I know, sounds super intimidating. But I promise it’s not. All you need is water, flour, and 5 minutes a day! Sourdough starter is something I’ve been wanting to make since culinary school but just never got around to. One of my chef instructors had a sourdough starter that she’d been keeping alive for several years, and the bread it made was so good.
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A little about sourdough bread and wild yeast:
Baking sourdough bread is much different than baking a normal loaf of bread. You first need a sourdough starter, which is made from wild yeast and is what gives it that signature “sour” flavor. Wild yeast is found naturally in bread, but it’s everywhere, including in the air. Wild yeast can be temperamental and high-maintenance, which is why commercial yeast was developed and mass-produced. It’s easier to store and easier for bakers to work with.
In order to work with wild yeast, you don’t need anything fancy- you just need to create an environment in which it’ll thrive. The easiest way to do this is by mixing flour and water and letting it sit for several days. The yeast will feed on the flour and water, then grow and multiply.
- When you measure out the flour, make sure to use a spoon to scoop the flour into a measuring cup and scrape it flat. This will give you the correct ounce measurement. If you use a measuring cup to scoop the flour out of a bag, you will be using too much flour and the proportions will be off.
- Starter is extremely sensitive to temperature, so adjust your temperatures accordingly. If your house is warm, feed the starter with cool water, and if your house is cold use warmer water.
- Regular tap water is fine to use unless your tap water has high levels of chlorine or other chemicals- if so, use bottled water.
- Make sure the lid on your starter is not sealed or air-tight, the yeast needs air to breathe. You can cover with a cloth or a lid that doesn’t seal. I used one of these jars and it worked perfectly.
- I followed the instructions from King Arthur’s recipe and it was hugely successful, so those are the steps I am talking about below.
- PS a lot of my photos are updates from my Instagram Stories because, you know, millennial.
To create your sourdough starter base:
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup cool water
A lot of people use all-purpose flour to begin their starter, but I am using whole wheat because it is more likely to contain large amounts of yeast, which means it has more of a chance to grow and less of a chance to die.
Combine the flour and water in a non-reactive container. Stir thoroughly to make sure there are no dry bits of flour. If it looks too dry, add a few drops of water- the consistency should be like very thick pancake batter. Cover the container loosely and let sit at a warm room temperature (around 70ºF) for 24 hours.
Here’s What I Used:
You may or may not see growth within the first 24 hours (mine more than doubled!), but it’s ok. Discard half of the starter (4 ounces, about 1/2 cup) and add to the remainder a scant 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup water. Mix well, cover, and let sit at a warm room temperature for 24 hours.
I know discarding half of the sourdough seems wasteful, but it is necessary for the yeast to continue growing. Removing half of the starter before feeding ensures that the pH level will stay balanced (plus if you don’t, the starter will overflow). Need some inspiration on what to do with the discard? Check out these recipes:
You will (hopefully) see some growth and bubbling, and the starter will probably start to smell pleasant, almost fruity. From day 3 on, the starter needs to be fed twice a day. For each feeding, stir the starter to get rid of excess air, then weigh out 4 ounces of starter (or a generous 1/2 cup) and discard the rest. Add a scant 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup water and mix well. Repeat every 12 hours, or as evenly spaced as your schedule allows.
Stir the starter to get rid of excess air, weigh out 4 ounces of starter, and discard the rest. Feed as usual.
Day Five, Six, Seven
Repeat the steps from day 4. By day 5, the starter should have doubled in size with lots of bubbles across the surface. It will smell slightly acidic but very pleasant. If your starter hasn’t gotten to this point yet, then continue the twice-daily feeding process for a few more days- however long it takes until your starter is risen, bubbly, and very active.
Once the starter has gotten to this point, weigh out 4 ounces and transfer it to its permanent, long-term home (discard the remainder or use in a recipe). Feed the starter the usual scant 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup water, mix well, then let rest for several hours at room temperature to make sure the starter is active and eating. Move your starter to the refrigerator and feed it regularly, about once a week (feed scant 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup water).
And that’s all there is to it! Now you can enjoy delicious, fresh sourdough bread whenever you want. I hope you all get a chance to make this, and let me know if you have any questions!
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