Troubleshooting Sourdough

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Most of these tips I learned through – a wonderful website about whole foods and sourdough.

Q. I use whole grains and my bread always turns out dense. Why?
A. Dense bread can be the result of several problems. Here’s a few suggestions:

  • go easy on the flour – whole grains take a bit longer to soak up liquids. What may feel or look right at the time of mixing can end up being too thick after several hours of rest. When adding your whole grain flour to a recipe, cut back and let it be a little sticky – to the point it barely cleans the sides of the bowl. Cover it with a towel and let it sit about 15 minutes. Knead/mix for 5 minutes, let it rest again for 5 minutes, and then knead/mix it for 5 minutes again.
  • you may want to use a lighter flour like spelt, or my favorite, hard red wheat. Soft red or soft white wheat don’t have enough gluten to rise as well.
  • depending on where you live, drier climates may need less flour and wet climates a bit more than the recipe calls for.
  • make sure your starter is active. When starter is going good and strong it will rise or dome a few hours after you’ve fed it. If it doesn’t do that make sure you are feeding it every 12 hours and with equal amounts of flour and water (in weight).

Q. Why do my loaves turn out flat?
A. Try:

  • using a lighter flour like spelt, or my favorite, hard red wheat. Soft red or soft white wheat do not have enough gluten to rise as well.
  • letting your loaves rise in a warmer/cooler location (70-80 degrees F).
  • baking it in a non-preheated oven if your bread has not reached peak height. It can finish rising inside the oven as the oven is heating. How do you tell if it’s at peak? Put your ear close to the loaf. If there are popping noises it is still rising. It’s at peak when the popping slows down.
  • not to let the loaf rise too long or it will deflate.

Q. I/my family doesn’t like the sour flavor in sourdough bread. Is there a way to diminish it?
A. You can try this:

  • make sure you are giving regular feedings every 12 hours.
  • a shorter rising time. Go at least 8 hours though or you won’t get the health benefits of sourdough.
  • using more starter. It sounds like the opposite would happen, but the sour flavor comes from
  • a cooler rising location – though the phytic acid may not be reduced as much.
  • add a bit of baking soda – this tempers down the sourness.
  • drain the hooch (liquid that sits on top of the starter) before feeding. The hooch is perfectly normal and safe, but tends to add to the sour flavor.

Q. What is the least/most I can feed my starter at one time?
A. The basic rule to feeding is equal amounts of flour and water (in weight) and enough to double your starter (i.e. 1 cup of starter is fed enough to make a total of 2 cups.) However, there may be a time you want to build your starter quickly or slow down how much you’re making. Here is an example of what you can do:

  • if you want to build your starter more quickly, you can double (at the most) the amount you usually feed it. So for 1 cup of starter you can add equal amounts of flour and water (in weight) to make 2 cups of ‘food’ for a total of 3 cups of starter.
  • if you want to slow down how much you are feeding it, don’t go any less than half of what you would usually feed it. So for 1 cup of starter you can add equal amounts of flour and water (in weight) to make 1/2 cup of ‘food’ for a total of 1 1/2 cups of starter.

Q. How do I convert yeast to sourdough?
A. 1 tablespoon of yeast equals abut 1 c. of starter.

Q. Is there a difference between starter for bread and starter for cakes, muffins, pancakes, etc.
A. Yes, baked goods tend to like a little thicker starter. But it’s not crucial.

Q. How do I know if my starter has gone ‘bad’.
A. Although it’s rare, you can get a moldy starter. If the hooch (liquid that forms on the top of the starter) begins to look pink, toss it. Whole grain hooch can start to look pinkish if it’s not feed regularly when at room temperature, so make sure you are feeding it every 12 hours before deciding if it’s mold or not.

Q. I forgot about my starter in the fridge and now there is black liquid on the top. Did I kill it?
A. The black liquid is the hooch. Take the lid off your jar and smell it. If it has a nice, albeit strong, sourdough smell, it’s still good.  You can simply dump the dark hooch down the drain and give your starter a good feeding. Leave it out at room temperature and feed every 12 hours.

In a couple of hours some tiny bubbles may appear. Yay! Keep it at room temperature and feed for another day or so before putting back in the fridge.


Shared with: A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, It’s A Keeper, Momnivore’s Dilemma, Sorta Crunchy, Healthy Home Economist, The Prairie Homestead, Make Ahead Meals For Busy Moms, The Girl Creative, Motivate Me Monday, Skip To My Lou, Hartke is Online, Real Food Forager, Blessed With Grace, At Home With K, Cooking Traditional Tuesdays, Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, Women Living Well, Turning the Clock Back, Frugally SustainableBlue Cricket Designs, Raising Homemakers, The Thrifty Home, This Chicks Cooks, Rook No. 17, Time-Warp Wife, Far Above Rubies, Confessions of a Frugal Mind, Vintage Wannabee, Milk & Cuddles, We Are That Family, Nourishing Gourmet, Whipperberry, Life as Mom, Mom Trends, Premeditated Leftovers, Make Your Own Mondays, Food Corner, Chef in Training, The Modest Mom Blog, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Little Natural Cottage, Real Food Freaks, Comfy in the Kitchen, Growing Home, Our Simple Farm, Deep Roots at Home, Our Simple Country Life, Raising Mighty Arrows, Food Renegade,

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I’m Paula - like many of you I wear a lot of hats. Child of God, wife of 17 years, mother of five, reluctant cook, full-time teacher, chocolate-snatcher, and children's author. Various family health issues including Lyme disease and candida has turned me into a 'researcher'. I don't have initials after my name, a degree in anything but motherhood, or a framed certificate on my wall. What I do have is a passion for understanding how our God-created bodies thrive or deteriorate based on what we put in it. Oh, and I also might mention homesteading, homeschooling, fitness, herbs, faith, and anything else I'm thinking about. . . like wow, I need to refill my tea. . .
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  1. Hi Paula!

    I have had great success with my sourdough starter via my e-book from Gnowfglins. Recently after building up my starter to make waffles, I ended up being too busy and stored the 2 cups in the fridge. I didn't have time to get back to making the waffles until 5 days later. When I did retrieve it from the fridge – it had a grayish tint to it – so while not knowing what to do – I dumped it, but while doing so I thought it looked very good & that it probably would've been OK to use. If this happens again, how long could I keep this "built up" starter in the fridge?
    Thanks so much!

  2. Hi Traci –

    I store my starter in the fridge all the time.
    I usually store it for about a week before I pull it out again.

    I've read sourdough experts who leave theirs in the fridge for months. They usually suggest taking it out once a week, letting it come to room temp, and then feeding it before storing it again.

    When you let a starter sit for a a few days or a week or more in the fridge it gets that grayish (mine is almost black) liquid on top, called hooch.

    As unappetizing as it looks – it's perfectly fine. I've read numerous sourdough sites that all say the same thing.

    I just pour it off and start feeding my starter as usual. It doesn't change the taste, texture, or how your starter works at all.

    The only time you should be concerned about the hooch is if it starts to turn pink. That means it's gone bad, but it usually only happens when it's sat out at room temp for a week or more without being fed or anything.

    I hope this helps. Have fun with your sourdough!

  3. Melissa Naasko says:

    I love sourdough but getting folks to the stage of instinctual feel for baking with it is hard. This is such a great resource! I tweeted your post, by the way!

  4. Melissa – thanks for stopping! I know what you mean about getting a feel for baking with it – I still feel unsure sometimes myself – but learning is such a wonderful part of life!

  5. I am curious to know.

    I am in the midst of my Sourdough Experience and have one recipe that calls for a Sourdough Starter that was fed in the last 12-24 hours which I think is great and the waffles are amazing.

    My question is:

    If you poor off the Hooch are you not loosing some of the whole benifits of the sourdough?

    and second:

    How long can you let it sit at room temperature, without feeding it before it goes pink I guess is the limit. I could try an experiment I suppose.

    Mostly I am wondering if there is suck a thing as how many hours it sits without being fed and which recipes are best when using an aged starter?

    With Respect,


    Sarnia Ontario Canada

  6. Hi there,

    Hooch forms after a stater has sat quiet (like in the refrigerator) for an amount of time without being feed. It is simply water with a touch of alcohol and other fermentation byproducts.

    I've never read anywhere that pouring off the hooch would removing anything beneficial from your starter. It will change the water:flour ratio, but I prefer a thicker starter myself and you can easily adjust the ratio.

    That's not to say I couldn't be wrong, but in all the reading and research I've done, I've always read that it can be poured off and is nothing to worry about either way.

    How long can your starter sit without going bad? Well, I guess you'd have to experiment with that one. :) I'd think it would depend a bit on how warm it was in the room it was stored in. My suggestion would be that if you're going to go more than about 12 hours without feeding it, refrigerate it and feed it about once a week.

    As far as an aged starter, I haven't come across any recipes that suggest you let it age before using it. Most recipes work best if the starter has been fed within the last 12 hours and looks happy and bubbly.

    Hope that helps – thanks for stopping by!

  7. Heather McMullin says:

    Love love the title of your site and would love for you to link this recipe up to my Famous Linkz Party!

    Heather aka Made Famous By

  8. I am on day 3 of making my own starter. Your post was a timley find! Great blog!!! I found you through Life As Mom.

  9. Shannon, Food Channel Editor, says:

    This is the second set of sourdough posts I've read today, and now I'm craving a good sourdough bread.

    Thanks for linking up to Friday Food on!

  10. Jenn Erickson says:

    Paula, I'm embarking on a sourdough adventure soon — my very first, so I'm very greatful for your tips and troubleshooting!


  11. April @ The 21st Century Housewife says:

    There is definitely some great advice here for anyone looking to make their own sourdough. Thank you for sharing this post with the Hearth and Soul hop.

  12. Lea H @ Nourishing Treasures says:

    Thank you for your submission on Nourishing Treasures' Make Your Own! Monday link-up.

    Check back later tonight when the new link-up is running to see if you were one of the top 3 featured posts! :)

  13. Lea H @ Nourishing Treasures says:

    Thank you for your submission on Nourishing Treasures' Make Your Own! Monday link-up.

    Check back later tonight when the new link-up is running to see if you were one of the top 3 featured posts! :)

  14. What a lovely link to read about sourdough…thank you so much for the question and answer responses…very, very informative…for sure…keep up this link…aloha, Carmen from Hawaii…by the way, sourdough bread is considered a good bread for us diabetics to eat…delicious too…would anyone have a sourdough waffle recipe to share? Mahalo (thank you in Hawaiian)

  15. Hi Paula – in the above, you say “my favorite: hard red” and then you say, “my favorite: hard white”, lol! Is it your “favorite” based on how you’re using your sourdough? I’ve had to give up finding hard white as it’s almost double the cost of hard red…

    • LOL. Thanks for seeing that. They are both supposed to say ‘hard red’. That’s what I get for having too many words in my head and not typing fast enough! :) I corrected the post.

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