Frequently Asked Questions

Einkorn Sourdough Frequently Asked Questions

We field a tremendous amount of questions about sourdough starter, so we have decided to share the most frequently asked questions with answers. You can learn more about how to develop an einkorn sourdough starter here.

My sourdough bubbled up on day 3, but I’m on day 7 now and there is no activity at all. Why?

On the first three days, your starter mixture will have more water and the added water causes it to bubble. After the initial three days, we drop the amount of water so that your starter is more like firm dough, while still being a bit sticky. It is a little harder to get a firmer starter going, but it will be much easier to maintain because it will ferment slowly and require low maintenance and no discard or waste.

When you begin to refresh after the first three days, leave the starter out at room temperature until it does bubble up, at least a little. With each day and refreshing, the bubbling should increase until you get to the point where your starter domes within 6 to 10 hours of refreshing. Ideally, this will take10 days, but it can take up to 30 days. It will be different for everyone, based on the time of year, the temperature of your kitchen, and other factors. Make sure you are weighing the starter, water and flour with a baking scale in grams so you get the ratios right. Using cups almost always means you are adding too much flour.

I’m on day 20 of refreshing. Why hasn’t my starter bubbled up?

Most people fail at developing a starter because they give up and don’t think they can do it. Keep going! Lots of factors have an effect on the viability of your starter.  Be sure to keep your starter in an airtight container and in a warm place. You can wrap the starter in a kitchen towel to keep it warm. If it doesn’t bubble up, keep it out at room temperature until it does and do not refresh it more than once a day. Once you see some action, you can refresh twice a day until you see it bubbling up within 6 to 10 hours.

Why do you tightly seal the jar/bowl of the starter?  Shouldn’t it ‘breathe’? 

The natural yeasts needed to get your starter going are present in the flour itself, so there is no need to catch yeasts in the air. Keeping a tight lid on the starter keeps the surface from drying out and this will allow the start to expand easier.

How big of a container should I use?  

The starter recipe yields 1/3 cup of starter but when it is active and bubbly it may just about double. A 1 cup glass bowl will allow expansion and allow you to see bubbles on the bottom or sides as it spreads out which is helpful.  Larger might cause it to spread too thin and smaller might not leave enough expansion room.

My kitchen is very hot/cold/humid. Will my starter work?

The ideal seasons to being a sourdough starter are spring and fall, when the temperature are not extreme. There is no need to wait though; a starter will grow no matter what the conditions in your kitchen. Very cool temps will slow growth down and very warm should speed growth up.  That’s just it, developing a starter is different in every kitchen, so you are also going to keep faith in the process and yourself. If you have very warm conditions, consider refreshing 2X per day.  Humidity should not impact success of your starter, but will make bread baking a bit more challenging (and sticky!).

Is it better to make a whole grain starter or an all purpose starter? Why or why not? 

Both will work equally well, but a whole grain flour will have more wild yeast and bubble quicker than an all purpose starter.

Can I use my starter made with all purpose flour for whole wheat bread and vice versa? 

Yes, the starters are interchangeable. You do not need a whole wheat starter to make a whole wheat bread or an all purpose starter to make a regular bread.  If you are more likely to bake with all purpose, keep an all purpose starter. If you bake more whole grain, use the whole wheat flour.

My water is hard/soft/chlorinated. Could that effect my starter success? 

Since pH is a factor in the health of your starter, it is better to use filtered or bottle water, especially in the beginning. Soft water will have an alkalizing effect and chlorinated water can kill off some of the microorganisms you are trying to cultivate. You can leave chlorinated water out overnight or boil it to eliminate chlorine, but allow the water to fully cool before using it or the hot water will kill the yeasts too!

My starter ‘didn’t work’.  What happened? 

There are many reason why a starter doesn’t work, including not weighing the ingredients, not following the directions, and not letting the starter bubble up a little before refreshing it. You are establishing a balance of lactic and acetic acids, so if you are not letting the starter ferment and it only gets a change to produce the lactic acid, the pH can be off. If this happens, the starter might begin to smell bad and also might develop mold. You can correct a problem by refreshing and letting the starter sit out, but if mold grows, you’ll have to start over again. Alcohol can be produced in the process, turning the surface of the starter gray. This is normal and not to be mistaken for fuzzy mold.

Why do I only use 10 g of starter to refresh?  Einkorn is expensive!  I don’t want to throw any starter away!   

The only time you will ever have to discard starter is in the beginning, but it is worth the investment. Once you get your starter going, there is no more waste and you can keep your starter going for generations. As time goes by, your starter becomes stronger and stronger and require only a refreshing every week or two to stay healthy. You start with 10g because that is really the minimum you need to get going. Each time you refresh, you have to keep the same ratio of flour to water, so that’s why you only use 10g of the refreshed batch to refresh again. That actually keeps the waste to a minimum. If you were refreshing all of the starter, you would have to add even more water and flour each time, and eventually end up with a huge piece of starter. Starting with 10g each time is the most productive way to get a starter going.

What if I forget to feed it? 

Refresh as soon as you remember.  The only time you start over is when your starter develops mold.

What is the difference between a starter and a levain?   

A starter is a small piece of dough that you use to make bread dough rise. It is refreshed and stored in the refrigerator after you get it going. You can bake bread with it, but we usually only use straight sourdough for flatbreads and pizza that don’t need to rise that much. We prefer to create a levain for most breads, which is a wetter mixture of a piece of starter, water and flour that is left out to rise overnight. It becomes really bubbly and is used in the bread dough as the starter or natural yeast. Because it is more like a supercharged starter, it will make your bread rise faster on the day you bake.

What can I do with the discard? 

Many people keep a different kind of starter that has a higher percentage of water. They have a lot of discard, which means they have to refresh more frequently because a wetter starter doesn’t keep so well and needs more attention. The discard from refreshing is used in recipes like pancakes. In our process, the starter you are refreshing in the beginning does not have the correct pH or flavor, and really should just be thrown away until it starts to show some bubbling. Once it bubbles, if you are still refreshing to get the starter stronger, the best use of the starter is to add it to your regular pancake recipe. It is also helpful to bake einkorn bread while you are getting your starter going, so you have more wild yeasts in your kitchen. You can proceed with any of our recipes that use levain, mixing it up with twice the starter called for in the recipe and add ½ teaspoon of active dry yeast to help it rise.

My starter smells bad (like cheese, wine, sour milk, nail polish remover). Is it ruined? 

No!  If it is growing mold, we do suggest throwing it away.  More lactic or acetic acid instead of a balance of the two can create different odors in the starter. When it is strong and healthy, it will have a sharply sweet aroma.

What is the dark gray layer on top?  Or the dark liquid? 

A dark gray layer on the surface and/or dark liquid is called ‘hooch’ and is is actually alcohol that your starter is producing. When your starter produces hooch, it is a sign that it needs to b e refreshed. You can push the grey surface to the side, scoop up what you can underneath and refresh.

Why is my bread so dense?  

Einkorn bread, even when made with an active starter, is denser than bread made with modern wheat because it’s weak gluten does not have the strength to hold large bubbles. When you start to bake with a new starter, your bread is bound to bake up dense because it takes a number of loaves of bread to get good results. It generally means that your starter is not strong, and you didn’t let the bread rise enough. There are two rises, the first and second. The dough should dome on the first rise, but don’t let it overproof or it won’t have the strength to rise again. This isn’t generally a concern with a new starter, but for more experienced einkorn bakers, it is important not to let the dough rise so much it gets pitted and sinks down during the first rise. Judging the second rise of the shaped loaf is really crucial for the quality of the finished bread. It’s important to let the dough rise until it feels soft when you touch it with your finger. Dense bread with a new starter is generally caused because you followed the recipe’s indications of letting the dough rise for up to 90 minutes after shaping, but those indications are for strong starters. Don’t rush putting your bread in the oven after it’s shaped unless you see it rise and feel that the dough feels soft.

Can I leave my starter at room temperature or does it have to be stored in the fridge?

When you are developing your starter, it’s important to keep it out at room temperature because putting it in the refrigerator will slow down fermentation. Once your starter is strong, we recommend refrigerating it. You will then take pieces of cold starter from the refrigerator and mix them with warm water to make the levain. When the starter in the refrigerator runs low, you refresh it, keep it out until it rises, then place it back in the refrigerator. We recommend refreshing every 7 to 10 days to keep the starter healthy, even if you are not baking.

My starter was doing well, then the weather changed and my bread is not coming out as good.

There are times in the life of starter that things go wrong and your starter does not perform as well. If this happens, refresh your starter three days in a row without refrigeration. This should fix the problem.

Do I use my starter straight from the fridge or do I have to refresh it before mixing up the levain?

When your starter is strong enough to be refrigerated, there is no need to refresh it before you mix up the levain. You can take what you need from the cold starter.

What if I don’t want to make a levain and want to make bread directly from the starter?

We almost always bake from the levain, but you can bake directly from the starter. You will need 10% of the weight of the flour in starter in the dough, so a loaf with 600g of total flour will require 60g of starter. Then you would need to add the portion of the flour and water from the levain portion into the main recipe, and let it rise overnight.

After I refresh, can I put the starter right in the refrigerator?

After you refresh, you must let the starter rise up for at least 4 hours until it domes before putting it in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures slow down the fermentation to almost nothing, so refrigerating right away would not give the starter a chance to rise.

Can I use a starter that I got from someone that was made with regular wheat for einkorn?

Yes, you can convert any starter to einkorn by using a piece of it and following the recipe for einkorn starter.