I know, I know. At this time in our crazy world, everyone and their mother is baking bread. There’s been a run on flour! A crazy shortage of yeast! People have been craving regular yeast breads, instant yeast breads, you name it! Is the smell of a freshly risen loaf? The swell of pride in one’s chest at being able to slice into a perfectly risen, crusty loaf and knowing that you made that? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither. But what I do know is that when the yeast ran out, the world turned to sourdough. Intimidated at the idea of a sourdough starter? Or sourdough in general? Don’t be. It’s okay. I’m here for you.
What IS Sourdough Starter?
Ah, sourdough. The term, once only reflective of the ferment used to add leavening to breads and other baked goods, now is a subculture all it’s own. There are books and there are cooking shows and there are Youtube guides. Each one has it’s own methodology and system. Sourdough bakers debate over the most “legitimate” way to do it.
But here’s my school of thought. If whatever you make with your sourdough tastes good, then you win at sourdough! Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make your creations of your starter look perfectly crusty and bubbly right away. Just play. This is supposed to be fun, I swear!
Simply put, a sourdough starter is what you will use to leaven your sourdough bread in place of commercial yeast, and what I’ll walk you through creating in this post!
It is a bit of a time commitment, because getting a starter ready for bread and other baked goods can take about a week. But it’s only five minutes of your time each day during that time. This is a long distance run and not a short distance sprint. And once it is ready for baking, you do have to feed it. But this. Think of it like a pet. But a pet that you can shove in the fridge for a week and neglect until you’re ready to bake with it. Don’t worry. I will explain.
When I first dipped my toe into this world, it overwhelmed me, so I found the first sourdough starter recipe that showed up on google (thanks, King Arthur) and dove into creating a very ineffective sourdough starter. Which I then proceeded to let die when my husband and I went on vacation. Whoops. It was too much for me, I cried! Too daunting! Too intimidating! What do you mean, I have to feed it? I can’t do this! Help!
Shhhh, shhhh. I have been there. I have felt the feelings of overwhelm and intimidation. But it is okay. After a year of caring for my starter and trying MANY different methods, I have put together a simple, no frills guide, as well as a FREE printable sourdough startup schedule to make the process easier for you.
Am I an expert? No. Do I still have a lot of sourdough related frustrations in my kitchen? Yes. But this is the method that has given me the most success!
How To Create A Sourdough Starter
To make a sourdough starter from scratch, you need just TWO ingredients:
- Flour: I use a 50/50 blend of both unbleached, all-purpose flour and a plain, whole wheat flour when I feed my sourdough starter.
- Water: I have always used tap water, though a lot of bakers suggest using filtered water in a starter. If you know there is chlorine in your local tap water, perhaps considering using filtered water.
And you will need FOUR important pieces of equipment:
- Digital Scale: I cannot stress the importance of a scale enough! The first time I made a starter, I followed direction that had volume measurements instead of weight, and my results were very inconsistent. Digital food scales are very inexpensive and will completely change the way you bake. They ensure that you are measuring out the precise amounts of starter, water, and flour you need during each feed. Do NOT try without a scale!
- Medium Sized Glass Vessel (with a loose fitting lid): For mixing and storing your starter. I prefer wide, pint sized, wide mouth mason jars because they are easy to measure and stir into (and they are insanely cheap), but any medium vessel will do. I use these jars with these lids, but you can also use the lids that come with the mason jars as long as you do not tighten them. I have two identical mason jars that I use- one contains the starter, and then every other day I transfer the starter to a clean jar while the used one is being washed.
- Small Silicone Spatula: For mixing. I have one very similar to this. Easy to use, easy to clean!
- Rubber Band: You can put this around your jar to measure your starter’s activity level.
The Sourdough Startup & Feeding Schedule
Remember, getting a starter ready for bread will take around seven days, but only a couple minutes of your time each day. Get your tools together and let’s get started! Don’t forget to print out the Sourdough Feeding Guide and put it up on your refrigerator so you have it as a reference throughout the week.
Sourdough Starter: Day 1
In your clean glass vessel, measure out 100 grams of whole wheat flour and 150 grams of room temperature water. Mix thoroughly with your spatula so there are no bits of dry flour remaining. Cover your vessel with a loose fitting lid and leave out on your kitchen counter for twenty four hours. After the first twenty four hours, you will probably not see any activity. This is okay! Keep on going!
In a clean vessel, mix 70 grams of the starter that you mixed on Day 1 with 50 grams of whole wheat flour, 50 grams of all-purpose flour, and 110 grams of room temperature water. Mix well, cover, and leave on your counter for twenty four hours. After the second 24 hours, you might start to see some bubbling and activity. But if you don’t, don’t worry!
In a clean vessel, follow the same feeding protocol as Day 2 (with 70 grams of starter mixed on Day 2) Mix well, and leave covered (with your loose fitting lid) for another 24 hours. It is pretty common to start seeing bubbling activity after three days of fermenting, but again, do not worry if you don’t yet. Keep at it!
In a clean vessel, follow the feeding protocol from Day 3 (with 70 grams of starter mixed on Day 2). Mix well, and leave covered (with your loose fitting lid) for another 24 hours. At four days, you should start seeing decent bubbling activity.
Day 5 is when we establish the starter, flour, water ratio that we will use for feeding going forward. I like to feed my starter with a 1:1:1 ratio. After a lot of trial and error, I find this gives me the most activity with my starter In a clean vessel, mix 70 grams of sourdough starter from Day 4 along with 35 grams of whole wheat flour, 35 grams of unbleached, all-purpose flour, and 70 grams of room temperature water. Mix well, cover with a loose fitting lid, and leave for twenty four hours.
Day 6 (and onward!)
Congratulations! You have made it through a week of sourdough starter creation! On this last day, mix 60 grams of sourdough starter, 30 grams of whole wheat flour, 30 grams of unbleached, all-purpose flour, and 60 grams of room temperature water. Mix well, cover with a loose fitting lid, and leave at room temperature for twenty four hours.
You now have a bubbly, active sourdough starter!
Over the course of several hours after you feed your starter, you will notice it start to rise and increase in volume significantly, maintain this new volume, and then decrease again. When a recipe calls for active sourdough starter, you will want to use yours when it has at least doubled in volume in its vessel, but before the volume has collapsed. This is easy to track by putting a rubber band around the jar at level the starter is when first mixed. The time it takes for your starter to double in volume will depend on the ambient temperature of your space. The warmer the space, the faster the rise.
Why a 1:1:1 Ratio?
What I love about the 1:1:1 ratio of sourdough starter is it’s scalability. If you know you will be attempting a recipe that requires a lot of starter, you can scale up the feedings a day or two before and increase the amount of starter. If you know you will not be baking for awhile, you can scale down how much you feed your starter to save yourself some flour. I find 60 grams of each is the ideal measurement that works for me, but the more you bake, you will figure out the quantities that work best for you.
Do I Have To Feed My Sourdough Starter Everyday?
Like with many things, it depends. If you are going to be doing a lot of baking on a regular basis, I would suggest feeding your starter once a day and leaving it out on your counter, at room temperature. If you are only planning on baking weekly, you can feed your sourdough starter and then place it in the fridge, taking it out for a feeding a day or two before you are ready to bake and feeding until bubbly and active.
Is there another way to tell my starter is ready for baking? You can do something called the float test. Take a small spoonful of your risen starter and place it in a dish of water. If the starter floats, you should be good to go.
What Do I Do With The Leftovers?
When you feed sourdough starter, it is typical to discard the leftover starter from the day before after a feeding. So, what do you do with it? Do you throw it away? You can, but I suggest using some of that nonactive starter in a recipe:
There are a LOT of options online for sourdough starter recipes. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Do you have any question? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll help out where I can!