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Sourdough Yeast Starter

In today’s episode of “As the chef turns” we find that Lance has blamed Linda for his failings as a short order cook. Bob has fallen in love with Alice, not realizing that she secretly loves his brother, Chuck.

Meanwhile Christian has been working on mixing sourdough starter in a secret government underground lab…

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3 cups warm water (105 to 115 deg)
  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached or all-purpose flour. Do not use self-rising flour
  • A cheesecloth or maybe a small towel. This is to keep the yeast warm and to prevent debris from getting in.
  • Glass mixing bowl (big enough for everything). If you must use a metal bowl, use a stainless steel one. These are the same rules for beer making. Bread and beer.
  • A 2 quart crock or glass jar. It must have a tight fitting lid. Again, this shouldn’t be metal. Metal will affect the output!

Once you have the parts together then you can make some starter:

  1. Start by putting the warm water in the mixing bowl.
  2. Dissolve the yeast in the water. These are the little yeasty-beasties that we will feed and grow. Think of them as very very small sea monkeys.
  3. Gradually stir in the flour. Mix it till it’s smooth. This is the food for the yeasty-beasties. Did I mention not using self-rising flour?
  4. Cover with the cheesecloth or towel and let it stand in a warm and draft-free place. It should be 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time.
  5. In about 24 hours or so, the starter will ferment; bubbles will appear on the surface of the starter. This is good! Fermentation just means that the yeasts are growing and it’s what makes the sourdough so good.
  6. Let it stand until it is foamy, usually about two or three days.
  7. Once it is foamy, stir it until it’s mixed well and pour it into the 2 quart jar or crock and seal it tight and put it in the fridge.
  8. When you see a clear liquid rise to the top, then the starter is ready to use! Stir it before using it.

That’s it!

I just want to mention that yeast (and this starter, which is yeast in a growth medium) is a living organism. These instructions are more like pet care instead of a cooking recipe.

As living organisms, they need to fed and to be kept warm (or cool if you live someplace hot).

The yeast can live a week or two without doing anything. However, you can keep them alive (active) forever if you take proper care of them.

Once a week, you should stir in 1 teaspoon of sugar, mixing it thoroughly.

When you use the starter, such as for making yummy sourdough bread, you should stir in some extra water and flour in the same ratio as when we created the starter.

Bread yeasts have a range of temperatures that they can live at and the range can vary from yeast to yeast. The warmer they are, the faster they grow. If they grow too fast, it can be bad; they’ll produce too much waste product (bubbles and stuff) and make themselves sad. Really hot temperatures will boil them. And that’s really bad.

If you make them cold, like putting them inside your fridge, then they grow slower. This is a good way to keep ‘em longer. Make it too cold and they die. So don’t do that.

Bread yeasts, seem to grow best at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and should be able to tolerate the fridge for storage. Turning them into ice cubes would be bad.

Yeasts are your friends.

Tips for sourdough happiness:

  • You should start the bread in the evening and then bake it in the morning. Or the reverse. Either works. The idea is to let it rest and rise plenty.
  • Let the starter warm up to room temperature before using it. You don’t want to shock your yeasts right before they are needed to make your bread rise!
  • Don’t kill the yeasts by feeding them anything but flour, sugar and water!

Note: The really hard crust on the outside of the San Francisco bakery loaves is due to their ovens. Your bread will be yummy, crisp and tangy, but it won’t have that super hard crust without some seriously hard-core ovens

That’s all; happy yeasting!

Next time: What to do with that yeast (hint: make bread)!



Gravatar for linda

I’m looking for the recipe for live sourdough starter that uses potato flakes.


Gravatar for docwhat

Hiya Linda!

Never heard of such a thing as using potato flakes. But a starch is a starch.

The rules above are about the care of the yeast organism. If you use potato flakes you would only be changing the food. I don’t know how much change it’ll make in the starter and how much change it’d make in the bread you make.

It would be interesting to try. I don’t know if you could totally replace the flour or not. You’d have to make sure that the flakes are only potato and not something that’ll kill the yeasts.

You could start with the recipe above but when you go to add more flour, use flakes instead. If the yeast continues, then you have success!


Gravatar for john

I’ve been studying the art of sourdough and making sourdough bread for years and I’m sorry but you’ve got just about everything wrong here. If this is an elaborate joke to make people waste flour and time I can understand then, if it’s not then I recommend anyone interested in actually making sourdough bread go here:

The bit about baking soda being the sour part is particularly funny since it’s quite the opposite. Feeding a sourdough with anything but flour is a recipe for really bad bread.

A proper sourdough starter should never have anything in it but flour and water. Nothing else is required. Flour has natural sourdough yeasts and the bacteria required to generate the lactic acid required for the sour taste. Adding store bought yeast just forces all the yeast you want to compete with the natural yeasts, this is very wrong on so many levels. The link above will steer you straight.

Gravatar for docwhat

Hiya John!

Thanks for the pointer to egullet. I didn’t find that when I was looking for information.

Shame on you for being mean, though.

You are right about the baking soda. I thought I had removed that when I rewrote the article.

The history of the article:

  • I got the original recipe from a friend who had hand copied it from a county cook book. The recipe worked and produced decent bread.
  • I put it on my web site.
  • The recipe somehow made it up to the first page of results on Google. I don’t know what happened, it must have been linked to.
  • I updated my site and the recipe was removed.
  • I still got hits for the (now missing) page.
  • After about a year and a half of that, I updated my site again.
  • Since the original recipe, I have made beer and spent a bit more time with yeasty-beasties. So I updated the recipe, though out some bogus parts, rewrote it in my own style and re-posted it.

I have never heard that flour has yeasts in it. It makes sense. Yeasts are everywhere. Our old house has nasty things that taste awful. However, I would think that the processes that flour goes though would kill the yeasts.

I haven’t been able to experiment much, since my current house isn’t very temperature controlled and has a teeny tiny kitchen.


Gravatar for paul s. danko
Paul S. Danko

Where do you let it stand after the 24 hour fermentation? I have it covered in a bowl in the boiler room where its warm with no draft. Do I simply leave it on the kitchen counter for 3 days or keep it in the warmer spot?

Gravatar for docwhat

It doesn’t matter much; You just need the temperature to be 80F-85F and it not to be breezy.

If you store it near a boiler or something like that, then cover it with a cloth to keep things from falling into it.


Gravatar for mario

Actually the process of just using flour and water as a yeast starter is one that is used to capture wild yeast. You can most certainly make a yeast starter from yeast you buy. There is nothing wrong with that. I do it all the time in beer making and have done it for sourdough as well. So, apart from the mention of baking soda (never heard of that), docwhat’s process isn’t wrong at all.

If you want your yeast to have a distinctive regional flavor, then definitely go the wild yeast capturing route … this is in fact the reason why San Francisco sourdough tastes different from say New York or Chicago … the yeast used are regional.

A further note, while there is definitely yeast in flour (there’s actually yeast in everything, just about), when you make a yeast starter with just flour and water you are mostly getting your yeast from the air. And also, there isn’t a ‘proper’ sourdough yeast per-se. Sourdough gets its tangy flavor from the fermentation process the starter is allowed to go through. Each strain of yeast (and there are more that 1500) imparts its own signature as well. You can get strains of yeast to make your sourdough taste like, for instance, San Francisco sourdough … but it isn’t a ‘sourdough’ yeast so much as the strain of yeast used by most San Francisco sourdough makers.

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