Detmold 3-Stage Process
(a homebaker's implementation)

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The picture shows the testloaf of test # 1 - without dough fermentation. The top "explosion" is a slashing issue. I made too many slashes on top and the expanding dough took the way of the least resistance. Nevertheless, it demonstrates quite drastically the bacterial activity in a starter grown this way since practically no dough fermentation after mixing the dough took place.


There were several reasons to go about this. The previous methods to grow a starter, in particular the last one, where I went by the growth phases were good but essentially driven by the starter's needs, i. e. when the starter reached a certain state, I would make bread. Originally, I figured that it would be possible to iterate to a procedure which would turn out to be superior but the matter turned out overly complex and with the means and time available impossible to implement. The Detmold 3-Stage process promised to give a high quality starter with defined, constant and repeatable paramenters. This speculation turned out well, the result is indeed stunning.

Another factor was that I had no firm control on the temperature parameter so far. Growing the starters with elevated temperatures with the sources I had available always had some fluctuations because it was not regulated. I tinkered for a while with a mechanism to control a proofing chamber like thing, but the water idea shelved that project.


The multi stage sourdough growth procedures where an initial inoculation is refreshed in multiple steps to grow the amount for the final dough are common with natural sourdoughs. French, Italian, German, San Francisco, Russian, Finnish etc. sourdough breads are made in that manner. The variation of parameters, mainly temperature and hydration, is used to influence the taste and rising properties of the final dough. In particular, during the stages the amount and kind of organisms (yeasts, homo- heterofermentative lactobacillus bacteria) grown are influenced to obtain desired properties of the final products. To reliably rise rye based breads without baker's yeast, only the 3-Stage process is applicable.

One example of the classic 3 Stage sourdough process uses for stage 1: 2 - 4 hours with 100 % hydration at 80 F - 84 F (26 - 28 C), for stage 2: 5 - 12 hours with 70 % hydration at 76 F - 80 F (24 - 26 C), for stage 3: 2 - 3 hours with 100 % hydration at 84 - 90 F (28 - 32 C). Stage 1 is used to promote yeast and lactobacillus multiplication, stage 2 for developing acid and stage 3 to develop all microorganisms [1].

The folks at the German Federal Institute for Grain-, Potato- and Fat Research (Bundesanstalt fuer Getreide-, Kartoffel- und Fettforschung (BAGKF)) in Detmold/Germany have tweaked the classic 3 Stage sourdough process and came up with the Detmold 1, 2 and 3-Stage processes. These procedures include a much longer stage of 15 - 24 hours (with the 3-Stage, it is the 2. stage) than the standard 3-Stage sourdough process mentioned earlier and improve upon it [2]. The process has been developed empirically at the BAGKF. The exact parameters, ratios, weights and temperatures for desired dough or starter amounts can be seen at my Detmold 3-Stage Calculator.

Jeffrey Hamelman, in his very recommendable book: BREAD, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes mentions this technique, a small section can be seen here.


The main consideration in implementing this process was to manage the temperature paramenter over a relatively long period fairly accurate. So far, the means to warm my growing starters were computer monitor, oven light and heating lamp in large plastic containers. But, since all the heating sources were unregulated, they fluctuated with the surrounding room temperature which is several degrees colder during the night.

What I came up with was to use water as temperature controlled media with a regulated heating element and some kind of circulation to move the water around, so it has the same temperature everywhere and no heat or cold pockets develop.

Container with heaterheater and pumpI found that aquarium water heaters had a good temperature range of 68 - 93 F ( 20 - 33 C) for sourdough fermentation and could be expected to keep the temperature within 1 F as long as the surrounding room temperature is below the set temperature. I purchased an aquarium heater - eventually a 150 Watt unit. A 50 Watt model turned out to be too weak to change the temperatures within a comfortable time frame. To circulate the water, I used a small fountain pump which was in an unused room fountain. The left picture show the heater and pump. The right picture the unit (uncovered) in action with a small culture container fermenting in a 5 gal container. The container moves and spins with the water circulation. For temperature measuring, I use an older baking thermometer calibrated with ice water.

I also use the same setup to ferment dough in a larger container. This shows mixed/kneaded dough a 1500 g (3+ lbs) loaf in a basket in a larger bowl fermenting after punchdown in a 10 gal container.

dough fermenting in container dough fermenting in container
(fermentation setup about a year later)

Three Stages

Stage 1
This stage starts out with a very small inoculation, depending on the amount of starter I want to grow and has a high hydration - almost 140. Currently I run it for 6 hours at 80 F. The flour multiplication factor is 4.8 times. This stage promotes yeast gowth.
Stage 2
This is the main stage. It is drier - hydration is 66. Currently, I run it for 24 hours at 82 F. The flour multiplication factor is 12.9. This stage promotes acidity and taste components.
Stage 3
The final stage has the same hydration as the original inoculation - 90 and I currently run it at 86 F for 3 hours. The stages promotes growth again, due to the higher temperature, LB bacteria.
Stage 1 - 137 %
Stage 2 - 66.7 %
Stage 3 - 90 %
The different hydrations can easily be recognized. Dependent on the amount of starter grown, I need to change the container size for the individual stages.

Time Organization

Stage Day Time Time
1 1 00:00 02:00
2 1 06:00 08:00
3 2 06:00 08:00
mix 2 09:00 11:00

So far I have done the above 2 schemas. When I want to make bread on Saturday, I start late night (before midnight) on Thursdays or early morning Friday. After that, I have 6 hours time until the next step.


Here I test the starter grown by this procedure with a 50/50 light rye/KA bread flour mix dough with 1500 g loaves, 70 % hydration, 1.8 % salt (Calculation here - in new window) with fermentations of 10 minutes, 2 x 2 1/2 hours and 2 x 4 hours following mixing/kneading. The baking times were all around 40/45 minutes starting with 550 F, then after 5 - 9 minutes down to 425 F (I forgot to turn down # 1 - that's why it had the dark spots). The 2 x 2 1/2 notation means that there was one rise after 2 1/2 hours, then a punchdown and another rise of 2 1/2 hours.

Text # 1
10 minutes
# 2
2 x 2 1/2 hour
# 3
2 x 4 hour
Right before baking, slashed and ready to go baking
In the oven ready to spring - grade of fermentatioin/over- fermentation is clearly visible
Out again -the reason for the popup was the amount of slashing I did on top.
Crust detail - deterioration of structure clearly visible.
The crumbs of # 2 and # 3 were equivalent
Crumbs with more detail
Crumb closeup
The taste for # 1 was mildly sour, # 2 hearty and # 3 very sour.


This method has great potential. I am using it ever since this tryout. The resulting starter appears to be more potent than what I obtained with my previously used starter growing methods:

The interesting outcome is that it appears to be possible to get a good quality rye mix bread without long fermentation. With this starter, I needed to shorten the 2 x 2 dough fermentation time I used for 50/50 rye mix to prevent too much overfermentation.

It is also possible to bake different types of bread from one stater batch. I implemented the option to enter a desired starter amount in version 3 of the Detmold 3-Stage Calculator. This allows to display the procedure for growing a certain amount of starter which then can be split up into several batches for different type bread.

The disadvantage is that it takes relatively long time to grow a starter and one has to plan ahead. At one point, I was short with the starter being grown and I took a starter I had already, calculated the time and amount using the growth factor to get the amount I needed with this procedure in stage 2, leaving out stage 1. The starter I got from that behaved totally different from the correctly grown batch.


[1]Schuenemann/Treu, Technologie der Backwarenherstellung, 9th edition 1999, Gildebuchverlag Germany, 134
English translation:
Schuenemann/Treu, Baking: The Art and Science, C.H.I.P.S.; 1 edition (November 1, 1988)
[2] Spicher, G., Handbuch Sauerteig, 5th edition 1999, Behrs Verlag, 202 - 214

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