how to make a sourdough starter from scratch

Why put in the blood, sweat and tears to create a sourdough starter? Yikes, maybe I started off too dramatic there. Why put in the sweat and tears to create a sourdough starter? Well, maybe you are wanting to get in touch with your roots and make artisan bread the way humans did long before grocery stores and commercially packaged yeast. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a pandemic and yeast has been stripped off the grocery store shelves in a frenzy. There’s a chance you’re simply super bored and want to give this whole sourdough thing a go. Perhaps you fall into the group of folks who had such an incredible time in San Francisco that you’ll do whatever it takes to recreate those heavenly chowder-in-sourdough-bread-bowl situations they sell at the pier. Whatever your driving factor, here is a simple guide of how to make a sourdough starter from scratch.

What Goes Into a Sourdough Starter?

Flour + Water. That’s it.

Step 1 – Add Flour

Step 2 – Add Water

Then you give it a little mixy-mixy action and just repeat the process for the next several days. The water-flour mixture actually ferments and the wild yeast in the air grow and create the sourdough starter!

But… What is a Sourdough Starter?

Well, sourdough bread is different from all other breads because of two major reasons: (1) its taste and (2) its yeast. Sourdough bread has this signature “tang” to it, sort of similar to the tangy taste of yogurt, sour cream and cheese. The crust is usually quite crispy and hard, while the inside is soft and chewy. Instead of using a commercial yeast like dry active yeast or instant yeast to make the dough rise, you use a sourdough starter. A sourdough starter is a fermented mixture of flour and water. Yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria are naturally found in the air. By allowing the flour and water mixture to sit out for several days, the mixture absorbs and grows the wild yeast. Yay, free yeast!
And what’s even cooler is that because different parts of the world have different types of yeast and bacteria in the air, sourdough from different regions may actually have a slightly different taste!

Is Sourdough Bread Healthy?

Because a sourdough starter is fermented, it lends health benefits beyond a tangy and delicious flavor. Yogurt is labeled a health food because of the good bacteria (lactobacillus) and this same good bacteria is found in sourdough bread. These good bacteria do wonderful things for your digestive system as well as your immune system.
What about the sugar spikes from bread? A lot of the glucose is broken down by the wild yeast during fermentation of your starter, so sourdough bread won’t spike your blood sugar levels like white balloon bread.
Sooo basically you need to eat these carbs for the sake of your health. (I gotchu.)

And even though there are no preservatives since this bread is made totally from scratch at home, the acidity of the sourdough actually prevents mold growth a lot better than other breads. (If your sourdough loaf does eventually grow mold, don’t eat it please.)

How to Make a Sourdough Starter from Scratch

Day 1
Mix together 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) with 4 oz water (1/2 cup). Cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap for 24 hours.

Day 2
Mix in another 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) and 4 oz water (1/2 cup). Cover again loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap for 24 hours.

Day 3
Mix in another 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) and 4 oz water (1/2 cup). Cover again loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap for 24 hours.

Day 4
Mix in another 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) and 4 oz water (1/2 cup). Cover again loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap for 24 hours.

Day 5
By now, your starter MAY be ready to start using!
IF your starter is bubbly and smelling tangy and yeasty (aka “ripe”) then you can prepare to use it! Just remove half of the starter (save that “discard” to bake into other goodies – stay tuned for future recipes!)
Add 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) and 4 oz water (1/2 cup) to the half of your starter that is still in the container. Use this newly fed starter within the next few days to bake your first loaf! Or if you don’t plan on baking for a while, cover it tightly and pop it in the fridge.
IF your starter is not bubbly, if it has developed hooch on it (see below) or if it smells like vinegar or gym socks, then repeat Day 4 until your starter is looking bubbly and smelling yeasty. You may even need to feed it twice per day.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

The short answer? Starvation. The long answer? See below in my neat six-point list.

1. Temperature

When initially making a sourdough starter and when you’re planning to use it in a recipe, it should generally be at around 70°F – 85°F.
It’s the middle of August here in Oregon and I don’t have air conditioning in my apartment, so it’s always a toasty 80-ish in my apartment.
If you don’t have these ideal-sourdough-starter-making conditions (i.e. if you’re not roasting in your own home) then you can keep your starter in an oven with the light on, on top of the fridge, or in the microwave while it’s off.
When you’re ready to bake with it, leave it out for a day on the counter if your starter was chillin’ in the fridge.

2. Ingredients and Timing

It’s just unbleached flour and water. Don’t go crazy.
Try to feed your starter around the same time every day. For me that was 4:00 pm (thank you work-from-home).

3. Bubbles

I freaked out on Day 3 because I was seeing way less bubbles. But this is actually pretty normal with a starter-in-the-making. The whole process to make a sourdough starter can be unpredictable because you are literally creating a live fermented culture of water and flour from the wild yeast in the air. There are so many variables at play, so if your starter isn’t as bubbly-looking as online and book tutorials, that’s okay.
BUT I probably shouldn’t have jumped the gun into baking bread with an un-bubbly starter. It appears the consensus from my internet research is that when the starter isn’t looking bubbly, the best thing to do is to keep feeding it, maybe even twice a day, until it IS bubbly, because that indicates that it’s active and therefore will rise your bread.

4. Hooch

Alright, now it’s a party!! Actually, that grey dirty-sock-smelling liquid that was sitting on the top of my starter after I moved it into the fridge after Day 5 was called hooch. And not the kind they made in Orange is the New Black. Hooch on your sourdough starter indicates that it’s super hungry and needs to be fed more. Oops. I’m sorry I starved you, poor little starter!

5. Smell

By around Day 3, my starter started to smell like play-doh. You know, the colorful modeling clay stuff that was super squishy and reeks of chemicals? It smelled slightly yeasty, but there was a strong punch of play-doh stench.
If your sourdough starter smells like play-doh, according to the fine folks on reddit (*cough cough*) that’s “normal”. I couldn’t confirm this. But I did find that if your start smells like vinegar, dirty gym socks or acetone/nail polish remover, then you need to feed it more.

6. Patience and Committment

Making a sourdough starter and then using it to make all sorts of artisan breads and other baked goods is described as a long-term relationship. A deep connection to the rustic ways of baking before yeast came in small packages in the store. A practice in patience. A journey of trusting the process that has been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.
I realized that I’m totally okay with where I’m at in life right now that if I get a craving for sourdough bread, I’ll pay someone else to go through the pain and struggles to make it.

What Are Some Other Resources for Sourdough?

There are TONS of great resources online and in print for making a sourdough starter and baking with sour dough. If you want some hard-core sourdough lovers, check out these bakers.

1. The Kitchn – They have an entire day during their 4-week Baking School dedicated to sourdough. And this sourdough starter tutorial was the one I followed.
2. The Clever Carrot – She has multiple posts about sourdough starters as well as a book, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple.
3. Tasty – They made a whole step-by-step video to make a sourdough starter with a professional baker and a beginner, so it’s pretty easy to follow along.
4. Don’t Waste the Crumbs – I like reading things from people who do everything from scratch – from bread to kombucha to sunscreen. If they are still alive, they probably figured out how to do it the right way.
5. Ideas.TED – If you want to geek out on sourdough, the TED Talks folks can help with that.

Print

sourdough starter from scratch

how to make a sourdough starter from scratch at home
Keyword artisan, baking, bread, DIY, healthy, sourdough, sourdough starter, yeast
Prep Time 5 days

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces unbleached flour
  • 16 ounces water

Instructions

  • Day 1 – Mix together 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) with 4 oz water (1/2 cup). Cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap for 24 hours.
  • Day 2 – Mix in another 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) and 4 oz water (1/2 cup). Cover again loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap for 24 hours.
  • Day 3 – Mix in another 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) and 4 oz water (1/2 cup). Cover again loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap for 24 hours.
  • Day 4 – Mix in another 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) and 4 oz water (1/2 cup). Cover again loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap for 24 hours.
  • Day 5 – Check your starter.
    IF your starter is bubbly and smelling tangy and yeasty, then you can prepare to use it! Remove half of the starter (save that "discard" to bake into other goodies.) Add 4 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) and 4 oz water (1/2 cup) to the half of your starter that is still in the container. Use this newly fed starter within the next few days to bake your first loaf! Or if you don't plan on baking for a while, cover it tightly and pop it in the fridge.
    IF your starter is not bubbly, if it has developed hooch on it (a grey dirty-sock-smelling liquid) or if it smells like vinegar or acetone, then repeat Day 4 until your starter is looking bubbly and smelling yeasty. You may even need to feed it twice per day.

Notes

Making your own sourdough starter is a fun and budget-friendly way to start baking your own delicious and healthy bread at home! 

Published by strawberryandcream

Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)

5 thoughts on “how to make a sourdough starter from scratch

  1. I’ve heard of sourdough bread but never really understood it until now! Thanks for that information. It would be a smart and fun thing to do while we’re being quarantined!

    1. strawberryandcream – Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)
      strawberryandcream says:

      Thank you!! Let me know if you give it a try! Stay tuned for another post to make a sourdough bread loaf with your starter!

    1. strawberryandcream – Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)
      strawberryandcream says:

      Thank you!! I learned a lot about sourdough that I didn’t know before making my own starter and bread.

what do you think? :)