Demystifying Sourdough – Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Sourdough Starter – Why It’s Better For You – And How To Start One

The ultimate sourdough guide with common terms and troubleshooting tips.
This is your ultimate guide to sourdough starter and becoming a super healthy sourdough baker extraordinaire!

Sourdough can seem like a daunting and intimidating baking challenge but I’m writing this guide to show you how easy it is. I will explain what sourdough is, how it works and how to make it work for you. If you ever feel intimidated during the sourdough process just try to remember that up until two hundred years ago, all leavened bread was made traditionally with wild yeast and bacteria (sourdough)!

My fifteen year old sourdough is my pride and joy. I bake with it at least once a week and it’s become a part of my family and part of my history and evolution as a chef.

I’ve recently made a commitment to only eat soaked and fermented grains for the rest of my life. I know, that’s a big commitment! What that means is that I now make my own breads, crackers, pancakes, waffles, biscuits, muffins, tortillas, pasta, pastry crust, cookies, cakes, English muffins, and quickbreads all with my trusty and very happy mother starter.

It is my mission to transform every recipe that uses wheat flour into a sourdough recipe.

See all of my sourdough recipes here.

 

She of the beautiful Sourdough baked goods from Butter For All
Beautiful Sourdough Baked Goods
Copyright Butter For All

Page Guide

Page 1. Intro
Page 2. What Is Sourdough?
Page 3. Bread Terminology
Page 4. Why Eat Sourdough?
Page 5. Tools
Page 6. Starter Recipe
Page 7. Fresh Starter vs. Discard
Page 8. Starter Hydration & Feeding
Page 9. Favorite Recipes
Page 10. Troubleshooting Sourdough
Page 11.  Starter Insurance Policy
Page 12. Using Stale Bread
Page 13. Recipes You Don’t Want To Miss

10 Comments

  1. Cynthia Wright


    I have made your cinnamon raisin bread a lot and given loaves of it to others, it is awesome! I did the chewy pancakes once and loved them! The pizza rounds are in the fridge right now and I am looking forward to homemade sourdough pizza this evening. Finally just read your Demystifying Sourdough insruction. I started in a much different way but am certainly enjoying my sourdough journey, and you are definitely an inspiration and a help! Thank you!

    • Hi Cynthia!

      This comment is making my day, thank you! I love to hear how people are using my recipes and I love the positive feedback! I’d also be very interested to hear about your personal sourdough journey, please feel free to share it if you wish. I’m always trying to learn more about sourdough and there are so many personal experiences and recipes that are unique examples of the sourdough craft. Thank you for letting me share mine with you!

      -Courtney

  2. Marilyn M. McIntyre

    I first learned about sourdough through the Tassajara Bread Book back many years when I was a nomadic tree planter. My starter was always happy to sit quietly in a cooler and have since made it a practice to keep and use starter in the refrigerator. But today I found your site and learned so much more about how to use it, save it etc. Thank you. Tomorrow I will make the miniature apple maple pies. I am a very new follower.

    • Hi Raegan!

      Are you measuring by weight or volume? If by weight, then yes your starter is 100% hydration. But if you are measuring by volume (1 cup to 1 cup) then probably not 100% because flour and water will weigh out differently even if they are the same amount by volume. You can easily convert to weight by using the instructions above. Or if you are having success with the way you are doing it then no need to change. I like to keep my starter at 100% so the recipes I write are consistent.

      Hope this helps and I hope you enjoy my sourdough recipes!

      – Courtney

      • Raegan Stegmeier

        Thanks for your reply! So, I tried your burger buns and dutch oven boule. I had them sitting out in our sunroom, which is warmest room in the house. After 4 hours neither of the doughs had barely risen, so I turned our electric fireplace on and set them near it, but not too close. By morning they had somewhat risen. I formed my burger buns and left them to rise, but after 6 hours, there was hardly any change! My dough for the boule was nowhere near as soft as yours. I used 1/2 bleached all-purpose, 1/4 whole wheat, and 1/4 rye flour. After reading some more on your articles I tested my starter by dropping it in water after 4 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours, and 12 hours. All of the times it sank to the bottom. Please help!

        • Hi Raegan,

          I’m glad you gave me such a thorough description of what’s going on. It sounds like your starter needs some work. An active starter should double or more in 4 to 6 hours. So that means after you feed it, you should see some pretty significant rise within the next 4 to 6 hours at room temperature. Doing a float test is a good measure of how much gas has formed within your starter. So it sounds like very little gas is being formed by the fermentation process.
          How old is your starter? And it would be helpful to know how often you bake with it and feed it. I would also advise you to buy organic flour that is unbleached. Any chemical addition to flour will have a negative effect of the wild yeast and bacteria and could be playing a big role in you starter’s health.

          I would recommend feeding your starter every 12 hours for three days. Start with 150 grams of starter. Remove 100 grams, feed 50 grams of each organic flour and filtered water. Do this each time you feed. Keep the starter at room temperature the whole time. Refrigeration will suppress the activity. After three days of double feedings report back. If the starter is rising to double within 6 hours you are ready to start baking. If not we may need to look into things further!

          I sincerely hope this helps! Please keep me updated!

          Courtney

  3. Jess

    Hello! I am so excited that I have found your site! The information you’ve shared has been so helpful. I began my own starter when I was a teenager (some teens partied on a weekend. I baked) but when I went off to college I wasn’t able to bring it along and sadly it was trashed while I was away. However, I was recently gifted a bit of my mom’s friend’s starter and I am excited to have a second go.

    When I received the starter, her instructions to keep it were to place it inside the fridge and take it out once a week, discard (use) 1 cup, feed with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water, and return to the fridge. I figured if it had been working for her, I’d stick with it, so I followed that schedule.

    I didn’t see much activity, but I tried to bake with it anyway. I took it out of the fridge, let it come to room temp, fed it, and then tried baking with it. I didn’t see much rise, if any. Unsurprisingly, the loaf was short, dense, and weighed about fifty pounds. Seriously, brick loaf.

    I had to find some answers, so I took to the web and found your site. I followed your instructions to get my poor, limping starter back to health. I’ve kept it on the counter and fed it daily, and it has revived so that I see it bubble and grow, and peak a few hours after I feed it. I currently have about 100 grams of starter. I take out half and feed with 25g water and 25g flour. I haven’t braved baking with it again yet, but I am anxious to try.

    Here’s where I am stuck. After it is healthy, if I am not able to use it often, what is the best option for storage? I can definitely use it once a week, I hope maybe more. Should it go in the fridge again? What’s the protocol for feeding/using it out of the fridge? I desperately want this one to last, and I’m so thankful for any sourdough wisdom you can throw my way!

    Jess

    • Hi Jess,

      I’m so happy you found my website! I live for sourdough!

      It sounds like you are on the right track! Getting the starter revived is the first step and it sounds like you’ve been successful with that. Next, you will want to build up that starter until you have about 300g for baking. So go ahead and feed it (when you are ready to bake) with 150g flour and 150g water. Let that ferment and peak. My bread recipes call for about 250g of active starter.

      For storage, feed your starter again with 150x150g and let if ferment about halfway to peaking. Stick it into the fridge. The yeast activity will slow down dramatically but it will still have some sugar to consume so it won’t go hungry. If you are baking often (at least once a week) there will be no need to feed your starter before the next use. When you bring it out, let it peak and decide if you want to use the starter for bread or another project. If the starter seems active, go ahead and add it to a bread recipe. If it seems sluggish, remove some and feed again, then use the discard in crackers or pancakes etc. All starter will eventually rise bread, but you will have to wait a lot longer if the starter isn’t really active.

      Honestly all starters are different and respond to cold storage differently so you will have to use your sourdough sense (it sounds like you have it). The best way to go forward is to just start baking! The more you use and feed your starter the happier it will be!

      The main takeaway would be, don’t let your starter go hungry. Always feed it and let if ferment a bit before it goes in the fridge. If you leave it out it will consume all the sugar quickly and get more sour but it will also be very hungry and might not be as active and happy. Find that balance and feel free to reach out to me with more questions! You’ve given me inspiration to include this info in my sourdough feeding post! Thank you!

      I sincerely hope this helps,

      Courtney

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