If you want to make your own bread, knowing how to make a sourdough starter will come in handy so that you can have the best developed flavor and texture! It takes a few days as the starter grows and ferments, but I promise it's easy.
- 1 glass jar (about 2 cups)
- A scrap piece of fabric or cheese cloth to cover the lid
- Rubber band or screw-on lid to secure cloth
- Add 50 grams water and 50 grams of flour to your jar and stir well to combine. Scrape the edges down to the bottom. Cover with a breathable top (I like to use a piece of an old t-shirt and then use the ring that came on the mason jar to screw it on or a rubber band). Set in an out-of-the-way place that stays a somewhat constant temperature (around 70 to 75 degrees F.). If you don't have something to weigh your flour, it will be about 6 level tablespoons of flour and 4 tablespoons of water.
- You can use just about any flour that you have. You'll get a quicker start by using a whole grain flour like rye or whole wheat, and you'll also have more luck using organic flours if possible (less chemical residues to inhibit yeast growth).
- Set aside for 24 hours.
- After 24 hours (day 2), add an additional 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water, stir well, scrape down the sides, cover, and set aside.
- Day 3: add an additional 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water, stir well, scrape down the sides, cover, and set aside. You might be seeing a few bubbles in your mixture an hour or so after "feeding" it the flour and water; that's good!
- Day 4: discard all of your starter mixture except for 25 grams (or you can start with a clean jar and measure in 25 grams of your starter mixture and add your next ingredients to the clean jar, too). Add 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water, stir well, scrape down the sides, cover, and set aside. (This would be 2 tablespoons of your original starter mixture, plus 4 tablespoons of water and 6 tablespoons of flour.)
- Day 5: add an additional 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water, stir well, scrape down the sides, cover, and set aside.
- Day 6: add an additional 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water, stir well, scrape down the sides, cover, and set aside.
- Day 7: discard all of your starter mixture except for 25 grams (or you can start with a clean jar and measure in 25 grams of your starter mixture and add your next ingredients to the clean jar too). Add 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water, stir well, scrape down the sides, cover, and set aside. (This would be 2 tablespoons of your starter mixture, 4 tablespoons of water, and 6 tablespoons of flour.) NOTE: Sometime around day 5, 6, or seven you make want to start feeding and discarding every day. If you starter is very runny after 24 hours, move to the daily discard and feed schedule.
- You are going to keep up this schedule until your starter gets lots of bubbles and grows in volume to double or triple its size a few hours after you feed it. It can happen in as short as 5 days and as long as 14 days. After day 5, start putting a mark on your jar or a rubber band marking the level of the mixture right after you fed it. Then watch to see if it increased in volume before deflating again.
- Once you start getting bubbles after you feed your starter flour and water and it doubles or triples in volume, then it is active and ready to use! It will smell like yeast dough. ALSO start using a lid that just rests on the jar (don't screw it down) instead of the fabric at this point so the top of your starter doesn't dry out.
- Use your starter to make my favorite classic sourdough loaf or any other recipes that calls for a sourdough starter.
- TO REFRESH your sourdough starter: Follow the recipe and use the amount of sourdough starter it calls for, but always make sure you are reserving at least 25 grams of starter. After you use what you need for the recipe, simply put 25 grams of starter in jar, feed it 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour and set it aside. It'll be ready to bake again tomorrow. Or see the notes on how to store the starter if you are not baking every day.
- If your starter is really growing well, feel free to a move a feed and then discard and feed rotation sooner. And once it starts doubling in size, you can move to a discard and feed (keep 25 grams starter and mix with 50 grams water and 50 grams flour) every day until it's ready to bake with.
- You'll know that your starter is ready when it doubles or triples in size after feed AND when it is at it's peak (risen in size but not yet falling back down), and you place a very small amount (1/4 teaspoon) of the starter in water. It should float. A starter that isn't ready will sink. The float test isn't a 100% guarantee though, so don't take it as gospel truth. If your starter is rising and falling, it's ready.
- You do not need to feed your starter every day once it is established (doubling or tripling in size after feeding). Simply feed it, allow it to bubble a bit at room temperature (1 to 3 hours after feeding), and then stick it in the fridge, lightly covered (I put a lid on it, but don't screw the lid down). If you are not baking, remove it from the fridge and feed it once a week. When feeding it, discard all the starter except for 25 grams and add 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour to the 25 grams of remaining starter. Let it rest at room temperature for 1 to 3 hours, and then cover and stick back in the fridge. You can keep up this schedule for a very long time. And if you miss a week here or there, it'll be fine.
- To use your starter out of the fridge, simply remove it from the fridge and stir in 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water (don't discard here). Let it get bubbly, and then you are ready to use it. I normally pull mine out and feed in the morning to prepare it to make a batch of bread dough that evening (the dough will rest overnight and be baked the next day).
- During this process, your starter will change a lot. At first it might smell stinky and not good. Then it'll smell like yeast when it is ready.
- If you starter is very thin after 24 hours and before feeding, more to a daily discard and feed schedule.
- The #1 issue I'm seeing with a sluggish starter is a house temperature that is too chilly. Do what you need to to warm it up.
- If at any time you see mold growing on the top, throw it away and start over. In my 3 years of sourdough making I've only had my starter grow mold once and I know why. (There's a story here: we were doing a science experiment in the kitchen that involved letting rice mold, and while my starter was not close to the mold, it must has been in the air and traveled to the starter!)
- This is a very small starter; you don't have a lot to manage or throw away each time. I really like that. Some people keep large quantities of starter and make things like crackers from the discard. If you are using recipes that need more than 50 to 75 grams of starter at a time, you'll want to make your starter a little larger the morning you want to make that recipe. Or if you want to make more than one loaf at a time, simply feed it more! If I'm doing a lot of baking that day, I'll feed it 100 to 150 grams of both water and flour, and then I'll have more starter ready to use. If you are doing a lot of cooking, you might want to keep your starter that large very often. You'll get a feel for it.
- Have more questions? Email me! I'd love to help: melissa @ blessthismessblog.com
- Need more information? I wrote a whole cookbook about sourdough and it has day by day pictures for starting a starter! You can get a digital or hardcover sourdough cookbook here.
- Prep Time: 2 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 days
- Category: Sourdough bread
- Method: Bake
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: sourdough starter, how to make a sourdough starter, sourdough starter recipe, feeding sourdough starter, making sourdough starter