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Sour Dough Starter

Can someone tell me where to get good sourdough starter?

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  1. I recently got one from my local artisan baker. I rang him up and offered to pay for it, but he gave it to me for nothing. He was more than happy to help a fellow, if novice, baker!

    2 Replies
    1. re: greedygirl

      Okay, I suppose I could give that a try. Thanks.

      1. re: MaxCaviar

        I hope it works for you. I should have said that I am absolutely shameless - and it's part of my job to talk people into doing things!

    2. Once you learn what a healthy mother dough looks/smells/acts like, it's pretty easy to catch your own. Flour, water, sometimes potato, sometimes grapes or raisins, you double it three times over five days, and if you're lucky you get a beautiful expression of your terroir. I'd learn to take care of one first (either from a commercially available base, or better from a baker). Then, ask again about *how* to get a good sourdough starter, not where :-)

      (Oh, and as for where, somewhere in the Bay Area with an ocean breeze is my favorite, even beating lower Bavaria and rural inland Provence. Haven't tried the LA area, though)

      3 Replies
      1. re: tmso

        I tried "catching" my own on a few occasions already. I don't think the good stuff is floating around the air I live in. I just want to cut to the chase. I could always keep a health ball jar of starter going, it just never tasted so great.

        1. re: MaxCaviar

          Everything I've read (and possibly heard?) suggests it's not really feasibly trying to get a good sourdough starter going in any major metro area - the pollution really screws with the flora and fauna (and you need both for a good sourdough.) I don't know if it's still around but there's a commercial starter that's been around at least since I was a kid ("Gold Rush" or something San Francisco or Klondike-ish like that). Also, I never bothered buying any of his starters but a guy named Ed Woods has been collecting starter cultures since forever and apparently he's got a website these days (as well as books) - trying Googling sourdoughs and antiquity.

          FWIW, once you get a decent culture going, you can freeze and or dry it for future use without having to deal with the pain of keeping it fed if you don't expect to use it on a regular basis.

          Oh, and lastly, the King Arthur baking company was selling one or two cultures for a while, I don't know if they still carry them but I imagine they have a website these days, too...

          1. re: MaxCaviar

            If you really don't want to borrow/beg/steal a starter from somebody else, you can buy one online.


        2. I can't vouch for the legitimacy of this one but maybe it's worth a try:


          Maybe we should start a sourdough starter testing program where each one purchases a commercial starter (like the one of the listed web site) and works with it. Next person purchases a product from another supplier. We could develop a rating scale? Just a thought ...

          1 Reply
          1. re: todao

            thank you all - - this is definetly enough leads to track something down

          2. You can culture a culture a local sourdough but that does not mean that it will taste like the famous SF sourdough. King Arthur sells a really good SF sourdough, but you must be very vigilant with it or it will revert to a local sourdough in a few months.

            From the KA catalog; Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter
            Item 1522

            1 Reply
            1. re: Kelli2006

              "Or it will revert to a local sourdough in a few months." We read this often, but micological research reported by Scott and Wing in the appendix of their book indicates that, once established, a culture is very stable, even over decades. My heritage starter, which was brought from Russian California to Kokiak Island and then to Seattle and thence to the midwest and now DC, after 200 years, remains very similar to the starters I made from scratch in Berkeley. Ed Wood, too, notes that cultures are stable. What does happen is that changes in climate affect the fermentation. So Madeleine Kamen noted that her SF culture changed in character from summer to winter depending on the maritime influence. If you ferment your starter in a cooler environment, fewer lactic and acetic acids are produced. In a warmer environment, there are more because the yeast and bacteria grow at different rates. I don't know if anyone has studied the influence of temperature on other byproducts that affect flavor. Someone else mentions freezing a starter. I have read of successes in freezing them, but mine does not freeze successfully. I haven't tried drying it--the technique Carl's Friends use, but the old cookbooks all mention that possibility.

            2. I've always wondered the same thing. Can I also get fresh yeast from a baker?

              1 Reply
              1. re: BamiaWruz

                If I remember correctly Nancy Silverton uses grapes for her starter. I do believe it was in her book.
                I have purchased fresh yeast from an Italian bakery near my house. But it comes in pound blocks. That was not a deterrant. We sat there with wire cutters (as for cheese) and divided that piece into the same size it would have been had we purchased it at the market. Wrapped each piece and tossed it in the freezer. I suppose that defeated the "fresh" thought but we were going for "cheap"

              2. Max, since you are in Orange County, you should have a lot of bakeries near you in the LA area that bake sourdough bread. The most famous is Nancy Silverton's LaBrea bakery. Maybe the folks there would give you a piece.
                Contrary to the pessimism of most writers, it is easy to start a sourdough starter, but you are not catching yeast from the air. It is already on the grain that the flour was made from. And nobody knows sure where the lactobacillus comes from, but the best guess is that it is on your skin. A lot of baking books give very satisfactory procedures, so get any good artisan baking book. Or wing it. I have started a culture going a number of times. Take about 1/4 cup of organic whole grain flour. (Rye seems to work the best) and mix it with enough chlorine free water to get a dough--maybe a little more than 1 tablespoonful. Knead it with your hand by giving it some squeezes. Put it in a custard cup or even one of those little sauce things some fast food places sell. Cover it with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature for abut 48 hours. At the end of this period, take off the crust that has formed and mix what is left behind (maybe half of the original amount) with the same amount of flour and water as you started with. After another day, repeat. By then you should see bubbles going. And with rye, it will smell real bad because several different strains of bacteria are competing. Once some bubbling is going on, replace the rye flour with unbleached wheat flour, AP is fine. By about the second day into this you should see some real signs of life. Once it begins to clearly ferment, your ratio of new to old stuff should be about 3 to 1. If you are lucky, you can bake bread from it in about four days, but most cultures take about two weeks to get well established.
                Sometimes failures do occur. John Thorne used to start cultures with no problem at all in one house in Maine and then moved to another and couldn't start them for love or money. I had a failure in a kitchen in a newly renovated house in St. Louis. My theory is that either the carpets and flooring were off gassing toxic fumes or the place had been drenched with fungicide to control mold. (It was an old house.)
                Beyond that, I believe Whole Earth Foods sells freeze-dried cultures. Andronico's in the Bay Area used to as well, though I've been away for 10 years. So probably any upscale grocer would have them. Is there an A.J.'s in your area? I think I saw some at the Tucson A.J.'s.
                Good luck.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Father Kitchen

                  thanks, i make it up to L.A. every week or two. i'll try to go by LaBrea and see if they have some.

                  1. re: MaxCaviar

                    if I were you, I'd skip LaBrea bakery and see if you can get some starter from Eric Kayser at Breadbar..........they brought the starter over from Paris and frankly, his bagette beats LaBrea hands down.

                2. There are good sources for instruction on-line. Here's one.


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: yayadave

                    I like Peter Reinhart's rye flour and pineapple juice starter mentioned in the article above.

                      1. re: yayadave

                        Reinhart's a genius, I think. He's very into the "life" of bread.

                  2. I have received a starter from Carl's Friends - free but for the SASE you need to supply.


                    1. Here's a straight forward discussion of sourdough.


                      1. I made a sourdough starter years ago from a recipe in one of the Greens (vegetarian restaurant in SF) cookbooks that called for soaking organic raisins for some time to start, then adding flour to that liquid, etc. I kept it going for many years and gave lots away. I do remember that the longer you have it and use it, the more sour it gets, and/or the more you bake bread in your house,the more yeast spores are in the air and thus more sour the bread. Or something like that.
                        It's quite a committment to keep a starter alive. Mine got moldy in the fridge after I didn't make bread for a while. I tried to revive it, but apparently I gave up.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: pcdarnell

                          There's more than one way to skin a cat, so thanks for the input. There are recipes that also involve using peach leaves or that start with potatoes. I've never understood using anything but grain, because the specific yeasts that grow on grain are the ones you want in the sourdough culture. But saying I don't understand is not the same as saying they are wrong. Maybe they are right.
                          My guess is that starting with grapes or raisins gets a yeast fermentation going that alters the pH and eventually the Candida milleri gets a foothold. Then as the C milleri/lactobacillus symbiosis develops, the other strains die out. But why add that intermediate step? In any case, the yeast spores you want are not in the air. They are already on the grain, like the "bloom" on fruit. The pineapple juice from Reinhart's procedure does lower the pH and is a very good thing to use, because the lower pH environment discourages many competing strains of yeast and bacteria and gives the C. milleri an ecological advantage. I've never used the juice but I probably will use it next time I begin from scratch.
                          As for "the more sour it gets," some cautions are in order. When a starter gets too sour, the favorable bacteria die out and other even more acid-tolerant varieties move in. That might sound like a good idea, but very low pH damages the gluten, causing it to swell and lose extensibility. So Dan Wing recommends that if you want a really sour bread, go for a rye sour instead.
                          The French approach is to use a starter that is young and vigorous, meaning it is not too acid and it has a maximum number of actively reproducing cells. The classic test is that a stiff dough starter will quadruple at room temperature in eight hours or less. (A barter starter should max out within the same time frame.) My dough starter will do it in three and a half to four hours at about 76 degrees. (Strains vary.) Some of the Alaska sourdough books tell you to let the starter get very sour. Then they add baking soda to the dough to sweeten it. The acids in the dough and the baking soda produce CO2 and some leavening, but you get even better results if you don't let it get too sour in the first place.
                          Also, if you let a starter go long periods between refreshments, the culture uses up all available sugars, goes dormant, and then begins dying off. The die-off rate is rather steep in an old starter. (See Wing and Scott.) So if your starter is very sour, it isn't going to have much leavening power.
                          If your starter has separated out into a layer of mud and hooch ("Egyptian Beer"), it is over the hill. The mud is degraded gluten and the live yeasts and bacteria are few and far between. Refresh it again two or three times until you get a vigorous starter and then use it for baking.
                          One thing to keep in mind is that the bacteria and yeast reproduce at different optimal temperatures. At 81 F the rates are fairly balanced. Lower than that you get faster yeast reproduction, and above that you get faster bacteria reproduction. From my experience, I would say that the best environmental temperature for fermenting dough is about 76 degrees. But I like bread with a mild tang and a complex flavor. If you like a more sour bread and don't want to go the rye route, Wing suggests you do the bulk fermentation or dough at the lower temperature and then spike the acid content by doing the final proof of the shaped loaves in a warmer environment, say around 90 degrees.
                          I dunno about it being quite a commitment to keep a starter going. I regularly forget to water house plants, but a starter is no problem. You don't need to store a large amount. I generally take a small lump of the old starter (1/4 cup +/-) and dissove it in 2 ounces of water, then work in a slightly rounded half cup of flour. It takes a few minutes. But I give it away freely, so if something happens when I am on the road, I can also get it back from friends.

                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            I totally agee with making a starter of rye flour, even if your plan is to make white bread or whole-wheat bread, because of the zoo of microorganisms on rye flour — lots of wild yeasty beasties (to borrow tmso’s term), enzymes, and bacteria.

                            Also, rye flour has more sugars and so it provides more food for the yeast and bacteria.
                            Whole-grain flours of all types contains more enzymes that are important to the fermentation and get a starter going quickly.

                            At about the third or fourth feeding, switch to the flour that will be the basis of your bread. You’d have to add some flour other than rye flour anyway, even if your goal is to make rye bread, because rye flour doesn’t have the precursors that form gluten.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              Thanks, Maria. Regarding rye sourdough bread, Dan Lepard's book "The Art of Handmade Bread" contains a recipe that uses water at 194 degrees to convert the starches in the flour to gels before adding the starter. The starch gels compensate for the relative lack of gluten strength in the 100% rye. I think that is a whole new aspect of "porridge breads" that may be worth exploring. In any case, rye is definitely the best grain to start a sourdough culture.