Looking for the easiest, most foolproof sourdough starter recipe? This is it!
Best of all, we walk you through, step-by-step, so you can start enjoying delicious, homemade sourdough bread in about a week!
At first glance, creating a sourdough starter can appear to be time consuming and rather complicated even though there are only 2 ingredients involved.
The good news is that the process of cultivating your first sourdough starter requires about 5 minutes a day for 1 week! That's it!
WHAT IS A SOURDOUGH STARTER?
The short answer? It is nature's way of getting bread to rise while it bakes.
The long answer is simple too. A sourdough starter is a combination of flour, water, yeast and bacteria that is used to leaven bread. Here's how it works:
- Yeast and bacteria that are naturally in the environment set up home in the flour/water mixture and start to multiply. With regular feedings, a nice size colony establishes itself and the starter is then used to leaven or "raise" bread during the baking process.
You may have heard of breads baked with "wild yeast" or breads that are "naturally leavened". I can almost guarantee that a sourdough starter has been used in these cases.
Step by step instructions
Before we dive into the details, let's look at the basic steps needed in order to make a sourdough starter.
- Day 1: To a mason jar add 50 grams whole wheat flour + 50 grams all-purpose flour and 100 grams water: Use a spatula to stir vigorously until smooth, with no clumps. Clean the inside of the jar with a wet napkin, cover loosely with fabric or a lid and let rest for 24 hours.
- Day 2: Stir the mixture to incorporate air, cover the jar and let rest for 24 hours.
- Days 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7: Feed – To a clean jar, add 50 grams starter (discard the rest) + 100 grams all-purpose flour + 100 grams water. Clean the inside of the jar, mark level with a rubber band, cover loosely and let rest 24 hours.
Tips for success
The following are areas to take note of:
- Types of flour
- Sourdough Starter container
- Kitchen temperature
- The rise and fall
Let's take a closer look at each of these areas!
1. Types of Flour
When choosing what type of flour you will be using to feed your starter, it's important to keep a few things in mind.
- Use a high quality, unbleached and un-bromated flour. I trust brands like King Arthur and Bob's Red Mill when it comes to commercial flour brands.
- Freshly milled wheat flour can be used to feed your starter if you have access to it. I personally use the WonderMill, which is an economical option if you're just starting out.
- Any type of wheat flour can be used including, whole wheat, rye, all-purpose, spelt and a variety of others.
- For ongoing maintenance I feed my starter with a mixture of 75% all-purpose flour and 25% whole wheat. You can feed it with 100% of any flour of your preference once you get it going.
- I recommend using a tall, glass jar with straight edges. Wide-mouth, pint-sized Ball jars are perfect because they are inexpensive and easy to find.
- Another reason to use a tall glass jar is to see the starter rise and fall throughout the process.
- Other containers you can use are Weck Jars, a glass cup, a bowl or a plastic container with a lid.
3. Kitchen Temperature
When cultivating a new sourdough starter, it's important to remember that the temperature of your kitchen has a HUGE impact on how fast or slow it will take your starter to mature. A kitchen around 70 degrees is warm enough to have a starter ready to bake within one week.
If you find your sourdough starter not rising, cold temperatures could be the issue. This could cause the starter to take up to two weeks to mature.
If your kitchen is too cold, don't worry. I've got a trick for you!
- Place your starter on a baking sheet and put it in your oven.
- Turn the light of your oven on, but don't turn on the oven! If you have a thermometer, keep it inside the oven alongside the starter to monitor the temperature. (Remember to shut the door to keep in the heat.)
- The heat from the light should keep the interior of the oven right around 70-75 degrees, which is PERFECT for making a starter.
If the ambient temperature is consistently too hot, over about 80 degrees, the fermentation process will speed up and your starter may need more than one feeding a day.
SIGNS THAT THE AMBIENT ROOM TEMPERATURE IS TOO HOT
- The starter is very watery 24 hours after a feeding.
- The starter has a few bubbles on top after 12 hours but is not rising after day 4.
These are both signs that your starter is hungry. If this happens around day 3, give the starter a second feeding 12 hours from the first. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 teaspoons water to the starter and give it a stir. (Do not discard any starter on the second feeding.)
4. The rise and fall
Over the course of this process, the starter will have a life of it's own! On the first few days, you will see some activity. Lots of bubbles and it may even rise in the jar.
On day 4, it may look like your starter is going nowhere, but keep going!
By day 5 or 6 the starter should be rising like a champ!
I recommend placing a rubber band around the jar at the initial level after you feed the starter. This will give you a good idea of how active the starter is from day to day.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN IT'S READY TO BAKE BREAD?
By day 7, I'm sure you're more than ready to get a loaf of bread in the oven. Trust me, I know exactly how you feel!
After the starter has consistently risen after feedings for a few days in a row, it is ready to bake with!
Another way to find out if your starter is ready, is to perform a "float test".
On DAY 7, feed the starter in the morning and let it ferment until it's doubled in size. (4-12 hours) Fill a clear glass jar with room temperature water. Remove a tablespoon of starter and gently drop it into the water.
Did the starter float? If your answer is yes then you are ready to bake some sourdough bread!
If the starter drops to the bottom of the glass, this is an indication that it needs a few more days of feedings before it's strong enough to bake with. All you need to do in this case is practice patience and keep going!
How to determine a maintenance schedule
Now that you have your new "pet" (hopefully you've given your starter a name!), it's time to decide a maintenance schedule that works for you.
The first thing to decide is how often you plan to bake.
- If you like to bake often, consider keeping your starter at room temperature with DAILY feedings.
- If you plan to bake only on weekends or occasionally, store your starter in the fridge and feed it once a week.
For simplicity, and for the sake of your sanity, the amount you feed the starter are the same, whether you maintain it daily or weekly. The quantities are as follows:
- 25 grams starter
- 100 grams flour
- 100 grams water
This ratio of starter, flour and water helps to keep the balance of yeast and bacteria at healthy levels.
TIP - If you store your starter in the fridge, I recommend giving it at least two feedings to "wake" it back up before baking with it. Make sure to plan your baking schedule in advance so your starter is active!
Leftover discard options
There are many options for using sourdough starter discard!
Sourdough Discard Recipes
You don't need to throw away your discarded starter! Check out our recipes for sourdough discard to avoid wasting it!
It's a good idea to reach out to friends and family to see if they would enjoy making sourdough recipes. You never know who would like to give it a try!
TIP - Keep a separate jar in your fridge and save the discard until you have enough to make a recipe.
If these options don't work, you can always put your discard in a compost pile.
What is Hooch?
So you've got your starter going only to wake up to a layer of dark liquid floating on top. Does that mean there's something wrong?
Lucky for you that dark liquid on top is called "hooch" and it means that your starter is hungry. I promise it hasn't gone bad!
Simply pour it off the top or stir it back in before you feed your starter.
How can you tell if your sourdough starter is bad?
If the starter has an "off" smell or you see mold growing on top, the best thing is to throw it out and start over again.
Which brings me to the next important topic!
How to save sourdough starter
I recommend saving a "backup" starter, just in case you find yourself without any. Trust me, things can go wrong when you least expect it! You never know if you'll find a fruit fly floating around, or heaven forbid you accidentally drop your jar!
Saving sourdough starter is easy.
- Lay a piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat on a baking sheet. Instead of discarding your starter, spread a very thin layer on the paper. Allow the starter to dry COMPLETELY. This will take about 3-4 days.
- Break the dried starter into pieces and store in an air-tight container for up to 6 months.
- To use the dried starter, place 50 grams of it in a jar and cover with 100 grams of water. Let sit for 30 minutes for the starter to absorb the water. Give it a stir and then add 50 grams of whole wheat flour + 50 grams of all-purpose flour and 75 grams of water.
- Continue to give it daily feedings until it is active and bubbly.
Keeping a sourdough starter is a rewarding process that will allow you to make healthy, delicious bread and other baked goods for years to come!
Make sure to check out our Kitchen Essentials page for all the tools we use for baking sourdough recipes!
Sourdough Starter Recipe
- Wide Mouth Mason Jar with Lid
- Offset Spatula
- Baker's Scale
- 5 cups (625 g) all-purpose flour (unbleached)
- 1/3 cup (50 g) whole wheat flour
- Day 1. To a clean glass jar add 50 grams whole wheat flour + 50 grams all-purpose flour and 100 grams water: Use a spatula to stir vigorously until smooth, with no clumps. Clean the inside rim of the jar with a wet napkin, cover loosely with fabric or a lid and let rest for 24 hours. (see notes for measurements in cups)
- Day 2: Stir the mixture, clean the inside rim of the jar, cover and let rest for 24 hours.
- Days 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7: Add 50 grams starter to a clean jar and discard the rest. To the starter add 100 grams all-purpose flour + 100 grams water. Stir vigorously, clean the inside rim of the jar and place a rubber band to mark the starter level. Cover loosely and let rest 24 hours.
- The starter is ready to bake after it rises and falls consistently for a few days in a row. If you'd like to test the starter before baking you can perform a float test. Perform Float Test: After the starter has doubled in size on day 7, drop 1 tablespoon of the starter into a glass of room temperature water. If the starter floats, it is a good indication that it is ready to bake. If it sinks, continue feeding and discarding 2 more days and perform the float test again.
- 50g starter = 3 tablespoons
- 50g whole wheat flour = 1/3 cup
- 50g all-purpose flour = 1/3 cup
- 100g all-purpose flour = 2/3 cup
- 100g water = 1/2 cup
- TROUBLESHOOTING - If you keep the ambient temperature between 70-75 degrees, you should not have any issues. If the ambient temperature of your kitchen is too hot, over 75 degrees, you may have to give it an additional feeding everyday. If your starter hasn't risen at all by day 5, give it an extra feeding 12 hours after the first. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 teaspoons of water to the jar and stir. (Do not discard any at the second feeding.)
- I recommend cleaning the inside rim of the jar with a wet napkin or towel after feedings to help keep the jar clean and tidy. When starter dries, it is VERY hard to get off of the jar, FYI. I also recommend cleaning up any starter that falls into your sink or surfaces right away for the same reason.
- Discarded starter - save in a separate jar in the fridge to use in other recipes like pancakes, give to a friend or put in a compost pile.
- Any type of wheat flour can be used to make a sourdough starter.