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How to make a Rye Starter

A consistent and forgiving starter, which produces great flavoured breads.

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Introduction

To set a Rye Starter down, start a week before you need the bread.  Once up and running your starter will improve with age, as we all do, and will always be there ready to use.  If you look after it and want to bake bread every day then it will need feeding with enough flour and water each day at least 12 hours before you need to start making bread.

If you bake once a week then feed it as soon as you have produced your last loaf, cover and put it into the fridge.  Unfed it will last a month, but should be removed and fed at least 12 hours before re-use, using warm water to get it going again.

A nice thick creamy consistency just thicker than a Yorkshire pudding batter should keep a nice balance between flavour and baking performance – for those of a scientific bias, the pH should be between 3.5 and 4.

Making your Rye Starter

Place 50g of medium rye into a medium sized mixing bowl and add 75g of warmwater.  Beat to a creamy batter,  cover with a plastic bag to keep the moisture in and stand in a warm part of the kitchen but not directly onto a radiator or above the cooker.  It will be happiest at 18 to 22°C if possible and leave it for 24 hours without disturbance.

Next day add another 25g of rye flour and 35 to 40g of warm water, mix and set aside as before.

Repeat this process for the next five days.  By then your starter will be active and you will feel the gas bubbles between your fingers.

On the 6th day you will have about 500g of starter in the bowl and it is now that you need to decide what breads to make and how often.  It may be advisable to split the starter in two and freeze one half as a backup.  The yeasts will recover even after freezing - give it one good feed of 75g of flour plus 100g of hot water, stand at room temperature for at least 12 hours then it will be ready to bake with or restart your main starter.

As ever, there are as many many different interpretations of a rye sour as there are ideas on producing and keeping a starter.  Keep it simple.  Once you understand the basics then experiment with some of the more complicated formula's you will read in the recipe books.

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Tags: Rye Sourdough

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Great Sourdough Starter Recipe

This is a great uncomplicated recipe. No need for organic fruit or purified water. I've managed to get my starter going after 2 days which is a record for me . I believe this has a lot to do with using a good quality bread flour.

Popoluopos 02 March 2017

Reply
How to cover the Starter?

I've got my Rye starter going at the moment & covered it with a plastic bag as suggested. However on looking through tips & techniques on keeping my starter happy it says to cover with cloth. That sealing it, as a plasic bag would seem to do will not let the wild yeast that are required in. So should it be sealed to not let moisture out or covered with a cloth to let wild yeasts in ? I would be grateful for some clarifiation.

Purdycat 28 February 2017

Reply
RE: How to cover the Starter?

I always use a wet teatowel, or rather a cut-off bit of an old and thin teatowel.

Ms Leslie Wilson 28 February 2017

RE: How to cover the Starter?

Thanks for that Leslie. I'd always put a wet tea towel over my bread when rising. Never made sourdough starter before & was wondering if the plastic bag was a good idea or not. Will try the wet tea towel instead.

Purdycat 28 February 2017

RE: How to cover the Starter?

The flour already has the wild yeast and bacteria in it to make sourdough .

Verthebaker 08 September 2017

Yeast

Hello, not sure whether I am being silly or not but I can't see any reference to yeast in the making of the starter... Should I add some at some point?

Berengere 24 January 2017

Reply
RE: Yeast

Some people do put yeast in the starter, but I have never found it necessary. Unless you are killing the natural (and harmless) yeasts in your kitchen by zapping anti-bacterials everywhere, they should descend on your flour-water mix and take up residence there. People were leavening bread with sourdough for thousands of years before anyone thought of using yeast from beer instead.

Ms Leslie Wilson 24 January 2017

RE: Yeast

Wonderful, thanks Leslie.

Berengere 24 January 2017

very sour sourdough

Unless your house is very cold, I wouldn't recommend putting it in the airing cupboard. I put mine on a shelf in the kitchen. I may be way off beam here, but perhaps the airing cupboard is overstimulating it? Also, when I revive it, I put a damp cloth over it, so the air can get to it again - I screw the top down in the kitchen..

Ms Leslie Wilson 10 December 2016

Reply
RE: very sour sourdough

Thanks for your feedback. I tried the airing cupboard because there was hardly any activity going on when I was trying to get the starter going, but you could be right, maybe it is getting overstimulated. I will have to try again & leave it in the kitchen.

KarenW 11 December 2016

Very Sour Sourdough

I have been feeding it in the evening, putting in the airing cupboard and then I used it the following morning. Although it has had bubbles, it's not very very frothy.

KarenW 10 December 2016

Reply
Very Sour Sourdough

Well I finally made my first white sour dough loaf and it was so sour that we couldn't eat it! Can anyone give me any clues as to why this could of happened?

KarenW 09 December 2016

Reply
RE: Very Sour Sourdough

How very disappointing for you. The sourness comes from the acid, which is produced by the yeast as it ferments. If you have too much acid, it suggests that you used your starter too long after feeding it.

Your starter needs be full of bubbles when you use it - if it has already peaked (the bubble have come and gone, often evidenced by tide-lines inside the jar), just throw half of it away, replenish with a new feed and give it another try. 

There are a lot factors that change the timings for feeding and using a starter - it really is a case of trial and error until you find a process that works for your particular situation. As well as changing the timings, temparature makes a big difference - warmer will speed things up, cooler will slow them down. 

Keep persevering and good luck!

webmaster 10 December 2016

RE: Very Sour Sourdough

Mind, I find that many supermarket sourdoughs hardly taste sour at all to me; I think it depends on what you're used to. I can cope with much sourer bread, I suspect, because I had sourdough bread in childhood, made by my grandmother, who lived in German Silesia. Germans and Poles like their sourdough rather more hardcore than perhaps Americans do. However, if I'm making white bread, which I don't often, I usually take the starter from the fridge 2 days before I bake, and feed it twice. I'd take issue with the throwing-away idea; in my experience just using small amounts of flour and water will get the yeasts working again, and modify the amount of lactic acid.

Ms Leslie Wilson 10 December 2016

Sour Dough Starter Using Rye Flour

I've just started making my own bread so really haven't got a clue about this! Just wondered if I make a sour dough starter with wholemeal Rye flour, can I use for a white sour dough loaf, or should I make a white starter?

KarenW 27 November 2016

Reply
RE: Sour Dough Starter Using Rye Flour
The great thing about a rye starter is that it is very resilient, so I find it easy to manage. When you want to make a loaf, it will work with any combination of flours. I usually make a "white" loaf using the rye starter - the 20% or so of rye adds to the flavour. If you want a whiter loaf, you can take a small amount of rye starter and then use white to create a whiter starter for that loaf. (Eg. if you start with 40g of rye starter and grow it to 200g, then you'll only 20% as much rye in the final loaf). Best bet is to experiment and see what works for you.

webmaster 28 November 2016

rye sourdough starter

This recipe is fine, but is way too big for me, baking weekly, and making 1 large loaf or 1 large and 1 small one (using round bannetons). My starters keep going for months, and are very good at raising the dough. I use 3 tablespoons of dark rye flour, roughly hand-hot water (cooler rather than warmer) and a teaspoon of honey. I leave it for 3 days, till bubbles start to form, then add 3 more tablespoons of rye flour and water, and repeat 24 hours later. The starter is then ready, smelly, and bubbly. I posted six years ago, and said I had to rise the dough at 30 degrees, and someone else pointed out to me that sourdough will rise quite well if given enough time, which I now do, so thank you, Joanna Baron, you were right. I now feed the starter every 2 days with just a teaspoon of flour and water, keeping it in the fridge till the night before baking, when I feed it with 3 tablespoons of water and flour again. I read somewhere that giving it potato water is a good idea, and it certainly seems to stimulate the bubbles. My starter is fizzing away in the kitchen right now (10.58 am); at about 12 I shall use it to mix a new lot of dough and save and feed a small quantity of it for next time. It will then stay out for 24 hours and after that go back in the fridge till next baking time. I will rise the dough till about 5, then take it out, knock it back, and put it into bannetons, which I line with floured butter muslin nowadays, so it doesn't stick. This is what the French artisanal bakers do, though they maybe use coarser cloth. I don't find teatowels work very well, and this works for me. I will leave the dough overnight, in a cool room in my house, in the bannetons, and in the morning they'll be ready to go into the oven. It's a big learning curve, baking with sourdough, but worth it, for my digestion as well as for my palate!

Ms Leslie Wilson 09 May 2016

Reply
RE: rye sourdough starter

I am a complete beginner and wanted to check the recipe of Ms Leslie Wilson . If you use 3 tablespoons of flour, do you also use 3 tablespoons of hand hot water?

Sarah Clements 10 September 2016

RE: rye sourdough starter

Yes, I meant to put 3 tablespoons of hand-hot water and apparently didn't. Well done you for spotting it! It is indeed 3 and 3, so that makes it easy to remember. Happy baking, Sarah!

Ms Leslie Wilson 10 September 2016

RE: rye sourdough starter

Leslie maybe you can answer this for me. I started my starter exactly as this website recipe states and on the 2nd day I had bubbles but today is day 5 and nothing. Things have gone flat. Any suggestions? Was thinking about adding white flour and sugar to tonight's feed to see if that helps. In a warm spot. So far, 100% rye. Thanks

Thyme 10 September 2016

RE: rye sourdough starter

I think if it's gone flat it's failed and you should start again. Did you have it in a warm place? What I didn't say was that I cover mine with a damp cloth, to let in yeasts from the air; this is crucial. Also, beware of using bactericidal sprays in the kitchen if that's where your starter is growing. They will kill it! My daughter was putting her starter on the windowsill on mild/ warm days, to get wild yeasts from the outside air. But white flour isn't superior to yeast flour in getting a starter going, so I doubt if that would help. Everyone agrees that starters sometimes fail. Don't be discouraged! Good luck.

Ms Leslie Wilson 10 September 2016

RE: rye sourdough starter

Thanks for the reply. Will start again and considering a starter using yeast. Maybe that's a better "no fail" recipe. This organic rye flour is too expensive to keep wasting :) most say no sugar or honey - too many contaminants but will try yours too as another option.

Thyme 10 September 2016

Lots of bubbles

Hi, So I started my starter 5 days ago and it has nearly doubled in sized with the bubbles. Is this potentially too active?! Thank

Meg B 09 May 2016

Reply
RE: Lots of bubbles

There are lots of factors that affect the way a starter behaves and there is no "right way". What is clear is that yours is now active and ready for baking. I would suggest giving it a go and seeing how you get on. Over time your will get to know your starter, how it behaves and how it works for you. Good luck!

tom 09 May 2016

How to keep rye starter

Hi I hope this thread is still active. I have just made my first loaf of sourdough rye. How do I keep my starter going? Do I feed it when I take out and again 24 hours before baking? Thanks

Polkadot 09 May 2016

Reply
RE: How to keep rye starter

How you manage your starter depends on how often you use it. If you bake daily, you will need to feed it daily. If you bake less frequently, you could put it in the fridge to slow everything down, then take it out a day or 2 before baking to get it going again. If you leave it in the fridge for more than a week or so, you should consider bringing it out for a day and feeding it, before putting it back.

Another way is to keep it in the fridge permanently, then, each time you want to bake, take out 50g of starter and feed it up over a couple of days, ready for your bake; make sure you have 50g more than you need to put back into the starter that you have kept in the fridge.

Whatever you do, I would recommend that you experiment to work out what is best for you, rather than stick to any paticular set of rules.

tom 09 May 2016

RE: How to keep rye starter

Thanks for the reply. I plan to bake once or twice a week. I'll feed it today and pop it in the fridge. Holding thumbs, my first loaf is just in the oven, it has risen beautifully, way better than the yeast ones I've baked!

Polkadot 09 May 2016

RE: How to keep rye starter

Hi Polkadot, came across this page and your post. I just started my batch of rye starter tonight. Looked at a lot of recipes and this one seemed easiest and not as complicated as others. Did you follow these directions or did you edit the recipe? This one didn't ask to throw out half - just keep feeding. Just wondering, this is new to me. How did your first loaf turn out?

Thyme 07 September 2016

To rise or not to rise?

Hello. I have followed this starter and found bubbles were forming in the mixture but it did not increase in volume at all. I have seen other methods were it states that the starter should be increasing in volume as the days pass and you continue to feed it. Is this the case with this starter, should it increase in size of just form bubbles? Thanks in advance

Roger T 29 May 2014

Reply
RE: To rise or not to rise?
Hi Roger. I find that the volume does increase, but not in a spectacular way; there is certainly no chance of it spilling out of the container! I think that rye is a bit of a "slow burn", so while it doesn't get very excited, it is a solid performer with a greater margin of error, making it more forgiving. Hope you get on well with it. Tom

tom 02 June 2014

Have to say I had better success using cold water and keeping the starter cool.. it now lives in the fridge .. and had it's first birthday in March.. tho I think yeast years are probably a lot shorter than human ones ;) So the way I started was to take a heaped tablespoon of rye flour and mix in cold water to make a porridge type consistency .. covered left in cool draft free area.. 24 hrs later removed half and add another tablesp of rye and more cold water.. and so on for a week.. then I made I first loaf... I have given starter to lots of friends and it seems to take a few weeks to acclimatise to new home and then takes off.. has even been neglected for 2 weeks in friends fridge and bounced back. It's very hardy :D

Zuzan 18 April 2013

Reply
rye sourdough starter
I use a large jar with a lid and keep it in a draught-free part of the kitchen, but any warm part of the house will do, even a bedroom. My recipe, which always works, is for 3 tablespoons of rye flour, 3 tablespoons of water at 40C and a spoonful of honey to start. For the first forty-eight hours, I only stir the mixture once, then add the same amount of flour and water at the end of the 48 hours. By then there will already be small bubbles and the mixture will be smelly. I add another 3 tbps each of rye flour and water after 24 hours. I then make a sponge with 300g of rye flour and 400ml of water. After that you can make pain de campagne or black bread or anything you like. But it's no use making sourdough unless you have a warm place, or can rise the dough at about 30 degrees C. I tried other recipes that recommended rising it at room temperature and they always failed. If I want a really light dough, I add a small amount of fresh yeast on the morning of baking.

Leslie Wilson - graymalkin@btopenworld.com 29 January 2010

Reply
RE: rye sourdough starter
I guess it depends on your room temperature Leslie! My rye doughs rise quite happily at anywhere between 21 degrees c and up to about 28 degrees c. Just take a bit longer maybe at the lower temperatures. Ditto white sourdoughs. In fact some are quite happy rising overnight in the fridge at 4 degrees c and being baked from cold in the morning. If you want a milder sourdough then it is a good idea to use a smaller amount of old starter to new material and ferment it quickly, however for those people who like 'sour' sourdough then a longer cooler bulk ferment is often preferable with a larger initial amount of starter in the dough...

Joanna Baron - Zeb in Bristol 17 February 2010

How do I keep the mother warm enough?
It's winter, our home is draughty...i feel like we don't stand a chance! Any tips?

Tuula Rea - tuula.drews@gmail.com 29 January 2010

Reply
RE: How do I keep the mother warm enough?
I use the airing cupboard where my electric water heater resides. This give me a fairly constant 27ºC and works really well.

Peter Mance - petermance@gmail.com 29 January 2010

RE: How do I keep the mother warm enough?
Hi Peter - thanks for responding so quickly, that sounds awesome, if we had an airing cupboard....this has been the bain of our breadmaking life - my husband tried for 3 weeks this summer and we failed miserably! Anyhow, will buy some rye flower and have a go! Thank you! If you have any other thoughts, let me know...

Tuula Rea - tuula.drews@gmail.com 29 January 2010

RE: How do I keep the mother warm enough?
Hi, I have been keeping a rye sourdough starter for 2.5 years now. I made it from scratch and kept it first on worktop, then in the fridge. At some point I decided to feed it just with rye flour so by now it is 100% rye. You do not need specific temperatures to keep it happy, but you do need patience. Mine lives in a plastic container in the fridge. I pierced the lid for some air. In the beginning I was nervous about the smell and consistency, and threw my first batch out. Now I know that the starter goes through phases of smelling unpleasantly beery or becoming flat. All I can say: Don't worry! Keep it where you can, draft or not/ warm or not. Keep feeding it and keep baking with it. Yes, in cold seasons it will make flatter bread and take ages to rise. I think it's ok that my starter goes through seasons- bubbly/ dull, expanding/ contracting. Live with it, and learn to love the results. :-)

Heike Golightly - Heike 04 May 2010


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