The Great Sourdough Experiment.

I love sourdough.

This little experiment came about because of two things.

Number 1: I had to leave my sourdough starter behind in the UK. The US are pretty strict on what you can bring into the country, no fruits or veggies, etc. and so sourdough cultures are pretty much a no.

Number 2: It has been way too long since I have poked bacteria with sticks. I figured I could indulge my love of microbiology by starting off my own.

When I flicked through my bread books, I came across 3 fairly different methods for starting off your own sourdough cultures, and rather than pick just one, I decided to do all three and compare the results.

Most sourdough starter methods are just a slightly different variation on the same thing, they use flour and water and lots of time. But I picked these three methods, because each has a slightly different way of going about establishing the first microbial population: donation of wild yeast through the addition of fruit; from the flour itself, and accumulation of yeasts from the air; and utilising the culture already present in another substance (yoghurt).


After making the starter cultures, I then used my standard sourdough bread recipe to make a loaf.

Method 1 (Paul): Paul Hollywood’s, taken from Paul Hollywoods’ Bread.


250g strong white flour, plus 100g for each refreshing

5-7 seedless organic green grapes, chopped

250ml tepid water, plus 100ml for each refreshing


Put the flour in a mixing bowl. Add the grapes, then pour in the water and mix to combine.

Tip the mixture into a large jar, or plastic box, with an airtight seal, which in roomy enough for it to rise. (I used a large glass Korken jar from IKEA)

Cover and leave to ferment at room temperature for 3 days. The mixture should froth up, if you draw a line level with the top of the mixture at each day, then you can track the progress.

After 3 days the mixture should be risen, bubbky, and slightly darker, and when you open the lid it should smell sour. This shows that the starter is performing lactic fermentation, and is active. If it isn’t, then discard half and add 100g flour, 100ml water, and some more grapes, then leave it for another couple of days.

Once it is active, refresh the starter using 100g flour and 100ml water, in order to keep it at the same consistency. Leave it for 24 hours, and it will bubble up again and be ready to use.

The starter needs refreshing every few days to keep it active and alive if kept at room temperature. Or I keep mine in the refridgerator when I am not using it, this way it stays alive for weeks, if you do this just take it out and feed it, then leave at room temperature to become active ready to use.


Method 2 (Dan): Dan Lepard’s, taken from Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard.


handful rye flour



Taken the rye flour, and mix with enough water to make a soft dough, which you can form into a ball.

Place it in a bowl, and cover with more rye flour, then leave at room temperature for 4 or 5 days.

The crust of the dough will begin to crack as the natural yeasts and bacteria present in the flour start to aerate the dough.

Then, take the ball and mash it up to a soft paste consistency with some more water,then leave for another day, and it will be ready.

You may need to refresh it with equal volumes of flour and water to encourage growth, at first it will be slightly sluggish, but should improve over time. Once it doubles in volume every 6-8 hours, it is in a more reliable state to bake.

You can add a teaspoon of live yoghurt to add acidity and “good” bacteria, but may not find that it is needed.


Method 3 (Patrick): Patrick Ryan’s, taken from Bread Revolution by Duncan Glendinning and Patrick Ryan.


Day 1

175ml/ 5 1/2floz skimmed milk

75ml/ 2 1/2floz live natural yoghurt

Day 2

120g/ 4 1/4oz strong white bread flour

Day 4

175g/ 6oz strong white bread flour

100ml/ 3 1/2floz water

40ml/ 1 1/4floz milk


Day 1: heat the milk gently until lukewarm. Place the yoghurt into a bowl and stir in the milk.

Cover and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours until thickened. Stir in any liquids that may have separated.

Day 2: stir the flour evenly into the yoghurt mixture. Cover and leave at room temperature for 2 days. At this point the mixture should be full of bubbles and smell pleasantly sour.

Day 4: add the flour to the starter and mix in the water and milk. Cover and leave again for 12-24 hours.

Day 5: the starter should now be active and full of little bubbles, if not give it another day or two. Now it is time to start baking.


Don’t judge poor Dan on his appearance, it got a little stuck in the proving basket as I was putting it in the oven.

The Taste and Texture Challenge


Pros and cons of each?

Paul: really easy and straightforward to set up, gives good reliable results, with good texture. However, it doesn’t have quite the same intense flavour that my old Hobb’s House one did. This may be able to be rectified by changing the flour to wholewheat, which is what I used to feed my other sourdough, however it may be just that it needs more time to develop the culture and flavour.

Dan: a bit more tricky to set up, and as it is currently in the early stages of development, it is kind of sluggish and slow to work. Usually, proving time once the dough is in the basket is 8-12 hours, whereas currently the timing is running more at 24! You can tell also by the size of the slice in comparison to the other two, it is much less active. This may reduce over time as the culture becomes more active, but actually a slow acting culture can develop a better flavour, and also fit in better to a bread proving schedule. The flavour is much more intense and tasty than the others, however, the texture isn’t as good.

Patrick: I had to fight so hard against my inner microbiologist with this one. Leaving live yoghurt out for 24 hours? But of course this is the point. We want the organisms from the yoghurt to jump-start the starter, and give the bread a distinct sour tang. However, it is probably not advisable for pregnant women, or those more at risk of serious infections from milk products. Like with Paul, the flavour isn’t as strong as my previous one, or Dan, but the texture is really good.

So what else have I been upto this week? Well, we went to Seattle last weekend, did a bit of skiing, and also took a trip on the ferry to Whidbey Island, where we ate icecream and wandered about, admiring the view. Although, with typical Pacific Northwest weather, it was cloudy and rainy. Standard.

I have also been studying hard and working on another little cross stitch project:

cross stitch

Can you tell what it is yet?


  1. Thks a lot for having shared your experience !

    1. No problem! I hope it helps!

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