With COVID-19 curfews and working from home, I have a lot of time on my hands, so I started cooking and baking a lot more than I used to.Like everyone else, I dived into the sourdough world and decided to make my own sourdough starter so I can try out different recipes and eventually make my own sourdough bread.
There’s no one around me with an established sourdough starter so I had to start from scratch. And it’s more fun this way.
I started reading and watching videos on YouTube to educate myself on making a sourdough starter from scratch.
I had a lot of fun along the way and wanted to share my experience with you.
If you’re ready, let’s get to it.
What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter is home to wild yeast and harmless bacteria that help us create magic in the baking process. It is basically made up of flour and water. When you create the optimal environment, the wild yeast breaks down the sugar in the flour, releasing gas as a by-product and that causes the starter–and essentially everything you add sourdough starter– to rise.
What is wild yeast?
There are different types of yeast that are used in baking, such as active yeast, dry yeast, and instant yeast. But before humans came up with all these, there was wild yeast. This type of yeast is already present in the flour. To activate it, you only need water (and patience.) It takes approximately seven days for the wild yeast in a sourdough starter to achieve that level of readiness to give life to your bread or other baked goods.
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What is the best flour to use for a sourdough starter?
You can use any type of flour for your sourdough starter, except for bleached all-purpose. Some recommend a blend of rye flour and bread flour. Some only use unbleached all-purpose flour. I decided to go with unbleached all-purpose flour.
Can I use tap water for my sourdough starter?
Yes and no. Some cities use chlorine in the tap water to get rid of unwanted bacteria and other organisms in the water. Unfortunately, the harmless bacteria and wild yeast in your sourdough starter are susceptible to the chlorine in tap water. That’s why you should go with filtered tap water or bottled water.
How do you start a sourdough starter?
If you have access to someone’s sourdough starter, that’s great! Just take 100 grams of their starter and mix 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of filtered water in a bowl thoroughly and add it to the starter. Pour it in a clear jar, loosely cover it with a cloth, or rest the jar lid to avoid getting debris in it, but allowing your starter to breathe.
If you don’t have access to anyone’s sourdough starter, you can make yourself one from scratch–like I did.
I used Nourished Kitchen’s sourdough starter recipe. Because at that time I did not have a kitchen scale and unlike others, Jenny, the author of this blog post, she gave me the cup measurements. That’s how I started and now I have a kitchen scale and recommend you get one too. But in the meantime, you can use the ½ cup flour and ⅓ water ratio to get things started.
What does hydration level mean?
You’ll often see recipes talk about the hydration level of the starter or the hydration level of the dough. This is simply the flour to water ratio of your sourdough starter. Most recipes use 100% hydration level sourdough starter.
That means your sourdough starter has equal parts of flour and water. 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour equals 100% hydration.
This is related to something called baker’s math or baker’s percentage. You can read all about it here.
How to adjust the hydration level of your sourdough starter
If you need a thicker sourdough starter, you can adjust the flour and water ratio of your sourdough starter with each feeding. For some recipes, you won’t be using any additional flour and for those recipes a thicker sourdough starter will be beneficial.
However, most recipes require a 100% hydration sourdough starter.
Step-by-step: how to make a sourdough starter
There are different ways and recipes to make a sourdough starter from scratch and the feeding schedule of these recipes vary.
Some recipes like The Kitchnn’s sourdough starter starts off with four ounces (about 113 grams, 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) of flour and four ounces of water (1/2 cup).
Mauricio at The Perfect Loaf starts off with 100 grams of flour and 150 grams of water.
The recipe I followed by Nourished Kitchen, uses 100 grams of flour and the same amount of water.
The numbers might be different, but the idea is the same.
It’s totally up to you as long as you feed your starter consistently until your starter starts rising (doubles in size between feedings) predictably and regularly.
If you’re ready let’s dig in!
Here’s what you need: a jar or a deep glass bowl, a medium-size mixing bowl, preferably a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, flour and filtered or distilled water.
Here’s what you do: In a medium-size bowl, mix 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water until it’s all incorporated. Pour this mix into your jar or glass bowl. Cover tightly and leave it in a room where the temperature is between 75-85 degrees.
Tip: If your kitchen is a little cooler than that, warm up your water until 80-100 degrees. Be careful not to exceed 100 degrees though.
Do this first thing in the morning and go back to your starter at the same time the next day.
Check your starter! You may see a few bubbles here and there–and that’s a good sign.
In a medium-size bowl, mix 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour together until it’s incorporated.
Take out 100 grams from your starter and discard it. You can use it in discard recipes instead of throwing it away.
Add the flour-water mix to your starter. Cover tightly and set aside.
Alternatively, you can scoop 100 grams from your starter, pour it in another jar, add the feeding and discard the rest of the sourdough and clean the old jar for the next day, if that makes it easier for you.
Day three is the day when your sourdough starter will peak in performance. You’ll see a lot of bubbles and the texture will be very bubbly–almost foamy. When you stir, you’ll hear the bubbles pop and it will feel like a batter. In some cases, this may happen on day four.
This situation of your sourdough start will, however, go away in a few days. That’s when most beginners give up. DON’T!
Take out 100 grams of your starter. Mix 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour and add the mix in your sourdough starter.
This is the day when you start increasing your feedings to every 12 hours instead of 24. If you do your feeding around nine am like I did, your second feeding of the day four should be around nine pm.
By now, your starter should be showing rising and falling activity.
Start by discarding (or using it) 100 grams from your starter.
In the morning, mix 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour and add the mix in your sourdough starter. Set aside.
12 hours after your feeding, repeat the feeding process.
By day five, you should see a lot bubbling activity and your sourdough starter should smell–well sour. You can taste it as well! It will taste sour too.
Again, discard 100 grams–although I suggest make some pancakes with it. In a medium-size bowl, mix 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of filtered or distilled water. Add this mix to your starter.
If you look at the sides of your jar, you can see the signs of your starter rising and falling by day six.
For the first feeding of the day, take 100 grams out of your starter and discard or use it in a sourdough recipe. Prepare your feeding with 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water and add it to your sourdough starter.
Cover your sourdough starter and leave it on your counter.
Twelve hours after your first feeding, you should see your sourdough rise. Discard 100 grams of your starter. Prepare another feeding with 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water. Feed your starter.
This should be a glorious day for your starter. It might be ready to use. I say “might” because everyone’s starter is a little different. A sourdough starter may only use two ingredients but the environment it’s in is another ingredient. The temperature, the type of flour you use, and the water may affect the outcome slightly.
Be patient with your starter.
By now, you should see your sourdough starter rise and fall predictably. Twelve hours after your feedings, it should double in size. If you observe this predictability in your sourdough starter, you are ready to bake your first loaf of bread.
Start with a beginner sourdough bread recipe.
If not, keep feeding your starter daily until it rises and falls just like you expect it to be.
How do you maintain your sourdough starter?
Do I have to bake every day now that I have a starter? Of course not. You can keep your sourdough starter in the fridge and feed it once a week to keep it alive. Sourdough starters are resilient.
When you want to bake, simply take out your starter from the fridge two days prior to baking and let it warm up for a few hours. Once it reaches room temperature, feed it. The next day, feed your starter again and let it sit on your counter. On the third day, you’re ready to bake with your sourdough starter.
If you’re planning to use your sourdough starter frequently, keep feeding it every 24 hours.
What to do with sourdough discard?
You can easily turn the discard into a pancake with this recipe. Or you can use your discard for English muffins, bagels, or pizza dough. Plan your meals around your sourdough discard and you’ll see the reward of your efforts.
Beginner Sourdough Bread Recipes
Once your starter is ready, check out this beginner sourdough bread recipe. As you get more experienced you can start experimenting with the recipes. You can use different types of flours in one recipe or
What else can you do with the sourdough starter?
Let’s take a look at what else you can bake with your sourdough starter:
- Sourdough pancakes
- Sourdough pizza dough
- Sourdough English muffins
- Sourdough bagels
- Sourdough biscuits
- Sourdough burger buns
Frequently asked questions about sourdough starter
How long does it take for the sourdough starter to be ready?
It will take six to nine days for your sourdough starter to be ready for baking. Depending on the temperature of the environment the starter is being kept and the type of flour you’re using, this timeframe might change.
How do I know when my sourdough starter is ready?
You can try the float test to see if it’s ready or not, but it’s not a reliable method. It took my sourdough starter longer than a week to pass the float test, but I started baking after a week with great results.
I recommend you to start with easy recipes at first before you dive into the world of sourdough bread. Pancakes, focaccia, pizza dough, and similar recipes to those will teach you how the sourdough and fermentation works.
Why is my sourdough starter so watery?
Until the sourdough starter starts showing a healthy yeast growth, the consistency will be watery. Don’t be alarmed and keep feeding your starter. As long as you see bubbles on the surface, you’re on the right track.
How long can sourdough starter go without feeding?
Sourdough starters are resilient so if you skip a few feedings, your starter will be fine. While you’re keeping it in room temperature try to feed it every day. You can keep your starter in the fridge and feed it every week if you’re not planning on baking every day.
What happens if you don’t feed your sourdough starter?
Chances are it will be fine for a few days. If you forget to feed it for a while, try feeding every 12 hours to bring it back. If you see bubbling and doubling, congrats, you’re sourdough starter is back.
However, there are some people who left their sourdough starter without a feeding for a long time and could not bring it back.
Can I leave my sourdough starter on the counter?
Absolutely. Sourdough starters thrive in temperatures between 70-85 F. If you are not planning on baking every day, I recommend keeping it in your fridge and feeding it once every week.
Does sourdough starter improve with age?
A mature starter will give you better results than a young starter. However, the older the better is not always true. There are hundreds of years old sourdough starters out there, but there’s not much supporting evidence that these starters will give you tastier breads and baked goods.
Do I have to use a scale for my sourdough starter?
You don’t have to have a scale for a sourdough starter, but unlike cooking, baking is more precise when it comes to recipes and ingredients.
You can feed 1/2 cup of starter with 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water to achieve a 100% hydration sourdough starter.