Readers’ questions on sourdough

A follow up to last week's recipe.

Sourdough bread made with potato (photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Sourdough bread made with potato
(photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Heidi asks: (1) I was happy to see your articles, and I followed all your directions for the starter and for the bread baking. Unfortunately, the bread is too doughy. I even tried baking it longer, but to no avail.
The taste isn’t particularly sour, and the crust did not brown. I put a pan of water in the oven for steam, but no crisp crust. Although it rose, it was very heavy. Not something you’d want to eat. Right now, I am toasting it all into croutons to be used for bread crumbs. I still have more starter in the fridge and would like to be able to make sourdough that tastes good. Any suggestions? (2) How long can I keep the sourdough starter in the fridge without feeding it? Miriam answers: Do you mean that the bread was too moist? Since I can’t know exactly what took place, I venture to guess that the dough wasn’t allowed to rise until light before baking. When you see bubbles and stretched places under the surface skin of the dough, it has risen enough. Or the dough may have deflated when placed in the oven. The easiest thing is to let it rise on the baking pan, so it needn’t be disturbed on its short way to the oven.
If the crust didn’t brown, I assume that the oven temperature was low. Ovens can be temperamental. Unless you can make sure with a thermometer that the loaf was baked at 175°C (350°F), I suggest setting the temperature a notch higher, then staying alert for done-ness at about 20 minutes into the baking time. Your sense of smell will tell you when it’s just about baked. Turn the loaf over (with your hand in an oven mitt or protected with a towel) and poke a toothpick into the bottom. If the toothpick comes out clean, the bread is done.
I hope this helps! Sometimes it takes a little practice to get sourdough right. Don’t give up. You’ll start recognizing the right times to punch down and bake, developing your own style over time.
As for keeping the sourdough starter in the fridge: Optimally, the starter should be fed once a week. However, it’s possible to revive a starter with repeated feedings, even if it’s been neglected for months. That might take a few days.
Unless you have a sentimental attachment to the neglected starter, it probably makes more sense to start a new one.
Ernest asks: Some questions re the sourdough bread: (1) You specified white flour for the starter and all-purpose flour for the “sponge” and dough. What is the difference between these two types of flour? (2) How is all-purpose flour labeled in Israeli supermarkets (Hebrew term)? (3) “Some place warm……” Could you specify a temperature in degrees centigrade? During the last few weeks, it was difficult to find “some place warm” (!) even on top of the refrigerator. Perhaps the lowest temperature setting in an electric oven would do? (4) Is spelt flour is available in Israel? Miriam answers: It’s not necessary to buy a special flour; any white flour is fine. And if you prefer whole wheat, that also makes a fine starter. It just requires a few tablespoons more water than white flour does. I’ve never measured the temperature of where I let my starter rise. I wouldn’t put it in a lit oven, even at the lowest setting. Rather, I’d cover the jar with a paper napkin and place it in the closed, cold oven. The fermentation should start normally as long as the jar is protected from drafts.
James asks: I enjoyed the articles on sourdough and have begun a starter to bake this week. I am wondering, though, if you have any suggestions about how to handle taking care of the starter over Passover. Do you just abandon it for a week and hope for the best or cultivate new starters after every Passover? Seems like a shame to lose them since, as I understand it, the older they are, the more valued.
Miriam answers: My Orthodox rabbi told me to just sell my starter along with any other hametz.
However, it’s always best to consult your own rabbi as to accepted custom.
Miriam will gladly answer any questions about the sourdough starter and baking sourdough bread. Email her at