Novice Starter

I have been working and establishing a starter for about two weeks. I am at a stage of a small container with daily feedings. I am getting a rise with lots of bubbles visible through the glass. When I do the float test it sinks, not ready. I keep up with my feedings with the same float test everyday. No idea what I am doing wrong.

I’ve been baking sourdough for about 7 years now and in that time have made many starters. Only once have I ever done a float test and it sank. Made bread with the starter anyway. Turned out very nice! If the starter rises then so should your dough. A dough is basically starter with developed gluten and some salt. If you wish to conduct a small experiment then make a small piece of dough and see if it rises…

20g starter
70g water
100g bread flour
2g salt

Combine and knead till full gluten formation. Leave for 4-6 hours and see if it rises. If it does then use this piece of dough as a pate fermentee as a starter for a large loaf. No need for it to go to waste. Or bake it into a bun.

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What Abe said. I occasionally do the float test, just for the heck of it, but usually I don’t bother. If your starter doubles some number of hours after you feed it, and if it is full of bubbles, then you should be good to go. If there are yeasties in your starter and you add them to flour and water to make bread dough, you are giving them food and they will respond.

I find my starter may float if I attempt the float test right around the time the starter has peaked after feeding. But I often add starter to dough straight from the refrigerator or hours after it has peaked, and usually everything works well.

The other day I tried the float test with a small amount of recently peaked starter and it floated in a glass of water. I dipped my spoon back in the starter, scooped out another small piece, and that one sank to the bottom of the glass. Curious, I tried again with another small piece, and that sank. I tried one more time, and that piece floated. This was all in the space of about 2 minutes, using a single container of starter.

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Many thanks to both of you. I am going to give it a go and see what happens. Will keep you posted.


I don’t even bother with the float test and have never done it. When I feed my starter, I pull the jar out of the fridge, and I feed it with bread flour and refrigerated water. I don’t even bother with warm water! The ambient temperature of my house is about 24 degrees C and if I let it go for 3 hours or so it has already risen quite noticeably. Even after 1.5 hours I can tell it’s becoming active. So if I’m just feeding it and want to keep it for another week without baking I’d put it back in the fridge after I know it’s kicked in and risen a little - but not too much,.

If you leave the starter out of the fridge and it is capable of rising to its fullest extent in 8 to 12 hours then it’s going to be fine for baking because it’s obviously working. No need for a float test.


Couple of things you can try Bob. Have you fed it with the same or more flour and water than is in your jar? After you have fed it, did you mark the jar, leave it on the counter to see if it doubles in size? It may take 4-6 hours, Keep in a relatively warm place. It should be a pretty robust starter after 2 weeks. Also, are you using bread flour and not whole grain flour or rye? Bread flour makes the best novice starter. It levans better and faster. Are you using distilled or purified water? Tap water may have too many chemicals, especially chlorine, that may kill yeast. Also, make sure the top of the jar loose. Never tight. I have never used the float test and my starter is terrific.

Thanks to all!! I think I have a robust starter. Now I just need to multiple it so I have plenty for on going batches.

I am now working on my first bread with my starter. Lots of bubbles on top during the bulk fermentation. The dough however seems a bit to thin; more like thick pancake batter.

Can flour be added if this does not thicken during the bulk fermentation? In the distant past with my kitchen aid I probably over floured.

Many thanks,


Actually I hope I didn’t just create a huge amount of pâté fermentee.

From the sound of things you’re creating a lot of starter. Which recipe are you following? What have you done so far?

P.s. there’s no need to make a lot of starter. Keep about 80-100g in a small jar in the fridge. When it comes to baking just take a little off from your starter and build a levain overnight so its mature and active come the next day. This off-shoot starter, aka levain, will be the leaven in your final dough. When your starter in the fridge runs low then take it out, give it some TLC with a good feed and return it to the fridge when about doubled. This way is very manageable and you never have too much starter.

Water 700 grams + 50 grams
Leaven 200 grams
Total Flour 1000 grams
White Flour 900 grams
Whole Wheat Flour 100 grams
Salt 20 grams

So far the bulk fermentation is about 5 hour along.


All measurements weighed.


So let’s see…

Total flour: 1100g (including the levain assuming it’s 100% hydration)
Total water: 850g (ditto)
Over 90% white flour and 77% hydration.

Depending on the protein content of flour used this should give you a manageable dough providing the gluten is developed well. Having said that it’s still quite high and if it’s your first time baking bread and/or using sourdough it might be a bit of a challenge.

Am I looking at the Tartine recipe by any chance? How did it turn out in the end?

The only thing I can add is next time reduce the water till you get the feel for the whole process then slowly begin to add in more water. And check the flour you’re using.

Also, i’d like to recommend this recipe. It’s My Weekend Bakery’s version of the Tartine with some minor adjustments one of which is the hydration. Makes a very tasty loaf and it’s well explained.

Here’s another one which is great for a first time sourdough.

And I can’t recommend Jeffrey Hamelman enough for great tasting sourdough recipes. This is from his book “Bread” and it’s another excellent first recipe which will give you the foundations for his other recipes. [in the method where it says folds at 50 minutes they mean a set of folds at 50 and 100 minutes - so that’s two sets of folds and not just one set at 50 minutes]