Sunday, February 10, 2013

square one

the one question i get asked most is how one knows when one's new starter is ready to be used for bread. the second is how one knows when the levain is ready. i wanted to do a post that pertained to both of these questions. when just starting out on one's new bread path, that which is foreign is most abstruse. hence, the questions above, and the difficulty in determining the viability of something 'invisible'. take solace in this: the world of wild yeast only appears arcane, but once you come to understand the activity behind the seemingly invisible, things begin to clarify. to be sure, one who sets forth to unravel the 'mystery' behind it all will eventually come to see that wild yeast is wholly less abstract than once thought, and will, with certitude, be able to rely upon it concretely: there is no mystery in making bread with wild yeast, you only need to learn, i assure you, it is as simple as that.

to begin, i made a new starter so that one can see that it is possible to have a loaf of bread in a relative few days. days one through nine will see your way through a brand new starter, days ten and eleven will see you to the completion of a loaf of bread.

semolina bread using 9-day old starter

many people have been timorous in their emails to me about their new whole wheat/all purpose flour starters, the one given in the tartine bread book. i know many people who have had great success with it as well, but for some of us, getting it going seems to be the most difficult thing in the world to do. i blame it on the environment, if there is indeed something to 'blame', and not on the diligent, nor the quality of flour, as i have used flour of high caliber from the start, and the culture remained sluggish and intolerably hesitant. so, this post is really for the camp that needed something a little more sure-footed (there is a lovely semolina bread below, in addition to this write-up about starting a rye starter for those who don't need help with a starter). though it also never hurts to revisit things once in a while, so, even if you already have success with your starter, tartine or otherwise, this post might be, in the very least, interesting.

the thing about a whole wheat starter, in my experience, is that it can be temperamental at the start, and decidedly slow, willful even. what i mean by 'willful' is that often at the start it will show promise, only to seemingly die out some days into the process of grabbing hold. if you are new on your bread path, this can lead to complete terror because with no information to help troubleshoot, there is no way to fix the problem. i know. i've been there. if one is patient, and uberly so, one will see their way to the end of a whole wheat/all purpose starter. i must say, and i find it intriguing, that quite a few people who have had success with the tartine starter happen to live in san francisco. coincidence? or are chad's powerful yeasts and bacteria floating around the city, helping those coastal inhabitants make fantastic bread? just a thought. but don't start packing your bags just yet, the rents in san francisco are prohibitively high because of the new start-up boom. so unless you want to pay $600 a month to live in a broom closet, i suggest you read on.

it has been my experience that a whole wheat/all purpose starter does much better when branched off from one that is viable in comparison to one that has just begun. for instance, i have made several starters using various flours that have been branched from my 'mother' starter with great success, whole wheat including. this brings me to my proposal, and one that may help those who struggle with their starter and find themselves at the end of their wits:


a beautiful thing above, isn't it? this 100% hydration, 100% rye starter was made in just 9 days.

at the start of anything, one should begin with the basics, for instance, if one has no experience with math, one does not learn calculus by beginning with calculus. one must begin with simpler math, the building blocks of that which is more complex. the basics are what brought you here today, as this adult, making bread, excelling at whatever other craft in your life. whatever it is that you are accomplished in today, it all began with the basics. the beginning. small bites that led you to the understanding of a whole, or, at least as much is humanly possible given whatever it is that you are pursuing.

the thing about rye is that it is a remarkable flour and the foundation of many culture's breads. it is not wholly easy to work with in breads that call for terribly high percentages of it, given, but overall, it produces a reliable bread, and more importantly, a reliable starter.

the starter i made in 9 days began to show promise from the start. why? because rye is teeming with the bacteria and yeasts that become the building blocks of a sourdough starter. much more than any other flour.

here, have a look:

once water is added to flour, the microbes in the flour begin to grow, on their way to building a stable ecology in a jar, a harmony of acid-tolerant yeasts and acid-producing bacteria. there is very little sugar in flour, but it does have enzymes that break down starch molecules in the flour into smaller sugar molecules (maltose and glucose) that the yeast can feed on. by adding water to flour, we activate those enzymes. when the enzymes are activated, the yeast (which lives and feeds on simple sugars like glucose, sucrose, and maltose) feeds on these sugars that are breaking down, and produce two waste products: alcohol and carbon dioxide. carbon dioxide is the gas that the yeast produces, which makes our dough nice and light, it makes our dough 'rise'. the alcohol produced helps to dissolve aromatic molecules and enhance the flavor and aroma of the bread. a measurable amount of alcohol remains in the bread even after baking for an hour with elevated temperatures. this is what you smell when bread is baking, it is that creamy smell that you perceive when you put your nose close to your dough.

the yeast has its own enzymes as well, like maltase, which breaks down maltose into two glucose molecules that the yeast (and bacteria) can feed on. yeast also produces an enzyme called 'transglutaminase'. as more of this enzyme is produced, the dough becomes less extensible through a cross-linking in the glutenin proteins. this is what strengthens our dough.

the bacteria produce lactic and acetic acids when they eat the maltose in the flour (activated by water), and excretes glucose as they metabolize this maltose, and the glucose becomes available to the yeasts (as well as the bacteria itself) to eat and subsequently grow. the bacteria also excretes an antibiotic which kills off potentially harmful organisms, protecting itself and the yeast. and how is this for symbiosis: the bacteria also eat dead yeast cells, as it requires more than just sugars to survive, so, the dying yeast provides food for our bacteria as well.

as you can see, yeast and bacteria work in harmony. the yeast has its own enzymes to break down maltose into simple sugars that it and the bacteria can eat, and the bacteria breaks also breaks down maltose, excreting glucose as available food for the yeast and itself, and it also eats the dead yeast cells.

the starter is the foundation of your bread. you want to build a good, stable ecology, and over time, as you systematically feed it flour and water, this ecology grows stronger and develops its own unique characteristics. bread is absolutely a food that exhibits 'terroir', like wine. 'terroir' is the expression of a comestible that is the culmination of geography, climate, and the genetic makeup of a given food. that is to say that a certain food exhibits certain qualities based on where it has developed or grown. so, your sourdough will be different than mine. it will contain different strains of yeasts based on where it has been developed. if i moved away from where i am now, bringing my sourdough starter with me, it would transform its makeup based on the climate and geography of where i moved it to, hence, altering the characteristics of my bread.

exciting, yeah? yes, it is. which is why you make bread. which is why i don't want you to struggle at the start.

using the formula below, you will be producing a 100% hydration, 100% organic rye starter which will develop its own terroir based on where you are. you can use this starter for any of chad's breads, yes, and it will provide an intriguing layer of flavor and complexity to all of your loaves. once this starter has firmly rooted, the ecology stabilized, you can use it to make other starters, for instance, further down the road, scoop out a bit of it and make a wheat/all purpose starter if you want to more strictly adhere to chads formula. it's not cheating. you need to have some success with your bread if you are to keep going on your bread path. the last thing you need is a heap of discarded bread books that you never got a chance to dive into. with weeks and weeks of ill-fated attempts at a sourdough starter you are likely to throw in the towel. so, my suggestion is to get going with this rye starter, and on the 10th day, you will be making bread. and it is only when you begin making bread that you can begin to understand it and experiment with it. you can, over time, keep a 'library' of starters if you want, but in the beginning, i urge you, make it easy on yourself. use rye to get your starter going, get some successes under your belt, build your bread-confidence, and then start doing some wild things, like experimenting with different flours in your bread and your starter. i guarantee that when you have many successes with your rye starter, you may try out others, but you will always come back to this one. it's a beautiful thing.

 onto levain.

9-hour fermented levain

so, your sourdough starter is alive and ready to go, it's time to make your first levain. now, in the tartine bread book, chad calls for use of the 'float test' to see if your starter is ready for use. not a bad way to go about this, however, i was still, in the beginning, having irregular success with my bread. i also ended up pinching off tons of levain, bits a a time, and plopping it in water to see if it would float now? how about now? ok, how about now... leaving me with, well, no levain to make my bread. there were several floating attempts that led to no floating. sad indeed.

in comes rye. not only does it make a strong, fast, reliable starter, it also makes a strong, fast, reliable levain.

i do not do the float test. i just know when my levain is ready, and a rye levain is soooo much more forgiving than a wheat levain.  i have made levains out of all kinds of flour: wheat, spelt, white flour, and of course rye. spelt and whole wheat take the longest to ferment, they produce less 'visibly' ready levains. a rye levain gives seriously visible indications of proper fermentation in that it puffs up and LOOKS ready to use. it was with repeated success with my rye levains that i began to know by sight when using other flours, and understand when my levain was ready or not, dispensing with the method of the float test. when i mastered my rye levains, it was then that i realized that spelt and wheat levains take longer to ferment. bingo. that was my issue at the start. dealing with all of these invisible components in bread making, a rye levain that gives visual cues to its viability was all too welcome in my book.

a rye levain will ferment in just a handful of hours. i have made bread using one that is 5 hours old on up to 12 hours old. with whole wheat, the window of time, in my experience, that you can use your levain is much smaller. it takes many more hours to ferment, and again, i find it more temperamental and much more lazy. not bad things, but, i am already doing 20 and 25 hour final ferments for my bread, i don't really want to wait 12 hours for my levain to ferment when i can have one in 6.

if you are a beginner i always suggest using rye if you are having problems getting a starter going using whole wheat, or white flour, or if you are having problems determining if your levain has fully fermented and is ready for use.

i try to, at this point, photograph all of my levains and post the duration of their fermentations so that you, dear reader, will have consistent visual cues, and subsequently build the confidence to experiment with different flours on your own. not that i mind emails, but, getting to know your starter, and becoming completely confident with your levains is fundamental to making fantastic bread and progressing down your bread path in a fulfilling way. and one more time, yes, you can use a rye starter (and a rye levain) for all of chad's formulae, and it will provide a fantastic foundation for all of your breads. i'm sure that he would forgive you for deviating a bit if things were not working some other way.

without further ado, here is your 100% RYE, 100% HYDRATION 9-day starter, followed by a loaf of semolina bread using it on day 10.



9 a.m. MONDAY, weigh an empty jar and write the gram weight with a sharpie. you will see why we did this later. my jar weighed 258g. i just used a pint mason jar. add 30g of BRM organic DARK rye (don't use light or medium rye, more enzymatic activity in dark), and 30g bottled h2o. mix this up to a thick paste, cover, and place in a cool spot in the kitchen. we are making a 100% hydration starter...


9 p.m., scoop out enough starter so that the total weight of the jar with starter equals 30g more than the jar, so, mine equals 288g (258g + 30g starter). tare the scale to zero. add to your 30g of starter: 30g BRM dark rye flour and 30g bottled h2o. so, now i am maintaining 90g of starter (30g seed starter + 30g flour + 30g h2o), and this will be the weight of my starter through day 9. see, we wrote the number of the jar's weight on the jar so that you can scoop out just enough to leave 30g of seed starter. this way, you don't have to dump out ALL of the starter, and add little bits at a time until you reach 30g.

DAYS 2 - 9

at both 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. you will repeat as above: scoop out enough starter so that 30g is left in the jar, tare the scale to zero, then add 30g dark rye flour and 30g h2o.

below is a succession of photos, days 1 through 9 so that you can see what your starter should look like, WILL look like as the days go on. keep your starter in a cool, dark place in the kitchen with the lid on. use a pint mason jar. use bottled water. use dark rye. after the 9th day you will have bread, perhaps you will try the semolina bread that i made just below.


 weigh the jar; add 30g each dark rye flour and bottled h2o.

just mixed. see how thick it is? for those of you who wrote to me wondering if this was 'right', and fearing that their starter was too thick, this is indeed what your starter should look like just mixed. as the days move on, it will become a tad looser, but really, a 100% rye, 100% hydration starter is a rather thick paste.

 side view.

bottom view (you will see why i took a picture of the bottom view as we move along).


only one hour after feeding on tuesday. see the fermentation happening already?

3 p.m. on day 2, see what crazy activity is going on?








ET VOILA! you are ready to use your starter for any formula that calls for a 100% hydration starter, and this includes all of the formulae in chad's book, tartine bread.

here is the bread that i made using my 9-day old starter.

a note on semolina. semolina flour is difficult to work with for a couple of reasons. the flour molecules are 'barbed', which is to say that they cut away at the gluten structure, thereby tightening the crumb. if you employ a high percentage of semolina in your dough, you will have to contend with a bread that doesn't have as much 'loft' as you might like. the crumb will be more uniform, and the crust will be decidedly 'tougher'.

as well, keep in mind that it does not take much h2o to hydrate breads using semolina. so, err on the side of less, you can always add more, but you can't take it away, and no, adding extra flour arbitrarily is never a good idea to compensate for a dough that is too hydrated. you will only end up with an imbalanced dough, and one that you can't learn from, because you have no way to track where the problem lays with arbitrary additions of components.

the breads that i post on this site are all tested and the perfected formulae are given exactly as you see them here. some of the breads that i have made did not start out 'perfectly', in fact, the first semolina bread that i tried a few weeks ago used a higher percentage of semolina, and i futzed with the fermentation a bit, so it did not yield a balanced dough. this bread has been tested and perfected, so, try to make changes in any formulae you see using logic based on the fundamentals of the components within a formula, not arbitrary experiments. for instance, i would not add a sweetener to a bread just because it sounds lovely. i would first have to measure the components against one another, and take into account what the particular sweetening device's properties were, and how they would interact within a dough in relation to a 'base formula', then make my changes based on empirical evidence rather than whimsy.

speaking of all this, keep a journal of all of your bread endeavors, and look back at them to see what worked and why. and try to learn as much as you can about the components you utilize in your breads, including flour, water, and anything else that you might think about employing. grains and fruits need to be soaked first because they will absorb some of the water in the dough, thereby decreasing the overall hydration of the dough and altering your intended goal with regard to its structure. dried fruits and grains that are not soaked will tighten the crumb, and make it more uniform. not bad things, however, you may have intended to have a more open crumb with your bread, so an addition without forethought as to how it will affect your hydration is going to surprise you. nuts and seeds need to be toasted unless you are only rolling the outside of the dough in them, then they decidedly not be toasted first or they will burn. liquid sweeteners and olive oil will necessitate a change in hydration, some flours have no gluten, so you have to pair them with those that do, generally speaking. these are just some examples.

with all that said, i developed this bread using a ratio of semolina and bread flour (bread v. all purpose, because the high protein bread flour will compensate for the low-quality protein in semolina and all those spiky molecules) that will give us a lofty bread with a light crumb and a brittle, shattery crust.


feed your new starter at 9 a.m. the day you plan to start your levain, then again at 4 p.m. you will start your levain at midnight as follows:

50g of your new 100% hydration, 100% rye starter
100g BRM organic dark rye flour
100g cold, filtered water

mix the above until you reach a cohesive mass, cover and ferment. mine fermented for 8 hours.

levain, just mixed

levain, fermented for 8 hours


250g rye levain
200g BRM organic semolina
300g KA organic bread flour
300g cold, filtered h2o
12g salt
30g extra virgin olive oil

mix the above together (MINUS the salt and olive oil) until you reach a shaggy mass. cover and autolyse for one hour.

after the hour autolyse, squish 12g of salt and 30g of olive oil into the dough until it is uniformly distributed. form into a smooth ball. the bulk fermentation begins.

for the first 2 hours of the bulk fermentation, perform a series of turns every half-hour. for the final 2 hours, pop into the fridge, covered, and let it ferment untouched.

after the bulk fermentation, spread a bit of organic brown rice flour onto a workspace. scrape the dough onto the flour. pull the edges in, forming a loose round. cover and let it rest for 15 minutes.

shape the rested dough into a boule. pop into a bowl that has been line with a brown rice flour dusted linen. it's ready for its final fermentation. pop it in the fridge. mine fermented for a total of 19 hours 15 minutes.

ready for final fermentation/after final fermentation


one hour before you bake, preheat the oven to 550 degrees. make sure your stone and both halves of the combo cooker are in there too.

after a FULL HOUR (i'm serious), unearth the dough, straight from the fridge, onto a peel lined with a piece of parchment, score the dough in some lovely pattern, then slide it into the shallow half of the combo cooker.

pop on the top half and turn the oven down to 475 degrees. steam for 30 minutes.

after the steam, remove the top half of the combo cooker using an oven mitt to avoid a nasty steam burn.

turn the oven down to 450 degrees and bake until golden. don't go too dark with semolina, or you risk a harder crust.

crust: uber shattery. lovely, just lovely. crumb: uniform and moist. beautiful, mild, creamy flavor. i loved this loaf of bread. the ratio of semolina and bread flour was just right, and the extended ferment produced a fully gelatinized crumb. i had to pull myself away from it after several slices.

as you work with your starter, it will develop its own 'terroir', making more delicious bread the older it gets. i hope this post clarifies any issues you might be having if you are just starting out on your bread path.

to the staff of life!

this post has been exhibited on Susan's wild yeast blog. thank you susan, for giving us a platform to share our bread!



  1. So Beautiful! Someday my slashes will by lovely like yours.

    I'm guessing that the final fermentation was also refrigerated? It's not out at room temperature that many hours, correct? Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful bread and techniques - you got me playing with sourdough again.

  2. yes, Marcella, refrigerated. thank you for pointing that out! and thank you for the lovely compliment!

    - francis-olive

  3. Hello. Could you explain to me why do you use cast iron combo? Why the baking tray, with water below is not enough? I'm a beginner... getting the courage to make my own starter...

    1. well, the combo cooker traps steam in such an excellent and efficient way, it's the closest way that a home baker can mimic the amount/quality of steam necessary for your breads in a domestic oven. commercial ovens have serious steam mechanisms. generally (though many people have success -- i have not) you cannot get enough steam by the water in the oven method... chads book was so revolutionary because he brought this method to the forefront and we can all make 'bakery quality' bread with it....

  4. Excellent tutorial!

    Creating and maintaining my first starter was a huge pain in the butt. If I recall correctly, I had refreshed my starter for nearly two weeks before I gave up. Yes, it bubbled and grew, even smelt fruity, but the taste wasn't palatable---too sour, like pinching the buds of my tongue. So I stuffed my poor starter into my fridge, giving myself ample time to ponder: "How can I make a better flavoured sourdough?"

    Struggling against environmental factors such as high humidity and temperature, my starter kept behaving erratically. However, since then I've learnt that I can produce consistent results by chilling my flour and using rye.

    Anyway, thank you for this informational post. Sourdough newbies will find it valuable, I'm sure.

    Have a happy baking,


    1. i really hope it helps some people zita. thats an interesting idea, chilling the flour. good call. also, try feeding it 3x a day if you are having issues with too quick fermentation in hot weather. your starter actually loves to be fed 3x a day, and man, can you get great oven spring with a dough that has been fed 3x a day for a couple of days before the bake!

  5. Incredibly beautiful bread! I've come to you from my Italian smorgasbord - cant wait to make a dense rye w/your 9day starter. Here I go! Thank you for the excellent post.

    1. Thank you Amy. Let me know how everything goes with your bread. Dense rye?? Please do share the details!


  6. My starter was really lagging until I tried this rye-only approach. Within 4 days I have a wonderful, bubbling starter that promises so much. This is the best info on sour starters that I've found on the web. Thank you so much, Frances-Olive.

    1. I am so pleased. Thank you Richard. Keep me posted and let me know how things go with your bread!


  7. Hello fellow followers and Francis-Olive
    Beautiful bread as always Francis-Olive. Personally, I'm getting more and more confident in my bread baking. Just did two loaves yesterday for a church dinner. Bread was perfect. Francis-Olive's tips have been so valuable...such as:
    1) taking the starter out for ten days before you bake
    2) feeding two or even three times in a day BEFORE you mix your levain (that's KEY!!!)
    3) her stretches and folds. You have to see her do it to "get" it. VERY helpful.
    4) her explanation of scoring, i.e. the blade should be parallel with the ground NOT up and down
    5) AND, her emphasis on practice, practice, practice. It DOES get better. I would have given up for sure had I not found Francis_Olive's blog.

    Last night my friends from church gobbled down the bread. Fun to watch. Nothing better in life than breaking bread with friends....

    1. you are soooo sweet sam! i'm glad my blog has helped you, has helped ANYONE really. and please post your new bread blog link!


  8. Hello, I've been milling my own flour at home with a stone mill. I was wondering how coarse should the rye flour be for this bread? I've been using a medium coarseness rye for my starter, and it's been working fairly well. But you are mentioning "dark rye". What would you recommend to a home miller like me in terms of coarseness and the qualities of the rye.

    1. although dark, my rye appears finely ground. i might splurge on a bag of BRM organic dark rye to feel it. it will set you back three bucks, but then you will know what you are looking for. this is what i would do.

      hope this helps!


    2. I made this bread today. Oh, my. I'll never go back to water filled roasting pan again (at least not for the round loaves). I used a large deep stainless steel mixing bowl inserted into a slightly larger cast iron skillet for the steam bath effect, and the bread turned out beautiful. I have the Tartine cookbook. Was a bit hesitant about using the recipes, since I am still very much a novice in the bread field, but now I am hooked. Trying baguettes and English muffins next!

    3. ha! awesome. i love it when i take the lid off of a perfectly steamed loaf. i call it the 'moment of truth.' let me know how your e. muffins turn out. ive been wanting to try them. the baguettes in the book... well, i believe the formula is off. if you will have a look at a couple of my baguette posts you will see. the formula in the book does not call for nearly enough water. so, anticipate this and adjust accordingly.


  9. Thank you for your wonderful article on starters -- I have tried (hopelessly) to make white flour starters work. Rye, though, made a starter for me that easily doubles in twelve hours. It caught on the first try. It raises bread in a reasonable and predictable time frame. It tolerates being spun off into a "white flour" starter, maintaining the same vigor and enthusiasm it has on rye flour. (As for whole wheat -- I think I need more practice there.) I'm so glad you are sharing the wonder of rye with other people, so that they will not have the disappointing and sad job of eyeballing quiescent jars of white flour and water, looking for nonexistent fermentation bubbles. :) Also, your bread pictures are inspirational! I love your swirl scoring.

    1. thank you for lovely compliments. i agree, there is no reason why we should be struggling with starters. get on with making bread! i am happy to share, and i think that, given some of the feedback, it has helped people immensely with their, as you say (and which i love, the writer in me, you know), 'quiescent' starters.

      ahhh, the swirl. the swirl has become a superstar! lol. i love it. i get so many pictures of the swirl emailed to me. it makes for such a fun loaf of bread.

      im glad you, along your own path, discovered rye. i'm sure when you saw my post it made you smile and say 'yes, yes, i know...'


  10. Hello Francis-Olive!
    Thank you for this wonderful post. I also have to compliment you on your photography, these are WONDERFUL pictures.

    I started my rye starter on Friday and after a couple of days it was going great! Lots of bubbles and great growth.
    Monday night saw the beginning of a downturn though, with very little growth occurring from the morning. Tuesday was even worse, and tonight I think that I am going to wash out the jar and try again. Nothing is happening anymore.
    A few questions - if I may?
    Was I to be covering the jar tightly or allowing air to enter? Mine too is in a mason jar and I have been closing it snugly.
    How much do I stir the new flour and water into the existing mix? Vigorously or just enough to combine? I have been stirring it smooth.
    You mention to store in a cool place in the kitchen. These winter months we keep the house temperature between 64 - 67 F. Would warmth not contribute more to its health?

    Lastly, why are we removing two-thirds of the mix each feeding? Is that not kind of excessive? Might it be possible that I threw away ALL the active part on my Monday morning scoopout and poor little yeasty just couldn't recover from it?
    Thanks again!

    1. hey mark!

      stir till thoroughly incorporated, yes, a new starter needs to be warm until it takes root. but then you want to keep it cool(ish) or it the bacteria will eat the sugars too quickly.

      and throwing away starter is just part of the process of making bread, unless of course you are making bread every day, in that case, then your 'excess' will be turned into levain, and then, bread! it's hard for me to know what happened with your starter because i don't know what kind of conditions you are under (flour, water, how often youre feeding etc.)

      i always screw my lid on 'normally', meaning, i dont get buff doing it, but it's not loose either.


    2. ps, no, you didn't throw away the yeasties. it's a homogenous mixture ;)

  11. Francis-Olive! You're bread is absolutely beautiful. I'm a little in love....I had a question about a starter though, if that's alright. Does the temperature of the water matter? I've been going for near a week steady now feeding faithfully, but little to no activity from the beginning...I had a nice rise and some activity the third day, but then it left and hasn't come back and I need your help! I'm using an organic dark rye (locally milled--so no particular brand), and filtered water (a 1:1 ratio like instructed), but the water I'm using is a little on the chilled side. Thank you so much for all of your brilliant advice! Very inspiring.

  12. hey caleb. thanks for loving the blog! umm, well, at first i would use room temp, and when it gets going, cold is fine. my starter loves cold water. it slows it down a bit, which, in my opinion, adds to the flavor and its power.

    im not sure whats going on with your starter :( i would say just keep feeding it. my first attempt took like a month to get the thing going. there are perhaps not a lot of wild yeasts where you live, so it will take it a while to accumulate them and gain strength.

    let me know what happens, but as long as its not funky, then i would keep going as you are. in the beginning, mine would go crazy with activity, then become inert for a period. i think it's because l.a. is a hostile environment. haha. just kidding. some starters just take a little longer ;)

    1. I got it going! It was actually something pretty dumb...I didn't seal the top of my mason jar, just set it on there. Turns out a seal makes a difference! And slightly warmer water to encourage activity, but now that it's going cold water has worked fine. Thank you for getting back to me! It's still not quite as aerated as yours, hopefully we'll get there :)

  13. Hi - just getting my starter going and prepping for next steps. One question - about actually baking the bread. You mention to preheat the oven at 550 degs with your combo cooker and stone. What is the purpose of the stone and how is it used? I don't think I read about that in the tartine book.

    Thanks! Kelly

    1. a baking stone is indispensable for a crisp, even crust and prevents scorched bottoms that you otherwise risk if you don't have one.


    2. Thanks. Do you place the combo cooker on top of the baking stone?

    3. Hi Kelly. Yes. my stone is just always in there. i have two, actually. it makes for even baking.

  14. Hi there! Just came across your blog and I must thank you for how helpful it is! I am new to all of this and have been growing a 50/50 white and wheat starter by the tartine method for the last 16 days. I am just now wondering if I am almost to the point of making bread. It predictably rises and falls but I have only been doing 24 hour feedings. Perhaps I should switch to 12 hour for a few days. I could send you a few photos since they seem to be the most helpful. It seems mine is not quite as aerated and bubbly as yours but seems to be on the right track anyway.(I hope)!

    1. Aw, Sara, I'm sorry I didn't respond earlier. Yes. 24 hour feedings are fine as long as your starter is already good and strong (i fed mine twice a day for a long time before i switched to 24 hour feedings, well over a year. and i think that you might want to as well. perhaps for several months, at least, before you move down to once a day). when i want to bake, about 2 to 3 days prior to baking, i feed my starter twice a day for extra power. make sense? once a day feedings are not as aerated and bubbly as twice a day feedings because at the bacteria and yeasts are running out of sugars to feed on. once a day fed starters are really just in a sort of perpetual 'maintenance stage', to bake with your starter, feed it twice a day for a few days before baking. hope this helps!

  15. I have decided to take up the challenge to bake a tartine bread and prepare a starter. I am a novice. I want to know once my starter is ready for a levain do I have to continue the entire feeding and discarding process of starter every twelve hours, or do i just feed from now on? Please let me know...

    1. first of all, congratulations! yes, you will feed your starter twice a day if you bake regularly -- actually, for a new starter, i advise feeing it twice a day for at least a month. then you can go to once a day to maintain it, and feed it twice a day at least 3 full days before you make a levain for bread. i hope this helps!

  16. I ordered the Tartain #1 book and started reading it at the same time I found your blog. So... having no fear I made the rye starter over a week ago. Everything looked just like the pictures, (fear not, there is no but....) I made the levain Sunday morning early, and by mid afternoon it floated on the first try. Bulk ferment also went just as you pictured. Thanks you for the wonderful pictures they made me feel confident at every stage. I am baking this afternoon!

    1. This is so awesome. Keep me posted. I want to see how it all turns out! It's going to turn out smashingly! I'm glad I could help!


    2. I've been making bread my whole life following the examples of my grandmother (who taught me her way) and my mother but this is the kind of bread I've been trying for so long to make in my own lazy way. The method you have described in your blog suits me perfectly and has produced consistent results. I've been playing with your city bread recipe and it is now my family's mainstay. On this snowy day I felt like trying your semolina bread recipe. Having qualms as I mix it - very sticky, and stiff and a shocking amount of olive oil. Fingers crossed.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing so generously with all of us what you have learned from all your trials.

    3. i'm so glad i can help! hm. i cannot remember if this dough was sticky for me. shocking amount of olive oil? oi. maybe i will have to try the formula again. alas, perhaps halving the olive oil to start, then adding more later if you feel like it. i will try this loaf again, and make amendments if need be! thanks for the heads up!


    4. No need to change a thing. It came out beautifully! I should not have doubted you!

    5. oh good! i test and test before i post a bread, so this had me worried. thank you for writing to tell me all turned out as it should have! yay! (ps, i know, when i add olive oil to a bread, i have a heavy hand. i love olive oil!)

    6. I maintain my starter with rye following your directions exactly but when I make my levain for your City Bread, I use a mix of ground oats, rye, flax seed and sunflower seeds. For the dough, I use 150 g of KA organic white whole wheat and 850 of KA organic bread flour. Instead of discarding left over starter when feeding, I save it and use it to make pancakes or waffles once a week. My mother's recipe for sourdough pancakes goes like this:

      To 1 cup starter add
      2 cups water
      2.5 cups of flour
      1/4 cup sugar.

      Let sit over night. In the morning, add
      1 egg,
      1 tsp baking soda,
      1 tsp salt,
      2 T's oil.

      For waffles I add 2 eggs and 3T oil. My mother's instructions say to save out a cup of starter before mixing up the pancake batter, but there is no need since by the end of a week of feeding my bread starter, I have enough to seed my pancake or waffle batter.

      Again, Thank you so much for the gift of good bread.


    7. xo katie. thank you for the recipe, and the kind words :)


  17. Hi, Having trouble sourcing rye flour so am forced to continue with wheat. The starter is now 5 days old and continues to show a lot of activity with a good aroma. A couple of questions please: The starter is sitting on a warm shelf above an Aga. Should I move it some place cooler? I'm feeding it just once a day and in the mornings there is always a ring of dark water sitting atop the starter - hooch? I've read that the whole thing should be thrown away/ just drain off the hooch and continue as normal/nothing to worry about the hooch protects the starter/hooch is a sign of the yeast starving and feeding should be increased?????

    Ta Kevin

    1. the dreaded hooch. you need to feed it more and take it down from that shelf. its probably too warm. feed it twice daily. new starters must be fed twice daily. for weeks. i don't know how warm it is over the stove, but sounds like too warm. if you are having signs like good bubbling, you don't need to coddle it with heat. just put it on the counter and feed it once in the a.m., once before bed (and if you are nice, once somewhere in between. it will love you for it ;)


  18. Hi France! I'm new to this whole bread baking thing. So I just wanted to clarify that on Day 9 of the started, I will end up with whatever amount the 30g flour + 30g water produces? I don't have to discard everything EXCEPT 30g since I do need 50g of starter for the levain?

    Hope not to stupid a question

    Appreciate your insight on this :)

    1. well, lets see. if you are maintaining 90g of starter and need 50g for the bread, that leaves you with 40 to build your starter again. since all you need is 30, toss 10 and you are good to go. hope this helps!

  19. (Sorry if I've posted twice. Computers playing up)

    Love the Semolina Tartine Sourdough. Looks good and wish to try it.

    I do have a few questions though...

    1. I have a starter in my fridge which hasn't been fed for a while. Can I do a single build for my pre-ferment? Just take 50g from 100g or so I have in the fridge and just build the pre-ferment? Then i'll just top up my original starter and place back in the fridge.

    2. You mention in the bulk ferment to turn the dough every half hour for the first two hours then for the last two hours finish off in the fridge. I know this might sound like a stupid question but just to be sure the total bulk ferment is 4 hours? You don't give a bulk ferment time and want to be sure you don't mean 6 hours (for example) and you're just telling us what to do for the 1st and last 2 hours.

    And finally, 3. How long should one keep in the fridge after shaping?

    Thank you,

    - Abe.

    1. you should feed your starter for at least 4 or 5 days, 3x a day if its been in the fridge for a while.
      total bulk is 4 hours. yes.
      it should say on the post. i will double check. i always give the duration for my own fermentatios -- yes, just checked. mine fermented for 19 hours 15 minutes :)

  20. Thank you for the recipe.

    1. the pleasure is always mine. i'm happy you made such a lovely loaf using my blog :)

  21. Wow, being from Sweden, I'm not foreign to all rye starters. But as Robertson and Silverton and others are so into wheat, of course I had to try - and struggle/tear my hair... Now I don't need to feel ashamed for going rye ;-) Thanks for this wonderful blog, keep up the great work! Having a 50/50 fue/wheat works also, btw. //Hugo

    1. Thank you Hugo. Whatever works, ya know?? Rye, wheat... as long as you are making fantastic bread, that's all that matters!

  22. Thank you so much for this thorough article! It has inspired me to try bread baking of this type for the first time.

    Now for a question.... I have a book from the French Culinary Institute which goes over a million types of bread, and in the starter section it also mentions a 9 day starter. Is there a reason for the 9 days? If I was pressed for time could I use it after 4 days? Currently I am 4 days in and my starter is very alive and bubbly, responding very well to each feeding.

    Secondly, after my starter is good and established, what's the best way to store it for longer term use? I've read I can feed it, then store in the fridge for a couple of weeks but I wanted your feedback. Thanks so much!


    1. you can try. but likely it will not raise your bread well enough after 4 days. you can store it in the fridge. i never do unless i'm traveling. i store it on the counter and feed it 2 - 4x a day. but if you only plan to bake once in a while, put it in the fridge and pull it out 4-5 days before you plan to bake and feed it at least 3x a day. cheers!

  23. hi,
    i love your blog, it is amazing. when you say that your dough fermented for totaly of 19 hours, do you mean from making the dough till oven including the autolize and bulk fermentation or is it 19 hour AFTER bulk and shape?

    because i did 19hours after bulk and shape and the bread was wondefully soft and open but too sour. way too sour.

    1. yes. after the bulk and shape.
      so many variables affect your bread's outcome. just keep practicing and experimenting!

  24. Hello France. Whenever I need a motivation to bake, I just come back to your site, but again I get confused for how to revive my starter. I have 2 one whole wheat and other is rye. In many references in the net I find that when I want to bake that week, I just take out my starter from the fridge, take a small amount like a 10 or 15 g of starter , then feed it with say 60 of water and flour . Its been going well with all my bakes since 2 years. Your formula calls for same amount of starter, flour and water. Each time I decide to use my 100% rye starter I get confused how to start : with tea spoon or with your formula? and stop there really. Can you please advise whats the difference between a small amount of starter and a same weight starter as flour and water? thank you

    1. I would pull the whole thing from the fridge and revive it, personally. After three days, you are ready to make your levain. I keep 60 TOTAL grams of starter (on the counter, that I feed 2-3x a day). At feeding time, I take out 40g leaving 20, then feed with 20g water and 20g rye flour. On the, maybe third or fourth day of feeding (after being refrigerated) you are ready to make your levain. So, make your levain as advised, replenish the starter and pop it back in the fridge. I hope this helps!

    2. Thank you and wish you post new bakes and formulas­čśŐ

  25. Thank you for the wonderful blog and the detailed work you have been doing!
    Regarding the lid on the jar, I have heard from several people that their jars exploded when they kept a tight lid. I'm a little bit cautious when it comes to sealing the jar. How tight do you seal it and how big impact has this detail in your experience?

    1. Hi Jimmy. My jar is sealed like I would... screw the top on a peanut butter jar. No explosions yet. Its been 5 years. Likely others have too much starter for the size of their jar. Cheers!

  26. Thank you so much for your posts and incredibly wonderful consistent photography. As well as your great writing style! I have been baking bread for several years to great neighborhood and family acclaim. I have been all up in Peter Reinharts BBA, but I always had aspirations towards the kind of breads you feature here. So I am following your steps on the rye starter, quite simply the best sourdough starter explanation I have ever come across. Thank you so much AL Mohr

  27. Hi there. Can you tell me about pulling the fermented dough directly from the fridge to the oven? I would have expected a warming or "temping" would be necessary. Hoping you can illuminate me on this. Thanks! -Elizabeth B

  28. Hi! Can you tell me about pulling the fermented dough right from the fridge to the oven? I would have thought it would want/need a "temping" period. Hoping you can shed some light on this for me. Thanks! -Elizabeth

  29. I read an article where Chad Robertson said that using the cold dough helps with the ovenspring. Not sure where I read it as I have been reading a lot. Could have even been on this blog.

    1. It's true. it does. I always bake my dough right from the fridge :)



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