Flour + Water = Starter

Ah, summer… corn on the cob, lazy reading in the hammock, and… sourdough starter, of course!

Mature sourdough starter

I’ve been taking advantage of this warm weather to try raising some starters from scratch. I had done it before in a week-long class (in fact, that’s the starter I’ve been using for months), but we were able to keep our cultures at a constant 80 degrees F, and we added extra malt to jump-start the process. I wanted to see how it worked with just flour and water, in the warm but fluctuating room temperatures of my non-air-conditioned house in these beautiful early summer weeks in northern California.

Success! Raising a starter seems to be something that is perceived as mysterious, complicated, or hard. But in my experience, it’s not; it just requires attention and patience.

I did this a couple of times, once with rye and once with whole wheat flour. Both worked, but the rye worked better, so that’s the one I’m summarizing. (Note: this ends up as a white starter. The rye is just in the beginning, to get things going.)

Ready to try it?

Sourdough Starter from Scratch

Ingredients:

  • White flour (bread or all-purpose), preferably one that contains malted barley flour. Most white flours do, but some do not, especially if they are organic. Check the label.
  • Rye flour.
  • Water. I use bottled (not distilled) water because I don’t want the chlorine in tap water, and I do want the minerals that are removed by my water softener. If your tap water is not softened, you could let some sit out for a few hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate. All the water should be at about 85F; the yeast you want to nurture likes warmish water. I heat a small amount of water in the microwave and mix it with room temperature water, checking it with an instant-read thermometer. If you don’t have one, the water should feel about neutral to the touch.

Equipment:

  • A 1-quart or larger container with a lid, preferably transparent and with straight vertical sides (this makes it easier to gauge the activity of the culture).
  • A kitchen scale. If you don’t have one, get one. In the meantime, I’ll give the approximate volume measurements. But just this once; really, weigh your ingredients! (I never said I wasn’t opinionated.)
  • An instant-read thermometer is useful for checking water temperature.
  • A rubber spatula or plastic dough scraper.
  • Transparent tape.
  • A way to heat water.
  • A warm(ish) place, preferably around 80F. The room I used fluctuated from low 70’s to mid 80’s. A room thermometer is helpful.

General process:

  • The stuff you’re growing is a “culture” before it is mature and stable enough to bake with, at which point it becomes a “starter.”
  • The volume measurements I’ve given do not corresponding exactly to the weight measurements, but the proportions are the same. Don’t mix weight and volume measurements.
  • You will initially leave the culture alone for 24 hours, after which you will “feed” it at 12-hour intervals; choose your starting time accordingly. I arbitrarily assume you’re starting in the morning.
  • Feeding involves removing and discarding a portion of the culture, and adding water and flour to what remains: first mix the culture and water together thoroughly, then add the flour and mix until thoroughly blended.
  • Before you begin, it’s helpful to mark the weight of the container on the bottom with a Sharpie, or note it elsewhere. Then when it’s time to discard some of the culture, you can just keep taking some out and weighing the container until you know that the remaining culture is the right amount. I do not wash my container between every feeding.
  • Contrary to a somewhat popular belief, it is OK to use a stainless steel spoon for mixing.
  • After mixing, use a spatula or dough scraper to squeegee the sides of the container so they’re nice and clean. This helps you see how much the culture has risen, and keeps things tidy.
  • When you’re done mixing, smooth the top of the culture flat as much as possible. Place a piece of tape running straight up the outside of the container, and mark the level of the culture. This is how you will know how much it has risen.
  • Replace the container lid when you’re done mixing. If it’s a screw on lid or mason-jar type, you may want to leave it a little loose to give accumulated gas an escape route. If it is a plastic snap-on lid, you can snap it tight; the lid will pop off if the pressure inside gets too high.

Day 1 AM:

  • Make sure your container is clean, well-rinsed, and dry.
  • Mix 100 g water, 50 g rye flour, and 50 g white flour (or 1/2 c. water and 3/8 c. of each flour.)
  • Leave the culture in its warm spot for 24 hours.

Day 2 AM:

  • Hopefully you will see signs of life. Has the culture risen a little? Are there any bubbles in it, even one or two? (These are sometimes best seen by picking it up and looking at it through the bottom of the container.)
  • Bubbles in culture after 12 hours

  • It is possible that you will see a large rise (50% or more) at this point. Don’t be fooled; this does not mean you’ve birthed a miracle baby. In the initial stages of a culture, a type of bacteria called leuconostoc may predominate; it produces a lot of gas and causes the rapid rise. This bacteria is not desirable, but not harmful either, and it will eventually die out as the beneficial critters settle in and the culture becomes more acidic. You may also notice that the culture has a rather unpleasant odor; don’t worry, this too shall pass.
  • (If you see absolutely no sign of life whatsoever, I suggest leaving it alone for another 12 hours before proceeding. If there is still nothing, why not forge ahead anyway and see what happens?)
  • Discard all but 75 g of the culture. Feed this with 75 g water, 25 g rye flour, and 50 g white flour (1/3 c. starter, 1/3 c. water, 5 teaspoons rye flour, and 1/3 c. white flour).
  • Set it back in its warm spot for 12 hours.

Day 2 PM:

  • You may see signs of activity, but the culture may be either more or less lively than what you saw this morning. Anything from a single bubble to a 100% rise is good.
  • Sourdough culture at 36 hours

  • Again, feed 75 g of culture with 75 g water, 25 g rye flour, and 50 g white flour, and return it to the warm spot.

Day 3 AM:

  • Your culture may appear dead, but it’s probably not. Don’t worry, just go ahead and feed as before.

Day 3 PM and every 12 hours thereafter:

  • Continue to feed as you’ve been doing. At some point things should pick up steam, and you will notice that the culture gets a little more vigorous with each feeding.
  • When the culture at least doubles itself in 12 hours and is looking nice and bubbly, start feeding with only white flour (75 g culture / 75 g water / 75 g flour). This happened for me around the end of Day 4.
  • Sourdough culture at 4 days

  • After about 5 – 7 days, hopefully you will observe that the culture can double itself in 8 hours or less, smells pleasantly sour, and is full of bubbles. Congratulations, you have raised a 100% hydration starter that’s ready to bake with! If you’re looking for a recipe, how about this Norwich Sourdough?
  • Norwich sourdough

  • At this point you can also start decreasing the amount of culture in relation to the feeding flour and water, and use room-temperature instead of 85-degree water. You have been mixing 1:1:1 culture:water:flour at each feeding. Now try 1:2:2 and see if the starter can still double in 8 hours or less.

I’ll say more about the care and feeding of my starter in a near-future post.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Madelene Berggren says

    Hello
    I’ve only just found your blog and I really like it. Can’t wait to try a bit of everything. I have a question about the flour. Were I live (Sweden) there is no flour with malted barley to be found. This is used in various food industries, but not really available to the public. I understand that it’s beneficial to the fermentation process. Could I use something else to get the same boost/effect? Thanks. Madelene

  2. Cathy says

    Hello Susan,

    I live in Alabama, it is December here. I am using a cylincer glass tube for my starter. I just put the flour and water in it. I have never done this before and i’ve never baked fresh bread. The only thing i have ever baked from scrach is pecan pie. So i’m very new to all of this. I have a few questions.
    #1. Do i keep my “pet” on the counter without a lid till it becomes a starter?
    #2. I heard when the starter is used it is sweet tasting. Is this true?
    #3. I only had all purpose flour and I used bottled water. One cup of each. I blended with a wire whisk. Is all this ok to start off with?

    Thanks, Cathy

  3. says

    Hi Cathy,

    It’s December here in California too :)

    My method is not the only one for raising a starter, but it is the only one I’ve tried.

    1. I recommend a lid so things don’t dry out and you don’t catch flies.

    2. My starter tastes sour.

    3. I recommend a portion of rye or whole wheat flour because it gets things fermenting faster and better. Also, I recommend equal parts flour and water by weight, not volume. If you don’t have a scale, figure 230 grams per cup of water and 130 grams per cup of flour, so you need more flour than water by volume.

  4. Cathy says

    I guess i meant its cold in Alabama when i said December. Cold to me anyway. lol

    Ok well i guess i need to restart right? And is this starter good for making sweet breads and cinnamon rolls too?

    Thank you very much for all your help! It is greatly appriciated

  5. says

    I’ve got a question for you. I would need a 50% hydration starter for the panettone recipe you have. Do I just add half of the water an fall this recipe??

  6. Barbara says

    I couldn’t wait until the warm summer months to make starter, and I didn’t want to heat a whole room to 80 degrees–so I came upon a solution that may be of interest.

    I put my starter in my Sanyo fuzzy logic rice cooker set on the “Hold Warm” function. It is exactly 80 degrees. I’ve also used my rice cooker on it’s pre-soak setting to rise bread at 74 degrees.

    I’m sure every rice cooker varies a bit but it’s worth experimenting with.

  7. says

    Hello Susan, I just stumbled across your blog and all i have to say is WOW, Everything here looks so amaaazing! , I actually just started some dough for a traditional russian sourdough, ive been raising my yeast for a few weeks now and looks excellent, i just mixed up my dough and its resting in the fridge untill tomorrow morning to bake them off. Im a horticulturalist at heart but ive been a baker for a few years and i just cant go long without crafting some bread, there doesnt seem to be anything more satisfying! anyways im rambling! just wanted to say hello, and let you know how envious i am of your baking wish i was a neighbor! hahaha, anyways thanks susan!

  8. Kathleen says

    Hi,

    Your info is very informative to me – a newbie at the seed culture thing. I’ve posted questions under Seed Culture Gone A-Rye. I think the temperature in the house is not warm enough. I’ll have to wait until summer to try again. Otherwise I’d have to crank up the heater and that would make my rye loaf the most expensive bread!

    Cheers,

    Kathleen

  9. Georges says

    Dear Susan,

    I just made my first starter after looking up various ways on Youtube. I mixed 1 cup of flour with 2 cups of water and let sit. Seemed simple enough but when I looked at it a few minutes after the flour had settled at the bottom leaving a clear layer of water on top!!! I figure it must be something to do with the flour I use. It’s basic all purpose white. Please help.

    Georges

  10. ERIC YENDALL says

    “Feeding involves removing and discarding a portion of the culture, and adding water and flour to what remains:”

    I have been bothered by this for some time: Why do you remove part of the culture? What not simply add fresh ingredients in the same proportion? What is the science here?

    Thanks

  11. says

    Eric, it’s not so much science as math. Every time you feed, you triple (or more) the amount of starter you begin with. If you didn’t remove any, you’d soon run out of space to put it all.

  12. Kaittles says

    Love all the great info on your site! I was wondering…is it possible for a culture to go bad/become unsafe? Say, if a well-meaning but somewhat forgetful amateur was to have begun the process on Sat morning, but left for work this (Mon, day 3) morning without feeding it? Yesterday the star….culture had a yeasty smell. Today it smelled not so nice, and looked like it had separated some. The smell isn’t too strong, and perhaps is a good sour smell, but with the forgotten feeding it makes me nervous. Thanks!

  13. Claire says

    I’m very excited – I’ve been growing my first sourdough starter over the past few weeks, and today I baked my first loaves of sourdough! I’m so amazed that it worked out so well, everything seemed to go to plan!

    Your website is fantastic and has reassured me I’m on the right path… Congrats on a great site!

  14. Ben says

    Hi there,
    Really need some help with my starter. I am getting the acetone smell that some people encounter. I’ve tried feeding twice a day, but it’s not really making much difference. I empty most out, refresh (upon which it smells fine, obv), and then in a few hours it’s giving off the smell again. It is growing, however, with no problems at all, doubling in 8 hours maybe, so all nice and active. But more feeding doesn’t change the smell. Should I be feeding more than twice a day? It feels like wasting good flour after bad at the moment. It’s been about two weeks smelling like this, by the way. I had read that if this is the strain of yeast that is dominant (the one producing the smell), then no amount of feeding will help. Should I try baking with it? Or will the smell transfer itself into the taste?

    Thanks!

  15. Ben says

    thanks Susan. at the moment, I’m adding 30g of rye and 70g of white flour (plus 100g of water) with each feeding. so more than that?! On the verge of canning it and starting again, but the fact that it’s doubling in size so well (if giving off this smell) is keeping it out of the bin. would it be unwise to to try baking a loaf with it do you think?

  16. TonyT says

    It’s somewhat discouraging.
    I’m on day three, it seems to have petered out (no bubbles or activity) and smells horrible.(Like cheese)

    But looking at the previous comments, Susan seems to encourage people to preserver through it.

    I’m just curious, what would be a legitimate reason to toss the culture out? What would be some warning signs of failure in this endeavor?

  17. Laura says

    Found this site through a magazine; I’ve had a starter going for about a week now from potato water, multi grain flour and a couple teaspoons sugar. It smells like beer? And it separates somewhat; after I stir it, it goes crazy again. I hadn’t been feeding it but somehow it raises about 4-6 inches every afternoon when kitchen gets the sun. I fed it today but used white flour & little sugar.

    I will follow your advice and feed twice daily but my question is: why do you discard most of the starter daily only to build more? Wouldn’t it be better just to add to it? I don’t understand the theory behind this.

    Thanks.

  18. Joe says

    Just curious, is it necessary to discard the unused portions at the various stages or can they be used to make additional starters?

  19. says

    Hi Joe, yes, I suppose the excess portion of culture could be split off and fed with, say, rye or whole wheat flour to make those starters.

  20. Dino says

    Hi Susan!
    i made a starter before and it smelled TERRIBLE!! it smelled like vomit! so i threw it away. i started another and i let it out fore 2 days and i feed it today but before i fed it it had a lingering smell of vomit also. i use unbleached flower and water from my brita filter. is there anything im doing werong or is it normal?

  21. Gisela says

    I have a question about what to do with the starter once you think it is done. Do you keep it in the icebox and how long will it be good in there. Can you freeze it?
    Love your site!! Thanks!!
    Gisela

  22. Eleanor says

    Hi Susan,
    Day 5 and not much is happening, there are small bubbles on top, but it smells quite unpleasant and it often separates with murky water settling on top. Should I continue or start again? I’m in the UK so it’s never too warm! but my kitchen is not drafty or cold.

    Thanks

  23. Stephen says

    Hello I am new to making a sour dough starter and I notice that when the starter is ready to use it consists of 75 gr of starter, 75 gr of water and 75 gr of flour for a total of 225 gr of sourdough starter. The article then goes on to say you are ready to make bread.The Norwich sourdough requires 360 gr of starter, how does this add up?

  24. Stephen says

    Thanks for the quick reply Susan. I went to the link provided and now everything makes sense. I am excited to get going on making some sourdough bread.
    Thanks Again
    Stephen

  25. Courtney says

    Hi Susan,

    I’ve been attempting to make a starter for about 5 days now. Initially I think I had some leuconostoc (it was super bubbly and smelled pretty bad). After about Day 3, that went away, but nothing is really happening anymore, just a few small bubbles and not doubling itself in any way. Should I scratch it and start over? Feed it more? Switch to all white flour? Help!

    Courtney

  26. Amy says

    My mom has always told me that warm water equals rising for yeast.. but it cant’ be too hot and that you have to beat it with a wisk. I never believed her until I couldn’t get my yeast to rise and tried it, and it turned out great. Thanks for the confirmation!
    -Amy
    Elements Papers

  27. Sam says

    After 2 complete failures trying to create Dan Leader’s liquid levain I followed your instructions and 5 days later have a lovely levain. This makes me so happy! Using Dakota-Prairie rye and white flours. Thank you.

  28. Sam Julier says

    Susan, I have been making a spelt bread with 100% spelt flour, 100% hydration starter, 25% rye, 75% white with mixed results. In the successful loaves I take the starter at 12 hours after it has leveled off, unsuccessful loaves starter at 8 eights or less and still quite bubbly. I am finding spelt dough to be an enjoyable workout but needing 15 – 20 minutes of kneeding for proper gluten development. (I am not an olympic kneeder). Any thoughts?
    Thank you.
    Sam

  29. Mohsen says

    Hi susan
    Thanks a lot for your excellent Recipes .please guide me how can I make a good pizza dough?
    thanks in advance

  30. kim frederick says

    Hi Susan. I started toying with cultivating yeast abaout a year and a half ago. It took three attempts at 5-7 days each to achieve success.I used that starter all year, but neglected it in the end and discarded. I mixed almost 1 cup of bread flour, one cup of water and about an eighth of a cup of whole wheat flour, on Saturday afternoon, at about 2:30, and on Sunday at about 6:00 pm this new starter was full of bubbles, frothy and doubled in size. Not knowing how to proceed, I refridgerated it this, (Mon) AM. Won’t get home till about 5. What should I do? Take out and feed? I was amazed at the immediate results.

  31. says

    Kim, I don’t recommend refrigerating a culture (starter-in-progress). Early bubbles are a sign of bacterial activity, not of a mature starter. I recommend the method above, where you keep the culture in a warm location and feed twice a day with equal parts water and flour by weight.

  32. Jacob says

    Susan, great site. Quick question. I live over in Pleasant Hill and was wondering if it ever gets too cold to start the starter? Is there anything special I should do with the starter this time of year? Thanks again.

  33. Chris says

    Hello, I have been reading this for a couple days now and am quite interested. I do have one question. I understand how to make the starter but what I dont understand is how to keep the starter. Do people use half the starter for bread and then put more ingredients in the starter to keep it going. Like the one person said “I have a starter for 3 years” how is tht possible? Please be detailed as possible and ANYONE can answer. My goal is to make bread everyday.

  34. Chris says

    Thank you Susan! I follow your instructions with 1 exception, I used Wheat instead of Rye. So far, Day 1 is a total success! It was bubbly and grown just a little. I’m onto stage 2(1st feeding) now and we’ll see how it goes! So far I’m please with the results.
    I leave my starter in a room that is 78-80 degrees perfectly.

  35. Janet (UK) says

    I’m an English rose just starting my adventure into wild yeast sourdough bread. Last week I mixed 50% white bread flour with 50% whole wheat bread flour and some water, walked round my kitchen mixing ’till it looked like thick paint. I left it by my Aga in a Kilner jar for 24hrs and little bubbles appeared. Just a few. After a week of throwing 50% and adding 50/50 plus water every day I now have a lovely bubbly mixture. I had ups and downs all week but now it smells divine. I think I will keep going for another week to increase the activity and bake my first loaf then. Wish me luck my doughy friends!!

  36. CookieCrumble says

    Dear Susan,

    I missed the “24 hour” rest period at the beginning and started feeding after the first 12 hours. Is this OK?

    Thanks!

  37. says

    Hello Susan,
    Thank you for your blog, it helps me. I learn from it, I’m inspired by it and I enjoy the beautiful breads you make.
    My questions is: when (in days) do I feed my sourdough. I have a good sourdough. But since a few days there is a little bit of moist on top, it smells fresh and sour. I stirred it and it looks ok. But this morning it still has a bit of moist. What do you think I sould do?

  38. Brent says

    Hello Susan,
    I have a few starters, but I have had one of them for about 1 year and it makes excellent sourdough. I keep it in the refrigerator most of the time since it started showing signs of blue.
    This is my process..after I retrieve the starter from the refrigerator, I feed it and let it peak before I use it and it is white and smells wonderful. However, if I continue to feed the starter and leave it out at room temperature, portions of the starter will turn blue. I then throw away as much of the blue tinted starter as I can, feed it, and place it back in the refrigerator where it will turn white again (no blue).
    Do you know what is causing the blue in my starter? Is it mold?
    Regards,
    Brent

  39. Derrick says

    Wow, this is an oldie but goodie! Stumbled upon this thread as I’m getting into the art of baking bread. I started my starter on Friday night so I’m on day 3… it was rising nicely on Sunday morning but in the afternoon, i followed the usual feeding and this morning it looked dead, I fed it again in the morning and in the afternoon still looks dead. It smells sour so I’m assuming i’m on the right track but it’s no longer growing. Should I give it one more day and if it doesn’t grow do I restart?

  40. Sarah says

    Hi Susan,
    I just discovered your blog through a friend of mine–I am delighted! I have a starter I’ve been cultivating for about 8 months (original recipe from James Beard’s ‘American Cookery’). I’ve made bread (at least) weekly or fed the starter if I wasn’t able to make bread, and now I have A LOT of starter (I’m guessing a little over a gallon)…I am wondering if there is a way of dividing or reducing a starter? Perhaps you’ve written of this elsewhere? Can you point me in a direction? Thank you so much–I look forward to further exploring and following your blog!
    -Sarah

  41. Edward M says

    Sarah – Does your bread turn out to be quite sour? I would imagine that a lot of acid has built up in your starter the way you are keeping it.

  42. Katie says

    Susan,

    I just started a new starter after my first one went bad. I am one week into it, got distrcted for a day, and now it has a strong acetone smell. As I have seen you instruct others, I have been feeding more often, at least every 12 hours, with 1 cup AP flour and 1/2 cup water added to about 1/2 cup starter after I dump the rest. How long should I expect before some turnaround? I am seeing lots of bubbles and a good rise that lasts for several hours.

  43. Tony says

    Hi Susan, is it normal for there to be very little rise after the switch from the 30% rye flour diet to the all white flour diet? It was easily doubling itself easily and was quite bubbly before the switch, but now it only rises about 20% and it doesn’t seem to be picking up steam. I have checked and confirmed that my white flour contains malted barley flour and I am using spring water so chlorine is not the issue. Thanks in advance for any thoughts.

  44. Caitlin says

    Hello!

    Would you by any chance know how on earth did the early pioneers learn that there was yeast in the air? I would love to know the answer!

    Thank you in advance! :)

  45. Tony says

    @Caitlin The yeast you culture comes from the grain not from the air. People had been culturing yeast long before the early pioneers, certainly in ancient Egypt and perhaps even prior to that.

  46. Emanuel Tonna says

    Dear Susan
    I am totally green about all this so please bear with me.
    1.The first thing I would like to understand is why do I need to remove a portion of the starter and then feed it. Why cannot I feed it as is?

    2. I have read “raising a starter” and the ‘maintenance’ articles and again I cannot grasp the reasons or science behind the fact that you had 1:1:1 ratio and ended up with 1:6:6 but normally you maintain 1:4:4, why do this what is wrong with 1:1:1?

    3. What is behind ‘doubling in size in 8 hours’, what is achieved by this? What is wrong with 12 hours?

    4. If the starter is doing so well why end up throwing most of it away and reducing it to only 10g!!!

  47. Emanuel Tonna says

    Susan I thank you for your reply. Tell me is it possible for me to control how sour the culture is that is can I make it more sour or less sour, how?

    Also your concern with your home made
    Thanks
    Emanuel

  48. Emanuel Tonna says

    Continuing with the last sentence your concerns with lead presence from your home made LA Cloche Brick Oven, was that from the eye bolt, nuts and washers?

  49. Emanuel Tonna says

    Susan, you refer to your starter as 100% hydration: if a recipe requires 80% hydration how do I change your starter to reflect this?
    Thanks
    Emanuel

  50. Martin Blackwell says

    I’ve been making sourdough in a machine for some time now (Panasonic) and my starter stays in the fridge for a week since I only make 1 loaf. I add 125gm rye to 250ml of warm water + 1 tbsp of sugar to the fridge starter, mix and leave covered for 24-36 hours with a bit of stirring in between at normal room temperature. The bread is made with 300ml of starter, 450gm (white 200/malted 200/rye 50) flour, 150ml water, 1.5 tsp salt, 1.5 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 x 7gm sachet instant yeast. It is pretty much foolproof and tastes mildly sour with a crisp crust.

  51. Francis-Olive says

    Hi Susan. I have been on a starter mission, partly because I miss home (I’m from SF too), and mostly because I miss Tartine bread, so, I’m trying to recreate Chad’s loaf down here in L.A. (I moved here a year ago).

    Anyway, I’m perplexed. I followed Chad’s instructions to a T, and I still get no rise and fall. Plenty of bubble action, and the starter tastes really sour. It smelled sour the second day, really sour, and now it only ever smells mildly sour.

    I began my starter Tuesday April 12th, still no rise and fall. Just today, as an experiment (I’m actually feeding two starters just so I can experiment), I fed one of my starters with 100% AP, the other I am still feeding with a 50/50 mix of wheat and white flour per Tartine bread books instructions. Both are bubbling nicely, but none of this swell!

    I use room temperature water (which is around 85 degrees, it’s been warm in L.A.), and I am using bottled water now (I used tap a couple of times, but lost activity, then read that chlorine can kill a starter). My flour is good quality. At first I covered the starters with a towel, but today I decided to experiment with covering and am using plastic wrap. Still great bubbling, but no swell! What gives?

    Also, I just started the culture you outlined on your website using rye. It’s only day two, but so far I have great bubbling action, no swell. Using all the ‘rules’ that you set out, so no mysteries. I am hoping to get a good swell by at least the 4th day, and I’m going to follow your direction. I may have to seek your advice again in another 5 days if I get no swelling from the culture/starter.

    Please advise about the other two that I have, if you could.

    Thank you!

    Francis-Olive

  52. Paul Storm UK says

    TIP:

    For people in colder climates, like the UK for instance, I tend to keep my starter in the oven with the light on. The light generates enough heat to keep the oven at a nice temperature for making starter.

    I sometimes heat the oven a its lowest setting (remove the starter first) for a couple of minutes, then place the starter back inside…

  53. Sam says

    Dear Susan,

    I have been using my starter for the past 14 months with great success. It’s simply a champ lifting all your breads with ease. Last week I forgot to feed it for four days. And I forgot to refrigerate it too. The smell is eye popping. I have tried to re-feed a small quantity into a larger amount of new water and flour but no luck. I’m assuming a certain type of yeast or bacteria took hold and its time to start over. Or should I just keep feeding and holding my nose?

  54. says

    Sam, you could probably keep feeding it to bring it back eventually, but it’s probably faster to just start a new one. Good luck!

  55. Marius says

    Strange to see someone mix rye and wheat in one sourdough.

    Here in Norway, the perception of many excellent bakers, is that these are two separate forms of sourdough. So we only make pure wheat sourdough, and pure rye sourdough.

    The first is used for light breads, and the second for dark breads.

  56. Brady says

    Hi, great tutorial, but I have mine that has been going for about 4-5 days (I kinda forgot…) and it smells absolutely AWFUL! I spiked it with some lemon juice, straight out of the lemon, on the last feeding hoping that it would help boost acidity and kick start the yeast. However now it smells like a acrid sweat and decay. There is yeast since there are bubbles coming. How long, if ever, will it take to fix this?

  57. says

    Brady, I’m guessing you killed the yeast with the lemon juice. (Bubbles do not necessarily indicate yeast; bacteria produce gas, too.) I’d start over, following the instructions here. Depending on your flours and environmental conditions, it may take longer than 5 days.

  58. says

    Hi Susan!

    I love your tutorial! I just started a rye culture a few days ago, based on The River Cottage Bread Handbook’s version (1 cup flour/1 cup water), and while I’m watching with fascination the process it’s going through, I was concerned about the smell that was coming off the culture in the initial stages- it smelled like sewage. But as I read here, and a few other places, it’s to be expected as the good bacteria takes over and seems to be going away as I feed it fresh cold water and cold flour. It’s a comfort to read that here, believe me, I thought I raised “George” incorrectly.
    One question, however: While you feed it twice daily, you only divide it once per day? I’m a little confused on that point as it’s the 3rd day for my culture and I have divided it twice. Thanks so much, and I really appreciate the tutorial

  59. says

    KitchenGeisha, each time you feed you need to discard a portion of the starter. For mine, I discarded all but 75 grams each time I fed it.

  60. says

    Thanks, Susan! I appreciate the help!

    As much as I hate to do it, I think I’ll have to start feeding him whole wheat flour as I’m running out of rye. Next tine I’ll start with smaller amounts of flour and water, 1 cup of each is just too much.

    Thanks again for the help!

  61. Jerry Wickey says

    What a helpful page. Thank you.

    From a biologist’s point of view, the yeast starter about which you post is one of the most helpful things a human can do for his or her body. The genetic diversity of those critters that grow wild on rye kernels is thousands of times the genetic diversity of grocery store yeast.

    Science is learning more and more about how important our Intestinal microflora are. Our century old germophobia has hurt the cause of health.

    Eat em up!

    Jerry

  62. Grace says

    Hi!
    I just started your starter yesterday and have followed in with the day 2 instructions, just wanted to ask if you carry on throwing away all but 75g after the first day whilst feeding the culture?
    Thanks for the article, it’s very interesting
    Grace

  63. Nicole says

    Thanks for such a wonderful website, Susan! I tried my hand at starting a sourdough culture this weekend. I’m a bit worried that I have the undesirable bacteria (rather than wild yeast), so was hoping to hear your thoughts. Here are my results so far:
    Day 1: Followed your directions exactly. It is quite warm here, the culture sat on our warm porch for the first 24 hours.
    Day 2 AM: The culture had quite a few bubbles and had risen maybe 10%.

    Here I am now 5 hours later and the culture has taken off all of a sudden. It has almost doubled in size! Given that your tutorial suggests that it should take upwards of a week to double in less than 8 hours, does this suggest that my results might not be from the desirable yeast? I am wondering if I should add only white flour at my next feeding, or if I should stick with the plan. Thanks for your help!

  64. says

    Nicole, it does sounds like your culture at this point is dominated by the undesirable bacteria, but if you keep feeding as outlined above, the good guys should prevail within another day or two.

  65. linda says

    I successfully “bread” my own culture from flour and water only and have been baking with it now for 5 months. Everything I know about sourdough has all been learned and researched on the internet in that period. I live in Scotland and the weather is not conducive to “sourdough” ( well so I’ve read) Some loaves are brilliant some loafs are just good. Some have great ovenspring some have little ovenspring . I came across your site/blog today and think I am “in love” your breads look amazing and your recipes and instructions seem clear. uncomplicated and well explained. Where were you 5 months ago ? Most of the time when reading sourdough instructions I don’t really understand the terminology and the science bit. I hope to learn much more from your site. If i could ask you a couple of questions…..What and when is a starter Mature and after “feeding” when is the best time to use your stater to make a preferment, Ive been using my discarded starter to make my preferment is that wrong ? I am going to try your Norwich Sourdough recipe soon. thanks for sharing your amazing gift with us xx

  66. Dave says

    I couldn’t find rye flour today but I found buckwheat flour… So I’m trying your technique by replacing rye with buckwheat and see what happens…

  67. says

    I am thoroughly convinced in this said post. I’m currently searching for ways in which I could improve my knowledge in this said topic you have posted here. It does help me a great deal knowing that you’ve shared this information here freely. I adore the way the people here interact and shared their opinions too. I would love to track your future posts pertaining to the said subject we are able to read.

  68. Dave says

    Well I think my first attempt failed…. I’m at Day 6, the culture smells pleasantly sour but it still doesn’t rise or double in size… it just stays there with a little bubbles…

    Any tips? I think my flour lacks maltose or something…

  69. says

    Dave, what temperature is the space where you’re keeping the starter? If it’s cooler than around 80F, it may take longer to get going. I’d say keep feeding twice a day and see what happens.

  70. Kelley says

    After unsuccessful attempts at starters using other methods, I think I finally have a successful starter thanks to this method! After about 4 days I feared it wasn’t working. There were a few bubbles but it wasn’t even close to doubling. Then 2 days ago I was away and had to skip a feeding. Somehow that was the best thing to happen and, every time I’ve fed it since, it doubles and is full of bubbles with a nice smell.

  71. Dave says

    It was actually more than 30 degrees celcius, I put it in a room that’s always hot… maybe it was too hot….

    Since it wasn’t moving for a few days and started smelling like acetone I decided to start over and keep this one on top of the fridge.

  72. Dave says

    It’s alive! It’s Day 4 PM here and it’s doubled in size… I called it “Marc Levure Jr.” :P

    Tonight is its first white flour only feeding time, I found some “bianca farina” imported from italy at my grocery store, it really gave it life!

    Top of the fridge is the ticket! Who doesn’t have a fridge?

  73. says

    Thanks for sharing these photos, I know now that my starter is still off by a day or two, as the bubbles are not as active as the ones you have. Bummer, was looking forward to some fresh bread for lunch tomorrow.

  74. says

    I have an old starter,kept in refrig for months, it was fed with sugar , water and instant potatoe flakes. I want to make bread again but don’t know how to revive the starter, I would really appreciate any help with this. Thanks

  75. says

    I have been surfing online greater than three hours nowadays, but I by no means found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty value sufficient for me. In my view, if all webmasters and bloggers made just right content as you probably did, the web will be a lot more helpful than ever before.

  76. C says

    I just wanted to chime in about the feeding frequency. While I did feed twice a day in the first two months, I backed down to once a day and still get great results. My breads rise as they should, and I’ve found that sourness really seems most affected by the treatment of the dough (sponge, fermentation, etc). It does get a little…aromatic by the end of the day, but I stopped worrying after the sixth or so delicious loaf. I also can’t seem to kill my two cultures. Life got hectic and I tossed them in the refrigerator for two months, no feedings whatsoever. In fact the ap flour culture was half taken by mold. After scraping off the badness and two feedings it was just as active as ever. I think these starters are a little tougher than most suspect.

  77. Michael Brennan says

    My eyes to making bread have been opened. I tried making panettone but is was a disaster. I never knew anything about starters or what 50% hydration or 100% hydration was. Thank you for all the education.

  78. Emily S says

    Hi Susan! Wondering if you have any advice for me…I’m about to give up! I’ve tried the starter twice now, using a local whole-grain wheat as the base (because I wanted totally local yeast). I gave up the first time (couldn’t get it past the icky phase, although I may have abandoned it too soon). This second one rises like a champ, accepting even the doubled amounts of white flour & water…but although it tastes pleasantly sour as a starter, its bread is not. After 3 weeks, I finally baked one loaf that rose well, if a little oddly (from the bottom), so I know it’s got something going on…but there’s no sourness at all, and the texture is more like a normal yeasted bread. The only thing I can think is that it’s winter here, and the house is regularly in the 60s…I can’t keep it reliably warmer. Any ideas? Besides waiting for summer? :-)

  79. says

    Emily, for a more sour bread, try maintaining your starter at 50% hydration (feeding once or twice per day). You will need to adjust your bread formula to account for the lower hydration of the starter.

  80. Emily S says

    Thanks Susan–by lower hydration I’m guessing you mean, add 2 parts flour to 1 part water (instead of the strict 1-1)? I’ll give it a try!

  81. Roy says

    Hi Susan,

    I’m looking for natural yeast that isn’t sour, the kind that French bakeries use for croissants. Have you gotten yeast that doesn’t taste sour at all?

  82. Rachel says

    Hey! I just started my starter yesterday and things seem to be going swimmingly. I was just wondering, at what point do you move it to the fridge? Or does this particular starter have a permanent home on my counter? Thanks!

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