Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sourdough FAIL

I've been making bread for awhile now without incident (with the world's easiest base recipe). I thought it would be a simple extension to establish a starter culture in lieu of relying on commercial yeast.

All over the Internet, it's stated that all you need to do is set out equal parts flour and water and natural yeast will colonize and froth it up - or you can dope it with bread yeast, or inoculate it with likely-colonized dried fruit (I did all this and also added some drops of dregs from wine and beer bottles).

Set out, and every day or so, dump half of it and replace with fresh water and flour to keep the happy fungi growing actively. I've spent half my professional life inside a sterile hood, culturing fungi, so this seemed pretty trivial. But it didn't work. Here is fresh dough mixed with a full cup of starter "culture" that smells faintly right but never rose. Any ideas what went wrong?


  1. Oh boy, you've entered a labyrinth here. I don't know how long you cultured your starter for, but one of the traps for the unwary is that the initial frothing and bubbling is mostly bacterial, while you need to get the yeasts going too. And that can take another 10 days to two weeks.

    Here's one post from a place I hang out, which is one of the greatest sources of advice and encouragement ever.

    Welcome to the wacky world of natural leavens.

  2. Thanks for the tip! I had it going for only a week and basically it didn't do anything. I checked out the dough in that bowl this morning and it had risen a little and smelled right, so I tore off a chunk and put it back in water to ferment awhile longer.

  3. Ya gotta feed it. Most people advise at least twice the weight of fresh flour to old starter at every feed.

  4. All I can say, very unhelpfully, is that I tried it once and it worked without a hitch...

  5. We've been making a rye sourdough at home for a while. The advantage is that there's no need to knead. You spoon the dough into a loaf tin, let it rise then bake. Has a really nice microbially initiated umami taste. I like it anyway. The original starter came from Russia.
    I don't know whether they're still going, but I think you can still buy a whole range of dried starter cultures from Sourdoughs International - the owner Ed Wood is a baking biologist. He claims that each culture he offers has unique flavours due to the different yeasts and bacteria lurking within. I've already got enough pots of fermenting gunk in my fridge, otherwise I'd give it a go.

  6. Hmm before I added back like half the volume of the starter with equal water:flour every 2 days. I'll keep trying...

  7. Keep trying! You may just have been unlucky with the yeast you caught. We took the route of starting from a commercial yeast, and we've been using the same starter for almost 4 years now. Needless to say it's become quite character-full ;-) I have the whole process written-up at in case you find that helpful.

  8. thanks! but what i still dont get is once you want to make bread, do you just bake the starter itself or do you use the starter to inoculate a flour and water dough mix? How many cups of starter do you need to add to make 6 cups of dough?



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