Sourdough Starter Guide: An Important How-To

Kate Donahue | Food Babbles

Want to make your own Sourdough Starter? Just follow these steps.

Sourdough Bread

So you wanna make some sourdough bread? Hey, me too! How about we do it together?

Sourdough happens to be my all-time favorite type of bread. No matter how many different types of bread I make, I always find myself making sourdough more than any other loaf. But before we can even get to baking that perfect chewy, crusty loaf of sourdough, we'll need to make a sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter: Day 1

Yep, you're gonna catch some wild yeast and beneficial bacteria. Then you're going to make an amazing loaf of bread using no packaged yeast, only wild yeast. You can totally do this. This actually may be the easiest recipe you ever make. All you need is 3 ingredients and some time. Well, a lot of time actually. Got a week?

It sounds like a lot but really all you need is 5 minutes a day then the rest of the time, just sit back and watch the yeast multiply and the flavor build.

The flavor of your sourdough has everything to do with your particular starter and where you live. If you make a starter in Denver or California, I make my starter here in New Jersey and my mother makes one in North Carolina, they are all going to taste a little different. Why is that? Because when you make a sourdough starter you're actually catching wild yeast that's unique to your geographical area.

Sourdough Starter: Day 4

The other factor that will play into the flavor of your sourdough is water. Always use non-chlorinated water. I recommend using bottled spring water so that you can be assured that it is non-chlorinated but also that it retains all the minerals that would be filtered out from a tap with a filter on it. But if you do chose to use filtered tap water, that would make your sourdough starter taste unique to your area as well.

All these components will make for a flavorful loaf of sourdough unique to you. There are many different methods out there, all of which will accomplish the same goal. Having made (and failed) at cultivating different starters with a few different methods, I've found this method works perfectly! The length of time this will take is about 7-9 days and depends mostly on the temperature where you set your culture.

Sourdough Starter: Day 9

Your culture will thrive best in a temperature somewhere around 68-70 degrees. This doesn't need to be exact but a cooler environment means your starter will be sluggish. Not that it won't grow but it may take a few extra days. I find that the longer it takes the more frustrating it is and people (myself included) tend to give up if we don't see some action going on. So if we keep our culture warm and happy the process gets bubbly and yeasty pretty quickly.

I know that my house tends to be a little drafty and cooler, especially in the winter months so I set my culture in the cool oven with the light on. Just this little bit of ambient heat from the light is enough to keep my starter warm enough. If you're making a sourdough starter in summer it will probably be easier unless you keep the AC blasting. In that case, you may want to use the oven method too.

So let's get going! First, you'll need a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon, a paper towel or cheesecloth, and a non-reactive container for growing your starter. A large, wide-mouth glass jar, a crock or food-grade plastic container all work well. Keep in mind, it may not look like much at first but within a few days your little culture will be a full blown, bubbling starter that will double its size within 8-12 hours after each time its fed so give it some room to grow. I start mine in a small mason jar but once the starter is getting fed more I upgrade him to the luxury suite, a nice enameled crock.

Yes, my culture is a "him" and his name is Gizmo. My other culture is The Blob. Think this is strange? Not so much. Plenty of sourdough makers name their starters. It's kind of a tradition and if you think about it, having a sourdough starter is like caring for a pet. You need to give it food, water, shelter and you'll be taking care of it for life, if you so choose. With regular use, feedings and a little TLC your starter can live forever if you take care of it. Even if you neglect it a bit, sourdough is resilient and can be revived with flour and water in most cases.

Ok, so here we go! Follow our recipe below!

16 Servings

Ingredients

Day 1:
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup pineapple juice, unsweetened
Day 2:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice, unsweetened
Day 3:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
Day 4:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
Day 5:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
Day 6:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
Days 7-9:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Directions

Day 1
In a mixing bowl, mix together 1 cup whole wheat flour and 3/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Stir until all the flour has been incorporated and is evenly moistened. Cover with a paper towel or piece of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. You don't ever want to cover your starter tightly because it thrives on circulating air and this also allows for the release of carbon dioxide. Let the mixture sit at warm room temperature (68-70 degrees) for 24 hours.

Day 2
Today you may notice just a few small air bubbles. It won't look much different than Day 1.

Scrape the starter out of your nonreactive container and into a mixing bowl. Wash and dry the container. To the starter in the mixing bowl, add 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Stir well until all the flour has been incorporated. Again, cover loosely with a paper towel or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Let the mixture sit at warm room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 3
This morning you should start to see some more bubbles. It still won't be very active but you will probably be able to tell there's something going on in there. "What are we going to do today, Brain? The same thing we do every day…" Anyone? No? Ok, this is the day when we'll start discarding some of our starter so it doesn't take over the world.

Scrape the starter out of your nonreactive container and into a mixing bowl. Wash and dry the container. Discard half of the starter that is in the mixing bowl. To the remaining starter, add 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup room temperature or lukewarm non-chlorinated water, preferable spring water. Stir thoroughly until all the flour has been incorporated. Cover loosely with paper towel or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Let the mixture sit at warm room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 4
Today things may start looking a little more bubbly but it isn't unusual for the starter to still seem a little sluggish at this point but it should definitely start perking up in the next 24 hours.

Repeat Day 3 instructions.

Day 5
IT'S ALIVE!! Today, there should be no doubt. There will be lots of little bubbles. If you're using a clear container you should be able to see little bubbles throughout the starter. Your starter should be doubling in size after each feeding so this baby needs to eat more. Today, we'll start feeding it twice a day, every twelve hours so choose your feeding times wisely.

AM: As always, clean and dry your nonreactive container. Discard half the mixture then feed your starter 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup room temperature or lukewarm water. Cover and set at warm room temperature for 12 hours.

PM: Repeat the above instructions.

Day 6
Things should be very active now. Your starter should be developing larger bubbles and doubling in size still after every feeding.

Repeat Day 5 feeding instructions and feed your starter every 12 hours.

Days 7-9
Your starter should be ready to bake with. How will you know? If your starter has been doubling in size from Day 5 on, the mixture is very bubbly and smells pleasantly sour then you're ready to go! If you continue to keep your starter at room temperature and feed it daily for another week, this will develop the flavor even more.

At this point or a week from now, you can slow down the growth and just start maintaining your starter, using it whenever you'd like to bake. Place the starter in a glass container or crock with a glass top that isn't air tight and store it in the refrigerator. Remember, we want our starter to be able to breath a bit even when it's sleeping in the refrigerator.

From now on, you'll just need to take care of your starter. When you're ready to use it in a recipe pull the starter out of the fridge and feed it with 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup of water at room temperature and allow it to sit on the counter for 8-12 hours until it gets bubbly and active. At that point you'll scoop out however much "fed starter" the recipe calls for. Feed the remaining starter again with the same amounts. Let it rest on the counter for 4 hours then pop it back into the fridge until you're ready to use it again.

But what if you don't bake with it for a few days or a week or a month? No biggie. Much like a pet, you'll just need to take care of it. Once a week, if you haven't used your starter to bake with pull it out of the refrigerator and discard half. Feed the remaining starter with 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup of spring water then pop it right back into the fridge. No need to wait for it to even get bubbly.

On last thing you need to know about when it comes to maintaining your starter. Gotta know about the hooch. Yep, the hooch. I didn't make this name up. One of these days you'll pull your starter out of the refrigerator and look inside where you'll notice a clear liquid pooling on top. This is the hooch which is actually alcohol being given off by your starter and it's no big deal so don't think you have to ditch it and start over. After sitting around in your fridge for a bit, your starter just needs some attention. Pour the hooch off the top, give your starter a stir, some grub and it will be good to go.

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Kate Donahue

About Kate

Kate babbles about all things food on her own blog, Food Babbles, and about feeding her girls the best way. Here on Food Fanatic, she wows us with her commitment to homemade, fresh baking, week after week.

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Such a helpful blog!
I am new to baking so I'm clueless!!! My friends have all recommended Sourdough's International's sourdough starter to me, so I'm going to give it a go!!!

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I can not even begin to tell you how excited I am about this post. I love sourdough bread and never knew I could make it at home. Thank you so much for sharing! Best Wishes, Crystal
http://www.sewcreativeblog.com

Stephie swope
stephiecooks.com

I love my sourdough starter. I just made banana bread with it! His name is Methuselah (as in, I I hope he lives to be that old).

Solaine lagace

I will definitly try!! But can you keep the half you throw away and feed it completly, so you have more??!

Kelly bakes

I love that you have day by day instructions. I tried making a starter last year and failed miserably because it just had general instructions. (also appreciate your Pinky & the Brain reference ;) I am definitely going to have to give this a try!

Kate donahue
FoodBabbles.com @ kelly bakes

Thanks Kelly! I had similar failures with different methods in years past. Hope you enjoy making your starter and have success this time around! Good Luck!

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Beautiful loaf! Glad you found a method of wild yeast sourdough that has worked for you!

Kate donahue
FoodBabbles.com @ Carrie @ poet in the pantry

Thank you Carrie! Yes, this method works beautifully.