Want to know how to make great sourdough bread? You’ll need a sourdough starter first. Your bread won’t rise without it. It’s the most important part of making sourdough bread. It’s not hard to make one from scratch. The process can seem scary, though (especially for beginners). Let’s make a change. In this step-by-step guide, based on my book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, I will explain what you need to do and make it easier to understand.
Once your starter is set up, you can use it to make many different kinds of sourdough bread, like this delicious sourdough bread with olive oil (the most popular recipe on my blog! ), my sourdough focaccia, easy sourdough sandwich bread, light whole wheat sourdough, homemade sourdough bagels, and so much more!
What is a Sourdough Starter?
Sourdough isn’t just a recipe; it’s also a way of thinking. So let’s start with a definition. A sourdough starter is just a live culture of fresh flour and water that has been fermented. Once everything is mixed together, the culture will start to ferment and grow the yeasts that are already in our environment. To make your bread dough rise, you add a small amount. There is no need for commercial yeast.
Sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? Of course, it does. It should, too. Know this: “wild” yeast grows naturally all around us. It can be found in the air, on your hands, in a bag of flour, etc. Even though you can’t see it, it’s still there and doing its job. It seems impossible.
How Long Will It take?
From start to finish, the whole process of making a sourdough starter from scratch should take at least 7 days. First, make a starter with whole wheat flour to get the fermentation process going. Then, you’ll keep feeding it regular white flour to keep the wild yeasts and good bacteria growing.
Beginner Sourdough Starter Recipe
- 3/4 L jar (I use this one)
To create the starter:
- 60 g (1/2 cup) whole wheat flour
- 60 g (1/4 cup) water
To feed the starter each day (Day 3-7):
- 60 g (1/2 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour
- 60 g (1/4 cup) water
How To Make Sourdough Starter
This recipe for Sourdough Starter is very easy and takes 6 days (or up to 12 days if it’s cold). I was taught this way, and it has always worked for me. There are a lot of more complicated recipes out there, and I get that. If that’s more your style or you just feel like being a total nerd (which is a good thing, and now is the time to do it! ), go for it. Fill your appetite! Or, you can watch the 20-minute video about sourdough above.
Starting in the morning or at night, use a wide-mouthed 4-cup mason jar, Crock, or Glass Measuring Cup to mix 1 cup (120 grammes) of whole grain flour (fluffed, spooned, and levelled) with 1/2 cup (120 grammes) of filtered water. Use a fork (or chopstick) to make sure all of the dry flour is mixed in.
Place the lid lightly on top (a Weck jar is great for this), or use a wet towel or plastic wrap to keep the moisture in, and let it sit at room temperature (around 70 degrees) for 24 to 48 hours on the kitchen counter. If you don’t know how warm it is, use a kitchen thermometer and check it again a few hours later. See the explanation of TEMPERATURE.
There may or may not be some bubbling after the first 24 hours. Let the mixture sit for 36 or 48 hours, depending on how cold it is, until you see activity (bubbles or rising). When you see bubbling, throw away all of the starter except for 1/2 cup (4 ounces).
Add 1/2 cup of water (120 grammes) and 1 cup of organic bread flour (120 grammes) to the last 1/2 cup of starter. Mix well with a fork and add 1 cup of organic bread flour (120 grammes). Stir until combined. Again, it should be thick and sticky. If it’s too dry, you can add a little more water.
Cover the mixture again, and let it sit at room temperature for 24 more hours.
After 24 hours, you should be able to see some bubbling or rising. If not, give it a little more time until you do. Be patient.
Depending on how warm your house is and how active your starter is, you may need to start feeding it more often or move to two feedings a day, in the morning and at night.
Depending on the temperature in your house, this could be 12, 14, 18, or 24 hours. In places with a lot of heat, it may only take 6 to 8 hours. This could take up to 36 hours in the winter. Here, it is better to not feed enough than to feed too much. As before, for each feeding, throw away all but 1/2 cup of the STARTER (leaving about 1/2 cup of starter in the jar). Add 1 cup of Bread Flour and 1/2 cup of water to the 1/2 cup starter. Let this sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours or until the starter looks “hungry” again.
Feed the yeast 1 to 2 times, throwing away all but 1/2 cup of the starter each time. One cup of bread flour and half a cup of water. Look for the signs of hunger. You should start to see some ups and downs, we hope. 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 see this.
If for some reason your starter looks like it is still rising at the time of the second feeding (at night) and there is no sign that it has fallen or slide marks, skip this feeding and feed it first thing in the morning.
AGAIN, feeding it when it’s “not hungry” will just dilute all the yeast that’s growing and make it sleepy. Better to go hungry than to eat too much.
Above, you can see it at its fullest, and below, you can see it losing air and getting “hungry.” You should only feed the starter when it’s hungry. This can happen at different times, so even though there is a loose schedule here, remember that your starter has its own schedule and is alive, so keep an eye on it and pay attention. When you feed a starter too much, it gets lazy.
I’ll say it again: the key is to watch it. Don’t give the starter food until it looks like it needs it.
If your starter isn’t going up and down, look at how stable it is. As it breaks down the flour and gets hungry, it will get runny and liquidy, to the point where you can pour it right out of the jar. If it’s still thick like paste, it hasn’t eaten all of the flour yet.
Feed the starter again 1–2 times, about 12 hours apart, throwing away all but 1/2 cup each time. 1/2 cup of warm water and 1 cup of bread flour. The starter should be bubbling and growing, and it should look like it’s almost doubled in size.
You may need to repeat day 5 until the starter rises and falls in a predictable way and is close to doubling in size in 6 to 8 hours.
Baking day! In the morning, give it its last meal. Throw away everything but 1/3 cup. (We’re changing this to 1/3 cup so that it gets a bit more food.) Add 1 cup of flour (120 grammes) and 1/2 cup of water to a clean jar so you can see what is happening. You can mark the beginning level with a Sharpie or a rubber band around the jar. The starter should, if all goes well, double in size in 6 hours.
Then, DO THE FLOATING TEST: To test the starter, put a teaspoon of starter (just from the top, don’t stir it down) in a glass of water. It should hopefully float. You can make bread if it does. Tonight! You can still try baking with it if it doubles in size but doesn’t float. Let the starter sit out at room temperature for at least 8 hours so that it can fully digest the flour, which may cause it to sink a little, before you make the dough.
Don’t give up if your starter doesn’t double in size in 6 hours after you feed it. Most of the time, it just takes longer, especially in the winter. Keep feeding it once or twice a day until you see a steady rise and fall that you can predict.
Read the section on how to fix problems. Put it in the fridge and try it again up to a week later if you need a break. Don’t throw it away.
In the picture above, the starter was fed at 8 a.m. on the sixth day. At noon, it had doubled, but it kept going up until 2 p.m., when it reached its peak. Then, as you can see, it started to go down, and by 8 pm, it was lower and “hungry” again. See those “slide” marks going down on the jar?
Watch out for these! So, 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, when it reached its highest point, and that it is now going down. It’s time to eat. Even at 8 p.m., it floated, so I started a loaf of sourdough bread that would rise overnight.
Signs Of Hunger:
The picture above was taken after the starter had been fed, reached its highest point 4 hours later, and is now “hungry” again. When it’s best to use it in bread! Look at the marks on the jar that point down. Again, pay attention to these, because they tell you what your starter needs. You just need to figure out how to see it.
I hope this simple little Sourdough project is fun for you. In the coming weeks, I’ll give you some fun recipes to make with your sourdough starter. Watch the new step-by-step Sourdough Video up there as well.