Catching wild yeast and making sourdough

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Baking bread is a wonderful, delicious hobby. Bread can be as complex or as simple as you want. This instructable is about making simple but time consuming bread.

To make sourdough you will need a sourdough starter, which is essentially flour and water mixed and left to gather bacteria. Yes, sourdough is sour because of bacteria, which in turn eat away at the starter and produce waste (lactic acid). Yeast itself will produce alcohol when left to its own devices, which is why it is used to ferment things such as...well, alcohol. The bacteria eat that too, leaving behind what essentially amounts to vinegar. Neat.
Note: Thank you for the clarification, atomictesting. Fixed for correctness.

A fair warning before we get started: Completing this instructable can take anywhere from one week to several months, depending on the amount of time you are willing to spend and how many times you accidentally screw up.

I will not be using active-dry or rapid rise yeast at any point during this instructable at all.

Why wild yeast?
Why not? It's neat and, given the right about of time, your sourdough will take on its own distinct flour not quite like any other starter.

Why is it sour?
Bacteria and wild yeast. When you let the starter and the bread sit as long as you will be (days and weeks) it takes on that distinctive sour flavor.

How long does this take?
Forever. It's an ongoing process.

How much experience do you have?
Not a lot. I'm a hobbyist. I'm very open to suggestions or corrections if someone out there knows something that I don't know.
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Kiulkaitis5 years ago
Hi!, I'm from Venezuela and this is the first time that I've heard of sourdough.  So I try this instructable from the beggining and I've just made my first one.  I really like the taste but since I've never try it before I really don't know if this is the real thing.  So please if you can describe the flavor of the sourdough It'll be really helpful for me.  Thank you!
Your ARE tasting it.  Sourdough got its name from the fact that the dough was allowed to sour when the bakers didn't want to throw out the original dough and kept making bread with old dough.  Correct me, someone, if I'm wrong but I think it started around the San Francisco area in California about the time of the gold rush.

It didn't start in San Francisco. It actually started in the beginning of history. Flatbread dough left out too long caught wild yeast, and rose. The advent of leavened bread started out with sourdough essentially accidentally.

Recently, instead of sourdough, many people are referring to it as wild yeast starter, since "sourdough" is so associated with San Francisco.

Oh, sourdough has been around for a lot longer than that. I've read somewhere that it was used some 6000 years ago in Egypt. Modern yeast that you buy in the store has only been around since 1850 or so. Another alternative way of making bread rise wich was used in the middle ages is barm, a bipruduct when fermenting to get alcohol. There is however a strain af lactobacillus called sanfranciscensis!
Kiulkaitis, sour dough has a tangy taste and is usually full of air bubbles, which are nice for catching the butter. The wild yeast varies, depending on where you live. So the San Francisco sour dough has a distinctively different taste that the sour dough here in Oregon. I love this bread with cheddar cheese and avocado and a little balsamic vinegar.
consider trying other sourdough recipes on here and comparing
rmckenzie made it!7 months ago

This is a great recipe. I make it every week. The full recipe makes two large loaves, but half a recipe makes just enough for the week or a nice sized round loaf.

meismeems8 months ago

Ok, now I know why my starter kept getting moldy....neglect. I'm such a bad boule mom!!

dgert561 year ago

The original sourdough bread that started in San Francisco back in the 1800's is still used there today. They add a cup of the original starter (mother) every day

I'd never thought about adding honey to spurdough before! It sounds like a great idea!
Shaquan1 year ago
Is it possible to cultivate or produce more yeast from this dough? I am asking because I would like to know if quote, "Is it possible to make different breads from this yeast produced during the proccess?" Please leave a reply. Thanks for reading.
Shaquan1 year ago
Is it possible to cultivate or produce more yeast from this dough? I am asking because I would like to know if quote, "Is it possible to make different breads from this yeast produced during the proccess?" Please leave a reply. Thanks for reading.
dtfathedza2 years ago
I don't think it's necessary to roll the dough out. By doing so you're pressing air bubbles out of the dough and making it harder for the aerobic bacteria (yeast) to breath and therefore do their business. Its fine to work the dough with your hands but unless you want flat, cracker like bread then just cut pieces to fit the pans that you are using. if you're trying to make pizza dough then that is a different matter. You should make your dough, let it rise and then ball it, allow it to rise or proof again for a few hours and then stretch the dough out to make your crust. There are lots of good tips on pizza dough stretching over at youtube.
ludovic6 years ago
Three comments:
1. Make sure your starter doesn't go off -it can be lethal
2. Leave the starter outside to capture bacteria
3. Use organic rye flour to start the starter, it's got much more good bacteria in it

Check my blog for more details: foodings.blog.uk
The thing about rye is that it has no gluten, so the dough won't be elastic at all, because it's the gluten that forms the protein coils that pull it back together. This can be a nuissance if you expect your dough to behave like dough. Also, rye can be infected by different kinds of fungus, some of which can be harmful.
Indeed. Rye makes more compact breads, has much less glutens but works best for starters. I use a rye starter for my white or wholemeal (wheat) breads.

As for the fungus, it's called ergot and is killed by cooking the bread:
Here's a brief wikipedia note on that:


Ergot fungus are used to harvest the medication ergotamine, which is used to treat postpartum bleeding and migraine, among other diseases, because if it's vasoconstricting effects on humans. Ergotism, on the other hand, can make you loose your fingertips and earlobes.

I only bake fresh rye flour when making rye bread, I never make the starter out of it.
I wouldn't worry about these rye diseases, they grow on rye in the field, not in a wet acidic starter culture. I say this from experience, I have maintained an all rye culture for quite some time now and it has never been contaminated with any unpleasant bacteria. In fact, my rye starter seems almost immune to contamination.
If you ever see colorful streaks in your starter it is no good anymore. It will be pretty obvious and pretty not good tasting. To my knowledge there is no danger in having a rye starter, it is quite common practice among artisan bakers.
 Rye has gluten, it's just different than wheat gluten.

yeah, you're right, sorry bout that
A comment to the comment,

It won't matter if the flour is organic or not. The flour is ground up starch from the inside of the seed, and not exposed to chemicals. Also no herbicide, fungicide, or pesticide would have been used on the wheat  prior to harvest. These chemicals go away with time and whould have left the plants prior to harvest.

You can use organic flour to support organic farming, but it won't make a difference when it comes to the starter.
Possibly. Chemicals can migrate into seeds, so I prefer organic.
ludovic2 years ago
I find it works much better with rye flour but it can he hard to find. My recipe is on my blog: http://richmondtransits.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/my-no-knead-sourdough-bread.html
GummiBear3 years ago
I heard on TV that a bakery put a little bit of dough that was souring forever in each of their bread dough batches. Thats why their sourdough is the BEST!
tremend3 years ago
I keep my sour in a plastic bowl with a lid lightly placed on top - not 'clicked' on.

I have had a few flies buzzing around lately and today, I found a fly in the sour!

When I did click the lid on it suddenly blew off one night (scared my wife)!

Will baking kill anything nasty from the flies or must I throw it all away?
orosiriley3 years ago
Thank you for the instructions, it worked! We live in the highland tropical rainforest or Costa Rica where our climate is the same ever day with highs of 72° and every night lows of 60°. It took about a week to collect enough wild yeast, but my "started" is nice and bubbly.
We are making low carb, whole wheat bread using Tuscan farro.
The results have exceeding expectations.
bread 005.jpg
PurpleKat3 years ago
Just wanted to leave a comment to let you know that I've still got my starter going, and it's churning out some great bread. I have two batches of dough going right now, one of them for loaves tomorrow night with carrot and ginger soup (YUM!) and one for pizza the night after. I gave out jars of starter as Christmas presents this year, and they were a hit. :)

For anyone intimidated about trying this -- don't be. It's easy, and very forgiving. I neglected my "pet blob" during November, and it bounced right back from the missed feedings.
PurpleKat3 years ago
Thank you so much for this! I've seen sourdough starter recipes before, but nothing as hardcore and awesome as this. :) I'm looking forward to some wonderful sourdough!

Has anyone tried this starter with a bread machine, yet? I'm a big wimp, and I don't think my arms would survive the kneading process of making bread the hard way.
adnimo5 years ago
Yum! I've never had sour bread before, so I'll be definitely trying this out. Is there a way to avoid having to buy yeast altogether and being able to make things such as pizza, bread, etc?. One of my problems is that my yeast goes bad (they only sell the packaged, powder one which I personally dislike and the little blocks of yeast, which are way too big for my needs and they always end up going bad and into the trash bin...) Any ideas?
Hey, if you want your yeast to keep forever, get the dry yeast in those little glass jars and keep it in the fridge. My favorite, when I can get my hands on it, is Red Star. If you can't find it locally, you could probably order it online.

I had a jar of yeast that I bought right before I moved to a place where the kitchen was too small for my bread machine. Used maybe a couple teaspoons of the yeast. It sat in the fridge for, I kid you not, over two years. Then I moved to a larger place and decided to make bread again and -- the yeast was fine. Worked perfectly.
sourdough can be used for pizza, and this is obviously a bread dough..I've never heard of sourdough bagels though, that might be good, and different
jabapyth adnimo5 years ago
I always keep my yeast in the freezer, and it stays good for...a really long time.
tea_lover4 years ago
Just wanted to leave a comment saying thanks so much for this awesome instructable! I've had my starter going for a few months now and I love it so so so much. I've been feeding my starter 1:1 ratio of flour/water though because I didn't think the mix was runny enough. Thanks again
Thanks for having a simple recipe. I tried googling other recipes, but they had things like coconut oil, milk, eggs, dry yeast, etc.
Ben Mighall4 years ago
Also, how often and how do you feed it after you are off the "once-a-week" plan?
Ben Mighall4 years ago
Do you need to leave the lid open or do you leave it closed?
David_huai4 years ago
I am from China. The process is almost same for us to make the yeast for Chinese bread.
Mine doubled once but hasn't doubled again since then. Any idea what might be wrong?
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