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.)

How to make your own Sourdough Starter, using simple ingredients with no special equipment, in 5-8 days, that can be used in crusty bread, pizza dough, waffles, pancakes, and rolls- instead of using yeast. Sourdough Starter is "wild" yeast, made from flour and water and the wild yeast in the air around us. 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

 

flour in a spoon

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!

Step One

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.

sourdough starter day one

Step Two

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.

Step Three

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.

Step Four

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. 

 

sourdough starter with slight bubbling

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.

starter in a jar with small bubbles

Step Five

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 within 6-8 hours.

TIP: If your starter is not rising but there is evidence of hunger (liquid at the top) try 3 things: substitute 1/4 cup whole grain flour (add to ¾ cup white bread flour) on your next feeding. Try using mineral water like San Pellegrino instead of water.  Stir the starter a couple hours after feeding to allow wild yeast from the room to get in there. 

Step Six

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.

a tablespoon of sourdough starter floating in water for the float test

Step Six

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.show the slide marks on the sourdough starter jar

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).

TROUBLESHOOTING:  

  • 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 is not rising but there is evidence of hunger (liquid at the top) try 3 things: substitute 1/4 cup whole grain flour (add to ¾ cup white bread flour) on your next feeding. Try using mineral water like San Pellegrino instead of water.  Stir the starter a couple of hours after feeding to allow wild yeast from the room to get in there.
  • 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…

bubbling sourdough starter

How to Maintain Your starter:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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. 
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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).
    7. 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:

hungry sourdough starter

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!

  1. No-Knead Sourdough Bread
  2. Sourdough Baguettes
  3. Sourdough Scones 
  4. Sourdough Crackers
  5. Sourdough Biscuits
  6. Sourdough Buns
  7. Sourdough Tortillas!
  8. Vegan Banana Bread
  9. Overnight Sourdough Waffles 
  10. Sourdough Pancakes 

 

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How to make your own Sourdough Starter, using simple ingredients with no special equipment, in 5-8 days, that can be used in crusty bread, pizza dough, waffles, pancakes, and rolls- instead of using yeast. Sourdough Starter is "wild" yeast, made from flour and water and the wild yeast in the air around us. 

Simple Sourdough Starter

  • Author: Sylvia Fountaine | Feasting at Home Blog
  • Prep Time: 30
  • Cook Time: 6 days
  • Total Time: 144 hours 30 minutes
  • Yield: 1 ½ cups 1x
  • Category: sourdough, fermented, cultured, bread, baking,
  • Method: fermented
  • Cuisine: bread
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

How to make your own Sourdough Starter (see the step-by-step video in post) using simple ingredients with no special equipment, in 6 days, that can be used in sourdough bread. Sourdough Starter is a wild yeast, made from fermenting flour and water.


Ingredients

Scale

Instructions

    1. Day 1: Starting 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 (120 grams) with 1/2 cup (120 grams) filtered water using a fork making sure you’ve incorporated all the dry flour.  For your first measuring – it is a good idea to weigh the flour, using a kitchen scale so you get an idea of how thick it should feel. 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, but be precise with the flour. Place the lid on top (using the Weck jar is really handy here) or a damp towel to keep moisture in, or plastic wrap- and let sit at room temperature (70-80 degrees) on the kitchen counter for 24-48 hours, or until you see some bubbling. If you are not sure how warm it is, use a kitchen thermometer and check it a few hours later. See notes for TEMPERATURE.
    2. Day 2: After the first 24 hours, you may or may not see a bit of bubbling. I prefer to let this rest until I see a tiny bit of activity (bubbles) and sometimes this takes 36 or up to 48 hours.  So start “day 2”, when you see a little bit of bubbing. Discard all but 1/2 cup (136 grams) of the starter. (See notes for discard).  Add to the remainder, 1 cup of white bread flour, (120 grams), spooned and leveled,  and 1/2 cup filtered water (120 grams), mixing well with a fork. Place the lid on loosely again and allow the mixture to sit at room temperature (70-80F)  for another 24 hours.
    3. Day 3: By the third day, you should definitely see some bubbling- and if not, let it go a bit longer. Depending on how warm your house is and how active your starter, you may need to begin feeding more often, or even move to two feedings a day roughly 12 hours apart, like 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 8 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 -4 ounces or 136 grams) 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.
    4. 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 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, it is still “eating” so  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.  
    5. Day 5: Feed again, 1-2 times, roughly 12 hours apart, or when hungry,  discarding all but a 1/2 cup the starter EACH TIME. 1 cup bread flour, 1/2 cup lukewarm water. The starter should look active, bubbling, rising, sliding down, hopefully, close to doubling in size. (If not, repeat this day until starter doubles in size within 8-12 hours of feeding- and read the troubleshooting section.) 
    6. DAY 6:  Give it one last feeding. Discard all but a 1/3 cup. 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.  When it peaks, DO THE FLOAT TEST: To test the starter, place a teaspoon of starter (just from the top, while it is peaking, don’t stir it down) in a glass full of water, it should hopefully float. If it does, you can make sourdough bread. Tonight! Let the starter keep resting at room temperature or a few more hours allowing it to fully metabolize the flour, perhaps sinking a little before making your dough. You want to make dough with slightly hungry starter. Place the remaining starter in the fridge and feed it in a week. You’ll have enough stater to make one more sourdough loaf during the week, and still have enough to feed.  If you want to wait to make bread until later in the week place starter in the fridge. Be sure to feed it in 7 days. Read maintenance section.
    7. At this point, if your starter does not double in size don’t give up! Often it just takes longer, sometimes up to two weeks, especially if it’s cold.  Continue feeding one-two times a day (only when hungry) for a few more days, until you see a visible rise and fall. Read the troubleshooting section. If you need to take a break, just put it in the fridge and try it again up to a week later. Don’t toss it- if there are bubbles, it is still alive.
    8. This batch of starter will make two loaves of bread with enough left over to feed for the following week.

TROUBLESHOOTING:  

  • STALLING:  It is typical to see a “stall” on day 4 or 5. If your starter is not rising but there is evidence of hunger (liquid at the top) try 3 things: substitute 1/4 cup whole grain flour (add to ¾ cup white bread flour) on your next feeding. Try using mineral water like San Pellegrino instead of water.  Stir the starter a couple hours after feeding to allow wild yeast from the room to get in there.
  • SMELL: Starter should smell slightly sweet and tangy, and not off or “bad”.  To me, it smells like a wet horse;)  If it smells VERY unpleasant, you may have used an unclean jar, or an unclean utensil, or somehow introduced another foreign bacteria. I would start over.
  • TOO MUCH ACTION: if your starter overflows from the jar, this is a good sign,(not bad) it is alive and active. This often happens in warm climates. You’ll need to feed it more often or find a cooler spot. Even if it floats on day 2-3, please keep feeding it the full 6 days before using it to make bread. It will add more flavor and complexity.
  • CONSISTENCY: Thick or Thin? If you have been careful about measuring feedings, but are not seeing rising or falling, another way to tell what stage of your starter is in is to look at the consistency. If the starter seems really thick, it is still “digesting”. If it seems loose or runny or liquidy, (to the point where you can pour it out of the jar) it has digested all the flour and is now “hungry”. It loosens up as it metabolizes the flour. So even if you don’t see rising or falling, look for consistency to give you clues.
  • 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 a little or is runny (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 and then you discard part, and feed it again, you are actually diluting all that amazing yeast. Get it? So it’s all about watching your starter in your home. 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.
  • It may take longer than 6 days in colder environments. Use a kitchen thermometer and take its temp. Is it under 65F? Find a place where it can be warm.  Or use lukewarm water when mixing. Place it  in the oven with the light on overnight. (Not in direct sunlight) or above the fridge, or on the stovetop. Sometimes if cold,  it takes 10-12 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 see bubbles, it is alive and can be coaxed. 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 or up to a week or two 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 may be a sign that you may need to feed it more often than you are.
  • MOLD: if you see any discoloring or mold on the surface, the starter was probably contaminated. If it is only on the surface, you could salvage it. Scrape it off, save 1/2 cup of the underneath starter, and keep going. Feed, smell, use your best judgment.
  • FLOAT TEST: If your starter is consistently rising and falling and it is has been over 8 days, but still doesn’t pass the float test, try baking a loaf of bread anyway.  Remember, use hungry starter when mixing up the dough.

MAINTENANCE:

  1. REFRIGERATE & FEED AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK: Pick a scheduled day and try to stick with it, always reserving 1/2 cup starter (130 grams) and feeding it 1 cup flour  (120 grams) and 1/2 cup water (120 grams). 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 away.
  2. If you forget to feed it one or two weeks in a row, it is most likely OK, just feed it 1-2 x day for 1-2 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, 2 x day. It’s actually kind of hard to kill. You can also freeze it for longer storage.
  3. If you find yourself wanting to bake more often than once a week, you can keep it out and feed it 1-2 times daily. Or if baking every few days, you can pull it out of the fridge, feed it 8-10 hours before using, leaving it out, use what you need while it is peaking, then put it back in the fridge that evening. Do the same thing a few days later when ready to use it again. So this would be feeding 2-3 times a week, best if baking 2-3 times a week.

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. FLOUR: Always try to start the batch by using organic, freshly milled whole-grain flour (wheat or rye) because it has more wild yeast in it than All-Purpose or white flour and will get it active and growing sooner. You can, of course, continue to use whole grain, but I’ve had the best luck using organic “bread” flour for days 2 through 6. People have made a sourdough starter with All-Purpose flour- but personally, this has never worked for me– there are fewer nutrients and wild yeasts in the flour and results in a very lethargic starter. If it is your only option, try mixing in 2+ tablespoons of whole-grain (wheat or rye) with the AP flour per feeding. Feel free to use different flours or mix different flours together. It is OK to use all-purpose flour if in a pinch, but using it repeatedly will result in sad starter.
  3. WATER: I usually use tap water -but sometimes the chlorine in tap water can inhibit the growth of your starter. Lukewarm water helps fermentation to start faster. Sterilized bottled water is often overly sterile, and can also inhibit. Mineral water, like Perrier (carbonated is OK) can sometimes work miracles.
  4. HYDRATION: Hydration refers to the ratio of water to flour in terms of weight. It is a ratio. The starter is typically at 100% hydration- meaning equal parts flour and water, in terms of weight. So if you use 120 grams of water, use 120 grams of flour. This roughly translates to 1 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 you are aiming for. If using whole grain flours (which tend to be “thirstier”) and your starter seems very thick, it is totally OK to add more water to thin it a bit. I intentionally keep the hydration a little lower here (a thicker starter) so you can more clearly see the rise and fall “action” in the jar.
  5. STORING AND FEEDING: When your starter is kept cold, in the fridge, you don’t need to feed it as often- only once a week. Feel free to feed it “cold”, and put it right back in the fridge if you like. If you keep it out on the counter, you’ll likely need to feed it 1-2 x daily (or just watch and feed only when hungry).   Cold slows down the fermentation, heat speeds it up.
  6. USING: When you need to use your starter for baking bread, feed it 10-12 hours before making bread dough, using it after its peak height. For a more “sour” flavored bread, use the starter straight from the fridge, 3-6 days after feeding. The starter gets more sour tasting the longer it goes without feeding. Feeding the starter the same day as making bread will produce a milder sourdough flavor.
  7. Do I REALLY have to discard my starter? BASICALLY 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. (Or save it separately -in the fridge- and use it in Pancakes, Waffles, Buns, or Biscuits. )  This is because you always have to feed it 2 times its volume in flour.   For example-if you kept all the 1 1/2 cups of starter, you would have to feed it 3 cups of flour (instead of keeping just a 1/2 cup and only feeding it ONE cup).  Doing this will shorten the fermentation process, require less flour in the long run, and create a stronger starter. Once your starter is “established” after the first week- then you can give it away to friends, use it in pizza dough, banana bread, waffles, pancakes, buns, etc) or give it to a friend.   If you would like to save your “discard” during the first week – use it as you would flour and water, not expecting any rise. 
  8. HOW TO USE YOUR SOURDOUGH STARTER/Discard : 
    1. No-Knead Overnight Sourdough Bread (only if it passes the two “tests”)
    2. Overnight Sourdough Waffles 
    3. Sourdough Pancakes
    4. Sourdough Scones 
    5. Sourdough Biscuits
    6. No-Knead Sourdough Bread – only after day 6
    7. Vegan Banana Bread 
    8. Sourdough buns

    Save the sourdough “discard” in a separate container in the fridge. 


Nutrition

  • Calories: 50

Keywords: sourdough starter, easy sourdough starter, how to make sourdough starter, sourdough starter recipe,

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Comments

  1. When making the starter, how can I build the quantity up so that I have enough starter to make 2 or 3 loaves at once?

    1. When you go to feed it, you could just double what you keep (keep one cup) and feed it double.FYI Without doubling you should have enough for two loaves, and enough to feed.

  2. Hi, thanks for sharing this recipe, really looking forward to my first sourdough, but just encountering some problems:
    Started my starter 4 days ago and the first two days it was super active, already rose a lot and even overflew the glass. Since then it is only bubbling and getting liquid but not raising anymore. Should I feed it more or less now? I am currently on a 12-18h feeding since not much is happening. Or do you have any other advice?
    Thanks!

      1. Hey, thanks for answering. Our tap water here is mineral water and I used more flour in the mix the last week but its still not as it was the first two days. I am on a 48h hours schedule right now to not overfeed and its bubbling and raising roughly one quarter during that time but no slide marks since its not going back to the original volume within that time. But its getting way more liquid and I can pour it out. Smell is not bad just sometimes its a bit grey on top. Any other suggestions? I means its definitely alive just not very active… Should I feed it more? Its been two weeks now since I started… thanks a lot!

  3. Hello Sylvia! My starter hasn’t changed since the last time I fed it 2 days ago. It was doing well up to the second day, but after that feeding there were no marks that indicated it was hungry, and it didn’t rise either. Hope you can help with this, thanks!

  4. Hi Sylvia, thanks for such a wonderful recipe! I am new to starters. I had my active starter in the fridge for a little over a week without feeding while camping, and when I returned, it had a lot of black hooch and smelled heavily of alcohol. I’ve returned it to the counter for feedings, and despite the fact it’s quite warm where I am (air conditioned but a door nearby regularly lets in 90+degrees outside air), it only seems to want one feeding per day. I’ve been feeding at night and it’s doubling beautifully overnight, but not sliding til later in the afternoon. Should I start feeding twice per day anyway, to remove the alcohol smell? Thanks so much!!!

    1. Thanks Caitlin! I would only feed when hungry -and if that is once a day, that is OK.

  5. I have a question, instead of discarding my starter can I use it in another container to make a second batch?

  6. Thank you so much for this page Sylvia. I made my starter a few months ago and come back to this page often. I am baking my 10th loaf today. I started with yours (so good) and then started venturing to other adaptations. I feel so much more comfortable now because you laid out the basics so well. Thank you.

  7. Hello! So, the very first starter I made was using your recipe! It was a huge success! Unfortunately, life got in the way, and I let my starter die. This was back in 2020. Since then I have tried no less than 20 times to recreate my starter. Almost every one dies after the first feeding with bread flour. My house is the right temp. I’m using warm water. Filtered. I am at a loss. I’m getting soooo frustrated. I’ve been through quite a bit of flour, and just don’t understand what to do differently. I’d appreciate any help you can offer. I’m about to give up.

    1. Sorry you are frustrated. So my guess is it is not actually “dead”, and I would push through for a while. Try mixing in a little whole grain flour with the bread flour. Maybe try using tap water? I know, I know, but sometimes things can be too sterile. And don’t worry about the schedule, only feed when it is runny- if it is not rising. You could also try the pineapple juice?

      1. Pineapple juice? I’ll have to read through to see what you mean! I must have missed that trick!!

  8. Hello! Thank you for sharing the instructions. I would like to get clarifications on a few things:
    1. Can I start and maintain with 1/4 cup or 60gm of water and flour at every feeding instead?
    2. Before keeping it in the fridge for the first time, do I need to feed it first?

    1. Yes, you can, if you halve the starter as well. And Yes, you could feed it before going in the fridge.

  9. Hi, thank you for this recipe. I started mine yesterday and this morning there were bubbles and it had increased so I took half out and added 120g flour and water. 6 hours later it has doubled and sink. Does that mean I have to discard half a cup and feed it again please?

    1. You could, or you could wait the full 24 hours. It should be ok unless it is really hot there?

          1. If you see bubbles, it is alive. The brown water means it is hungry, so discard all but half cup, and feed it. Just keep going, only feeding when it is hungry (or runny looking).

  10. I found this page for sourdough starting to be so helpful! I have found myself coming back to it multiple times and have succeeded in creating my own healthy, thriving starter. I now have used it any many recipes across your website. I have also started dabbling into other recipes of yours that do not include the starter and everything has been a big hit for my 6 person family, including 4 small children!

  11. Took starter out of refrigerator and fed, left jar on counter. Within 5 hours starter has more than doubled with small amount of bubbles but no slide. Did float test dough floated. Can I start bread making tonight or do I need to leave on counter and feed for addition 3-4 days? Thanks for your advice and help.

  12. Hi, Sylvia! I’m on my 3rd try after 2 attempts of it becoming stagnant at day 3. I switched to whole grain flour instead of whole wheat and it’s super active, but I’m going on 2 weeks of feeding it about every 24-36 hours. It doubles in size after about 8 hours but then it stays high. It doesn’t thin out until after 24 hours. I’ve been waiting until I see it drop a little bit to feed it. I’ve tried the float test since it has been 2 weeks but it still sinks. I have it in a cabinet in our kitchen above the oven and our house is usually around 70 degrees. Any tips?

    1. Hi Casey, why don’t you just give it a try at this point and make a loaf. Perhaps wait 24 hours after feeding to make the dough? It’s ok if doesn’t drop- or sink, it sounds happy actually. I would give it a go!

  13. Thank you so much for this detailed recipe! This is my first time making a sourdough starter, so I really appreciate how thorough this is.

    I do have one question I’m hoping for your feedback on – I’m on day 6 of my starter, and although it is indeed bubbling and rising and falling a bit (it has yet to double in size), it’s more liquidy than your starter appears to be in your videos. I know that the starter being more liquidy is another indication that it is hungry, but I’m wondering if when I feed it I should increase the amount of flour I use or decrease the amount of water I use to compensate for the starter being more liquidy. Because when I initially feed it, it is somewhat thick, but more the consistency of a slightly runny peanut butter, and not as thick as yours appears to be in your video when you initially feed it.

    Thank you!

        1. Ok interesting! I don’t think it would hurt to add a tiny bit more flour. 😉

          1. I ended up doing half whole wheat flour and reducing the water a bit and it worked great!

  14. My new starter was showing bubles on the surface but never growing and when I would stir it there were no bubbles inside. After 4 days I started over but had the same problem, I put on my troubleshooting hat. Using a meat thermometer I found that when I put the starter outside the surface would warm up from the 68 degrees of my house, but the middle of the starter was still below 70.

    My solution was to put the starter jar into a bath of 90 degree water. In two hours my starter was bubbling well. I re-filled the bath with 90 degree water and did another 2 hours it was near double.

    24 hours after the baths, my starter is still 3 degrees above the ambient temperature and doing well.

  15. Hi Sylvia! Thanks so much for this recipe — I’ve been looking forward to starting my starter for weeks and just did so a few days ago! After the first day, it bubbled, rose, peaked, and fell wonderfully. However, in the 3 days since then, I’ve given it 18-24 hours in a 70-degree kitchen between feedings and it has bubbled well, but it isn’t really rising anymore. Do you have any advice for how I may be able to help it rise more between feedings? Thanks so much!

    1. Sometimes it just stalls after a few days. Maybe try mixing in some whole grain flour.

  16. Hi! I am just about to get started on making the starter. If using a mason jar, do you recommend the lid just be placed on top or use plastic or what? Does it need to “breathe” and have access to air or just something placed on top give enough air as it is getting started/sitting out?

    1. Just a lid placed lightly on top is fine. It will bubble and the air from that needs to be able to escape. 😉

  17. Since I know I won’t want or need to make 2 loaves a week, would it be ok to cut the starter recipe in half from the outset, keeping the ratios the same so 60g instead of 120g etc?

  18. Hi again Sylvia!

    My Started finally got to where it needs to be, and I just got done baking my first loaf! I have some clarifying questions as to how to store/maintain the starter:

    So yesterday when i separated some for making the dough, i fed the starter and put it into the fridge right away, is that what I’m supposed to do? And after that I am waiting for it to rise in the fridge before feeding it again? When I want to bake bread do I take it out of the fridge, then wait for it to get hungry, and then start making dough, or do i have to take it out – wait for it to get hungry – feed it again – wait for it to peak and THEN start making the dough?

    Hope those are clear enough questions, looking forward to hearing from you, and as always thank you so much 🙂

    1. Hi Roman! You can use the starter, just like that, but yes, take it out and let it peak before using.

  19. Thanks to your recipes, I have made a few successful loaves that family and friends have loved! BUT I can’t shake the feeling that my starter is not as active as it should be, and I think it’s preventing me from getting to the next level or just a “bit” more rise in the bread. I followed your starter recipe with rye, whole wheat and unbleached baker’s flour daily for about 3 months but it has always been very slow to peak, and it peaks at just under double the size – it needs about 8-9 hours to achieve that in a moderately temped kitchen. Knowing this, I usually bulk ferment my dough for 10-12 hours. Is there anything I can do to make my starter super active and bubbly such that it can peak at 3 times the size in < 6 hrs?

    1. I find that the type of flour really matters. Freshly milled organic flour has a lot of wild yeast in it and can do wonders. Not sure if you can access any?

      1. Hi Sylvia, I’m not sure about freshly milled, but I just checked all my flours. All were made by local mills (I bought them from a “fancier” supermarket!). The rye and whole wheat flours are organic, but the baker’s flour is not. I’ve been feeding in the ratio 90g starter, 60g whole wheat, 60g plain flour and 120g water (I ran out of rye). Would lowering the ratio to 1:1:1 help? I’ve been feeding once a week and leaving the starter in the fridge after the initial 3 months.

        1. It sounds like your flour is great, along with ratio. What if you pulled your starter out of the fidge for a few days, and just left it on the counter, feeding only when hungry. Sometimes this jumpstarts it. 🙂

  20. Hi. I just began my starter today but I do have a question. You mentioned using organic white bread flour. However, I only have King Arthur unbleached bread flour on hand. (the one with the blue label) is that okay to use? Will I get alright results or is it going to hinder my starter growth? I checked the ingredients against the brand you linked on Amazon and they’re similar but the KA bag I have lists the grain as Hard Red wheat.

  21. so I did it and made my first batch of sourdough bread! I had luck with whole wheat flour. I put the starter in the fridge and went to pull it out yesterday to feed it and the water color looked black. So what should the starter look like. I forgot to take a picture before I dumped it out. It didn’t smell just didn’t like the way it looked. How can I store it? I have it in a glass mason jar with the sliver top on, but not tight sealed.

    1. That dark liquid just means it is really hungry- it is fine to use it. Store in a glass jar, lid just placed on top, no need to seal it. 🙂

  22. I love this recipe!! I have shared bread with my family and friends, what a hit! My son and his girlfriend came over and we had a wonderful time learning and baking together.
    I like the example of the starter smelling like a wet horse, however it is not a smell I am too familiar with, I am not sure I can bring it to memory. 🙂
    This is truly the best sourdough bread I have ever tasted. I come from San Francisco so that is saying a lot.

  23. I have made two loaves so far. The first one was a bit gummy in the crumb. I didn’t bake it long enough on 500. The second loaf I baked longer. The top is a beautiful deep golden brown. The bottom is slightly burned. Should I reduced the 500 degree baking time, or the time without the lid at 450? I used a cast iron, ceramic coated, Dutch oven.

    1. Hi Connie. Try baking at 475-485 F for a few minutes longer, before removing lid and lowering heat. The goal is to have the bread be around 200F with you remove the lid. You may have to play with this, as all ovens are different. You are close!

    2. I experienced the same results (burned bottom) in my oven. I baked a loaf in a friends Viking oven last weekend to perfection following the recipe to the tee. I lowered the temp on my oven since as Sylvia stated and added 5 mins to my time and it came out perfect and did not burn! 🙂 Good luck!

  24. Thanks for this recipe, Sylvia! I think my starter is ready for some baking tonight — woohoo! My starter is peaking about 4 hours after being feed (more than doubled) and then starting to fall shortly after. If you were to leave the starter at room temp for a couple days vs putting in the fridge and not feeding for another week, would you still wait until about the 12 hr mark to feed again 2x/daily? Or would I need to do sooner if it is peaking and then getting hungry again quickly? Just want to make sure I do the right next steps to keep this going now that I will be giving the first bake.

    Thanks so much!

    1. It sounds healthy and happy! If leaving it out, I would just always feed when hungry, after it has peeked- dont really worry about the clock.

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Hi, I'm Sylvia!

Chef and author of the whole-foods recipe blog, Feasting at Home, Sylvia Fountaine is a former restaurant owner and caterer turned full-time food blogger. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest and shares seasonal, healthy recipes along with tips and tricks from her home kitchen.

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