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Sourdough Starter - Hows, Whys, Whats

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How do you know when a homemade sourdough starter is ready to roll? I made the sourdough starter briefly discussed in the intro to Classic Sourdoughs by Ed Wood. It was 1 1/2 c. flour and 1 c. water sitting out at room temperature. After about 2 1/2 days (I stirred it down twice a day), it was about like bubbly muffin batter so I fed it with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water. Then it bubbled up to about twice the volume.

In the book he says it is ready when you have one to two inches of foam on the top. Now I'm thinking beer foam or something like that. Instead I have a bubbly muffin batter. It is definitely alive in some sense as you can kind of see things moving if you stare at it long enough. Am I ready?

Also, the book's recipes either specify a liquid culture or a sponge culture. It doesn't say which type I made but am I right to assume it is a sponge culture? You can kind of pour it (I needed to divide it because it was bubbling over the container) but it isn't as liquid as some sourdough starters I've had in the past.

Thanks for any help you can give me!



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Forget that last question - I found the FAQ from rec.food.sourdough that answered my question completely down to the minute details of wild yeast sourdough starters. You can read it here:


My sourdough starter is completely healthy and I'm ready to start baking.



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i'd like to know how to keep the stinking flies away from a starter-in-progress.

Two things you can do:

1. get an old pair of sheer stockings, cut an appropriately sized piece, stretch if over the top of the jar and secure with a rubber band.

2. Use an old fashioned canning jar with a rubber gasket (like these). What you can do is remove the rubber gasket and the metal stuff so all you have is the jar with the glass top resting on it. This keeps things from getting into your starter and also allows the gasses created by fermentation to escape.

Keep in mind, by the way, that there is no reason whatsoever to maintain a lot of starter. I usually keep no more than 50 grams of starter (equal parts flour/water by weight) around and whenever I want to make bread I use that starter as the inoculum to make whatever amount of sponge or chef I need. The little bit of starter that remains stuck to the bottom of the starter jar is the perfect amount to serve as the inoculum for the 25g of flour and 25g of water I put back into the jar to maintain the starter culture.


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Thanks for that source for canning jars slkinsey. I am going to get one for my starter. And the online class looks great.

Have any of you ever tried putting a new starter outside to ferment? Ed Wood recommends it in Classic Sourdoughs and I'm curious to see if the wild yeast outside my house have different properties.

Also, how often do you have to use your starter to NOT refrigerate it? If it stays looking halfway decent and I feed it/replenish it every day would that work? I think I'd like to go on baking jags for a couple days each week and keep it out at room temperature for that time (and refrigerate it for the rest of the week when I'm not baking).

To break in my new starter I made the World Bread from Classic Sourdoughs. I was amazed at how beautiful the dough was to knead. (I've baked before but have never done so without commercial yeast.) I put one loaf in a loaf pan and the other half I patted out and filled with cinnamon and raisins and then rolled back up.

Because I had so much starter and I don't need to keep mass quantities of starter I also started a sponge for the blueberry sourdough waffles as well.



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Temperature is the critical thing. If the starter not dormant at fridge temperatures, then it should be held at 85F, and fed regularly (say every 8 hours or so). There are commercial sourdough storage units that do just this.

The yeat/Lactobacillus pairing is remarkably stable once established, and not much else can live in the very acid conditions. The LB secretes a sort natural antibacterial agent to keep out other bugs. So long as it is not grossly invaded by anything else (keep it covered) , it should be OK, If it smells good, it probably is good. You could keep a back-up supply in the fridge, just in case.

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I wonder if anyone is able to help me. Two days ago I decided to take the plunge and make the French-style Sourdough Starter from Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glezer. I used dark rye flour from Shipton Mill rather than the whole rye flour specified because I had some to hand. The mixture bubbled up, more than doubled in size, and smelled and looked awful. It subsided and I fed it.

The recipe indicates not to expect the chef to have risen very much, if at all by the end of the next day or two. It’s now three and a half hours after feeding time and the chef has almost tripled! At the moment there is a slight aroma. The surface of the dough has a few cracks and it’s tacky but not sticky. It isn’t riddled with tiny bubbles but there are some.

Should I be patient or will the chef require feeding soon? I've not done this before and I'm not sure what to expect....


Steven Leof

Edited by sleof (log)
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Don't worry!. Keep it warm (85F) and keep feeding it regularly with the flour (or rye) you plan to use in the bread. It will stabilise to the normal sourdough, and the smell should improve over a couple of days...

You are probably getting more activity since dark rye has more free sugar/ amylose in it than normal rye (and a lot more than wheat flour). That is why it is some advise using it to begin a starter. Now you have activity going (the starter rises), unless you are planning on making full rye breads from it, I would switch to feeding it with bread flour (or bread flour and 25% rye if you are making the normal sort of rye bread), You are aiming to triple in volume each refreshment: mix equal quantities of starter, flour and water.

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Thanks. It's at room temperature (about 74F). Maggie Glezer advises feeding it again after a day or two. Are you suggesting I feed it as soon as it triples (or in the morning)? I'll probably use flour with 11.5% protein from Shipton Mill. By equal quantities, do you mean in terms of weight or volume? I usually weigh ingredients.

Edited by sleof (log)
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i'd like to know how to keep the stinking flies away from a starter-in-progress.

Use an old fashioned canning jar with a rubber gasket (like these). What you can do is remove the rubber gasket and the metal stuff so all you have is the jar with the glass top resting on it. This keeps things from getting into your starter and also allows the gasses created by fermentation to escape.

i like that idea :smile: (i used to think that it should be more exposed to the air...)

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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Thanks Jackal10. It is pretty hot here lately.

Do you think high altitudes (I'm at about 7,000 feet) can affect a sourdough starter in any way? I think my starter is a pretty fast starter as it was ready in about 2 1/2 days. Last night I left it out and it wasn't fed for about 12 hours and I think it suffered a bit. The bubbles were larger and fewer, the smell was milder, and it was less thick with some hooch. I fed it and it responded slightly and I waited about 4 more hours and fed it again and it came back to life with tiny bubbles throughout, a good cheesy sour smell, and a nice thick consistency. It is in the refrigerator now. I think I screwed up by not feeding it for 12 hours - it needs to be fed more often I think.

The bread is baking now and smells absolutely wonderful, much better than commercial yeast-risen bread.



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Thanks. It's at room temperature (about 74F). Maggie Glezer advises feeding it again after a day or two. Are you suggesting I feed it as soon as it triples (or in the morning)? I'll probably use flour with 11.5% protein from Shipton Mill. By equal quantities, do you mean in terms of weight or volume? I usually weigh ingredients.

If its active, and if you are keeping it warm, I would feed it more often. By tripling I refer to how much you add to the starter if you need to increase its volume, not the performance of the starter. Tripling in size overnight is a pretty active starter!

I usually bake once a week, so I refresh the starter then, incubate for about 4 hours, use half for the dough, and put the remainder in the fridge for next week. It usually seperates in the fridge, but I just stir the hooch back in.

I meant by volume: 1 cup flour to 1 cup water to 1 cup starter. Its a batter, as I use a sponge or batter starter.

By weight 150g of flour percentage of 100%, and 225g of water.

In bakers percentages, where the weight of flour is always 100%, the water is 150%

My sourdough bread recipe is in the recipe archive.

The science part of the egci sourdough unit is here I hope I won't be in trouble for letting it out early, but you need it now. You will have to wait for the main text and pictures.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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Thanks for the information which is most useful. My starter is firm, apparently what the French call a chef. Started it off on Tuesday with 100 grams each of flour and water and have carried on in the same vein (albeit with different flour). After the initial period of intense activity for a few hours from this time yesterday, it seems to have gone dormant. However when I went to feed it a short time ago, it had a slight aroma and was riddled with small holes....

N.B. Actually, after the first refreshment which was 100 grams of flour added to the starter in its entirety, I've been adding 45 grams of water and 90 grams of flour to 60 grams of the starter, discarding the rest.

Edited by sleof (log)
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Just thought you might be interested in another source of information: There's an article in the current (Summer 2003) issue of Gastonomica titled "Sourdough Culture," about starter itself AND the people who care passionately about and for it. The author posted a request for stories on several websites, and those responses she cites are listed in the endnotes.

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last night when making a biga, i thought i'd have a go at sourdough. my memory is not the best, so i just mixed, by volume, 1 cup of graham's flour with one cup of lukewarm water. should i have any hope of success?

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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Sure. Keep it warm (85F), and when it starts to bubble feed every 8 hours or so with equal quantities of the flour you are going to use and water.  Keep it warm!

and equal quantities is still by volume?

would it be too warm in an oven with just the light on? could it catch some wrong culture there (heh, it would be a rather sterile environment, i guess)?

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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N.B. Actually, after the first refreshment which was 100 grams of flour added to the starter in its entirety, I've been adding 45 grams of water and 90 grams of flour to 60 grams of the starter, discarding the rest.

Well, it's day nine and my chef seems to be tripling every eight hours or so. I understand that I should wait until it quadruples in this time before using it to leaven bread. Any idea how much longer it will take?

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Tripling every eight hours is fine. If it smells good, then it is ready.

It may improve as you use it regularly.

oraklet: I use equal quantities by volume, and use a batter type starter.

An oven with the light on should be fine. Most of the bugs come in the water or the flour.

Get yourself a digital thermometer - they are not expensive, and it will take the guesswork out of your cooking.

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I understand that when I refresh my chef the water content should be 50-57%. How do I determine the percentage of starter to include? What effect will it have for example if I use 25% as opposed to 40%?

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Usually the starter is about 1/3rd the weight of flour, and you can adjust the total water content in the recipe to match whatever you need. Less starter if you want to ferment for longer.

An example is given in the Scientific part of the Soudough course referenced above.


Total flour (starter + main dough) 75g+450g=525g

Total water (starter + main dough) 112+225 = 337g or about 65% hydration

57% is a very stiff and dry dough!

These are bakers percentages, relative to the flour content, which is always 100%.

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65% is pretty low compared to what i mostly use (c. 75%). has this to do with it being sourdough instead of biga? or is it just a matter of using softer flour (i tend to use quite hard flour)?

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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I usually use it a bit wetter than this, but with my flour 75% would be liquid. The flour is 12% protein

I like it best when it just holds together. It gets a bit wetter during the first fermentation, but dries off a bit in the banneton.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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I have a question.

I googled up the starter recipe on Italian sites, and apparently most links suggested to make in advance a kind of sugary solution, mixing a small amount of water with smashed fruit pieces, keep it aside for 1 day until fermented, filter and then add flour and water and proceed as usual. Another link mentioned a starter made with smashed boiled potatoes, mixed with their water and kept aside to ferment.

What do you think about that?


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