Creating your own sourdough starter doesn’t need to be intimidating. I’m going to share you tips on how to make a simple starter and keep it going! This article is scheduled to be first of many “Sourdough Saturday” tips and recipes.
Last year, when the world shut down, I jumped on the bread-making bandwagon. Making sourdough was something I’d had on my wish list to try but had never gotten around to it. Perhaps that was because once I started reading other people’s tips and instructions, creating sourdough appeared to be difficult and just as likely to fail as succeed.
I’ll admit that I ended up killing my first batch of sourdough sometime late last fall. I let it sit too long in the refrigerator without feeding it. But that might have been a good thing! The second time in starting, I learned even more than the first time around.
All you need to create your own sourdough starter is:
- lukewarm/room-temperature water
- glass, ceramic or other non-metal container
- a towel or plastic wrap for covering
As I mentioned, I’ve read many other articles that state you should use wheat or rye flour to start, you need filtered water, etc., etc., etc. I’m here to tell you that simple all-purpose flour and any water should work just fine.
Will using wheat/rye flour and filtered water increase your chances of success? Probably. But I’m saying it’s not a requirement.
Both times I started with all-purpose flour from our cupboard and tap water. Our house has a private well, but we also have a whole-house filter due to the high iron content in the soil (turns everything orange if we don’t filter!) I will admit that during one of the prep-week feedings, I did use wheat flour to give it a boost. But I don’t think it was really necessary (we just had the flour on hand).
Tip #1 – the container
Here is my first tip for making your sourdough starter.
You will want to find a non-metal container to store your sourdough starter in from day-to-day. You can use plastic, but I’ve found I prefer ceramic or glass. A pint canning jar works perfectly for this. However, make sure you use a wide-mouth jar to make it easy to stir and scoop out!
The basic sourdough recipe (first try)
The first time I made sourdough starter, I used some conventional recipe amounts – starting with:
- 4 ounces of flour (110g)
- 4 ounces of water (110g)
Measuring by weight is the best way to ensure you are getting the proper amounts. However, if you really prefer to use imperial measurements, you can use this method:
- 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp flour
- 1/2 cup water
However… this results in a LOT of discard while you are feeding each day! It forced me to look for delicious recipes to use up that discard. However it still felt like I was wasting too much discard when I didn’t have anything to bake!
Tip #2 – reduce the amounts
One of the reasons people were clamoring to make sourdough in 2020 is because yeast (and flour) were occasionally hard to find! So why would you waste it when you don’t have to?
One great tip I learned the second time I made sourdough starter was to reduce the amounts! This time I found a recipe that used only:
- 1 heaping Tbsp flour
- 1 Tbsp water
That equates to roughly 0.5 ounces or 15 grams.
The whole idea is that you want close to the same weight of flour and water. But you can do it with small amounts of both!
Growing the sourdough starter
I still haven’t talked about the hardest part about making sourdough starter: the waiting! It will take approximately 10 days to get your starter ready to use in baking. It’s not an exact time because there are many factors involved. The second time, I let it build up for 14 days before I baked, because we keep our house cool in the winter time. If it had been summer, I’m sure it would have been ready sooner.
Here are the steps for each day:
Day 1: Mix the flour and water in a non-metal container, stirring until smooth. Cover lightly with a towel.
Day 2: Nothing to see here. 🙂
Day 3-5: Feed your starter twice a day, roughly 12 hours apart.
At some point you will want to discard some of the starter mixture to keep the volume low. Sorry, at this point, you’ll want to actually discard; it’s not ready for baking use yet. If you are feeding small amounts, you only need to keep a small amount. If I’m feeding 1 Tbsp, I try and keep around that same amount of starter.
At the end of this period, you should definitely see some bubbling!
Day 6-10+: Feed your starter each day. If the starter is nice and bubbly just a few hours after feeding, it is probably ready to use in baking.
My preferred method of storage is to leave my pint jar of sourdough starter on the counter, lightly covered with plastic wrap (to allow the gasses to escape).
I feed it everyday, however I don’t discard. I start with a small amount, increasing the amount I feed it, proportional to the amount in the jar until the jar is almost full. Most recipes I’ve found use either 1/2 cup or 1 cup of discard, and it will deflate once you stir it, so this ensures I have enough for the recipe AND enough to feed going forward.
In other words, the first day I might have a tablespoon of starter and feed with the same amount of water and a little more than a tablespoon of flour. The next day I’d feed about the same. The next two days however, I’d double the amount I was feeding, since there is more starter. This ensures I have enough sourdough starter to bake a couple of times a week. If I want to bake more frequently, I just feed it more the day before.
Refrigerating your starter
If you only bake infrequently, you can store your starter in the refrigerator (without converting it to a dry starter – see below.) To prepare your starter, feed as usual and let it sit at room-temperature until it bubbles (3-4 hours). Then store in the refrigerator. Feed it at least weekly, allowing to sit at room-temperature again until bubbly before refrigerating.
The disadvantage to refrigerating your starter is that you need to bring it out ahead of time so it has a chance to warm up and start bubbling again before you use it. I’m more of an “I want to bake NOW” type of person, so the room-temperature version works better for me.
What I’ve described above is what is called a “wet starter”. Sometime during my first batch of sourdough starter, I found this great article about creating and using a “dry starter”.
Personally, I think it would be easier to get started with the wet version, but you can easily convert it later. I did that by using her steps of adding 30g water and 60g flour (i.e. twice the weight of flour to water) to the starter. The starter needs to sit on the counter for a few hours to get bubbly and then it can be stored in the refrigerator.
The dry starter method is great when you don’t bake often. The only tricky part is that 1) you need to make sure you leave a small amount behind when baking so it can be refreshed and 2) make sure to feed it about once a week. It was this last step I failed to do and caused my starter to “die” (although I think I may have given up too early on it… we’ll never know though).
Help! There’s watery liquid at the top of my sourdough starter
This is usually a sign that the starter is not being fed enough. I had this happen during the Day 3-5 phase of creating the starter. Making sure I fed twice a day and/or increasing the amount of flour helped eliminate this problem.
My sourdough starter died
If your mature sourdough starter doesn’t bubble a couple of hours after feeding, it may have died. However, I would try feeding it more often. Also, if you are feeding a starter that had been refrigerated or neglected for a day or more, give it more time. Let it sit at room-temperature longer for an extra day, feeding it again, and see if that revives it.
My starter seems too wet / too dry
This one’s easy to fix! Just adjust the amounts that you are adding at the next feeding. Too wet? Add a bit more flour. Too dry? Add a bit more water. I’ve found that I can usually judge when I’m feeding and stirring. The sourdough starter should seem like a thick paste. It will “soften” and look wetter as it becomes bubbly.
I’m not an expert, but the good people at King Arthur have some excellent tips that might help you!
What can you make with Sourdough starter?
Oh my! The possibilities are endless – just enter the search words “sourdough starter”, “sourdough discard” or look on Pinterest!
In the coming weeks, I plan to share some of these delicious recipes with you along with ways to use up your sourdough discard so you never have to throw it away!