In this post, I am answering your most commonly asked questions to my popular sourdough starter tutorial and sourdough maintenance method.
I get so many sourdough questions!
In this post, I will give you the answers to the most commonly asked sourdough questions!
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Who am I to be talking about sourdough?
I have been baking with sourdough for about 4 decades. Growing up in Germany, I would first watch and then help my mom bake her weekly sourdough breads. For example, she might ask me to transfer the dough from the bowl to the loaf pan. Or take the baked bread out of the oven and the loaf pan.
You see, I was intimately involved in all those sourdough baking steps. While I never learned sourdough from an official recipe, I got to see it. I was able to get a feel for it. Know what it’s supposed to look like.
As a result, I have been baking sourdough for a long time myself. Also, I have been developing sourdough recipes from scratch.
Who this is for:
If you are someone who loves a detailed recipe with exact measurements, my sourdough starter methods may not be for you. As I said, I go more be feel and consistency. That way, I have successfully baked sourdough recipes over and over again. Since sourdough is a “living” thing, it reacts to ambient temperature, moisture, and yeasts and bacteria in the air. I don’t know what those conditions are in your home when you bake but I can tell you what your sourdough should look like.
A common comment to my sourdough maintenance method is that people are relieved at how easy it can be.
Ultimately, there are so many sourdough methods out there, that I am sure that is one for everyone!
Many people told me how their grandparents or great-grandparents would keep a ball of sourdough starter in their bag of flour. I think that is such a neat fact and I love to learn these things from you!
You might get the most out of this post if you have read both my tutorial on how to make a sourdough starter and my “Easy Sourdough Starter: No feedings and no discards” method.
Question: Can you make a gluten-free sourdough starter?
Yes, you can! As far as I know, the best flours are brown rice, buckwheat, sorghum, and teff. I like using a measure for measuring flour to make a gluten-free starter. You can learn how to make one right here.
Question: Can you use Einkorn and other grains?
Yes, you can! Sourdough is perfect for grains other than wheat. I have successfully used Einkorn, spelt, kamut, and rye. I have even added amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and teff to my sourdough breads.
Question: What do I do when I get liquid on top of my sourdough starter?
That liquid that sometimes separates and sits on top of your sourdough starter is called “hooch”. It is nothing bad or serious. It only means that you need to feed your sourdough starter more flour. The first thing I like to do is mix the hooch in with a fork or whisk. You might notice that your sourdough starter is somewhat runny at that point. Simply add some flour to it to make it thicker and proceed from there.
Question: How can I make it more/less sour?
I get both questions: how to make the sourdough sourer and how to make it less sour.
The answer lies in what will affect the activity and sourness of your sourdough: temperature, humidity, ambient yeasts and bacteria, and time.
If you want a more sour sourdough, you might take a bit more starter than the recipe might say, let it sit in a warmer/more humid spot for a longer time.
Conversely, if you want your sourdough to be less sour, you let it sit in a cooler, drier spot for less time, and use a bit less starter. Also, know that adding salt will “curb” the activity of your sourdough bacteria.
Question: How do I know whether the sourdough starter is “ripe”?
That is a really good question! Here are a few indicators: your sourdough starter has a pleasantly sour smell (as opposed to a pungent smell). It will have lots of bubbles. Sometimes, I tap the bottom of my sourdough starter jar and when I get a hollow sound, that is a good sign.
Lastly, you can do the floating test: drop a bit of sourdough starter in a glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready and if it sinks, it’s not quite ripe yet.
Question: Where do you keep the sourdough starter once you add the water the night before?
This question refers to my easy sourdough starter maintenance method. Usually, I keep my starter in the fridge. The evening before I want to bake, I take it out of the fridge and add water to it to activate it. Then I keep it on the counter because I also want the warmer temperature to help with activation.
Question: Does my sourdough need a tight-fitting lid?
That is another good question! I have done some research and found that you can both have a tight-fitting lid on your starter or cover it loosely.
When I keep my sourdough starter in the refrigerator, I like to have a tight-fitting lid so it doesn’t dry out more. Once I have it on the counter, I have done both. Ultimately, I just want to keep things out of it, let’s say fruit flies and that can be accomplished with a piece of cloth.
Question: When making a sourdough starter, can you use lemon/vinegar and milk?
This question refers to how I make my sourdough starter. To make things easier, I use buttermilk. There is cultured buttermilk which is what you want to use. Adding lemon or vinegar to milk makes it curdle but will not work for this recipe. However, you can use this curdled buttermilk for recipes such as pancakes.
Question: My sourdough starter is very strong, I prefer a milder one.
This is similar to the question above. You can discard half of your sourdough, add some flour (and water, depending on whether you want to bake with it right away or not), and proceed from there.
Question: I got mold on my sourdough starter, what should I do?
This is a tricky question to answer without seeing live what is going on. If in doubt, I recommend you throw it out. If you only have a bit of mold on the rim of your jar, you could carefully wipe it off and transfer the sourdough to a clean jar. If on the other hand, you have a lot of mold sitting right on top of the starter, it’s best to discard it entirely. I will mention that some people have generously taken off the top layer but I would be careful.
Soap residue and not very clean containers can cause mold. While you don’t need to sterilize your jars, you do want to keep your sourdough starters in a clean container.
Also, keeping your sourdough starter close to other ferments (such as sauerkraut) or just a tiny bit of mold on fruits on the counter can also mess with your starter.
Question: Should I use AP flour or bread flour?
I don’t think it matters! As far as I know, bread flour contains more gluten. So ultimately, the type of flour you use will affect the bread but it doesn’t matter for your starter. I typically use regular all-purpose organic white flour for my white sourdough starter. For my whole wheat starter, I grind my own grains.
Question: When rehydrating my sourdough starter, I have a lot of lumps, what do I do with them?
I know exactly what you’re talking about! In my easy sourdough maintenance method, I add water to a very dry starter the evening before I want to bake. With a fork, I mix it all up. Sometimes, there are some lumps in the starter. If they still are there the next morning, you could take that fork and try to break them up a bit more. But if these lumps end up in the bread, they won’t hurt it. You might see them (I certainly have) but they are mostly an aesthetic issue.
Question: Can I freeze my sourdough starter?
This is something else that I have not personally tried myself. I do know of people who have frozen their sourdough starter and used it when thawed. What I hear, though, is that your starter may be a bit sluggish in the first few bakings. Therefore, I recommend adding a bit of yeast to make sure your bread rises.
Question: Can I use distilled water for the sourdough starter?
Yes! Actually, I use filtered water or distilled water. Most tap water contains chlorine which will inhibit your sourdough starter. So both for making and maintaining a sourdough starter I recommend distilled or filtered water.
Question: What do you mean when you say you add A LOT of flour?
Again, this refers to my easy sourdough starter method. In between bakings, I add flour to it to de-activate it. Since I take a bit of starter from the bread dough but I am not telling you in grams how much that is, that amount might vary. Simply add flour by spoonfuls until your sourdough starter is very dry. Then add some more. I often have a ½-inch layer of flour on top of my starter.
Question: How long does it take to make a sourdough starter from scratch?
The short answer is, that it depends. As I said above, temperature, humidity, and ambient yeasts/bacteria all have an effect on your sourdough starter. Having said that, you might have a starter in 6 days or only after 10 days. In any event, do not give up too soon!
Question: How much sourdough starter do I need for making bread?
If you have a specific recipe you’re following, I would say do what the recipe says. Of course, it depends on if you’re baking one small bread, one larger bread, or two loaves. You can always let your bread rise a bit longer if you make it with a smaller amount of sourdough starter.
Question: Why do you add yeast to your sourdough bread recipe?
I am adding yeast and malted barley to my artisan no-knead bread. You do not need those ingredients if you don’t have them or don’t want to add them. I like to include them because I wanted a very uncomplicated bread recipe that gives me a reliably light and airy bread. The yeast will help with that and the malted barley flour acts as an activator for the yeast. If you don’t have the latter, you can add a bit of sugar instead.
Question: Is it ok to use a metal fork with the sourdough starter?
It is generally recommended to use only non-reactive bowls and vessels for your sourdough. I would say this is true for letting your sourdough rise. But when I mix up my sourdough starter, the contact time with a metal fork is so short that it doesn’t hurt it. I have done so for years and have not noticed any problems.
Do you have any other questions or comments?
I love that people are so enthusiastic about sourdough and sourdough baking. If you have any other comments or questions, I will always do my best to answer them. So please ask away!!