Simple Sourdough Starter
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.
- Author: Sylvia Fountaine | Feasting at Home Blog
- Prep Time: 30
- Cook Time: 6 days
- Total Time: 144 hours 30 minutes
- Yield: 1 ½ cups
- Category: sourdough, fermented, cultured, bread, baking,
- Method: fermented
- Cuisine: bread
- Diet: Vegan
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- This batch of starter will make two loaves of bread with enough left over to feed for the following week.
- SMELL: Starter should smell slightly sweet and tangy, and not off or “bad”. To me, it smells like a wet horse;) If it really smells 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 using a little whole grain flour mixed with the bread flour into the feedings and really monitor amounts, making sure you are feeding the 1/2 cup starter 120 grams of flour. Check the temp (using a thermometer) and give it a little extra time to “digest” the flour. Sometimes it takes longer than you think. It is OK to skip a feeding at night if it looks like it is still peaking or rising. Don’t feel pressure to always follow the schedule- always watch your starter and feed it when it looks “hungry”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- HOW TO USE YOUR SOURDOUGH STARTER/Discard :
- No-Knead Overnight Sourdough Bread (only if it passes the two “tests”)
- Overnight Sourdough Waffles
- Sourdough Pancakes
- Sourdough Scones
- Sourdough Biscuits
- No-Knead Sourdough Bread – only after day 6
- Vegan Banana Bread
- Sourdough buns
Save the sourdough “discard” in a separate container in the fridge.
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