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!
Once you've got your starter going, there's so many recipes you can make. Not just bread!
What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter is a combination of flour, water, wild yeast and bacteria that is used to make bread rise when baking. Bread and other baked goods that use a sourdough starter are referred to as "naturally leavened" bread.
The goal of cultivating a strong sourdough starter is to make as many wild yeast and bacteria multiply in the flour and water as we can!
Here's how it works:
- To create a sourdough starter, flour and water are mixed together and left at room temperature.
- Wild yeast and bacteria, found naturally on the flour and in the environment, start to multiply. As they multiply they "eat" the flour in the jar.
- Once they have eaten all of the flour available to them, they must be fed again to keep growing and multiplying.
- After 7-14 days of feeding the yeast in the starter, it will have produced enough yeast to make it strong enough to bake bread with.
This is why a sourdough starter takes days to cultivate. The yeast must multiply everyday until there is a sufficient amount within the starter to make bread rise. The more yeast, the stronger the starter!
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 at room temperature 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. *See note below. Clean the inside of the jar, mark level with a rubber band, cover loosely and let rest 24 hours.
Don't have a kitchen scale to measure flour?
Use the scoop and level technique to measure your flour if you do not have a kitchen scale. To do this, use a spoon to fluff up the flour in the bag. Use a spoon to scoop the flour into a measuring cup until it is heaped on top. Take a butterknife and level off the top. This should give you the most accurate measurement for flour.
Because flour is measured by weight in these recipes, if the flour is scooped straight out of the bag with the measuring cup, there will be more flour than called for in the recipe.
For those who do not use a scale to weigh your ingredients, use the following measurements:
- 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
*If you live in a warm, humid and/or high altitude you will need to make adjustments to the recipe. Instead of switching to only all-purpose flour on day 3, you will keep feeding a 1:1 ratio of 50g whole wheat and 50g all-purpose flour. You will also add a second feeding 12 hours from the first of 2 tablespoons flour and 2 teaspoons water. You will do this until your starter is ready to bake with. Whole wheat flour will give it the boost it needs to flourish in these conditions.
Over the course of the week, the starter will have a life of its own! On the first few days, you may or may not see some bubbles and it may even rise in the jar.
By day 4, it may look like your starter is going nowhere. This happens frequently on day 4, but keep going!
If you're persistent, on day 5 or 6 the starter should be rising like a champ!
TIP - Place a rubber band around the jar to mark the initial level of the starter after you feed it. This will allow you to see if your starter is rising and falling after a feeding.
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!
How do I know when the starter is ready?
The minimum amount of time needed to cultivate a sourdough starter is 7 days. Your starter should be doubling in size on day 5.
*** The starter is ready when it doubles in size after a feeding, for at least 2 days in a row. The texture of the starter should be light and fluffy at its peak in the jar. These are the BEST indicators!
After you feed your starter, take note of how long it takes to double. This timing will be dependent on different factors of your environment such as temperature and humidity, as well as the maturity of your starter.
Remember, the optimal time to mix the starter into the dough is when the starter has doubled, and is at its peak in the container. Right BEFORE or right AFTER it starts to fall back down in the jar.
Another way to find out if your starter is ready, is to perform a "float test".
- Feed the starter and let it ferment until it's doubled in size.
- 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 it's a good indication that your starter is ready because it has enough gas from the yeast to cause it to float.
If the starter drops to the bottom of the glass, it may need a few more days of multiplying before it's strong enough to bake with.
All you need to do in this case is practice patience and keep going. It can take up to 14 days to establish enough yeast in order to float. (Take note that the float test is not always fool proof. )
It's important to take certain environmental factors into account that will make it easier for you to reach your goal!
Let's take a closer look at each of these.
Ambient 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 68-75°F (21-23°C) is the perfect temperature to have a starter ready to bake within 7-10 days.
TROUBLESHOOTING COLDER KITCHENS, LESS THAN 67°F (19°C)
Colder temperatures slow the growth of the wild yeast and bacteria. If your kitchen is cold, the starter will need more than 7 days to mature.
You can help speed things up with the "oven light" trick to create a warm environment for your starter to grow in.
- Place your starter jar on a baking sheet, along with a thermometer in your oven. Position the jar so that it is on the opposite side from the light.
- Turn on the light of your oven, but keep the oven turned off! Shut the door to keep in the heat.
- Check the temperature after about one hour to make sure the oven is not TOO HOT, over 80°F ( 26°C).
- When the temperature is around 75°F (23°C) turn the light OFF. (This should keep the oven's interior warm for several hours.)
- Repeat as needed as the temperature falls back down.
TROUBLESHOOTING WARMER KITCHENS, MORE THAN 76°F (24°C)
On the other hand, some of you may have very warm environments which will cause the starter to become hungry much faster. This is because the yeast and bacteria are eating through the flour much more quickly.
If the ambient temperature is consistently too hot, 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
These are signs that your starter is hungry.
- The starter is very watery 24 hours after a feeding.
- There is separation of the water and flour in the jar.
- The starter has a few bubbles on top after 12 hours but is not rising after day 4.
On day 3 and beyond, you will keep feeding a 1:1 ratio of 50g whole wheat and 50g all-purpose flour. You will also add a second feeding 12 hours from the first of 2 tablespoons flour and 2 teaspoons water.
TIP - Keep your flour and water in the fridge between feedings. The cold temperature of the water and flour will help to slow down the fermentation.
My starter is still not rising
If you find that your starter is not rising after making adjustments for temperature there can be many things at play. For those that are still having issues, including anyone living in at a high altitude or in a warm and/or humid climate, I recommend the following adjustments:
- Use a 50/50 mix of whole wheat and all-purpose at each feeding and add the second feeding of 2 tablespoons flour, 2 teaspoons water.
- You can add a small amount of rye flour to your feedings to help boost the yeast. A teaspoon at each feeding should be fine.
- Give it time. Sometimes you will need the full 14 days!
What is hooch?
So you wake up to a layer of dark liquid floating on top of your starter. 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?
Sourdough starter should have a "yeasty" smell, like bread.
If the starter starts to smell like alcohol or nail polish remover, it's a sign that it needs some help. This is a sign that the yeast and bacteria are not balanced correctly.
This can be caused by many things but normally it's a missed feeding or overly warm temperatures.
To help remedy this, add an extra feeding everyday until the smell goes back to normal.
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.
Tips for success
Let's go over some things that can help you build a strong starter!
What kind of flour should I use?
Any type of wheat flour can be used to build and maintain a sourdough starter including, whole wheat, rye, all-purpose, spelt and a variety of others. Make sure to use a high quality, unbleached and un-bromated flour.
This tutorial uses a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flour to build the starter, transitioning to all-purpose on day 3. However, you can continue to use whole wheat if desired.
The reason we switch to all-purpose is that for most people, all-purpose flour is all that's needed to maintain a starter. We recommend continuing to use whole wheat if your starter is slow to take hold.
Freshly milled wheat flour can be used to feed your starter if you have access to it. I use the WonderMill, which is an economical option if you're just starting out.
What kind of water should I use?
You can use just about any water that is available. I fill a large glass bottle with tap water and let it sit out, uncovered, to let any gases dissipate.
I have had zero issues with this method, however local water treatment and sanitation regulations are different in each area of the world. This may cause you to have a different experience with using tap water.
If you are worried about using your local tap water, I recommend using bottled or filtered water instead.
Sourdough starter containers
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.
It's good practice to keep the top and rim of your jar clean when you feed the starter. Just use a wet towel or napkin to wipe it off. This will help prevent a build up of dried starter, which is very hard to get off of surfaces!
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!
When your starter is ready to bake with, head on over to Sourdough Starter 201: How to Feed, Maintain, Store and Backup where you'll learn what to do next!
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 (see notes)
- 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 at room temperature 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 at room temperature 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 at room temperature 24 hours. (See notes for adjustments needed for warm/humid climates.)
- 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. (See notes)I recommend that you continue the daily feedings until you have 7 consecutive days of doubling to help strengthen the starter. After that you can place your starter in the fridge, loosely covered, until you are ready to build a levain for baking.
- 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
- High Altitude/Warm and Humid Climate Adjustments - If you live in a warm, humid and/or high altitude you will need to make adjustments to the recipe. Instead of switching to only all-purpose flour on day 3, you will keep feeding a 1:1 ratio of 50g whole wheat and 50g all-purpose flour. You will also add a second feeding 12 hours from the first of 2 tablespoons flour and 2 teaspoons water. You will do this until your starter is ready to bake with. Whole wheat flour will give it the boost it needs to flourish in these conditions.
- How to 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. (This method is not always foolproof!)
- 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.
- Save discarded starter in a separate jar in the fridge to use in other recipes like sourdough discard crackers, give to a friend or put in a compost pile.
- Any type of wheat flour can be used to make a sourdough starter.
This post was originally posted in January 2020 and updated in May 2020 with updated recipe instructions, photos, tips and tricks.