A lively sourdough starter is the first step in creating your own homemade sourdough bread. It's unbelievably easy to assemble the three simple ingredients and let them work their own magic over a week's time. The result is a custom elixir that allows you to bake delicious sourdough creations with the distinct flavor of your local region. Sourdough starter relies on wild yeast and bacteria found in the air. When you make your own starter, you're creating a custom flavor and texture that can't be duplicated elsewhere.
1/2 Cup Whole Grain Flour like Dark Rye or Whole Wheat
3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose or Bread Flour, divided
4 Cups Warm Water, divided
Mix the Ingredients
The sourdough starter-making process takes about a week, depending on the temperature in your location. It'll take a bit longer in cooler temps, maybe a little shorter in warmer temps, but don't rush it. A good fermentation helps achieve maximum rise at baking time. Try to feed your starter around the same time every day so the yeast and bacteria can multiply without going too hungry. Here we go:
Place the whole grain flour and 1/2 cup warm water in a quart-size Mason jar. Stir with a rubber spatula until a thin batter is formed. The starter should look like pancake batter. Wipe the jar of any flour or starter that might have accumulated on the rim and then place the lid on the jar. Place the jar in a draft-free area on the kitchen counter overnight and let the starter begin to come alive.
Add a 1/2 cup of all-purpose or bread flour and a 1/2 cup of warm water to the jar. Stir with a rubber spatula to incorporate the newly added ingredients but don't overmix. The starter might be a little lumpy but that's okay. Seal the jar and leave it on the kitchen counter overnight. The naturally occurring yeast and bacteria in your particular locale are multiplying and breaking down the natural sugars in the flour.
You'll see a layer of liquid on top of your flour and water mixture. When carbs start running low, the yeast and bacteria produce alcohol, which indicates your starter is working. It's also a sign your starter is hungry and it's time to feed it! Pour the liquid (commonly called "hooch") off and discard it for a milder loaf of sourdough bread. I like to leave it in once or twice throughout the feeding process to produce a tangier loaf. Add a 1/2 cup flour and a 1/2 cup of warm water to the jar and stir with a rubber spatula until combined. The mixture should be getting thicker and bubblier by now, and it should smell slightly sweet.
You'll see another layer of liquid at or near the top of your mixture. Pour the hooch off and discard it. You'll pour off about one-third of the entire mixture in the process of discarding the hooch. Pouring off a bit of the starter before feeding promotes a good environment for the yeast and bacteria to thrive. The starter will start to expand overnight so be sure it hovers around the 2-cup line on the quart jar to allow room for expansion.
Add a 1/2 cup of flour and a 1/2 cup of warm water to the remaining mixture in the jar and stir it with a rubber spatula until combined. Leave the jar on the kitchen counter overnight to continue fermenting.
It's starting to seem like Ground Hog Day. Like the previous days, you'll see a layer of hooch near the top of the mixture. Pour it off or opt to leave it in for a sharper sourdough flavor in your final product. Add a 1/2 cup of flour and a 1/2 cup of warm water to the remaining mixture. Increase the tanginess of your bread by substituting a 1/2 cup of whole-grain flour for the all-purpose flour once or twice through the fermentation process. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula, seal the jar, and leave it on the kitchen counter to continue brewing.
Your starter should be getting thicker and bubblier by now. Be patient! It's best to wait another day to let the mixture become as lively as possible. Pour off the hooch and add a 1/2 cup of flour and a 1/2 cup of warm water to the jar. Stir it and let it rest overnight on the counter. Feed it once more before you retire for the evening and it should be ready to roll the following day.
By Day 7 your starter should be just about ready to use. You'll notice the hooch hanging around and you'll hear some hissing when you open the jar as the gasses escape. You know your starter is at its peak when you open the jar and the contents start to bubble up and rise toward the top of the jar, engulfing the hooch. The starter should be thick, bubbly, and a bit stringy. If not, give it another day or two, following the instructions noted on Day 6.
Using Your Starter
You've followed the easy steps to create your own sourdough starter. By now you're excited to see it work its magic and create a delicious loaf of warm bread. Use the starter in your favorite recipe. Try our super popular sundried tomato pecorino or cheddar bacon sourdough recipes. We also created an excellent recipe for low-FODMAP spelt sourdough bread that can be enjoyed by IBS sufferers and gluten-sensitives!
Storing Your Sourdough Starter
You can keep the starter going indefinitely by feeding it regularly. Feed it every day if you leave it on the counter. If you don't plan on baking in the near term, you can store the starter in the refrigerator and feed it once a week. Let it come to room temperature and give it a good feeding the night before using it.
You may need to start over from scratch every now and then. If the starter goes past its prime bubbly stage it'll begin to weaken and smell a little off. Just toss that jar and make a fresh batch. Be patient with the fermentation process! You may see some lively bubbling on Day 3 or 4 of the process, especially in warmer temperatures. The starter will be strong enough to raise your dough into a lofty loaf after at least 7 days but not after only 3 or 4.
I store my starter on the counter so it's readily available. This way I can toss a tangy loaf of fresh sourdough bread together in about 40 minutes. The starter does the rest of the work and I'm able to easily bake fresh homemade sourdough bread at least twice a week without making a big production of it. Give it a try! It's easier than you think.