Learn how to make a sourdough starter from scratch with this easy recipe and start baking sourdough bread in no time!
All you need is flour, water, and about one week to start baking bread with your very own sourdough starter.
Are you ready to bake the best homemade sourdough bread you'll ever taste?
Making healthy, sourdough bread for your family is easy and it's a skill that can be passed down for generations to come!
This straightforward, easy-to-follow method is perfect for anyone who wants to learn how to make bread with a sourdough starter.
Make sure to check out our sourdough glossary to get a better understanding of the terminology used in sourdough baking.
- What is a sourdough starter?
- Ingredients and tools needed
- Step-by-step instructions
- What to expect day by day
- How do I know when the sourdough starter is ready?
- Things to take note of
- How to maintain a sourdough starter
- More sourdough baking resources
- Easy Sourdough Starter Recipe
- Frequently asked questions
What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water that has captured wild yeast and bacteria from the surrounding environment.
The starter is then used to make sourdough bread rise as it bakes.
Sourdough bread is referred to as naturally leavened bread because it uses a portion of active sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast as its leavening agent.
Here's how it works
Wild yeast and bacteria can be found on the surface of flour, in the air, and even on your hands.
When you mix flour and water together and allow it to sit at room temperature, those yeasts and bacteria start to feed on the flour and multiply within the mixture.
The process of creating a sourdough starter is kind of like a science experiment. Think of the jar in which you mix the flour and water as a petri dish.
Throughout the process, you're simply feeding the wild yeast and bacteria with flour and water so that they multiply over and over again.
Eventually, there are so many of these wild yeast and bacteria within the mixture, that the starter becomes strong enough to make the dough rise as it bakes. Pretty cool!
Ingredients and tools needed
- flour - You will need a mixture of unbleached all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. The addition of whole wheat flour gives the starter a boost in the fermentation process so that your sourdough starter is ready as soon as possible. There are several other types of wheat flour that can be used to make a sourdough starter.
- water -Bottled water, filtered, and most tap water can be used in your starter. To remove the chlorine from tap water by evaporation, fill a bottle with tap water and let it sit uncovered for 24 hours before using.
- container - A clear glass jar with straight edges makes it easy to see activity throughout the day. (I prefer to use a new jar every morning to keep things tidy. Dried sourdough starter is very hard to clean from the surface of the jar!)
- lid - The container should be loosely covered with a lid or thick piece of cloth to allow air to circulate in and out of the jar. I like to use a mason jar or Weck jar with its lid set loosely on top of the container. (affiliate links)
- spatula - An offset spatula or stiff spatula makes stirring a stiff batter easy. (affiliate links)
- kitchen scale or measuring cups and spoons - While making your starter, measuring cups and spoons work just fine. Because sourdough recipes are typically written with weighted measurements, once you start baking, it's wise to invest in a kitchen scale for the best results. (affiliate link)
- rubber band - A rubber band placed around the jar will allow you to measure how much your starter is rising after each feeding.
Let's go over the steps needed to create and feed your starter as well as what you can expect to see from day to day throughout the process.
Before you begin mix 3 cups of whole wheat flour with 6 cups of all-purpose flour and keep it in an air-tight container. You will use this mixture to feed the starter throughout the process.
Day 1 (initial mix of flour and water)
- In the morning, mix 1 cup of the flour mixture with ½ cup of water in a clean jar.
- Cover the jar loosely and leave it in a warm area, 68-75°F (20-24°C) of your kitchen for 24 hours.
Day 2 (stir the mixture)
- Use a spatula to stir the mixture to help incorporate some air.
- Cover the container loosely and let the mixture rest for another 24 hours.
Days 3-7 (Start feeding twice a day)
First feeding in the morning:
- Transfer 2 tablespoons of the starter to a new container.
- To the new container ADD ½ cup of the flour mixture and ¼ cup of water. (The mixture will be very thick.)
- Cover the jar loosely with a lid and allow the starter to rest in a warm spot in your kitchen, for 12 hours.
Second feeding in the evening:
- ADD 2 tablespoons of the flour mixture and 2 teaspoons of water to the container of starter.
- Give it a stir, cover loosely and allow it to rest at room temperature until the next morning when it's time for the next feeding.
NOTE: You will continue to feed the starter with this twice-a-day schedule, every day until the sourdough starter is ready to bake. This could take up to 14 days.
Measurements in grams:
For the initial mix:
- 1 cup of flour mixture = 120 grams
- ½ cup of water = 120 grams
For the morning feeding:
- 2 tablespoons starter = 30 grams
- ½ cup of flour = 60 grams
- ¼ cup of water = 60 grams
For the evening feeding:
- 2 tablespoons flour = 15 grams
- 2 teaspoons water = 10 grams
What to expect day by day
For the first two days, you may or may not see a few bubbles on the surface of the starter.
On the morning of day 3, the starter will have risen slightly and have a few bubbles on top. It may even have a few blue spots on the surface which is completely normal. These are caused by gas from the yeast and bacteria.
On the morning of days 4 and 5 you should see bubbles and/or some liquid on the surface and the starter should appear to have risen slightly overnight and then fallen back down again.
Some people report that the starter appears to have NO activity on these two days but this is normal. Continue to feed your starter and you should see activity soon!
On the morning of days 6 and beyond, the starter should have a fluffy texture and be bubbly on the surface and sides of the jar.
How do I know when the sourdough starter is ready?
The best indicator that the sourdough starter is ready for baking is that it doubles in size 4-12 hours after feeding for 2 or more consecutive feedings.
The texture should appear light and fluffy with plenty of bubbles on the surface and around the sides of the jar.
How to perform a float test
Another way to find out if your starter is ready is to perform a "float test". When the starter has doubled in size, drop a tablespoon into a jar of room-temperature water.
If it floats, it is a good indication it is ready to bake with. If it sinks, feed the starter for a few more days and try again.
Things to take note of
- The temperature of your kitchen will affect how long it takes for your starter to start rising. Yeast and bacteria multiply more rapidly in warmer environments.
- A kitchen temperature between 68°F (20°C) and 75°F (24°C) typically works well. In about a week, you'll have an active starter to use in sourdough baking.
- If you are trying to build a sourdough starter in cooler months, the process can take a few days longer than it would in the warmer months. Repeat feedings for a minimum of 14 days before giving up.
- Use a rubber band to mark the level of the starter in the jar after each feeding. This will allow you to see how much the starter rises and falls over a 12-hour period.
- Any discarded sourdough starter can be collected in a separate container and stored in the fridge to use in sourdough discard recipes. Use it to bake sourdough banana bread, brownies, and crackers so your discarded flour never goes to waste!
- You can use the same container throughout the week OR starting on day 3, you can transfer 2 tablespoons (30g) of starter to a new, clean jar every morning at the first feeding.
How to maintain a sourdough starter
Once you've got your sourdough starter going, head over to our complete guide on how to feed and maintain a sourdough starter.
You'll learn how and when to feed your starter, how to maintain it, and also how to backup your sourdough starter for future use!
Head on over to this easy sourdough bread recipe to make your first loaf!
More sourdough baking resources
- When is sourdough starter ready to bake with?
- Baking conversion chart
- Essential tools for sourdough bread baking
- How to maintain a sourdough starter
- Sourdough glossary
- Baking conversion chart
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Easy Sourdough Starter Recipe
- Glass jar
- Offset Spatula
- Baker's Scale
- 6 cups (720 g) all-purpose flour
- 3 cups (360 g) whole wheat flour
- Before you begin, mix 6 cups of all-purpose flour with 3 cups of whole wheat flour and store it in an air-tight container. This is what you will feed your starter with.
- Day 1: Mix 1 cup (120g) of the flour mixture with ½ cup (120g) of water in a clean jar. Cover the jar loosely and leave it in a warm area of your kitchen for 24 hours.
- Day 2: Give the starter a stir to help incorporate a little air. Loosely cover the jar with a lid and let it rest for another 24 hours in a warm spot.
- Day 3 and beyond: On the third day and beyond, you will feed the starter twice per day but only discard during the first feeding.In the morning, transfer 2 tablespoons (30g) of starter to a new, clean jar. Stir in ½ cup (60g) of the flour mixture and ¼ cup (60g) of water. Cover loosely and let it sit at room temperature for 12 hours.Before bed, ADD 2 tablespoons (15g) of the flour mixture and 2 teaspoons of water to the jar. Stir and cover until the next feeding.
- Repeat these twice daily feedings until the starter is ready to bake with. You'll know it's ready when it doubles in size within 4-12 hours after feeding it, the texture looks light and fluffy with plenty of bubbles on the surface and around the sides of the jar. Colder kitchens will take longer than warmer kitchens. This could take up to 14 days.
How to perform a float test
- When the starter has doubled in size, drop a tablespoon into a jar of room temperature water. If it floats, it a good indication it is ready to bake with. If it drops to the bottom keep feeding and try again.
Frequently asked questions
You can use stainless steel utensils to stir sourdough starter. Reactive metals you'll want to avoid are aluminum and copper.
In order to keep the acidity levels in balance and to keep from having too much starter, a portion of it must be removed before feeding. Use the discarded starter in discard recipes in order to avoid food waste.
If your kitchen is too cold, you can create a warm spot using the heat from the lightbulb in your oven.
Place the jar of starter on a baking sheet inside your oven. Shut the door and turn the oven light on. (Do NOT turn the oven on.)
The heat from the lightbulb will create a warm environment inside the oven.
Check on it after an hour or two to make sure it isn't too hot inside.
If your kitchen is too warm, store your flour and water mixture in the fridge to keep them cold. The cold temperatures from the fridge will help slow down the fermentation process.