Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you may want to try creating your own sourdough starter from scratch. Baking bread from scratch is satisfying in its own right, but when you’ve also had a hand in the creation of one of the most fundamental components, the leavening agent itself, you’ll feel an even greater satisfaction and connectedness to the process.

Are there kids in your house? This little science project is ideally suited to sharing with any children you can convince to join in. Culture their budding scientific minds while creating your own bread culture.

This video outlines one simple method that worked for me the first time I tried it. In the video, I give credit for this technique to Peter Reinhart. It has since come to my attention that Debra Wink, a chemist and accomplished baker, is the mastermind and author of this Pineapple Juice Technique. A lot of research and testing went into developing and refining the technique. The choice of pineapple juice over other juices is from much trial and error. Debra was kind enough to email her essay on the Pineapple Juice Technique. Click here for a printable copy of it.

As I mention in the video, the wild yeast spores and lactic-acid bacteria that give your starter its leaving properties are all around you. You are simply creating the conditions ideally suited for them to thrive and multiply. I used whole wheat flour in this recipe because fresh whole wheat flour may harbor greater numbers of yeast spores than ordinary all-purpose flour and so increase your likelihood for success. It worked for me, so you might try the same. If, at any time, you wish to transition your whole wheat sourdough starter to a regular white flour starter, it’s super easy to do so.

I’ve listed the ingredients and approximate steps here to save you the note taking.

  • Step 1. Mix 3 ½ tbs. whole wheat flour with ¼ cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for 48 hours at room temperature. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. (“Unsweetened” in this case simply means no extra sugar added).
  • Step 2. Add to the above 2 tbs. whole wheat flour and 2 tbs. pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for a day or two. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. You should see some activity of fermentation within 48 hours. If you don’t, you may want to toss this and start over (or go buy some!)
  • Step 3. Add to the above 5 ¼ tbs. whole wheat flour and 3 tbs. purified water. Cover and set aside for 24 hours.
  • Step 4. Add ½ cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 to 1/3 cup purified water. You should have a very healthy sourdough starter by now.

Notes: I do wonder if the fact that I bake all the time with a sourdough starter (and so theoretically have wild yeast floating around our house by the gazillions and covering everything we own) would increase the likelihood that I would have success creating my own sourdough culture from scratch. So I anxiously await feedback from anyone who attempts this process at home. (You’ll see a nifty little form below for comments and feedback. If you’re shy; you can use the Contact link at the top of the page. While I may report your (mis)adventures, I’ll keep your identity anonymous ;).

{ 2014 comments… read them below or add one }

Deb September 22, 2014 at 11:16 am

I was a little discouraged about making a good starter. I had tried another recipe on another site, and my starter was moldy and bad smelling. I’ve had experience using microbes for different things, but my lack of success made me for that perhaps I could never figure this out. I used to make beer and wine. And I often make my own yogurt and bread, also.

I followed your recipe fairly closely, and it worked. I didn’t see the need to be exact. Just close. After following the first two steps, I suspect that I had a good starter. But after adding the flour and water for the next step, I awoke the next day to something very yeasty smelling!

I intend to feed it a bit more and try my hand at a loaf.

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Mark September 20, 2014 at 9:12 am

I have a starter working well and I keep it on the counter in the kitchen where it’s been for the past week. When is it OK to start keeping the starter in the fridge? I’m worried if I leave it out it will start to grow mould.

mark

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Breadtopia September 20, 2014 at 10:07 am

As soon as a starter is healthy it should go in the fridge. As long as it’s sitting out, it’ll need to be fed at least once a day to keep it happy and prevent mold growth. When you store it in the fridge, you typically only need to feed it weekly.

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Barry September 18, 2014 at 9:48 pm

I live on the prairies of Hanna , Alberta …must be the dry air… my starter is amazing… whole wheat flower and pineapple juice…just made a couple loaves of sourdough bread and its great… thanks for the recipe!

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Joe September 18, 2014 at 6:29 am

Hi me just stumbled here and having read some comments I try to send in me own. Am a fan of sourdough and used it for some time now. Started from scratch i.e not bought, not from a friend and not free on line.
Recently I read an Indian recipe book and the author says over there they use plain yogurt to do the trick. I try it ASAP.

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Joy Roxborough September 16, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Hi, can I use this same method to get a spelt sourdough starter going? Thanks.

Joy

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Breadtopia September 22, 2014 at 8:12 am

Yes, absolutely.

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khadijah September 16, 2014 at 9:58 am

Hi! Great site. Started my culture on 14/9, from unbleached bread flour n r.o water, it was bubling within a fee hours perhaps its the equator temperature. I opened the jar yesterday and sniffed, smells of flour really..despite the bubbles n the doubled volume. Question is when can i start baking with it? Just now there was ‘ether’ smell, perhaps from the alcohol? Nothing pungent or anything like that yet.

Tqvm

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Breadtopia September 22, 2014 at 8:16 am

As soon as it’s spongy and doubling when fed, it’s ready to use. In really warm climates, you’ll need to be on the alert for proofing to happen very quickly. You’ll need to keep your starter refrigerated between use and feedings. The fresher your starter, the less likely you’ll experience alcohol smell.

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khadijah September 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Tqvm.

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Charzie September 15, 2014 at 1:07 pm

I’m wondering if part of the intense activity of this whole pineapple thing isn’t simply the added sugar in the juice to feed the yeasts? I’ve noticed when I’ve fed my starters just flour, the bubbling activity is rather subdued, but if I add a bit of sugar, the bubbling will always increase dramatically! I’m thinking FRESH pineapple juice may also add to the probiotic action, but the pasteurized juice merely adds sugar to the equation.

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Breadtopia September 22, 2014 at 8:24 am

Yes, sugar in whatever form always speeds things up. You don’t need to use pineapple juice or anything other than flour and water once the starter is going well.

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Jodie September 15, 2014 at 8:37 am

I began my own sourdough starter back in June and have had great success with it. Actually, I have 2 starters. One I have dubbed “starter on steriods” because it’s so much more active than the other. Both produce the same quality of bread however. I’m always curious about people who comment to say they’re not having any luck. Both of my starters now are 50/50 whole wheat flour and rye flour. Through experimenting, I discovered that rye flour is (for me anyway) one of the best flours to use! I encourage everyone who’s attempting their own starter to keep trying! All you have to lose is some flour and water :) Or pineapple juice if that’s what you’re using. It really is SO rewarding to make a bread truly from scratch. I admit I’ve become addicted to baking bread. I also have the most fool-proof NO knead 100% whole grain recipe. You can’t get any better than that. Good luck to all of my fellow bread bakers :)

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Paul September 15, 2014 at 8:09 am

Seems to be a no go for me. Had good activity the second day nice bubbling and it appeared to doing something. Then just trailed off to almost nothing.

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Lesley September 15, 2014 at 11:54 am

Hi Paul,
I don’t know if you are or have used pineapple juice in your starter but I used it even after I started the process instead of water and it worked like a charm. Could be worth a try.
Lesley

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Bill September 15, 2014 at 11:56 am

Hi Paul,
It could be that your starter just needs feeding again. Good luck!

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John September 11, 2014 at 4:17 am

I am on day 3.5. Good smells developing along with some bubbles. However I see some white, cotton candy type, mold on the side of my container. I just wiped it off. Is this mold potentially bad? Do I need to start over?

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Breadtopia September 11, 2014 at 8:25 am

Just take a small amount of starter from the center of your batch and place it in a clean container and feed it. Build it up from there.

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John September 14, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Starter complete. Turned out great! Made a loaf of your sourdough wheat; also turned out great. However not sour enough at this point. I will let my starter mature more in the refrigerator.

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John September 14, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Here’s a photo.

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Paulette September 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm

As a first time baker, I was a bit confused about my flours and such. Just started a THM way of doing things (new to that also) it is a low glycemic way of eating. Anyway… I saw your site and the THM suggests making your own sour dough bread. So I began my starter with the flour I had ordered (sprouted whole grain wheat). After reading more and understanding more about all this I have realized that this flour is not just regular whole wheat. The starter seems to be working fine, nice and bubbly. I am on day three.
My question is… Where do I go from here? Can I just continue to use the whole wheat sourdough recipe? Are there changes I need to make for it to work properly?

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mimi September 6, 2014 at 5:06 pm

I am interested in the best gluten-free, corn-free, soy-free, potato-free, sorghum -free flour mix to try for a sour dough baguette. I know that’s a big challenge but any ideas are welcome. Thanks.

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Corrie September 2, 2014 at 5:56 pm

I am going to post my question again with hope getting a useful reply:

Need a little help please to bake gluten free bread using your sourdough which I have made and ready in a jar in the fridge. My question is : what gluten free flour can I use in place of wheat flour that will come close to forming a structure like gluten to make an interesting loaf.

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Breadtopia September 3, 2014 at 1:25 am

I wish I knew of one.

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Charzie September 2, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Okay, all this creativity has given me yet another idea! I am in the process of sprouting some wheat to make rejuvelac. I am thinking after I harvest the liquid rejuvelac, I should grind up the used sprouted wheat berries and a bit of the liquid with a bit of flour thrown in for good measure, and see what happens! Since fermentation of the grain has already begun, it might speed up the process? But I also understand that once the wheatberry has sprouted it is more like a vegetable than a grain, and the sugar content does rise noticeably too, so I’m not sure how exactly that will affect the whole dough-yeast-ferment-souring-rising etc. issues! But think I will find out! Not a lot to lose! I’ve made Essene bread before, and found it, well, lacking, so maybe this hybrid bread (HYBREAD?) will be better! Wish me luck! LOL!

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Jasminetiger August 29, 2014 at 8:46 am

Wonderful starter recipe. Just onto Step 3 today and it’s worked like a charm so far. Looking forward to baking! :)

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pat August 26, 2014 at 9:10 am

Thank you for your reply. My starter is doing very well but I haven’t used it yet. How long do you have to wait before using it? Now that the starter is established, how often do I have to feed it and should it be stored in the fridge if it’s not going to be used for a couple of weeks? Also’ how long do you have to wait, after feedings, before you use the starter?

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Breadtopia August 26, 2014 at 9:25 am

The info on this page should help with most of your questions: http://www.breadtopia.com/sourdough-starter-management/

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pat August 26, 2014 at 8:50 am

I’m a bit confused because recipes call for at east 1 cup of starter but the starter makes just a small amount and then tells you to discard some of it before you feed it. How do you ever end up with enough starter to make bread?

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Breadtopia August 26, 2014 at 8:59 am

You can always increase your starter just by feeding it more.

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Andy August 25, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I wanted to report my experience. I followed the steps above and it was very promising. On day 4, when I started with water instead of pineapple juice, it bubbled up nicely, not doubling but expanding a good 20 percent over 12 hours. But then things tapered off. My starter settled into a pattern of getting small bubbles and rising no more than a quarter inch, probably about 5 percent rise by volume. This rise would happen over 12 hours and would just sit there. It didn’t matter if I fed it once a day or twice. Small bubbles, quarter inch.

I was about to throw in the towel and buy a starter. Just for kicks I decided to give it another feeding with pineapple juice instead of water. That changed everything. Twelve hours after that feeding, it looked alive with lots of big bubbles and had risen by 50-60 percent. I’m still not getting it to double, but it looks very healthy. So if your starter seems stuck, try another pineapple juice feeding. It could do the trick.

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Annelies August 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Hi,

I came across your website after is started my sourdough starter. Here in Holland everyone uses just water in stead of pineapple juice. Logically i also did as I used an online Dutch recipe. My starter smells quite pungent which I read to be a normal thing. Though I am doubting a little bit if my starter is ok or not. I come to think that it might be fermented too much.

Thanks,

Annelies

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Peter August 19, 2014 at 8:40 pm

I have seen on a bread show istead of pineapple juice they used a wholemeal flour, water but used a small cut of a rhurbarb stem thrown in the dough for 24 to 48 hours…I guess rhurbarb is acid base but would have spores of bacteria being fresh from the garden…..have seen or heard the same…..at present I am in middle of makeing a W/wheat and P/juice starter….I’m on day 2 at present.

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Barbara August 18, 2014 at 10:45 am

This will be a strange question. My son has been making bread from a starter for about six months now. He is very good at it. Recently, his wife has developed a “yellow” tongue. Literally. Two days ago, my son’s tongue turned yellow. I’m wondering if this could, in any way, be related to yeast spores in the house?

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bro. Augustine Rohde August 19, 2014 at 8:24 am

Dear Barbara,

I am a nurse and have seen from time to time what is called, hairy tongue. I found this info below and would suggest the same & not the bread itself. Peace.
————————————-
Symptoms
Yellow tongue
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Yellow tongue — a yellow discoloration of your tongue — is usually a temporary, harmless problem. Most often, yellow tongue is an early sign of a disorder known as black, hairy tongue. Rarely, yellow tongue may indicate a problem with your liver or gallbladder. Self-care is usually all that’s needed to treat yellow tongue.

Medical treatment for yellow tongue usually isn’t necessary. If tongue discoloration bothers you, try gently brushing your tongue with a solution that is 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 5 parts water. Rinse your mouth with water afterward. Quitting smoking and increasing fiber in your diet also may help by decreasing the bacteria in your mouth that cause yellow tongue.

Schedule a doctor’s visit if:
•You’re concerned about persistent discoloration of your tongue
•Your skin or the whites of your eyes also appear yellow, as this may suggest jaundice

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Barbara August 19, 2014 at 9:08 am

Thank you so much for your response. I will pass this along to my daughter in law. The odd thing is, that my son had also developed a “yellow ” tongue just about 5 days ago. Daughter in law has had it for a little over two weeks. They are both very healthy eaters! The only thing I could think of that they had done that was new , was the bread making! Thank you again.

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bro. Augustine Rohde August 15, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I started two new batches by two different recipes. First on started using skim milk/honey in covered bowl. Second using this method. First recipe had results in 2 days. Second method took 7 days. The following week, this second method became acrid, almost smell like ethel and I was almost overwhelmed by the odor. Never smelled a starter like this. So I tried the “saving a sick starter” from NW Sourdough website. After one week, the odor isn’t as bad, but still has an acrid odor & it doesn’t rise like it first did – at all. Any ideas, or should I just start over?

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Corrie August 3, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Need a little help please to bake gluten free bread using your sourdough which I have made and ready in a jar in the fridge. My question is : what gluten free flour can I use in place of wheat flour that will come close to forming a structure like gluten to make an interesting loaf.

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Neil Dunstan August 3, 2014 at 10:08 am

There aren’t many places offering advice on how to make a sourdough starter that give you confidence that it’s been well tried and tested. So the pineapple juice recipe seemed worth a try.
I’ve made bread with yeast and a range of flours for years but after tasting good sourdough bread in the USA and Scandinavia, the time had come to branch out.
To put this into context, my first attempt was made during a July week in England where the kitchen temperature varied from 22C to 27C – the upper end being hot by UK standards.
The pineapple juice was from a supermarket and labelled “not from concentrate” and with “a hint of lime”.
For a novice, the process required some blind faith as the activity in the mixture wasn’t easy to spot but the end of the week and stage 4, the bubbling was obvious. One week later it has acquired a good sour smell. The real test will be in a couple of days when current bread stocks run out and the first “white” loaf is made.
But first impressions are that the recipe works well as long as you simply follow the instructions and are patient.
More feedback later!

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ben July 27, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Hi. I just finished doing all 4 steps to make the starter. I finally have my first active starter….but what do I do now to maintain it. And how do I bake with it. Help pls

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Cris July 20, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Hi, have made my starter about a week ago and it is only just bubbling, how do I get it vigorous. It smells good but is not active enough. Hope u can help

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Lisa July 9, 2014 at 8:52 am

Hi what are some tips to intensify the sour flavor?

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Steve July 10, 2014 at 10:50 am

When I followed this procedure on this site I found that the sour flavour was not strong initially. I found that the sour flavour got stronger over the course of about 3-4 weeks of use.

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Lisa August 27, 2014 at 9:35 am

Thanks Steve,

Still discouraged, my starter is in its 8th year. I have made many loaves but still do not have a strong enough sour flavor. I do have the book you refer, the author talks a lot about San Francisco sour dough yeast strain. I love his books. I have even sought to concentrate my flavor by dehydrating starter and substituting it in the flower measurements. I have used his lengthy method of fermenting in the refrigerator, to let you know what lengths I have gone in my science of sour dough.

I would love any other suggestions, or authors information you might like to share.

Still trying! Thanks again!

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Mary Zins August 27, 2014 at 3:14 pm

This is not a normal bread making approach but you might try using whey left over from cheese making as a substitute for all (?) or part of the liquid in your dough. I don’t know if you like Indian food, but I make paneer by boiling milk (1/2 gal) and then adding lemon juice (1/8 cup), let it sit 2-3 min. It will form curds that you separate from the whey by pouring through a clean dish towel in a colander and catching the whey in a bowl. Wring the dish towel to dry out the cheese. The cheese is mild and I make Saag Paneer (a spinach sauce with chunks of the cheese) and use the whey in sweet and sour soup.

It is very easy and this might give you the sourness you are looking for in your bread. Good luck.

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Gayle Lee June 29, 2014 at 4:26 am

Hi Eric,
I was wondering if it made any difference to the success of the culture if the pineapple juice contained pear juice in the tin. I didn’t see that when I bought the tinned pineapple.

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Breadtopia July 2, 2014 at 5:38 am

Probably not.

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Gayle Lee July 14, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Hi Eric,
I thought I would let you know that the starter didn’t work the first time, however, adding 100% pineapple juice only worked like a shot. Thank you. I am so enjoying this foray into bread making.

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Jodie June 12, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Hi there. I’ve recently begun using a whole wheat starter I made from directions on another site. I’m so glad I found another one showing how to do a sourdough starter but I’m confused. I thought wild yeast was captured from the air and have never covered my starter. But you cover yours. Yours is also MUCH thicker. I’ve produced edible bread but wonder if I should adopt some of your advice and end up with a more lively starter? I guess it won’t hurt to experiment, what’s the worst that can happen? I lose a starter and have to begin all over again :) Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Doing videos is also so much better than just reading words!

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Breadtopia June 13, 2014 at 4:27 am

Hi Jodie,

Thanks for the nice comments. I’ve read somewhere that it’s more likely that wild yeast is present in the flour than in the air. And more prevalent in whole grain flour than white (AP) flour. I keep my starter on the stiff side only because a thick starter traps the bubbles from fermentation better so it rises better and so it’s easier to tell when it’s healthy. A more liquid starter can be just as healthy and effective but it’s harder for me to tell how well it’s doing from just looking at it. Whether your starter is healthy or not usually has more to do with the feeding frequency and how much its fed than anything else.

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sherri June 12, 2014 at 7:15 pm

I used Kombucha for my starter liquid.. Worked great.

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Breadtopia June 13, 2014 at 4:18 am

That’s interesting, Sherri. Is it the only leavening you used?

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sherri June 13, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Yup. My kitchen is a mass of culture varieties right now between my Kombucha Tea and my ginger bug and such I thought why not try it. I was wanting it to be ready for when my husband gets home on the 22nd, so I figured I had some time. One of the things I read about making Kombucha Tea is that adding some of the more stronger KT to the new brew prevents bad bacteria because of the low PH and it has traces yet of sugar I thought that is the same thing you are getting out of the pineapple juice. But with it comes its own yeast as well. The smells were all dead on through the brew period and I was unfortunately not spot on with my feedings due to my uncertainty of being a noob at this and all the variety of the information out there.. but I still am getting great results.. The smell today is enough to make your glands water. I found you when I was doing some follow up research. Great site.

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Sherri June 13, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Here is the current result

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Breadtopia June 14, 2014 at 3:29 am

Looks great. Very active. Thanks for the info.

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Christy July 15, 2014 at 11:37 am

Hi Sherry I am just starting my cultured foods adventure. I harvested my first batch of kombucha about 3 days ago and it was perfect. Did you follow the same ratios listed above with the flour and kombucha for your starter?

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Corrie June 9, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Can this process be speeded up or improved by adding some dry commercial yeast. ??
Corrie

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Breadtopia June 9, 2014 at 2:02 pm

No. Sourdough starter shouldn’t have any commercial yeast in it.

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Terry June 5, 2014 at 11:16 am

Can you tell me what i am doing wrong? I have followed your instructions , however my bread when done is very flat and doesnt have any height ?

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Jennifer June 3, 2014 at 10:38 am

I am wondering if this could be done in my proof box? Two reasons, one better temperature control, and two I have small very curious children and cats. Can you help?

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Tammy May 27, 2014 at 7:44 pm

About 8 hours after the Step 2 feeding I noticed lots of activity and bubbling. I think it’s going too fast! It is 85 degrees here so that could be one reason.
But I do wonder if it was “contaminated” by the instant yeast doughs I’ve been proofing the last few days (pre-made dough in the fridge and I just grab a handful in the morning to reproof and bake a baguette).
Either way, I’m very excited to see activity!

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Bill May 28, 2014 at 3:45 am

The higher temperature significantly increases the growing process and the feeding requirements as well.

Your growth sounds normal for 85 degrees. I’m amazed at the starter growth and dough rising action I get during summer in our open air kitchen.

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Dax May 17, 2014 at 1:10 am

Day 7, Perth Western Australia. Best sourdough instructions ever, thank you.

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Bunny Dimmel May 7, 2014 at 11:44 am

So today is the day I should see activity and I don’t. My house is cold. Must I pitch it or try feeding it again?

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Breadtopia May 7, 2014 at 11:46 am

Cold will slow things down a lot. Keep feeding it.

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Bunny Dimmel May 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Thank you. I will keep feeding it, but I switched to Dpring water instead of pineapple juice. That will be ok, yes?

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Breadtopia May 7, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Yes, that’s fine.

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Paula May 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Made my first loaf of sourdough bread made from orange juice and rye then went to unbleached flour starter. Only 9 days old and the starter worked perfectly. I can’t hardly believe how nice it turned out. Thanks very much for your video.

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Breadtopia May 6, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Cool. Glad to hear it.

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Wendy May 4, 2014 at 9:26 am

Hi, I am working on a spelt starter from fresh milled spelt, well, it’s a week old, and used orange juice to. I was on the second step and after 24 hrs it had lots of bubbles. I wasn’t sure if I should move on to step 3 but decided to follow through with 48 hrs. After 36 hours I noticed a lot less and smaller bubbles and it smells like wine. I’ve gone ahead and moved to step 3 but am not sure what’s happened and if it is okay? Did it over ferment?

Thank you.
Wendy

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Paloma May 3, 2014 at 8:13 am

I made my starter! I am excited to bake for the first time! I used spelt flour for the starter and orange juice. Followed all of your instructions. Thank you!

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Steve Marsh April 30, 2014 at 6:39 pm

I am following the recipie and everything seems to be going well. I am on the last step of the 4 steps. The only thing I am not clear about is how long to wait to complete for this final step before I actually use it for making a loaf of bread. I used fresh pineapple juice from an actual pineapple I had on hand . I’m not clear if this makes a difference or not but for looking it does not.

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Aja Woods April 29, 2014 at 6:47 pm

It worked perfectly, I used orange juice instead of pineapple juice and freshly milled flour. Followed the instructions and now have a vibrant sour dough starter! Thanks for the directions!

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Paula May 26, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Hi Aja, is the orange juice you used freshly squeezed or processed? I could use fresh pineapple juice also. Would that be ok?

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SturdyBeggar April 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Greetings, bread lovers…
After several months of great success with my pineapple juice starter I wasn’t paying attention and fed it with rye flour. Will this change the characteristics of my starter ? What can I expect ?
Hope I didn’t do major damage.
Thank you.

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Breadtopia April 28, 2014 at 12:12 pm

That’s not a problem. A lot of people keep a rye starter for recipes that call for it. You can easily convert it back just by continuing to feed it whatever flour you were using before. In the mean time, you should be able to use what you have as effectively as before.

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SturdyBeggar April 28, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Thank you very much for your reply. Back to the wheat and water diet for my starter.

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