Why can't I make sourdough starter?

I have decided to make sourdough bread. Being a purist of sorts I want to make the starter from scratch. No packaged yeast.

I went to the net and read up on starters and was told that even a moron can make the starter.

I am a moron

I cannot get the results they describe.

I bought bread flour (not unbleached all purpose flour). I used a glass bowl(not plastic). I used a rubber spatula ( not metal). I used bottled water (not tap water even though we have well water) to avoid chlorine. I fed the starter every 12 hours per one recipe. I fed every 24 on another attempt per another recipe. I have used almost a full five pound bag of flour on about 5 attempts. Each one taking a week or more.

All the directions say that my starter should double in volume every 6-8 hours after feeding. It should attain a slightly alcohol yeasty aroma and possibly create a yellowish liquid on top called hooch after a few days.

All of the above has happened, the aroma and the hooch (sometimes), but no expansion in volume. It just sits in the bowl and gets kinda foamy on top. It doesn’t get bubbly throughout the mixture.

If it won’t rise itself in a bowl How could expect it to rise a loaf of bread dough?

What am I doing wrong?

What temperature is your house (or whereever you keep your starter). I suspect it’s like yeast – it won’t grow in the cold. It needs warm. Warmer is better – until you get too warm and kill it :slight_smile:

Try a little bit of rye flour as well. It seems to supercharge the yeast.

Moibus. We keep the house at about 75 degrees. The starter is kept in the kitchen and it stays about the same in there if not maybe a bit warmer. Maybe I will try the rye flour. At least one set of directions say that it may have a bit more bacteria than white flour.

Thanks for the suggestions.

It sounds like your attempts have been alive, given that everything but rising has happened (and the foam indicates CO2 production, I should think). Is it possible that your starter is too thin, allowing the CO2 to escape, rather than causing it to rise?

Maybe try a batch with a little less water.

Note: I’ve never made a starter, so anything I say is just guesswork.


Make your starter with half rye, half regular bread or AP flour. Rye seems to have all the microorganisms and nutrients to make a starter take off. After you establish the starter, you can switch to all-white flour.

However, it sounds like your starter is doing fine, based on your description. People make their starters in all sorts of different ways–some like 'em thin, almost like pancake dough, others make it less hydrated, almost like a dough. If your starter is thin, of course it’s not really going to double, as your bubbles will simply bubble out and out of the dough. As long as it’s bubbling strongly and quickly after feedings (like say within 2-4 hours), you should have a healthy starter on your hands.

For best results, though, I recommend getting an established starter from somewhere. It’s fun to do it yourself, but I’ve never had particularly great results with homemade starters. Yes, they work fine, but I’ve never had one that tasted as good or had as strong leavening power as a starter I mail-ordered or was gifted with from a chef friend of mine.

I’ve been making my starter about like a thick pancake batter. Maybe that is still too thin? Pulykamel: I have sent off for the free Carl’s friends starter. Can I just add it to the starter I already have or should I start over? I really wanted to make sure I can make one myself before I try a special one.

Any other suggestions are appreciated

Your house may be too clean. Try starting with a jar 1/4 full of red seedless grapes Cut them up a bit and put them out on the balcony or porch for 2-3 days, then start following your recipe as before, as if you’d never put the grapes in.

This will allow you to capture a more aggressive wild strain.

The yeast in homemade starters predominantly come from microorganisms on the flour itself, not the environment.

Maybe someone can confirm or deny what a rather excellent camp cook told us about his Sourdough starter; that if it takes on a pinkish tint that it’s gone bad and needs to be discarded. His word actually was “poisonous”, although I hesitate to use that harsh a label.

You can go either way on that, but I personally would just start from scratch.

I thought the whole point of making one’s own is to capture the local yeasts, as opposed to the readily available commercial ones which would probably be floating around any flour processing facility.

I mean, granted, if you try to capture in San Francisco you’re likely to end up with the standard commercialized extra tangy sourdough that is so popular there. But if you live in/near the woods, there’s undoubtably a wild indigenous strain or two (or seventy) which would be interesting to work with and explore.

That’s an interesting question. Are the traits that would make one strain outcompete the other the same as the traits that would make better bread?

You can find many cites by Googling, but here’s one reference for you.

Now, does it evolve over time? As far as I understand it, yes. The longer your starter goes, the more and more it develops local characteristics. Now, one thing I’m unclear about is whether that means any starter you buy will eventually turn into a “local” sourdough. It seems to me that unless you have a collection of yeasts and bacteria that overpower the local microorganisms, that this would be the case, but I’m not a microbiologist and I don’t know over what kind of timescale this would take place.

Are you near any bakery that does homemade sourdough? Some of them will sell you a jar of their sourdough starter. There’s one near here, Firehook, which at one point would do that; no idea if they still do so. Then, obviously, you need to keep it viable at home.

Mama Zappa: We live in a small town and the only bakery here is a panaderia. They don’t seem to have anything sourdough. I read online that I need to refrigerate the starter and feed it once a week to keep it viable. Sounds easy to keep it active.

Funny thing is I have two attempts going right now. Each seems to be progressing at the same rate. Funny thing is they smell totally different. One smells axactly like stale beer, though not unpleasantly so. The other smells kinda nutty. Almost like a like a nut bread dough would smell, but with a sour tang.

Both are being fed from the same bag of flour and at the same times. I used the twice a day feeding for both. One is in a plastic bowl and the other in a glass bowl. Maybe there is something to the “old wives tale” about using only glass?

It’s even easier than that. Once you’ve got a nice, strong starter going, it’s pretty hard to kill it, as long as you leave it in the fridge. I’ve gone months between feedings when I’ve gotten lazy. It might take a little bit longer to wake it up at this point, but sourdough takes some effort to kill off once it’s strong.

Feed the bitch! Feed the bitch, or she’ll die!

If you are interested in playing with various sourdoughs from around the world check out this site. Sourdoughs International. You will find that there are huge differences between various strains. The book featured on the site is one the best I’ve read on sourdough breads, there are many recipes and much information. Speaking of information, there is a lot of misinformation about sourdoughs floating around out there.

I forgot to add that you can get a good starter for the price of return postage from these folks. Friends of Carl Griffith.

Ed Wood’s book isn’t necessarily gospel though. Read here.

There are a lot of opinions on the matter out there. Personally, from all I’ve researched, I’ve come to conclusion that the type of yeast culturing as expressed in the OP is going to culture the yeast that is already on the flour from the milling process. I have yet to read anything compelling that suggests otherwise.