Sourdough Starter Tips

Making your own sourdough bread can be uniquely satisfying in contrast to the modern world of frozen food and instant everything. But from my own experience I can tell you that it can suprelmey frustrating too! It took me several weeks to get my first sourdough starter active and strong enough to bake a half decent loaf of bread, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. However, I eventually figured out that my starter was just too cold and the moment I figured out how to keep its ambient temperature up a few degrees (in the oven with the light on!) I was off to the races and I haven’t looked back since.

Taking the time to source quality ingredients, mix them together, and watch as your creation rises in the oven is a special experience. You don’t have to be an expert baker or even have any baking experience at all – with a bit of patience and practice you can become a sourdough bread wizard! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Here’s a review of the most common problems with making your own starter and my tips for fixing it.

Underproofed sourdough

Honestly, underproofed sourdough is the problem 75% of the time for new bakers. This occurs when the dough hasn’t been left to rise for long enough and hasn’t developed the necessary structure to hold its shape. In this picture you can see large holes as well as areas of dense crumb. It’s a classic underproofed sourdough.

Underproofed sourdough example

To avoid underproofing, be sure to give your dough plenty of time to rise. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this could take anywhere from 6-12 hours. As a general rule of thumb, if you can see the dough has risen and doubled in size, it’s ready to be baked. If you’re in a hurry, you can put your dough in the fridge overnight to speed up the process. This technique is called cold fermentation and will help create an even more delicious sourdough loaf.

Overproofed sourdough

While much less common, overproofed sourdough also produces issues in the crumb of your loaf. This occurs when the dough has been left to rise for too long and has lost all of its structure. The result is a flat, dense loaf that is difficult to work with.

Overproofed sourdough bread loaf

To avoid overproofing, be sure to keep an eye on your dough as it rises. If you notice that it has doubled in size and is starting to lose its shape, it’s time to bake. This can be challenging as I’m sure you have more to do in your day that just sit around monitoring the rise of your dough, but try to set an alert to check on the dough every hour or two to make sure it’s trending the right way and you don’t miss the optimal moment to get it in the oven. So much work goes into sourdough baking that it is a real bummer to end up with a very dense, collapsed loaf that can’t hold itself up. Still good to eat? Yes, you bet. But it could have been way better.

Forgot to feed sourdough starter?

First off don’t worry! You can totally come back from this in most cases if you forgot to feed your sourdough starter for a day or two. While it’s important to maintain a regular feeding schedule to keep your starter healthy and active, a missed feeding won’t ruin your starter.

Unfed sourdough starter with hooch

Simply feed it as soon as you remember, and it should bounce back within a few days. Don’t let temporary setbacks hold you back, they are bound to happen and you can almost always recover your starter.

How to get big bubbles in sourdough starter

Big bubbles in your sourdough bread are a sign of a well-developed dough. To encourage big bubbles, make sure to give your dough plenty of time to rise and develop.

Big-bubbles-in-sourdough-starter

You can also try adding a small amount of whole wheat flour to your dough, as this can help create a more open crumb. Remember, how to get big bubbles in sourdough starter may require trial and error as you try different flours, temperatures to store your starter, and how cold or warm your water is, but it will be worth it when you bake that perfect loaf.

Sourdough starter bubbling but not rising

If your sourdough starter bubbles but is not rising it is likely because your starter is not strong enough. To strengthen your starter, try feeding it twice a day for a few days.

A more frequent feeding schedule can help give your starter the boost it needs to become more active. If it’s very sluggish, you may need to increase the frequency of feedings up to twice a day. Make sure to use equal parts flour and water when feeding your starter, and always discard half before replenishing with fresh ingredients. Following these simple steps can help you get the most out of your starter and ensure a successful sourdough experience.

Add yeast to sourdough starter

I’m not going to lie–this is sacrilegious for many in the sourdough community who believe the whole point of using your own natural starter is to follow an ancient bread-baking tradition that eschews modern yeast products. However, while adding commercial yeast to your sourdough dough is not traditional, it can be a helpful tool for bakers who are struggling to get their sourdough to rise.

Add yeast to sourdough starter

Just be sure to use a small amount, as you don’t want to overpower the natural sourdough flavor. In addition, if you add yeast to sourdough starter you may end up with an overly active mixture that will create absolutely massive (and airy) loaves.

Feed sourdough starter once or twice a day

How often you should feed your sourdough starter depends on a number of factors, including the temperature of your kitchen and the strength of your starter. It also depends on your own personal schedule! Are you really around every 12 hours to tend to your starter? But as you can see in the picture below, an underfed sourdough ends up more watery, which means it is less reliable to bake with.

Hungry-sourdough-starter-that-need-to-be-fed

As a general rule, most of the time you can feed your sourdough starter once or twice a day but you will need to observe your starter to see how it’s doing to really determine the optimum feeding frequency.

How to strengthen sourdough starter

If you are wondering how to strengthen your sourdough starter, try feeding it twice a day for a few days. You can also try using whole wheat flour or rye flour in your starter, as these flours contain more natural yeast and bacteria that can help strengthen your starter.

Strengthen-your-sourdough-starter

Finally, make sure to keep your starter at a consistent temperature, as fluctuations in temperature can cause your starter to weaken. To do this, you can store your starter in a warm place such as an oven with the light on or near a radiator. You should also cover the container to ensure that it is kept at a consistent temperature and humidity level. Once your starter has been established, feed it regularly with fresh flour and water to make sure that it remains active and healthy