A good sourdough starter is the foundation of incredible bread! These simple steps will give you a great starter in only 7 days! Follow the schedule and you’ll see just how easy it can be to establish your own sourdough starter!
Years ago I set off on a journey to figure out this whole sourdough thing. I read so many articles, recipes and discussion boards about the subject of baking with natural yeast. Creating a starter and getting a fluffy loaf of bread out of it seemed like such a subjective process and varied quite a lot, depending on what sources I was reading. It took quite a lot of trial and error to get to where I am today in my sourdough baking. That being said, there are many different ways you can achieve a successful starter. There’s no one correct way to do it. My goal is to give you some of the basics to build off of as you begin your sourdough journey.
While it can seem overwhelming, focus on the basics first. Establish a good, healthy, dependable starter and the delicious bread will undoubtedly come next. Research different sites, techniques and recipes. There’s lots to learn from other’s sourdough experiences. Take away what works best for you and apply it to your baking. Sourdough baking is a continuation of experimentation and learning that will yield countless delicious creations to enjoy!
If you’re new to the world of Sourdough, it’s best to acquaint yourself with the lingo. There’s endless amounts of information out there and knowing a few key words will help you as you research the ins and outs of this delicious bread making process!
- Starter. A Sourdough Starter is a mixture of yeast and bacteria (the right kind) that co-exist to leaven bread naturally – hence, “starter” is what is also referred to as natural yeast. It’s made simply by mixing flour and water together and allowing it to ferment. Along with rising the bread, starter also helps to give Sourdough bread that amazing, complex flavor. Baking with starter has also been shown to aid in nutrient absorption and encourages a healthy digestive system. Starter can be used in other types of recipes as well – pancakes, waffles, muffins, crepes and more.
- Feeding the Starter. You’ve probably heard about the importance of feeding your starter. This is simply the process of reserving a portion of your starter (throwing out the rest) and mixing it with fresh flour and water. When you feed your starter, you will do so when it has risen to its peak point. Feeding can also be referred to as “refreshing” in some recipes. Feeding your starter is key to creating and maintaining a healthy leavening agent for your bread. It takes only a few minutes, but is vital in the reliability of your starter.
- Discard. As I mentioned, each time you feed your starter, you will only be keeping a portion of it. The part of your starter you do not carry over is called the discard. You can do a few things with it. You can throw it away (which I know seems wasteful, but is sometimes a necessary evil), keep it in the refrigerator for 2-3 days for baking with soon, or use it in a recipe right away. Discard from your starter can be used to replace instant or active dry yeast in recipes by using 1 cup of starter for every 2 teaspoons of yeast called for. You will need to adjust the water and flour in your recipe a bit and rise time will be about double when using starter.
Items you’ll want to use
These items have become key to the success of my sourdough starter. Some are necessary, while some are just a “nice to have” item that will make the process easier.
- Weck Canning Jars. I love this jar because it slightly tapers out towards the top, making it easier to stir and mix your ingredients really well. It comes with a rubber gasket and clamps, but you won’t be using these for your starter. Only use the glass lid – it keeps the starter from drying out, but still allows air to circulate. Using a see-through, glass jar is key to monitoring the progress of your starter. I prefer the 3/4 liter size jar. Having at least two jars is ideal, however, you may find it useful to have more than that. I use my jars for lots of other things too. On Amazon, you can buy a set of two HERE or for twice that price you can get a set of six jars HERE.
- Food Scale. This is one of those tools that is a must have for creating a sourdough starter. Measuring by weight will give you a reliable and healthy starter. You can find an affordable food scale HERE.
- Instant Read Thermometer. Temperature is an important key to a healthy starter. Being able to monitor the temperature will help you to make adjustments as needed. Find an excellent thermometer HERE.
- Silicone Spatula. A sturdy spatula with a long handle makes stirring your ingredients much easier. I like a spatula that’s sturdy enough to scrape the sides of the jar, giving me a nice clean view to monitor its progress after I’ve fed it. Find a great spatula HERE.
The Process of Feeding your Starter
- Place a clean jar on your scale and zero it out.
- Add a portion of your starter mixture to the clean jar and zero out the scale again.
- Add fresh flour and zero out the scale.
- Add fresh water and stir to combine all the ingredients. Make sure there are no dry bits remaining.
- Cover and let sit in a warm place until the next feeding.
- Either throw away or use the discard for a recipe.
- Clean out jar and use for next feeding.
What to look for
When you have a well-established starter, here are a few things to look for in deciding when your starter has hit its peak and is ready to use for baking or refreshing.
- Smell. You will notice how the smell of the starter will evolve with time during the process of a feeding. In the first few hours of a new feeding, you will notice that the starter has a mostly sweet smell. As it gets to its peak, just before it’s time to feed it again, you will notice it has a mostly sour smell with an underlying sweet aroma.
- Look. Within the first 2-3 hours, you may see your starter double in size. Seeing those air pockets developing is always so encouraging. The top will have a dome shape. The starter will continue to grow vertically over the next few hours. After about 9-10 hours, you’ll notice the dome has begun to level out and vertical growth has slowed. Keep letting it sit and ferment – it’s almost there. At about 12 hours, the vertical growth has peaked, the top is flat but has even more bubbles on top and the sides. It’s ready to bake with or refresh.
- Temperature. Your starter should maintain a temperature around 80°F. Periodically take the temperature with your instant-read thermometer. If my kitchen is cold, I’ll put it in my oven with the door propped open. The light from the oven keeps it at a warm, constant temperature. If you have a warm kitchen, you may be okay with keeping it on the counter – again, just periodically take the temperature. You can also use warmer water in your starter if you need to raise the temperature.
This simple ingredient may seem like a no brainer, but there are some things you’ll need to keep in mind for creating your starter. In order to get a good healthy natural yeast growing, it’s important to use the right kind of water. It’s best to stay away from using tap water – cities often use a chemical called chloramine to treat their water. This chemical inhibits growth of good bacteria in your starter. For the best results, use bottled, spring or purified filtered water. Water should typically be room temperature when refreshing your starter.
You can maintain a successful starter with just about any kind of flour. When creating a new starter, using a whole rye flour and unbleached all-purpose flour will help establish a healthy, dependable starter quickly. After you’ve created a successful starter, you’re in “maintenance” mode and you can switch up the types of flour you use for your starter feedings. Some flours you might want to use are all-purpose unbleached flour, whole wheat flour or whole rye flour. You can use all of one type or a combination of two or more types. The type of flour you use is not as important as the attention you pay to your starter, feeding it consistently as needed. My personal preference for maintaining my starter is to use 50% whole wheat flour and 50% organic unbleached all-purpose flour.
How long before I can bake with my new Starter?
A reliable starter that consistently rises on a dependable schedule will take at least 7 days to accomplish. Even then, a new starter is still building its strong bonds and complex flavor. If well attended, it will only get better with time! That being said, as long as you are getting consistent results with your starter after 7 days, go ahead and use it in your baking!
Find information HERE about my pre-recorded Sourdough class – it has a step by step video tutorial for making a starter and sourdough!
Yes, if you’re not used to using a starter in your baking, this process can seem like a lot. If you’re not one to use it in your baking fairly often, you can store your established starter in the refrigerator and feed it weekly. Don’t forget about it though – it can be easy to neglect the little fella if you’re not careful. As long as you feed it weekly, you’ll be able to pull out a healthy starter for baking just about whenever needed. I will typically give my refrigerated starter one feeding and let it rise, before using in a recipe. You always want to use a starter that is at its peak for a recipe.
I know this can seem overwhelming and like a major commitment. It only takes a few minutes. Stick to the schedule and you’ll end up with an amazingly healthy starter that will yield the most delicious bread. Become great friends with your starter, treat it right and it will return the favor!
Do you want to make an amazing loaf of Sourdough Bread?
My Basic Sourdough Class is perfect for the beginner sourdough baker! Let me make this overwhelming process simple and easy for you! Find more information about my Sourdough Class HERE.
Need extra help with your bread game?
Check out my Baking Academy – my monthly membership that gives you access to ALL of my virtual, pre-recorded baking classes!! Learn the techniques that will give you amazing results as I show you how to make challenging recipes easier, from start to finish! Go HERE to learn more!!Print
How to create a Sourdough Starter
A good starter is the foundation of incredible bread! These simple steps will give you a great starter in 7 days.
- Prep Time: 7 days
- Total Time: 168 hours
- Yield: 250g starter
- whole rye flour
- unbleached all-purpose flour
- water, filtered
- Day One: To a clean jar, add 100g whole rye flour and 125g warm water (about 95°F). Stir until fully combined and there are no dry bits. Loosely cover and let sit for 24 hours.
- Day Two: To a clean jar, add 75g of the mixture from Day One, 50g whole rye flour, 50g unbleached all-purpose flour and 115g water (room temperature). Stir until fully combined. Loosely cover and let sit for 24 hours. (Discard the remaining mixture from Day One)
- Day Three: To a clean jar, add 75g of the mixture from Day Two, 50g whole rye flour, 50g unbleached all-purpose flour and 115g water (room temperature). Stir until fully combined. Loosely cover and let sit for 24 hours. (Discard the remaining mixture from Day Two)
- Day Four: You will feed the starter twice. This is easiest if you do one in the morning and one in the evening. To a clean jar, add 75g of the mixture from Day Three, 50g whole rye flour, 50g unbleached all-purpose flour and 115g water (room temperature). Stir until fully combined. Loosely cover and let sit for 12 hours. (Discard the remaining mixture) After 12 hours, repeat the same steps for a second feeding and let mixture sit for 12 hours.
- Days Five & Six: Repeat steps of Day Four, feeding every 12 hours.
- Day Seven and Beyond: In the morning of Day Seven, in a clean jar, combine 50g of the mixture, 50g whole rye flour, 50g unbleached all-purpose flour and 100g water. (Discard the rest of the mixture from the previous feeding). Repeat this feeding twice a day, about 12 hours apart indefinitely.
- If your starter is rising and falling sooner than 12 hours, reduce the amount of reserved starter you carry over.
- After you have a well-established starter, that rises dependably every 12 hours, you can switch flour types. Different flours will behave differently and change the flavor of your bread. Whole grains tend to encourage a very active starter. I like to maintain my starter with 50% freshly ground whole wheat flour and 50% organic all-purpose flour.
- If you want to maintain a smaller starter, decrease each ingredient by the same ratios.
- If you do not use your starter fairly frequently and don’t want to have to maintain it twice a day, you can store it in the refrigerator and feed once a week. When ready to bake, give it a fresh feeding and use after it has risen to its peak 12 hours later.
- The best types of water to use are bottled, spring or purified filtered water. Using tap water may inhibit the health of your starter as it typically contains chemicals like chloramine which can kill the good bacterias in your starter.
- Keeping your starter in a warm place is a good rule of thumb. Ideally your starter should maintain a temperature of about 80°F. I have found it very effective to keep my starter in the oven with the door propped open for a constant, warm temperature. Depending on how warm your kitchen is, you may be able to just keep it on the counter. Periodically check the temperature by inserting your instant-read thermometer into the starter. If you have a kitchen on the colder side, try using slightly warm water for your starter.