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How to Use Sourdough Starter in Place of Dried Yeast

I guess you could say I have a fascination with yeast. My hobbies are baking bread and making my own beer and wine.

Sourdough bread

Sourdough bread

Substituting Sourdough Starter for Yeast

Have you ever wanted to use sourdough starter in one of your regular yeast recipes, or are you interested in experimenting with different flavors while baking? This article is about using sourdough starter in recipes that normally use dry yeast. While you will have to be flexible on the ingredients and the time for the dough to rise, the basic idea is to figure out how much flour and water should be left out when the starter is added.

While this sounds easy enough, there are a couple of things to keep in mind, which may be obvious for some, but just in case:

Important Notes

  • Mixing 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water does not give you 2 cups of flour/water -> the mixture creates about 1.5 cups of flour/water. This means if you are going to add 1.5 cups of starter to a recipe, you should leave out 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water.
  • The time for the dough to rise will depend on how active the starter is - if it has slowed down due to being stored in the fridge or not being freshened lately, the rising time will be longer than normal.
  • While many starters use a mixture of 1 cup of flour to 1 cup of water, there are some starters that use a different ratio of flour to water. If the starter you are using has a different ratio, this needs to be taken into account. The table below shows the approximate measurements for different flour to water mixtures.

Flour to Water Ratios

FlourWaterSourdough Starter

1 cup

1 cup

1.5 cups

1.5 cups

1 cup

1.75 cups

Example: White Bread Recipe

Ok, so here is how it works. Let's say you have the following list of ingredients for white bread:

Original Recipe With Yeast

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 Tbs dry milk
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
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This recipe uses 1 cup of water and 3 cups of flour. If you are using a starter that uses 1 cup of flour to 1 cup of water, that means you can replace 1 cup of each by using 1.5 cups of starter. You still need to add the remaining 2 cups of flour to keep the right amount of overall flour and water.

So, the list of ingredients above would change to the following:

Altered Recipe With Sourdough Starter

  • 1.5 cups sourdough starter
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 Tbs dry milk
  • 1 Tbs sugar

If your starter uses a different flour to water mixture, then the numbers in the table above need to be adjusted (OK, and how many of you told your high school math teacher that you would never need to use fractions!).

Once the flour and water have been replaced with starter, the remaining recipe directions should be followed, but with a little flexibility:

How to Adjust the Instructions

  • As mentioned above, the time for the dough to rise may be different depending on the condition of the starter.
  • As most experienced bread makers realize, sometimes you need to adjust the amount of flour or water in the dough to get the right consistency. When you use sourdough starter in a recipe that is not written for it, you many need to make some small adjustments to how much flour is added.
  • The starter will add an extra flavor to the recipe, and while some people will appreciate this taste, others may not prefer it. Some of this taste could be offset by adding a little sweetener to the dough.
  • When adding any sweetener to the dough, keep in mind that the yeast in the starter will try to use this as food. So, adding regular sugar (or honey) will feed the yeast and cause the dough to rise more quickly, but as the sugar is consumed this will make the dough more sour. To avoid this, non-fermentable sugars such as Splenda could be added.

These are the basics, but as with most things, they should be treated as guidelines and not strict rules. Be willing to experiment a little!

More Sourdough Information

Here are some links to other articles about sourdough that you might be interested in reading:

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