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The sourdough that never was

This page describes the first, failed attempt at making sourdough bread
You can read about the successful work with the San Francisco Sourdough Starter here

8 January 2007 - evening Started the íWorksop Sourdough Starterí with one cup of Tuxford Windmill unbleached strong white bread flour and one cup of tap water.

9 January 2007 - 18:00 As the jar was big and the first batch of Worksop Sourdough Starter was small, it would have been difficult to judge half the quantity to discard. I therefore decided to do the first feed last night without discarding any mixture.

10 January 2007 - 12:00 Iíve just had a look and, after less than 48 hours in our warm utility room - far sooner than expected - there is a good head of froth: the starter consists of a layer of flour sediment, a layer of dark-coloured liquid and a layer of bubbly material. The smell is bland - not even particularly yeasty, let alone sour - so Iím not going to rush things. There is obviously some pretty active yeast there but no evidence of Lactobacillus, so tonight I plan to give the starter a thorough mix, discard half and feed again. What I hope to see - and smell - happening is the development of a dominant pair of yeast and bacteria which, in a sybiotic relationship, will fight off all attempts at infiltration by other organisms... (I found an interesting entry today in Wikipedia, at

11 January 2007 - 10:00 The starter was throughly stirred around 9pm last night, half was poured off (normal feeding instructions) and a cup each of water and flour were stirred in. Just sneaked a look: all the flour has sunk, leaving a layer of liquid at the top with no sign of fermentation. The smell, if anything, is less encouraging than yesterday (a bit painty) - or am I just being impatient. Come on, you lovely little bugs - get to work and make friends... 18:15 Still no bubbles but less smell and a subtle but definite hint of vinegar. As acetic acid is one of the two produced by bacteria of the Lactobacillus group, Iím hoping this means at least one possible member of íthe teamí has started work. Yesterday the frothy head looked very much like yeast activity, but the fact that this has died down leaves me wondering. Anyway, just stirred the mixture thoroughly, discarded half and stirred in a cup of water and a cup of flour. (Although our tap water doesnít smell of chlorine - unlike the undrinkable stuff that came out of our taps in Derby - Iím wondering if thereís something there thatís inhibiting yeast activity. Might try using boiled water for future feeds...) Later I had another look some time after the feed last night and. as before, there was a slight split, with a little dark liquid above the main sediment and then a fresh frothy cap that looked quite like what I get when I do a starter with Allinsonís dried yeast, though nowhere near as thick and creamy. By bedtime this had sunk, leaving just a few bubbles on top

12 January 2007 - 10:30 The bubbles are still there this morning, at the top of about 2cm of murky liquid above the floury sediment. Iím not sure whatís going on, but the good news is that what smell there is is clean, with no hint of spoilage activity. So maybe I have already got a self-defending eco-system... 12:30 More bubbles, I think! I couldnít resist this:

The Worskop Sourdough Starter on the 12 January 2007    The Worsop Sourdough Starter - closeup of bubbles

The first picture shows how the flour and liquid have separated. The second is a closeup of the bubbles on the surface. As an experienced baker - and, not mentioned anywhere else on this site - brewer of beer, the creaminess around the bubbles looks very much like yeast activity to me.

When I do a starter with dried bakerís yeast, which is actually brewerís yeast, it produces a thick, cauliflower-like crown in a few minutes. It also smells very strongly. This is obviously slower because Iíve started with just a few cells of whatever wild yeast was hanging around in the flour or the air rather than the billions in a teaspoonful of the dried, and probably carefully bred, product. Thereís still no yeasty smell, but then there isnít much yeast on the surface yet - and anyway this yeast may not be as smelly. But itís starting to look like the real thing.

Iíd better tip the starter out and give it a darned good wash when I feed the beast tonight...

14 January 2007 - 15:30 Oh dear, I think the beast may be dying. I did as I has suggested the night before last, decanting the mixture into a clear measuring jug and giving the Kilner jar a good hot wash. I then decanted half of the pint of mix and fed as usual. Yesterday there were hardly any bubbles on the top of the clear liquid and today none at all.

John Ross, whose instructions Iím following, says that a layer of "hooch" - alcohol-containing liquid - may accumulate above the flour mixture, and that it can either be poured off or stirred back in. He also says it should smell beery - but mine doesnít. I know even brewerís yeast (bred for the job) can only survive limited amounts of alcohol, and the wild yeast which is (I hope) dominating the starter may have a far lower tolerance. So, even without the beery smell (which I guess would also depend on what yeast is doing the fermenting), I think Iíll tip as much out as possible this evening.

Meanwhile, I did reluctantly drop about half a teaspoon of sugar into the jar earlier, and I saw an odd bubble or two, so maybe something is still alive...

16:45 Okay - just carefully decanted as much of the clear liquid as possible without losing any of the floury sediment, stirred in a cup of flour to make a smooth, thick paste (it mixed much better with less liquid) and then a cup of fairly warm water. The temperature in the utility room is just under 25degC.

There must be something protecting the mixture from spoiling, because itís now been there for six days, with the lid of the Kilner jar not sealed, and thereís no smell of spoilage at all. The trouble is that thereís not much smell of anything else, either!

15 January 2007 14:00 Bad news and good news.

The home-made starter is still not active, and had accumulated more liquid by this morning - weird! Iíve just added a whole teaspoon of granulated white sugar (which should be chemically pure sucrose and therefore ferment away without leaving any undesirable residue) and given it a good stir. If this doesnít wake it up, it goes down the drain! 18:00 It didnít, and thatís where it went, sadly.

I would still like to make a starter from scratch, so at some point I may have another go. Manwhile, keep looking at developments with the San Franciso Sourdough Starter.

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.