How to Acquire a Sourdough Starter

There are basically three ways to get your own sourdough starter.

  • From a friend. If possible, this is surely the easiest. And since most sourdough bakers take some measure of pride in their cherished starter, they will likely go out of their way to see you on a shared path to the sourdough promise land.
  • Free on-line. A Google search on “free sourdough starter” will probably turn up something. But let me save you the time. There’s a group known as “Friends of Carl” who will mail you Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter in dried form for the cost of a self addressed stamped envelope. For all the details visit http://www.carlsfriends.org.
  • Buy it. There are any number of purveyors of sourdough starter who would be happy to exchange their product for some of your dough. One who comes immediately to mind is, well, me! Of course my sourdough starter is the best on the planet for sure and is available from the Breadtopia Marketplace, to be shipped to you dried (dormant) or in the actual living form.
Note: My sourdough starter was actually started by a friend of mine in San Francisco years ago, which I think is fitting since I was also started in San Francisco years ago. However, while you might logically think this would make it “genuine” San Francisco sourdough starter, many sourdough experts would argue that regardless of where your starter originates, sooner or later it becomes “genuine” to the locale where it resides. The theory being that the yeast spores and bacteria indigenous to your locale will infiltrate your prized culture and become its dominant strain. Others, especially the ones who sell starter from Zanzibar, Giza or wherever, hold a different opinion. Either way, my genuine SF/Iowa sourdough starter is the best on the planet for sure .

{ 116 comments… read them below or add one }

resort living February 19, 2013 at 7:23 am

I have read lots of blogs any topics but this is the blog that worth it to read, thanks for sharing this.

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Mariel February 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm

When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment.
Is there any way you can remove people from that service?

Many thanks!

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Breadtopia February 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Hi Mariel,
Sorry about that. I don’t know why you’re getting multiples of the same email.
There’s a link at the bottom of the email to click to be removed. Do you see that?

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Sharon November 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Hi everyone my question is how do I know if my bread is done right? I’ve never eaten sourdough bread so I don’t know what to taste for or smell. I made some but its not sour or smell sour what am I missing.

Thanks Sharon here in Va.

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marl October 2, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I bought a sourdough starter and it just looks like flour in a bag. I bought it at a health food store and they couldn’t tell me how to use it excpet to use it in your recipe. How do I get this started? I think I add the same amount of water as dry and let it set on the counter as they do in the regular starter. Some one please help as I desperately want to make the sour dough bread…

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Granny Vanny September 4, 2012 at 8:09 pm

You also may start your own starter; years ago I used 3/4 c unbleached flour, 1/2 c plain yoghurt and 1/2 c warm water to “get started”, then after it was bubbling, added another cup each of flour and water. Just last week, I did exactly the same, but with plain kefir. It worked beautifully, and we had some really yummy sourdough pancakes on Saturday.

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Steve Mckee April 17, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Well, finally success, I finally got some wheat berries, (actually out of a pre-bagged whole wheat chili recipe) and some rye berries, ground them into flour and started my starter. On the safe side, I tried the starter with the pineapple juice, and low an behold they both took off. So kept both going for about a month, made a loaf of bread from both, and decided I liked the Wheat berry starter better (more flavor) So the pineapple one went away. Think the house was too cold, the warmer weather definitely added to the growing I’m sure.

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Kirsten Parris (just use KP) April 17, 2011 at 7:12 am

I love to bake bread, and decided to try my hand, once again, at making sourdough bread. I have tried other commercial starters, and have made my own, but something was always lacking. The starter that I got through Breadtopia is by far the best starter I have encountered. When the owner says it is the best on the planet, he is not kidding. I was making my first loaf within a week, and it was the best sourdough bread I have ever tasted. The starter was so vigorous that it only took three days to achieve an intense sourdough aroma and a week of TLC for the starter to produce a superior boule. I used the no-knead method and used a dutch oven to make my bread. Yummm. Thank you Breadtopia!

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ANN FERNALLD September 8, 2011 at 11:06 am

I WOULD LIKE TO GET SOME OF THE STATER THANK YOU ANN

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Steve March 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

I make my own starter (best to use rye to begin, I think) and have had good luck for a couple of years. However, the last time I stored my starter in the refrigerator it was covered with a mean looking mold on the top. (it had been in the fridge for only about 2 months.) I’ve never seen this before and wonder what went wrong? I skimmed off the mold and used the started without problems. Is there any health hazard to suing this starter?

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wren December 20, 2011 at 4:59 pm

It’s not that unusual. I’ve seen that happen a couple times, especially with rye flour involved. For whatever reason, you just “caught” the wrong kind of organism or perhaps cross-contaminated the starter when it accidentally came in contact with something that had those mold spores on it.

Generally, the old rule of thumb was that any starter that has pink liquid or mold is bad and should be tossed out. Daniel Leader’s book claimed that this wasn’t necessary. Personally, I wouldn’t touch it. I don’t know enough about microbiology, and I still remember those theories about molded rye and the Salem witch trials. :) I figure “neon” is not a color found in healthful foods.

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Milo Osbun February 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I’ve been using my sourdough starter for about three years now. I made it exactly according to the video instructions. It didn’t work very well for me until I learned that for best results feed the starter eight to twelve hours before using it, and when you feed your starter put it into a clean container – every time. I use one pint canning jars with screw-on lids. I have several, so transferring the starter to a clean container is not a problem, and I only make enough for immediate use, keeping an equal amount on hand to feed to meet my need for the next batch. Good luck.

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Steve McKee February 16, 2011 at 8:31 am

Ok, I’m frustrated, either I don’t know what I’m doing or my house is so clean I don’t have airborne bacteria. I’ve tried the Oregon trail starter, it failed to grow, I bought whole wheat and rye berries from a health store, ground them into flour and did the flour/water method to no avail. As a last resort I just threw in a package of active yeast into that brew, Is that going to help? Cause I got bubbles now.
But next step is to try the pineapple route, any advice ??
Steve

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Ursula Lundgren December 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm

You have to use bottled water. Tap water has chlorine in it, which kills the bacteria. I hope this will help. I have my starter going already for 7 years. I refresh it every 2 weeks. I am even taking it on vacation in order to keep it alive.The starter is very potent and smells wonderful. I created the starter from freshly ground rye and bottles water, let it stand 3 days, than took inner core and mixed it with 1/4 c water and all-purpose flour to make a stiff dough. Take half of the dough and add 1/4 c water and again make a stiff dough. Keep than in cooler to develop the flavor. the starter will get more potent as it matures. Have Fun. Let me know how it turns out.

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Ellen Richardson January 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I have a good basic sourdough starter going but, wanted to do a rye sourdough starter. Can I take a cup (or other measure) of my basic sourdough, add rye flour and water to it to form a rye sourdough starter? Or, can I just use this starter to make a nice rye sourdough bread? I’m confused!! Thanks in advance for your help!

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Breadtopia January 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Hi Ellen,

Yes! And yes!

Most rye bread recipes are less than 1/2 rye flour anyway. So using a wheat based starter in those cases to make rye bread to totally fine.

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Lisa January 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Thank you very much Eric for the starter that you had sent.
I have had a lot of success with your starter. I only had one problem when I received it in the mail my husband checked the mail and set everything aside, so it sat for about a week. But I followed your directions anyway and it came alive I made my own starter at one time but I didn’t have much success soon as your starter started working so did mine so now I am feeding two starters. I want to say thank you again.

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Breadtopia November 12, 2010 at 11:36 am

Hi Margaret,

It shouldn’t be difficult given your schedule. You can keep your starter healthy with weekly feedings as long as it’s kept in the fridge between feedings. That’s what most people do. When you get home on Thursday, you can feed it well and let it sit out overnight for use in baking on Friday, for example.

This page might help out further: http://www.breadtopia.com/sourdough-starter-management

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Margaret November 12, 2010 at 11:26 am

I would love to buy some of your starter, but here’s my dilemma:
I work out of town Mon-Thurs, I don’t get home till Thursday night, then I have Fri-Sat-Sun at home to do my experimental baking ;-)

If I get some of your starter, how I can keep it alive/healthy while I’m gone? I won’t be there to feed it everyday, so I’m wondering if I can do this at all…?

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Wil March 25, 2010 at 9:29 am

Hi Riniel,
If I may jump in here and add to what Eric has already advised. It sounds like you may have a combination of things going on making it difficult to tell you exactly what the problem is. A healthy SD starter will be sour, to lesser or greater degree and can be counted on to have a large natural yeast population to expand, not only its own volume, but your bread dough as well. Assuming your water is good and all other kitchen environmental factors are normal, I do not know of any reasons why you could not make and keep a healthy SD starter. If you have the courage to start just one more time, I would look at Eric’s video again and make a “Pinapple juice” starter and then the “How to Manage” video. It really does work and the Pinapple Juice starter is a great one. Then after it is ready, keep an amount of starter that you can easily double, at least once per week, regardless if you use any or not. Meaning, try to keep an amount of starter that when you bake, you use half of your starter. When you refresh it (or feed it) you double the amount of starter (you put half back) you have left. Normally you will put back equal amounts of flour and water. If you do not bake each week, take out half of your starter, use it for pancakes or waffles, or discard it then refresh or feed your starter again. Another tip is to keep your starter in the refrigerator. This aids in developing the sourness you are looking for. No need to let your starter set on the counter for 12 hours. Just feed it, put it back in the refrigerator, take out and use it, feed it and put back in the refrigerator. When doing this, you will notice that your starter will actually double or more in volume after a day or so in the refrigerator. This will indicate to you the starter is active and healthy. It will do the same for your bread. The next tip is to use some rye or whole wheat flour in your starter. The reasons why are too numerous to list here but trust me, SD starters love it. Tip three, I guess is do not use sugar, it will actually “starve” your starter, again to much to go into here now. Another tip is there is a ton of information about retarding the proofing period of your SD bread dough by putting it in the refrigerator for a period of time (a day or two). This will improve the flavor and texture of your SD bread. How long you keep it in the refrigerator will be up to you and your taste. When ready to bake just shape and let it proof for about 40 mins to 1hr and bake as directed. However, if you just make your SD dough up in the evening before bed, let it proof overnight for just 12 hours (follow Eric’s video) then a second proof of about an hour, you should end up with a wonderful loaf of bread. Don’t worry if your bread dough does not double during that 2nd rise, especially for a SD starter dough. Do not, keep waiting for your dough to double, it may never double. You will however get a nice “oven spring” with SD starter bread. Hope this might help.

Wil

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Riniel March 24, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Hi Eric,

Thank you for your response!

Well, most of the issue is the leavening of the starter… The longest starter I had was for nearly 6 months, and I fed it on time, and I let it sit out for about 12 hours to feed, then I’d put it in the fridge until the next feeding… The thing that bothered me the most is that the starters I would make (I had sooo many starter recipes that I tried), wouldn’t hardly leaven the bread at all, and I wanted to try to rely mostly on natural yeast in the starter without using additional yeast. Well, I haven’t even started a starter yet this year, because I’m afraid it’s just going to be like the last 20+ attempts. In three years I have made at least 20 starters and none of them worked.

I even tried to coax it along a little by adding a little yeast to the starter to jump start it, but that didn’t work. I’ve made starters with just flour and water, then ones with milk, flour, and sugar, water sugar and flour, etc.

Do you know what could cause the starter to not have much leavening power? My breads always turned out very thin, and kind of dense and hard.

I can make beautiful bread with regular yeast, and I’ve heard it’s hard to make sourdough bread and succeed, and I’m starting to think that is true, because I have tried many different ways to make a starter. :(

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Breadtopia March 24, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Hi Reniel,

I wish I could help you too.

I’m not even totally sure this is the best advise in the world, but I don’t think you should count so much on the starter but more on the recipe.

The starter needs to be healthy of course but other things have a bigger impact on sour, like length of proofing and temperature. Longer, slower, colder proofs might lend more towards more sour.

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Riniel March 23, 2010 at 1:30 am

Eric,

I think I’ve spoken to you a couple years ago, and I was having trouble with a starter… Well, I’ve tried so many different starters and the bread I made with each starter didn’t rise much, and didn’t have much sour flavour… I’ve been trying to make a successful sourdough starter every spring several times in one season for about 3 years. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but it never turns out right. :(

I’m so discouraged, and I was curious if you could tell me what could be causing my problems? I also am curious why my sourdough bread never tasted very sour.

I’d appreciate any info you have!

Oh, by the way… I live in Oregon. I don’t know if that would make a difference.

Thanks Eric!

-Riniel

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Jennifer Bell February 25, 2010 at 11:51 am

This sourdough starter is amazing — it took off and grew so quickly I have been sharing with anyone who will listen. I used the sourdough no-knead but doubled it and refrigerated it for about 16 hours for a more sour flavor — then let it sit on the counter overnight. I baked it in a 450 dutch oven that was preheated for 35 min. before taking the top off for browning. It was deliciously sour and the texture if perfect for sandwiches — it’s pretty dense which is what I wanted, not lots of airy holes. If you are thinking about making sourdough bread, get the starter and make the leap! you will be happy you did!

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Breadtopia January 14, 2010 at 6:16 am

Hi Michelle,

The most common cause of this is over proofing so there’s little oomph left in the starter by the time you get to the second rise. Shorten your first rise substantially and see what happens.

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Michelle January 14, 2010 at 1:57 am

I think something’s wrong with my starter. My first rise is great but very spongy, and the 2nd rise is not much at all. Then the bread is very dense.

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Lee Smith January 13, 2010 at 6:40 pm

More what the pros do. I just got back from a cruise on Oceania Cruise Lines who list Jaques Pepin as their executive chef, although I have no idea how involved he is. In any case the food is always amazing and interesting. The baguettes are a staple. I like the taste of my bread a little better, but their texture is better, I’m working on that. In any case I cornered the chef on the starter issue. They indeed do hold out enough dough from day to day for next day’s starter. My guess is that if you make bread on a relative day to day basis, the yesterday’s dough method is as good as “permanent” starter. They also use yeast along with the starter. I do it with or without yeast depending on the recipe or the circumstances. I don’t think there is a best way. My daughter prefers the yeast taste. Anyway I’m anxious to see what others have to say about recycled dough as starter, and about yeast/no yeast. I’m a racing sailor, and as the books say after long discussions about outwitting the other boats, “Don’t forget to have fun.”

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Tim January 13, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Hi Elena:

If you are baking a large quantity of sourdough bread daily you might consider doing what bakeries do… They use the entire sourdough each day, and after the daily bread has “ripened” they save a quantity in a cool place for tomorrow’s bread….and this becomes the daily routine… by the way, the sourdough should become stronger and stronger when replenished in this way…

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Breadtopia January 13, 2010 at 10:43 am

Hi Elena,

Perhaps I can weigh in on this also. There’s a bakery near me that turns out a lot of sourdough bread daily. Because they’re replenishing it so frequently, they just store it in a cool location. They’ve also developed a routine based on sales projections how much to feed it every day so they’re not short but also so they don’t have to dispose of any. Maybe once you get in a rhythm with your baking, you’ll be able to manage it in a similar way.

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Elena January 13, 2010 at 9:33 am

hello Tim,
I have a question, I’ve just started to make my own starter, kind of learning, what if I bake bread everyday in a big quantities? So i don’t need to store my starter to refri, Do I feed it everyday by tossing some out? Pleas can you explain me please how can I use my starter everyday.
thank you

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Michelle December 25, 2009 at 1:33 pm

I’m really glad I found your blog! I just got into making sourdough when my friend sent me a bag of starter via mail. I’m wondering though, my starter does bubble on top, but it often leaves hooch on top after a few hours. And it hardly doubles in size when left in a glass jar. Is the starter too weak? I’ve been feeding it at least once or twice a day, and I have been baking with it with somewhat success. The last time, the dough did not rise at all after kneading and left in a warm oven. It smelled really sour. I was surprised since I have had it rise successfully several times already. Any input? Thanks! I’m thinking about trying some of your starter to compare. :)

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Tim October 23, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Susan: I don’t know the answer to the first question, and I will be diving into the second after this soccer season.. :-)

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VASusan October 23, 2009 at 11:20 am

Tim,
I hope I’m not bothering you, but I was wondering, did the Baker add the split pea mush to flour to make a starter or was the mush what he used for his starter? Did it have a strong odor? Are you having any luck with your split pea mush?

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Tim October 22, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Lee: My experience has been that …It depends on how much you use the starter- the more you use it, the stronger the yeast will become… I worked in a bakery that used a rye starter that was years old… I know that the Desem starter in Laurel’s Bread Book is the very same starter that was used in the Baldwin Hill Breads, and their starter was years old and very strong. As long as I feed the grape starter and use it often it stays “sweet” I also know that Carl’s is a very strong strain of yeast…. having said that, Iam sure that there are stronger and weaker strains of yeast… For example, as strong as the Desem was at Baldwin Hill, I know that they were always very careful because of the threat of contamination…

Susan: re split peas starter: I don’t know… BUT it was not split pea water, it was a split pea mush…
re grape starter: I store 2 cups.

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VASusan October 21, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Hi Tim,
I have a question that you may or may not be able to answer. Did the baker in Germany used the split pea water just to start his rye bread starter or did he use it to feed the starter as well? I just used mine to begin with, then switched to water like with the grape juice recipe. There was a definite “split pea odor” to it until I fed it today, but after diluting it, it’s not very noticeable now. It looks frothy today and has some bubbles. The “grape tea starter” is catching up to it and has some bubbles too.

Another question, with the Nancy Silverton grape starter, how much starter does she have when she feeds it with the 1 cup ea of flour and water?
Store the starter tightly covered in the refrigerator where it will keep perfectly for 4 to 6 months, after which it’s a good idea to pour off all but 2 cups and give it another feeding.
It sounds from this that there are more than two cups that she stores in the fridge.
Thanks,
Susan

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Annette October 21, 2009 at 12:04 am

Oh! And I wanted to say, “Thank YOU” for this site. My mom was a baker and had her own restaurant. She was not comfortable with making sourdough. You have made it all so enjoyable to learn about. It doesn’t seem to be as trying a process as she feared it would be.

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Annette October 21, 2009 at 12:02 am

Hi,

Had to taste the starter on day one, day two, day three. I noticed that when I fed it, it was sweeter than the taste it had sitting around neglected. It had a strong, beer-like taste prior to feeding. I wondered if something was wrong. In mixing flour, yeast, water, and sugar, (I used King Arthur’s recipe for this one), can I produce something that will kill someone before a loaf is made? In all the reading I have done, there appears to be no worry to leaving it out and letting the starter do it’s thing. I also have read a lot of different ways to use the discard in pancakes and biscuits. I greatly appreciate everyone’s input! How long can I keep a starter out of the fridge, letting it ferment? Some recipes call for three days, and others for ten.
Thanks in advance!

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Lee Smith October 20, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Thanks, Tim
How about the second part of my question? Do these starters retain their uniqueness over time, or are they overwhelmed and conquered by the local resident yeasts. There seems to be some question about the local yeast story, anyway, so the answer to the question is good data toward resolving that issue.

As an aside I was on vacation for 16 days, so while I’m rejuvenating my starter I baked a recipe for French Honey Bread from The Bread Machine Cookbook, but not in the bread machine. I used a bread pan, and it is turning out to be a good interim bread craving solution.

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Tim October 20, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I do not know the chemistry, all I know is that the different yeasts produce different tastes. For example, the San Francisco & Carl’s (from the free starter website) starters produce sour sourdough loaves. Nancy Silverton’s grape starter produces a sweet sourdough loaf. The split pea sourdough rye loaves I had in Germany were complex and sweeter than other sourdough rye I have had. The most amazing Desem bread in the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book defies description- it is neither sweet nor sour, it tastes like nothing except maybe maybe essential wheatness… I know this is not much help… for me, it is just different yeasts = different tastes

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Lee Smith October 20, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Re: Recent starter discussions

What is the difference in various starters such as grape and split pea vs. “normal” starter?
Do these retain any unique qualities, or do they revert to becoming local yeast starters?

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VASusan October 20, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Thanks for that information, Tim. I saved it and might try using her method next summer.
The water covering the split peas did get a layer of froth in about 12 hrs, so I mixed some of the liquid with flour. It already has some bubbles so I fed it. I did the same with the grape leaf tea which also has some bubbles, but not as many as the split pea/flour mixture. It seems that the boiling water in both cases would kill off the wild yeast. I wonder if it works (if it actually does work) by killing off other bad bacteria so the good things can have a chance to grow there.

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Tim October 20, 2009 at 12:41 pm

The Nancy Silverton grape starter recipe is very different… Here it is:

The grape starter is from Julia Child’s new Master Chef book. It takes 10 days to complete but is then yours for life.
2 C. bread flour
2 1/2 C. unchlorinated water
1/2 lb. unwashed organic red grapes, stemmed
Wrap the grapes in well washed cheesecloth, tying the corners to form a bag; lightly crush them with a rolling pin (to release the sugar to mix with the natural yeast on the skins; just like making wine!) and immerse them in the flour water mix. Cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap secured with a rubber band. Leave at room temperature for 6 days, stirring once or twice a day for six days.
The bag of grapes will eventually appear inflated, and liquid will begin to separate from the flour base. The mixture will begin to taste and smell slightly fruity, and the color will be strange. That is as it should be. By the sixth day the bag of grapes will have deflated, the color will be yellow, and the taste pleasantly sour; the fermentation is complete. The starter is living but weak, and it needs to be fed.
Remove the grapes and squeeze their juices back into the starter. Stir it up thoroughly and transfer it to a clean container. (Although you can use it after just one feeding, the starter will be stronger and healthier with the full treatment) You can refrigerate it until you’re ready to proceed.
Three days before you plan to use it, stir 1 cup flour and 1 cup water into the container, blending well. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until it bubbles up — 3 to 4 hours — then cover and refrigerate. Repeat this the second and third day.
Store the starter tightly covered in the refrigerator where it will keep perfectly for 4 to 6 months, after which it’s a good idea to pour off all but 2 cups and give it another feeding. Before using the stored starter for bread, however, give it the full 3-day feeding schedule once again to restore it and to tone down excess sourness.

MAINTAINING THE STARTER
FEEDING INGREDIENTS:
3 cups bread flour
3 cups tepid water
Three days before you plan to use it, stir one cup of flour and one cup of water into the container, blending well. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until it bubbles up, 3 or 4 hours, then cover and refrigerate. Repeat the feeding the second day, and again on the third, and your starter is ready to use.
The starter will keep for 4 to 6 months in the refrigerator between feedings. Before using the stored starter for bread, give it the full 3 day feeding schedule once again to strengthen it and to tone down excess sourness. ”
As long as you give a starter regular feedings, you shouldn’t have to worry about it becoming too sour or too weak. Think of a bell curve graph; a starter is at its optimum strength and flavor 8 to 12 hours after it’s fed, and drops off considerably in quality beyond that range.

You may be able to find Nancy Silverton’s Rustic Bread or Olive Bread on the Web. She uses it for both recipes.

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VASusan October 19, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Hi Tim,
It was quite by accident! I was looking in a church cookbook I have and happened to came across a recipe for salt rising bread. It was listed in the back along with other interesting recipes from an earlier 1921 version the church had published. It mentioned scalding milk and adding cornmeal to it and leaving it in a warm place till morning. Later it referred to that as “yeast meal”. I was curious about using cornmeal and milk for a starter so I googled salt rising bread “yeast meal” and that article from the NY Times was the second entry and happened to mentioned the split peas.
About my own attempt at making a starter with grapes, I used our homegrown grapes (never sprayed) and our spring water. I boiled the spring water which might not have been a good idea because we’ve had a lot of rain and I was afraid that there might be some stray bacteria in our water that might hurt the baby starter. The deer have now finished off our grapes so I’ll have to wait till next summer before trying again. I already have my split peas soaking, but so far nothing to report. The bag of peas are pretty old so that might be a factor.

I read about making your own wild yeast starter at SourdoLady’s site.
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/233 and on another site where a chef posted a comment and said it made the best starter. So I combined some of what I’d read elsewhere with SourdoLady’s recipe.
Here’s what I did.
First three days 4 T whole wheat flour/ 2 T freshly squeezed grape juice
Changed to 6 TBSP white flour/ 1/4 cup water on day 4.
I started feeding twice a day on day 7. I did get one good pleasantly tangy loaf from it before it started smelling a little off. Maybe I should have given it a little more time. I might try the grape leaves too.

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Tim October 19, 2009 at 7:50 am

VASusan:
Whatever prompted you to seek out an 1880 NYTimes article on yeast? … In any event, THANK YOU! Coincidentally, I just recently discovered that in India to bake using fermented split peas is common- which is precisely what the 1880 article stated. I am going to work with it… If I have luck, I will let you know…

By the way, I do not know if your attempt at creating a grape sourdough starter was from Nancy Silverton’s recipe in the Julia Child, Master Chef cookbook, or not. I followed that recipe and had great success, but the secret is in the purity of the ingredients. You must use organic grapes and pure spring water for the yeast to do their thing… It is worth the effort… Of all the sourdough starters for wheat bread that I have tried, this starter makes the best, most complex, sweet-sourdough wheat bread I have ever had. If you do not have access to the recipe, you can email me at tfmccart@travelers.com and I will send it to you. Thanks again.

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VASusan October 17, 2009 at 8:21 pm
VASusan October 17, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Hi Eric,
I’m a sourdough lover too. I’ve tried making my own starter with concord grapes and some using elderberries but was unsuccessful. I did have some luck with Amish Friendship bread starter that a friend gave me. I adapted the Amish starter recipe to the Joy of Cooking recipe for starter which uses half as much sugar but is the same otherwise. It rose my sourdough french bread in about 4 hrs. After using it many months with good success something went wrong and it developed an off flavor (unpleasantly sour) and wouldn’t rise the bread well, so I tossed it.
Last month I wrote away to “Carl’s Friends” and after re-activating it last week I’ve now made several good loaves of bread with it. The taste was mild with only a hint of sour which I prefer. The loaves have taken between 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours to rise. How did you like the Oregon Trail Starter? Were your loaf rising times similar to mine?

Another reader commented about how she hates to waste flour. Are you familiar with this method of replenishing the starter while making bread? One of my bread cookbooks Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown uses this method which seems much more economical. You make a sponge the night before your want to make bread using flour, starter and warm water and leave it to ferment overnight in a warm place. The next day it’s all starter and you remove the amount of starter you put in– what you’ll need for making the next batch of bread. You then refrigerate the retrieved starter. You don’t feed it until you make the next batch of bread, so it might not work well if you don’t bake as often.
To the rest of the sponge you add in the other ingredients oil ,salt, and more flour then knead and shape into the loaves. He doesn’t have a dough rising stage for his sourdough bread. He says it usually takes about 2 hrs to rise the loaves before baking. Mine has always taken at least 3 hours, so his starter must be much more active than mine. That seems like a very economical way to do it, but most recipes are not set up in that way. You would have to add extra flour and water to your recipe to account for the starter you will remove.
Thanks for your very interesting site. I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts.
~Susan

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Breadtopia September 28, 2009 at 11:33 am

Hi Dick,

You don’t have to worry about varying the temp as the starter will fair well in a wide range of temps. As for room, whether you start with dry or wet starter, you’re going to end up with the same thing – a jar of starter that will spend most of its time in the fridge. You can do it all with a minimal footprint.

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dick September 27, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Question on being a sourdough rookie. Would I be better starting with your dry or your wet sourdough starter. I live in a studio apartment without a lot of expansion room so don’t really have places to store a big mess of sourdough equipment and no place to vary the temp much.

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Breadtopia May 13, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Hi Sharon.

Counseling is definitely in order. But don’t worry, you have plenty of company. ;)

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Sharon May 13, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Hi Eric. First I have to thank you for your website and all the great information you provide, not to mention the baking accessories you sell. I studied your videos over and over before attempting my first bread. I bought the round La Cloche and Danish dough whisk, and can’t wait until the oblong La Cloche is available again.

I bake about 2 loaves of various styles of bread a week and I quickly found that I had too much bread for my husband and I to finish in a week. So I started slicing them and freezing them. My problem is that when I feed my starter, I don’t want to discard any, so I began feeding the discard also and using that for the bread baking instead of the starter in the jar, which I fed and put back in the refrigerator. The leftover from the bread I use for waffles the next morning.

Is this normal or do I need to seek counseling?

Thanks again!

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Breadtopia May 13, 2009 at 5:43 am

Hi Tim,

I love your story. Fascinating and fun.

Split peas is a new one on me, but then there’s a heck of a lot more I don’t know than what I do know. What I think I know about starters is that it’s basically made up of two components: yeast and bacterial. Yeast is yeast but the flavor comes from the many unique strains of bacteria that exist. I suppose split peas in Berlin could harbor the unique beneficial bacteria that helped create the great bread. Although if I had to bet on it, I’d bet that it’s more likely this late, great Berlin rye and cherry cobbler baker was just an awesome baker. Until I read the part about him passing away, I was ready to book a flight to Berlin to get in line at his bakery.

Thanks for the great post.

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Tim May 8, 2009 at 9:25 am

Eric: Hi, I just discovered your site by way of exploring NK and ANK posts on the web… the fact that your site came up close to the top on Google says it all. You have created a GREAT site….
I have been a bread baker for over 30 years, and I still cannot get enough of it.
I have a question about a sourdough starter that I was hoping you might be able to help me with… A number of years ago, 1980ish, I was in West Berlin with my wife. We were staying with a young architect and his friends-all of whom were life-long residents of Berlin. At this time, I was going through a “professional baking” phase- I had worked in a bakery here in America for about a year, but I wanted to find and learn how to bake more “authentic” loaves. This took me to Poilane’s bakery in Paris- he wouldn’t hire me because he didnt’ trust my motives- he thought I was an American “Bread Spy” (“Why else would someone with a college graduate degree want to apprentice as a baker?”) Next stop, Berlin! My architect friends knew my quest and were eager to take me to an artisan bakery which all agreed made the best German whole grain sourdough rye. It was a beautiful, small, SMALL, bakery situated in a neighborhood of small residences, little one-story homes. It even looked as if it had been converted from one of the homes. The only distinguishing details that separated this bakery from the neighbors was the large display window in the front of the house, the numerous cars parked along the street, and the long line of people waiting to buy bread, or the baker’s cherry cobbler- the only baked good other than bread that he sold. (This has turned into a very long question!!!)
So, I met the baker. He spoke no English, but my friend translated. He showed me his wooden flour grinders with which he ground all of his flours, and which had variable settings that he set according to his needs. And he showed me- this is the important part- where he made his sourdough starter from SPLIT PEAS!!!! Well, to cut to the quick- he thought that the language barrier would be too great, and I did not apprentice with him. Soon after, I returned to the states, and became a lawyer, and reserved my baking for home. BUT, because his rye bread was so amazing, I have been hoping to someday find someone who knows of split pea sourdough rye…
By the way, the baker died just a few years after our visist… That is a long way to a simple question: “Have you ever heard of using split peas, or even peas, to create a starter?”
Regardless, Eric, thank you for this site, I hope to enjoy it for a long time to come.

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Linda March 13, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Hi, just wanted to let you know that I found your website last night and can’t wait to try out your sourdough starter w/ pineapple juice.
I had a starter almost 2 yrs. that I used but wasn’t quite pleased with all the time. It was fed w/ 3/4 c. of sugar and 3 tbsp. of potato flakes plus water. This seemed like too much sugar to me so I gradually statted cutting it back, and eventually switch over to flour and water and still did find.

As I have been reading over your post, it did have a lot of hooch from the very beginning.

Perhaps I’ll become a little more savvy this time.

Sincerely,
Linda

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Ruth Hurst March 6, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Hi Eric,
Again, AWESOME results. On a pizza stone, in a cast iron pan, in a enamel dutch oven, cast dutch oven, with steam or with out, it’s all been fantastic.
Yesterdays perfect loaf was leavened with your wonderful starter (who’s been named Eric.) DH had to ask who Eric was when I said it was time to feed him, I think he feared that I had brought a new pet home, which in reality, I have!
I am curious about a super large loaf recipe – or even one that produces 4-5 regular loaves. I have a fairly large commercial oven in the Lodge kitchen, it can bake 5 regular loaves without rotating them.
We had some guests bring us an enormous sourdough loaf made by one of the guys Romainian Grandmothers. It was at least 16-18″ long and 1′ wide. It was so good, the crust and crumb were perfect, the taste was quite sour. It was a very special gift. I have tried to get the recipe from her thru him, but so far, no luck. Maybe it’s a family recipe she doesn’t care to share.
I see in your video that the regular NK recipe with Cranberries & Pecans can be doubled. Has anyone quadrupled it?
Maybe I should just give it a go. Watch the texture and see what happens?
OH! Forgot to mention that the toys I bought from your store are awesome. The thermometer is great, works like a charm and is very quick. The raising basket is lovely & very functional, it works so well and I agree, wheat bran is the best for dusting it.
The dough whisk – LOVE IT!
The scale is a hoot, my son uses it weigh everything from his camera lenses to his lizard. I prefer to just use it for my baking. Thank God for the tare feature as the lizard was weighed out in a plastic tub.
And of course, your starter is great, it did it’s thing just like you said it would. All anyone needs to do is read the instructions and comments, watch the videos and Bob’s your Uncle.
Thanks!
This has been such a fun winter project that I hope to extend into our summer biz at the Lodge. The Guests are going to love it.
Next loaves will be the Cran-Pecan. “Eric” has been fed and is waiting to get into on the fun.
Ruth

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hipkip January 24, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Cathie, under the sourdough video header there is a video on how to dry your starter for long term storage…it is quite easy.

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