Ripe Sourdough Starter: What does "ready to use" look like?

Sift’s Spring issue goes into sourdough baking in depth, with articles on sourdough breads and the sweet side of sourdough. To complement those recipes, we’d like to share this Techniques column. How do you know when your sourdough starter is ready to bake with? Let’s take a look.
We’ve answered hundreds of questions on this topic, but in this case it seems some pictures could well be worth a few thousand words.
sourdough Starter via@kingarthurflour.com

Wake up your sourdough starter

Your starter has been tucked safely in the refrigerator for… awhile. Ten days, maybe longer. It’s separated, with a few tiny bubbles in the bottom, and a layer of grayish-looking alcohol on top. This is the sight that generates a lot of phone calls to our hotline. Can this possibly be OK? Is it dead?

Despite its current uninspiring appearance, this starter is still capable of doing great things.

sourdough Starter via@kingarthurflour.com

Your sourdough starter’s first meal

Stir everything back together (some people just pour off the top layer, which is OK, too), discard half, and feed the remainder with equal weights of flour (a scant 1 cup, 4 ounces) and water (1/2 cup, 4 ounces). Mix well, cover, and leave on the counter for 12 hours. Repeat the discard and feeding process every 12 hours, leaving the starter on the counter. After a few feedings, you’ll see the starter becoming more and more active, doubling in size in a shorter time.

Looking for ideas of what to do with that discarded starter? Visit this page to get a whole collection of recipe ideas.

sweet sourdough baking via@kingarthurflour

Get ready to bake

This is the same starter after a few days of the regular feedings described above. We stirred, discarded, and fed it with flour and water at 8 a.m. (2 hours ago). Now we’re going to watch its development. See the number and size of the bubbles increasing?sourdough starter via@kingarthurflour

Active, but not ripe, sourdough starter

The same starter at 1 p.m., 5 hours after feeding. It’s beginning to expand, and has many more bubbles. If you watch it for a minute, you can see the bubbles forming and coming to the surface in slow motion. This is an active starter, growing and expanding, producing bubbles of carbon dioxide. But it’s not yet ripe (at the top of its yeast and bacteria growth arc), nor at full strength for raising dough.sourdough starter via@kingarthurflour

Ripe and ready to go

The same starter at 4 p.m., 8 hours after feeding. It’s doubled in volume, and shows signs of just beginning to sag under its own weight. This is active starter that’s also ripe, ready to be added to bread dough to perform its sourdough magic. After mixing it into dough, then some rising and folding, the dough can be shaped and refrigerated overnight to be baked tomorrow.

sourdough Starter via@kingarthurflour.com

The best way to measure sourdough starter

An important thing to note about measuring sourdough starter: The more bubbles in it, the less a cup of active, ripe starter weighs. Measuring by volume can mean you have more or less starter in your cup, depending on where it is on its growth curve. That’s not a deal breaker for your recipe, but having a different amount of starter than called for may change the rising times and finished size of your loaf. To be sure you have the lifting power you need, measuring ripe starter by weight is always a better choice.

Once you gain confidence that your starter is vigorous, you can move its “get ready” feeding to the evening, knowing your starter will be ripe next morning to mix into your dough.

Your sourdough baking adventures await. We have lots of ideas (more than 150 recipes) to help you navigate this tasty and rewarding style of baking. Be sure to visit our sourdough guide for more in-depth information about creating, maintaining, and baking with sourdough.

At Sift, we live and breathe baking, and hope you’ll join us. Baking together is always more fun.

Susan Reid
About

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

comments

    1. CrudeCo

      I keep my SD starter in a sealed crock on the counter. I use oat flour and distilled water. Rotate flours each time with anient GF grain flour, then oat flour.
      Good Luck

  1. Thom B

    Hey .. a little flour and water down the drain is not a terrible thing, but I’ve made some dang good pizza dough from my ‘discards’ and it freezes quite well.

    Just add KA bread flour/spring water to discard starter for proper consistency, let stand for 4 hours, then freeze or make a great pizza !!

    Maybe not ‘picky’ enough for some, but sure works for me …. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Charles Nuttall

      I agree. I don’t throw anything away. I’ve neglected sourdough starter for months before successfully reviving it. I pour off the liquid on top and reserve it for pancake batter, then add one part flour and two parts warm, filtered water and a teaspoon of sugar and mix. I let it sit on the counter overnight, then dump it into the pan of my bread baker. For approximately 2 cups of starter I add 3 cups of flour: one each of bread, all-purpose, and whole wheat. A teaspoon of salt and sugar and a tablespoon of oil. I set the machine to bread only and let it rip. If I’m awake, I’ll check it after 4 hours. If the dough has doubled in volume, I set the machine to bake and let it go. Last night I mixed the dough then went to bed. In the morning, the dough was overflowing the pan, so I removed it and scraped the excess off the sides. I cooked it in the microwave for breakfast, then set the remainder in the pan to bake. Perfect whole wheat bread! I recycle what’s left in my sourdough container by adding a cup of filtered water and a cup of oil and a teaspoon of sugar and let it sit until it’s bubbly and foamy, then I stick it back in the fridge.

    2. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Charles. It’s great that you’re at such a comfortable place using your starter! Only thing I’m a little puzzled by is the oil you put in when you’re feeding it. It’s not really necessary, but if it’s useful to you for jump starting your next loaf of bread, then go to it! Susan

  2. Teresa Sutton

    I am only able to use your Gluten Free products. Is the sourdough starter gluten free? Or is there a way to make one that is gluten free?

    Thank you,
    Teresa

    Reply
    1. Adrienne P.

      From my understanding, and looking at many articles on the gluten present in regular sourdough. It is gluten free (100% I am not sure) but I have found I am able to consume sourdough breads without the GI problems I get when I eat reg wheat breads. Of course we are talking real.sourdough, not sour tasting breads made by adding flavorings or vinegars. These KA tutorials are wonderful, I am exploring sourdough now.and this is giving me much more freedom to enjoy real bread.

    2. Susan Reid, post author

      Adrienne, Sourdough loaves are NOT gluten free, but there is growing evidence that the long-fermentation times that sourdough breads go through before baking make the finished breads easier for gluten-sensitive folk to tolerate. Susan

  3. George A Tattersfield

    I am so happy to read this article. My basic go to recipe is a modified version of your “Clay’s sourdough/ with grains and seeds “. I have always wondered if my starter has the horse power to get the job done. I use additional yeast in my recipe. I make six pounds of dough for three large loaves. Both the initial rise and the second take less than 45 minutes so something must be going on. It makes wonderful bread but I am considering using only whole wheat flour instead of 50% white flour in order to make it more wholesome. Btw I also add extra gluten to help with the rise.

    I use the starter about 8 hours after refreshing it and it is not bubbling or doubled. Should I give it some extra refreshing?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Consider a couple days of feeding the starter twice a day before you bake. Surely, you’ll see the increased activity of the starter and it will be evidenced in your baked breads. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

    2. Peter Cartella

      I feel the ambient temperature has a big effect on the lift of my sourdough starter.

      I place a cup of water in the microwave and heat it up for 2 or 3 minutes.

      I then remove the cup and place a thermometer along side my covered bowl of mixed dough.

      i maintain 78°F to 80°F the whole time by monitoring the temperature, removing the dough and thermometer then reheating the cup of water as needed.

  4. NancyC

    Excellent post. Thanks for the explanation and visuals. Next time I do gf sourdough the odds are better it will turn out. GF dough does not behave as wheat dough so I would probably leave the dough on the counter to rise and see if the starter has enough oomph to raise the dough. Once I am confident my dough will rise I could try a refrigerated overnight rise. Gluten free dough can be so fussy. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Most welcome, Nancy. GF starters tend to move faster, we find. The combination of starches gives the yeast a lot of food to eat. Susan

  5. Mary

    I seem to be mentally blocked when it comes to the “starter”.
    I have a lot of recipes that I’d love to try. Do I have to make a starter for each recipe, or do I just keep the original and keep feeding it and how long can I keep it going and how?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Mary. Once you have a starter established, it becomes your baking buddy. All you have to do is feed it once or twice a week, and rev it up a day or so before you plan to use it, following the information here. It’s just flour and water, don’t be scared. We know bakers who have had starters (with pet names) for decades. Susan

  6. Jeannine

    thank you! I’m a “visual learner” and this sure helped me along with the explanations. My starter is in my fridge “as we speak” awaiting a re-birth!

    Reply
  7. Tom

    If you take the sourdough discard, add an equal volume (not weight) of King Arthur flour (I like to use 1 1/2 cups flour – 1 1/4 c KA AP and 1/4c KA Whole Wheat) to 1 1/2 cups stirred starter for 3 thin crust 12″ pizzas) and 3/4 TBSP of salt, knead for about 5-7 minutes and then add 2 TBSP olive oil and knead that in until the dough is smooth and supple and divide into 3 equal balls and let them sit out, covered, for a couple of hours, you’ll have the best thin crust pizza dough ever. If you freeze it, just remove it from the freezer about 3 hours before you want to use it.

    Not sure if I’m allowed to link to a picture but if I am here it is…if not…sorry!

    http://www.cookhacker.com/2012/01/29/caramelized-onions-sausage-and-mushroom-sourdough-whole-wheat-pizza/

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Tom. I’m with you; I will very often use my discard as the beginning of amazing pizza dough. Thanks for the amounts; that will be helpful to a lot of people. Susan

  8. Sally Tebbet

    What is the reason for discarding part of the sourdough starter? I never do that and I never have any trouble with my breads. I use only starter as leavener, no commercial yeast.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Sally. The reason for discarding half the starter is to keep the level of lactic and acetic acid from skewing the PH of the overall mixture. This isn’t as critical if you’re baking with your starter regularly; it’s more important for a starter that’s been laying fallow for an extended period of time. Susan

  9. Claude guermont

    Why through away so much of the levain ,never I dump any of my starter.i have been baking French levain bread for 30 years and it come out great ,only in America I have seen so much waste.i ll give you my recipe if want it,no waste and delicious!claude

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Claude, we’d be happy to get your recipe. We’re also willing to bet your levain gets regular exercise, and doesn’t get to the sad, separated state you see in the first photograph.
      When that happens, it’s important to rebalance the acid level of the levain’s mixture. Susan

    2. Janet

      I would like to have your recipe for your levain, Bread is my favorite thing to bake, and am always looking for new way to make bread

    3. Susan Reid, post author

      Janet, check out any of our sourdough recipes. I’m quite fond of this one for an everyday loaf. If your starter is in good shape, you can make it without the added yeast. Susan

    4. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi D. Smith, we’re not quite sure if you’re asking us for a recipe or Claude, but if we can help please feel free to give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE(2253) so we can get you the information you’re looking for. Kye@KAF

  10. Julie Tucker

    Hi-in the sourdough tips and recipes booklet that comes with KAF sourdough starter, there is a recipe for multigrain sourdough. What can I use in place of the harvest grain blend? Thank you

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Julie, you can use any combination of grains and seeds you happen to like and have on hand. Simplest is to use an equal volume of rolled oats, but if you have some Wheaties in the house that could go into the mix, too. Flax seeds, sesame or sunflower seeds for some of the volume, as well. Susan

  11. Lisa Meeker

    My husband insists that a metal spoon should not be used when mixing the water and flour in. Is this really a thing? He believes it should be mixed with a wooden spoon. Do I need to worry about this detail? Thank you! (I’m using sourdough starter my Uncle and Cousin have kept alive since the mid-1960’s.)

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Lisa. Unless the spoon being used is a) aluminum and b) sits in VERY acidic starter for about 3 days (which would start to corrode the metal and give the starter an off flavor), there’s no reason not to use a metal spoon to stir starter. I use our dough whisk to stir things together when feeding my starter; it’s the perfect tool for the job. And a wooden spoon works just fine, too.

  12. Carol B.

    Thank you for this article! I just made my sourdough bread last night with starter that looked just like the ‘starved’ photo. Of course I fed it overnight, and it did make decent bread, but now I know it could be a LOT better, and without adding yeast to it, as I did do, just to be safe. Very timely! I have learned a great deal from your website this past year. I have been making good bread for 40 years, but now it comes out better, easier! Thank you! Thank you!! LOVE IT!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hooray, Carol! We were hoping this blog post would turn on just that sort of light bulb. Glad to be of service! Susan

  13. Sandra Taylor

    Do you discard half of the starter before feeding it so it doesn’t overflow the jar? I don’t understand why you throw half of it away. You could give it to a friend couldn’t you? I use sourdough starter but mine is fed with potato flakes, sugar and warm water. It never rises like the KAF sourdough does. It does bubble though. I have used it interchangeably with KAF recipes, which are the best by the way.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Sandra. Yes, of course, you can share your discard with a friend. The reason you need to discard half is because as your starter sits, the yeast and bacteria generate both lactic and acetic acid. That acid, in high enough concentrations, inhibits the growth curve that you’re trying to capture. The starter you’re using now is called a Friendship starter, and is usually part of quick bread recipes. Thanks for the props about our recipes! Susan

  14. Lucy

    I have been just feeding my starter, letting it double, using what I need and refrigerating the rest. Do I really need to discard?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Lucy, that depends on what your starter looks like when it comes out of the refrigerator. If it starts out looking more like the second or third jar, you’re in decent shape. It also depends on how sour you like your bread to be. When I use my starter after its been cooling its heels for a while after only 1 feeding, I don’t get as high a rise for my bread and its very, very sour. If you like the results you’re getting, stay where you are. But I would give it at least one feed and a couple of hours on the counter before putting it away, to answer your next question. Susan

  15. Lucy

    one more question if I may, when I feed my starter I take equal weights of unfed starter, water, and flour. Is this correct?

    Reply
  16. Caite McKinney

    I was interested to see you can form and “rise” a loaf and then refrigerate it and bake later. How long can you leave the loaf in the fridge? I assume you don’t slash until just before baking. This would solve the dilemma I always face as a working Mom who is never at home at the right times for feeding the starter, “raising” and then baking the loaf!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Once a sourdough loaf has had its first rise and then been shaped, you can put it in the fridge overnight and bake it the next day. Take it out and leave at room temperature while the oven heats up; you should still slash the loaf before baking. It will help the bread keep a more uniform shape as it rises. Susan

  17. bj helton

    If I feed on Friday and let it sit out, then refrigerate and want to bake on Sunday, is the starter ready to use as is, or is it considered”unfed”. Some of the KA recipes, like the pretzels, calls for the unfed, the bread calls for “fed”

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Depends, BJ, on what the starter looks like to begin with. If it looks better than the first photo and not as good as the third, I’d recommend feeding it on Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday night before using it to bake with on Sunday. Susan

  18. Margot

    At the end of the article, it says it’s best to measure the starter by weight instead of volume. When King Arthur Flour recipes call for 1 cup sourdough starter, how much should this weigh?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Margot, that depends on what stage the starter is in its development. Unfed starter can weigh as much as 8 3/4 ounces per cup; a cup of ripe, active starter is unlikely to weigh more than 7 1/2. Susan

  19. grace kratovil

    Either I am too short on time, or just plain lazy. I’ve had a starter going for a little over a year. It is kept in the frig. When I bake bread, I take it out, pour about half in the mixing bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, plus some potatoes, seeds, mashed beans, etc, minus a little of the called for yeast, mix and bake. (Like my precise measurements?) Bread rises fast, not very sour-my husband’s preference. It is then fed only one time per week. Sourdough starter seems completely forgiving, right?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Grace, that is SO true! I have often done something very similar (particularly for pizza dough). Yet, I bet your bread stays fresher longer and doesn’t go moldy, either. Sourdough is great stuff. Susan

  20. Darcy

    Oh you just saved my sourdough beginnings! I haven’t been able to figure out why my starter and loaves have been so thin! Of all the recipes I’ve read, I never realized it was equal WEIGHTS for the water and flour and have been doing equal volumes!!! Oi! THANK YOU!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Excellent, Darcy, we’ll keep coming at the subject from all angles, looking to provide those light bulb moments!
      Susan

  21. Jon

    How long will an inactive starter last if kept refrigerated? I’ve heard they can last quite a while, because the fermentation creates alcohol which helps preserve it? Can you just feed it and bring it back to life then?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Jon. I have sucessfully revived starter that has had no attention whatsoever for 4 months. There’s a good week of feeding and discarding involved to get it back in shape, but it can be done! Susan

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Irene, that photo is meant to capture what many people who have neglected jars of starter in their refrigerators looks like. If you had a jar of starter sitting there for a month without feeding it, it would look pretty much the same. Many people believe that something that looks so (relatively) unappealing must either be a) dead or b) somehow beyond redemption. Neither are true. With regular care and feeding, that starter became the happy, bubbly one you see at the end of the post. Susan

  22. Deb

    Susan,

    I would like to see more recipes that exclude packaged yeast. The recipes on Kinf Arthur’s site seem to always include them. I’m making bread and pizza dough with my starter but would like more recipes. Thank you!!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Deb, you can make any recipe that calls for starter without yeast. If the starter is ripe, just leave the yeast out and allow more time for rising. Susan

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Gabby, the importance of discarding starter is twofold. You need to have equal amounts of old starter and new food, to keep the acid level consistent. If you add new food to twice as much old starter, the acid from the yeast and bacteria will be twice as high. The best thing to do is use the discard to make a recipe which doesn’t require ripe starter (we have a number of these on the website), or use your discard as the beginning of some pizza dough. If you want healthy, ripe starter that is capable of lifting your bread, it needs to be vigorous and active, with the best conditions for growth. Susan

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Yes, Paula, metal pans are fine. If you’re concerned you can always line them with some parchment. Susan

  23. Sunnye Tiedemann

    I am really frustrated. My sourdough doesn’t taste sour. It’s just like plain, old regular bread. I want to make the kind of tangy sourdough I experienced in San Francisco. How can I get that?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Sunnye, the most common misconception about how to get sour tasting bread is that it has to do with the starter. It has more to do with allowing the finished dough produce more acid for more tang. The best way to do that is to give your finished dough a long, slow rise before baking. Try shaping your next loaf and putting it in the fridge overnight before baking the next morning. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes. Susan

  24. Becky C

    I am about to make my first loaf. Kind of scary! I have a “spare” in the fridge, just in case.

    I have been contemplating it for over a year…now, to jump in. Practice, practice, right?

    Also, isn’t spelt flour gluten free, or lower in gluten?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Spelt is an ancient strain of wheat – it’s high in protein and has a nutty, complex flavor that’s sweeter and lighter than whole wheat. Substitute it for whole wheat flour in any recipe – its gluten is not as strong, so it’s best to combine with all-purpose or bread flour if you’re baking to give your breads enough structure. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  25. Rocky

    Hi Chef…
    I have noticed some sourdough sites are different in measuring ingredients,,,Some say if your starting with 100 grams of stater feed with 50 grams water and 50 grams of flour…While others say for 100 grams of starter feed 100 grams water and 100 grams flour…Which is correct…Thank you…Rock

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Rocky, there are many successful ways to create and maintain a sourdough starter, so both ways are perfectly correct. In this case the starter that is fed a smaller amount of flour and water will likely ferment more quickly, because it has a smaller meal to consume. In both cases the starter is being fed equal parts flour and water, so the consistency will be about the same. Our starter calls for equal parts starter, water and flour. Barb@KAF

  26. Robert Gottlieb

    This is a question. Can yeast from wild grapes be incorporated into an existing sourdough starter, e.g. by adding grapes when the starter is fed and then removing them?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Robert. What you’re describing is a cage match between the strains of yeast. There are hundreds of them, and depending on how well established the strain in your start is, inoculating the starter a second time may have no discernable effect or it may change the starter. It depends entirely on which strain of yeast wins out. Susan

  27. Erica S

    I’ve just read through all the comments and learned so much! I’m still new to starter, so after I finishing reviving it from its 3 week fast (shame), I think I’ll try resting the finished loaf overnight in the fridge. I really want to get that “San Francisco sour” tang. I work during the day–do you think I could rest the loaf for up to 20 hrs or so in the fridge before baking? (i.e. Overnight plus through the workday…)

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      HI Erica,
      You may not want to start with such a long rise right off the bat. Try an overnight rise on a weekend, and get used to the process. Then you can try other timetables as you gain experience. ~ MJ

  28. Avis Barbera

    When a recipe calls for 2 cups of fed starter, that amount consumes all of my starter with none left over to feed and live again for another loaf. Am I supposed to double the amount of starter that I make by using the discard to work up another batch? If so, do I use the same ratio, i.e.: 8 oz starter, 8 oz water and 8 oz flour?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Avis, you’re on the right track! When you need to build your starter, it’s fine to retain more starter and feed it an equal amount of flour and water. Say you need two cups of starter (16 ounces) for a recipe, for the last feeding before using your starter in your recipe you could save 7 ounces of starter and feed it 7 ounces of water and 7 ounces of starter; this will give you 21 ounces of starter–enough to use 16 in your recipe and have 5 ounces left over to feed and maintain. By keeping the ratio of ingredients the same in your starter it will stay more consistent in its rising and falling, but it also works to simply double the amount of flour and water you normally feed your starter. In this case your starter will rise more slowly because it has more food to consume. Barb@KAF

  29. Shirley Twining

    I have difficulty understanding why it is that we have to discard half when we are rejuvenating the sour dough. Why not just “do” the whole thing, adding more four and water? Seems to work for me!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Shirley. If you’re planning on making a lot of bread, there’s no reason not to feed the whole amount of starter. Say your stored amount is roughly 1 1/2 cups in volume, around 12 ounces. To keep the pH in balance, you’d need to feed that whole amount of starter with 12 ounces of water and 12 ounces of flour. Now you’re going to have, in total, between 4 1/2 and 5 cups of starter. That’s a LOT of starter. Which means in order not to waste it, you need to make a double batch of bread, 2 batches of waffles, and maybe some sourdough muffins. Susan

  30. Vivian Kokkinos

    I started baking sourdough about 20 years ago using Nancy Silverton’s book and actually made my own starter following her instructions. Her sourdough starter is much more liquid (or hydrated is how bakers put it). What is the advantage of using a stiffer starter if any? Actually, feeding the starter as per your instructions is easier as you use equal weight of all the ingredients for the feedings.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Vivian,
      You ask a great question! The starter shown in this post here is considered a liquid starter. You may have used a starter in the past that was even more liquidy (more than 100% hydration), which tends to ferment more quickly. A starter that is made up of equal amounts water and flour by weight is easy to incorporate into recipes as well as feed. It ferments at just the right rate for us; it needs to be fed about once a week.

      A truly stiff starter has different benefits. To read more about the advantages of baking with a stiff starter, check out our blogger Barb’s post on Artisan Sourdough Bread. These kinds of starters tend to have more sourness and are more easily identified as ripe. I hope this helps. Happy sourdough baking! Kye@KAF

  31. Jeffetx

    I swear I’m gonna get off my duff and try SD…..now, how about my wonnerful ol’ S. Texas home, lotsa doors and windows – no AC. Do I assume I am going to be doing some experimention, running back and forth from the fridg to counter top?
    (We have had several running days of what we call triple didget weather, no end in sight!!).
    I refuse to feel I am in an impossible situation for SD…..I can’t imagine Tx mother’s of old didn’t bake with it! (in fact many times in the summer I doubt they had any choice LOL)

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      No reason you can’t get sourdough to work, even in the Lone Star State. Just don’t count on 12 hour intervals between feedings, or if you need to stay on that schedule, leave the starter on the counter for 4 hours, or until you see it doubling in size. Then give it a time out in the refrigerator. Also, when feeding, start with cold water to keep things from running away on you. Susan

  32. Vivian Kokkinos

    BTW I have been diagnosed with diabetes and I felt guilty making sourdough bread. So I researched on google if sourdough bread is good for you. To my delightful surprise, it turns out that research has shown that sourdough bread made in the traditional way without any commercial yeast and with a long rising method, not only does not give you a glucose spike but it also has a carry over effect keeping your glucose in check for your next meal as well. Have anyone else done any research on this?

    Reply
  33. Ted

    Um…what’s the weight of the remaining sourdough in the jar, after I’ve discarded half and before feeding with 4ounces (by weight) of each flour and water? Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Ted. You’re looking to have 4 ounces of starter to feed, and 4 more ounces each of flour and water for a total of 12 ounces when you’re done. Susan

  34. Laura

    Hi Susan,

    My mother gave me some of her starter which is fed weekly with potato flakes and sugar. It looks like it was originally called an Amish Friendship starter. Can I use this starter in the KAF sourdough recipes? If not, can I convert this starter by starting to feed it flour instead?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Laura. Your Amish starter is designed for sweet breads, and isn’t at all what we’re asking for when we write a sourdough bread recipe. You are much better served just mixing up some flour and water (see our Sourdough Baking Guide for more complete info). Susan

  35. Mary

    My starter was rising ( day three) until I started feeding it twice a day now it doesn’t, what am I doing wrong ( on day four )

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Mary, not to worry, you may be doing nothing wrong at all. It’s normal to see ebbs and flows in the activity of your starter as you’re building it, and it may simply take a few more days of twice a day feedings to get to a more active state. It is important to take care to either measure your flour by weight or by using our fluff, sprinkle and level method (as seen here: http://bit.ly/1wHgfpu) if measuring by volume. This helps ensure that your starter doesn’t become heavier or “stiffer” than intended. You may also want to try peeking at your starter every couple of hours — while it only needs feeding twice a day, it will more than likely have passed its peak by the time you go to feed it every 12 hrs, so you may simply be missing it when it’s most active. Bottom line, it’s a process that takes a lot of patience, so we hope you’ll stick with it and give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE if you don’t see more activity in a few more days. We’ll cross our fingers for you in the meantime. Mollie@KAF

  36. Marty m

    Ok I have been lurking around the site, trying to learn all I could about sourdough before I jumped in. Finally took the plunge and ordered some starter and a crock. Fed it a few times and then made my first batch of bread.
    OMG! It’s great. Now my wife won’t let me out of the kitchen. Thanks for all the great advise. Can’t wait to try more recipes

    Reply
  37. John

    I’m interested in starting a sour dough bread starter that uses flour. I’ve been using one that I started but it uses water sugar potato flakes and yeast. Any guidance on doing this ?

    Reply
  38. Susan

    Hello!
    I’ve been playing with sourdough and starter for about 2 weeks now, but I’ve not yet been able to get my starter to be quite that airy, and I’m wondering if elevation might have anything to do with it. Im at around 6,000 ft. It’s stayed out on the counter, but I’ve only been doing once daily feedings. Will increasing the feedings increase the bubbles?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Susan, while altitude may speed up the fermentation process a bit, we suspect that the bigger culprit is the frequency of feeding. Once fully developed, one feeding per day should be sufficient, but while building the starter, we recommend feeding every 12 hours. While there are many different ways to build and maintain a sourdough starter, it may help to take a read through our guide. Even if you don’t choose to adopt the method itself, you might pick up some helpful hints. Mollie@KAF

  39. Fran

    What would be the difference between using ‘discard’ from an active starter (after it’s been kept at room temperature and fed twice a day for 4 days, so it’s very bubbly and active after 12 hours) and using some of it 8 hours after it’s been fed? I’m confused. Someone told me that using what I discard as I feed would qualify as ‘unfed’ starter, but I made some fantastic bread with it… and I can’t see why 4 hours would make any difference between a ‘fed’ and ‘unfed’ starter.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Fran, we generally consider a starter “fed” when it has been fed within the last 4-12 hours. Anything outside of that time frame (in either direction) would be considered “unfed”. If you’re using “fed” starter alongside other leaveners (like commercial yeast, baking powder and/or baking soda), the exact timing matters less, but when you’re using it as the sole leavener in a recipe, catching it at its peak activity level, or when it’s fully ripe, is important (and four hours can make a big difference). Finding your starter’s peak activity level can be tricky, and we hope this post helps to shed a little light. For additional questions and/or clarification, feel free to give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE. Mollie@KAF

  40. Karen west

    When I received my sour dough starter I was out of KA All Purpose flour. I only had All Purpose Bleached and KA Whole Wheat so I fed it the whole wheat. Is that okay or did I ruin my starter?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You didn’t ruin your starter Karen, but we’re guessing it’s super active at this point! The extra vitamins and minerals in whole wheat flour often make the starter ferment faster than it otherwise would. We recommend switching to feeding it regularly with our all-purpose flour as soon as you can; you can always use your whole wheat flour in the final dough. (Here’s a great recipe for Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread!) Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  41. John M

    I am new to baking bread and trying to make a sourdough starter into day 9 and it just doesn’t seem to be as active as I would expect. Also should I weigh my ingredients on my scale using fluid oz. or just weight. I have been using fluid oz. 4 of starter 4 of water and 4 of flour twice a day

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      John, frequent feedings are the best way to grow your starter, so stick with it! You can also try using some whole wheat flour for a few feedings to give it a bit more vitamins and minerals to enhance activity. We always recommend measuring your ingredients by weight if you have a scale–use regular ounces by weight rather than fluid ounces. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  42. Lu

    I am new to sourdough baking, I fed my first batch this morning. I have read several blog posts. This is exciting, because I have not made a loaf of bread for about 10 years. I am wondering if anyone has used sourdough in cake mixes, or cookie recipes? My mom made the best oatmeal cookies when I was a kid. I do not have her recipe, they were cakey. Your input is appreciated.
    Lu

    Reply
  43. liz

    NEVER Throw the it away.. before using pour 1 cup into a clean jar with a lid in frig..
    I use the sour dough :
    thesouthernladycooks.com/2008/06/22/sourdough-bread-anyone/
    the dough is very forgiving & smells wonderful as it’s fermenting.
    makes beautiful loaves.

    Reply
  44. Steve

    I have a few questions:
    I spent a week building a starter but I only fed it once a day instead of twice a day. It turned out sour and bubbly, but I never saw it blow up to the super ripe levels. Is this starter ok, or did I screw it up?

    Second, my goal is to have a fridge starter that I only have to feed on the weekends when I bake. My understanding is I should take the starter out on a Saturday night and feed it, leaving it out on the counter. 8-12 hours later I take the “fed” starter I need for my recipes, then replenish my starter and place it back in the fridge until next weekend. Is this correct?

    Lastly: I love the NYT “no-knead” recipe that calls for 12-18 hours of letting the dough ferment before shaping it. If I wanted to use sour dough starter in this recipe, should it be fed or unfed, considering the long time the dough sits?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Steve, it sounds like your starter is fine, but may need a little extra TLC in order to get it working optimally when it comes to offering flavor and rise to your sourdough breads (particularly ones that don’t contain added yeast). I would recommend two or three days of twice a day feedings at room temperature to get it more firmly established before you refrigerate it again. After it has been refrigerated for a week, I would try to give it at least two feedings at room temperature before adding it to a recipe. Here’s one possible routine you could follow for your weekend baking: take your starter out of the refrigerator on Friday night and feed it, feed it again Saturday morning, and then Saturday night will be your final feeding before you bake with it on Sunday morning. You could cut out the Friday night feeding, but keep in mind that the more room temperature feedings you can give it, the more lively and active it will be when it comes time to bake your bread.

      You’re absolutely correct that after you remove the portion of fed starter for your recipe, you’ll want to feed 4 ounces of your remaining starter with 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water, and then allow it to sit out for about an hour or two before returning it to the refrigerator.

      I haven’t tried this type of no knead recipe with sourdough starter, but I would say that the risk is that the dough will become too acidic when left out for that long of a time. When the fermentation goes on too long and the acidity builds, this can cause the proteins in the dough to breakdown. It may work with a very small amount of sourdough starter, but I would probably use fed starter as opposed to unfed starter in this case. Barb@KAF

  45. Craig

    I just received my sourdough starter and fed it the first time. The volume is about 1 1/2 cups water and 2 cups flour. I’ve waited 12 hours and the starter is very bubbly.

    The last sentence of Step 1 reads: “Stir the starter and measure out about 4 ounces (about 1/2 cup).”

    Step 2 reads “Mix in 1/2 cup water and 4 ounces (1 scant)n cup flour. Stir well….”

    My question: am I mixing the 1/2 cup water and 4 ounces of Step 2 into the remaining starter or into the 4 ounces that were measured out? I suspect it’s the latter but want to confirm. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re correct, Craig, though at this point in time, 4 oz is probably just about half of your starter, so there would also be 4 oz remaining. Think of it this way, you want the weight of your seed starter to be equal to the weight of the flour and the weight of the water you feed it with–so 4 oz, 4 oz and 4 oz. Mollie@KAF

  46. Kira Zurick

    Hello! I was given some starter, and it sat in the fridge for about 5 weeks, unfed. I fed it last week, and it’s doing beautifully! Made 2 batches of bread already! Since I’m keeping it in the fridge, is the following recommended? Remove what I need from the starter jar (putting the rest back into the fridge), feed what I took out, allow it to rise, and use that for my recipe. All the while, keeping the rest in the fridge, feeding it once a week. That way, I decrease the amount of starter naturally, and by the end of the week, have 4oz left to feed, so that I don’t need to throw any out. Does that sound feasible long term? Also, after feeding and standing at room temp before refrigerating, is there a minimum amount of time that I should wait before using the refreshed starter? Overnight? 2 days? Thank you for your guidance on my new adventure!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Carlos, we ref to that liquid as the “hooch;” it’s the alcohol that’s formed as a by-product of fermentation. You can stir it back in to make your starter a bit more tangy. Kye@KAF

  47. Trudy Haines

    How critical is the water source? Can tap water be used or does it have to be filtered? Is bottled water the equivalent to filtered?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      The water can make a big difference in how well your starter thrives. If there is chlorine in the water, it will kill off your yeast (darn anti-bacterials!) Conversely, if you have minerals in the water it can be a boon to your starter. So, if you know your water is treated try using filtered or bottled water. No need for distilled, just a jug o’ water from the store. ~ MJ

  48. Sara

    I’ve been baking with sourdough for about twelve years, and I’ve never been totally satisfied with my results. Using additional yeast, I can get beautiful breads with tight crumb and satisfying flavor, but I’ve never been able to get that good old holey, chewy sourdough with the crackling crust. Until today. I’ve spent the last two weeks reading everything PJ and Susan have written here on sourdough, and last night, I brought it all together, did a little stress-relief in the form of kneading, and this morning, we had the single best pair of loaves ever baked by human hands. A couple keys: I did purchase a new KAF starter, and I did use it. It’s interesting how different it smells from the one that started as a KAF starter years ago but has moved with me all up and down the East coast and is, no doubt, very different now from where it started. I did also bake in my great-great-grandmother’s dutch oven (which is how I bake my hearth bread) at 520 to get that amazing crust. It worked, even in my very leaky, inconsistent oven. And I did an overnight bench rise in the fridge. But I think one of the biggest things is that I looked at the photos Susan posted of when a starter is really ripe and ready to use, and I didn’t rush it. Anyway, thank you PJ! Thank you, Susan! Yum!!!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Congratulations Sara! While we provided the inspiration and some helpful tips, you deserve all the credit for those stellar loaves. Huzzah for you! ~ MJ

  49. Nanette

    Just received my KA starter and have fed it twice. The booklet does not mention anything about non-clorinated water being necessary. I’m hoping I haven’t killed it as MaryJane mentioned is possible in her Mar 23 posting re chlorinated water. Seemed fine after first feeding, will see how the second goes. If it is affected, will it just need more time to mature? For future reference, do you know if the use of a Brita filter will do the trick?

    Also how can you tell if your starter has been sitting too long and needs another feeding before you can use it to bake?

    Thanks,
    Nanette

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Congrats on your new arrival, Nanette! We don’t usually bring up the issue of chlorinated water unless there’s a problem growing your starter. If you suspect that your tap water may be highly chlorinated, then you may want to consider switching over to bottled water, but we wouldn’t worry too much about it if your starter seems to behaving as it should. Brita filters do claim to reduce the taste and odor of chlorine in waters, so you could give that a try as well, though really there’s no need to worry at this point. As to your second question, the exact amount of time your starter takes to become fully active will vary based on a number of factors, including the strength of the starter and the ambient temp and humidity, but often it takes around 4-8 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when, as Susan describes here, it has “doubled in volume, and shows signs of just beginning to sag under its own weight”. When it passes its peak level of activity, it will start to fall again, and you’ll often notice more bubbles just at the surface, rather than throughout the mixture. For an even more detailed, visual walk-through of the process of building up your starter, please visit our Sourdough Baking Guide and for more info on feeding and maintaining your starter, please visit this companion blog article. Hope this helps and happy baking! Mollie@KAF

  50. Val in Cincinnati

    Under “ripe and ready to go” you say, “It’s doubled in volume, and shows signs of just beginning to sag under its own weight.” What signs tell us that it’s beginning to sag under its own weight?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Val, look for a slight dip in the top surface of the starter. You might even see residue on the sides of the container that shows it’s risen high and now is starting to sink. Kye@KAF

  51. Bonnie Goller

    Like Jeffetx above, I live in a hot climate with no ac. 84 degrees in my kitchen right now, with the fans going. I’m on my second starter, the first one went great guns–on the third day it overflowed a 4-cup glass carafe and then it quit. I tried everything to revive it (fed it with wheat flour, etc.), but the most it would ever do is bubble a little bit–no expansion at all after that first rise. I think it overheated and killed most of the yeastie beasties. I’m now on day 3 of starter #2. It doubled this morning about 4 hours after the feeding, so I put it in the fridge. My question: should I bring it out of the fridge and “warm it up a bit” before I give it its nightime feeding? Thanks! Love this site!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Bonnie, you can feed it “cold” with room temperature water and flour; give it a couple of hours on the counter until it gets moving, then put it back in the fridge before it decides to take over your kitchen again!!! Susan

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Bonnie, the fridge always slows down the activity of your starter. If it’s still in the early stages, we recommend leaving it at room temperature (for at least five days) to ensure it builds up a healthy foundation of wild yeast and friendly bacteria. Once you pass this stage, you can store it in the fridge between feedings. You can take it out of the fridge, discard, add fresh flour and water, and then let it rest at room temperature for 4-6 hours (at least) if possible before putting it back in the fridge. This will help the starter “digest” its recent feeding before being put back to sleep. Kye@KAF

  52. Deborah Nicholson

    I forgot to save some of my sour dough for starter. Can I use some of my bread dough to make a new starter. It has whole wheat flour, fennel seed and quinoa in it as well as all purpose flour.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Deborah, rather than using some of your bread dough, we think you’ll have better results if you use our recipe for Sourdough Starter and begin from scratch. While you might be be able to coax life into your bread dough, the results will be more unpredictable than if you use our tried and tested recipe. Good luck! Kye@KAF

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