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. 

rasishi's picture

Great podcast, lots of information and i cannot wait for the next episode. Thanks for the in-depth knowledge on preferments. 

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.

Silver Kat's picture

The podcast couldn't have come at a better time. I recently started making sourdough breads again using a natural poolish inspired by the Stella Bread series. This starter was supposed to be a San Francisco sourdough, but it never developed. So I created the poolish with half whole/half white flours. I've been feeding them since mid December and am on my third round this week and the loaves have a wonderful flavor.
Reinhart's cool rise method works well this time of year, but my active starters live in my electric oven with the light on, safe from icy drafts and polar vortices. Reinhart's recent books (Crust & Crumb and Baker's Apprentice) are great sources of information and inspiration.he's quick to point out new artisan breads or different flours at the store. He's amazed just how much effort and dedication it takes to keep the starters bubbling and happy.

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.

Nina's picture

We're happy to have you back at the mike too Chef.  Great podcast.

"People who love to eat are always the best people." -- Julia Child

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. 

Sarah_NJ's picture

So many great lessons here, and so many types of breads to learn to bake. I hope that we will be able to see more photos of others who try out these breads. It is interesting to see how others turned out.

Most of my online wagering goes to playing this FB Cincy slot game, not because I am afraid to try something else, but because I just love this game.
strikingtwice's picture

Alright, i still have to listen a second time, but as my submission for homework, does the white bread recipe go like this?

500g poolish (1.2 water 1/2 flour

700g flour (-the 250 that's in the preferment)
410g milk (-the 250 liquid in the preferment)

and the rest is the same? Is that correct? I may have to make a spreadsheet calc for working with these like i did with my bread before.

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.


George Henderson's picture

This bread looks good! Will give this a try in the morning. George.

Brian96797's picture

I've tried to make a sourdough starter a couple of years ago following Alton Brown's Baking book.  I must have read it wrong or something because after 1.5 weeks, it smelled horrible and I threw it out. I've been afraid since.  I'm gathering to courage to try it again.  Any advice from folks who've had bad experiences in the past? 

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. 

Brian96797's picture

@Marco99, thank you for your response.  Yes, I have watched all the video's from Chef Jacob, which is giving me the courage to try again.  I'm laughing at your starter's name!  Thank you for the encouragement.

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.

Silver Kat's picture

HaroldBrian re: naming the starter
Names are important.

I began a sourdough starter last December just before our leader returned to the mike with the much anticipated lecture #21. We must have been on the same wave length! At the moment, Harold is resting in my chill chest while his offspring are busy partying.

His youngest is in my quest for The Great Rye loaf. Catcher inherited Harold's tang and bite but thrives on 100% whole wheat flour. (Don't know which wild ancestor gave him that trait but I'm not complaining.) Friends (who help keep my loaf population at a manageable level) love Catcher's results, but he is just a teen. When he matures, I hope he rises to greatness.

joepwll's picture

Terrific podcast, but I am also impressed with the caliber of comments and attitude of participants.  Comes from Jacob's lead, I know, and I look forward to working through the website.

I am in the South, so summertime temperatures will be a problem for me as I tackle a sourdough starter.  I am thinking I will need to use an ice chest with a couple of frozen bottles.  Or...just wait until winter to kick things off.  Or...use the sourdough starter a cheese maker gave me recently.  Or...all of the above.

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.

angegrow's picture

Hey there, I really appreciate all the information. I just started my starter conveniently named July. It wasn't until last month (august) that I really began to strive for a nice loaf of bread all around. I wasn't getting the results I wanted so I explored the interweb for help and lucky for me I found this awesome site. Sourdough is fascinating to me and the more I know about how it works the better my bread comes out. My main goal is to get more rise out of my loaves. I'm really looking for a nice sandwhich loaf. I just finished podcast 21 so hopefully I can get the desired result with the info.
One question: how do I preferment a direct recipe with sourdough starter instead of store bought yeast?

EinWindir's picture

Well, i just mixed the water and flour for what will eventually be my sourdough.  I named her Demeter ('the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. Her cult titles include Sito (Σιτώ), "she of the Grain", as the giver of food or grain and Thesmophoros (θεσμός, thesmos: divine order, unwritten law; "phoros": bringer, bearer), "Law-Bringer," as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society.' form wikipedia).  I tried 5 years ago to make some sourdough but, ignorant of the importance to name it, failed miserably.   Love the site.  It is highly informative in a warm and friendly atmosphere (as every kitchen should be). thank you very much.  will update with photo eventually.

chillcoolcold's picture

Wow stumbled on this site, boat load of info. Maybe someone can tell me how to use a liquid levain in place of a firm starter. How do I know how much liquid levain to use and how to adjust the final dough.

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.

windsorr's picture

Hi Jacob
Happy new year

I have been using a sour dough starter for a while and have got used to it. However have encountered a problem. My starter starts off not very sour, rises, collapses and at the very end becomes very sour as the acids build up. However according to your videos at this stage it is no longer suitable for making bread as it will badly fail the float test. 

Consequently, I use the levain at its peak activity but at this stage it is not very sour because I have recently diluted it with flour and water.. How can I have the starter more sour but at the same have the strength required to leaven the bread. 

Also what is hard levain and how is it made / used?

Many thanks Regards Richard

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.

windsorr's picture

Many thanks Jacob. 
I did listen to it but I figured I was missing something....
will experiment with ferments in the fridge and let you know how I get on. 

westgate6000's picture

Jacob, thank you for great podcast! Tons of super great and actionable info!
i am confused on one point though; here you say that once the starter is developed (after 30 days) it can be kept in a fridge indefinitely without feeding at all; can be taken out and fed 3-4 days before baking. but in another place (not sure which podcast, i listened to 18-21 in one shot) you say that the starter kept in a fridge should be fed every 3-5 days. or at least i think i heard it from you, planning to listen to all the podcasts again just to make sure i am getting everything straight. 
could you please clarify this point - 

and one more question; i understand that each feeding basically doubles the amount of the starter. that's why you are removing the half of it to begin with - each time. but is this kind of feeding for only an infant starter? you indicated that adult starter is taken care of a bit differently, but i haven't heard the details. what about the maintenance feedings for a good adult mature starter after 30 days? and also - just in case - for the starter between 10 and 30 days if i keep it at a room temperature and feeding daily? 

thank you! 

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.