Ever wanted to know how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch? I know, sounds super intimidating, but I promise it’s not! All you need is flour, water, and 5 minutes a day.
Homemade sourdough is one of my favorite things in the entire world. One of my chef instructors in culinary school had a starter that she’d been keeping alive for several years, and the bread it made was so good.
A little about sourdough and wild yeast:
Baking sourdough bread is much different than baking a normal loaf of bread. You first need a ‘sourdough starter’, which is a mixture made from a mixture of flour and water. Letting this flour mixture sit for a few days encourages the growth of wild yeast, which is what helps the bread rise and also gives it that signature “sour” flavor. Wild yeast is not only found in flour, but in pretty much everything and 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 first need to create an environment in which it’ll thrive. The easiest way to do this is to mix flour and water and let it sit for several days. The natural yeast will feed on the flour and water, then grow and multiply.
Tips for a successful sourdough starter:
- 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 a large jar with a loose-fitting lid 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.
To create your sourdough starter base:
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup cool water
You can use all-purpose flour to begin your starter, but I recommend using whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour is more likely to contain larger amounts of yeast than all-purpose flour, which means your starter has more of a chance to survive. I’ve made starters with both types of flour and they both work, but my all-purpose starter was a lot slower than the whole wheat one.
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.
You may or may not see growth within the first 24 hours (my all-purpose starter didn’t grow at all, but the whole wheat one more than doubled). 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). There’s good news, though! Using sourdough starter discard in recipes is super common, so you can use it all without having any waste. Plus, the starter will taste more sour and flavorful as time goes on, so it’s a fun experiment to taste-test the developing flavor.
Looking for some recipes to use up that sourdough starter discard? Check these out:
You will (hopefully) see some growth and bubbling, and the starter will 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.
Days 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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