Converting a Sourdough Starter

Last fall I decided to jump into the world of sourdough baking, so I started a whole wheat sourdough culture. This was a pretty simple process, using only whole wheat flour, water and a little unsweetened pineapple juice (a Peter Reinhart solution to control the initial pH). The process captured yeast from the surroundings, as well as from the grain, and then gave it a chance to grow. And grow it did! I have managed to keep this starter going for about 7 months now, feeding it with only whole wheat flour and water. It spends most of its time in the refrigerator when it’s not being used.

sponge for sourdough pancakes (click on any image to enlarge)

In that time I’ve made sourdough breads, sourdough pancakes, sourdough pitas, and even a wonderful Double-Chocolate Sourdough Bundt Cake. It’s been a lot of fun experimenting with recipes using the sourdough starter. And what’s even better – I get to eat the results! OK, it’s not just me eating all that stuff. I do share with my wife, which doesn’t take a lot of arm-twisting either.

Double-Chocolate Sourdough Bundt Cake (who knew sourdough could be so sweet?)

Last month I decided I wanted to branch out a bit and experiment with some sourdough spelt recipes. Instead of starting from scratch to create a starter, I decided to use some of my existing whole wheat starter and convert it to spelt. Converting a sourdough culture is an easy way to change it from one type of flour to another. For instance, you can convert a starter made with white flour to one with whole wheat, or vice versa. In my case I was going from a whole wheat starter to one made with spelt flour.

If you only want to convert the starter from one type to another, all you need to do is start feeding it with the new type of flour. In three or four feedings, the starter will be transitioned. But I wanted to keep the whole wheat starter going. So I took out a little bit of the whole wheat culture and mixed it with some spelt flour and water in another container. You can use as little as a tablespoon of existing starter, though I used about 2 oz. of my whole wheat starter, and mixed it with 4 oz. of spelt flour and 4 oz. of water.

sourdough spelt culture

In a matter of a few hours, I had a bubbly, active sourdough spelt (mostly) culture. Over the course of the next week, I fed it several times by removing about one third of the starter each time, and then feeding it with spelt flour and water. After several feedings, I had a good strong spelt culture. Now it was time to begin baking with it!

I made pancakes with it first. They were tasty, but not necessarily an improvement over the whole wheat ones. Next I made pita bread – where the mild, sweet flavor of the spelt could really shine. I’ve made the spelt sourdough pitas twice, using the same recipe I use for whole wheat pitas, but using spelt flour and starter instead. That was my favorite thing to make, for a while. But it was only a beginning.

whole grain spelt berries

Now I’m working on a sourdough spelt bread recipe. And I think I’ve found a good one. I’ll be back soon to share it. Until then, happy growing and baking!

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8 Responses to Converting a Sourdough Starter

  1. Shirley says:

    This is a great lesson on sourdough..I have yet to try to make it though my cousin makes some mean sourdough biscuits. After this article *of which I am bookmarking now* I may very well try it out. (fyi some people say if you leave off the captcha code more people will leave a comment, hasn’t worked for me so far but I don’t think I’ve shared anything this interesting. Just thought you may like to know) Thanks for sharing!

    • Dave says:

      Shirley, if I left off the captcha I would have 100 spam comments a day. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you give sourdough a try!

      • Shirley says:

        I will give it a try. Yes you are probably correct in the spam..I think your site gets lots of traffic. 🙂

  2. bunkie says:

    great post! i found the addition of pineapple juice fascinating. never heard of adding it before. i’ll be interested in your sourdough spelt bread recipe, as we are growing our own spelt this year…as well as patches of wheat, rye, etc….

  3. sam says:

    Hello Dave,

    Can you tell me the steps to prepare a sourdough starter?

    Thank you,


  4. Kitty Oppliger says:

    Oh please share the recipe for that cake!!!

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