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How to Make a Sourdough Starter from Scratch

When we moved to the desert, we started eating at home a lot more. I took that opportunity as a chance to explore new recipes and try new things. One thing I had been interested in for a long time was making sourdough bread. I love sourdough, I always have. I had done a little research over the years and realized that to make sourdough bread you have to have a thing called a “sourdough starter” but where does one get one of those? I read that you have to maintain it and it all just seemed like a lot of work… until I had all the time in the world on my hands. I decided to give sourdough a try last August or September after we had settled into our new house. I wanted to start baking all of our family’s bread and I thought this would be a great place to start.

After I got the guts to make my own starter I realize that it’s not hard at all. It’s actually very simple. It requires three things: flour, water, and PATIENCE. Making a sourdough starter doesn’t have to be super complicated. It’s like any other new thing that you try, there’s a little learning curve but with each day you grow a little more and learn a little more.

What is sourdough anyway?
Sourdough bread is naturally leavened bread or bread made without commercial yeast. This is the way bread has been made for thousands of years. In fact, commercial yeast (the active dry yeast that you can purchase in packets at the supermarket) only dates back about 150 years.

What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter or the leaven is a fermented mixture of flour and water. Flour has natural or wild yeast present in it. When combined with the water it creates a culture that will begin to ferment and cultivate natural yeast. You can then use that natural yeast in your bread to help it rise.

Is it hard to bake with?
I think the assumption is that sourdough must be difficult to bake with when in reality it’s not at all. I love baking sourdough bread because it only requires four (really only three) ingredients: flour, water, salt, starter (made from flour and water). There is a learning curve because natural yeast takes a longer leavening time but once you get the hang of the sourdough baker’s schedule, it becomes quite simple.

How to Make a Sourdough Starter from Scratch

What you’ll need:
A glass jar or bowl
Flour (Bread or unbleached AP is fine I prefer KAF bread flour)
Water (filtered or tap water is fine – if you know that your water is highly chlorinated then leave a glass of water sitting on the counter for an hour before using it in your starter).
Kitchen scale (optional)

Tip: a kitchen scale is preferred to get the exact weight in grams.

DAY 1: Beginning Your Starter
In your glass jar, mix 20g or 1 1/2 tbsp heaping tbsp of flour and water. The goal is to mix equal parts of water and flour. Since water and flour do not weigh the same you may have to add a bit more water to get the right consistency (this is where a scale is helpful). Mix with a spoon until the mixture is thick and pasty.
Cover the top with plastic wrap, a plate, or the jar lid and store in a warm, dry place overnight.

DAY 2: Check for fermentation
We’re looking for small little bubbles that indicate fermentation. You may not see anything and that’s okay! They may have appeared and dissolved overnight. You don’t have to do anything else today. Put it back in the warm spot and wait another 24 hours.

DAY 3: Feed the Starter
We’re going to start the feeding process of our starter. The first step is to discard half. We want to have a 1:1:1 ratio of starter, water, flour. So in order to keep a manageable amount of starter, we will discard half before each feeding. Discard half (into the garbage. Please, save your drains!) and feed it 20g or 1 1/2 tbsp of flour and water and mix with a spoon. The mixture should be thick like pancake batter add more water to get the right consistency if needed. Cover and let it rest for another 24 hours.

What is that brown liquidy stuff in my starter? That’s called the hooch. It looks gross and smells just as bad but it’s completely normal. You can pour it out or mix it in (I pour it out) and feed as normal.

DAYS 4 and 6: Feed the Starter and Watch for Growth
Continue to feed the starter as you did on Day 3. First, discarding half then feeding. As the yeast begins to develop the starter will begin to rise and fall. At this point, I like to mark my jar after feeding to keep track of the growth. You can simply put a rubber band around the jar at the level where you last fed. Then you do not have to guess how much your starter has grown. At this point, you may need to feed your starter more frequently than every 24 hours. When it falls, you know it’s ready to be fed. If it’s still not rising, you’ll know it’s ready to be fed if it has a lot of tiny bubbles on the surface without any growth.

DAY 7: Starter is Mature and Ready to Bake With
At this point, your starter should have grown by double and if so, it’s mature and just about ready to use. It’s time for a bulk feed so that you can garner enough starter to bake with! We started our starter with a small amount of flour and water to limit the amount of waste (since we were discarding half before each feeding) Now, we need to feed our starter a bit more so that it will produce enough leaven to bake with. Feed your starter 50g flour and 50g water or about 1/2 c flour and 1/4 c water. It should double in size after several hours and if it does, then it’s ready to bake with! You can know for sure if your starter is ready using the tip below.

Tip: Test your starter after it’s doubled in size by dropping a spoonful of starter into a glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready to bake with. If it quickly disintegrates or drops to the bottom then it’s not quite ready. Feed it again and wait a few hours.

Do not fret if it hasn’t doubled in growth then it may just need more time. Continue to feed it and keep it in a warm place. It’s not unusual for a starter to take up to 14 days to mature. The most important ingredient in this process is patience. Stick with your starter, it will get there.

Keeping and Maintaining a Sourdough Starter
To maintain your sourdough starter you’ll follow the same steps as on Day 3. As you get into a routine yourself you’ll find that instead of discarding your starter you can feed to bake. I much prefer this method because it eliminates waste. My sourdough starter maintenance routine goes like this: I feed my starter several hours before mixing my dough, spoon out as much as I need then I store my starter either on the counter if I plan on baking again in the next two days or in the fridge if I don’t plan on baking for more than that. I’ll feed my starter again when I’m ready to bake.

Storing your Sourdough Starter
Once you make a sourdough starter it can be stored either on your counter at room temperature or in the fridge. If you are baking daily or 3+ times a week you’re safe to store your starter on the counter. Keeping it at room temperature allows it to become bubbly and active more quickly.
If you are baking less often, store your starter in the fridge. You can store it in the fridge feeding it every 2-3 weeks. Once you pull it out to use you may have to feed it several times before it becomes bubbly and active. If you forget to feed your starter for a day do not worry, it’ll be okay!

This is important!!
Starters are very resilient and even when you think you’ve ruined them forever, they seem to come back.
Tip: I like to keep a small jar of starter in my fridge just in case something goes wrong with my everyday starter because it can easily be made active and bubbly with a couple of feedings.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. If you are more of a visual learner – please visit me on Instagram where I’ve shared a day-by-day, step-by-step tutorial for creating a sourdough starter from scratch. Visit @makinghomebase and click the Sourdough highlight bubble.

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One thought on “How to Make a Sourdough Starter from Scratch

  1. This was so well written and your photos (as always) are perfect! I know this is going to help so many people! Thank you for helping me along the way 🙂