How to Make a Sourdough Starter [+ video]

Jessica Penner, RDRecipes, Tutorial137 Comments

Sourdough Starter Tutorial

A simple tutorial for creating your very own sourdough starter in just 7 days! Learn all you need and troubleshoot challenges with our Q&A.

I now consider myself an expert in making sourdough starter. Since I inevitably end up neglecting my little sourdough baby and have to throw it out, I have started SEVERAL batches now!

Honestly, keeping a sourdough starter probably only takes a minute a day. But you have to remember to feed the darn thing. So if you have a memory like mine and you’re able to remember each and every one of your childhood classmates’ birthdays but forget to pick up milk on your way home, then there’s definitely a challenge to the whole sourdough thing.

Since it takes some responsibility to feed each day, I actually think that starting a sourdough would be a good test project for a kid who’s begging for a pet. Give them something to practice feeding, with low emotional risk if that thing dies. If they show they are responsible with the sourdough, then maybe they’d be eligible for that puppy. Or maybe move on to a goldfish first!

how to start a sourdough starter with only 2 ingredients

Day 1:

Find a container that holds the amount you’d like. I found a beauty similar to this one at a housewares store.

It sits on my counter, so I wanted something aesthetically pleasing, but you can use whatever you’d like.  The container just needs something to cover it loosely.  I initially started with a large Ziploc container like this one:

The gas produced by the sourdough probiotics needs to escape, but you don’t want dust or other random things to fall in your starter either. If you decide to use a big mixing bowl, you can cover it with plastic wrap and throw a tea towel over top.

Okay, second task on day one is to measure out 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. It’s important (and easier) to do this by weight. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, take a look at this one.

It’s made of bamboo! How pretty and sleek is that?

Now stir the flour and water together until it is well combined and you get a thick, sticky mess. It’s just going to look like a big ball of dough at this point. Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 2:

Add another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter. It’s still just going to look like a thick dough. Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 3:

Same as above. Add another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter. You’re going to start wondering if anything is every going to happen because it’s still going to just look like a thick, sticky mess. If you’re one of the lucky few, you may even start to see some bubbles! Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 4:

Do you see bubbles yet? If you’re lucky, magic has started to happen. But it’s okay if you don’t have any bubbles. Don’t lose hope! Add another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter.  Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 5:

Now you should start to see bubbles and the dough should begin to loosen up. Again, if it hasn’t happened yet, don’t abandon your baby! It could still happen. Add yet another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container.  Stir until fully incorporated into the starter. Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 6:

You really should see some bubbles and your dough should be fairly loose and thin. I’m sorry if this hasn’t happened for you yet. I said I’m an expert at starting sourdough, not fixing sourdough problems (UPDATE: I’m learning more and more and have included a lot of troubleshooting Q&A at the bottom of this post!). Add yet another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter.  Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 7:

Congratulations! You made it! You can start to use your starter! If you aren’t able to, throw about half of it out or your starter will grow too big for your container and explode down the sides! We’re not going for a volcano lava science experiment here. Add yet another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter. Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Sourdough Day 7

A happy, thriving, bubbly sourdough starter!

 

Day 8 to infinity:

Feed your sourdough with a 1:1:1 ratio. What that means is you’ll need to weigh your unfed starter and then feed it equal parts flour and water. For example, let’s say your unfed starter weighs 2 oz. You’ll then add 2 oz water and 2 oz flour.

For the avid baker:  If you plan on using your starter 2 or more times a week, you will need to be pretty active in feeding it. Keep feeding your starter everyday. Use or discard as needed to keep to a manageable size for your container. If you go away for a weekend, just throw it in the fridge. If you’re going to be away for more than a week and you don’t want to hire a sourdough nanny, dry it, freeze it, and defrost it when you get back.

For the occasional baker: If you plan on using your starter once a week or less, you can keep it in the fridge. It will need to be taken out and fed at least once a week. It’s best to use the starter within 12-24 hours after feeding it. If you’re going to be away for more than a week and you don’t want to hire a sourdough nanny, dry it, freeze it, and defrost it when you get back.

For the rare baker: Make friends with an avid or occasional baker and use their starter as needed. To make it a symbiotic relationship, you could offer to babysit the starter when your friend goes away!

FAQ:

Q: What’s the best temperature for a sourdough starter?

A: Think a warm summer day. The ideal temperature is around 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s warmer it might develop off smells and colours.

Q: Can you tell me the difference between a fed (active) and unfed sourdough starter and when to use them?

A: I made a video to visually show you the difference!

Q: My starter has turned orange/pink/grey/blue. Can I still use it?

A: I haven’t been able to find an authoritative answer on whether off-colour starters are still safe to use. Since illness-causing bacteria like to grow in the same conditions as the probiotics in your sourdough starter (room temperature, moist, salt-free, with a food source) I wouldn’t chance it. Throw it out and start again. Orange or pink colours and visible mold are definitely signs the starter has gone bad and should be discarded entirely.

If you keep your starter in the fridge and you pull it out to find a greyish liquid on top, just pour that off into the sink, weigh the remainder, and feed as normal! This greyish liquid is called “hooch” and is just a sign that your starter needs to be fed.

Q: Can I use whole wheat flour or flour from other grains (rye, rice, etc)?

A: Yes! Although if you don’t require 100% gluten-free (i.e. you don’t have Celiac) then it’s recommended to start with all-purpose flour to get the starter going. You may certainly have success with any type of flour but I’ve read that all-purpose flour is the most predictable. Once you have an active, happy starter, you can branch out in what you feed it! But once you branch out, keep feeding it the same thing. For example, if you want a rye starter, keep feeding it rye flour. Don’t go back and forth between rye and flour.

As for bleached all purpose flour, reports indicate that some people have success while other don’t. I would recommend reaching for unbleached if you can as it tends to produce more reliable results!

Q: I’ve read elsewhere that to maintain the starter it should be fed every 12 hours but your guide says every 24 hours. What do I believe?

A: From the info I’ve been able to gather, feeding your starter more often will help to increase the active bacteria count. If you find that your dough is taking a really long time to rise or that your loaves don’t rise as much as you’d like during baking, then try feeding your starter every 8-12 hours in the day or so before you use it.  But if you’re happy with the way it performs when you feed it every 24 hours, then why make the process more labor-intensive than it needs to be?

Q: Do I still need yeast to bake with sourdough?

A: Yes AND no! Initially your sourdough starter will not be potent enough (for lack of a better description) to make a whole loaf of bread rise on its own. Once your starter gets to the point where it looks like the “fed” description in the above video then you can start to use it alongside yeast or baking powder. The sourdough will impart a rich flavour to your baking! But it will take a bit more maturing to go yeast-free. There’s no exact timeframe but you can try after 2-3 weeks. If your bread doesn’t rise that well, that’s okay! You can still use it to make croutons or bread crumbs 🙂 Wait a few more feedings, and try again! Sourdough baking inherently involves some trial and error.

Q: What can I make with my sourdough starter? Is it only good for bread?

A: Heavens, no! If you can use wheat flour for it, you can find a version that uses sourdough starter. I have been consistently blown away by how much BETTER-TASTING my sourdough versions of nearly everything have turned out! Here are some things I’ve made:

Some recipes are “starter” recipes, aka beginner recipes (haha, see what I did there?) that don’t rely on the leavening power of the sourdough starter. These recipes will have either yeast or baking powder as well.

If you give this recipe a go, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or snap a photo and tag it with #smartnutritionrecipes on Instagram!  I’d love to see your creations! Knowing someone has enjoyed one of my recipes always makes my day brighter.  

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Sourdough Starter Day 7

how to make a sourdough starter


  • Author: Jessica Penner, RD
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 minutes

Ingredients

  • All purpose flour (preferably unbleached)
  • Luke warm water

Instructions

Day 1:

Measure out 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into a container (see options above). It’s important (and easier) to do this by weight.

Now stir the flour and water together until it is well combined and you get a thick, sticky mess. It’s just going to look like a big ball of dough at this point. Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 2:

Add another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter. It’s still just going to look like a thick dough. Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter

Day 3:

Same as above. Add another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter. You’re going to start wondering if anything is every going to happen because it’s still going to just look like a thick, sticky mess. Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 4:

Do you see bubbles yet? If you’re lucky, magic has started to happen. But it’s okay if you don’t have any bubbles. Don’t lose hope! Add another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter.  Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 5:

Now you should start to see bubbles and the dough should begin to loosen up. Again, if it hasn’t happened yet, don’t abandon your baby! It could still happen. Add yet another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container.  Stir until fully incorporated into the starter. Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 6:

You really should see some bubbles and your dough should be fairly loose and thin. Add yet another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter.  Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Day 7:

Congratulations! You made it! You can start to use your starter! If you aren’t able to, throw about half of it out or your starter will grow too big for your container and explode down the sides! We’re not going for a volcano lava science experiment here. Add yet another 4 ounces (112g) of all-purpose flour and 4 ounces of water into your container. Stir until fully incorporated into the starter. Cover loosely and leave on your kitchen counter.

Keywords: sourdough starter

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137 Comments on “How to Make a Sourdough Starter [+ video]”

    1. In the first 2-3 week I recommend adding some instant commercial yeast as a little “insurance” in case your starter isn’t quite mature enough to handle rising a whole loaf of bread. You can take the liquid part of a recipe (water or milk), heat to medium warm, dissolve 1/2 tsp of yeast in. Then proceed with the recipe as usual! Here’s my favourite recipe for sourdough seed bread.

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