Dirty Laundry and Sourdough Starter

And here I am. Finally writing about what interests me most lately. Yes, it is true, I have been taken by the sourdough addiction that is making more and more “victims” all over the globe. In Sweden they even have a sourdough hotel now (a sourdough-sitting place, where you can leave your sourdough if you travel or are too busy – no joking, it’s real!). And in Italy and US the trend seem more or less the same. Honestly, I am not the type of person that likes to follow trends. I have never considered myself trendy and never aimed to be “updated” or fashionable in any regard. I am always in my own world and often feel like I know very little of what’s happening around me. But for once a trend got me. And I surrendered to the sourdough religion. Yes, I belong now to the sourdough cult and I venerate, feed, and honor my sourdough every day.

My first attempt to start my own sourdough used a pretty peculiar method: it seems that to start a starter you need some extra warmth and what is warmer than your laundry room? I happened to have a huge amount of unwashed laundry (yes, I know, I am not a good house keeper). So I though: wow, I can wash all my dirty clothes and, at the same time, give life to a new, wonderful, sourdough like none has ever seen before. Groovy!!!

And so I did it. I followed Susan‘s instructions and placed the soon-to-be a lovely yeast culture in my bathtub. Then I started washing and drying and washing and drying so that the temperature in the room was always something around 30 degrees (Celsius, 85 Fahrenheit) and very, very, humid. As a result, after only two days my culture was bubbling and able to double itself within a few hours. What a joy!

I was already thinking of getting a patent for my great invention, the “dirty-laundry-sourdough method” when my culture died. It was a very sad day. I realized she was dead by looking at the strange orangy-watery inclusions that weren’t there before. And the very sour acetic smell. It is likely that having continued to keep the culture in such a warm and humid environment, even after it started to bubble, had made the process too fast for the number of feedings I was giving her, so that the yeast starved and the bad bacteria took over. Also, having accidentally left the culture for two hours on an over-heated laundry counter probably did not help.

I was so close to giving up the whole sourdough experiment. But instead I felt brave (or stubborn) enough to throw away the dead culture and start a new one. With less dirty laundry.


Day 1

Before you start: get a 1/2 liter (a quart in US) or bigger container and a scale (possibly electronic).

You need: 100 grams luke-warm water, 50 grams white flour (I used organic bread flour), 50 grams whole-grain rye flour (or: 1/2 c. water and 3/8 c. of each flour).

How to: mix the ingredients together and put the mixture in the washed and rinsed 1/2 liter (a quart) container. Put the lid on, if you are using a glass jar, don’t screw the lid. Place the container in a warm (but not hot) spot. Ideally the temperature should be between 25 and 28 degrees (Celsius, in the lower 80’s Fahrenheit).


Day 2, Morning

You need: 75 grams of your starter (from the day before), 75 grams luke-warm water, 50 grams white flour (I used organic bread flour), 25 grams whole-grain rye flour.

How to: discard the rest of your starter, add the water first and mix, add the flours, mix and scrape well the walls of the container to keep it clean. Place the container back in its warm spot.


Day 2, Evening

You need: 75 grams of your starter (from the day before), 75 grams luke-warm water, 50 grams white flour (I used organic bread flour), 25 grams whole-grain rye flour (or (1/3 c. starter, 1/3 c. water, 5 teaspoons rye flour, and 1/3 c. white flour).

How to: discard the rest of your starter, add the water first and mix, add the flours, mix and scrape well the walls of the container to keep it clean. Place the container back in its warm spot.

At this point you should be seeing some sign of life, some activity, which will manifest itself as bubbles.


Day 3, 4, 5 and so on.

Continue to do what described at day 2. Continue until your starter is able to double itself within 12 hours, is all bubbly and smells good (not acid). Make sure that the color stays within the yellow-brown shades and does not take any orange or blueish tone. That’s not good.



So here I tell you how it went on trial 2. After a few days in the not-that-hot-and-humid-anymore laundry room, my culture was looking alive but no way as lively as the first one.

5-days old starter culture using refined rye flour and keeping it in the laundry room.

The days were passing by and I was continuing to feed the culture twice a day according to Susan‘s method. However, it was day 5 and no sign of self-rising was apparent. The bubbles were there and the smell was good, but the starter was not increasing in volume as expected. I was really loosing hope and resigning to failure when I read the chapter about sourdough in the book from Martin Johansson. There I found the key to success. The rye I was using was not whole-grain (first mistake). You need whole-grain rye to get all the right bacteria for a lively starter. Moreover… there was a better warm spot in my home than my laundry room… something so easy that it surprised me I did not consider it earlier… the top of my fridge!!!

6-days old starter culture using whole-grain rye flour and keeping it on top of the fridge.

The shift to whole-grain rye flour and the move to the top of the fridge really made a difference. The culture looked finally bubbly and soon was able to double its volume in a few hours. After two days with whole-grain rye flour I went back to refined rye and then to wheat flour only. By day 10th I had a very lively 100% hydration wheat flour sourdough starter. Cannot describe how happy I was!

Day 10: my starter is finally ready!

Day 10: the starter is able to double itself within a few hours (where the yellow tape ends is the baseline).

As a final test, the following day I baked my first sourdough bread, made with my new-born starter.

Sourdough bread with 11 days old home-made 100% hydration starter. Perfect with fig jam.

CONSIDERATIONS: Well, I will never get a patent for my dirty-laundry-sourdough method. But in the end I managed to get my starter going and it actually took only two attempts and a total of 14 days. Considering that before these 2 trials I had no idea of what sourdough was and really did not know what I was doing, I believe anyone can do this. I used tap water (and not bottled or distilled) and supermarket rye and bread flour (and not freshly milled flour as some suggested). Moreover, with this method (based on the one from bread guru Susan) there’s no need for any additions, such as raisins, honey, or else. Just flour, water and some warmth. To find the right warm spot was possibly the hardest part of it. But now that I tell you I guess you won’t have any problem. We all have a refrigerator, don’t we? About the final outcome… bread made with sourdough. In Italy we call it “pane a lievitazione naturale” (naturally rising bread). And indeed this type of fermentation seems to be good for us. Sourdough bread has also a lower glycemic index than bread made with industrial yeast… lasts longer… tastes honestly better than anything I ever had before. And this is just the start of my starter.

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My Italian Smörgåsbord (Aka Barbara)

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23 replies
  1. Robert
    Robert says:

    Great work. I like the idea of using only what is in the environment and on the flours to get you started. I used a different method based on Nancy Silverton’s “Breads of LaBrea Bakery” book. It involves using grapes to get the starter going. I also read a great article on Michael Ruhlman’s blog from an Alaskan bakery that used cabbage to kickstart their starters.

    Congratulations on your success.

    • Barbara
      Barbara says:

      thanks Robert! so glad you appreciate my absolute-beginner efforts. it is interesting how different ways can bring to the same result. are you working with a 100% hydration starter?

  2. Veronica
    Veronica says:

    Hahaha, the dirty laundry method for sourdough-I LOVE IT! You should totally write a cookbook with that title. As a funny aside, there’s a radio program here that uses “doing laundry” as a substitute for whenever they’re talking about having um…personal relations. Kinda gives and even dirtier meaning to “dirty laundry” haha.

    • Barbara
      Barbara says:

      Hi Veronica. lol. it would indeed be a nice title for a book. I don’t know how appealing for a cooking book, but I could try! ops… well, I can promise that no… um… dirty laundry of that type was not involved in the birth of my starter 🙂

  3. Chef Pamela
    Chef Pamela says:

    This is a great story, I enjoyed reading it very much.
    One of my students has started a “sourdough sitting service” since we did a sourdough bread in class last semester. Everyone got a pint of starter and with the holidays coming up she had an instant business sitting starters.
    I tried to do a starter once but it died. So sad. The one I have now was gifted to me and it stays very healthy.
    It is great to have it on hand!
    Great post, Barbara!

    • My Italian Smörgåsbord (Aka Barbara)
      My Italian Smörgåsbord (Aka Barbara) says:

      yes, the “sitting” issue is really a problem isn’t it?
      I have been lucky so far. did not know anything about sourdough when I started my culture and now I am hoping we will be able to celebrate our 1st anniversary 😉
      it is so nice to have something fermenting in the kitchen… heard of a woman who was able to keep her sourdough alive for more than 30 years!

  4. Rita cooks Italian (@ritacooksitalia)
    Rita cooks Italian (@ritacooksitalia) says:

    Carissima ho provato di nuovo a fare il pane con uno starter (questa sara’ la quinta volta che cerco la formula giusta). Questa volta mi sono fatta lo starter da sola (prima di notare questo bello articolo). Ho usato solo strong flour (no extra strong che e’ per il pane) e aqua e dopo sette giorni lo starter era bello vivo. Ho fatto il pane la prima volta era completamente denso e acidulo, la seconda volta ho trovato la tua ricetta pane di Nepi e il pane e’ decisamente migliore, il sapore e’ buono ma non ha quella leggerezza che vedo nei tuoi filoni (insomma mi hai fatto venire la mania a forza di leggere i tuoi posts!!). Pensi che devo fare un nuovo starter usando il tuo metodo?Ciao Rita

    • Barbara
      Barbara says:

      brava Rita. chi la dura la vince!
      allora, vediamo un po’ di fare un trouble shooting del tuo lievito. prima di tutto devi dirmi se ti raddoppia nell’arco di poche ore dopo che l’hai rinfrescato… quanto ci mette a raddoppiare? che odore ha? ha quelle belle bollicine come nelle mie foto?
      se il lievito e’ vivo potremmo rafforzarlo. altrimenti si, ricomincia seguendo il metodo in questo post. ma prima vediamo se si puo’ usare quello che gia’ hai. aspetto le risposte. un bacio

  5. Eric
    Eric says:

    Thanks for the instructions! I’ve just started my sourdough culture, following your method, and its doing really well. I’m on day 2 and its already more than doubled in size in 12 hours using whole grain rye like you suggested! Should I keep feeding it for serval more days before I start baking or am I good to go?

  6. Anu
    Anu says:

    Hi, I live in a really hot, humid tropical country. Bit worried about a starter here. Would you have any tips on how to get a starter going here? Thank you.

    • Barbara Elisi
      Barbara Elisi says:

      that is the perfect environment for a starter 🙂
      only, you may want to keep it refrigerated after it is set.
      follow this post instructions and keep me posted!

  7. Petar
    Petar says:

    Hey there,

    First of all i love your blog and it inspired me so much that i decided to keep my own sourdough started. I followed your method and the second day i was able to get a more than double rise at a temperature around 22 degrees. Then as the method goes i switched to only white flour but it stopped working only like 10 bubbles on top and not even a millimetre of raise. I decided to branch that one again with Rye and White and it worked perfectly and it was again doubling in 12 hours and now even faster about 3-4. But my mother that i am still feeding with only white does not show almost any signs of live. The Rye and White one smells yeasty-alchocholic like but the white one smells like yogurt more or less. I decided to throw my white and start again from the Rye-White mixture but this time gradually instead of at once. Btw I was trying more than one type of flour but i constantly got the same result. I also bought whole-grain wheat but am not sure i wanna use it. Any suggestions???


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] ps: if you still do not have a sourdough starter… check out my fool-proof post. […]

  2. […] white rye leaven: the night before mixing the final dough (see above) take 51 g of active sourdough starter and combine it with 306 g water and 247 g white rye. It can be used 12 to 16 hours […]

  3. […] breads and pastries and not being able to give them a try (if you feel the same way check my Dirty Laundry And Sourdough Starter and start your own culture, it’s easy!). So I took advantage of the heat of the summer (if […]

  4. […] would gladly send you mine (and actually can, if you live in Sweden). Otherwise, my post Dirty Laundry and Sourdough Starter will help you to make yours. It lasts forever (still have the culture described in last August […]

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