my first home sour starter

Adam T's picture
Adam T
these are off my camera phone, but you can make out where it is.

334 users have voted.


Anonymous 2009 May 9
I have a yoghurt (batter) starter and also made a stiff starter from it. Can someone advise when to use a stiff starter and when to use a batter starter and also the quantity of starter to use if I should want to improve the flavour of a sandwich bread which uses yeast.
rossnroller 2009 May 24
Is it even possible to get a starter going in cold temperatures?

I started my first one (rye flour + filtered water) 7 days ago, and it was looking promising, but a few days in, wintry conditions arrived. With the abrupt lowering of temperatures my starter appears to have gone inactive, even though I have continued to feed it daily. Any suggestions, please?

If anyone in Perth, Western Australia, is reading this and has a good starter already mature, alive and kicking, could you please email me? I really want to get going with some sourdough baking, but am stuck without a starter...I'd most willingly come to wherever you are to pick up some off you, if you wouldn't mind sharing!

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 May 24

Hi Ross,

You can use the cold to your advantage.

The burst of fermentation you had may not have been sustainable yeast/bacteria, but there could still be a small component that is worth passing on to your next brew. The cold/stiff conditions will help sort out the good from the not-so-suitable cultures.

Cool fermented sourdough is generally 'fruitier' than warm fermented sourdough. You can store active starter in the fridge but begin your starter outside the fridge, in a cool area of your house, shed or garden.

- This starter is 60% hydration
- Use Organic flour and clean water if possible...tap water often works fine as well
- Any flour can be used, but the addition of wholegrain flour (particularly wholegrain rye flour) will speed up the process and produce a more nutrient rich starter
- Begin your starter in a ceramic bowl or cup, with a loose-fitting plate on top

The consistency of this starter is stiff, like plasticine. Suggested temperature range is 8C - 15C. For higher temperatures, feed the dough more regularly.

Day 1 - Mix a small ball of dough using 50g flour with 30ml water. Leave in a bowl or cup with loose lid.
Day 3 - Transfer a small amount (1 teaspoon) of this dough into a fresh mix of 50g flour / 30ml water
Day 6 to Day 15 - Repeat Day 3 (refreshing your starter dough every 3rd day - compost discarded dough)
Day 15 - Add your entire starter (80g) to 250g flour and 150ml water. Leave for 1 day at 15C - 24C, or 2 days at below 15C

Hopefully your starter is fermenting. Try adding the starter to your bread dough at around 30% of flour added to your dough (1000g of flour = 300g of starter). Because your starter is low hydration, expect hydration for added flour to be around 80%.

This is a stiff and cool starter...which means it is slow fermenting. At temperatures less than 15C, a 2 day feeding cycle should be enough to keep this starter strong (the 3 day cycle was only used to get the starter 'started'). You can also forget about it for several weeks in the fridge...and then revive it by re-commencing regular feeding cycles.

I am using this 'stiff starter' method at home at the moment. Admittedly it was developed from an already established 80% - 100% starter that I reduced back to 60%. Obviously I have an advantage because my starter was already please let me know if yours is not fermenting well within 2 weeks.

rossnroller 2009 May 25
Hi Graham, and thanks a lot for your prompt response - much appreciated - but I'm having trouble understanding the instructions for Days 6-15.

Taking your instructions literally, if I "repeat Day 3", I would keep transferring 1 teaspoon of dough into a fresh mix of 50g flour / 30ml water, which just gives me multiple new starters comprising dough + flour/water mix. I'm sure this is not what you meant.
1. Do you mean that from Day 6-15 I should keep adding 1 teaspoon of dough to a fresh 50g/30ml flour/water mix in the same container, so the starter continues to grow in size day by day as the added daily dough/flour/water accumulates?

2. Also, when you advise that I should "refresh the starter dough every 3rd day, and compost discarded dough", do you mean that every third day I should discard half the dough (ie: 25gm) and add 25g flour with 15ml water to keep making the dough up to the original quantity of 50g flour with 30ml water?

3. And by "every third day", do you mean every third day beginning from the first day I make up the dough? (ie: I make up the dough on Day 1, then 3 days later on Day 4 I refresh it, then 3 days after that on Day 7 I refresh it again, etc?).

Sorry - absolute beginner here! Would appreciate your clarification on the above queries 1, 2 and 3.
Graham's picture
Graham 2009 May 26
Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;}

1. Do you mean that from Day 6-15 I should keep adding 1 teaspoon of dough to a fresh 50g/30ml flour/water mix in the same container, so the starter continues to grow in size day by day as the added daily dough/flour/water accumulates?

The starter remains the same size at every stage of this process. Discard (compost) all of the old starter, except for about 1 teaspoon. Add this teaspoon to 50g of flour and 30ml of water to make the new starter. The new starter is therefore composed of 50g flour and 30ml water + 1 teaspoon of previous starter.

This is an economy size starter, scaled down because I’m not keen on wastage. It makes a ball of dough slightly larger than a golf ball that fits perfectly inside a coffee mug. A small ball like this may not suitable for a starter that you are trying to keep at a consistent temperature in an inconsistent temperature environment.

However in this case we are allowing our starter-in-process to travel through the range of temperatures of a cool climate...

2. Also, when you advise that I should "refresh the starter dough every 3rd day, and compost discarded dough", do you mean that every third day I should discard half the dough (ie: 25gm) and add 25g flour with 15ml water to keep making the dough up to the original quantity of 50g flour with 30ml water?

I probably answered this above. Discard all the old dough except for 1 teaspoon. Let us say that a teaspoon in your case contains 10g of old dough. That would mean that your new starter dough is made from:

50g flour + 30ml water + 10g previous dough = 90g

Every few days you discard all the dough except for the teaspoon (approx 10g), which means that you are discarding 80g of dough and retaining 10g of dough.

I have used the teaspoon to measure the carry-over starter because 1. a critical weight is not required, and 2. many people do not have scales that measure in small units


3. And by "every third day", do you mean every third day beginning from the first day I make up the dough? (ie: I make up the dough on Day 1, then 3 days later on Day 4 I refresh it, then 3 days after that on Day 7 I refresh it again, etc?).

An interesting question. I thought about this before making the post and hoped that no one would ask. Can I answer by saying that no one can say how long, and that the length of time is not critical?

Getting a starter going for the first time is about looking for changes. These changes are likely to happen more slowly in cool and stiff (dough) conditions.

In this case, I would suggest that not much is likely to happen in the first 48 hours of leaving your dough. It is more likely that changes will appear in the range of to 48 to 72 hours.

If there are no visible changes after 72 hours, make a new starter anyway (using a teaspoon of the old starter). This is because not all changes are noticeable, and it is good to pass on the possibility of change even if it is not noticeable.

What kind of changes? Smell and feel the dough when you first mix it….it has a fresh, wheaty (if using wheat) smell and a smooth skin. Deviations from this smell and texture are changes.

Using a cool and stiff dough ball, lift the dough after 48 hours and smell the aroma underneath. Is it fruity or acidic in any way? Is the texture of the dough different on any part of the dough? If this is the very first 48 hours of your starter, it is probably going to take longer to get changes.

The very first time you leave your dough (stiff + cool), don’t be afraid to leave it for avery long time….you could have some fun and try leaving it for longer than 4 days. But subsequent starters-in-process should probably be left for shorter periods….48 to 72 hours. Fully active cool/stiff starter can be kept on 24 - 48 hour cycles.

This method of making a starter is great because you are encouraging yeasts and bacteria that function well in cool and stiff conditions. These are generally the fruity (acetic) producing cultures…which have excellent flavour and…

A big bonus is that you are producing beautiful flavour and aroma at the first stage in your sourdough bread  making process….so subsequent stages of the process can be used to explore and identify other characteristics...perhaps working with warmer (and faster rising!) doughs.


Sorry - absolute beginner here! Would appreciate your clarification on the above queries 1, 2 and 3.

No problem!


rossnroller 2009 May 26
Thanks Graham, for your patience  and clear explanations - all is now clear. I'll start off a doughball starter tonight and report the results back here in a couple of weeks.

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 May 28

Glad to help Ross.

BTW I made up a dough ball as per above instructions 3 nights ago. It slowly went grey on top and tonight (72 hours from mixing) it looked a little 'puffy' so I cut it in half. There are tiny bubbles inside...obvious signs of fermentation. The smell is still wheaty but there is also a slight 'off'smell...I think from the grey skin on top.

As with liquid starters, this initial fermentation probably does not contain the same balance of yeast and bacteria that will be present after 2 weeks or so of fermentation, discarding and feeding. I am going to let the ball ferment for another 24 hours or so and build up a bit of acidity, then use the centre of the ball to innoculate the next starter-in-process. I'm hoping that extending fermentation will encourage the acid (and cold) resiliant strains to dominate.

It is possible that there will be a phase where very little or no fermentation is noticeable. That is OK. Eventually suitable yeast and bacteria will 'push through' (sorry, I am no micro-biologist) and come to enjoy the environment that you are creating.

I kept this new dough ball away from my active starter...but there is still the chance that contamination has occured....under my fingernails (they are very clean!)...that type of thing. I'm interested to know how your starter progresses. I'll take some photos of this ball later and post them here.


rossnroller 2009 May 28
Thanks for your update, Graham - watching on with interest. I'll take pics also...might be interesting to compare with yours.

My doughball (made from rye flour + filtered water) is now 48 hours old, and has formed a bit of a hard surface on top, no doubt from some drying out due to air exposure (I have the container the dough is in covered with a lid that is too big - and deliberately so, to allow some oxygen in).

Will take a pic tomorrow night, prior to taking a teaspoon of the ball as instructed and adding this to a new mix of dough.

Whew - this has added a new dimension of excitement to my life! Sad, innit?
Graham's picture
Graham 2009 May 29
Hi Ross

Here are some pics of my starter ball at 3 days, showing the tiny bubbles talked about above. I've prodded the dough a bit so it looks a bit messed up. I will probably harvest this one and add it to a new ball on day 5.

Starter ball, 3 days old

Starter ball, 3 day old, cross section
rossnroller 2009 May 29
Okaaay, thanks Graham. I see the bubbles you're referring to. This initial doughball came from an active starter, though - correct?

Just a quick concept check, pls.  You are intending to leave this doughball for 5 days before you take a teaspoon of it for the first time and add that to a new doughball mix?

Thereafter, you'll take a teaspoonful and add it to a new fresh doughball mix every 3 days?

My doughball is about 3.5 days old now, and doesn't look or smell like any significant changes have taken place so far (apart from a bit of "skinning" and darkening on the top part that has had some air exposure under the loose-fitting container lid). I'm about to cut it in half and check for bubbles - will post a pic once I've done this. Then, if I am interpreting you correctly, I will leave it stand for another couple of days, bubbles or no bubbles, before adding a teaspoon of it to a fresh doughball mix...

rossnroller 2009 May 29
After cutting my doughball in half, it appears there are some bubbles...although I'm wondering if they might always have been there. Time will tell, I guess...

Anyway, here are pics of the doughball:

[url=]doughball at 3.5 days[/url]

NB: Couldn't figure out how to embed the pics here, so uploaded them to one of my websites and linked to them.

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 May 29

Those look like real bubbles. Great stuff! There is a chance that they are just pockets from your mixing....but if so that would not be a big issue any way.

Yes, leave this dough for another 2 days before you take a small amount and use it to start your next starter-in-progress. Then leave this new dough for about 3 days, and then the next dough for 3 days, and keep going with this 3 day cycle until you have an active starter.

Once active, a starter like this (stiff and cool) can be fed every 2 days. This should keep it active enough to add directly to bread dough. In the fridge (4C) an active starter can stay activeve for longer...but it will give different results to using a starter at the height of its activity.

Many sourdough bakers use a liquid starter technique...which is commonly fed every 8 - 24 hours (depending on hydration and temp). This is obviously different to the stiff and cool method that we are using.

My own starter ball in the photos above is brand new. It does not contain any of my existing active starter....if it did it would have started to ferment wildly by now.

rossnroller 2009 May 30
Hi Graham.

Well, I can report that something is definitely happening today. The ball was sticky-looking on the outside surface yesterday, and today it has developed areas of white mould, in some places looking like a spiderweb. Should I now move on to taking a teaspoon of the ball and adding it to a new dough mix, or leave it another day as planned, please?

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 May 30
Hi Ross,

Mould on the surface of a new starter is quite common. I would use it as an indication that it is time to harvest your ball and move on to the next one. You can avoid the mould when you harvest if you wish, although white mould is generally not taken as seriously as red/blue/purple/yellow etc moulds.

Last year I amde a truly gross starter ball, buried raw in the ground. It came out with moulds all over but from this I was able to make another starter that rose bread and was edible. The method you are using is greatly refined from this earlier experiment!

rossnroller 2009 June 4
Hiya Graham

Just a quick one to say I'm at Day 9 - the current ball (#3) is now smelling quite sour, as I imagine it should. Otherwise, nothing to report, except that the temps inside the house have been around 22 for a few days, which is a little warmer than when I first sent out my distress call on this thread. I'm assuming this low-temperature method of beginning a starter is still OK at these slightly higher temperatures?

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 June 4
Hi Ross,

You should be fine at that temperature (22C) for the purpose of getting a new , stiff starter going. Personally I like the idea of allowing the temperatures to got through a range, rather than being fixated on a paticular temperature.

Once your stiff starter begins to work, I would suggest using it to make a more hydrated brew (say 80% or 90%) and letting that run in warmer range (say, 15 - 22C...nothing too prescriptive) on an 18 to 24 hour cycle. This will quickly reveal the strength of your starter and give you bubbling, fluid brew which is great to make bread with.

You can chop and change from a stiffer to wetter mix as you please...just add more or less flour and expirement with different temperature environments.

rossnroller 2009 June 5
Graham, just wondering how I will know when the stiff starter "begins to work", please? What are the signs I need to look for?

At the moment, the doughball is looking much as it has looked from the beginning, although as mentioned, it is giving off a sour smell when you get your snoz close to it.

Have to say, I'm really excited at the prospect of having the "bubbling, fluid brew, which is great to make bread with" that you refer to!

I've kept my first, liquid starter fed (the one that had gone inactive in the cooler temperatures, that I referred to in my initial post on this thread), and it still looks dead! I thought that maybe if I kept feeding it, it might reactivate in time, cooler temps notwithstanding, but no signs of activity for a couple of weeks now. It is not smelling bad or growing mould or anything like that - it smells slightly sour, but is not bubbling or frothing up at all. No hooch. Just a greyish porridge-like appearance. Do you think it is a waste of time, flour and hope keeping this one going, or do you reckon it's worth persevering with it? I've been thinking it might just need time to adjust to the cooler temps before its pulse returns...but maybe this was wishful thinking! Interested in your opinion, as an experienced sourdough baker...

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 June 6
Hi Ross,

Look for any puffyness, any sign of airation in the doughball. The sourness you currently smell is probably fine...this (and the cold) is helping to encourage preferred yeasts and bacteria to nest in your brew. The sour smell will start to become more complex as your starter becomes more cultured.

At this stage both of your potential starters are evolving into a medium that provides a healthy place for microbes to live. All you need is a sustainable population of suitable microbes to help keep the environment stable (and a suitable feeding cycle).

Microbes will find happiness in both of your mixes eventually. I would have thought that the earlier, wetter brew would become active first, providing it is being regularly cycled via discarding and feeding.

One of the reasons we got the stiff and cool ball happening was to limit the chance of an unwanted yeast/bacteria taking hold for a length of time, which is what could have happened to your first wet (and for a time warm) starter. That first starter shows the classic 'unsuitable yeast' symptom of rapid fermentation and then....nothing.

My money is on getting an initial slow/cool fermentation happening with your doughball, and then changing the environment if you wish to make a more vibrant brew. However it is quite possible that the first 'wet' starter will recover and push past the doughball. Tricky!


rossnroller 2009 June 8
Hi Graham

Thanks, as always, for your info.

No signs of anything happening with my wetter brew - I will keep on feeding and discarding, as suggested.

The dough ball smell has changed! It is now a little like acetone, slightly fruity - perhaps as you described in an earlier post. So, I guess that is a promising development. Currently, the doughball is on its 9th day.

Will keep checking in, if that's OK. REALLY hanging out to get a starter that is ready for breadmaking.
Graham's picture
Graham 2009 June 9
That fruity smell does sound promising. The current feeding cycle might be about to prove itself. Maybe give it another week to see what develops....and then determine if it is worth experimenting with variations to the feeding cycle.

My own recently begun starter ball started to ferment wildly shortly after my comment here. It smelt identical to my mature starter which was being kept seperate. I suspect that I accidently transferred mature starter to the new starter ball with my hands during mixing.

So I can no longer compare my new starter against yours...but I'm watching with great interest and am very happy if i can help!


Annie-Bali's picture
Annie-Bali 2009 June 9
My wonderful daughter, and a VERY successful sour dough bread maker gave me this site to look at. I am living in Bali & have started my 1st 'starter' with imported, Aussie organic flour.
It lives in a plastic 1.2L 'see through' container on my kitchen bench.
It is now 2 weeks old, and does not seem to match with any of the pics of good OR bad starters i have seen on-line. It does have bubbles but after 2 weeks i would have hoped so!!
 I have not been tipping out some of the starter as the flour was very expensive so have just kept feeding. I did start with only 50g flour & 50mls water. Too small??? I then changed and I have been feeing it every day with just 1/4cup flour & water from the tap. i do not get 'Bali Belly' from the tap water & my only other water is filtered or rain (did add 1/2 cup rain water but not sure if it is healthy enough) !
My starter today had a slight crust some small surface bubbles and smelt OK, yeasty but not disgusting.
My Q's are:
1/ If the four was imported & 'gamma irradiated' would that make a difference to the activity?
2/ If the climate is warm every day & night (24-26*) & 60-70% humidity, will this make an effect?
Can I just use 'local Bali flour' with the same kind of results?? No ability to get Rye here, unless I am prepared to pay >$15.00 for 250g
Many (hopeful) thanks for any replies
TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2009 June 10

Greetings from a 'neighbour'...

While I have never made my own starter, here are some of my thoughts...

I use australian organic unbleached flour too and can understand your reluctance to throw away the mixture due to the cost. It would seem to me that 1/4 C flour replenishment is just too little food for your young 'uns, as they gain in bulk (because you are not throwing any away). That's why you are asked to discard all except for a tablespoon or so for each new feed.

I'd be happy to send you some of my starter if you are happy to adopt.

By the way, Bali seems a wee bit cooler, but, you should have no problems baking sourdough bread. Just reduce the proving times, or, keep in the fridge for long fermentations.




Annie-Bali's picture
Annie-Bali 2009 June 10
Hi TP,
You are VERY kind, & I would love to 'take you up' on your offer of a bit of your 'baby'. :)
I bit the bullet yesterday & discarded into a glass all but about 1 tablespoon of the pelan-pelan starter. I then made muffins (not fantastic but..) so as not to feel I was just feeding my compost bin.
I used 1/2 cup flour + 1/2 cup tap water + 1/2 teaspoon beer left in the bottle !!! NOT sure if this is correct but........hoped there might have been some yeast in there somewhere :)
I also saw some 'bread flour' at a new supermarket so was very happy to have bought some strong flour.
NOW, for the funny language skills are still not great & without my reading glasses, the 'strong' flour which I carefully added to my starter today & with which I then proceeded to try to make a 'kind of leavened' bread from is in fact BREAD CRUMBS !!!!!!!!!!
I love this kind of accident & as they are still proving on the kitchen bench, will have to report how/if bread crumbs work as a substitute flour :)
If it is possible to addopt, as a midwife, I am very happy with 'catching someone elses baby
Reagrds and many thanks
TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2009 June 10

You're too funny, Annie! Write your recipe down if it turns out to be the starter of your dreams...remember to include the 'secret' ingredient.

PM me your address, and, you should be a happy midwife before long. I'm going to send to you the starter in pasta-ish form; please rehydrate it to bubbly health.




p.s. Enjoying the Bahasa Indonesia lessons. BI is very similar to BM'sia.

rossnroller 2009 June 10
TeckPoh's comments above reminded me of a couple of queries I've been meaning to post in relation to the liquid starter I am trying to get going (my main focus has been on Graham's doughball, but since learning that all hope may not be lost at winter temperatures in relation to the liquid starter, I've been working on both it and the doughball).

I have read about so many different methods to get a starter happening that I have concluded that proportions and exact measurements are not crucial (NB: I have been following your advice to the letter re the doughball, Graham!). My liquid starter is taking its time to get some life into it, so I'm thinking maybe I should be a little less random in my approach.

At the moment, I have about a cup of starter in a 1.5 litre glass bowl, covered loosely with a plastic lid that is for a larger container. When I feed it, I simply mix a heaped desertspoon of rye flour with enough filtered water to make a thick porridge-like batter, going entirely by consistency. I discard about 3 level desertspoons of starter to the compost, then feed it with the rye flour/water mix, which I stir in before covering the bowl. I've been feeding the sleeping beauty every 24 hours. The inside temperatures are generally around 20C or a bit lower, and my thinking has been that at these lower temps, until the starter gets active a feed every 24 hours is adequate.

Now that I've fessed up to my inexact ways, I am prepared for some admonishment from wiser sourdough souls. I just want to get this baby happening, so if I'm messing up the feeding procedure, would be most appreciative of any advice as to the error of my ways.

Essentially, my query comes down to two questions:
1. What is the ratio of starter/flour/water that is best when feeding a new liquid rye flour starter?
2. How often should the feeding be done - every 24 hours, every 12 hours...?

Annie-Bali's picture
Annie-Bali 2009 June 11
Well, I am sad to report that the 'bread' i made, mistakenly with bread crumb mix insteadd of bread flour (ahh, need more Bahasa) was TERRIBLE +++ It was nice & sour BUT.......the chickens next door were very happy though for 9 rolls of my ??unnameable 'thingys'
Soooooooo, now I have thrown out the whole lot (pity i mixed the remaining VERY expensive Aussie organic flour in with my (now known) bread crumbs. Will have to use it in something else :)
I am now gong to be a very patient girl and await with eagerness the VERY KIND< FANTASTIC offer from TP in Malaysia who is going to send me some of her baby. I am VERY happy to adopt some of her strain & we will then have a 'blended family' Ohhhh, I do so much love the generosity of bakers, cooks & gardeners, not 'precious' but caring and sharing :)
What a wonderful world we live in
TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2009 June 11

And, I was so looking forward to an exotic breadcrumb recipe, lol.

Annie, I'm sure you'll be able to make pretty decent breads with local flour. Our local flours are all bleached but breads and other bakes come out OK.



Psst....your address, please. I'll be going to the PO this morning.

[Edit: Got it!] ;)

rossnroller 2009 June 14
Hi Graham.

Still continuing with the doughball. Smelling quite fruity still, but no further developments (apart from more rampant white mould on the outside skin, which I got rid of when I "fed" the ball on Friday as per your instructions. Would you advise just continuing with the discarding of all but 1 teaspoon of the dough and addition of the 50gm of rye flour per 30 ml of filtered water every 3 days for as loing as it takes for the ball to become an active starter?

Also, I'd be really interested in your response to the 2 queries I posted above re my original liquid starter (which I am persevering with, although nothing of note appears to be happening). That is:

1. What is the ratio of starter/flour/water that is best when feeding a new liquid rye flour starter?
2. How often should the feeding be done - every 24 hours, every 12 hours...?

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 June 14

Hi Ross,

1. What is the ratio of starter/flour/water that is best when feeding a new liquid rye flour starter?

I don't think anyone can say with certainty what the 'best' ratio is. The aim is for the new starter-in-process to inherit a useful amount of microbiology from the old starter and (in my opinion) a degree of acidity which helps to encourage acid-resistant yeast and bacteria, and discourage 'yeast infection' from rampant but unsuitable microbes.

Starter 10 / Flour 45 / Water 45. This is a ratio that I would work around for a liquid starter, with an extra 5 or so flour added if required to create a thick pancake batter consistency (it depends on how absorbent the flour is).

The 'ideal' ratio is going to change with activity and metabolism of the old starter-in-process. We are hoping for activity to increase over time, say 2-3 weeks. There are other variables...probably the most important one is the type of yeast and bacteria naturally present on the grain/flour, and whether or not it likes the 'starter' medium that we are creating for it.

This unknown is part of the romance of sourdough bread making. Unknown's are good but wouldn't it also be great if a microbiologist reading this post began their own starter and documented daily microbe counts, acidity and anything else they view as relevant? Post it here or start a blog on this site! If you need resources (flour, anything else?) we can help!

2. How often should the feeding be done - every 24 hours, every 12 hours...?

Let me talk about an active starter first, rather than a brand new starter in process.

I have a professional baker friend in Sydney who has just changed from a single feed (per 24 hours) to a double feed starter. He had to make the move because he moved premises and the variables shifted too. His single feed system was done partly in the coolroom and partly at bakery temperature (probably around or slightly above 20C). At the new bakery the bakery temperature was lower (in part also due to some very cold weather, probably around 17C).

The baker liked the convenience of putting his starter to bed in the coolroom, and waking it up during the day. However the new cooler bakery environment was just not warm enough to wake and nurture his baby. So he thought about it and simply cut the coolroom out of the loop and now feeds in 12 hour cycles at around 17C, and sometimes higher when the ovens are on...and he may even push his starter closer to the oven if he thinks he needs to....and he will vary the consistency if he feels it needs changing.

My point is that as bakers we need to develop a high level of intuition when it comes to fermentation, and be open to change depending on our environment. Our intuition is informed by experience as well as exposure to scientific knowledge. The baker I am talking about is not particularly scientific...but he knows when he brew is 'green' or mature and that temperatures below 20C generally slow down fermentation.

It is worth noting that there are many production bakers who have never made a starter from scratch. They would be in exactly the same situation as any newbie right now. And even experienced starter-makers will tell you that each time can be different...providing that they are not making consecutive starter in the same air space, with the same hands (and fingernails), implements, etc. If that is the case then it is highly likely that the old culture will start the new starter.

For a new starter in process it is very difficult for anyone to know how often to feed. With a stiff and cold dough ball (50 flour / 30 - 40 water) I am quite happy with feeds every 3 days until activity begins. With a liquid starter (50 flour / 50 water) I personally would feel the urge to feed every 24 hours until activity began, but if the liquid was not separating I might even be tempted to wait longer.

One of the advantages of liquid starters is that microbiology can move faster (and find fresh nutrient) in a more fluid medium. However I am not convinced that this is useful in the early days of making a starter when there is very little evidence of fermentation in either liquid or stiffer starters.

So in answer to your question: Would you advise just continuing with the discarding of all but 1 teaspoon of the dough and addition of the 50gm of rye flour per 30 ml of filtered water every 3 days for as long as it takes for the ball to become an active starter?

Yes, I would, with the following considerations: The starter-in-process has been going a long time, so you could try changing a few things...including longer gap between feeds, moving the ball to a new location, adding just a bit more water, using a different type of flour, adding sprouted rye or wheat, or including some of the ball's skin. You could even include some of the white mould in your next cycle...but that is your choice...I can't make a judgement on that in terms of safety....though white moulds are not considered to be a huge risk compared to coloured moulds.

Personally, I think that looking at a different, freshly stone ground organic flour, and the use of rye or wheat sprouts is likely to have the most influence, followed by experimenting with a longer gap in feeds (say 5 days for a stiff dough ball), and then an increase in the quantity of water when fermentation is noticed.

Keep at is going to start fermenting soon...I can feel it!

jas's picture
jas 2009 June 14
Hey.  In case it helps anyone, I journalled my own recent saga here:

All I really needed to do was be patient.  With no prior experience, I got a starter going with white bakers flour only, and Melbourne tap water at room temperature.  I just discarded all but a tablespoon of starter every day, and added 50g water and 50g flour.  It went through really distinctive transitions in smell, from fruity, to medicinal, to sour.  When it became active, it occurred very suddenly, as documented.

These days, I still add 50g flour, but this is 40g white, and 10g rye.  This seems to make the starter more active (and was suggested by others on this forum - they're wise).

I still feed mine daily, because I like the ritual.  After the initial 3 week phase, the starter has remained constant as far as I can tell; i.e. same smell & activity.  I am really happy with the bread (see my couple of posts, and gallery), and won't go back to instant yeast again.
rossnroller 2009 June 15
Hi Graham

Thanks a lot for your detailed response. I've copied and pasted your wise words to my desktop for ready reference. I really appreciate your efforts in clarifying my hazy understanding of the starter-starting process, and your continuing support as I keep on keeping on, trusting and hoping. I have to say, this is a fascinating venture...but it's good to have generous folk like you there to help me keep the faith as I watch and wait...!


Thanks for providing an inspiring precedent! I've read through your tale - VERY interesting stuff.

I also checked out this link that you provided in your journal

Excellent video tutes, especially for someone yet to make his first sourdough bread (well, I did manage a "brick" from a starter that I thought was well underway, but clearly wasn't).

BTW, interested to know whether you guys who have some experience in sourdough bread baking use baskets or moulds (or whatever the correct terminology is) to shape your loaves prior to baking? If so, where do you get them...I've checked out some home bake bread shops here and have not seen anything like the vessels that appear in the video tutes.

TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2009 June 15


BTW, interested to know whether you guys who have some experience in sourdough bread baking use baskets or moulds (or whatever the correct terminology is) to shape your loaves prior to baking? If so, where do you get them...I've checked out some home bake bread shops here and have not seen anything like the vessels that appear in the video tutes.


Hey Ross

Just quickly...I'm on my way out of the house...

Some to start you off....

I love my bannetons from; Graham have them (here). Celia is happy with her plastic wicker baskets. 


Catch ya later



rossnroller 2009 June 16
Thanks a lot, TeckPoh - 'banneton' is the term I was missing. And ta for the links. Leider, kann ich nur ein bischen Deutsch sprechen, aber (that's after 6 months living in Germany, albeit over 20 years ago - and don't even mention my German spelling and grammar)...but there are more than enough sources to go on with there. Obliged.
rossnroller 2009 June 18
Yep, now Day 19 since I started the doughball. It smells fruity, as it has for some time, and there are bubbles within the ball when it is cut open every 3 days to make a new doughball - again, this has been the case for quite a while. A bit of white mould habitually forms on the outside skin by the 3rd day. This has also been happening for a while now. So, overall, I'd have to say no discernible change.

The liquid starter is showing a bit more promise. It develops a skin between feeds (every 24 hours at the moment), but on discarding part of the starter when feeding it today I noticed that beneath the skin there are lots of fine bubbles. The consistency of the batter under the skin is light and mousse-like. Aroma is slightly sour, and quite pleasant. So, fingers crossed, but we MAY be on our way soon with this one...[drops to knees in earnest supplication].
Graham's picture
Graham 2009 June 18
Yes, they sure are taking their time. Now that there is some activity, you could try using the dough ball in a 100% hydration mix to see if activity is accelerated and revealed as a bubbling brew.
rossnroller 2009 June 18
OK, Graham, will try that. Just one query, pls: by 100% hydration mix, I take it you mean 1:1 doughball to water by weight?

If so, what should I be looking for - by "bubbling brew" do you mean really obviously bubbling within 24 hours? And how often should I feed it if the bubbling brew eventuates? And should I feed it with more doughball and water, or rye/other flour and water?
Graham's picture
Graham 2009 June 19
"Just one query, pls: by 100% hydration mix, I take it you mean 1:1 doughball to water by weight?"

No. 100% hydration means to add the same amount of water as there is flour. e.g a mix of 50 grams of flour and 50 millilitres (or grams) of water = 100% hydration.

In your case you could mix together 50 grams of flour and 50 millilitres of water, then mix in a teaspoon of your doughball. Let this sit at, say, 15C to 25C for 24 hours and look for signs of fermentation. If it is not fermenting after 24 hours, stir it and let it sit for another 24 hours. If it still does not ferment then you will need to consider discarding (composting) all of the mix except for 1 teaspoon or so, then adding 50 grams of flour / 50 millilitres of water and repeating this 24 hour x 2 (or more) cycle again.

There are many variations of the starter-making process. It is fine to relax a little and use your intuition. Rye flour is definately a bonus if you have access to good quality rye...some rye flours are highly refined and I would not recommend them (they can turn to a white starchy glue, rather than a wholesome short paste with bits of bran and germ, when water is added). Add as little or as much as you like...perhaps 10% to 25% if you are making a starter for wheat bread.

Evolving your doughball into a liquid starter can be a single stage process. You no longer need to add more doughball after the first 'dilution and feed' to a 100% hydration starter. Consider a 90% or thicker mix for your liquid starter, rather than contains more fuel for your microbes and is still liquid enough to have the features of a sloppy brew.

The actual texture and feel (viscosity) of different hydrations will largely depend on how absorbant your flour I can not tell you how my proposed hydrations will be reflected in your circumstances without knowing and working with your flour.

When your liquid brew starts fermenting it can be fed once or twice or three times a day, depending on what you are after. Please see an example of a 2 feed process above.

rossnroller 2009 June 20
Thanks yet again, Graham. I've learnt a helluva lot through your efforts in this thread.

Your mention of highly refined rye flour set me thinking. I am using 100% rye flour in both starters, and when mixed with water, it answers pretty much to your description of "turning into a white starchy glue" - except mine is light grey, rather than white. However, there are no visible bits of bran or germ, so I can only conclude that the stuff I'm using is, indeed, highly refined. I'm now starting to wonder if the rye flour is my problem!

I decided to use it in preference to wheat flour, because the book I have and research I've done on the web indicates that rye is a better choice for a starter than wheat flour since it ferments more quickly and easily. It may be, though, that refined rye is not suitable. In my recollection, almost all sources of information did stipulate that the flour should be organic and whole-grain, preferably stoneground. The rye flour I have is the only one stocked at the place I buy my grains. Perhaps I need to look around for a source of whole-grain, organic rye flour, and in the meantime try switching to wheat flour for my starters.

I've already implemented this with the liquid starter, having changed the feed mix to 50% rye and 50% organic wheat flour. Today is Day 2 of trying this, so we shall see.

My doughball is due for a feed on Sunday, so I'll follow your suggestions above and try evolving it into a liquid starter from that time.

May I put out a call to any readers in Perth: if you know of a place that sells whole-grain organic rye flour, could you please post details here? (I'm currently getting my flours from Kakulis Bros in Northbridge).

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 June 20
Ross, that is a shame that you might have been using de-natured flour. I looked back at the start of your posting here...and now realise you made it clear that you were just using rye flour. The current move to use a mix of flour is a good one, there are bodgy flours out there...not just chemicals in the field but also in storage and/or shipping+quarantine.

In our own sourdough bakery (country NSW, 1990) we could not source organic white flour and used 'unbleached' 'conventional' white flour....which I could not get to ferment well enough to make bread out of unless we mixed in at least 20% organic wholegrain flour (both wheat and rye, freshly grond in our mill).

Up until quite recently I had completely avoided white flour ferments due to the early bad experience. Refined flours can make great ferments of course, as revealed on this website. But there is a difference between refining and de-naturing. Sifted stone ground flours are the safest bet for refined flours, followed by organic roller milled white flour from a very trusted source.

These days I still make almost every ferment from 100% wholegrain organic even my 'white' loaves have a wholegrain component from the starter. It has been fun learning to make lighter southern European breads...but now i'm glad to do more of the heavier wholegrain stuff...maybe it is the cold weather.

Annie-Bali's picture
Annie-Bali 2009 June 21
It is with gratitude and warmth that I am now a 'new mum'. This group introduced me to TP in Malaysia and yesterday, I got a parcel from Malaysia, some of TP's sourdough starter in pasta form. It was such a wonderful gift and just goes to show the wonderful side of the human beings and the generosity of strangers and especially bakers :)
This was really such a blessing as I have/had almost given up trying to get a proper starter going. Now I have been given a 2nd chance thanks to TP>
I will let you all know how it goes ;)
Many, Many thanks TeckPoh, you are a wonderful, generous woman.
Annie-Bali's picture
Annie-Bali 2009 June 21
Hi Graham, I have been reading this thread with interest (and some alarm) as I am not able to get any of the flours that you talk about. I live in Bali and the only 'organic' flour is from Australia, costs about $10-12 for 500g AND has been 'gamma irradiated'. !! Spose when I get visits from Oz I can ask friends & family to bring me flour (as well as parmesan cheeze, olives, get the drift)
I can however get some Indonesian produced, bread flour. I have not used it as yet (sometimes things appear on the shelves, never to be seen again for ???months) but bought 2 1kg packets last week.
I have been the grateful recipient of a 'baby' sourdough starter from TP in Malaysia so I have my fingers firmly crossed that I will be luck AND wont kill her kind gift :)
Unfortunately, I will have to feed it with what I can get so??? .........any advice?
TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2009 June 21

I hope the ball didn't turn mouldy. What you could do, is follow Graham's instructions here, using whatever flour on hand. I think it might work better if you first dissolve the starter dough in the water before adding the flour, and it may need as many as 3 rounds of feeding to revive, but, I'm hoping 2 will do the trick. To be honest, I don't remember making any of my sourdough bread with non-organic flour, though, I have baked yeasted breads with local unbleached flours (which turned out ok). The ozzie and US organic unbleached flours I get here amount to around A$3.50/kg, while local flours cost a third of that. Gosh...yours is astronomical! Since I see things get to you safely, I'll send you some rye the next time I visit my usual organic outlet.

May your starter be bubbly soon...



Gabby 2009 June 22

Hi All,

A special hello to Annie-Bali (my mum) and to TP who is sharing her starter! I thought i would have a lot of trouble sending some starter to Bali from Melbourne, but had even considered drying some out....but now i dont have to! It's lovely to see other hot weather bakers sharing thier little dough bubbas!

Happy tropical baking from cold old Melbourne!


TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2009 June 22

I'm so glad bubba arrived safely and is apparently settling in nicely. How about I send some rye to mum and you post some sourdough eye candies? ;)  Gee...I'm blue already.




Post Reply

Already a member? Login