How to make your own Sourdough Starter, using simple ingredients with no special equipment, in just 6 days, that can be used in sourdough bread. Sourdough Starter is a “wild” yeast, made from flour, water and the wild yeast in the air around us- used to replace store-bought yeast. (Step-by-step VIDEO.)
When you understand one thing through and through, you understand everything.~ Shunryu Suzuki
Hey friends, I’ve wanted to share this recipe for Sourdough Starter for years now, and with most of us being homebound, and without yeast available at the grocery stores, I thought this might be the perfect time to post it. As you know, we are in Santa Barbara for the winter, and one thing I didn’t even think to bring with me was my sourdough starter.
I made a fresh batch of starter last week, and baked a loaf of Sourdough Bread yesterday- and felt so much joy from this simple pleasure. The whole process honestly fills me with such wonder. How gloriously alive the world is! Plus there really is nothing like the smell of fresh bread to lift the spirits.
If you find yourself with a little more time on your hands, this might be the perfect opportunity to discover the joy of baking sourdough bread from your very own sourdough starter. You can also make baguettes, pizza dough, waffles, banana bread, pancakes,crackers, sourdough buns, sourdough tortillas and biscuits.
It’s truly incredible! The basic instructions were taught to me by a friend, who adapted it from Breadtopia and King Arthur Flour. I’ve taken liberties and further adapted, but both are great resources.
How to Make Sourdough Starter | 20-Min Video
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Fast forward to Specific Day by video time (using scroll bar underneath video)
- Day 1 Morning: :23
- Day 2 Morning: 4:10
- Day 3 Morning: 7:00
- Day 3 Evening: 9:12
- Day 4 Morning: 11:50
- Day 4 Evening: 13:37
- Day 5 Morning: 14:45
- Day 6 Evening: 16:50
- Day 6 Morning: 18:12
- Day 6 Evening: 20:10
What is Sourdough Starter?
- Think of sourdough starter as yeast. Only in this case, instead of buying a packet of yeast from the store, you are making your own living “wild yeast” by fermenting flour and water. That is it! ONLY 2 ingredients! Once it’s alive, it is like a very low-maintenance pet.
- You must feed it (stir in a mixture of flour and water) once a week to keep it healthy and happy. You know it’s happy when it bubbles. 😉 And YES, you can even name it.
- Some people believe that bread made with sourdough starter is actually better for you than bread made with yeast. Here and Here are a few articles to get you started on your own research. While I’m not sure if this is scientifically proven, I do know that bread made with sourdough starter, tastes infinitely better, feels easier to digest, and has more complexity and better texture, than bread made with commercial yeast. So if you are a bread lover- this is absolutely the way to go, as far as the quality of your finished bread.
What is Feeding?
- Feeding your sourdough starter is basically adding a mixture of flour and water to your existing starter, to keep it alive, happy and nourished. Starter is full of wild yeasts that get hungry, just like we do. These yeasts need “food” -in this case, more flour, to stay healthy and active.
- How often you feed depends greatly on the temperature of your home. The starter will metabolize the flour more quickly in warm environments, and more slowly in cold environments (like the fridge). If you keep your starter in the fridge, you should only need to feed it once a week. If you keep it on the counter you may need to feed it 1-2 times daily, and sometimes more if you live in warmer climates.
How to make Sourdough Starter
This recipe for Sourdough Starter takes 6 days (or up to 12 days if cold) and is very easy. This was the way I was taught and it always works for me. There are plenty of more complicated recipes out there, and I get it, if that is more your style – or you feel like completely nerding -out (a good thing, and this is the time!) dive in. Feed your fancy! Or watch the 20-minute Sourdough Video above!
Day 1: Staring in the morning or at night, using a wide-mouth 4-cup mason jar or Crock or Glass Measuring Cup , mix 1 cup whole grain flour (fluffed, spooned and leveled) -or 120 grams- with 1/2 cup (120 grams) filtered water using a fork (or chopstick) making sure you’ve incorporated all the dry flour.
Place the lid lightly on top (using the Weck jar is really handy here) or a wet towel to keep moisture in, or plastic wrap– and let sit at room temperature ( 70-ish degrees) on the kitchen counter for 24-48 hours. If you are not sure how warm it is, use a kitchen thermometer and check it a few hours later. See notes for TEMPERATURE.
TIP: For your first measuring – it is a good idea to weigh the flour using a kitchen scale so you get an idea of how it should feel. Do not weigh the cup. It should be like a thick paste. Thick like peanut butter. If you need to add a little more water to incorporate the flour, that is OK.
Day 2: After the first 24 hours, there may or may not be a bit of bubbling. Let the mixture rest until you see activity (bubbles or rising) sometimes this takes 36 hours or even 48 hours if very cold. When you see active bubbling, discard all but 1/2 cup of the starter (4 ounces).
To the remaining ½ cup of starter, stir in 1/2 cup water (120 grams), mixing well with a fork and 1 cup of organic bread flour (120 grams) spooned and leveled. Stir until combined. Again, it should feel like a thick paste. If overly dry, feel free to add a bit more water.
Cover again and allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for another 24 hours.
Day 3: After 24 hours, hopefully, you will see some bubbling or rising and if not, let it go a bit longer until you see activity. Be patient.
Depending on how warm your house is and how active your starter, you may need to begin feeding more often or move to two feedings a day, in the morning and at night.
In a nutshell, you want to feed the starter only after it has peaked (metabolized all the flour from the last feeding) and has started sinking down or gets liquidy- this is when it is hungry!
This might be 12 hours, it might be 14, it might be 18, or 24, depending on the temp in your house. In very warm climates it may only be 6-8 hours. In winter, this may take 36 hours. It is better to underfeed rather than overfeed here. For each feeding, like before, discard all but 1/2 cup of the STARTER (keeping roughly ½-cup of starter in the jar) Add 1 cup Bread Flour (spooned and leveled) and 1/2 cup water to the 1/2 cup starter and let this rest at room temperature for 12-24 hours or until the starter looks “hungry” again before repeating.
Day 4: Feed 1-2 times, discarding all but 1/2 cup of starter EACH TIME. Feed 1 cup bread flour, 1/2 cup water. Look for the hunger signs. Hopefully, you’ll begin to see some rising and falling. It’s helpful to put the starter in a clean jar and mark the beginning level (with a sharpie, string or rubber band) so you can easily see this.
***If for some reason your starter looks like it is still rising at the time of second feeding (at night) and there is no evidence it has fallen or no slide marks, skip this feeding and feed first thing in the morning.
AGAIN, Feeding it when it is “not hungry” will basically dilute all the growing yeast and make it lethargic. Better to starve than overfeed.
Above you’ll see it peaking, below you’ll see it deflating and getting “hungry”. Feed when the starter only when it’s hungry. This will can vary in time greatly – so even though there is a loose schedule laid out for you here, understand that your starter has a schedule of its own, it is a living thing- so watch it and pay attention! Overfeeding a starter makes it lethargic.
I repeat: The key here is to watch it. Don’t feed the starter until it looks hungry.
Look for the signs of “hunger”: You’ll see watery bubbles at the top or even a layer of liquid. See how below on the jar, how the starter slides down the side of the jar? Look for the “slide” marks just under the Weck logo.
If your starter is not rising and falling, look at consistency. As it metabolizes the flour and gets hungry it will get runny and liquidy, like to the point where you can pour it right out of the jar. If it is still thick like paste, it’s not done metabolizing (eating)the flour.
Day 5: Feed again, 1-2 times, roughly 12 hours apart, discarding all but a 1/2 cup the starter EACH TIME. 1 cup bread flour, 1/2 cup lukewarm water. The starter should look visibly active, bubbling, rising, hopefully, close to doubling in size.
You may need to repeat day 5 until the starter is rising and falling predictably and is close to doubling in size with 6-8 hours.
DAY 6: Baking day! Give it one last feeding in the morning. Discard all but a 1/3 cup. ( The reason we are changing this to 1/3 cup is to feed it a little bit more.) Add 1 cup flour (120 grams) and 1/2 cup water, and place it in a clean jar so you can see the action clearly. You can use a sharpie or place a rubber band around the jar to mark the beginning level. The starter should hopefully double in volume within 6 hours of feeding.
Then DO THE FLOAT TEST: To test the starter, place a teaspoon of starter (just from the top, don’t stir it down) in a glass full of water, it should hopefully float. If it does, you can make bread. Tonight! If it doubles in size but does not float, you can still give baking a try. Let the starter rest at room temperature for at least 8 hours allowing it to fully metabolize the flour, perhaps sinking a little before making your dough.
At this point, if your starter does not double in size within 6 hours of feeding, don’t give up! Often it just takes longer, especially during the winter months. Continue feeding one-two times a day, until you see a consistent, predictable, rise and fall.
Read the troubleshooting section. If you need to take a break, put it in the fridge and try it again up to a week later. Don’t toss it.
Day 6 EVENING: Use 1/3 cup to make bread (if you want) and place the remaining starter (or if not making bread,place all of it) in the refrigerator, and feed it at least once a week, mixing in any liquid at the top, reserving ½ cup starter, before feeding it the usual 1 cup bread flour, 1/2 cup water.
In the photo above, on the 6th day, the starter was fed at 8 am, it doubled at noon, but went even higher until around 2 pm where it peaked. Then as you can see, it started deflating and by 8 pm, it was lower, and “hungry” again. See those downward “slide” marks on the jar?
Look for these! That’s why it’s nice to put the starter in a clean jar so you can see these clearly. They tell you how high your starter went and that it peaked, and now is going down. Time to feed. Even at 8 pm, it passed the “float” test, so I started a loaf of my overnight sourdough bread at this time.
Signs of hunger:
- Slide marks (be sure to use a clean jar so you can see these clearly).
- a layer of liquid at the top of the starter
- The starter is liquidy enough to pour out of the jar (when at room temp).
- SMELL: Starter should smell sweet and tangy, and not “bad”. If it really smells foul or unpleasant, you may have used an unclean jar, or somehow introduced other bad bacteria. I would start over.
- NO ACTION: If your starter was doing great, then fizzled out, try adding a little whole grain flour (freshly milled, whole wheat or rye) mixed with the bread flour into the feedings and really monitor amounts, making sure you are feeding the 1/2 cup starter a full heaping cup of flour (120 grams). Check the temp (using a thermometer) and give it a little extra time to “digest” the flour. Sometimes it takes longer than 12 hours for a starter to need more flour- especially when it is cold. It is OK to skip a feeding at night if it looks like it is still peaking or rising. Try a different water source. Overly chlorinated tap water can hinder activity. Overly sterile bottled water can also inhibit. Try Mineral water!
- FLOUR: Try to use fresh milled whole grain flour to start, then organic BREAD FLOUR. The more wild yeast in the flour, the better your starter will do- so smaller brands like Bob’s Red Mill seem to do better than bigger conventional brands that have been overly processed. It is totally OK to mix flours and to switch them up- this adds different kinds of wild yeast- a good thing!
- DO NOT overfeed. For example, maybe feeding 2 x day at 12-hour intervals is too often. You want to feed after the starter has peaked, then deflated (see photo above- you’ll see some slide marks on the jar) and this tells you that it is hungry. If you feed the starter before it has had a chance to metabolize (or eat) all the flour (before peaking) and then you discard part of it, and feed it again, you are actually diluting all that amazing bacteria, weakening your starter. So it’s all about watching your starter in your home. If you are not seeing rising and falling, but notice the starter just gets liquidy, this too is a sign of “hunger”. Or if it gets runny enough to pour out of the jar, another sign it is hungry. There are lots of variables here. Just be patient, pay attention and watch. This is a living thing- it doesn’t care about time schedules and recipes or what it “should” do. It will “eat” when it is “hungry” and sometimes it likes to eat slowly. 😉
- TIME: It may take longer than 6 days in colder environments. Use a kitchen thermometer and take its temp. Is it over 65F? Find a place where it can be warm. In the oven with the light on, or in an upper cupboard ( heat rises). Sometimes it takes 12-14 days! Be patient, keep going. If it is doing absolutely nothing, leave it out on the counter for 24-48 hours and see what happens. If you run out of flour or need a break, don’t just toss it, put it in the fridge and see if you can get it going a few days later.
- ACIDITY: If you still can’t get that starter going, some people recommend subbing pineapple juice for the water for one feeding- raising the acidity level. My good friend just tried this and it got hers going.
- LIQUID: If you see any liquid at the top of your starter, it means your starter is hungry. So, yes it’s still alive which is a good thing! You can stir the liquid in, or pour the liquid out, either way, but feed it. This is a sign that you may need to feed it more often.
- MOLD: if you see any discoloring or mold on the surface, starter was probably contaminated. If it is only on the surface, it is probably ok to save. Scrape it off, save 1/2 cup of the underneath starter, and keep going, using a clean jar. Feed, smell, use your best judgment.
- FLOAT TEST: Try testing when your starter is peaking. Take a spoonful from the top without stirring it down. If your starter is rising and falling consistently, but not passing the float test and it has been over 8-10 days- just try baking a loaf. People are having luck with good loaves without passing the float test. It may be the flour…
How to Maintain Your starter:
- REFRIGERATE & FEED AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK: Pick a scheduled day and try to stick with it, always reserving 1/2 cup and feeding it 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Discard the remaining, or give it away, or keep the discard in a separate container to use in waffles, pancakes, sourdough buns, banana bread, biscuits, etc. I usually don’t feed the discard unless giving it away.
- If you forget to feed it one week, it is most likely OK, just feed it 1-2 x day for 1-3 days in a row to revive it (keeping it out on the counter) until bubbly and active. I’ve left my starter for a month on vacation (in the fridge) without feeding and simply revived it by feeding it 3 days in a row, 1-2 x day. It’s actually kind of hard to kill. You can also freeze it for longer storage.
- This batch will allow you to bake 2 loaves of bread per week with enough left to feed for the next week. If you find yourself wanting to bake more often, you can keep it out and feed it 1-2 x daily. Or if baking every few days, you can pull it out of the fridge, feed it 10 hours before using, leaving it out, use what you need while it is peaking (or slightly after), then put it back in the fridge that evening. Do the same thing a few days later when ready to use again. So this would be feeding 2-3 times a week, best if baking 4-5 times a week.
Tips on Sourdough Starter:
- TEMPERATURE: The colder your home, the longer it will take for the starter to grow and become active (bubbles). Find a warm spot (70-80 degrees) for the best results. On the stovetop, with the light turned on, or on top of the fridge. Or in the oven with the light on. On top of a heating pad (set to low) with a towel in between). You can still make the starter in a colder home, it will just take longer- even up to 2 weeks! Test the temp of your starter using a thermometer.
- FLOUR: Always try to start the batch by using organic whole-grain flour (wheat or rye) because it has more wild bacteria in it than white flour and will get it active and growing sooner. Freshly milled works exceptionally well. You can, of course, continue to use whole grain, but I just use organic white “bread” flour for days 2 through 6, less costly. You can also feed with organic all-purpose flour, but I’ve had much better luck with getting the starter stronger, faster, starting off with the wholegrain the first day, and using bread flour for the remaining. UP to YOU. You can always mix in a little whole grain with the white as well if your starter looks like it needs a boost.
- WATER: Sometimes chlorine in tap water can inhibit the growth of your starter. Some people leave tap water out, in an open container overnight to allow some of the chlorine to evaporate. Using lukewarm water helps fermentation to start faster. Try Mineral water, like Perrier, it seems to work wonders too! Sometimes bottled water can be overly sterile- so using mineral water (carbonated is OK) is a good option.
- HYDRATION: Hydration refers to the ratio of water to flour in terms of weight. It is a ratio. For starter, this is typically at 100% hydration. Meaning if you use 120 grams of water, use 120 grams of flour. This roughly translates to 1 heaping cup of flour and 1/2 cup water. Feel free to weigh instead of measure if you want to be more precise, or want to familiarize yourself with the consistency. It’s nice to do this the first time to get a feel for it.
- STORING AND FEEDING: When your starter is kept cold, like in the fridge, you don’t need to feed it as often- only once a week. If you keep it out on the counter, you’ll need to feed it 2 x daily. Cold slows down the fermentation, heat speeds it up.
- USING: When you need to use your starter for baking bread, feed it 4-8 hours before making bread dough, using it right at peak height or slightly after (even better).
- Do I REALLY have to discard my starter? YES. I know it seems wasteful- but while you are building your starter, during the first week, it is the simplest easiest, fastest and most economical way to create healthy a starter. This is because you always have to feed it 2 times its volume!!! If you keep the 1 1/2 cups starter, you would have to feed it 3 cups (instead of keeping just a 1/2 cup and only feeding it ONE cup). Get it? 😉 Doing this will shorten the fermentation process, require less flour in the long run, and create a stronger starter. Once the starter is “established” after the first week- then you don’t need to discard it but can use it in bread baking, pizza dough, scones, biscuits, waffles, sourdough buns, etc.,- or give it to a friend.
Signs of Hunger:
The photo above was taken after the starter was fed, peaked 4 hours later (reached its highest), and now is” hungry” again. The perfect time to use it in bread! See the downward slide marks on the jar. Again, pay attention to these- your starter is telling you what it needs. You just have to learn how to see it.
I hope you have fun with this simple little Sourdough project! In the coming weeks, I’ll put out some fun recipes to make with your sourdough starter! Also, watch the new step-by-step Sourdough Video above!
How to use your Sourdough Starter!
- No-Knead Sourdough Bread
- Sourdough Baguettes
- Sourdough Scones
- Sourdough Crackers
- Sourdough Biscuits
- Sourdough Buns
- Sourdough Tortillas!
- Vegan Banana Bread
- Overnight Sourdough Waffles
- Sourdough Pancakes