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I’ll show you how easy it is to make your own sourdough starter from scratch with just flour and water! Before you know it, you’ll have an active, bubbly starter to use in recipes.
More Sourdough Guides for Beginners:
- How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter (Easy Refrigerator Method)
- Sourdough Baking Terms for Beginners
- Essential Sourdough Bread Making Tools
What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough (or wild yeast) starter, is a fermented culture of living yeasts and bacteria that is used to leaven bread naturally. Essentially, the flour is fermented.
A portion of the mother starter is always reserved when baking to be refreshed (fed) with new flour and water and used again and again.
It can be even be shared and passed down to others.
You don’t need any packaged yeast to make a homemade starter. In fact, starters were used to bake bread long before commercial yeast came into the picture.
You can get some established starter from a friend to be able to bake bread right away. But to make one yourself, you really just need a little patience, flour, and water.
I started mine over 5 years ago now, and I’m so excited to show you how simple the process can be!
Two Sourdough Starter Myths Debunked
There are some common misconceptions floating around about sourdough starter.
“You can only make one type of bread with a sourdough starter.”
In reality, you can use starter in place of yeast to make any type of bread with any kind of flour.
Many of these breads will not taste sour if baked properly, but they will have a depth of flavor and added health benefits that cannot be achieved with commercial yeast and quick rise times.
“Sourdough baking is too much work.”
People often have in their heads that sourdough baking is time-consuming and complicated. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The starter is not difficult to care for once you get into a routine, and sourdough baking can be as simple as you want it to be.
You might be interested in baking bread daily, but more than likely, you’ll use your starter casually, and it will be more than happy to wait in the fridge for you until you are ready to bake again.
Though sourdough doughs require longer ferment times (much of which is hands-off), the process is very similar to baking with yeast. It just takes a little more planning ahead.
You will get into your own groove as time goes on.
Why this sourdough starter recipe?
After a quick poke around the web, you’ll notice there are many different ways to start a sourdough starter.
Though every sourdough baker has their own spin on the process, the principles are very much the same.
This recipe is easy and affordable to start and maintain.
The starter will work wonderfully for the majority of sourdough recipes you’ll come across, or you can change the flour type or consistency of the starter later on, if you so desire.
I have kept this starter small in the creation stage to reduce the need for excess flour. You’ll be able to increase the amount of starter once you’re ready to use it for baking.
Don’t forget to read the FAQs section at the end of the post for even more information!
Recommended Sourdough Starter Supplies
- Digital kitchen scale (This scale is my favorite.)
You’ll notice that the flour and water is listed in gram weights for this recipe.
Weighing keeps the consistency of the starter precise and will teach you to become comfortable with a scale for your future sourdough baking projects.
Most bread recipes are by weight instead of volume since every person measures flour so differently.
I love using Weck mold jars as containers for my sourdough starter.
The jars look lovely and function well with a super wide mouth for easy filling and stirring.
The rubber gaskets can be left off after a feeding to allow the starter to breath while still keeping it covered with the glass lid.
The 1/2 liter size is perfect for making the starter and storing small amounts of starter in the fridge. The 3/4 liter size is perfect for feeding a larger amount of starter. It’s nice to have two of each so you can switch to a clean jar seamlessly.
You can really use any lidded glass, stoneware, or plastic container with straight walls to store your starter–even a plastic food storage container.
Your sourdough starter container needs to be big enough that your starter has room to triple in size after a feeding without overflowing. It should also have a large enough opening to add flour and water, take out starter, and be cleaned easily.
Your starter will develop best at about 75°F (23°C). Fermentation happens naturally at this temperature but will be stifled if the temperature is much lower than 68°F. (This is also why the recipe calls for warm water for each feeding.)
If it’s a chilly time of year, you’ll want to find a way to keep your starter warmer.
If you can afford it, you may want to purchase a foldable proofer box where you can set the temperature precisely. A proofer would double as a handy tool to control the temperature of your bread doughs later.
If buying a proofer isn’t an option right now, you can set your starter in the microwave with the door cracked (which will cause the light to stay on for warmth), place it on top of your refrigerator, or wrap it in a towel.
An ambient thermometer might be a game-changer for you.
You can put it with your starter to know for sure that you’re keeping it at a desirable temperature. This is also a very useful tool once it comes time to bake bread!
- Unbleached flour
All-purpose flour is going to be the least expensive choice for creating and maintaining a starter. It makes for a versatile starter since you can use it for both white bread recipes and recipes with wholegrain. You can use bread flour as well.
I’ve been purchasing organic all-purpose flour (11.5%) protein at Costco (for my baking as well).
You’ll just want to avoid using bleached flour for your starter.
- Whole wheat or rye flour
This recipe calls for a small amount of whole wheat or rye flour on day 1 to kickstart fermentation. You can buy a small bag of either of these flours. Choose one you will enjoy using up in a recipe later.
- Filtered water
It’s possible that chlorinated tap water could be harmful to the balance of yeasts and bacteria you’re trying to cultivate in your starter.
Filtered water is a good choice if you’re on city water. Alternately, you can boil tap water for 15 minutes or let it sit covered at room temperature for 24 hours to remove the chlorine. Well water or spring water would work just fine.
If you’re not seeing much action with your starter after a week or your starter doesn’t look like mine on a particular day, don’t throw in the towel!
It’s not uncommon for the process to take an extra week or more for various reasons. Keep up the feeding routine and make sure your starter is kept at a desirable temperature.
Before you know it, your starter will get there! Visit the FAQs section below for troubleshooting.
How to Make a Sourdough Starter
Morning of Day 1
On the first morning, start with a clean jar (don’t use antibacterial soap and rinse all soap residue off the jar).
Turn on your kitchen scale, place the jar on the scale, and press “tare” to clear the scale to zero. Weigh out 50 grams of whole wheat (or rye) flour and 50 grams of lukewarm water. Stir until combined.
I like to mix my starter with a slender silicon spatula to reach the bottom easily and keep the edges of the jar cleaner.
Cover the baby starter with plastic wrap or a lid (screwed loosely) and let it sit in a warm area (75°F is ideal) until the next morning.
Morning of Day 2
The next morning, you may notice some small bubbles forming in your starter, or you may not see much action yet.
Weigh 50 grams of starter into a clean jar and throw away the extra starter.
Note: The extra starter that we throw away is called “discard.” Do not use the discard for baking during the creation stage of your starter. Wait until your starter is mature. See FAQs.
To the 50 grams of remaining starter, add 50 grams of all-purpose flour this time and 50 grams of water. Stir until everything is combined. Cover and set in a warm place until the next morning.
Morning of Day 3
A starter will commonly bubble and rise dramatically between days 2 and 3, but this is no indication that it is ready for baking. You probably won’t notice any sour smell at this point.
Note: Slide marks on the jar (that aren’t residue from stirring) indicate that your starter rose well and then fell back down due to needing a refreshment.
Place 50 grams of starter into a clean jar (discard excess).
To the 50 grams starter, add 50 grams all-purpose flour and 50 grams lukewarm water. Stir to combine, cover, and set in a warm place.
Note: Feeding with equal weights flour and water creates a “100% hydration starter.” This hydration is commonly called for in many sourdough recipes.
Morning of Day 4
Your starter will likely have fewer bubbles on day 4 as it adjusts to the all-purpose flour.
On this morning, you’ll repeat the same steps as day 3:
Place 50 grams of starter into a clean jar and discard the extra. To the starter, add 50 grams all-purpose flour and 50 grams lukewarm water. Stir to combine, cover, and set in a warm place.
Morning of Day 5
Between days 4 and 5, your starter may begin to bubble again or it may not bubble much at all. It may smell increasingly sour, but probably not in a pleasant way.
It may smell more like gym socks or acetone than delicious sourdough bread since it has not reached the proper balance of yeasts and bacteria.
Follow the same instructions as the previous two days:
Place 50 grams of starter into a clean jar and discard the extra. Feed the starter with 50 grams all-purpose flour and 50 grams lukewarm water. Stir to combine, cover, and set in a warm place.
Morning of Day 6
On this morning, you may see evidence that your starter rose well and then deflated. It may now have a sweeter, more pleasant, yeasty smell.
Repeat the same instructions as the previous 3 mornings:
Place 50 grams of starter into a clean jar and discard the extra starter. Feed with 50 grams all-purpose flour and 50 grams lukewarm water. Stir to combine, cover, and set in a warm place.
Morning of Day 7
On the morning of day 7, follow the same feeding instructions as the 4 previous mornings:
Place 50 grams of starter into a clean jar (discard extra). To the starter, add 50 grams all-purpose flour and 50 grams lukewarm water. Stir to combine, cover, and set in a warm place.
Note: Regardless of how your starter is bubbling and rising on the previous days, continue the feeding schedule for at least the first 7 mornings. After that time, you may determine whether your starter is ready for baking or needs more time to mature first.
When can I use my sourdough starter for baking?
As day 7 progresses, your starter may behave like a mature starter after its refreshment:
- It nearly triples in size within a few hours (which is a typical rise for an all-purpose flour starter at this hydration). It has many small bubbles throughout and on the surface and has an almost “fluffy” texture.
- It had a pleasant, sweet, yeasty aroma with a hint of sourness at its peak (not an unpleasant smell).
You can place a rubber band on the jar at the level of your starter or mark it with a dry erase marker right after you refresh it so you can clearly see how much it rises within a few hours.
(At this point, there’s no need to switch to a clean jar every time you feed–only if it gets gunky.)
If your starter is showing these healthy signs after its feeding on day 7, you may transition to a regular maintenance schedule (including refrigeration) and use it to bake bread! Woo hoo!
It’s not uncommon for a starter to take an extra week or two to become strong. Don’t be shy about continuing the morning feeding schedule if you have any doubts that your starter is ready.
Your starter will become even more reliable, vibrant and flavorful over the next several months.
See the sourdough starter FAQs below the printable recipe card, and if you still have any questions or problems, I’d love to help if you leave a comment here or send me an email through the contact page.
Next, visit my post How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter so you know how to use and care for your new starter!
If you make this recipe and love it, I would be so grateful if you would come back to leave a star rating and a comment. Your feedback is very appreciated!
Follow me on Instagram @aberlehome and tag me on your photo to show me what you made!
Sourdough Starter FAQs
1. Why do I have to discard half the starter each feeding?
If you don’t discard the excess starter, you’ll face two problems. Firstly, you’ll end up with way too much starter as you add more flour and water each day.
And secondly, there will be too high a ratio of starter to fresh flour and water, starving the starter between feedings.
Once your starter is established, you can use the excess in recipes specifically formulated for discard. (Or simply use up the extra to bake any recipe.)
Until your starter is active, there’s really not much you can do with the excess except toss it, add it to your compost pile, or feed it to your backyard chickens. Thankfully, the amount is small with this recipe.
2. Can I make more starters with the discard?
Later when your starter is established, you can separate off a portion of your starter to gift to someone else anytime you want!
You will even be able to take a portion of your starter and convert it to a wholegrain (or part wholegrain) starter if you want two different starters to use in your kitchen.
In the meantime, it wouldn’t be practical to feed separate jars of baby starter to try to get them all going at the same time. Just focus on cultivating one starter and go from there.
3. Why is there brown liquid floating on my starter?
Brown or gray liquid is called “hooch” and is a byproduct of fermentation. It’s a sign that your starter is ready to be refreshed, so you may notice it when your starter is hungry for a feeding.
Simply stir the liquid back into the starter and continue discarding and refreshing as normal.
If there is a dramatic layer of hooch on a neglected starter, pour the hooch off before feeding.
4. Why is my sourdough starter separating?
Same answer as the previous question, if a starter is hungry for a feeding (or has been neglected for a while) gray/brown liquid can form in the starter and the starter can separate into layers.
Simply stir the starter back together before discarding the extra and refreshing it with flour and water (or pour off a large amount of hooch first.)
5. What is the best flour for sourdough starter?
Unbleached all-purpose flour is practical for a starter because the starter can be used for both white bread recipes or for breads with whole grains. It is inexpensive to purchase.
Organic flour and bread flour are fine to use as well, but definitely avoid bleached flour.
Starters do really well on wholegrain (wholemeal) flours also, and many bakers choose to use a particular ratio of white and wholegrain flour (rye is common) to control certain characteristics of their starters.
Wholegrain flours will make a more vigorous, slightly more sour starter.
These flours don’t have as strong of a gluten structure, so a starter like this probably won’t rise and bubble quite as much in the jar, but that is not a problem in this case.
It’s fine to mix or change flours in a sourdough starter anytime, though a starter might take a few feedings to completely adjust to changes.
6. Why is my sourdough starter not bubbling or rising?
It may not be bubbling or rising for a few reasons. It could be that your starter needs more time to develop before it will consistently rise and bubble in the jar.
If kept around 75°F, your starter could be ready to use for baking in as little as one week. You may find that you need to continue the feeding schedule for another full week or longer before it’s ready.
Another possibility: your starter may be bubbling and rising in the jar after feedings, but is deflating and needing a feeding much earlier than you realize.
In this case, the bubbles will have popped, but you’ll notice streaks higher on the jar where your starter was previously sitting. It could very well be ready to bake with at this point, it’s just telling you it’s ready to be stored in the fridge or fed more frequently.
If your starter was previously rising well, but seems to have stalled out after the first week, you might be feeding it too soon each time, weakening the starter.
Start ignoring the clock and wait to refresh it until it has peaked in the jar or becomes nice and bubbly throughout… even if that takes a couple of days. Continue this way until it becomes strong again.
7. Why does my starter smell bad?
An unpleasant sour smell (like gym socks or acetone) can be present when a starter is not mature, or if the starter has been neglected for a while.
A bad smell doesn’t usually indicate that a starter has gone bad. Regular feedings will balance the acid levels in the starter to resolve this.
8. How long does sourdough starter last?
If you continue to care for your starter with regular feedings, it can last indefinitely!
9. How do I know if I’ve killed my starter?
It’s very unlikely that you’ve killed your starter and more likely that it just needs continued consistent feedings, a warm environment, and more time to mature.
Gray or brown liquid on the starter is a normal occurrence called “hooch” and can be poured off before the starter is refreshed.
Sometimes a neglected starter can develop off-white textured kahm yeast on the surface. Kahm yeast isn’t harmful, so it can be scraped off before the starter is refreshed.
If you were to ever see black or colorful mold in your starter, that would be a reason to throw the starter out and start over (this is uncommon, though).
Pouring hot water in your starter or accidentally heating your jar of starter to 140°F would certainly kill the yeasts and bacteria you’re trying to cultivate.