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Feb 20, 2007 02:58 PM

Sourdough starter- now what?

My sourdough starter will be ready to use this Friday. Given that I am a sourdough virgin, what should I make first(or the first few times)?

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  1. Dear Spencer, get any classic sourdough bread recipe and follow it. Just make a simple bread with flour, water, and salt. Get your hands in the dough. It will teach you where to go next. But if I were to suggest a recipe, read the sourdough treatment in Jeff Hamelman's book "Bread." Failing that, look in Nancy Silverton, Maggie Glezer, Peter Rhinehart or Rosa Levy Beranbaum, or Ortiz or ... lots of good sources. Bake under cover if you can (cloche or casserole or flower pot with saucer). Don't overknead it. And don't let the dough quite double when you proof it. You'll do fine.

    1. Pancakes of course - the lightest fluffiest pancakes you've ever had. Not sure if you can get it out of Alaska but Ruth Allman's Sourdough Cookbook will help you through all the basics.

      2 Replies
      1. re: AlaskaChick

        The book is called Alaska Sourdough by Ruth Allman and is available used from both and Just ordered one based on the rec.

        1. re: AlaskaChick

          I was actually thinking of some blueberry pancakes!

        2. Allman is great for pancakes and the like. The Alaskan books favor letting the culture get very sour and then they add baking soda to the batter. The soda reacts with the lactic acid and leavens the pancakes. But using a very sour starter is not a good way to make bread. If you are interested in bread, you are better off following the classic procedure outlined in Hamelman, Silverton, Glezer, Levy, Rhinehart, Leonard, Calvel and others: Use a young and vigorous starter.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Father Kitchen

            "Use a young and vigorous starter."
            How young would you think?

            1. re: Spencer

              The term "young and vigorous" means both recently-refreshed and fully alive with active organisms. If a culture goes beyond its peak point, the organisms exhaust their food supply, then begin to go dormant, and eventually die off. The classic test for sufficiently "young and vigorous" is that a stiff dough starter should be able to quadruple in volume in eight hours or less at room temperature. Mine will do it in three and a half to four hours. As for the age of the culture, the quality certainly does improve in the first weeks as the yeast and bacteria settle into a good simbiosis and extraneous organisms are crowded out. And it is true that some strains of yeast and bacteria, even if they are of the same species, will produce a different quality of culture than others. Beyond that, an age-old pedigree doesn't guarantee the best possible culture. (Though if a starter culture has been kept in use a long time, it is probably because it is a good one.) Although I have begun a number of cultures from scratch over the years, I mostly use a heritage culture that came to me in Stanwood, Washington, from a native of Kodiak. She told me that it originated in Russian California, was given to her by an Orthodox neighbor, and was used by "their saint." "Their saint" would have been St. Herman of Alaska, who died in 1836 or 37. It has a different flavor than the Yukon starter I had years ago, and is very similar to San Francisco cultures. So my culture is old, but the leaven I make with it is "young and vigorous" when it goes into the batch of dough.

              1. re: Father Kitchen

                Ah, makes sense. Thanks for all the time it took to give that good response. You seem to know your stuff.
                I'm working on my second usage as I type- sourdough dinner rolls. Funny thing, to me anyway, was that the recipe called for both starter and active dry yeast. I haven't read a ton of recipes yet, but this is the first I've seen that required yeast.

          2. While I believe that every way would produce something great to eat, up here we believe the older the better when it comes to sourdough. When discussing same, we frequently discuss the pedigree and age of ours, taking great pride in being able to trace it to its roots. I've never found that my sourdough, which is anything but young but is certainly vigourous, produces a carb I didn't love

            1. Starter plus yeast. I know a number of people who do that, supposedly to get a lighter, faster rise than sourdough alone gives. It might be valid. It does raise a question for me. Does baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerivisiae) digest different sugars than does the yeast in sourdough (typically, Candida milleri)? If so, there may be a very good logic to it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Father Kitchen

                I don't know FK, but these dinner rolls are rising MUCH faster than did my French bread last week.