Sourdough starter 101- how to create your sourdough starter from scratch

olive and rosemary sourdough

Over a year ago we had a daring bakers challenge called (letting nature do the work). The challenge was to make sourdough bread with our very own sourdough starters. Back then the concept of sourdough was totally new to me, it was the middle of the winter here and let’s just say that the out come was less than satisfactory. The challenge ended and I was not motivated enough to maintain my starter. A few of my daring baker friends did however maintain their starters and they took it a step further and started a group called sourdough surprises. Every month they select a theme and use their sourdough starters to bake tempting creations. I have followed their sourdough adventure and with each passing month I keep telling myself, I need to give sourdough another try. However it was not until a post by the wonderfully talented Sally from bewitching kitchen about taking a walk on the wild side that I actually did it. Sally has a passion for sourdough and it shows in her collection of sourdough bread recipes, her description of each loaf’s crust, crumb, taste and texture. You read Sally’s posts about sourdough and you can’t help being tempted to answer the call of the wild :)

Why should I bake with sourdough?

You may ask , why should I bother. Packaged yeast is easier to use, less messy and gives faster results. That may be the case but you will be missing out on the health benefits of sourdough. The bacteria and yeast in the sourdough culture work to predigest the starches in the grains, thus making it more easily digestible. Added to that, the longer soaking and rising times in the preparation of sourdough breaks the protein gluten into amino acids, making it more digestible. The longer rise time needed for sourdough increases the lactic acid and acetic acid this helps preserve the bread by inhibiting the growth of mold.There have also been some research suggesting that the subjects’ blood glucose levels were lower after eating sourdough white bread compared to whole wheat, whole wheat with barley and plain white bread.

All that might convince you to try sourdough bread but it is the taste that will get you hocked! The tang, the rich flavor, complex and interesting is unlike anything you have tried before. Be warned, once you give your own, homemade sourdough bread a try, there will be no turning back.

Ready to sourdough?

I decided to put together a tutorial about creating your own sourdough starter for those of you who would like to come along on this sourdough adventure. An easy step by step post on how to start, feed and maintain your starter.

Sourdough starter 101

Day 1:

Ingredients

4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 ½ oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour

3 tablespoons (45 ml) water

Directions:

1. In a Tupperware or plastic container, mix the flour and water into a paste.

2. Set the lid on top gently

3. Set somewhere warm.

starter day 1What to expect?

At this stage the starter will be really thick in consistency, that’s normal

 Day 2:

Ingredients

4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 ½ oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour

3 tablespoons (45 ml) water

Starter from Day 1

Directions:

1. Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 1, cover, and return to its warm place.

starter day 2

What to expect?

Not much will change by day two, the consistency will be slightly thinner but that’s about it

Day 3:

Ingredients

4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 ½ oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour

4 teaspoons (20 ml) water

Starter from day 2

Directions:

1. Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 2, cover, and return to its warm place.

20130510_100310

What to expect?

This is the day that you will start to see some activity in your starter, a few hours after adding the flour and water you will start to see bubbles forming. You will also start to detect an unpleasant smell, don’t panic! That is perfectly normal.

Day 4:

Ingredients

3/4 cup plus 1½ tablespoons (205 ml) (120 gm/4 ¼ oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup less 4 teaspoons (100 ml) water

Starter from Day 3

Directions:

1. Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 3, cover, and return to its warm place.

20130510_203828

What to expect?

Today your starter should really come to life, it will show more bubbles, and a more pronounced smell. It should also begin to rise a few hours after feeding. Now you need to watch your starter closely. If the starter doubles itself between feedings (we feed every 24 hours) then it is ready. Mine rose but it was not able to double itself. In this case you need to go to day 5

Day 5

Ingredients

100 grams of the starter from day 4

100 grams water

100 grams AP flour

Instructions

Add the water to the amount of starter you measured, stir

Add the flour and stir until you get a homogenous mix.

Place in a clean jar or container and mark the level

20130511_231426

20130511_231407

What to expect?

More bubbles, a little more smell but most importantly, your starter should be able to double itself within 24 hours.

Depending on how warm or cold the weather is and how active your starter is it may double with in 4-8 hours of feeding. Sometimes it takes a starter longer than that, don’t worry.

If 24 hours pass and your starter still did not double itself, repeat the same steps we did in day 5 until your starter can double itself.

My starter is bubbling and can double itself between feedings, what now?

Congratulations! you are the proud parent of a healthy baby starter :) pat yourself on the back or  do a happy dance :)

Now you need to know how to maintain it to keep it healthy and alive

mature starter

Maintaining your starter

Feeding

I feed using a 1:1:1  ratio. I feed my starter its weight in water and its weight in flour,that means :

If I have 100g starter, I feed it 100 grams water and 100 grams flour.

Each feeding should be equal amounts of water and flour, by weight. You can use about 2 parts of water to 3 parts of flour by volume as an approximation.

Each feeding of the starter should be enough to double its size but if you keep doubling the size of your starter, in 10 days you’ll have enough to fill a swimming pool. And 12 hours later, you’ll have enough to fill two swimming pools. So, before you feed the starter, take part of your starter and set it aside. You may discard it, or you may save it for other projects like making biscuits, pancakes, cakes, pizza shells. Then feed the remaining part of your starter

Storing your starter

You have to options when it comes to storing your starter. Keeping it on your counter top or storing it in the fridge.

If you keep your starter on the counter top: You need to feed it  once every 24 hours

If you keep your starter in the fridge: You need to feed it once a week. Take it out of the fridge, feed it , give it a couple of hours to begin to rise then put it back in the fridge

when can you optimally refrigerate a starter? The starter should be at least 30 days old, having been fed once a day the entire time. It should be able to make bread you like – why store a starter that isn’t working for you? . Next, the starter should be able to double it’s size between feedings. If it’s not healthy, it’s not a good idea to refrigerate it. And finally, the best time to refrigerate the starter is when it is freshly fed. So, feed your starter until it will double in size between feedings, feed it one more time and then refrigerate it.

Do I use the starter I keep and feed in recipes or do I use the discard?

It depends on the recipe. Some recipes will state “fed” starter. Others will ask for the discard (the part of the starter you remove before feeding your starter). If the recipe doesn’t state it, I would usually feed my starter , wait for it to double then use it

Temperature

In broad terms, you want to stay within the 65 to 85F range (18 to 30C). If you get much below that range, things will take far too long to happen. Above that range, you get into off tastes and organisms dying off.

How does a sourdough starter work?what is the science behind it?

Sourdough to put it simply is bread made the way people used to make it before the age of packaged yeast. It is basically a process of mixing water and flour to form a starter that you then feed to culture the natural yeast that is in the flour, that yeast once active and alive provides the rise for your bread or a variety of baked goods.

The more you read about sourdough the more you see the science behind it all.Most sourdough starter recipes ask for starting with whole grain rye or wheat flour and the reason behind that  is the fact that when you use whole grain rye or wheat flour, the flour is covered with a LOT of microorganisms. We’re interested in two of them, yeast and lactobacillus bacteria. When we mix flour and water, and keep adding more flour and water we are encouraging the critters that we want to take over the starter. By creating a hospitable environment, the organisms we want will inevitably take over the culture. However,there will still be unwanted microorganisms. As long as you keep the conditions in your starter favorable, the unwanted organisms will be kept under control. But, if you stop treating the starter right the unwanted critters can take over.

 What can I make with my sourdough starter?

This is the fun part! You can use your starter to make bread, cakes, grissini, pasta, pancakes, brownies. You name it. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing the things I make with my sourdough starter. So far I have made Sally’s olive sourdough bread. I also tried sourdough brownies, grissini and turkish simit. All of which I will be posting soon.

Sourdough double chocolate brownies

Sourdough double chocolate brownies

sourdough bread

sourdough bread


So how about joining me on this walk on the  wild side? Start your sourdough starter today and by next week we can bake together

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94 Comments

  1. I would love to do this, but I have not the patience that you have, friend. Great job Sawsan on sourdough starting and the resulting deliciousness that ensued :))

    Reply
  2. I love baking with sourdough: my favorite thing to make is sourdough pizza crust, but I also make a lot of waffles and biscuits to keep my starter in use. Nice clear instructions, here.

    Reply
  3. Can you see me doing a happy dance? Can you? Can you?

    Wow, you made my day, what a wonderful surprise to see this post, and you were too kind to mention me and my blog, I am humbled…

    you wrote a masterpiece of a document on the early days of the sourdough making, and keeping it (the most important part), and of course gave us gorgeous examples of what to use the starter for… didn’t I tell you? You WILL put professional bakers out of business…

    thank you so much, I look forward to walking the wild side with you!

    Reply
    • Sally I was waiting for your comment! I really hoped the post will do justice to the wonderful sourdough adventure you encouraged me to go on :)
      I really can’t thank you enough for the inspiration.
      I feel like a kid in a toy store :) there is so much that I want to do, try and learn.
      Thank you my friend

      Reply
  4. terribetz

     /  May 16, 2013

    Thank you so much Sawsan! Hope I spelled correctly. I will use this today! I have followed many of your recipes and am so impressed! Thanks!

    Reply
  5. I can’t wait to see the brownie recipe – I have been looking for a good sourdough recipe for brownies and haven’t found one I am in love with yet.

    Great post

    Reply
  6. Wow! What a detailed post Sawsan!!! You are such a fabulous baker. But more than that, you really love explaining. Thanks for this beautifully detailed, lucid and informative post.

    Reply
  7. Sawsan, thanks for your effort and step by step explanation! I am sure I will be using these! Your bread and brownies look fantastic!

    Reply
  8. Such a magnificent tutoriàl regarding sourdough starters my friend great job :)

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    Reply
  9. Sawsan, your tutorial was so fun and friendly, it felt like you were “talking me through it” right here in my own home! I didn’t realize the health benefits of sourdough — another convincing reason to try it — but mostly because I love homemade bread. :) Thanks for an interesting, inviting read!

    Reply
    • Hello Kim,
      it is really my pleasure that you enjoyed th tutorial. Sourdough bread is really amazing. The more you read about it, the more you realize how much better natural yeast is to commercial one. I really hope you will give this a go

      Reply
  10. I’m sure it’s a wonderfully flavourful bread. My problem is that I don’t make/eat enough bread in my single person household to justify the work involved especially maintaining the starter after getting a good one going.

    I also have long term commitment issues and had to give away my aquarium setup cause I got tired of feeding the fish and maintaining the aquarium. I was tempted to flush the fish. … Bad A_Boleyn

    Reply
    • Hehehe, I gave away my aquarium too but this is actually easier than keeping fish and the end result is really tasty. You can bake one big loaf once a week that is what I plan on doing

      Reply
  11. That was a really interesting read Sawsan; and such a great, comprehensive report on how to actually make a starter. Thank you. I love baking bread and am keen to try sourdough one day… will let you know when I take the plunge!

    Reply
  12. I know a lot of bloggers have their own sourdough started. I’ve always been curious about how to get started with ‘starter’. Thanks for sharing xx

    Reply
  13. I would so love to take part, Sawsan. Ever since that DK challenge I wanted to keep a sourdough starter but we have reduced our bread intake drastically. I have seen all the participants of Sourdough surprises and I always wish I could take part. Anyway, I will bookmark this fantastic tutorial for beginners and will hopefully follow it sometime soon. Thanks for sharing your experience with so many details.

    Reply
  14. Good morning Sawson! Thank you for the wonderful overview of sourdough starter. Your day to day steps are very thorough and comprehensive. This post is getting booked marked for sure. I wonder if I can make sourdough starter with gluten free types of flour such as almond flour or a mixture. I know it won’t probably turn out as well but may give it a try to see how the experiment goes. Happy Baking and have a super weekend. BAM

    Reply
    • Hello Bam, yes you can make sourdough gluten free, there are quite a few websites dedicated to that. I have not tried it so I can’t testify to the taste but if anyone can make it, you can

      Reply
  15. Eha

     /  May 17, 2013

    Altho’ living in Australia I actually ordered some starter from the US! It arrived a couple of months ago at an unexpectedly bad time work- and healthwise. Hmm, it is still sitting in the fridge and I doubt I’ll be able to make it work :( ! Thus I am absolutely thrilled to have this lesson as a ‘backup’ when I’ll be ‘ready’ to make bread in a few weeks time! Beautiful clear step-by-step instructiuons even a dunce like me can’t fail :) !

    Reply
    • Thank you Eha, I really hope you will give this a go. There are so many things to make with sourdough starters. Thinking of all the possibilities and experimenting with them has been loads of fun

      Reply
  16. Fun post. I’ve made a sourdough starter before, but it’s been years and years. Lately I’ve just been using minimal amounts of yeast with long rises to develop natural yeast flavor. But I should try sourdough again – it has great flavor. Nice post – thanks.

    Reply
    • I have tried using small amounts of yeast and allowing long rises but you know, sourdough beats that in the depth of flavor and the unique texture it has. I hope you would try again. I know you will make amazing things with it

      Reply
  17. Count me in! I was all geared up when we chatted last time, only to discover that my whole wheat flour stock has depleted and I have been lazy since! Thank you for such detailed post, Sawsan, a lot of hard work girl!

    Reply
  18. I’m going to print this out and give it a go :) You make it sound easy but I suspect it’s not.

    Reply
    • It is really easy Maureen. If you can commet to taking care of it every day you will be greatly rewarded. If you give this a go please let me know how it turns out

      Reply
  19. I’ve been following your Sourdough adventures on facebook over the last few days, your starter looks most live!!

    Reply
  20. What an absolutely wonderful tutorial Sawsan! (this of course comes as no surprise to those of us who follow along!) This year I began keeping and caring for my own sourdough starter…and you are so right…there can be no turning back! Wonderful post…and I look forward to the sourdough recipes that are sure to follow!

    Reply
  21. Debbie Gates

     /  May 17, 2013

    What a wonderful recipe. I used to have sour dough starter, but I travel a lot so feeding it every week isn’t an option for me. Do you know if I can freeze this starter and then bring it back to room temp when I’m at home? I hate to put all this time into a good starter only to lose it because I’m not at home to take care of it.

    Thanks,
    Debbie

    Reply
    • Hello Debbie, from what I read you have two options:
      ■For longer term storage you can freeze a small amount of starter culture.Then you defrost it in the fridge and proceed with feeding it as you normally would
      ■For very long-term storage, you can dry a small amount of sourdough culture by spreading the starter in a thin layer on a piece of unbleached parchment paper and allowing it to dry at room temperature (or slightly warmer) for several days. Place the dehydrated starter in a zip-style bag or a sealed container in a cool dry place for up to a year.
      I haven’t tried doing either of these but I have read many people have great success with them

      Reply
  22. i think baking bread is one of the most exciting thing. I am very tempted to try my own starter – thank you :)

    Reply
  23. I have been thinking about making sour dough again — I haven’t made it in years. My starter didn’t work out as well, but with the step by step instructions, I really can’t fail. I’m also loving that it’s not white flour but whole wheat. I never knew why regular bread was so difficult to digest so your post is very informative, thank you. Now to see if I can squeeze this in before we go on a short holiday in two weeks. Thanks Sawsan.

    Reply
    • How long will you be gone for Eva, if it is less than a week you can start the starter now and store it in the fridge until you come home. It will be fun if we can bake sourdough together

      Reply
      • Yes, that would be very cool, on opposite sides of the globe. I’m at the cottage this weekend and then home for about 8 days, I’ll start it on Monday and hopefully bake it for the weekend (we have a dinner party). Email me when you plan to bake yours.

  24. This is as good a tutorial for starting sourdough as I’ve seen, Sawsan, and will be very helpful to those who’ve never attempted to start one. I’ve seen some “how to” posts that use a small amount of commercial yeast and even grapes to create a starter. That’s cheating! I’ll stick with this method. It’s tried and true. Thanks for taking the time to put this pst together.

    Reply
  25. you are so brave to take on sourdough! I’m scared just by the thought of it!

    Reply
  26. When I was able to eat wheat bread, sour dough was my favourite. It’s an interesting process.

    Reply
  27. This is so cool! I really want to try this! Do you think it would work with spelt flour?? So exciting! :-)

    Reply
  28. Oh I’m really doing the happy dance here, and also laughing at the thought of my little pool ere in Spain full of sourdough starter! When I was in England I kept promising myself that when I got back to Spain I would get a starter going and make some lovely breads this summer. So…it’s off to the baker’s tomorrow to buy some good flour and I’ll be starting. Thank you for a really incredible post :)

    Reply
  29. So I put up my way of making sour dough starter and the bread a few days ago and I get inondated with e-mails from your site about sour dough starter. I think that this is very good that the two of us are promoting its value.

    Reply
  30. Sawsan I completely enjoyed reading this post. I do miss my sourdough starter. I should pick it up again one of these days. I did enjoy baking bread with it. The taste is unmatched. I love the step by step instructions you laid out. Perhaps I’ll give this a try again. :)

    Reply
  31. I sooo want to make a starter now! Is normal white bread flour ok to start it?

    Reply
    • Hey Holly! it’s been a while :)
      The idea behind using whole wheat is that it has more of the natural yeast organisms that we are trying to capture and grow. Normal flour should work but whole wheat works better

      Reply
  32. How very interesting. I don’t think I have the patience or time to do it now but this is something I’d love to try and experience as well. (Sourdough brownie? Who’d have thought.)

    Reply
  33. It is really worth trying. Thank you Sawsan

    Reply
  34. Aysun

     /  June 26, 2013

    Hello, I’ve tried to make your sourdough starter but I had some obsticles. First I fed the starter at day3 wrong. I used 4 tablespoons water instead of 4 teaspoons. Then I added 2 tablespoons more flour. Second is a question: will I feed the discard starter, if I do not use it immediately? And another question : if I do not use the discarde starter, where should store it? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hello Aysun
      how is your starter doing now? is it bubbling yet? is it rising? If it is bubbling and showing signs of activity go on with the feeding schedule detailed in the post.
      The discard starter is not fed, it is the part you remove before you feed the remaining starter. The discard is best when used as soon as possible. You can store it in the fridge for up to three days

      Reply
  35. Ceitllyn

     /  September 23, 2013

    Hi, I just found your blog. Your sourdough steps seems pretty well laid out compared to others I have seen. I usually see the started covered with a cloth and not a lid. Is this something you did at the beginning or all the time? Thanks :)

    Reply
  36. Theresa

     /  October 19, 2013

    Sourdough 101 successfully completed now nervously contemplating where to begin the next sourdough chapter.Thankyou for the inspiration so far ! 😄

    Reply
  37. oscar

     /  December 9, 2013

    Dear miss Sawsan your web is really amaziNg.i always follow your recipes spe. if bread is in there.thank you for this lovely lovely bread but you are a muslim at least I infer it from your scarf(hijab).i know in Islam it’s recommended not to cut bread with knife(the holy prophet(PBUH) ).AND I always do in this way what an amazing religion is ISLAM
    THANK YOU .VIVA CON DIOS

    Reply
  38. brenda

     /  February 10, 2014

    Sawson, thank you for posting these detailed pictures and instructions! I made some sourdough starter from a breadmaker recipe book that calls for dry yeast. It’s currently on my stove and has tripled in size over the last hour, but now I’m concerned that I made it wrong after finding your website. what will commercial yeast do to my starter?

    Reply
    • Hello Brenda,
      I am glad you like my post :) Did you have a sourdough starter that you added some dry yeast to or did you make this starter particularly for this recipe?

      Reply
      • brenda

         /  February 10, 2014

        I mixed flour, water, sugar, and dry yeast. I set it on the stove (no heat going) to start growing, and then turned on the computer to see what I could find on the web regarding making my own sourdough starter. that’s when I found your website! :) I decided to start a new batch following your recipe. Now I have 2 batches going. One with the dry yeast, and the other (your recipe) with just flour and water. do you know what will happen to the one with dry yeast? is it going to be real sourdough starter, or is that going to be a different kind of bacteria?

      • So sorry for the delay Brenda
        As far as I know, the commercial yeast one won’t give you a real sourdough starter. I hope the one you made from scratch worked out well
        If it did you are in for a treat

      • Brenda

         /  February 11, 2014

        I made it from scratch- no previous starter on hand. After finding your website, I decided to start another batch of starter following your recipe- this time without dry yeast. I now have 2 batches of starter going. One has commercial dry yeast and the other with just flour and water.

  39. Sue

     /  March 3, 2014

    Hi, I’m in the process of making my starter but on day 3 instead of adding 4 teaspoons of water I added 3 tablespoons (thinking it was the same amount as day 2). I’m hoping this just added an extra day to the whole process and hasn’t ruined it in anyway.

    Reply
    • So so sorry for the delay Sue
      I think that you should be fine, sourdough is very forgiving. You may need to a 3 or 4 more days to get things back in balance but after that you should be fine

      Reply
  40. great
    how beautiful <3

    Reply
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