Reflections on a Journey to the Center of a Sourdough Loaf

Finally creating a sourdough boule (above!) based on my own wild yeast mother starter is a big milestone in my food obsessed life. In fact,  I’ve been trying to take a culture to a starter to a risen sourdough loaf for at least two years now. It’s been a long time coming. My past attempts failed due to a combination of impatience and (surprisingly enough) too much orthodoxy to a single recipe.

The former was easy to change: I simply put “Create Sourdough Bread” on my 26-to-do-before-26 list (yes, I am a dork like that) so I knew I’d have to tackle it for real this year. I changed the later by viewing bread baking less as a recipe to be followed and more of a process that involves simple parts (flour,water,yeast.salt) and an intricate science. I began to read The Fresh Loaf forums religiously, figuring out what I did wrong and right with my past attempts before starting anew. I bought several new bread cookbooks too–Tartine and Local Breads– to get my research on.

I started this new attempt with a technique for creating a starter from Local Breads. Everything was great up until about the seventh day when I noticed that although the culture was alive (bubbling and looking frothy, hello wild yeast!)  it was not doubling in size. I started panicking. I started thinking I should give up. Instead, I departed from the recipe and did some googling/bread book comparison. Then I magically diagnosed the problem on my own: my yeast needed to be fed more. See, up until that point I was maintaining it at a 100% hydration without throwing any of it away. Basically the  yeast kept growing and working it’s magic but it was being underfed. I threw most of it out, fed it some more according to later instructions in Local breads, and it worked! It doubled in size within 12 hours. I fed it more and more, to improve the flavor and have it double in size in 8 hours, then stuck it in the fridge until it would be time to bake a real loaf. I also decided to change it from a liquid to a stiff starter, all by tinkering, not by following a single uniform recipe.

The actual bread recipe came from my tried and true copy of Artisan Breads Everyday. It is a purist (no commercial yeast) pain au levain. The flavor of the loaf was perfect, not too sour but not too mild. I was simply amazed it even rose let alone tasted wonderfully sour. Already I’m thinking of how I can improve  the bread next time. The crumb could be more open and holey, but I’m happy with this first attempt. The scoring was perfect which I’m pretty thrilled about.  The sourdough waits in a mason jar in the fridge for all the future loaves. For days after making this boule, I kept thinking over and over in my head “I made pain au levain, how cool is that?” It’s been a fun start in the world of wild yeast breads,

So, in the end, I decided that I am not going to write up a recipe for my culture and starter because the process itself is too involved and free-form to relate word for word. Instead, I give the important lessons I learned: start anywhere, with any recipe, by combining water (not tap, always bottled) and organic flours of some ratio . Then wait. If  your recipe doesn’t work, research another. Diagnose.  The simple truth is that a starter is water + flour. Nothing more.

(Though my recommendation for a recipe, if you are looking, can be found on Wild Yeast, a fantastic bread blog.)



  • Julie

    It’s a beauty! Just looking at it makes my mouth water. There really isn’t anything more magical than home baked bread. It’s so satisfying.

    • Lindsey Frances


  • Nola

    Dit is voor het eerst dat ik

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