A lot of people want to bake their own sourdough, but many of them are daunted by the process of creating a starter. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: it’s incredibly easy. Creating a starter isn’t the full-time job some professional bakers make it out to be. Yes, the carby concoction does need to be on a feeding schedule (kind of like an infant!), but once it’s established, it’s mostly hands off. I’ll break down that process step-by-step for you, so you can make your own sourdough starter with confidence. (Of course, there’s always the option to buy my super-strong dry starter, or better yet, sign up for one of my sourdough courses. I love teaching the old-fashioned way! Still, I truly believe the starter process is simple enough that you can do this solo.)
Before we begin, let’s answer the age-old question: what is a starter? A sourdough starter is a combination of flour and water that is used to leaven sourdough bread, and is essentially made up of wild yeast and bacteria. Sourdough starter is made by mixing flour and water. After about a week, natural bacteria in the air gather on the starter ferment, creating a bubbly and active mixture. As your starter matures, it will begin to rise and fall reliably with each feeding. With proper care, your starter can last for years! Read on below for everything you’ll need to make your own starter.
What You’ll Need
- A jar with a lid. Pretty much any bowl, container, or similar vessel will work, but I prefer a glass jar with a plastic lid, so the closure isn’t completely airtight.
- A kitchen scale. Accurately weighing your ingredients is absolutely essential.
- Room temperature water. I recommend you use filtered water.
- High-quality flour. I love King Arthur Flour since it’s reliable and readily available.
I recommend an 80/20 blend* of bread (or unbleached all-purpose) flour to whole wheat flour. After teaching thousands of people how to cultivate a starter, I find this blend to be the most consistent—especially for newbies. Prepare a big batch so you always have it handy when feeding the starter. Although using my method below, you can replace whole wheat flour with pretty much any flour you’d like (such as rye or spelt). The recipe is incredibly versatile!
Create your starter step by step
- 32 grams bread flour
- 8 grams whole wheat flour
- 40 grams room temperature water
- Mix all of the above ingredients in your container and let it sit out at room temperature for 12 hours. You will not notice any difference in your ‘starter’ just yet.
- After 12 hours, pour off most of the mix leaving behind just 1-2 tablespoons and discard in the trash.
- After discarding, immediately feed the 1-2 tbsp which you kept (which is now your ‘starter’) using the same ratio as above (32gr bread flour, 8gr ww flour, 40gr water). Again leave it out at room temperature for 12 hours.
- Continue ‘discarding’ and ‘feeding’ your starter every 12 hours for the next 7-14 days. This time frame varies, and that’s totally normal. Remember that time is an ingredient, just like flour and water. Your starter is a live culture feeding on natural yeasts, so it needs time to ferment. Give it patience!
- On day 2 or 3, you may see some bubbling activity, but after a day or so it will go flat. This is normal! Don’t be discouraged or abandon your sourdough baby. The starter needs time to get fully active. As long as you feed it twice a day, trust that it is alive and thriving!
- When the starter appears to be active and bubbly within 6-8 hours of feeding, perform a float test. To do this, take a spoonful of starter and drop it into a bowl of water. If it sinks, it may not have enough wild yeast and could benefit from another feeding. If the starter floats, it’s ready to be used to leaven bread.
- Congratulations- you’ve made your own starter!
Easy enough, right? Now that you have a starter, make sure you take proper care of it, too. With regular feedings, your starter can last a lifetime. In fact, my starter, which is named Chaos, is over a decade old and going strong! And yours can, too. Here are some tips on how to keep your starter healthy and ready to use when you want to bake:
- Store your starter correctly. An active starter should be stored in a covered container or glass jar with plenty of space for expansion.
- A starter is best maintained at 70-75°F (21-24°C). Feed your starter daily with equal parts of flour and water to ensure it stays active and ready to bake.
- If you plan to store your starter for an extended period, feed it 40g flour and 40g water and place it in the refrigerator for up to 6-8 weeks. After removing it from the fridge, you may see some dark liquid on top of the starter. This is known as “hooch” and it’s a byproduct of fermentation. Simply pour it off and give your starter a feeding before using it in a recipe.
- When feeding the starter, stick with the same flour. If you want to change flours give it a few feedings to bounce back to its normal, bubbly self.
- You can use any flour in your bread recipe with the starter you have- no need to make a special spelt starter for spelt bread. Your starter is versatile!
- ***Pro tip: You can’t feed a starter on Shabbat! Make sure to feed right before and after. And like all things made in nature, your starter is healthy and hearty. Don’t worry if you miss a feeding here or there. Just get back into the groove as soon as possible.
Ready to bake? Let’s make some bread!
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