Stella Culinary School Podcast Episode 21| Sourdough Starters and Pre-ferments

SCS 021| Sourdough Starters And Preferments

If you're a serious bread baker and want to take your game to the next level, this is the podcast for you. In this episode, we discuss how to create complex tasting breads by utilizing a sourdough starters and pre-ferments.

Homework Assignment

  • Create a Sourdough Starter
  • Extra Credit - Convert the basic baguette or white bread recipe to one that uses a preferment to add extra complexity of flavor.


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There are 34 Comments

Marco099's picture

For those who are interested, here's a pic of my firm starter. I'm showing this because you'll notice that it is 'old' looking. That's because I do NOT feed my starter daily, weekly and sometimes not even on a monthly basis. Last time I fed this was Dec 18. 

I don't see any logical reason to feed my starter until I need to use it. So I start feeding it about 3-5 days before I need to use it at 'full strength'. It wakens right up during those 3-5 days after a few feedings, and provides me with great rising power and flavor. I personally don't think there's any need to obsess over a wild starter and feed it daily, with maybe a few exceptions. 

***I store my starter in the refrigerator. I use a combination of whole wheat, pumpernickel and bread flour in my firm starter, a formula I've developed over time that I like. 

jacob burton's picture

@ Marco99,

Thanks for posting that link, I completely forgot about it. That's a nice looking starter. That's actually the preferred method that Alan Scott and Daniel Wing used in their book, The Bread Builders.

@ Rasishi,

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the podcast.

jacob burton's picture

Hey Silver Cat,

Good to hear you've been having success with your sourdough starter and bread. We'll be talking a lot more about different formulations in the next episode. I'm actually running some tests right now for some new recipes. The most promising one is 100% whole wheat with no added fat. It's in the bulk fermentation stage right now, but if it works out, I'll be posting the recipe soon.

Thanks for your comment.

esavitzky's picture

Great podcast and great refresher.

I had put my Chad Robertson started in the fridge back in March and then went on a slow carb diet.  Haven't been eating bread products except for my cheat day (Sat) so I just stopped feeding my starter and have been depressed about the fact that I had let it go too long without feeding.  Listening to the podcast, I have renewed interest in taking it out and waking it up by removing 90% and feeding again for a few days.  I'll give it a try and let you know what transpires.

Thanks again.


jacob burton's picture

Thank's Elliot, let me know how your starter comes back. Also, I noticed you said "slow carb" and not "low carb." Does this mean your diet allows for slow digesting carbs like whole grain wheat? I've been doing a bunch of testers on 100%, whole wheat sourdough loaves and I'm getting close to creating a lean dough, artisan style boule, that only contains whole, and isn't as dense as a brick.

esavitzky's picture

No, it is slow carb.  It is based on Timothy Ferriss's book called 4 Hour Body.  He also wrote 4 Hour Work Week and also 4 Hour Chef, which I havent read yet, but will get to at some point.

The diet involves staying pretty disciplined 6 days a week and then you can eat anything you want on your cheat day as much as you want.  The diet excludes essentially any white foods (bread, rice, pasta) dairy and sweets.  It requires 30 grams of protein to start the day and is heavy into legumes and vegetables.

So the net is, the whole grain bread isn't acceptable, no matter how lean. 

As far as 100% whole wheat breads. I have had a lot of success with Peter Reinhart's recipes in his book on whole grain breads.  He uses pre-ferments but not usually sourdough.  I think I have a post on the site for one of his breads.

I will be very interested in the results of your tests.

jacob burton's picture

I really like Peter Reinhart's "Whole Grain Breads," but I've never been satisfied with the texture or oven spring of any 100% whole wheat, lean dough bread I've made. It doesn't have anything to do with Reinhart's or any other recipes, but the nature of these breads in general. I've slowly been getting closer to what I want, but I'm not happy yet. Still a few more tests to do.

Marco099's picture

I am really looking forward to discovering how you end up solving this problem and achieving your intended results. This is one of those things in the culinary world that is an accepted truth - that you can't get as much rise or oven spring with 100% whole wheat, and it's mentioned in every bread book I've read. And, that's basically been my experience, too.

However, I think it is possible to achieve what you're after and I can't wait to find out how you end up doing it. 

jacob burton's picture


Yep, that's correct. You can also add a small spike of yeast the following day to your final formulation just for insurance purposes, but the preferment will leaven the white bread and give you a superior flavor.

Let me know how it turns out.


Marco099's picture

Hi Brian,

Chef Jacob has a video and other info. on this site for creating a sourdough starter (check out Videos > Stella Bread). It's pretty straightforward. You should give that a try. 

Making a sourdough, or wild yeast, starter may seem intimidating but it's not that complex. I few tips from my own experience: Have patience and don't give up on a batch you've started - it may take a little time to become active depending on your environment so don't throw it out too soon. I named my starter after my wife because, like my starter, she's very stubborn at first but eventually she gives in smiley. Use filtered water if you can. Also, aerating the starter I think helps tremendously so I suggest stirring the starter at times throughout the process and especially in the beginning stages. Just an FYI - I do a firm starter, which is a little bit different process than Jacob's starter. I've had my firm starter now for over a year. I only wake it up when I need to use it and store it in the refrigerator all the time.

You'll get it right. 

jacob burton's picture

Starters become intuitive after awhile. You just have to get in there, pay attention to it's activity level, and then post any issues or questions you may have in our friendly forum.

jacob burton's picture

Hi Joe,

Welcome to Stella Culinary. Glad you're enjoying the site. Let me know if you have any questions as you work your way through our content.

jacob burton's picture

Hey Chill, welcome to Stella Culinary.

In general, about half of your dough's total flour weight should come from the starter, to get a 3 hour bulk ferment and 1-2 hour proof. To make a 100% hydration levan, simply use the same amount of water as you do flour, and subtract those two amounts from your final dough formulation.

That's the short answer.

Bur to really understand this topic, I would recommend first listening to this podcast episode, and reading the two articles linked at the top of the page. Then watch my sourdough starter conversion video, which will also help you understand how to use a preferment in any bread recipe.

Let me know if you have any more questions while you're working your through this information. You'll also want to watch the video on baker's percentage, linked at the top of this page.

jacob burton's picture

Hey Richard,

If you haven't yet, listen to the next episode of the podcast, episode 22. This question is discussed in depth.

The short version is cold fermentation, whole grains, and slowing down fermentation. Try feeding your starter whole grain flour and storing it in your fridge. You can also delay fermentation during the bulk fermentation and proofing stage by placing the dough in the fridge. This will cause more acetic acid to be produced, which will give you a more sour flavor.

Let me know if you have any more questions.

jacob burton's picture

Hey Westgate,

Welcome to Stella Culinary. Glad you found the bread podcasts helpful.

So if you want to keep an active starter in the fridge, you should feed it every 3-5 days, depending on how active your starter is. Then when it comes time to bake, you feed your starter once at room temperature and wait for it to pass the float test (about 4-12 hours, again, depending upon how active your starter is, and how hot your room is).

Once your starter passes the float test, you're ready to make some sourdough bread.

Now if you want to put your starter into suspended animation, you can do this by feeding a healthy starter once, and then place it in your fridge with a lid or plastic wrap, and leave it be.

However, the starter will be in hibernation, causing it to be sleepy and hungry. This is why you need to pull it out of the fridge a few days in advance of when you plan to bake, and go through a couple of feeding cycles to get the starter reinvigorated. Once the starter passes the float test, it's active enough to bake with.

With a brand new starter, after 10 days, it should be ready to bake with, and you can start storing it in your fridge to slow down fermentation and spread out the feeding cycles. Right now, my starter is so active that it passes the float test 3 hours after feeding if kept at room temperature. So at the restaurant, where we bake bread every day, we feed the starter, let it sit at room temp for about 30 minutes, and then store it at room temperature. This gives us an 18-48 hour window of the starter being active for baking.

But like I talked about in the podcast, you really just have to pay attention to you starter; get to know how active it is, how it responds to feedings at room temperature vs. refrigeration storage, etc. Just listen to your starter, and it will tell you everything you need to know.

If you want your starter to mature faster, then keep it at room temperature for the full 30 days, feeding every 12-24 hours. But like I said above, after 10 days, your starter's fermentation can be slowed down by storing in the fridge.

Let me know if you have any more questions.

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