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Sourdough Starter

June 27, 2014

Several readers have expressed a curiosity about sourdough starters.  So this post will be dedicated to cultivating a natural yeast.   When I decided to get into sourdough baking,  it seemed like a very daunting task.   I thought, if it works,  great,  but I’m not putting my hopes too high for my first tries.  I was ready for at least several false starts.  The three times I’ve made this starter have been successful.  My conclusion is that it must not be hard to make a sourdough starter if someone like me, a first timer can make it happen.   You’ll be rewarded with making some memorable loaves of bread or other baked goods.   If you are thinking about getting into sourdough baking,  I encourage you to go in fearlessly.    There is very, and I mean very little actual work involved in making your starter.   “The waiting is the hardest part.”

This recipe is from Maggie Glezer’s  “Artisan Baking”,  previously printed as “Artisan Baking Across America”,  a favorite book which I frequently enjoy looking through.  It has many beautiful photographs,  and many great looking recipes from top bakeries in the U.S. This classic book is a must have in my opinion.  All three starters I’ve made use this recipe.  Curiously enough,  there were no photos of the sourdough starter making process.

She calls this a “French-style sourdough starter” though I’m not sure what makes it one.  This is a firm starter as opposed to a batter type.  It starts out firm and softens up and becomes sticky as it ferments.  Because it will quadruple in size in about 8 hours,  it’s easy to determine when it is ready to use in a recipe.

This makes about 4 ounces/100 grams sourdough starter.  It will take 7-14 days to make with only about 10 minutes active work.

The first day-mixing the first starter

Lukewarm water  1/2 cup (3.5 ounces or 100grams)

Whole rye flour 3/4 cup (3.5 ounces or 100 grams)

In a non-reactive bowl mix the water and rye flour and cover it tightly with plastic.  Preferably store it in a sealed plastic or glass container.  Let it sit about 2 days. ” It should bubble up,  smell,  and look awful,  and then subside”.  It is now ready to refresh.

The third day-mixing the second starter

Unbleached all-purpose flour     2/3 cup (3.5 ounces or 100 grams)

Fermented first starter     all

Mix the flour into all the fermented first starter to make a firm dough.  Store it as before in a well sealed, clean non-reactive container.  Let it ferment for 1 or 2 days. “When it is very sticky and riddled with tiny bubbles,  it is ready to refresh.  It will have very little aroma and will not rise very much,  if at all.”

The fifth day-mixing the third starter

Fermented starter  1/4 cup (2 ounces or 60 grams)

Lukewarm water  3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces or 45 grams)

Unbleached bread flour  2/3 cup (3 ounces or 90 grams)

Measure out the fermented starter and discard the rest.  Dissolve it in the water,  add the flour, and mix.  It will become a fairly firm dough. Tightly seal it and “let the dough ferment until it is sticky and slightly expanded,  1 to 2 days.”  After a day, it will not look like it’s doing much. “But if you smell it,  it will smell very sour,  and if you pull it it with floured fingers,  it will be gooey,  extensible,  and riddled with tiny air bubbles.”

 The sixth or seventh day

Make a fourth starter just like you did for the third one.  Cover again and “let the dough ferment until it has risen slightly, is full of tiny holes,  and has become very gooey,  18 to 24 hours.”  It will look as unpromising as the third one.

 The remaining days

Continue to refresh the starter exactly as the third and fourth starter. Wait until it has it has fully risen and is starting to fall,  until it is able to quadruple in 8 hours or less and has a “sharp and very pleasant smell”.  This could take 3 or 4 more refreshments,  each taking a little less time than before.  The starter is now ready to use.

To refresh a completed sourdough starter

Fermented sourdough starter   1 1/2 teaspoons  (0.4 ounces or 10 grams)

Lukewarm water   1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons (0.9 ounces or 25 grams)

Unbleached bread flour   1/3 cup (1.6 ounces or 45 grams)

Measure out the starter you need and discard the rest unless you want to use some to make a dough.  Dissolve the starter in the water,  add the flour, and mix it into a fairly firm dough.  Cover tightly in your  container and let it ferment for 8 to 12 hours.  You should have about 1/3 cup (2.9 ounces or 80 grams) of the dough.  In 8 hours or less, it should rise to 1 1/3 cups, at least to its crown.

“Use this refreshment formula to make a sourdough starter that only needs to be refreshed every 12 hours (professionals refresh their sourdough starters every 8 hours). The final starter should be very  firm,  to buffer its pH,  preventing it from dropping too low,  and to give it enough fuel to last until next refreshment.”

The starter can be stored in the refrigerator almost indefinitely.  Maggie Glezer writes she has kept one in there for 4 months and then was able to revive it to full strength.  Old starters will turn grey and exude “hooch”, a clear liquid,  but that is normal.  To get it back to normal strength,  refresh the starter,  as directed above every 12 hours 3 to 4 times over, until it is again quadrupling in volume in 8 hours or less.  It is now ready to use.


Second day–first starter after 1 day activity


Third day–First starter after 2 days


Fifth day–Second starter after 2 days of activity


Sixth day–Third starter after 1 day


On the subsequent days I continued to refresh as a third starter.

After a couple of daily refreshments it began to rise and fall predictably.


I then began to refresh for a “completed sourdough starter.”


“Completed sourdough starter” refreshed about 12 hours before


Top view “completed sourdough starter” refreshed about 12 hours before


I hope that I have written and presented this in a clear manner.  If you are not sure let me know.

A tip I learned the hard way- When discarding starter, use a disposable container, do not throw it down your kitchen drain.  The starter will harden and clog up your drain!

The temperature of your kitchen will affect the activity of the yeast.  Warmer temperatures will result in faster activity.

After I established the starter, I got into a routine of refreshing twice a day as the recipe states.

You will find many different recipes for making a starter.  Some use ingredients like pineapple juice or grapes to help jumpstart the process.  These are not required for success.

It seems that every baker has a different nomenclature for the process.  It can be very confusing when comparing recipes.

Whole rye flour  is used at the very beginning to provide the right nutrients and amount of sugars.

During the first week, I use bottled water,  since chlorinated water can slow down the activity.

In the beginning,  all-purpose flour is used because it has more starch and thus more nutrients than higher gluten flour.

It’s surprising how noisy sourdough cultures can be.  Put your ear to it every once in while and listen to the feast that is going on in there!


Success!  Crumb of first bread made with this starter.













9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2014 6:19 pm

    Extremely helpful information, Gerard. I will remember this as a reference when I get around to making my own sour starter. Thanks!

    • June 27, 2014 7:35 pm

      I hope it is helpful for you! I also wanted to show how easy it is. I had no idea when I made my first one.
      Thank you Ngan!

  2. Marcella Rousseau permalink
    June 27, 2014 7:59 pm

    You’re so modest! Your breads always look professional. I can’t imagine you “bombing” a bread!

  3. June 28, 2014 12:51 pm

    Sourdough breads to me are always trickier to make. They don’t always come out like I want them to though I have improved over the past couple of years. Sometimes they get over proofed because I’m still trying to learn to adapt, for instance, to different kitchen temperatures. It seems there is always something new to consider!

  4. June 29, 2014 9:01 am

    Wow! Looks delicious! I can’t eat bread, but will definitely be passing along to my partner’s step-mum who is a huge sour dough fan!

    • June 29, 2014 11:27 pm

      Thank you very much! Sorry you can’t eat bread. Thank you for passing this on! I’m looking forward to reading your blog!

  5. July 5, 2014 9:24 pm

    Gerard, I am saving this post for future reference. I am surely going to try my hand at this one day. Such an informative post :). Thanks so much for sharing,

    • July 5, 2014 11:08 pm

      Hi Sonal, I do hope you can start one. I think you would have a good feel for it! I might have to update this entry as I experiment with storing it in the refrigerator.
      Thanks for visiting!

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