Troubleshooting Your Sourdough Starter

Troubleshooting Your Sourdough Starter |

Without a doubt, the most intimidating aspect of sourdough baking is understanding its key element: the starter.

What is a sourdough starter you ask?

Simply put: a starter is a live fermented culture of flour and water. Once it becomes bubbly and active a small portion is used to make your bread dough rise- no commercial yeast is required. It’s a technique that can be traced back thousands of years when instant yeast was not yet available to bakers.

Doesn’t sound too scary, right?

But there’s a catch……

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a new chapter

Dutch Oven Sourdough |

I’ve started and stopped this post about 100 times since January.

My head was filled with so many things that any time I’d sit down to write a new post I’d get all restless and distracted. My thoughts would eventually seize up like a bad hollandaise sauce (bless the delete button…).

Yes, I know. Excuses, excuses.

The truth is, I’ve been busy working on a very special project; one that’s literally consumed all of my time, thoughts, energy- you name it. Every day, I’d wake up and dive head first into the arduous task of balancing creativity with life, kids, work, and whatever else. It wasn’t easy and I took on way more than I could handle (hence the radio silence in this space).

But now I’m delighted to report that it’s over! No more deadlines. No more pressure. All of the pages have been signed, sealed, and delivered to my editor and we are in the final stages of completing the details.

What details you ask?…

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country sourdough with walnuts + raisins

The most delicious country sourdough with walnuts + raisins | #sourdough #sourdoughbread #raisinbread #noyeast #sourdoughstarter #breadbaking

Oh, yeah baby.

Country sourdough with walnuts and raisins!

You’re lucky this bread even made it to post, because I kept picking at it as I was trying to shoot. It was nearly impossible to stay away!

The inside is so chewy, studded with plump organic raisins and bits of crunchy, toasty walnuts.

And the crust…

Crispy, crackly and delicious!

Raisin bread reminds me of when I was kid. My mom used to slather it with cream cheese and pack it for my lunch (bless you, Pepperidge Farm).

I still love raisin bread to this day, and I’m proud to share my homemade grown-up version.

The most delicious country sourdough with walnuts + raisins | #sourdough #sourdoughbread #raisinbread #noyeast #sourdoughstarter #breadbakingThe most delicious country sourdough with walnuts + raisins | #sourdough #sourdoughbread #raisinbread #noyeast #sourdoughstarter #breadbaking

For my baking friends, here’s the breakdown of my method:

  • I used a 50/50 whole wheat + bread flour starter (100% hydration)
  • 1 hour autolyse (during that time I soaked the nuts and raisins)
  • Salt and fillings added after autolyse
  • Stretch and fold every 30 minutes for 2 hours
  • Bulk ferment at room temperature (currently 65 F) overnight, about 12-18 hours
  • 2nd proof = approximately 45 minutes- 1 hour
  • Baked in Dutch oven @450 F for 20 minutes (covered) + 40 minutes uncovered.
  • Cracked open the oven door during the last 10 minutes of baking to harden the crust.


I don’t blame you (I have a headache after reading that myself…)! Refer to my in-depth Beginner’s Guide for everything you need to know about sourdough.

The most delicious country sourdough with walnuts + raisins | #sourdough #sourdoughbread #raisinbread #noyeast #sourdoughstarter #breadbaking

As always, bread baking is as much of an art as it is a science.

What works for me, may or may not work for you. Ingredients, starters, and overall environment play a key role in how your bread will turn out.

So, get to know your dough. Tweak as you go. Weigh your ingredients. Trust your instincts. Own your style. Eat your mistakes (breadcrumbs, French toast, bread pudding- it’s all good).

Most of all, have fun. Enjoy this recipe!

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

For more info on sourdough, including brand new recipes, click here to purchase my book!

Thanks for your support!


  • This bread is best if consumed within the first 1-2 days of baking. If you prefer, you can cut the dough in half to make 2 small loaves. Eat one + freeze one.
  • You will need a proofing basket, cloth lined basket, or bowl for the 2nd rise. I line my bowls with a cotton kitchen towel or sometimes I’ll even use a paper towel (shh! don’t tell…)
  • To freeze, wrap your bread in plastic wrap and then in foil. It should last up to 3 months.
  • All ingredients are weighed using a digital kitchen scale for best results. This is the one I use.

The most delicious country sourdough with walnuts + raisins | #sourdough #sourdoughbread #raisinbread #noyeast #sourdoughstarter #breadbaking

country sourdough with walnuts + raisins
  • 150g active, fed starter
  • 350g water, preferably filtered
  • 500g bread flour (not all purpose)
  • 10g fine sea salt
  • 65 g chopped walnuts
  • 65 g raisins
  • fine ground cornmeal, for dusting
*6 quart Dutch oven
** Roughly chop the walnuts the same size as the raisins
*** My starter is 50/50 bread flour + whole wheat (100% hydration)
**** This recipe was tested with King Arthur, Gold Medal + Pillsbury bread flour
  1. To make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the starter, water, and bread flour. Squish everything together with your hands until all of the flour is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest (autolyse) for 1 hour.
  2. Soak the filling: Add the chopped walnuts and raisins to a bowl and cover with ½ cup of water. Leave to soak while the dough is resting. Drain before using.
  3. To the dough: Add the salt + ½ tsp. of water (to help it dissolve). Add the walnuts and raisins. Lift and fold the dough over itself several times, and squish with your hands to incorporate. The dough will tear slightly as you fold, and the salt will not fully dissolve. Don't worry- this is normal. Work the dough as best you can until it comes back together into a rough ball. At this point, you shouldn't feel any grains of salt beneath your hands.
  4. Bulk fermentation: Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Leave it in a warm, sunny spot to rise. Your dough is ready when it no longer looks dense, and has increased in volume about 1½- 2x its original size. This can take anywhere from 3-12 hours depending on the temperature of your ingredients, the potency of your starter, and surrounding environment. In the winter, I make my dough in the afternoon and leave it to rise overnight at room temperature (65 F) for about 12-18 hours. In the warmer months, I bulk ferment in the fridge to control the rise rate and to prevent over proofing. *See note below.
  5. Stretch & fold: To strengthen your dough, do a series of stretch and folds every 30 minutes for 2 hours during bulk fermentation. Simply gather a portion of the dough, stretch it upwards and then fold it over itself. Rotate the bowl ¼ turn, and repeat until you have come full circle. You will have completed 4 folds. Try to keep the nuts and raisins tucked into the dough and not on the outside to prevent burning.
  6. Shaping the dough: To cut and shape the dough, divide your work surface in half; lightly flour one side (for cutting) and leave the other half clean (for shaping).
  7. Remove the dough from the bowl, and place onto the floured section so that it does not stick. You do not need to 'punch down' the dough; it will gently deflate as you fold and shape it.
  8. Cut the dough in half to make 2 loaves, or leave it whole for a single loaf.
  9. To shape, use a bench scraper to move your dough to the non-floured section (if there is any flour present, it will be difficult to shape- brush away any excess). Gather the dough, one side at a time, and fold it into the center. Flip the dough over and place it seam side down. Using your hands, gently cup the sides of the dough and rotate it, using quarter turns in a circular motion. You can also pull it towards you to even out the shape. Repeat this process until you are happy with its appearance.
  10. Second rise: Place your dough(s) into a cloth lined basket, bowl or floured brotform. It will need to rise again, this time for a shorter period, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. It is ready when the dough is slightly puffy.
  11. Preparing the baking vessel: Preheat your oven to 450F. Generously coat the bottom of a Dutch oven(s) with cornmeal to prevent sticking. Sprinkle a good amount of cornmeal on top of the dough as well (this will be the bottom once it's flipped over).
  12. Carefully invert the dough into the pot, cornmeal side down.
  13. Slashing the dough: Right before your bread goes into the oven, make a shallow slash about 2 inches long in the center of the dough. Use a bread lame, sharp pairing or serrated knife.
  14. Baking the bread: Place your bread into the oven (lid on) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, and continue to bake (uncovered) for an additional 40 minutes or until deep, golden brown. During the last 10 minutes of baking, crack open the oven door. This allows the moisture to escape, leaving your bread with a crisp crust.
  15. You can also take the internal temperature of your bread to double check that it is done. For sourdough, it should read about 205 F.
  16. Cooling: Remove the bread from the oven, and cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing. The longer you wait, the easier it will be to cut. Don't slice into it too soon or else the texture will be gummy!
* Because sourdough does not contain commercial yeast, it takes considerably longer to rise. In the summer months, it can take anywhere between 3-4 hours @ 85 F whereas in the winter, about 6-12 hours @ 55 F. It is very important to watch your dough and not the clock. It's ready, when it's ready.