Sourdough baking tips: solving your most common challenges

Sourdough baking can be exciting, challenging, mysterious, frustrating, delicious, and rewarding – all of the above, and often all at once.

If you’ve ever gone down the sourdough path – making your own starter, lovingly tending it, testing ways to make it more vigorous, wondering if it’s healthy – you understand the many paths (and pitfalls) you encounter on the way to great sourdough bread (or cake, or pretzels, or biscuits).

There’s nothing like sourdough baking for raising questions. The following sourdough baking tips address some of the most common questions we hear from you, our readers. And once you’re done here, head on over to our complete guide to baking with sourdough, for a bit of history, baking science, and some of our favorite sourdough recipes.

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

1. I haven’t fed my starter in awhile. Did I kill it?

It’s actually fairly difficult to kill your starter. Unlike a hothouse orchid, sourdough starter is pretty hardy.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve fed your starter, you may find it covered in dark liquid, with mosaic-like, lumpy dough underneath. The dark liquid is alcohol; just stir it back into the firmer dough underneath.

Feed your starter the way you usually would. If it doesn’t respond well, feed it again; and again, feeding it every 12 hours until it becomes bubbly and happy.

Very occasionally, starter will attract some “bad” bacteria. It may acquire an unpleasant odor (not its usual sharp acidity, but something “off”), and may have a pinkish liquid on top. If this happens, discard your starter and begin over: our sourdough starter recipe will get you going again. Or jump-start the process with an order of our fresh sourdough starter, carefully grown and tended here in Vermont.

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

2. What should I do with the liquid on top?

Even starter that’s fed regularly will often exude a clear or amber-colored liquid. Again, this is alcohol; simply stir it back in, then proceed with your regular feeding process.

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

3. How do I increase the size of my starter?

“I want to bake four loaves of bread; can I make more starter?”

Sure. If your starter generally yields enough for one loaf of bread after feeding, and you want to make two loaves, simply feed it with double the amounts of flour and water.

For instance, if you usually feed your starter with 4 ounces each water and flour, feed instead with 8 ounces each water and flour to increase its volume.

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

To grow it even more, simply feed with greater amounts of flour and water. It may take your starter longer to become vigorous, since there’s less living starter to “inoculate” the newly added flour and water. But give it time; eventually it should become bubbly. Once it doubles in volume within 8 hours, it’s ready to use.

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

4. When I feed my starter, I hate to just throw some of it away. What can I make with it?

Oh, boy, lots of good stuff. Like this Sourdough Carrot Cake.

Or pizza, English muffins, pretzels, crackers, biscuits… see the 20+ recipes on our site using the starter you’d otherwise discard during the feeding process. And don’t miss our blog post, Excess Sourdough: Five Tasty Ways to Use It Up.

Oh, and if you’re a gardener/composter – your “discard” sourdough starter is a great compost accelerant! Go ahead and stir it into your outdoor bucket or bin.

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

5. What should sourdough bread dough look like?

Properly prepared sourdough bread dough should look much the same as any other successful bread dough: smooth, satiny, elastic. It should cling a bit to the sides of the mixing bowl, but shouldn’t be unmanageably sticky.

You may notice the surface of your sourdough dough isn’t quite as smooth as standard dough; it may look a bit rough or “shredded,” which simply reflects the fact that the acidity of the dough makes the gluten slightly more fragile, and a tiny bit less elastic. This is fine; carry on.

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

6. Is all sourdough bread crusty?

Not at all! In fact, the most popular sourdough recipe on our recipe site is one for these Buttery Sourdough Buns, which are soft and tender: typical dinner roll texture. You can make chewy/soft sourdough pizza crust and pretzels and bread sticks… the degree of your bread’s crustiness has more to do with its other ingredients than its starter.

Generally speaking, the more fat in your recipe, the softer your bread will be. The crustiest sourdough breads are simply starter, flour, water, and salt; including milk and butter (or oil) and a bit of sugar will make softer breads.

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

7. How can I make my bread more sour?

Ah, the $64,000 question! The more sour your starter the tangier your bread, right?

Not necessarily. The degree of sourness in sourdough bread has more to do with how the dough is prepared than how sour the starter is.

To increase your bread’s sour flavor, try shaping the loaf, then refrigerating it overnight. The yeast in dough fermented in a cold environment will create acetic acid (think vinegar), rather than lactic acid (think sour cream); so its sour flavor will be more pronounced.

The loaf will rise slowly in the fridge. Next day, let it come to room temperature, then bake as normal. For stronger sour flavor, try keeping the dough in the fridge longer before baking – for several days, or maybe a week. At some point you’ll come to a point of diminishing returns – the yeast will start to die, and your bread won’t rise well – but it’s worth experimenting with chilling duration to find your own personal “sweet sour spot.”

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

8. Can I use my sourdough starter in recipes that don’t call for it?

Yes, within reason. Would you want to use sourdough starter in angel food cake? Of course not. But in popovers (above)? Sure, give it a try.

Here’s the rule of thumb: sourdough starter is equal parts (by weight) flour and liquid. Say you want to use 1 cup (8 ounces) sourdough starter in your favorite sandwich bread recipe. If your recipe calls for 3 cups flour (approx. 12 ounces) and 1 cup water (8 ounces), reduce the flour in the recipe to 2 cups (8 ounces), and the water to 1/2 cup (4 ounces).

This works pretty seamlessly for any recipe including both flour, and water or milk. Don’t substitute sourdough starter for eggs or oil or butter or honey or other liquids; it will change your recipe’s character.

Does the starter need to be fed before using it? Not necessarily. If you’re using it in a yeast bread recipe, it’s good to feed it first (to help with the loaf’s rise). Bonus for using it in yeast breads: sourdough is a mold inhibitor.

But for anything leavened with baking soda or baking powder, use either fed or unfed starter; or starter you’d otherwise discard as part of the feeding process.

How much sourdough starter can you substitute? Keep in mind the more you use, the tangier your baked good will be. Start by substituting starter for no more than 1/3 of the flour in the recipe. If you like the result, then up the percentage the next time.

Sourdough baking tips via @kingarthurflour

This no-knead dough was stored in the fridge for 7 days before I turned it into these tangy sandwich rolls.

9. Do you have a recipe for no-knead sourdough bread?

Yes, we certainly do.

Make up a batch of our Crusty No-Knead Bread dough. Leave the dough in the fridge for a week to 10 days before baking. The loaf or rolls you make will be richly flavored, with mild sourdough tang.

Or try this: Make our Crusty No-Knead Bread dough, substituting 16 ounces of sourdough starter (fed or unfed) for 8 ounces of the water and 8 ounces of the flour. This time, let the dough rest in the fridge for only 2 to 3 days before baking. If you leave it longer than that, the sourdough will start to break down the dough’s gluten, negatively affecting the dough’s rise.

One important fact to remember: there are many paths to great sourdough baking. And many valid answers to your questions. When you find something that works for you, do it; don’t worry about “breaking the rules,” or following a recipe to the letter.

Sourdough baking, like most baking, is as much art as science; don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!

Do you have sourdough questions we haven’t answered here – or other baking questions? Contact our Baker’s Hotline; we’re ready and eager to help.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Darwisah A. Burgess

    Dear PJ:

    I have been going to King Arthur Flour web-site regularly particularly for bread recipes. I loved KAF web-site, reading the comments from other KAF bread community, good or not so good.

    You are an inspirations and I loved your anecdotal comments in your recipes and stories. And, I am a “newbie” in home bread making. I have tried some of the recipes and they all have been successful. My family loved the “Beautiful Burger Buns”. I made them regularly, I even taught my grand-daughter and grand-son making the buns.

    Thank you for your encouragement and inspirations.

    Sincerely,
    D. Burgess

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      You’re most welcome. I love being able to teach and inspire bakers to try new things – as you have. So glad those burger buns are a hit, and THANK YOU for passing along your new-earned skills to the grandkids! 🙂 PJH

  2. Karen

    What is this “discarded starter” that you speak of? 🙂 I store a teaspoon of starter in the refrigerator, and start doubling it a day and a half before I plan to make bread. With a feeding every 12 hours, the starter is super active about 4 hours after the 3rd feeding, and ready to use. Save a teaspoon in a small jar, and it is ready to go for the next time, with no waste.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sounds like your method works well for you! We have a different way of maintaining the starter, so we do have more on hand to use on a whim. As long as you are pleased with your results, there is no wrong way to maintain a starter. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  3. Shoshana Z

    My dough tend to rise into a flatter shape if I am not containing it in a pan. What is the secret to getting round loaves to rise higher without the spread?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Use a brotform or a couche to hold the bread while it is rising. You’ll turn it out in order to bake on a stone. Double check your dough and make sure it is not too slack, and be sure that you are shaping it tautly. We have some very helpful videos on shaping that you might enjoy, here: http://bit.ly/1P6z4WU Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  4. Efrain Vargas-Hernandez

    OMG! What would I do without you KA. I have used so many of your wonderful delicious recipes for many items I bake and sell. Your blog is so helpful. I wish your company was in New Jersey. I would love to work for you. Your company takes so much pride in their work and it shows. I just want you to know how much I appreciate all your free information and help. You are the best of the best. Thanks again for all your great tips. Thanks to you my skills have advanced and my cofidence is stronger than ever. I owe it all to the employees of KA. Thanks guys. A big hug!

    Chef E from E-Bakes

    Reply
  5. Ligia

    KAF website has been my source of information and inspiration since I am also a “newbie” in home bread and baked goodies baking : )
    Thank you so much for all the time and efforts you guys put out for us to use and enjoy.
    I have been trying sourdough bread and it has been a very exciting adventure I would say : ) I have baked two crusty ones so far and after reading this page I feel like trying a lot more various recipes.
    KA flours and products are amazing! Too bad I have to visit different stores here in Alabama when I need something because not all of them carry everything I need.
    Anyway keep up the great job guys!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re so pleased to hear that our baking advice has proven helpful to you in the kitchen! Going on a hunt for ingredients around different stores can be a drag, but maybe our Store Locator can help you track down the products you need more efficiently. We hope you keep sharing your baking successes with us! Kye@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      James, if you want just the mildest tang, use less starter and more dry yeast, so that the whole process happens faster. That sour flavor develops over time, and also when the dough is refrigerated. So don’t refrigerate your dough at any point, and speed up the process with some yeast. Hope this helps – PJH

  6. Lynn Roberts

    On substituting sourdough: if it is based on equal parts flour and water, when substituting 8 oz of sourdough, why is the 3 cups flour reduced by 1 cup (8 oz) and the 1 cup of liquid by 1/2 cup (4 oz)? Doesn’t that make 12 oz? Please clarify why the reduction isn’t 4 oz for both flour and liquid? Is this the new math?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There are two rules at play here. The first is about feeding sourdough starter, which you feed with 4 ounces or 1/2 cup water and 4 ounces or 1 cup flour. The second is that if you’re using some of your discard starter to give a yeast bread recipe flavor, substitute 1 cup sourdough starter for 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water in the recipe. Happy Sourdough Baking! Irene@KAF

    2. cassandraoftroy

      The trouble you’re running into is with weight versus volume measurements. Cups measure volume, ounces measure weight. Flour is less dense than water, so it weighs less per unit volume. A cup of flour weighs about 4 ounces, while a cup of water weighs 8. Does that help?

  7. David Demezas

    I have benefited immensely from the KA website. I am a newbie at making sour dough bread. My question is other than retarding the dough for several days to a week in the refrigerator before baking to make the bread more tangy, are there any other methods? I have heard or read that reducing the amount of water in the recipe has some effect. Is this true? I grew up on Boudin and Columbo’s SF sour dough breads and would like to try to mimic them as best as possible. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you grew up on San Francisco sourdough, the only place to buy it, make it or taste it like that is San Francisco. We can try to duplicate the flavor with more frequent feeding of our starter before baking or adding something like sour salt or citric acid to the dough. It’s a great flavor to strive for a very difficult to achieve at any place other than San Francisco. Happy baking! Irene@KAF

    2. Randy Stetzer

      Does anyone have any idea why it’s so hard if not impossible to duplicate San Francisco Sourdough (i.e. Boudin Bakery) ourside of SF? Is it the weather, original starter, geography? …What is it about SF that gives their characteristic unobtainable sour flavor? Any and all comments welcome and appreciated…

    3. MaryJane Robbins

      Lots of folks have tried, and it seems to be a combination of water, weather and natural organisms that just can’t be duplicated elsewhere. If you do a general search online, there are many articles that have been written on the subject over the years by many different bakers. It’s a neat project. ~ MJ

  8. Edna Lindemann

    I am interested in making cherry chocolate sourdough bread. What recommendations do you have? We have been making sourdough bread using KAF starter for about 4 years now. Love it, love it. I make the pizza dough at least twice a month (delicious). I liked the butter buns and pretzels as well. Thanks to all the chefs and all!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re so glad to hear you’ve been having sourdough success for years now, Linda! To make a chocolate cherry sourdough bread you will have to do a bit of experimenting since we don’t have a recipe developed on our website, but we do have two recipes that you could consider using as a base. You could start with our Fruited Sourdough bread recipe and add in about 1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Or, you could use our No-Knead Chocolate Pecan Bread and replace 1 cup of the flour and 1/2 cup of the liquid in the recipe with 1 cup of fed sourdough starter. Perhaps you could give both a try and see which is more along the lines of what you are looking for. Happy experimenting! Kye@KAF

  9. celina

    Why does my bread not get a oven spring after following all steps? I was making a cinna bun. I was told that the cinna buns are supposed to get about 1/3 rise in the oven. What have I done wrong? I did put 10% of the sourdough starter in it, though.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Celina, often times sourdough recipes that lack oven spring are a result of a sluggish or unhappy starter. Be sure that you feed your starter frequently a few times before baking with it to ensure that it is active and will promote a nice rise. (Try 2x 24 hours and 12 hours before baking, keeping it at room temperature in between feedings.) Give it a feeding and let it sit for 2-4 hours before using it in your recipe. Also be sure to still add any of the yeast called for in your recipe as this will promote the final rise and texture of your bread. Still no luck? Make sure you are measuring your flour correctly because too much flour can caused baked goods not to rise. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  10. Beth

    For me, 1 cup starter is equal to 1 envelope (2 1/2 tsp.) yeast. This works very well. I’ve made cinnamon rolls, breads etc. Just thought I would pass this on. It’s a very simple way of figuring how much starter to use for any yeast recipe. If the recipe calls for 2 envelopes yeast, use 1 cup sourdough starter and 1 envelope yeast. Try it.

    Reply
  11. David Beauchamp

    Hello, this morning I took my starter out of the fridge. I took half out which you say to discard but I am using this for my loaf after I have fed it a few times. The starter left in the jar I also fed which will go back into the fridge tonight. I am sorry for this question and probably overthinking this but is there any negatives with this method. Thank you in advance. I love your site and it has become my go to site for ideas and recipes. Regards Dave

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s the method I use, David! I hate to see starter go straight to the compost, so I usually feed my discard (as well as the remaining starter, separately). I wait for both to become happy (at least 2-4 hours) and then one batch goes back into the fridge and one goes into the loaf. No disadvantages to this method. Happy sourdough baking! Kye@KAF

  12. TAF

    I love making sourdough and I generally have good results, but my real problem is that the crumb texture always turns out more like white bread than chewier crumb like I’d expect to have in sourdough. I’m not sure what to increase or decrease to get the result I’d like to have! I’m thinking it’s the fat content…?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s actually the water content that causes the large, open crumb. Doughs that have a higher hydration are more likely to have those uneven holes you are looking for. Try using a recipe like ours here for Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread, and be sure that you are measuring your flour using our fluff and sprinkle method. Packing the flour into the cup can cause you to use too much, making a tight, white-bread-like internal texture. I hope this helps give you the sourdough you are looking for. Kye@KAF

  13. Janet

    Hi there, I live in the high desert and have a heck of a time with my sourdough bread because of both the altitude here (4000′ and the lack of humidity). If I use the amount of ingredients in the recipes, my dough is way too dry and the bread is like a brick. I’ve learned to back off on the flour by about 20%, but then the dough turns unmanageably sticky (yet the final texture of the bread is amazing). Any other tips for adapting a recipe to higher altitudes and no humidity? BTW, I have spent HOURS on the KAF site, and love, love, love all the recipes, tips and tricks, and videos. You guys are what inspired me to try making sourdough, so thank you, thank you! 🙂

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Janet, although I haven’t baked sourdough at altitude, I would think incorporating some rising time in the refrigerator might be helpful, since this will slow down fermentation. A too wet dough may be more likely to fall, however, so be careful that the structure is adequate to sustain a longer rise. Barb@KAF

  14. Cheryl

    Love your sourdough starter and your helpful posts! I love adding whole wheat flour to my sourdough breads. What is the best ratio of whole wheat to all purpose flour? And, is adding bread flour to sourdough bread recipes recommended or should I stick to all purpose flour? Thanks so much!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Cheryl, there is no golden ratio of whole wheat/white flour in sourdough bread, although we’ve found that generally you can substitute up to half the flour in a bread recipe with whole wheat flour and not cause too many difficulties. Whole wheat flour does ferment more quickly than all-purpose flour, so keep that in mind. You’ll also want to add about a tablespoon extra liquid per each cup of whole wheat flour substituted and add 30 minutes rest time after you have mixed the ingredients, but before you begin kneading, to allow the bran to fully hydrate. This will give you a more productive kneading process. Bread flour may be helpful to use along with your whole wheat flour, as this will give you better gluten development, however the bread flour may also require additional liquid. For more help with your whole wheat sourdough questions, please give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE(2253). Barb@KAF

    2. Marc

      Ah…below is the answer I sought; is the unbleached bread flour good for sourdough (as the info says good for yeast breads…which my OCD mind wonders is meant to be packaged yeast and not sourdough? )…

      Ok, so indeed bread flour is fine, good, but maybe a scounch more water.

      I began sourdough with packaged yeast last Nov, kept it going until a month ago. That was the Betty Crocker recipe. It was 1 cup water 1 cup flour.

      So a month ago I began KA starter from flour. It took a while, but now I have beautiful fragrant starter. The extra tangy sourdough is a great recipe. It was spongy and moist, amazing. I made it with all purpose as the recipe suggested.

  15. viola

    It’s too hot in Virginia to wait until afternoon to turn on the oven…so I use my bread machine to do the initial kneading and 1st rise. My starter has often not been fed for 4 or 5 days at this point.

    I wonder if I’m fooling myself, but after I add the starter to the pan, I then stir in the water required for the recipe, and then, from the first measured cup of flour, I stir in only about the same amount of the flour as the water just added. I then dump the remaining flour from that cup as well as the rest of the required flour, salt and sugar or even honey (which will sit fairly nicely in a well on top until the paddles stir it in), and finally the yeast (in a small hole of its own). I tell myself this is much the same as ‘feeding’ the starter, but without the keeping-an-eye-on-it wait. It sits in the breadpan overnight, and when I get up, it is ready to shape and do the next rise in my clay baker or cloche. Does doing it this way ‘count’ as feeding the starter? It SEEMS to raise nicely….but maybe it would raise even more if I fed it as you prescribe?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Viola, it’s fine to continue the process as you have been doing, since you’re getting good results. I think you are essentially adding “unfed” starter to your recipe, which works fine when you also add commercial yeast. If you expect your starter to supply all the rising power in a recipe you might want to incorporate a day or two of twice a day feedings at room temperature before you add your starter to your bread recipe. Barb@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Mitch, this blog provides you with a great option. Your starter will probably also be fine in the refrigerator as long as you feed it right before you leave, leave it out for an hour, and then refrigerate. Your starter will appreciate several feedings at room temperature when you return from your travels. Barb@KAF

    2. Karen A

      Mitch, I am not an expert, but I have left my starter in the refrigerator for a month while in Australia. When Imcame home it needed to be fed.mI fed it twice before I used it. Just make sure your feed it at least once before you leave. Hope that helps.

  16. Kathleen

    A few additional notes about sourdough starters . . .
    I have been making and using starters for about 40 years. My current starter began when we were camping in the Sierras 20 years ago. It is happy and very active. It often sits (neglected) in the back of my refrigerator for weeks, sometimes months. It always begins to bubble actively within a couple hours of feeding it. For some reason, the “hooch” (old sourdough term) the collects on top is gray in color. I was told that is OK, but orange is NOT GOOD! Sometimes I pour that off before feeding, and sometimes I stir it in. I often make waffles, rolls, or gingerbread with it. I’m looking forward to trying some of your recipes. Thanks for publishing so many recipes and ideas for sourdough.

    Reply
  17. Deb Britt

    My question is: how do you get the beautiful, even, golden crust in your photos? My loaves, made using the KA extra tangy sourdough recipe turn out with great flavor and texture, but the surface tends to be pale with areas of browning, unless I overbake. Is it just an oven thing? I suppose I could use an egg wash or butter, but would be happy to hear your perspective.

    BTW, the sourdough pretzels are a HUGE favorite in my family!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The extra tangy sourdough bread tends to have a lighter color due to the yeast in the dough having more time to eat the starches in your flour. Baking on a pre-heated stone or steel will help in that regard. You can also try turning up the heat in your oven by 10-15 degrees. Jon@KAF

  18. Lisa

    Sourdough is the best. I’ve been making my own starter for many years. I’ve learned that pouring off the alcohol rather than mixing it in can prolong the starter’s life, especially if you are away and unable to feed it for a while. I have excellent results using equal parts water and flour; I do not use tap water. Sourdough blueberry pancakes are amazing! Try using unfed starter for your next batch.

    For those of you who may wonder, the King Arthur catalog and website are wonderful. Shipping is fast and the products are always as promised, top quality.
    I’ve picked up a lot of good information here, thank you.

    Reply
  19. member-sherriharder1

    PJ,
    I love your blog….and using sourdough to bake. I followed the drying my starter, when I was out of town for my sons wedding and just ‘resurrected’ my started. It worked like a charm. Thanks. I have two questions. The Crusty No Knead recipe you shared doesn’t include starter. Where you sharing it for us to follow your tips on converting so we can add starter?

    Second, I love using my scale now after your encouragement. Do you have a simple chart that we can use for conversions? I’ve looked but have yet to find one.

    Thanks again,
    Sherri

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Your exactly right, Sherri. This recipe is showcased as an example to show how you can add sourdough to a bread. As far as your second question, we have a handy weight chart that should help. Jon@KAF

  20. Molly Peters

    I haven’t read through all of the comments, so I apologize if this has been asked:
    When preparing the Crusty No-Knead bread with the starter, am i correct in assuming that I will leave the yeast out?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Still need the yeast, Molly! The sourdough starter will add a tangy flavor and if it is healthy and fed it may also make it rise slightly more, but as the dough rests in the fridge for multiple days the wild yeast will lose its “umph.” To ensure that your bread has a nice lofty oven-spring when you finally do bake it, be sure to also add the yeast called for in the recipe. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  21. Kathleen Krantz

    I have been making and using sourdough starters for about 40 years. My current starter began its life while we were camping in the Sierras 20 years ago. It is happy and active, even though it sometimes sits “neglected” in the back of my refrigerator for weeks, sometimes months. When I feed it, it becomes active and bubbly within a couple of hours. The “hooch” (old sourdough term) that collects on the top of Ferdinand (I name my starters) is gray. I was told that was OK, but orange was NOT. I usually pour the hooch off before feeding the starter. Maybe that is why it has survived with such infrequent feedings. We love using it for waffles, rolls, and gingerbread. I’m looking forward to trying some of your recipes. Thank you for publishing such a variety of sourdough recipes and ideas for using it.

    Reply
  22. Kat Christensen

    I am following your starter recipe and I used KA Rye flour to start. On day 1 my starter expanded greatly (it more than doubled in size), and I had good activity on day 2 as well, however by day 5 of regular feedings with KA All-Purpose flour I have some surface bubbling, but my starter is not expanding at all. I thought it might be because my kitchen was too cool so I moved my starter to a warmer spot and still have no expansion at all. Any ideas what might have gone wrong and what I can do to achieve success?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  23. Laurie

    I’ve been making the Amish Friendship sourdough bread off-and-on for several years, but I’ve decided to give the more traditional sourdough a try. I used a method for starting my starter that I found online, and while it’s bubbling wonderfully, the smell is really stinky (after 5 days)! It smells like baby burp, to put it nicely. Other places I’ve read that I need to just keep on going and trust it to balance the bacteria out, but I can’t help but want another, expert opinion. Am I wasting my time with this? Should I start over? Thanks for your help.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That home grown sourdough description makes us queasy as well, so it may be best to start with this . Happy baking! Irene@KAF

  24. Laurie

    I’m back to say that I decided to give my stinky starter a little more time. After about 3 more days, it smelled great, but wasn’t expanding at all (although it was covered in bubbles). I decided to give it a couple of feedings with organic rye flour, and it went crazy! I baked some beautiful banana bread with it before I retired it to the refrigerator for a few days. Yummy!

    Reply
  25. Weezy

    I’m having the same altitude problem. Finally learning the other ins and outs, but have other questions. I wind up adding more water. There’s no way I can even get 2 cups of flour in the overnight starter. Right now Starter is on the thick side
    .
    I bought the long baker. I’ve used it for straight (yeasted) Italian bread. It works just fine. So does the baking bowl. Most of your sourdough recipes seem to call for a boule. I’d like to translate that to the long baker. I have problems cutting a boule. We need a holder to hold it down.
    .
    I use a bread machine (Zo) to knead. I can make a one or two pound loaf and the Zo does recommend how much flour (Don’t use a 7 cup recipe) How do I figure out which of these recipes fits the Zo for kneading and will fit in the long baker?
    .
    Also, how thick is starter supposed to be? I’ve seen info that wetter starter is more sour, now it seems to be thicker. Which is it? I love really sour bread.

    Glad to find the fridge info. Will now try setting baking to add the cold time in the fridge. I usually start 2 days before I use up first batch of bread or muffins. I’ll try 3.

    I just tried the extra sour sourdough recipe. I made the 2 loaves, but shoved them in an Italian bread couche. Nothing under them in the oven. Worked out ok. How would you keep them from too much spread on a stone?
    .
    The loaves turned out fairly well, since I fudged the 4 hour sitting time. Too late at night and shoved the bread pan from the Zo in the fridge for 15 hours..

    I bought the Starter and crock last year. It is fairly active.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Wow, Wendy – you’re dealing with a lot of sourdough questions! The starter should be the consistency of pancake batter. If not, simply add more water when you feed the starter. For slashing loaves, consider using a spray bottle to slightly moisten the surface before using your lame or knife to slash the bread. Now about the spreading loaves – this is a shaping thing that can be solved by looking at this video.before you shape another boule. You can also consider a call to our Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-BAKE (2253)and we can chat baking in person! Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes! Use either instant yeast or active dry yeast in your baking. Some home bakers still like the process of proofing or softening active dry yeast before using it in their baking. If so, use 1/2 cup lukewarm water from the recipe with the amount of yeast called for in the recipe. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  26. Bob Dye

    After reading all of the comments, I’m still unclear as to the difference between ‘fed’ and ‘unfed’ starter and as to why it is important.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Bob,
      Let’s try to clarify more.

      Unfed starter= straight from the fridge starter that has NOT had flour and water added in the last 12-24 hours. Good flavor, but no real leavening power.

      Fed starter= starter that HAS had flour and water feeding in the last 12-24 hours. Bubbly and ripe, it can give flavor and has the active yeasts for leavening.

      Hope this helps!

      ~ MJ

  27. Mary

    I slit the tops of my sourdough loaves. Baked, They came out of the over without expanding on the top, but expanding at the bottom on the sides?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Mary, slashing dough is one of those skills that takes a little practice. If you slashed the top of the bread too shallowly, or if the top of the loaf was very sticky, this might cause the slashes to seal back up in the oven, and the gasses to look for a weaker point to escape. To get a more effective slash, try allowing the top of the loaf to dry out a bit after being covered, or sprinkle a little flour on the top and then gently spread it over the surface of the loaf before slashing. Make sure your slashing tool is sharp and move your hand quickly and confidently. Hesitation can cause the blade to drag and give you a jagged cut. For more help with slashing your dough check out the tips in this sourdough post or give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-2253(BAKE). Barb@KAF

  28. David

    I’ve had nothing but failures… I have just finished my 4th loaf, and it’s a failure too. I am using sour dough starter that appears to be correct. I feed it about 4 hours before using it for baking; however, it seems that no matter what recipe I use, it just comes out flat and super dense. Before I flush it all down the sink and give up, would it be possible to diagnose what the H is going on? I’ve tried this (above) too, failed 🙁

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      David, we’d love to help you achieve success with your sourdough baking! In order to diagnose what’s going on it would be very helpful if you could call our Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-2253(BAKE). This way we can have a conversation and narrow down the possible causes of your flat, dense bread. Barb@KAF

  29. max

    My sour dough starter is a mystery! It’s in it’s 6th or so day – two feedings each day , bubbles like crazy and looks to me to be very active. There is however no aroma or fermentation odor. What do I do now? thanks much

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Max,
      Sourdough baking can be a bit mysterious – that’s part of the allure! Early on in your starter’s life, it will be quite vigorous but won’t have too much of a sour aroma. It will build up flavor once you store the starter in the fridge, which it sounds like you can start doing right away. Keep it in the fridge for up to a week before feeding for best results. Try our Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread recipe for something with a real kick! Kye@KAF

  30. Mary

    My starter is into the 6th day and smells sour but has not bubbled up like your photos . I am using a mix of oak, brown rice, and spelt flours in a stainless steel bowl. Is there something wrong that I’m doing with this combination?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Mary, you may not be doing anything “wrong” with your starter at all, but you’re definitely doing something different than we’ve done with ours. Our starter instructions are written for one that begins with a whole grain but quickly transitions to white flour. Since different flours will ferment differently (as they perform differently in baked goods), it’s reasonable to expect that you’ll need to adapt your feeding regimen at least a bit when you use alternative flours like these. We haven’t experimented with this combination of flours, so we can’t speak to them specifically, and would suggest seeking out directions designed more especially for these flours. Best of luck! Mollie@KAF

    2. Mary

      Thank you Molly the directions stated a blend of flours but was not specific. Is there a blend that works better than most? Should I dump what I have so far into my composter and try again with just 1 flour. Is it best to use a glass bowl rather than stainless steel?

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi again Mary. If you’re looking to follow our method for building up a sourdough starter, you’ll want to start with whole wheat or pumpernickel and switch to all-purpose for the first official “feeding” on Day 2. You can read our step by step instructions here: http://bit.ly/1JOgr6L. While we especially love our Sourdough Crock (http://bit.ly/1z85BSI) for storage, glass, crockery, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic all work equally well. Sourdough can be tricky, so if you have additional questions, please give our free Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE. Our bakers are here seven days a week and happy to help! Mollie@KAF

  31. Chris

    After more than two weeks in getting a starter developed, I finally tried to make a loaf. The oven spring looks fine in the top half of the load, but the bottom half is quite dense. I wasn’t able to develop a good tension on the outer surface after bulk fermentation and the dough remained rather wet and “flowing” the entire time (even getting it out of a heavily floured proofing bowl became a significant challenge). I allowed a longer bulk fermentation on my second attempt (over four hours), but results were the same. I am baking in a cast iron duct oven to maintain the moisture for the first twenty minutes of baking, but it is apparent to me that the issue is well before baking. Am I cutting my bulk fermentation too short? How can I tell when to transition from bulk fermentation to bench rest and proofing? The flavor is quite good, but I’m rather embarrassed by the flat loaves I’ve produced thus far.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern

      Hi Chris, it sounds like your dough was a bit too wet, which will definitely make shaping more difficult, and without the structure of a well-shaped loaf, rising will also be more difficult. I think it might be helpful for you to try a different recipe. This Artisan Sourdough Bread recipe is linked to a series of three blog posts that will guide you through the whole process, with lots of great tips along the way.
      Barb

  32. Vanessa

    Really like your site and recipes. Just a note. I made my starter by a recipe of Jeff Smith from the old Frugle Gourmet cooking show using a cup of potato water. ( from boiling a medium potato and cooling water) 1pkt non fast rising yeast, t of sugar and cup plain flour (I always use King Arthur) my starter works great, smells wonderful, tart and sour. I lost my original recipe…including the cookbook it was in, but firnally did locate it online. All this to ask this…is there anything not ok with my recipe? Looking online I never located anything close to it so just wondering.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Vanessa, there are so many different ways to build a sourdough starter, and we’d be hard pressed to call any of them “wrong”. We’ve certainly heard of other bakers adding a pinch of sugar or commercial yeast to give the starter a boost, but we’ve chosen to feature a more traditional method that builds purely upon natural yeast. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your starter at all, just that it’s likely to perform a little differently than ours. Mollie@KAF

  33. david landis

    HI, I appreciate the advice for substituting flour/water ratios for other doughs. Do I omit any yeast when trying to convert a recipe with yeast to one using my starter – e.g. a pizza dough recipe?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Good question, David. It depends on how strong your starter is, and how much time you have. Typically, a recipe using just starter for its leavening (no yeast) will take longer to rise at all stages. If you’re in a hurry, and especially if your starter isn’t very strong and active, I advise retaining the yeast in the recipe. Good luck — PJH

  34. DD Bailey

    Hello PJ! My husband and I are just getting into sourdough bread. Our starter is great, but I have some questions about waking it up before baking. So I currently take out the starter 2 hours before first feeding to wake him up! Then, I feed equal parts water and flour (usually 9oz, 9oz, 9oz). I repeat this again 12 hours later and then wait for the starter to increase in size, usually 5 hours, and then I start mixing my dough. Here are my questions:
    1. How many feedings should I cycle through before creating dough?
    2. What are the best ratios for getting the starter ready to bake? I’ve read that equal parts work, but I also came across this ratio: 9oz starter, 1 lb 3 1/2 oz flour, 1 3/4 lb water from Nancy Silverton. Are there different feeding ratios for different times/purposes?

    I am really excited to learn more and I’m looking forward to your response.

    Thank you so much!
    Didi

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Didi, we’re glad to hear you’re eager to learn. It sounds like you’ve already developed a solid sourdough routine for yourself. The answer to your first question depends on how active your starter appears after the initial feeding, and how long you let it rest between feedings. If it has only been a few days, you might be ready to bake after just one feeding. If it’s been a week or more, it might need two feedings to fully “wake up.” For photos of what a ripe sourdough starter should look like, check out this blog here.

      As for your second question, the sourdough recipes on our website are based on a 100% hydration starter. This means that the starter is made up of equal parts flour and water. Like you mentioned, you can scale this basic ratio according to your needs. We usually use 4 ounces of each, but if you want more starter to work with, 9 ounces also works. You should always check your recipe source to see what kind of starter you should use—it sounds like for Nancy’s recipe, the starter is a bit thinner which will allow it to ferment faster. I hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  35. DD Bailey

    Hello Kye! This was really helpful! Thank you. I’m wondering why bakers will play with the ratio of their starter. I like the 1:1:1 but sometimes I see recommendations for the 2 starter: 1: 1. Can you help me to understand how these changes will alter the chemistry? PS: If the starter is thinner, and fermenting faster, the waiting time between feedings and baking is less, correct?

    Excited to read what you have to say!

    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi DD! There are different ways you can change the composition of your starter. One way is to increase or decrease the ratio of starter to flour and water. For example if you changed a starter that is typically composed 1:1:1 (starter:flour:water, by weight), to 2:1:1 this will cause the starter to ferment more quickly because you have more wild yeast consuming a relatively smaller meal. Conversely, if you doubled the meal you normally feed your starter to 1:2:2, this will slow down fermentation because your starter is trying to consume a larger meal.

      A second way you can change your starter is to change the ratio of flour and water it is composed of. A starter that is 1:1 in terms of flour and water content is at 100% hydration and is considered a liquid starter. A starter than has a 2:1 flour/water is going to have a 50% hydration, and will have a stiff dough-like consistency. While a liquid starter will ferment a bit more quickly than a stiff one, changing the percentage of starter (as described above) will have a bigger impact on the rate of fermentation.

      Some bakers prefer working with a stiff starter and others prefer a liquid starter. Recipes sometimes call for one or other, so it’s good to know how to work with both, but both can make great sourdough bread.
      Barb@KAF

  36. Cathy Thompson

    Hello. I have 2 ? First, after a successful starter which I gave away as a gift, I had 3 fails due 2 pink liquid on the top. I repeated the recipe I successfully used, made sure the crock was clean, measured the flour correctly, & followed your recipe exactly. What did I do wrong? Help please. 2nd ? My friend successfully uses a large mason jar for her starter but I thought you can’t use anything that has metal in out. TU for your wonderful website.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Cathy, we’re happy to share what help we can here, and we’d also encourage you to give our free Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE, as it’s often much easier to communicate in detail over the phone. To your first question, any bright colors like pink are generally a sign of undesirable bacteria gathering in your starter, and this is most likely to happen if the starter over-ferments. You were definitely right to throw it out! If your timeline was the same as it was before, we’d wonder whether you were using a different kind of flour (whole grains ferment much faster than all-purpose, for example) or if it was warmer and more humid during your later attempts, as warm weather also accelerates the process. To the second question, a mason jar can be a great place to store your starter. The starter’s unlikely to touch the lid most of the time, and occasional contact shouldn’t be a problem – you just don’t want your starter constantly in contact with metal. We’d be more concerned about leaving some room for the exchange of gases, so you’d want to leave the lid slightly ajar or use plastic wrap secured with a rubber band as a lid instead. Hope this helps get you back on the right track, Cathy. Do give us a call if we can help further! Mollie@KAF

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