How To Make A Sourdough Starter

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I love my new hobby of cooking with sourdough! It's so tasty and easier than I thought, once I tweaked things for myself. Are you curious about sourdough starters but not sure where to start? Wonder how on earth to get that tangy, delicious flavor in your bread? This blog post is for you! In it, we'll discuss everything you need to know about sourdough starters – from creating one to keeping it alive. So put on your apron and let's get started!

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What Is Sourdough Starter?

Sourdough starter is a fermented dough that contains yeast and bacteria. The yeast and bacteria eat the sugar in the flour and create carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. Sourdough starter is used to make sourdough bread, which has a tangy, delicious flavor.

Sourdough bread has a long history, dating back to ancient Egypt. It was likely discovered by accident when a bit of dough was left out and fermented by wild yeast and bacteria. This Sourdough starter would have been used to make bread that was a more sour taste than bread made with commercial yeast. Sourdough bread made its way to Europe in the 18th century, where it became a staple in many bakeries. Sourdough bread is now enjoyed all over the world and is known for its unique flavor.

There are many different ways to make a sourdough starter. The most common way is to combine flour and water and let the mixture sit at room temperature until it begins to ferment. That's what I'll discuss below. Sourdough starter can also be made from grapes, apples, or other fruit. I haven't done any research on those yet.

The sourdough starter needs to be fed regularly to stay alive. It can be fed with flour and water, or with a mixture of flour and water and some of the previous day's starter. Sourdough starter can be stored in the fridge or freezer when it is not being used.

Cross section of an artisan sourdough boule.

What Are The Benefits Over Other Yeast Starters

One of the benefits of sourdough starter is that it is very easy to make. All you need is flour and water, and you can have a starter in just a few days. Sourdough starter is also very versatile – it can be used to make sourdough bread, pancakes, waffles, and more.

Another benefit of sourdough starter is that it is very forgiving. If you forget to feed it for a day or two, it will still be alive. It is also very resistant to pests and diseases.

Sourdough has many health benefits that make it a great choice for those looking to improve their diet. It is high in fiber, which can help improve digestion and prevent constipation. Sourdough is also a good source of prebiotics, which are important for gut health. Additionally, sourdough contains lactic acid, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

One of the drawbacks of sourdough starters is that it can be difficult to control the fermentation process. This means that Sourdough bread may have a slightly different flavor each time it is made. However, many people consider this to be one of the benefits of sourdough bread – no two loaves are ever exactly alike!

What Does “Feeding” Your Sourdough Starter Mean?

Homemakers have been feeding their starters for centuries in order to make delicious sourdough bread. But what does it really mean to “feed your starter?” In essence, it means providing the yeast and bacteria with the food they need to survive and thrive. This can be done by using whole, unprocessed ingredients like flour and water. The fermentation process creates an optimal environment for the yeast and bacteria, allowing them to break down the carbohydrates and produce carbon dioxide gas. This gas helps to leaven the dough, giving sourdough bread its characteristic fluffy texture. So, when you feed your starter, you're not just giving it a meal – you're helping to create a delicious, healthy bread that your family will love.

Sourdough starter in a round glass jar with a paper cover and flour in the background.

How Often Should I Feed My Sourdough Starter?

The frequency with which you need to feed your starter will depend on a few factors, including the temperature of your kitchen and how often you plan to use your starter. In general, a starter kept at room temperature will need to be fed every day or two, while a starter kept in the fridge will only need to be fed once a week. If you're not using your starter regularly, you can extend the time between feedings even further. Sourdough starters are very resilient and can survive long periods of neglect!

What Are The Best Flours To Use?

There are many different types of flour that can be used to make sourdough bread. The most common is all-purpose flour, but bread flour, whole wheat flour, and rye flour are also often used. Each type of flour will give the bread a slightly different flavor and texture. You can experiment with different types of flour to find the one that you like best.

I personally prefer to whole wheat flour. I even mill my own with a Mockmill 100 so it's extra fresh. Whole wheat has many wonderful health benefits, especially when fresh milled. I purchase my organic whole wheat from Azure Standard. They have a wide assortment of grains you can choose from along with a lot of other wonderful bulk foods.

What Is Sourdough Discard?

One way to extend the life of your sourdough starter is to discard a portion of it each time you feed it. This helps to prevent the starter from becoming overloaded with yeast and bacteria, which can cause it to go bad.

Sourdough discard is also a great way to share your starter with friends and family. If you have extra starter, simply give them a jar of sourdough discard and they can use it to make their own sourdough bread.

Sourdough discard can also be used in a variety of recipes, such as pancakes, waffles, and even cookies! This is my favorite way to use the discard if I'm not wanting to bake bread.

Overhead view of an artisan sourdough boule.

The Beginning of My Sourdough Journey

I decided to challenge myself. I recently only allowed myself to purchase a 3 pack of active yeast with the goal in mind to switch over to only sourdough. I've tried to make a sourdough starter in the past (a few times) and it failed miserably. There's a reason I stick to felt flowers instead of real flowers: I'm terrible at keeping things alive!

Attempt #1

The first time I tried to be oh so very precise, using a kitchen scale to measure out my container and flour and water, and doing all the calculations each day to figure out how much to discard and how much to feed it and weighing every step of the way. Well, that didn't last long, maybe a week and a half, if that. Then of course things got busy at work again and I started working longer hours and forgot about my starter. That was a couple of years ago.

Attempt #2

Then a couple of months ago I tried again when I gave myself the challenge. That time I wasn't being as precise with my flour and water, I was measuring it with a tablespoon, but not worrying about weighing it. After doing more research (because I wanted to get it right!), I realized that my first attempt didn't go well not only because I forgot about it, but I was also using regular tap water, not filtered water. So this time I used bottled water. After a few days nothing was happening, no tiny bubbles or hope. It started getting yucky. I tossed it and went back to the drawing board.

Attempt #3 – If You Can Call It That.

I realized that bottled water wasn't a good idea either because it's distilled, and maybe that's why last time didn't work. So attempt #3 happened. That one only lasted a couple of days, then it was mistaken for a dirty dish and got placed in the sink and washed. At least I was only on day 3 with it.

Attempt #4: Success!

Attempt #4 Ha, this has to be it! I was so confident that it was going to work, that I named the starter Winston. I got it all mixed up, and placed a note next to it so no one would mistake it for a dirty dish again. It was slow going but it was sort of working! The only thing is that it wasn't getting as frothy as what I've seen others look like. But, one-day last week it had a good amount of bubbles and I REALLY wanted to try to bake with it, so I made my first sourdough bread! A very simple no-knead basic bread: just sourdough starter, flour, salt, and water. It was okay.

Cross section of a flat sourdough bread

First off, my family will have to get used to the sourdough flavor, especially if this is what our bread is from now on. Second, it was pretty flat, it didn't have a great rise. But I didn't want to give up! I can be dang stubborn. I just kept thinking: commercial yeast hasn't been around for all that long, people have been making bread this way since the beginning of bread, it just can't be that hard!

Front shot of a bubbly sourdough starter in a mason jar with a coffee filter lid. The mason jar is labeled with the starter date and name Winston.

So I watched a few videos and came across someone who was even laxer about measuring out feedings. She didn't weigh stuff, she didn't even use a measuring cup when feeding, she just eyeballed it and said that she looks for a pancake batter consistency. So I tried that. I ended up using more water than I had before, and Woah! My little Winston loved it! It got so bubbly and even frothy! I'm super excited to keep building up my sourdough skills!

How To Make A Sourdough Starter – It's Easier Than You Think!

A sourdough starter is not as difficult to make as one might think. It can be quite easy once you get the hang of it. I used this Fool Proof Starter Guide to get mine started. The key is to be patient, and not give up!

The first step is to gather the supplies you will need:

  • Container of some sort (I use a 1-quart mason jar)
  • Warm Filtered Water (Not tap water, Not distilled water. Chlorinated tap water can kill the wild yeast and bacteria needed for fermentation)
  • Flour of your choice (I started mine with Rye and once it was established for about a week switched over to my fresh milled Whole Wheat flour)

Day 1

To make the starter mix together water and flour in a 2 to 1 part ratio. I started with 2 tablespoons of warm filtered water and 1 tablespoon of flour because I didn't want to lose too much if it failed. Cover the container lightly. I used a coffee filter over my mason jar to allow proper airflow.

Day 2

On day 2 (24 hours later) you will just mix the mixture up. Today you're not going to be adding anything, we're just mixing to aerate things. You might notice a little bit of a sweet scent to the mixture, but it's not going to be a strong sourdough smell yet.

Day 3

On day 3 (another 24 hours later) you will mix in 1 tablespoon of flour. Incorporate well and that's it for today.

Overhead shot of mixing flour into a sourdough starter.

Day 4

On Day 4 (you guessed it, 24 hours later) you are going to mix in 2 tablespoons of flour and about 2 tablespoons of water. We'll want to look for a pancake batter-like consistency. So depending on your flour you may need a little less or a little more water. I started mine with Rye flour and found that I needed a little more than 2 tablespoons of warm filtered water. I didn't measure the amount I added after the 2 tablespoons, I just eyeballed it. It may have been about a 1/2 to another full tablespoon.

After your starter has been all mixed you can check it again in about 8 to 12 hours (depending on the temperature of your house). At this time if it's ready to use it will be bubbly and frothy. If it's not, don't worry. Mine wasn't yet either. You'll want to feed it one more time using the same method you just did (2 tablespoons of flour and 2ish tablespoons of warm filtered water)

Overhead shot of a bubbly sourdough starter.

Day 5 and Beyond

Once your starter has been established you will want to keep an eye on it. Sourdough starters can vary in how sour they taste, and also how bubbly and frothy they are. You'll want to look for bubbles and a sourdough smell. If your starter is bubbly and smells sour, it's ready to go! If it's not quite there yet, don't worry. Just continue following the same feeding instructions until it is.

The Best Way To Store Your Sourdough Starter For Long-term Use

Once you have a thriving sourdough starter, you'll want to find a way to store it long-term. I've found the best way to do this for me is by using a mason jar and a coffee filter.

To store your starter, first, make sure it's well-fed. You don't want it to run out of food or it will die. Once it's well-fed, place it in a mason jar and cover it with a coffee filter or cheesecloth over it. This will allow the starter to “breath” and keep it healthy. You can also store your starter in the fridge, just make sure you take it out and feed it once a week.

Storing your starter in this manner will help keep it healthy and active, so you can continue making delicious sourdough bread and other sourdough goodies at any time!

5 Tips For Keeping Your Sourdough Starter Healthy And Happy

Here are some tips for keeping your sourdough starter healthy and happy:

  1. Keep it well fed. Your starter will need a regular supply of food (flour and water) to stay alive and healthy.
  2. Store your starter properly as I mentioned above.
  3. Check on it regularly. Make sure to give your starter a quick daily check-in to ensure that it is still active and healthy.
  4. Don't let it run out of food. If your starter looks like it is getting low on food, make sure to feed it right away. Once your starter is well established you may only need to feed it every few days.
  5. Make sure it has plenty of air circulation. Sourdough starters need good air circulation to stay healthy, so make sure to use a coffee filter or cheesecloth when storing yours.

By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your sourdough starter will be happy and healthy for a long time!

Healthy sourdough starter in a glass jar covered with cheese cloth. cut up loaf of sourdough bread in the background.

Troubleshooting Tips For When Things Go Wrong With Your Starter

There are a few things that can go wrong with your sourdough starter, but don't worry! With a little troubleshooting, you can get your starter back on track in no time.

  • If your starter isn't bubbling or doesn't have a sour smell, it may just need more time to develop. Make sure to keep feeding it regularly and it should start to show signs of life soon.
  • If your starter is looking very runny, it may be because it wasn't fed enough flour. Make sure to add some more flour to your next feeding and it should thicken up.
  • If your starter is looking very dry and crumbly, it may be because it was overfed. Cut back on the amount of flour you add to your next feeding and it should start to look healthier.
  • If you see mold growing on your starter, it means that it has gone bad and you will need to start over with a new one. Discard the moldy starter and begin again from scratch.

By following these troubleshooting tips, you can get your sourdough starter back on track in no time!

How to make a sourdough starter – it's easier than you think!

A sourdough starter is not as difficult to make as one might think. It can be quite easy once you get the hang of it. I used this Fool Proof Starter Guide to get mine started. The key is to be patient, and not give up!
Total Time5 d
Keyword: Sourdough, Sourdough Starter
Cost: $2

Equipment

  • 1 Container of some sort I use a 1-quart mason jar
  • Tablespoon Measure
  • Spoon/Fork/Wisk/Spatula for mixing

Materials

  • Flour of your choice I started mine with Rye and once it was established for about a week switched over to my fresh milled Whole Wheat flour
  • Warm Filtered Water Not tap water and not distilled water. Chlorinated tap water can kill the wild yeast and bacteria needed for fermentation.

Instructions

  • To make the starter mix together water and flour in a 2 to 1 part ratio. I started with 2 tablespoons of warm filtered water and 1 tablespoon of flour because I didn't want to lose too much if it failed. Cover the container lightly. I used a coffee filter over my mason jar to allow proper airflow.
  • On day 2 (24 hours later) you will just mix the mixture up. Today you're not going to be adding anything, we're just mixing to aerate things. You might notice a little bit of a sweet scent to the mixture, but it's not going to be a strong sourdough smell yet.
  • On day 3 (another 24 hours later) you will mix in 1 tablespoon of flour. Incorporate well and that's it for today.
  • On Day 4 (you guessed it, 24 hours later) you are going to mix in 2 tablespoons of flour and about 2 tablespoons of water. We'll want to look for a pancake batter-like consistency. So depending on your flour you may need a little less or a little more water. I started mine with Rye flour and found that I needed a little more than 2 tablespoons of warm filtered water. I didn't measure the amount I added after the 2 tablespoons, I just eyeballed it. It may have been about a 1/2 to another full tablespoon.
  • After your starter has been all mixed you can check it again in about 8 to 12 hours (depending on the temperature of your house). At this time if it's ready to use it will be bubbly and frothy. If it's not, don't worry. Mine wasn't yet either. You'll want to feed it one more time using the same method you just did (2 tablespoons of flour and 2ish tablespoons of warm filtered water)
  • Starting day 5 you will want to begin the discard process. You do this by taking out about half (or however much your recipe calls for if you're baking) and then feeding your starter whatever amount you desire. Make sure you at least feed it back what you took out.
  • Once your starter has been established you will want to keep an eye on it. Sourdough starters can vary in how sour they taste, and also how bubbly and frothy they are. You'll want to look for bubbles and a sourdough smell. If your starter is bubbly and smells sour, it's ready to go! If it's not quite there yet, don't worry. Just continue following the same feeding instructions until it is.

Notes

I'd recommend waiting until day 7 before using your starter to make Bread. This allows the natural yeast enough time to grow strong. Bread can certainly still be made before that, but it might not rise much making it a more dense bread. 

You should be feeling inspired after reading this to try your hand at sourdough baking. A sourdough starter is a great way to add some extra flavor and complexity to your baked good, and it’s also very easy to keep alive and healthy if you follow these tips. So what are you waiting for? Get your sourdough starter going today!

signature: with love, Mama Adkins

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