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Mar 21, 2008 12:09 AM

Need Sourdough starter recipe.

Hey everyone, I am a novice when it comes to baking bread, but recently have been on a sourdough kick and want to make it at home.

I just found out that you develop a starter and continue to use that same batch for many loaves, apparently some bakeries have a starter going for years.

I was just wondering if anyone had a fairly fail safe, beginners guide to making a starter or any tips/tricks. (Such as the best container to keep it in, would a large jar with cling wrap covering suffice?)

Thanks in advance.

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  1. Go to, enter "sourdough starter" in the search box and you'll get more information than you need. Or go to an upscale grocer like Trader Jose's or to the Baker's Catalogue and buy a freeze dried one. (Avoid any that contain baker's yeast.) Store it in a non-reactive container. The acids in the starter will slowly dissolve some plastics (e.g. peanutbutter jars). Glass jars are fine. I use a Pyrex beaker with a cling wrap covering. Refresh often. I refresh mine every week when I am not baking, although sometimes I let it go two. But if I have not baked within a day or two, I may refresh it two or three times before baking. The idea is to get a culture young and vigorous (lots of active yeast and bacteria and very little acid) so that when you mix your dough it will multiply quickly and have plenty of leavening power. The classic measurement is that it will quadruple the volume of a dough starter and triple the volume of a batter starter in eight hours or less at room temperature. (Mine will do it 3 1/2 hours at 76 degrees.) I have started sourdough from scratch many times, but I mostly use a starter given to me as a gift from someone from Kodiak, Alaska. THe oral lore that went with it says it was started in Russian California and used by St. Herman. That makes it about 200 years old. Its flavor is the same as starters I got going in Berkeley, which bespeaks its Sonoma Coast origins. Once you begin a starter from scratch, it will take about two weeks to get it working at top form. You don't need to maintian huge quantities. For a maintenance starter, if you are only baking a loaf at a time, 1/3 cup of dough storage starter is plenty. Refresh it before baking and then expand it to the amount you need for your loaf. Also, sourdough makes a great no-knead bread. Just substitute a few tablespoons of starter for the 1/4 teaspoon of yeast in the Lahey recipe. By the way, handle it gently. Acid tenderizes the gluten strands. If you are going to knead the dough, don't knead it all the way at the beginning. Instead, fold the dough a few times during the bulk fermentation. Or if you do knead it well at the beginning, don't punch it down before shaping the loaves. Just cutting the dough and shaping the loaves will degas it sufficiently.

    For more detailed information, consult Maggie Glezer's excellent information in "Artisan Baking across America" or Dan Leader's "Local Breads." Good luck.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Father Kitchen

      hi I just called my Trader Joe's and asked them if they have frozen sourdough starter, they said no. they did say they have sourdough frozen rolls that you defrost and bake, is that what you mean?

      1. re: iL Divo

        Partially cooked sourdough rolls will not work. The original yeasts are certainly expired.

    2. Making your own starter takes some patience (figure a couple of weeks minimum) and some discipline to follow such simple rules, but it's NOT hard. Do study a few books or websites, (like the one at, but I can sum up my experience: I used a 1lb bunch of organic grapes (stems and all; the stems have good yeasts on them) in a mixture of four and water in a big plastic buck. Seal the top, park it somewhere at room temp, toss in a bit of new flour and water every few days, and wait for it to start creating gas bubbles. Good luck!

      7 Replies
      1. re: Bada Bing

        I'm dumb but when do I pull the grapes out? Or do I leave them in even after the starter is done?

        And I have the time and patience and the bucket and all else, I just didnt' see what "fed' starter was or how to make it. Also that Leventhal lady's recipe [sorry but reallly don't even come close to remembering her name] never did find her recipe.

        1. re: iL Divo

          Don't call yourself dumb--nobody's born knowing how to make starter! First, don't crush the grapes, but just throw the whole bunch of grapes with stems in the flour water mix, give it a shake once or twice a day, and then add equal parts (by weight) of water and flour after about a week, when you should see a few bubbles forming (add about a cup or so of flour and water to balance). It's not rocket science. All that's happening is that you're letting wild yeasts on the surface of the grapes (which is why organic is nice) feed and reproduce off of the sugars and other elements dissolved in the flour by the water. You add more flour at intervals so the increasing number of yeasts have something to consume. The bubbles are actually gasses produced by the yeast, and they are what eventually will make the bread rise.

          Once you have your bubbling culture underway, simply remove the grapes whole and discard. The surface of a lively, newly fed culture will, after four hours at room temperature, be thoroughly dotted with little bubbles about the size of zits (sorry for the imagery). The yeasts have taken over. If you have only a few bubles per square inch,, the culture is still not robusts as need be for baking.

          If ever the quantity of flour mixture starts to become too large, simply toss out half or more of the mixture before adding the next does of flour and water. The more regularly you feed the starter, the more lively it becomes. But even if you go some time without feeding it (like even months, for me), the yeasts don't die, but they simply go dormant. If you make bread every few days, your yeasts will be rocking all the time. If you make bread every few months, you need to plan ahead on about a week of feeding cycles each day to reawaken the yeast. Keep it all in the fridge when you're not trying actively to develop the yeast.

          You will have to read and think about detailed directions when it comes to making bread. I suggest you invest in a scale if you do not already have one. To make bread like at least twice the amount of starter I need for an average occasion, That way I can dump in half the starter for bread making and return the rest to the fridge.

          Father Kitchen's remark about plastic was new to me, but plausible. In any case, I like to store my starter in a pyrex one-quart measuring vessel (you know, with the handle), so I can see inside the bowl without opening it. I seal it by laying plastic wrap atop and wrapping a rubber band around to make it airtight.

          1. re: Bada Bing

            God love you, that was so sweet. I'm not dumb and I was kidding but honestly had no clue. I've done a hundred starters from scratch over all these years but never with grapes. I do know from talking to Gabriel [that owned that vineyard pictured] that the only preservatives they use in their wine making is strictly the dust/yeast that naturally forms on top of the grapes. I found that so interesting since I'm allergic to preservatives which is why wine always messed me up so much, but NOT THERE IT DIDN'T. So not surprised that the same type of yeast/dust is gonna work in making of bread too. I can't wait to start.

            Funny thing I have to mention, after your comment about it not being Rocket Science................that man in the picture {my husband} squeezing the grapes is a Rocket Dr. Pretty funny huh? So he could do it without even thinking I bet. Yep, I'm married to a real live rocket scientist...........pretty blond, pretty beautiful and pretty brilliant...........and forgive me but yea, I'm braggin........ :)

            I'm reading as I'm writing this to you. Cause I do have a few questions one being about the container, should I use a new clean bucket with a lid of a glass jar with a lid or neither. Also I got a kitchen digital scale for Christmas so no problem using the weight vs. cups. I have a 4 cup and an 8 cup pyrex measuring cup container so I'm set there. I see from reading Father Kitchen's post that probably I can use a very large apothocary jar too, it's got a lid already, no suction cupped just sits right on top of the glass see through jar.

            You helped me so much and I can actually 'see' what you're talking about which really helps...........Great ideas, thanks BadaBing

            1. re: iL Divo

              Your reply, in turn, is very sweet. You show a down-to-earth nature even while consorting with a rocket scientist!

              In case it helps: I think I got my grapes starter approach mainly from a Peter Reinhart book called Crust & Crumb. But it's been a long time. I have a starter that dates back at least 10 years now, and it has survived two interstate moves (in a cooler). It's really pretty tough stuff.

              About containers: another thought comes to me about cleanliness. I have read that it is important to avoid introducing undesired bacteria or microbes or whatever into the starter. The starter can protect itself to some extent, like the way a really healthy lawn can choke out most weeds, but still you don't want to do the equivalent of tossing some weed-seeds in your lawn.

              Whenever I transfer my starter to a new container, I want the container to be freshly and scrupulously clean. That includes getting rid of any residual soap/detergent. Likewise, I only use totally clean spoons to stir the new flour into the starter. Whether that's crucial, I cannot say. But then I do have a starter that seems likely to last forever at this point.

              1. re: Bada Bing

                BadaBing wrote:
                "But then I do have a starter that seems likely to last forever at this point"

                then can I have some;)))))))))))))

                1. re: iL Divo

                  Maybe someday I could mail some, dried out. (One trick that people do for keeping a fallback starter is spreading some of it thinly on parchment paper, then letting it dry thoroughly, then cracking it up into chips and stashing it in the freezer). When reconstituted, it's the same yeasts working away. But getting mine ready that way would take longer than making the starter from fresh, because it would need waking up and then drying, too!

                  Also, any starter should live indefinitely unless it gets contaminated or very, very neglected.

                  1. re: Bada Bing

                    I've actuallly sent ziplock bags of starter batter through the mail quite a few times. I'd put maybe 4 oz of fully active starter in a bag, seal it up, stick it in an envelope and send it on its way. It's worked great! You want to use fully active starter so that there's not much new carbon dioxide production that would blow up the bag.

                    I did write "sourdough starter" on the envelope in case any postal employess were concerned. A small Priority Mail box would work well too and provide extra protection. My only caveat would be to send it before the weather gets too hot.

      2. Here's a starter formula that is almost fail safe. You can mess it up, but only if you fail to follow the instructions.
        I've been baking from this starter for more than a year now and it's still beautifully active.

        1 Reply
        1. re: todao

          I simply love this web site. Just logged in and it looks very doable.
          I love the suggestion of myer lemon juice in there as a change from the pineapple.
          Who'd a thunk pineapple juice and whole wheat flour? Not I..............
          I also love Bada Bings idea and think I know where I can get those organic grapes.
          Yeah, another trip to Tuscany.............:) the pix is of Michelangelo Buonarroti's nephews' home, a vineyard where husband and I stayed, you can see, he got picked to "pick".......... :)
          thanks again