermentation times are essential for developing flavor in a finished, fermenting dough. My comments were all directed at getting a starter going, which was your original question. Temperatures for creating a starter are one thing, temperatures for fermenting a finished dough to maximize flavor are another. 

Of course, when I am doing bulk fermentation or final proof I am rarely (if ever) proofing at temps over 80F. Much of the time, bulk fermentation is at room temp 72-76F, and final proof is done at fridge temps. I do, however, use temps between 80-99F to get a starter going, for the reasons I've described previously. 

Keep this in mind with Julia's comments: commercial yeast has been bred (for lack of a better word, and pun intended) to be extremely efficient in fermentation of enriched wheat flours. In that sense, recipes that use commercial yeast faster and more flexible across a variety of temps and environments, which can alternately lead to overproofing if temps run too hot and you're not paying attention; this is my guess why Julia recommends cooler temps, it's really an insurance policy for improving flavor and protecting yourself from ruined dough. When it comes to using natural leavens (such as sourdough starters) they generally ferment more slowly, and are more tolerant of warmer temperatures as a result, so it's less likely that you'll overproof even if you're fermenting at 80F. (Of course, sourdoughs are much more inconsistent, and vary wildly in activity levels, depending on their feed cycles, type of food, storage temps, quantity used in a formula, so YMMV.)


gretel's picture

Thanks Cranbo for your explaining the sourdough starters are better at higher temps, that's why Bertinet suggests 86F but that the commmercial yeast bread is better off proofing at room temp.

Yet, the more I read, the more I realize there are so many conflicting opinions by experts out there for what is a quasi scientific thing. For ex. Bernard Clayton in "Breads" says that the new commercial yeasts (this is the late 1980's) require very hot water in the 120-130F range to mix  in w/ the yeast, he says the brea d dough needs to be at 90-100 to rise properly. Then,Peter Reinhart confuses me again by saying I should use not fresh yeast, not active dry, but rapid rise (which so many others say to avoid like the plague).He explains that the instant yeast has more living yeast cells than both the fresh and active dry so you can use less because its so concentrated. Then, he advises not to use a warm proof box, but room temp, that the difference is only 2 hours vs one hour but that slower is always better. So, all of his bread recipies proof at room temp for artisan breads of all kinds w/ preferments and without it seems.  Moreover his sourdough starter and barm recipies say room temp, they do ask for warmer temps for the starter to get going.

My Bertinet sour dough starter is now in the fridge and will be ready Sat morning at day 6 to use. I wish I could say I know which bread recipe I am going to use but I haven't decided yet, all I know is I what it to be a bread with rye in it.


Is it okay for me to ask you which pros you follow if any, which bread philsophy to you lean towards? Appreciate it, thanks for your help.



gretel's picture

Sorry my damaged keyboard makes me reype things constantly.

I meant to say that Reinhart does NOT ask for warmer temps for a sourdough starter, he says to get them going at room temp.

cranbo's picture


I think you're on the right track. Yes I agree that even among the professionals the advice that you get can be confusing. This is in part because everyone has their own style, their own commercial production schedules and they know what works for what they're trying to do and their own taste buds, and what doesn't. Not right or wrong, just different. You can give the same recipe or formula to 100 different bakers and you'll probably get 100 different outcomes. Everyone has their own touch, their own taste, and this inevitably leads to slightly different outcomes. 

The yeast example you give is a perfect illustration. All yeast will leaven dough. Yes, it's true you typically need less instant (rapid rise) yeast than active dry yeast because it's more concentrated. Yes in all cases you can substitute one for the other but you have to adjust for different kinds of yeast. And yes, failing to adjust for your yeast properly can give your bread unexpected, undesirable outcomes. 

Let your own experience be your main guide. Professional assistance is useful, but is best understood fully in which the context in which it's given. I've read & tried Hamelman, Reinhart, Silverton, Glezer, DiMuzio, Clayton. Generally they all offer good, accurate advice, because it comes from their own extensive testing and experience. They are pros because they work(ed) on their craft intensely and regularly; practice makes perfect. 

Happy baking!

gretel's picture

Well, I decided to make Bertinet's rye sourdough from the same book I followed his 6 day starter. To say the least, the whole baking process was annoying. Maybe I should not have chosen a rye as they are more tricky. Anyway the bread dough I made with the starter all to Bertinet's recipe (measured exactly) was such a gluey mess. It stuck to all utilsils, and would not knead. I used both the machine and hand kneading. I know now why he must slap down this wet dough, it was all I could do was repeat his slap down process to try to get this impossibly sticky dough to come together. I hand kneaded a long time, with my cutting board table moving around from the violence as I did it. My husband secured the legs but the table still moved a bit. The dough never came together so I put this gluey mess back in the Kitchen aid until still after 6 minutes more- still to have no real smooth dough. So I finally added maybe 1-2 tab of bread flour and got it to come together. As I lost maybe 20 % of itfrom this sticky mess which landed on floor, glued to my fingers, stuck to implements and wood table, the loaf was smaller than it should be. 22 hours rising room temp later- it looked ready though not real high. I slashed it and baked on a preheated stone for time alloted minus comple minutes as it was so small. Let cool 3 hours. Was only ok, and a tiny bit undone in middle. Heavy loaf, husband never tried it, and I pretty much considered it a loss.


Now I have thrown out all but 250 grams of this starter which has been in fridge for 4 days and am going to mix it with 125g white bread flour and 125 water so it will have less rye in it and next time i am going to try a whiter sourdough (since it should be easier to work with than the rye) and I am going to use a Lepard recipe instead. Am I adjusting to my problems correctly? Any advise, what did I do wrong? It took me 2 days little by little to get the dough which glued on to my raw maple table off and to get the dough out of the bowls etc. I am not a spoiled princess, but I can tell you, this process was not fun, though I carried it to the finish line.How to get my encouragement up with sourdoughs? I have baked many regular yeast breads through my life with no problem. In order to have better tasting and more digestible bread, will I have to go through such a breathtaking routine on a regular basis?

RobynNZ's picture

Hello Gretel

You'll be surprised how efficient vinegar is at cleaning up dough.

I think your idea of working with a plain sourdough to  gain confidence is a good one. 

Many newcomers to TFL have found success getting going with SusanFNP's version of Hammelman's Vermont Sourdough. Go to this comment  for details. I was amazed just now to see in that thread of a couple of years ago a comment of thanks from David Katz who was seeking a great novice formula;  in the last day or two here he has told us he is about to start a commercial operation in Israel.

When you are ready to work with rye again there are numerous posts on TFL that will be of value to you. A good place to start might be reading through Mini Oven's Favourite Rye thread.

Cheers, Robyn

cranbo's picture


Good for you for sticking with it, it takes some time but the rewards are worth it. 

A metal bench scraper is great for removing stuck on dough from a wooden cutting board. If it's stuck on a surface you don't want to scratch, soak a towel or rag in some cold water and lay it on top of the area, let it sit for about 20 minutes, and then scrape off with a plastic scraper or spatula. 

For a good beginner sourdough recipe, I'll toot my own horn and recommend my sourdough recipe for beginners. It's very forgiving, and introduces a a few techniques (not too many) to get you on your way to consistent sourdough. And it's also delicious! 


gretel's picture

Thanks Cranbo and Robyn for the help, I will read all the links you attached and try the vinegar next time.


Is it a better idea to knead these wet type doughs on a marble surface, I have that, but wondered if it would be too cold, so I used the raw maple table which was horrible to clean up as I didn't want to scratch it.

Also, can I now use this refreshed starter (mostly now white bread flour) in the fridge for any recipe with leaven in it, in any book? Does the recipe have to match the type of flour used predominently in the leaven? In other words, I cannot use a white bread flour starter for a recipe for whole grain wheat sourdough or can I? Thanks!

DavidEF's picture


I think switching away from rye might be a good idea. You say you've baked yeasted bread before. Have you ever baked rye in any form before you tried Bertinet's recipe? If not, you may be right to switch to a whiter sourdough, so you're only trying to learn one thing at a time. Sourdough can be very time consuming and tedious, especially at first. But, it can also be made to fit within your schedule pretty well, once you get to know how it works.

I would suggest you first of all switch back to a hydration level you can knead. Wet dough has to be handled a lot differently, as you've discovered. I tried for a long time to learn how to knead wet dough. I didn't even have experience kneading a "normal" dough, so I was very handicapped. I finally gave up on that, and started making my bread at a lower hydration. Someday I will go back and try again.

Another thing I would suggest is that you use a simpler recipe. This is for the same reason as my two points above. If you're having to deal with too many unknowns at a time, it's hard to pin down what the problem(s) might be. Once again, I don't know how experienced you really are at baking, so your list of unknowns may be a lot shorter than mine. But, learning one new thing at a time will help you to see what is different, what works, and what doesn't. If sourdough is unknown, rye is unknown, and kneading wet dough is unknown, then how are you to pinpoint exactly which of those is causing you a problem?

Maybe the easiest thing to do would be to find a sourdough bread recipe that is similar to recipes you've done successfully in the past with yeast. Or even convert one of your favorite yeasted bread recipes to sourdough. The search box at the top right of the page will help you find previous posts on that subject. Basically, you would replace a certain amount of the flour and water in the recipe with the starter by weight. So, if you wanted to use 100g of 100% hydration starter, you would subtract 50g flour and 50g water from your recipe to make up the difference. Rising times will be much longer, so you will have to adjust for that as well. And you may even choose to retard in the fridge overnight, to get more flavor.

Hope your next bake goes splendidly! Let us know what you choose to do and what the results are. But, you may want to start a new thread, for two reasons. One is that we are off the topic of the original question you started with. Secondly, you may get more people to see it if it is started as a new topic.

clazar123's picture

Remember the origins of "sourdough" or natural levain  and don't worry about requirements. As you are finding out, there are many kinds of sourdough aficionados and advice is all over the board depending on what that baker does and how they use their natural levain. I'm from the more laissez faire school. I figure natural levain has been around a lot longer than mankind and it is really adaptable. The yeasts are a lot like people in their physical requirements-they can eat a variety of foods and they survive well at a wide range of temperatures.

Speaking of temperature-in most kitchens, the top of the refrigerator is the warmest place because the coils in the back of the refrigerator give off heat.  Better if the refrg is tucked next to a cabinet because the heat is then funneled to the top of the refrigerator. Just don't forget about it up there.

I used the light in the stove trick until the time the oven got turned on and cooked my starter. Good thing it was in a glass jar! Using the microwave was always a bother as we use it so often during the day. If you are a gadget builder, there are TONS of ways to achieve a constant warm box-countertop roaster, aquarium thermostats, light bulbs, christmas lights, heating pads, coolers, thermostats,etc etc. Do what you like and what works for you.

Proofer-I had never used a proofer until last year when I bought a Brod & Taylor collapsible bread proofer (developed and tested by Fresh Loafers!) and once I used it I wished I had one a long time ago! Great idea.

Starting out with rye! Brave baker! White bread-wholewheat bread-rye bread and alternate flours (spelt,nongluten,kamut,etc) are four specialties unto themselves. Different flours have different characteristic and different handling techniques.Ryedough characteristics are very different from white bread. Whole wheat is another totally different dough. You have experienced rye's hallmark stickiness. It takes a lot of encounters to get the hang of that one.

Any starter can be used in any type of bread dough. That is MY opinion. There are many people that insist you MUST match type of starter to subsequent flour. I'm not of that school(see first sentences). I use a white flour starter in ANY bread I make and never have a problem. The only time I would vary this is if I am making a unique type of loaf that depends on starter characteristics (some ryes, as example). I use unbleached white AP flour because it is cheap and readily available. I don't maintain a large amount but dislike discarding. When I am going to bake, I build the amount of starter I need and maintain a small amount of "main" starter. I bake once a week and maintain my starter in the refrigerator. I remove the starter from the refrig on Thursday or Friday and feed it twice a day. The discard is often used for pancakes/waffles on Sunday morning. I bake on Saturday or Sunday. After the last feed on Saturday- I let it rise up a bit and it goes back in the refrig for 4-5 days. If I don't bake that weekend, I just feed 2-3 times (discarding as if I had baked) and put it back in the refrig. Nice pet.

Cranbo's info is wonderful-make sure to look at that. I have learned a LOT on this site but questions must be asked in order to learn. Start some more threads!

So keep baking deliciously and keep asking questions


gretel's picture

Thanks for your thoughtful and thorough responses. No, David now that I think about it, I guess I had never baked a yeasted rye bread before. I have baked various breads, pastries, cakes etc for many years, including spouted wheat flour, buckwheat etc. FOr the breads I have mostly used fresh yeast and same retardation in the fridge in the past. The full-fledged week long starters and sourdoughs is new, but I really want to learn it if I can. I have so many bread books, it's silly-- so I need to grasp this finally!

The original Bertinet sourdough starter for that crazy rye bread I tried, well I saved 250 grams of it, threw out the rest happily and spent hours soaking the bowl. Then I refreshed the 250 grams with 125 grams organ white bread flour and 125 gram water at 105 F. Then mixed to see if was still going to be another very wet dough, so I added in about 1/4 cup more flour and was happer. I let it sit 6 hours on the counter when I noticed it had doubled in size and was bubbling. Is now in fridge last couple of days. Glad to her Clazar that I can use this for any type of flour recipe.

I will wait on the Brod and Taylor proofer until I am sure I am committed to this starter thing, as all the othe yeasted breads w/ commercial yeast don't seem to need to be proofed at as high a temp as the sourdough starters to begin with.

I will try to start a new thread next time with my questions. Thanks so much. Your responses make me want to continue this challenge.