Comments 5

Start with a Starter

As long as it is fed regularly a sourdough starter can live indefinitely and become an heirloom passed on from one generation to the next. The starter is not designed to be eaten raw and should only form anywhere from 10-20% of the total loaf. Starters were and are essential to traditional baking since it contains the wild yeasts and LABs needed to leaven the loaf. Packets of commercial, packaged yeasts are a relatively new invention developed on a commercial scale at the end of the nineteenth century only. Prior to that loaves could only be leavened through wild fermentation.

For more information on the nutritional benefits of sourdough baking see here.

The starter-culture smells sour as a result of the fermentation process. Once baked the sourness diminishes considerably leaving natural flavours and aromas in the baked bread. The result of microbial activity on the grain as the loaf leavens results in a loaf of bread that has more flavour, is more satiating, has a more pleasing texture and is a lot more nutritious than the average commercially prepared quick-rise yeast loaf.

Sourdough baking may seem daunting to begin with but once started the home baker will soon realise how simple it actually is. Having nurtured a starter it is hard to let go!

Rye Sourdough Starter

Take 1 cup of rye flour and 1 cup of water and mix in a non-metallic bowl.

Cover with a cheese-cloth or a tea-towel and store on an open shelf in the kitchen.

Add one cup of rye and one cup of water to the same bowl for seven days.

By the seventh day (if not earlier) bubbles will have begun to form in the mixture and it will have developed it’s characteristic sour smell. The flour has fermented and will be brimming with LABs, wild yeasts and enzymes that live naturally in the air and on the grain. They will help transform your daily loaf into a culinary, nutritious delight.

Give your starter a name and get ready to bake!

White wheat sourdough starter for the Kaiser Roll and Brioche recipe.

1 cup of white wheat flour, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of fermented rye sourdough starter.

Mix together in a bowl and leave to rest for two to three hours before baking the kaiser or brioche rolls.

 Handy Tips and Trouble-shooting

Any whole-grain flour can be used to create a starter – wheat, spelt, emmer or rye. Rye sourdough starters are recommended since rye contains more of the enzyme amylase than any other flour and is excellent at kick starting both the LAB and wild yeast fermentation. That all said a sourdough starter can be made from just about any flour so long as it contains some bran. A white sourdough starter without any bran (where all the wild things reside) will not be as effective as a whole-grain starter in leavening the loaf.

If you want to keep up sourdough baking – and really why wouldn’t you? – don’t forget to add one cup of rye and one cup of water at least once a day or every other day to your fermented culture. If ignored for too long the starter will, quite literally, turn miffy and develop interesting smells – sweaty socks springs to mind or over-ripe cheese. Do not despair and do not throw away your starter if this happens. It will not have “gone off”.

In cases where the starter becomes “too ripe” discard most of it but keep at least a cup over – and simply add fresh rye and water. Your starter will be right as rain in no time.

Do not despair if the starter develops a brown liquid on top. This is perfectly fine and can be stirred back into the main batter. In fact it is a sign that the starter is healthy and full of all the right kind of bacteria/yeasts that you need to bake that great everyday loaf.

If you’re not planning to bake for a few days the starter can be placed in the fridge where the microbial activity will be slowed down but not destroyed. A sourdough starter can be frozen and defrosted for later use – handy if going away for a two-week holiday

Also, remember warmth speeds up the fermentation process considerably so in the summer it may be worthwhile putting your starter in the fridge rather than on a shelf to prevent it from becoming over active and ripening too quickly.

This entry was posted in: Bread


  1. Trui says

    Hi there,
    I tried your starter, your writing is so convincing :-)!
    It bubbles already after only 3 days, but also has a smell that is not entirely pleasing… fermented, ok, but maybe a bit too much already. Do you think that’s possible ?
    The smell makes me think of strong brown beer, and when I don’t want to think so positive it’ s more like food going bad.
    We are used to yeast-based-homemade bread, I’d like the experiment to turn out ok around our table :-). On the other hand, I hate throwing food away…
    What’s your advice ?
    Thanks for sharing your passion for good authentic food here, Trui

    • Hi Trui

      I am really pleased to read that you’re giving this a go and that your starter is already beginning to bubble away. It is perfectly normal that your sourdough starter has developed funky smells. All fermented foods and drinks have challenging tastes and smells especially when one is not used to them. The smell of fresh yeast is quite refreshing and pleasant in comparison. I completely agree that there is a temptation to bin the lot and assume that something has gone horribly wrong. In fact I know plenty of people who have done just that but a sourdough starter can never “go off”. It can always be saved from the brink. It’s more like a cheese (which is fermented milk rather than grain) – it has different levels of ripeness. A sourdough starter is a colony of wild yeasts and LABs living together both eating the sugars (carbohydrates) in the grain and transforming the nutrients in the grain into something more digestible. Initially the wild yeasts are more active then the LABs. The longer you leave it without a fresh feed the more active the LABs will become, the less active the wild yeasts and the stronger the smell. It is safe to consume at any point – it just depends what flavour and texture you want from your loaf. The riper the starter the stronger the taste and the less your loaf will rise. The less stronger the smell the milder the final taste of the baked loaf and the more the loaf will rise. In my experience the family much prefer the milder flavoured loaf – it just depends what you and your family/friends like. As for my starter I feed it fresh whole rye flour when I bake a fresh loaf (every two-three days). I then leave it in the fridge to slow down the microbial activity and prevent it from getting over-ripe. It also stops the kitchen from smelling to strongly of fermented grain and hearing the whole family protest! If it is too ripe and smelly I feed it one more cup of rye and flour to dilute the starter before I begin. Hope this helps and let me know how your first baked loaf goes. I’d be really interested to hear. If you’re interested I’ve written more about how to care for your starter in a blog piece here:

  2. Trui says

    Thanks for your kind and long answer !
    As it often goes, I ask a question out loud and then know what to do :-).
    So I decided to bake with it right away after sending this post !
    It did rise well and turned out beautifully.
    But everyone here disliked the smell during the baking :-(.
    They all tried it for breakfast, feeling sympathy for the experiment.
    I should read more about it though, cause they are interested in the Why and How it being easier to digest and healthy ! And then my answers weren’t convincing, understandable.
    So : 2 of us liked it, 1 said 0K, 2 are very much in love with the-way-they-are-used-to and therefore didn’t like it and 1 really disliked the whole idea. That 1 is my husband :-(… I liked it.
    I still want to experiment with it and let it be a addition to our bread.
    And learn about the life in food.
    We produce a lot ourselves and then it is extra tough to throw things away.
    Jam, cherry’s in syrup, open for too long and thus ‘gone bad’ and I wonder if that sort of fermentation would be really unhealthy or on the contrary they smell of alcohol and turned into an other form of food but still healthy 🙂
    A lot of reading to be done… and very interesting…
    Thank you ! Trui

  3. Hi Trui – I’m glad the baked bread worked out 🙂 Even after five years of baking this bread I still get excited when I see the wild yeasts working their magic and my loaf has risen! Your family’s likes and dislikes sound very familiar. It has taken me five years to cinvince the family that a sourdough bread tastes great. I have managed to win four out of the five over but there is still one stubborn little darling who refuses to eat it. In fact I normally advise (perhaps I didn’t say it here) don’t call it “sour” dough bread – just call it bread. My kids were put off by me referring enthusiasticlly to my new bread as a “sour”dough bread. I also agree it can be very hard explaining the “health” benefits. No one has ever eaten something “because it is good for you” – other than perhaps mothers! For the rest “it’s good for you and is healthy” is normally a good reason for my children NOT to eat the food :-). If you are interested in other fermented foods I have written extensively about them elsewhere on masterinthekitchen – under “Preserved Foods” and “An Urge to Preserve”. I can also highly recommend Sandor Katz “The Art of Fermentation”. It’s big, thick book but is very comprehensive and detailed.

  4. Pingback: A traditional home-made loaf: family friendly and easy to prepare | Master in the Kitchen

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