The Fresh Loaf

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Whats your favorite Sourdough book?

Thegreenbaker's picture

Whats your favorite Sourdough book?

I really want to get a sourdough culture happenning, but I want to own and read a book completely about sourdough and culturing a starter. There is so much info to sift through here, and I dont have the time to sit on the pc and read for hours.

So, I thought I'd find out what books on sourdough ya'll praise and swear by and see about renting them from the local library then hopefully purchasing one or two as my aides to getting this lovely bread in action at home :)


Thanks in advance guys!



Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

There are a number of options.


One of the better books is Dr. Ed Wood's "World Sourdoughs from Antiquity" though many people aren't crazy about his recipes.  Still, he covers starters very, very well.


As sourdough references, I would avoid Laurel's book, Rose's Bread Bible, Reinhart's, and Silverton's books.


Jeff Hammelman's "Bread" is very good.


And, casting modesty aside, I would recommend my web page, as a resource as well as my "Introduction to Sourdough" booklet.  One thing I have going for me that the good books listed above don't is that I answer my emails.  Usually, though not always, quickly.


I have two other recommendations.  Avoid any book that suggests using yeast to start, or in conjunctiom with, sourdough as well as any that suggests using grapes, plant leaves, or much other than water and flour to start a culture. 


Also, I have seen a lot of people get confused because this book says this, that book says that, the other book says the other.  So, they combine this, that and the other without understanding them and thre results don't work.  I strongly recommend you pick a single guru.  Use that guide's technques to guide you. Once you understand how sourdough works, you can look at other books and get more ideas and add them to your solid base of information.  Look too soon and you're just adding to your tower of babel.



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Mike. 

Maggie Glezer's instructions in "Artisan Baking" for starting a levain seems both straightforward and frugal. She also has instructions for converting a (firm) levain to a liquid starter. 

Glezer emphasizes the flour with which you feed your starter as the source of yeasts and gives this as a rationale for using whole grains or at least high extraction flours to get it going. However, it makes me wonder about introducing different microflora species than the ones already established in your starter as you feed it with new flour. I've never found this to be a practical problems, but I wonder ... 

I share your frustration with the recent confusion over conflicting instructions from various authors.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

There is more myth surrounding sourdough than just about anything I've been involved with, more old husband's tales, more smoke and less light.


If we look at the concentration of micro organisms it is very low in the air. So low that attempts to start starters with sterilized flour fail more than 90% if the time.


The critter count is much higher on flour, and higher still on whole grain flour. If you want to start a starter, your best bet is to use an organic, stone ground, whole grain flour.


However, the critter count it is much, much higher in an active and heathy sourdough culture. One of the things a sourdough culture does very well is maintain itself if it is fed regularly. I'll be explicit here. I am talking about a well maintained culture. If you abuse your culture, there is no telling what will happen. But, it is very unlikely that moving a healthy culture from San Francisco to Boise would change the organisms in the culture.


How do I square that observation, based on microbiologists reports, with consistent reports that, "when I moved from San Francisco to Boise, my bread just totally changed!"

French farmers feed their geese special herbs to give the goose livers better taste for the pate that will be made from them. Hunters are said to prize boars that have been feasting on acorns because the boars taste so good. Many a nursing mother can tell you that their babies react to what the mothers are eating, and will stop nursing if mom eats something that the baby doesn't like. "Every time I eat anything spicy, the baby won't nurse."


If the taste of macro organisms and their products are affected by what they eat in the short term, is it surprising to think that a micro organism would be similarly affected?


If you want to see a quick example of this, feed your sourdough starter that has been on white flour whole wheat instead. In hours, the aroma and taste of the starter change dramatically. Far more than you'd expect from the difference in the two flours.


So, when you move from San Francisco to Boise, what are the chances you are using the same flour? Even if you use a national brand, the chances are good it came from a different mill that got its grain from different fields. Many bakers will tell you that if you want to duplicate another baker's bread, find out what flour the baker is using. It all gets back to the flour.


Of course, the flour is not the end of the road. I am discovering that the nature of the water one uses can change the results conisderably, and it is unlikely that the water is the same in San Francisco and Boise.


BUT - the changes in the bread are more than likely not due to local organisms taking over so much as the same organisms reacting to changes in how and what they are fed.


Hope this helps,



ehanner's picture

Doesn't it follow then that the starters sold by Dr.Wood will not deliver authentic flavors if not fed with similar local flours? Then the amount of starter in a recipe is so small that the flour type used in the final dough would over power the flavor brought by the starter, yes?

I learned most of what I know about sourdough from you. That said, I'm not convinced at this point that it matters where the sourdough comes from. I think you could take any of the world collection from sourdough international and feed them with your favorite AP and in a short time the breads would be indistinguishable. I haven't done this but it seems logical given your statements above about the stability of the culture.


vicmitch's picture

You say "Jeff Hammelman's "Bread" is very good."

...and then say "Avoid any book that suggests using yeast to start, or in conjunctiom with, sourdough..."  Hammelman does the later. Still a good reference for the more experienced baker.

Drifty Baker's picture
Drifty Baker

There are so many out there and everyone seems to be a little bit different.

I like Hammelman's book, "Bread" and I also like David Otiz book "The Village Baker"  both have very good recipes and advice.

Dirty Baker 


ejm's picture

I would stay away from Silverton's recipe for raising a starter. However, her book Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the la Brea Bakery has other very useful tips, ideas and recipes for bread baking.

For raising a starter, I like Piano Piano Pieno by Susan McKenna Grant, (Piano Piano Pieno on bookfinder) largely because her proportions are designed for the home cooks who measure by volume or by weight (both metric and non-metric weights). Other recipes for capturing yeast seem to call for huge amounts of flour. At the price of flour these days, it just doesn't seem wise to be throwing away so much.

I did have some difficulties initially though because I didn't know exactly what I was looking for. Susan (a different Susan who lives in California) came to my rescue with posted her method for raising a starter on her blog "Wild Yeast". This Susan uses weights to measure. There are very good photos of the different stages and also a number of terrific bread recipes on the site. 



JMonkey's picture

... The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, but that's only because I first learned about sourdough there. Their soudough section is only 10-15 pages long, but the information is good.

I think your best resources for sourdough, actually, are on the Internet. Mike's site is excellent and there's a lot of good resources right here.

Bread by Jeffrey Hammelman is a great book, especially for rye. He does use added yeast in many recipes, though the yeast can be omitted so long as you extend fermentation. I liked Reinhart's sourdough section in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, myself, though I understand that his use of the word "Barm" grates on some people -- he's since stopped using the word. I also agree that The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, though it's a book I dearly love, is not a great place to go for sourdough expertise. The Desem chapter is well written, but the process of making a starter is more complicated than it needs to be, I think.

foolishpoolish's picture

I can also vouch for for Susan's starter (from her Wild Yeast blog).  'Bubbles' has been kept at 100% hydration for over 3 months now and is doing very well.  Last week I nearly killed it by mistakenly 'throwing out the baby with the bath water' before taking a portion away to feed. Not to worry - it bounced right back from a tablespoon of bowl scrapings and is now healthier than ever. It's taught me a lot about starter maintenance (I'm still learning) and sourdough.

The only books I have are BBA and Bread Science. Neither of those really covers sourdough in any great detail but they will get you up and running with a starter pretty quickly. The majority of the information I have on sourdough has come through this forum, member blogs and most importantly hands-on experience.  In many ways, my mistakes have been more important than my successes.

saintdennis's picture

 I think you do not need any book for sourdough starter.If you put 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup of water for three days and leave it on the counter and then you will feed it and mix once day you will have the sourdough starter.When you are ready to use it that you increase it to feed it three times a day for the day or two.Keep the room temperature between 75F - 85F. When use your starter is it same as you use yeast. One package =2 1/2 teaspoon of yeast or one cup of starter the different is yeast work fast but starter is slow .



Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

And I think you don't need any books about sex either. Just put tab A into slot B and Bob's your uncle! What more do you need to know?  Well, if you believed that, I might suggest Al Franken's book, "The Myth of the Female Orgasam."


More seriously, most things we do get better when we study them, think about what worked and what didn't, and get professional help at times.




saintdennis's picture

 Very good and my favorite sourdough book is: "Complete sourdough cookbook:Authentic and original sourdough recipes from the old west by Don Holm and Myrtle Holm ISBN # 9780870042232 and price $ 12.95 at Barnes and Noble.

  If you have the sourdough starter that is yeast and use it as the yeast. Try any recipe with yeast and replace it with the starter and let it rise as you do any sourdough recipe.In the winter I use yeast because, the house is cold,and in summer I use the sourdough starter because is hot. But all is the same except yeast working fester if you are in the rush. When I was the kid that we made 10 loaves of the bread every week and we use :Rye,Whole Wheat,Soy flour,Buckwheat etc.



saintdennis's picture

Hi Mike,

You are right I do not have any book about the sex.What you need to know is if you have healthty sourdough that you can mix any flour you like,it is same as the yeast. please, try it and let me know how you make out.I like everything easy way.


subfuscpersona's picture

I really want to get a sourdough culture happenning, but I want to own and read a book completely about sourdough and culturing a starter

Save your $$$. Just take some time and read posts on this site.

I spent many years and some $$ trying to figure out the often conflicting information on sourdough starters from books. I tried a lot of their methods. Most failed.

After spending some time on TFL and taking the time to read posts on sourdough starters, I made a successful sourdough starter *from scratch* (flour and water only) on my first try. As I became more comfortable with using a sourdough starter, I went back and re-read many posts. These answered many questions that I had.

This site is fueled by many dedicated bakers who successfully make sourdough starters and breads in a home environment. They have taken the tiime to share their experience, often in great (and illuminating) detail.

Books are written by one person - often a baker who is a professional and writes from that experience. The needs of the home baker cannot be met even by the best professional baker. TFL is written by and for the home baker.

If, after reviewing the many posts here, you still have questions, you have a simple remedy...

Post your question (in as much detail as possible). Odds are high you will get an excellent answer.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I've also been a part of many online discussions groups about computers, cooking, baking, sourdough, among other things, for about 20 years.


My view is that an open forum is probably the worst place for a beginner to get any sort of technical advice, whether that's about baking or fixing a car. The answers are not vetted in any way, and as a result the signal to noise ratio is poor. Instead of getting the benefit of varied experiences, all too often you get a tower of babel.


If we take the most positive view that all the people in the discussion are excellent bakers you still have the problem that one person (metaphorically) says "dog" another says "cat" and the beginner tries "dogcat" which rarely works.


Someone involved with education gets lots of feedback from people who have tried their methods, and the methods are refined over a period of years. I get between 20 and 100 emails a week from people with sourdough questions. I answer all of them (eventually - the joke around here is it's either 10 minutes or 10 days to get an answer, nothing inbetween).


The people who have the most problems are the people who can not read and follow instructions, followed closely by the people who try to follow a dozen gurus at once. While there aren't as many people who have both issues, they tend to be harder to help.


My strong suggestion for a beginner is to find a single guru, whether that is a friend, a book, a web site or whatever. (If that's me and sourdoughhome,com, I'm flattered, but it doesn't have to be. There's lots of good advice online.) Follow that one guru's advice until you've mastered the techniques and you understand them. At that point the beginner is no longer a beginner and is ready to move on to new frontiers, and to build on a solid base of skills and understanding.


But an online forum for beginners? I've seen it too often... that way lies madness which leads to people becoming sourdough dropouts,




saintdennis's picture

 Hi Subfuscpersona,

   the very good book is: Complete sourdough cookbook:Authentic and Original sourdough recipes from the old west  by Don Holm ISBN # 9780870042232 and you can get it at Barnes and Noble and price is $ 12.95 That is really very good book if you are interested how to make your own sourdough and some recipes how to use the sourdough (for the breads,cakes and etc.


andrew_l's picture

Well, I would go for Maggie Gleezer too. Her "Blessing of Bread" has a fool proof starter method using only organic rye flour and water. Works!

I've got Ed Wood - read lots of others - but Maggie G is the one I'd plump for. Zolablue also uses her methods to great effect.



AW's picture


Artisan Baking

Maggie Glezer

Instructions for starting a levain are straightforward

Good instructions for converting a firm levain to liquid


Blessing of Bread

Maggie Glezer

Foolproof starter using only organic rye flour and water



Jeff Hamelman

The bible of all things bread

Good book for high-volume and (some might argue) advanced-level home bakers

Detailed but demystifying discussion of sourdough

Numerous bread recipes for using the culture in (but none only yeast breads, no quick breads or cakes)


Bread Baker's Apprentice

Peter Reinhart

Invaluable sourdough section

Some members do not like Reinhart’s writing style


Bread Builders

Daniel Wing, Alan Scott

“Regard the second half (about masonry ovens) as fantasy porn for bakers!”


Complete Sourdough Cookbook: Authentic And Original Sourdough Recipes From The Old West

Don Holm, Myrtle Holm


Handmade Loaf

Dan Lepard

(aka, The Art of Handmade Bread, which is the re-titled version of the softcover edition)

Using sourdough (and other stuff like barms), interesting and unusual breads


King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion

Some folks first learn about sourdough from King Arthur Flour

Sourdough section is only 10-15 pages long, but information is good

Piano Piano Pieno

Susan McKenna Grant

Great information for raising a starter

Proportions are designed for the home cooks who measure by volume or by weight (both metric and non-metric weights)


Village Baker

David Otiz


World Sourdoughs from Antiquity

Dr. Ed Wood

Some people aren't crazy about his recipes

“He covers starters very, very well”




See the Introduction to Sourdough booklet on the website 


Some TFL members suggest avoiding the following for sourdough (though they are good for other topics/recipes)

Laurel’s Kitchen

Rose Levy Beranbaum, Bread Bible

Silverton’s recipe for raising a starter, Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the la Brea Bakery

However, she has useful tips, ideas, and recipes for bread baking