The Fresh Loaf

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A few detailed starter questions

Marni's picture

A few detailed starter questions

So here I am on day 7-8 with a starter that is seemingly unresponsive.  I have been following the pineapple starter recipe. Thre have been no bubbles and no growth.  Everyday, halfway between feedings, it gets glassy and then looks curdled or dimpled under the surface.  It later gets a thin layer of hooch.  I'm wondering if it should be fed more often.  I would appreciate any thoughts.

 I mixed a second starter using the same method, but with rye flour ( the other was whole wheat that I switched to white on the 4th day) The rye starter is 5-6 days old and has also never bubbled, but today it appeared domed, with a cracked skin on top.  I poked through the skin and it looked risen inside.  I fed it and it has risen again in about 5 hours. I'm guessing this one is good, and wonder how soon it can be used.  Should I feed it more often?  Can I increase the feeding size to make more starter?  I'm not certain what to do next.

I 'd really like to have both starters work and I know I've asked a lot here, thanks for your help!


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

There are a number of common problems people have when they start a starter. I'll risk boring you by rambling through all I can think of.

There is a lot more information about starting a starter on the sourdoughhome web page at and this is from

Whole grains in general, and organic stone-ground grains in particular, have more wild yeasts on them than highly processed white flours. So, pick up a sack of organic, stone-ground, whole wheat or rye flour.

Most people feel that rye works better, however I've recently had better luck with whole wheat flour. Once your starter is healthy, you can use it with any kind of flour, so you can use rye flour even if you don't plan on making rye bread. If your grocery store doesn't have such a thing, check out your local health food store. If your health food store doesn't carry such a thing, ask them to order some flour for you from Arrowhead Mills or Bob's Red Mill.

A recurring question with regards to sourdough starter is what sort of water may be used with it. Many people insist that sourdough starter can be killed by chlorinated water. Others say that it can not be started with chlorinated water. In my experience, chlorinated water has not been a problem. I have started, fed and used starters with chlorinated water with no problems. However, I have heard that the more persistent forms of chlorine used by some cities, such as chloramine, can cause problems.

In general, if your tap water smells and tastes good it will probably work well with sourdough. If you have problems with your starters, you may want to try using dechlorinated water. Since few home filters will remove chlorine from water, and from what I am told neither boiling nor standing will remove chloramine, I suggest that you try bottled water if you are experiencing what you think might be water related problems with your sourdough.

Once you have your grain, mix 1/4 cup of water with 3/8 cup of whole grain flour in a quart sized container. Mix them well, cover with plastic wrap or a saran wrap quick covers, and put in an 85F area. This will be a thick mass, even a very thick mass. That's OK. A gas oven with a pilot light, or an oven without a pilot light with its light bulb on should be close. You might want to put a thermometer in the oven to check its temperature. Now wait about 12 hours.

There is a very good chance that at the end of the 12 hours, you'll see bubbles in the starter.

Whether or not you see the bubbles, feed the starter by adding another 1/4 cup of water and another 3/8 cup of your whole grain flour. At one time, I used to suggest not feeding the starter until it showed signs of life. Lately I've come to feel that this is as absurd as not feeding your children until they make the honor roll in elementary school. Starters, like children, need to be fed regularly. And you can't start doing so too early.

Every 12 hours after this, disard half the starter and then feed it another 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of whole grain flour. Keep doing this until you do see signs of life in the starter.

At this point, you can switch to white flour if you prefer. You will need to continue to feed your starter every 8 to 12 hours to encourage the growth of the micro-organisms. Again, discard half the starter each time you feed the starter and then add 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup of flour.You should double the size of the starter with each feeding.

The reason we discard half the starter each time is because we want to double the size of the starter with each feeding. If we don't discard half the starter each time, the amount of starter will fill a swimming pool in less than a week.

Some people object to discarding starter. It is made of flour, and it seems a shame and a waste to throw it away. I'll suggest you save the discarded starter in a separate jar and when you have enough, you can use it to make pizza shells.

Within 3 or 4 days, you should have a very lively starter. You should see lots of bubbles in the starter, and a layer of froth on top of the starter. Your goal is a starter that will rise to double its size after feeding.

When you feed the starter, it will rise. It can take 3 to 6 hours to reach its peak, depending on how active the starter is. Once it reaches its peak, it will start to recede as the starter slows down. If you feed your starter and go to work, you could miss the starter's peak, and see a quiet starter when you get home. You might think nothing is happening as a result. If you look at the container that holds the starter, you'll see that the starter will leave streaks on the side of the container.

When the starter is doubling in size after a feeding, it is ready to be used to make bread.

Please remember that if the starter can't double its own size, it can't raise your bread.

If you won't be using the starter for several days, feed the starter and then pour the starter into a quart canning jar, taking care not to fill the container more than half full. Put the jar's lid on loosely to allow any gas the starter produces to escape. The put the jar into the refrigerator until you're ready to use it. The starter can be kept in the refrigerator for at least a month between feedings. If you are going to use the starter in the next day or two, just leave it out and feed it every 12 hours or so.

A sourdough starter will continue to mature for some time, gaining in taste and power. Enjoy!


Some people around here seem to feel that their goal is to get the starter lively and then put in in the refrigerator. "My starter is lively now, can I refrigerate it now?" is a recurring question. I always feel the goal is to make good bread,.. and until I am sure it will make good bread, there's no point in refrigerating it.


When you are getting ready go bake bread, don't discard half the starter when you feed it. I call this "feeding up the starter" or "building the starter." Keep feeding the starter until you have enough to make bread, plus a bit more. Remember, when you feed it, feed it enough to double its size, and feed it at least twice a day.


So, if you've been following my feeding schedule and you want to bake bread, the next feeding should be 1/2 cup of flour and 3/4 cup of flour. The feeding after that should be 1 cup of water and 1 1/2 cups of flour. At this point, you should have between 2 and 3 cups of starter. When the starter reaches its peak and starts to recede, it is ready to use. How long that takes depends on the starter. However, somewhere between 3 and 12 hours is the expected range.


Remember to save some of the starter and feed it the way we discussed above. If you aren't going to bake with the starter for a while, you can refrigerate it. Based on readings of Dr. Sugihara's papers, I suggest refrigerating it immediately after it is fed. Refrigeration doesn't really preserve a starter so much as slows its death. Ripe starters suffer more in the refrigerator than freshly fed ones.


When you are getting ready to bake again, a primary goal is to make sure the starter is fresh and vigorous. Some people use the starter right out of the refrigerator and have unpredictable results. I like to make sure the starter is in great shape before I bake. I take about a tablespoon of starter from the fridge, add 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of flour. This fairly high dilution reduces the acidity of the starter and gets it going. 12 hous later, another 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of flour. I find that even a starter that's been in the fridge a good while will be in good shape in no more than 2 or 3 days.


Some people tell me I am too conservative about reviving starters. On the other hand, I used to get lots of emails from frustrated bakers until I really emphasized a vigorous revival of the starter on the web page. When the dough rises in 2 hours one time and is bland, when it takes 16 hours before there is any sign of rising and the bread is nasty.... people decide sourdough can't work and give up on it. Emphasizing starter care helps people make consistent bread and keeps them using sourdough.


Hope that helps,




ema2two's picture


Do you have weight measurements that correspond to your 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup whole grain flour?  I think I tend to have a heavy cup when I measure by volume and want to attempt this method but using weight measurements.  I can extrapolate from there for the feedings with larger amounts before baking bread.

Thanks for your advice and assistance.

Marni's picture


I had been reading all the info at your site, came back to check my post, and found your answer! Thanks for all the info, both here and there.

So, it sounds like I've been doing just as directed and yet the first one has remained quiet. The only difference is feeding it twice a day which you recommend and I think is what it needs. I think I'll try feeding it mid- afternoon today.


raisdbywolvz's picture

Not boring at all, Mike! I, for one, need and appreciate such detailed info. While some of it is similar to much of the advice I've gotten so far, there's also quite a bit of stuff that made me go "ah ha!". Very helpful. I'm off to explore your site some more.