Disclaimer: This is not an April Fool Joke. We do not believe in hoodwinking the poor denizens who land here wittingly or otherwise. Unlike some folks.

“10,000 years later, and there’s no better way to raise bread!”
- Ed Wood in ‘World Sourdoughs From Antiquity’

Sourdough was the first form of leavening available to bakers. A batter of flour and water was left to ferment using wild yeast spores in the air and on the utensils. The bread that resulted from this was lighter and more flavourful than unleavened flatbreads.

The first recorded civilization we know about that used sourdough was the Egyptians around 1500 BC.

Sourdough remained the usual form of leavening down into the European Middle Ages. Bakeries started alternatives for quicker, more consistent breads – barm from the beer-brewing process, then commercially produced yeast, and baking soda. The flavour and texture of naturally leavened breads, though, have never been surpassed.

As Wavery Root put it: “The realm of sourdough narrowed where civilization moved in.”

India has a long and thriving sourdough tradition, with classic rice creations like idlis and dosas using urad dal (split, husked black lentils) as the leavening agent.

We’ve baked scores of breads, but hesitated to venture into the sourdough realm. We were too initimidated, until Bee read Susan’s intro @ Wild Yeast.

“I have been baking bread since I treated myself to a short artisan bread class on my birthday in 2006,” she says. In two years, she’s managed to master the art of breadmaking, and present it to others in a concise, “you-can-do-it-too” manner. Check out her site. It’s pure, uncensored food porn. We read how she creates her sourdough starter, and maintains it. Wait a second. This sounded easy. And fun.

We’ve been baking sourdoughs regularly for the past couple of months, and marvel at the improved flavour and texture of our breads. With a live sourdough starter, we’re compelled to bake often. (It needs to be used within 3 days) No store-bought bread has entered our home since.

Sourdough entails very little work, but a lot of patience. A bread used to be a four-hour operation (largely unattended) before. Now, it takes almost two days of planning, especially since ours are the whole grain varieties with multiple stages of mixing and fermentation. Why bother when one can go out and buy a Rye Sourdough from a bakery?

We Don’t Know. It’s one of those Zen experiences that’s hard to elucidate.

Sourdough Rye Meteil – 100% wholegrain (our first sourdough)

Sourdough entails a committed courtship with wild yeast.

Sourdough bread is made by using a small amount (20-25%) of “starter” dough (sometimes known as “the mother sponge”), which contains the yeast culture, and mixing it with new flour and water. Part of this resulting dough is then saved to use as the starter for the next batch. As long as the starter dough is fed flour and water daily, the sourdough mixture can stay in room temperature indefinitely and remain healthy and usable. It is not uncommon for a baker’s starter dough to have years of history, from many hundreds of previous batches. As a result each bakery’s sourdough has a distinct taste. The combination of starter, yeast culture and air temperature, humidity, and elevation also makes each batch of sourdough different. (Source)

Sourdough is especially recommended for rye breads. Baker’s yeast alone is not too useful as a leavening agent for rye bread, as rye does not contain enough gluten.

The history and microbiology of sourdough

The older a sourdough starter, the more potent it is. Get one from a friend. Or from Carl’s friends.

That’s Carl Griffith. He had a sourdough culture nurtured and preserved in his family for 150 years. He gave it free of charge to anyone who asked for it. He died in 2000 at the age of 80. Since then, his friends have continued the tradition. They dry and freeze Carl’s family sourdough starter and will send it to you for free if you send them a self-addressed stamped envelope. Read more about Friends of Carl.

Or make your own sourdough starter. It’s easy and very satisfying. Our breads are mostly whole grain. Armed with Peter Reinhart‘s Whole Grain Breads, we set out to make our own sourdough starter, with rye flour.


** Sourdoughs made with whole (dark) rye flour produce the best results. If you can’t find whole rye flour, use whole wheat. For the mash, use whole wheat flour.
** Any grind of flour – fine or coarse – works. Whole wheat atta (chapati flour), which is finer than regular whole wheat flour, works too.
** The sourdough needs a seed culture. Reinhart has two recipes – one with pineapple juice and flour, another with a mash. He says the mash method produces a superior flavour, so that’s what we tried.
The mash is prepared first, followed by the seed culture, followed by the mother starter.
** This sourdough starter has a stiff texture, unlike others which are more liquid. Ours has almost the same consistency as the final dough. You may need to adjust the liquid content while using it in bread recipes from other sources. Many sourdough starters have a higher liquid content, and the recipe you are using may refer to that type.
** This starter will work for any type of bread – white or whole grain.
** Try not to use chlorinated water. If you don’t have filtered or spring water, take tap water and leave it open overnight for the chlorine to dissipate.


Use whole wheat flour for the mash.

128 grams (4.5 oz) – whole wheat flour (any grind)
300 grams (10.6 oz) – filtered or spring water
2 grams (.07 oz) – 1 tsp – sprouted wheat flour or diastatic malt

Preheat the oven to 200 F (93 C)
Heat the water to 165 F (74 C) in an ovenproof saucepan, take off the heat and whisk in the flour and diastatic malt. Make a paste similar to a thin pudding. Adjust water if you need to.

Turn down oven to lowest setting. Ours is 175 F. Switch it off and put the mash in, covered. Leave it for 10 minutes, take it out, heat the oven again for 10 minutes, turn it off. Repeat this five times.

Leave the mash in for another 2 hours after the oven is turned off.

If your oven’s lowest setting is 150 F (66 C), or if it has a ‘warm setting’ that is this temperature or lower, leave it on and keep the mash in for an hour, then turn it off and keep the mash in for another 2 hours.

If you plan to use the mash within 24 hours, leave it out. Otherwise refrigerate and use after bringing it to room temperature. The mash can be frozen for 3 months.
Mix them together in a bowl for a minute until the ingredients form a ball of dough. If you need more water or flour, add them a teaspoon at a time.
Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and leave it at room temperature for 12-24 hours. (Or refrigerate beyond that for upto 3 days, bring to room temperature and use.)


We followed Reinhart’s recipe for seed culture. It turned out perfectly. Alongside, we made another batch. This is where the “fool-proof” part with an Indian twist comes in.

Whole husked urad dal (left)

Urad dal has been used as a wild yeast magnet in Indian cooking for centuries. Whole urad is called ‘black lentil’. It is white inside. The husked variety is called ‘white lentil’. For this, we need the white husked variety, preferably whole. It’s called ‘urad dal’ or ‘udid dal’ and available in Indian grocery stores. Soak 1/2 cup urad dal in filtered or spring water for 4 hours or more. Drain the water and use it in the seed culture. It won’t affect the taste of the sourdough, but you’ll have a starter on steroids. Guaranteed.

Use urad dal water only on Day 1, and plain filtered or spring water thereafter.

Both the seed cultures – the one with plain water and the one with urad dal water – turned out very well. The urad dal one was more spongy and bubbly on Day 3. If you are not confident about your sponge, use urad dal water. It’s not necessary, though.

DAY 1 (Phase 1)

Making the sponge

28.5 grams (1 oz) – mash
28.5 grams (1 oz) – whole rye or wheat flour (any grind)
56.5 grams (2 oz) – filtered or spring water at room temperature or urad dal water
1 gram (.07 oz) – 1/2 tsp sprouted wheat flour or diastatic malt

Whisk everything together in a non-metal bowl to make a pancake-batter like consistency. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and leave it outside for 48 hours. Stir two or three times a day for one minute. This part is important as it aerates the batter.

DAY 3 (Phase 2)

28.5 grams (1 oz) – mash
113 grams (4 oz) – all of the sponge
28.5 grams (1 oz) – whole rye or wheat flour (any grind)
28.5 grams (1 oz) – filtered or spring water at room temperature

Mix everything together well. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and leave it outside. Stir two or three times a day for one minute. When the dough becomes very bubbly or foamy, or at the end of 48 hours, whichever comes first, move on to the next phase.

DAY 4 or 5 (Phase 3)

99 grams (3.5 oz) – half Phase 2 sponge
42.5 grams (1.5 oz) – whole rye or wheat flour (any grind)
28.5 grams (1 oz) – filtered or spring water at room temperature

Mix everything together until all the flour is well hydrated. Add a bit of water if you need to. The sponge will be much thicker now. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and leave it outside. Stir two or three times a day for one minute. When the dough becomes very bubbly or foamy (this could take one to three days, depending on how active it was before), move on to the next phase.

DAY 5 or later (Phase 4)

85 grams (3 oz) – half Phase 3 sponge
85 grams (3 oz) – whole rye or wheat flour (any grind)
56.5 grams (2 oz) – filtered or spring water at room temperature

Mix everything together until all the flour is well hydrated. Add a bit of water if you need to. The sponge will be like a very thick and sticky. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and leave it outside. Within 4 to 24 hours, the dough should double in size and fall when jostled. If it takes more than 24 hours, leave it outside until it becomes very active. Save half of this in the fridge for two days as backup, and use the other half to make your mother starter. Use the backup (if you need to) within 2 days after bringing it back to room temperature.


The starter made for the first time is called ‘mother starter’. It has the ratio of 100% flour, 75% water, 33.3 % starter. You’re thinking, that adds up to more than 100%. Susan explains it in her Baker’s Percentage Tutorial Part I and Part II.

99 grams (3.5 oz) – half the seed culture
298 grams (10.5 oz) – whole rye or wheat flour (any grind)
227 grams (8 oz) – filtered or spring water at room temperature

Mix everything together until all the flour is well hydrated in a howl or stand mixture until a ball of sticky dough is formed. Add a bit of water if you need to. Knead some more (about 5 minutes) until you get a smooth dough. Transfer to a large container and cover it with plastic wrap. Leave at roomm temperature until it doubles in size (4 to 8 hours).

Knead it gently back into a ball, seal tightly and store. The mother starter is now ready for use. It can be refrigerated and must be brought back to room temperature. For best effect, it should be used within 3 days.

If the starter doesn’t rise:
Bring the backup dough to room temperature, follow the recipe again, using urad water instead of plain water, and proceed.


Take 3.5 oz (99 grams) of the mother starter and rebuild it following the the instructions for mother starter above.

We find that all that added flour, etc. makes too much starter. We quarter the measurements. We need only a quarter to a half cup per recipe. So we use 0.9 oz of leftover starter, 2.6 oz. whole wheat or rye flour and 2 oz. filtered water. It works out fine.

Use the starter within 3 days for breads. Try to make new starter within a week of making the old one. Any more than 2 weeks, and the old starter has lost all its gluten strength and will be soupy.

If it does exceed 2 weeks,
take 0.9 oz original starter, add 2.6 oz flour and 2 oz water, make a mother starter, and then proceed to make a batch of new starter one again from that, using the mother starter recipe above.


Leftover seed culture and starter make great wheat pancakes – uttappams. They are much fluffier and tastier than those made with just flour.

Replacing some of the water and flour in pita bread with old starter makes them silken and delicious with a higher puff rate. Or make Nic’s crumpets. Or idlis, like Linda did.

We knead starter with more flour and water to make soft rotis. In short, it gets used up – in myriad ways.

Reading list:
Sourdough Baking
Sourdough Home, where Mike Avery has a great list of sourdough resources.
The History of Sourdough
The biology and chemistry of Sourdough

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  1. musical says:

    Love the urad dal twist! i’d make bhaturas to consume the left oevr starters :)

    A very thorough post! Thanks a ton!

  2. Vaishali says:

    A perfect-looking bread! Thanks for the detailed recipe- I’ve been thinking of baking sourdough but have always been intimidated by the lengthy process. Yours looks like it was worth every bit of the effort, though.

  3. Manisha says:

    What? No April’s Fools? You guys are getting boring in your old age!

    Will come back to read later…

  4. Susan says:

    Wow, where to begin? Fantastic bread (are you going to post the recipe for the bread itself?) Great detailed info on the starter method. I’ve not tried it this way but now that warmer days are just around the bend it will surely be starter-making time again soon in this house. Interesting about the urad dal — I’ll try that too. I’m curious when you say you made another batch alongside, that was one batch with the urad dal water and one with plain water? And what difference did you notice between the two? And thank you so much for the very kind words!

    we will post the recipe soon. it’s about 40% whole rye and 60% whole wheat. the urad dal water yielded a more bubbly sponge on day 3. then on, we used filtered water. both the one with plain water and urad dal water turned out well in the end, but in winter, or in a very sterile environment, the urad dal water may give added insurance. – b.

  5. Kalai says:

    Absolutely amazing bread and so thoroughly explained! Thanks a ton, guys! :)

  6. Mamatha says:

    That’s one GORGEOUS-looking bread. I tried my hand at making the starter once, the first 2 phases went fine but after the third phase, the starter got spoilt and I have been too discouraged to try again. I love sour dough bread and would love to make it at home. I should follow your steps and give it another try.

  7. Nandita says:

    Detailed coverage as usual…here’s another interesting sourdough link from NPR

  8. Meera says:

    That’s one gorgeous bread!! I loved the Indian twist.

  9. Seems time consuming but the end result looks absolutely fantastic. Will give it a try. :drool:

  10. Nags says:

    phew… i just read that word by word and am too tired now

  11. arundati says:

    baking bread is a trip like no other…i am completely intimidated now by the long process….but i have no doubts it will be well worth it….!!

  12. Anonymous says:

    this looks beautiful :-)

  13. Raaga says:

    That last comment was mine

  14. jnirmala says:

    Brilliant! :yes: And Bee u call me an adventourous cook and what should I call u both! The bread looks simply great! And :horn: for the urad dal twist! Great job guys!

  15. Anita says:

    Wow, you guys did it! I have been meaning to try the sour dough,starter and all, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. i do get plenty of sourdough in the summer anyway – which makes excellent pyaaz(onion)paranthas BTW.

    Hey, the April Fool’s day prank was a lot of fun – even though we fooled no one! Try it next year :D .

  16. sia says:

    gosh, trust u guys to come up with something like this!!! the long instruction does scare me a bit though. r u sure its not april fool prank ;) :laugh: :angel:
    by the way, we 3 had lots of fun :secret: so what we couldn’t fool everyone :devil:

  17. Lakshmi says:

    :bow: such a detailed instruction..I would choose to buy a store bought bread :D but that bread in the pic tempts me to make one at home ;;) :dance: :drool:

  18. Deeba says:

    O boy…that’s the mother of all starters. Looks fantastic…I’ve read this procedure at an Australian sourdough blog a couple of days ago; got only to reading upto day 3. Maybe one day :huh:! That loaf of bread does look fantastic!

  19. Priya says:

    That is something I can only dream off…I made bread thrice when you sent me the Amish starter, moved after that and also forgot all about it ! I have one silly question though, how do you use up all this bread. Whenever I buy a foccacia or other kind of bread, I eat it for a day or two, but then run out of ideas and it justs sits on the counter :( I don’t know how I can take sandwiches for lunch without they getting soggy, and for dinner, well I have no clue :D

  20. Kaykat says:


    We were just talking about potentially trying to bake some sourdough last night. Now I have all the info I need for this :)

    You bandits rock!

  21. Laavanya says:

    Love sour-dough. Your bread looks so good – very professional..

  22. Kay says:

    Hi Bee and Jai, Thanks for such detailed instructions. I guess I’ll read it a few more times before I muster the courage to try it.

    We got a breadmaker recently and that has started a craze for fresh homemade bread. DH and me were discussing about commercial yeast and if it was bad for us and then about sourdough. We would like to try this one.

    Do you know if you can make sourdough bread in a breadmaker?? (Is that a really silly question?? just a novice baker with a breadmaker, here.)

    we knead all our breads in the breadmaker (rotis, too) and shape and bake them in the oven. – b.

  23. Kay says:

    That sounds great! Thanks!

    I suck at kneading..that’s why we opted for a BM. I guess I’ll try leaving it in the BM to see if the loaf would turn out decent. If it doesnt, I’ll try baking in the oven next.

    Also, Can you tell me what ratio of flour to water do you use for roti dough? Sounds like a great idea! Esp. with the timer feature.

    about 2.5 cups water to 1 cup flour. knead for about 7 minutes.

  24. Bharti says:

    Yeah so…absolutely great instructions. But I’m a wussy and I give up. Some day if I muster up the courage, I’ll visit this page again. :-)

  25. [...] This bread can be made with or without a sourdough starter. [...]

  26. valerie says:

    Hi, I found your site and will take a stab at the starter. But I don’t think the little market here will carry the white lentils so I guess I will use plain water. I live at 9000′ in Colorado. It is still cold here, the house is about 60 usually. Do you think I will get a heaty starter going without the urad dal water?

    I have begun soaking my white spring wheat berries and will sprout them as suggested to add to the mash.

    Can you please explain to me what the “seed culture” is? In the directions for the “mother culture” it calls for the seed culture. I have read over the instructions and am stumped here. Maybe it is just getting late and I am getting bleary.

    I have plans to make hearty rye bread with the starter. I just got 5 pounds of rye grains.

    Thanks for the instructions. This will be my first attempt at starter and bread making sans bread machine (other than kneading, I read above that you use it for kneading).


    the urad dal is optional. the seed culture is what you get after the process on day 5. you don’t need a mixer.

  27. valerie says:

    one more thing… I do not have a stand mixer, can I use my Cuisine Art?

  28. [...] the same as this recipe, but substitute whole (dark) rye flour instead of whole [...]

  29. [...] We’ve listed two ways to make the sourdough rolls – with and without sourdough starter. [...]

  30. [...] – It uses very little yeast: a quarter teaspoon for a 1.5 pound loaf. You can replace the yeast with 1/4 cup sourdough starter. [...]

  31. Jackeline says:

    Good night, Happy April Fool’s Day!

    Two beggars are sitting on a park bench in Ireland. One is holding a cross and one a Star of David.
    Both are holding hats to collect contributions. People walk by, lift their noses at the man with the Star of David and drop money in the hat held by the man with the cross. Soon the hat of the man with the cross is filled and the hat of the man with the Star of David is empty.
    A priest watches and then approaches the men. He turns to the man with the Star of David and says, “Young man. Don’t you realize that this is a Christian country? You’ll never get any contributions in this country holding a Star of David.”
    The man with the Star of David turns to the man with the cross and says, “Moishe, look who’s trying to teach us Marketing!!”

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

  32. [...] cup sun-dried tomatoes **if they are not oil-packed, add 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil 1/4 cup sourdough starter **if you don’t have sourdough starter add an extra 2 tbsp each whole wheat flour and water [...]

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