The Fresh Loaf

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Artisan, but not sourdough -- advice?

planetary's picture

Artisan, but not sourdough -- advice?

Hi folks,

I love sourdough and flavorful 'artisan' bread, but making sourdough just doesn't seem to work for me.  I've got and read my Tartine book, but I can't take it.

1) Work is insanely busy, and life is hectic, and I just can't fit maintaining a starter into things.  Often I go days even forgetting about it.  Putting starter in the fridge for most of the week is fine, but, next point...

2) Being forced to plan ahead for bread baking day sucks.  I often wake up on Saturday and want to get going on a bake, but I'm frustrated because I didn't plan ahead. 

I don't mind the "long and slow" method, and I love sourdough flavor.  But this starter business just kills it for me. What to do?

My fallback plan is to go back to Cook's Illustrated's Almost No Knead recipe I've been using as a baseline since 2009 or so.  But that's pretty basic.  I want to explore more flavorful breads, with more flours, and dutch oven baking.  All the more 'artisanal' stuff that the sourdough folks are into... just with the commercial yeast, I guess, without the overhead.

Advice?  Books?  Seems like the world's gone sourdough crazy and if you're not tethered to #starterlife there's not much for you, these days.  Sigh.

Frustrated in Northern California :)

Abe's picture

1: You answered this point yourself. 

2: Lot's of life is about planning. If you don't plan you often don't get. Have some IDY on hand for the unplanned moments. 

  • If you "don't mind the long slow method" then the starter business won't bother you. 
  • People who use starter [correctly] aren't tethered to it either. 
  • What does "going sourdough crazy" mean? I bet more home bakers use yeast than sourdough starter. Are they IDY crazy? Or is crazy reserved for something you don't, or won't, do? 

Don't be frustrated. If want to bake with sourdough, and you like the taste of it, it can be done but you'll just need to learn how to do it, like anything in life. If you are looking for excuses to not bake with sourdough then nothing will convince you. If you want something you pursue it. If you don't pursue it then you don't really want it. People often say they're too busy but then they'll watch a movie or browse the internet etc. Compare a 2 hour movie to feeding a sourdough starter which takes two minutes! 

Perhaps this is a sign it's not for you and you should stick to yeast. Nothing wrong with that at all. One can make really delicious breads with yeast. 

What is funny are those who say they have no patience for sourdough and wish to bake with IDY but then utilise a pre-ferment like poolish or biga for a more "artisanal" approach. So this wouldn't, or shouldn't, be a choice for them either. We're getting closer to what you are prepared to bake. It has to be a quick IDY bread. Now you're left with flour choice and enough yeast for a 1 or 2 hour (tops) bread. It also looks like you don't wish to knead it. Well the quicker the bread takes the more kneading it'll need because gluten will need either kneading or time but time you don't have. So we're down to very quick batter breads. That should point you in the right direction. 

Hope you find what you're looking for. 

planetary's picture

Thanks, Abe.  Maybe I didn't communicate clearly enough.  

I have nothing against kneading.  Also, I'm just indicating that I don't mind a slow(ish) method where you can go from intent to finished product in perhaps 24-36 hours.  Saturday morning in time for Sunday dinner, say.

What doesn't seem to work for me is the constant maintenance and advance prep, which seems to result (e.g. if using the Tartine method) in needing to plan several days in advance.  For example: pull starter from fridge on Thursday, feed, feed again on Friday and maybe scale up a bit... ok, by Saturday you are ready to go.

If there were a way to barely maintain a starter, and simply pull it from the fridge to use it on demand, in such a way as to get a brilliant loaf in 36 hours or less, I'd 100% do that.

If I can't, and I'm down to commercial yeast, I'd like to go in the most flavorful direction possible.  Maybe Reinhart's BBA or some other book is a good path?

If that's hopeless for some reason (e.g. you really need 48+ hours, ideally 72+) then I'm down to patronizing one of the many excellent bakeries here in the SF Bay Area.  Sigh.

Quick breads?  You've got to be kidding me.  :)

Abe's picture

And peoples 'personal' bibles on how to maintain one. Someone will swear by their method and another person will swear by another method. At the end of the day you find your own method. 

UVCat's picture


search for "jail break bake" (by Another Girl) on here; related to "don't be a bread hostage" on King Arthur's site. they will show you how to use unfed starter straight from the fridge and get a brilliant loaf in 24 hours -- even less than the 36 you seek :)


fwiw, i've recently made the Tartine Country Bread a few times and if that had been the first sourdough bread recipe i tried i would have quit, too. the 4 hours of bulk with stretch-and-folds every 30 minutes, plus the 12 hour levain.... even now that i'm retired i usually can't make it work in my schedule. :) i baked no-knead (and then graduated to some-knead) sourdough for many years while working full time and am indebted to folks on this forum for showing me that (a) i didn't actually have to feed my starer 2 times before i used it, and (b) i could take a fed starter and just stick it in the fridge and use it anytime in the next day or so with no decrease in quality/activity. that significantly reduced the amount of "planning" i needed to stress about.


i'm not trying to convince you that you *have* to do sourdough; i know there are wonderful artisanal breads to be made with commercial yeast.


hope this helps,


mariana's picture

Of course this problem had been solved before by bakers and brewers and the solution (the shortcut) is remarkably easy. Instead of the regular sourdough starter, use yeastless and even flourless starter, basically sourdough water or a sourdough concentrate and bake with that your yeasted breads.

Search for sourwort (flourless sourdough, aka sourdough water) and CLAS (sourdough concentrate) on this forum and these are the answers that you are looking for.

Such "starters" take a day or two to make from scratch, hands off, no refreshments, set it and forget it approach,  and keep well both refrigerated or frozen, no maintenance, use them as sourdough flavoring or as part of the liquid in your fast yeasted breads, you can even use fast bread cycle in your bread machine with them. Full sourdough flavor will be there as well as good volume provided by instant yeast.

There was also a thread here about yeasted breads with sourdough flavor without sd, acidified with something else for a complete newbie by using sour beer, sour whey drained from yogurt, and some other liquids, such as apple cider, they all have lactic acid and other acids typically found in sourdough starters and help create good breads.

Abe's picture

IMHO sourdough starters are just as easy, and in many ways, easier to maintain and use. Once one is familiar with the sourdough procedure it becomes second nature. CLAS is interesting and another useful technique to master but not necessarily easier. All methods come with pros and cons. I've just been using sourdough starter for so long now i've forgotten what it means for it to come with any issues. 

mariana's picture

I agree, Abe. I have no problem with my sd starter and I also baked with clas and flas dozens of times. I concluded that I prefer the old starter, I simply love it and I like caring for it. It took me years to find a starter that I truly like.

But other people are die hard fans of flourless starters or yeasted waters (fruit waters) or of clas, it's hard to understand another person's preferences. They and their starters just click, a perfect match. For as long as they like their bread and bread baking routine all is good. 

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

I think in this particular case it would be perfect, actually. Once prepare CLAS/FLAS, store in the fridge for weeks, when you want bread - it can be ready in a few hours with yeast leavening, and sourdough flavour. Or take the long way with tiny amount of yeast and cold a cold rise. But no preparation before baking, as that seems to be the main requirement.

roberte's picture

A goto recipe: French-Style Country Bread


2 hr starter or longer or overnight . Fresh bread for lunch!

The lower amounts of flour work well with T85flours.


Also, as a semi cheat, use some refrigerated starter w the yeast starter and you'll get a subtle sd flavor .


Peter Reinhardt has a good method for starting a culture and reviving it rather than the higher maintenance daily feeding.  A one to three day plan ahead, then an overnight start.


TerryD's picture

There are two aspects of sourdough that are on the table here--flavor and leavening.  I have often used a recently fed sourdough starter as an ingredient in a yeast driven recipe to add a good bit of sourdough flavor and still keep the speed of a yeast driven recipe (For family dinners, if I don't show up with a couple of pans of sweet potato rolls, I don't get in the door.)

Mix a sourdough "preferment" with 20% of the total flour in a high hydration starter, let it ripen, then mix it into the dough, counting the flour and the water as part of the original formula. Cut back the yeast by 1/3 because the sourdough does kick in as the fermenting progresses. Proceed per the instructions in the recipe--better flavor and quick results. It's not real sourdough but it's close enough--and it doesn't require a lot of planning

The sweet potato rolls call for 500g flour. Sometime during the morning (depending on intended baking time) I mix 100g flour with 100g water and 25g of starter from the refrigerator. Then I feed the original starter, give it a little rest and then put in back in the frig.

Mixing the preferment and feeding the starter might take 5 minutes.  A strong starter will work right out of the frig for a week or two, so it doesn't have to be a high maintenance relationship. It might seem complicated the first time but, after you figure out the numbers for your recipe, and bake it a few times, it's pretty straightforward.


Isand66's picture

I keep my starter in the refrigerator and the night before or morning before I make my levain.  If it’s overnight I set my proofer to 72 degrees and if it’s the morning I set it to 78-80 and my starter is ready to bake with in 4-5 hrs.  I mix up the dough and let it bulk ferment for 1.5 to 2 hrs doing 2 to3 stretch and folds and then put it in the fridge overnight.  Next morning or afternoon I take it out to warm up for an hour shape and let rise for an hour to 1.5 hrs and bake.  You can read Peter Rheinharts Artisan Breads EveryDay where he spikes the dough with IY to speed things up a bit.

squattercity's picture

I hear you, planetary.

All of my knowledge is based on trial and error, so I hope you won't mind if I offer a couple of stories.

-- did I bake a rye bread two days ago? Yeah. Did I let the levain ferment almost 30 hours instead of 8 because my schedule got turned upside down? Absolutely. Is the bread as good as it would have been if I had followed the 'instructions'? No idea ... but I'm enjoying the hell out of it.

-- did I muss and fuss over my 100% rye starter for a long time. Yep. Did I nearly kill it from neglect and disrespect? Absolutely. There's a learning curve. Some people learn in a few weeks. It took me more than a year. But at this point -- 2 years into my sourdough journey -- it's in a place where I can leave it in the fridge for 3 to 4 weeks at a time and simply scoop out what I need to set up a levain. Feeding something once or, at most, twice in a month is something I can do even when preoccupied and insanely busy. I simply decided to stop stressing over whether it had peaked or not, whether I fed it every 8 hours or forgot and gave it an extra four or six or eight or more. It's pretty robust and resilient and seems happier than ever. And my breads come out fine. Would they be better if I was more OCD about it? Dunno -- but do I know this: the people I share them with generally love them.

-- Sourdough or not, you can find quite a number of recipes on this site that can be made in a day, with almost no planning. You could start the levain before going to sleep Friday night and have hot bread two or three hours after you awake on Saturday morning. Or you could start the whole process on Saturday morning and be pulling a fresh loaf from the oven by mid-afternoon. There are plenty of other recipes that just ask for 24 hours on the counter or in the fridge. Sure, there might be a couple of folds involved. But -- though some on this site may non-violently disagree -- you do not have to be completely welded to the clock and doing them on the dot, every 30 minutes. Chill, scroll through instagram, listen to a playlist of your favorite tunes on Tidal or Spotify, text with your friends, chat with your mother, do the laundry, drink a Mimosa: get back to the dough when you can.

-- Not every recipe can be done this way, for sure. But find the ones that can. And if you are ever curious about one of those more complicated bread adventures, you can choose to engage in the dread process of scheduling.

-- I guess the idea is this: you can make bread-baking work for you.


bottleny's picture

Pain De Campagn

Just saw this recipe that may be the answer for busy people.

Martin is in our kitchen to show you how easy it is to make this "everyday loaf," which effortlessly fits within the cracks of your daily routine. Using unrefreshed (unfed) sourdough starter, minimal kneading, and long fermentation, this recipe can be adapted to your own schedule — which means you may very well find yourself baking this bread weekly (or even daily!).

 Just do it the night before and bake on the next day.

Yippee's picture


As the number one die-hard CLAS fan on this forum, speaking from experience, I assure you that if you bake with it, you can make extraordinary bread for your friends and family while enjoying the peace of mind it brings. It fits you like a glove:


"If there were a way to 

👍Emoji barely maintain a starter, and 

👍Emoji simply pull it from the fridge to use it on demand, in such a way as to 

👍Emoji Emoji Emoji get a brilliant loaf 

👍Emoji in 36 hours usually takes only a few hours or less

I'd 100% do that." 

📣📣📣 I encourage you to try it, and you won't regret it!


Mariana already summarized the benefits of CLAS and other alternative starters so I won't repeat them.  Let me direct you to a few loaves I made with CLAS that may interest you:

Finally, here's How I bake with CLAS


Join the CLAS Club and bake with complete control and freedom!