The first requirement for making sourdough bread is having an active sourdough starter on hand. There is nothing complicated about making a sourdough starter from scratch! Flour, water, and good instructions are all you need. Grab the first two and follow my easy directions below on how to make a sourdough starter.
Often referred to as natural yeast, as opposed to commercial yeast, a sourdough starter is a whole ecosystem of wild yeast and bacteria that live in a symphony. Rising your bread is only a consequence of a healthy starter. During the fermentation process, wild yeast and bacteria feed on the starches in your flour. When doing so, they produce (among other things) carbon dioxide, which creates lots of bubbles that ultimately make our bread rise.
Simplify and Adapt
You'll find a ton of instructions, videos, and how-to's regarding how to make your own sourdough starter. More often than not, complicating things more than necessary when it comes to sourdough leads to overthinking, impatience, and disappointment. You may get the impression that you need a week to make a sourdough starter from scratch. That is only a rough estimate! Getting your sourdough starter to the point of it being sufficiently active is dependent on so many factors, it is impossible to tell you how long it will take. It depends on the temperature, the flour, the water, the humidity, and so on. That's why I don't like instructions that tell you for example: "On day 5 you should be seeing some activity..."...well maybe you will, maybe you won't!
You should be able to bake bread with your starter, on average, in about 10 days. Maybe your mix of circumstances will allow you to do so earlier. People in sourdough communities online often wrote about starters that were very active on day 3 and day 4, then they got very sluggish and picked up again on days 12, 15, or even 20, stronger than ever! But a rule of thumb is that you should start to see at least some activity in the first 7 days. If you don't, try to switch up your flour, feeding amounts, or feeding frequency (we will talk more about all that later). You could also find a warm place for your starter if you have a feeling the temperature in your home is a bit low.
A clean jar with a lid, a rubber band, flour, and water. And you don't have to overcomplicate that either; tap water should be fine, as long as it does not contain drastic amounts of chloride. You do not need filtered water or bottled water. I use a standard mason jar (you don't need a weck jar). Flour is a bit trickier, so we'll cover that in the paragraph below.
I strongly suggest using white wheat flour. Although starters can be made with whole wheat flour or even other flour (rye flour, spelt flour, even chickpea flour). Since all purpose flour in the United States can contain quite a residue from pesticides and herbicides. At least that's what I heard from many people). So go for flour that you deem most "alive". When I say alive, I mean that it contains naturally present microbes that were not killed off during the processing. That means less processed and preferably bio/organic flour will be best. If you can use fresh flour by grinding your own flour, that is supposed to be even better (although I don't do that so I haven't tried it).
Later, when you'll be feeding your mature starter, that is not so important anymore, because the beneficial yeasts and bacteria are already in the starter and the starter does not depend on the flour to bring those microbes in. But when establishing a starter, we want to cultivate the water/flour mix with lots of different beneficial microorganisms! Whole grain flour is very "alive" as well, but can be a bit unpredictable, so I do not recommend it for starting.
Some come from the air, some from your hands and fingers, but the majority comes in the flour.
I guess you could, but it would take you a REALLY long time to do since the fermentation is slowed down so much in lower temperatures. You would probably need a few months, provided you would feed the starter once a week or so.
When your starter will (at least) double in 4 - 12 hours after a feed. It can take one week or three weeks to get to that point, but you will, don't worry!
I strongly suggest not to! Some recipes for sourdough starter call for equal amounts of flour and water in cups. I tried it that way as well and I found that doing it this way, you end up with too much water! My starter acted strange and was almost always hungry. Going by equal amounts of flour and water IN GRAMS is way more appropriate and much more resembles the feeding schedule of an established starter. A kitchen scale is very important for making a starter, later you can go without it.
I hate to say it, but yes. Discarding the starter serves the purpose of controlling the amount. Without discarding, you'd end up with so much starter you'd need a couple of jars just to keep it all. So why not start with, let's say, 5 grams of each? Because if you started with so little, you would have a hard time determining if the starter has doubled in size. That is why we start with 25 grams of each. That way, you can discard half (or even a bit more, depending on the size of your jar) and still add equal parts of flour and water without your jar overflowing with the starter.
After you have an established starter, there are different ways to avoid having a lot of discard. One of them is batch baking sourdough bread, so you can keep your starter in the fridge with no feedings most of the time.
In the first week, it is not advisable to use discard in recipes. That is due to the possibility of the starter containing some bad bacteria you do not want to consume. I know wasting good flour is hard, at least for me it was. Be careful not to pour it in the sink; some people reported the discard clogging their pipes. The toilet is a better option.
THIS was a part I did wrong many times, many years ago when I first made my starter from scratch. All recipes call for a "pancake batter" consistency. I don't know exactly which consistency are they suggesting (because pancake batter can be very thick or very thin), but you want THICK batter! Think natural peanut butter thick. It should not resemble a ball of dough, but it should be closer to consistency to bread dough than to a liquid! If the starter will be too liquid, it will go through food too fast and it will always end up too acidic. So when in doubt, make it thicker.
Yes. You probably saw that a lot of recipes call for a 100% hydration starter. That simply means that the starter is fed equal amounts of flour and water. That is by far the easiest starter to keep and bake with. And the recipe below creates that type of starter. And if you are looking for an easy beginner bread to make, this easy and simple no-knead artisan sourdough bread recipe is great to start with!
Yes and no. Yes, because if your starter floats, that means it consists of a lot of air bubbles. The bubbles indicate activity so that starter is probably ready to bake with. BUT, if your starter is on the more liquid side, the bubbles tend to escape quicker and the starter may not float. Even if it produced as many bubbles as the thick starter mentioned above! So that starter is also ready to bake with, but will not float. So with a float test, you can get a false negative, but you cannot get a false positive if that makes sense. And it depends on the hydration level of a starter, as explained.
📖 Sourdough Starter Recipe
Start with 25 grams of water and 25 grams of flour. Use room temperature or cold water, but not warm water. The starter is sensitive to heat so we don't want the water to be too hot. Mix well, you can use a regular (metal) spoon. This little exposure to metal is fine for a starter, so no need to complicate it. Put a lid on a jar and leave it alone for 24 hours at room temperature, try to find a warm spot (but no worries if you don't have one). Be careful not to leave it in direct sunlight, since UV radiation can kill the yeasts and bacteria we want to cultivate. Put a rubber band around your jar to mark the height of your starter. It will be irrelevant before the starter starts rising but be prepared.
Discard half a mixture, so you end up with 25 grams of "discard" (which will not really look like discard at that point, only flour and water mixed). Repeat the process from day 1: feed it with 25 grams of water and 25 grams of flour. I suggest you put the water in first, mix it a little, and then mix the four in. This makes mixing the starter easier. And do not worry about the clumps; it is normal not to achieve a uniform mixture. The important part is you don't have any dried flour hanging around. And again: the consistency should be like peanut butter, so quite thick!
Discard half (that means the remaining starter should weigh around 38g) and add the same amount of water and flour: so 38 grams of water and 38 grams of flour. You may spot some activity, or not, either way is normal.
A quick note: if you notice your starter peaks (even if it's a very little peak!) in less than 12 hours, consider it feeding two times a day (morning and evening). After the peak and coming down to the original height, a starter is hungry and would benefit from a feeding (even if it is only 12 hours form the last feed).
Discard half (that means the remaining starter should weigh around 57g) and add the same amount of water and flour: so 57 grams of water and 57 grams of flour. You may spot some activity, or not, either way is normal.
Fetch a clean jar and pour 30 grams of starter in, discard the rest. Add 30 grams of water and 30 grams of flour. You may spot some activity, or not, either way is normal.
Discard half (that means the remaining starter should weigh around 45g) and add the same amount of water and flour: so 45 grams of water and 45 grams of flour. You may spot some activity, or not, either way is normal.
Discard half (that means the remaining starter should weigh around 58g) and add the same amount of water and flour: so 58 grams of water and 58 grams of flour. After a week, you should see some activity. The starter may not rise very much yet, but it should at least show some signs of activity, tiny bubbles for example. If it doesn't, try changing the flour or adjusting the regime based on observation (see tips below). The important thing to note here is that some starters are quite quick. If yours reaches its peak rise after 5 hours, you'll need to feed it more frequently, maybe even every 12 hours (that is what I needed to do for my starter to begin thriving!).
From Day 7 Onwards
Keep discarding and feeding the starter equal amounts of water and flour. If you find that the amount is not possible to work with anymore, discard everything save for (for example) 30g, and feed appropriately. After 2 weeks (more likely much sooner), you'll have a sourdough starter that will act like a true living organism! You'll know it's ready to bake when it will double in volume 4 - 12 hours after feeding.
Troubleshooting (By Observation)
- "My starter smells very acidic and has a lot of doubles on the surface, but it does not rise very well."
This is a typical example of a hungry starter. That kept happening to me when I had no experience and didn't know what to do. Everywhere I was reading to feed every 24 hours, but for some starters that is too long apart. Try feeding your starter in the morning and the evening. If acidity and bubbles keep happening, try to make your starter even a little bit thicker (so add more flour).
- "My starter is full of very little bubbles and does not rise much."
This means your starter is probably too runny, so try to feed it more flour. If we want bubbles to be bigger and to stay trapped in the starter (and therefore make the starter larger in volume), we need to provide structure for the bubbles to stay in the starter. That can be achieved when we make the matter thicker.
-"How do I know if there is mold on my starter?
I really hope you will not need this type of advice, but if you do, check out my post about how to recognize mold on your starter!
You can do your own starter from scratch!
I hope this was informative and practical. I am confident that if you follow the steps above, you should eventually get an active starter you can keep and bake with. homemade sourdough starter is a staple in my kitchen I hope you'll find as much joy in baking with it as I have! There are so many sourdough recipes out there, the options are practically endless! With your own starter, you'll be less reliant on the store to provide you with yeast. With regular feedings, your starter should last you however long you want it to.
A Final Note
I know making your own starter from scratch can be frustrating. And nothing is wrong with buying your starter or getting it from a friend if all else fails. But I still think you can do it, with the right information and some patience!
Please write any troubles you may encounter when following this recipe in the comments below. I'll do my best to get back to you because I feel making a starter can be the beginning of a beautiful journey. And I would love to help you at least at the start of it!