The Starter, the Mother and the Chief

January 17, 2017 | posted in

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We really enjoy the fresh sourdough and olive bread each time we come to the Union Market in Washington DC. We always get some fresh vegetables, an assortment of interesting cheeses, and a condiment or two (don't give us that look... mayo is a good thing!) and we're set for lunch all week!


Great bread and great prices! I've been buying their bread for years and have never been disappointed. I prefer to buy in Union Market because I believe it's fresher, but I have also purchased from Glen's Market in Shaw. Sometimes the selection is slim later in the day on weekends so get there early if you need something specific.


Today’s post is about The Starter, also known as The Mother and sometimes The Chief. There are other names too but those aren’t nearly as grand.

For those wanting to make homemade, traditional sourdough bread, it’s the most important ingredient.

So, what is The Starter?

Well, the starter is what helps dough to rise. In addition, the flour type, humidity, air temperature and altitude all affect the way a bread dough rises, and ultimately how your bread turns out.

What is it made of?

Simply, it’s a combination of flour and water. Those feeling adventurous, use grape, apple or even potato juice instead of the water. This can quicken the process if you can’t wait a few days. All that is required is flour, water and a lot of patience. Things happen over a few days of incubation including expansion, bubbling and the emergence of a boozy, yeasty aroma. It all sounds a bit scientific, we know. That’s because it really is a science project! No need for goggles or petri dishes, though. The incubation and growth process can take between 4 and 7 days, and then Bob’s Your Uncle. Well, Mother actually.

We know many of our readers love to make their own bread. However, if making your own starter sounds too arduous, ask a friend who has their own stash for a cup. They’ll be only too happy to donate it because they need to use up or discard some in order to maintain the starter’s balance and size every time they feed it.

Contrary to popular belief, sourdough isn’t actually the type of bread you eat. It’s the traditional way bread was made up until around 100 years ago. Nowadays, there are commercial yeasts that can be used instead of a starter.

You can use the starter in your homemade pizza dough, and in all kinds of baking such as waffles and sponges, it’s not just for bread.

The Starter at Lyon Bakery is 17 years young. We feed and nourish her, and are extremely grateful to her, because without her, we’d not be where we are today.

Thanks, Mom.


Stay tuned for our next post that will have a recipe for homemade sourdough starter!