The Sourdough Starter Challenge


The interwebs are full of advice on how to create sourdough starter at home. The air is teeming with wild yeast (so we hear) and it’s just an issue of coaxing it to come eat your flour-water mixture.

But one can’t see the wild yeast. So that process requires a bit of blind faith and blind ritual; to keep feeding the unseen guests daily, without knowing if they are there, is a bit more…shall we say…devotion than most people can muster.

This is why, I think, a Twitter thread from yeast geneticist (or “local frumpy yeast geneticist” as he calls himself) Shoe Laces 3 (Sudeep) went viral. It is because he taught us how to see the wild yeast. The white powder on the skins of grapes? That’s yeast. The whitish dusting on the skin of raisins, or dried apricots? That’s yeast. So it is a matter of introducing that yeast to some flour+water, and they will eat it. As they eat it, they will breathe out carbon dioxide. That will make your flour+water full of bubbles and it will rise. It’s as simple as that.

And yes, the local frumpy yeast geneticist made it sound simple. The yeast are just like anyone else—they want to eat, dammit. I mean, they aren’t quite monks. Just bring them to food, they will eat.

So here we go—let’s try this out. Each day, I will post the progress of my wild yeast starter. That will include bubbleage, rise, smell, and so forth. If you want to follow along, go grocery shopping, get ready. Each day I will update this post.

Day 0: Grocery shopping

  1. Flour (bread flour or all purpose)
  2. Grapes (the skin will look a bit powdery)
  3. A clean glass jar that can be closed
  4. A wooden chopstick for stirring (a fork will do)
  5. A small spatula

Day 1: Create the mixture

8 pm

  1. Put 1/4 cup of water in a clean glass jar
  2. Add 2-3 grapes without washing them
  3. Stir it around
  4. Add 1/4 cup of flour
  5. Stir it around till you make a paste
  6. Scrape down the sides of the jar with a spatula
  7. Cover and keep it at room temperature (around 70-72 F)

Day 2: Look for bubbles, first feed

7 am

No bubbles to be found. Place inside oven with the oven light turned on for warmth. Do not turn the oven on.

5 pm


We have….bubbles! The mixture has risen to double. There is condensation on the sides of the jar. The surface looks frothy. It smells mildly alcoholic, mildly fruity, and a bit yeasty. There is some separated liquid at the bottom.

7 pm: Discard and feed


  1. Discard most of the mixture, including the grapes. Leave about a tablespoon or so.
  2. Add 1/3 cup flour
  3. Add 1/4 cup water
  4. Stir with a wooden chopstick
  5. Scrape down sides with a spatula
  6. Cover and leave on the countertop overnight (not in warm oven this time)
  7. My starter now has a name: it shall be called Bertie.

Day 3: Feed twice a day

8 am:


Bertie was left on the countertop overnight. Not quite doubled but there is bubbleage. Some liquid separated at bottom. Smells deeper than yesterday, more cheesy/yeasty, but also fruity.

  1. Stir the liquid in.
  2. Discard most of it, leaving a tablespoon or two.
  3. Add 1/3 cup flour
  4. Add 1/4 cup water
  5. Stir with a chopstick or fork
  6. Scrape down sides with a spatula
  7. Cover and leave on counterop.

5 pm:


Similar yeasty, fruity, alcohol smells. Bubbly and frothy, but not really risen. There is some liquid separating out once again.

Apparently the liquid is called “hooch” and is a sign that the starter is “hungry”. The yeast has eaten the flour and the alcohol it releases is collecting up top. If it is hungry, I should feed it! But this is also when the sour bacteria start their activity, so in my book that is a plus. Same routine:

  1. Discard all except about a tablespoon or two
  2. Feed fresh flour, 1/3 cup
  3. Add 1/4 cup water
  4. Stir & scrape down sides with a spatula and leave on the counter.

Day 4: All hooched up

Well I have sad news to report about Bertie. After I let it go a bit too long without feeding, it got some hooch floating on top, and…died. No more bubbles.

No matter I will start a new one tomorrow.



Follow this post for daily updates!!

(Follow me on Twitter at @TheOddPantry and on Facebook at The Odd Pantry)


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