How to Make Sourdough Starter

Cook: 2 weeks

How to Make Sourdough Starter right in your own kitchen! It’s surprisingly simple and makes for the BEST homemade sourdough bread. Step-by-step video too!

Make the BEST sourdough bread right at home from scratch! Step-by-step video too!
In culinary school we literally had a giant vat of sourdough starter at all times. It was amazing and I wish I had taken a class on just sourdough itself. The idea of creating your own starter is super intimidating and even all the information on this page may seem like too much to deal with. I combined the little bit I learned in culinary school with the amazing knowledge inside The Bread Bible cookbook to create this resource for you. I hope you’ll find it useful! Just know that although creating and maintaining a sourdough starter can seem complicated at times, it’s actually simpler than you probably think. Plus, sourdough starters are actually quite resilient and can bounce back from mistreatment pretty well. As long as it doesn’t become contaminated, it can usually be saved!

Below is the step-by-step video on how I created my starter so you can see just how simple it is. Underneath the video is every tidbit of information I thought you’d find helpful. Then at the end of the post is the actual sourdough starter “recipe.” It looks long, but that’s just because you have to work on it a little bit everyday for the first week or so. Then it’s just about maintaining!

What is it?

A sourdough starter, also called a pre-ferment, is a mixture of flour, water, and yeast, often wild yeast that occurs naturally. The starter is like a living organism that is cultivated over days and weeks, allowing it to develop a tangy flavor and other properties that helps the sourdough bread to rise.

Time

Although a sourdough starter could not contain simpler ingredients, it is unfortunately not a matter of convenience. To develop such strong flavor, it takes days and weeks to develop. It is basically a living organism that needs your care and attention in additional to regular “feedings” to grow. Don’t begin a starter if you have plans to leave town. It takes about a week to develop enough yeast and bacteria and another two weeks until it is mature enough to be the only leavening of your bread, meaning you won’t need to add any additional yeast. Note that bread risen from a homemade sourdough starter will take much longer to rise than bread risen with commercial yeast.

Yeast

The most flavorful sourdough starters utilize the naturally occurring wild yeast in the air along with the bacteria present on flour. Although you can make a starter with commercial yeast, it will be less flavorful than one made with wild yeast. Either way, it’s important to note that all yeast is natural and cannot be synthesized.

Commercial yeast is a specific strain that is more consistent and reliable. It may surprise you to discover that yeast actually occurs naturally in such abundance that a single gram of flour contains about 13,000 wild yeast cells and 320 lactic bacteria cells. It’s when the yeast and bacteria come together in some complicated chemical reactions that the characteristic flavor of sourdough is created.

Flour

To give your sourdough the best start, use organic whole wheat flour or rye flour. Beyond that, use unbleached bread flour to feed and maintain your starter. If you continue to use a whole grain flour to feed your starter, it may develop off flavors.

Water

Since a sourdough contains just a few simple ingredients, it’s important to maintain a high level of quality with those ingredients. Only use bottled water to start and feed your sourdough. Most tap water is treated with chlorine which will kill the bacteria and yeast a starter needs to thrive.

Helpful Tools

4-cup glass measuring cup or canning jar
Clean wooden spoon
Scale, to ensure accurate measuring

Customization

M your own sourdough starter allows you to control the acidity and therefore the level of sourness to an extent. Also by making homemade sourdough bread, you control the overall level of starter included in the recipe (anywhere between 15 to 40%) so you can go from mild to very strongly flavored.

Keep it clean!

Sourdough starters can become contaminated and therefore ruined. If streaks of color appear in your starter, it is contaminated and must be thrown out. That is why it’s crucial to keep everything that will touch the starter, including utensils, bowls, and your hands, perfectly clean.

If a brown liquid appears floating on top of your sourdough starter, simply pour it off. Sourdough bakers call this liquid hooch and it is harmless. However, it often signifies that you’ve fed your starter too much water in relation to flour or have let your starter go too long between feedings. Sourdough starters are relatively resilient, and bounce back quickly once you resume proper care of them.

Check out this helpful article from King Arthur Flour on maintaining your sourdough, which includes troubleshooting and reviving tips!

How to make
Sourdough Starter

Recipe By Tessa Arias, Handle the Heat
Cook: 2 weeks

Ingredients

Organic whole-wheat flour or rye flour
Bread flour
Bottled water

Directions

Day 1:

In a perfectly clean bowl, combine a scant cup (120 grams) organic whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup (120 grams) bottled water. With a clean spoon, stir until a stiff dough forms. If the dough is extremely dry, add very small amounts of water until moistened. Scrape the dough into the 4-cup container. You should have about 1 cup (240 grams). Cover tightly in plastic wrap and place in a cool area for 48 hours. If you don’t have a cool area, let it sit for only 24 hours and feed as described for Day 3.

Day 2:

There will be no visible changes.

Day 3:

The consistency will now resemble a thick pancake batter and there may be a few bubbles. With a clean spoon, remove and throw away about half the starter, about 1/2 cup (120 grams).

Stir in a scant 1/2 cup (60 grams) bread flour and 1/4 cup (60 grams) bottled water. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 24 hours. After 12 hours the starter may have increased quite a bit and have lots of bubbles. Don’t be concerned if it deflates and falls back down.

Day 4:

With a clean spoon, again remove and throw out about half of the starter, 1/2 cup (120 grams). Stir in a scant 1/2 cup (60 grams) bread flour and 1/4 cup (60 grams) bottled water. Cover with plastic wrap, but not tightly, as the gases forming will need to escape. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 5:

If the starter is active, it will have increased in volume to at least 3 cups, even 4. It will dome and start to recede. If this hasn’t happened yet, repeat Day 4 steps until it reaches this stage.

With a clean spoon, again remove and throw out half the starter (1/2 cup or 120 grams).

Stir in 1/2 cup (60 grams) bread flour and 1/4 cup (60 grams) bottled water.

You will now have 1 cup (60 grams) active starter. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at warm room temeperature for about 4 hours, until it has almost doubled. If you want to bake bread, you can now expand it by feeding it with flour and water. If you want to wait, you can refrigerate it overnight and start expanding it the next day. If you don’t plan to use it for several days, feed it again to double it, let it sit for 1 hour, then refrigerate it.

The starter will mature over the next few weeks, increasing in strength and flavor. For the first 2 weeks, store at least 1 cup (240 grams) of it and feed it at least three times a week. After 2 weeks of regular feeding at least 3 times a week the culture is mature and bread made from it will be more mellow and complex. Now you can switch to once-a-week feeding if you only make bread once a week.

About Tessa...

Tessa is a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. She loves to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. She's on a mission to make the world a more unapologetically DELICIOUS place. Tessa lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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34 Responses to “How to Make Sourdough Starter”

  1. #
    Farha - faskitchen — June 25, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    My goodness.. i would have to wait a week to even think of trying this recipe. But the end results look totally worth it. I am a big fan of making everything at home, I really gotta give this a sure try. I have always wondered how ur breads look amazing, now I get it

  2. #
    Erin M. — June 26, 2015 at 5:01 am

    I’ve had my own starter in my fridge since November! I made KAF buttery sourdough rolls for Thanksgiving and they were amazing! Now i use it to make pizza dough and different breads….so much fun!

  3. #
    Gaby — June 26, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Love the step by step video!! The end result looks great!

  4. #
    raizy — June 28, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    Wow! Thank you so much for this clear informative video, Tessa! I’ve always wanted to try to make my own sourdough. Can’t wait for the next video and then just maybe I’ll do it myself too! Your blog is amazing! Every recipe so clearly written out. Thank you so much!

  5. #
    Erin @ The Spiffy Cookie — June 29, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Interesting. I usually make mine with half and half water and flour. I prob just end up adding a little more water or less flour to the recipes I add it to.

  6. #
    Katie — July 2, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    I made a sourdough starter once, but then I couldn’t find a recipe that utilized a starter! Do you have one to recommend?

    • #
      Tessa — July 5, 2015 at 9:35 am

      I’ll be sharing one this week!

  7. #
    Lisa — July 4, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    So, if I don’t make bread every week, how long will this last and how would I store it?

    • #
      Tessa — July 5, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Hi Lisa! If you are only making bread say once a month, you can turn the starter into a “stiff” starter to slow down fermentation and keep it longer without needing to feed it. To do this, take 2 tablespoons of your mature starter and add 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Put a lid on the container and place it in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Here it can stay up to a month without being fed at all! However, some people think that a stiff starter has a more mild flavor – just something to keep in mind 🙂

  8. #
    Lisa — July 12, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Thank you for the recipe; can’t wait to try!
    I have three whole-wheat flours at my disposal. Which of the three would be best to use? Whole wheat pastry flour, bread or sprouted?

  9. #
    Mary — November 22, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Hi Tessa,
    Thanks to your video, I am trying my very first sourdough starter. I am a bit frustrated here as it has been 48 hours and my starter hasn’t changed a bit. I used organic rye flour and your recipe. Do I need to start again or is there anything I can do.

    Thank you sooo much.

    • #
      Tessa — November 23, 2015 at 2:09 pm

      Hi Mary! Is it cold in your home?

  10. #
    Katja — March 1, 2016 at 5:09 am

    I’m just growing my starter. I’m at the step: mature for 2 weeks. You (and Beranbaum) say: ‘store it’ during these maturing weeks. But where? In the fridge? At room temp? I’m doing room temp, that’s 18 °C during daytime and about 14 °C overnight. After one week now it’s getint really sour (I can smell). Is this right? Please explain the storing to your
    Katja

    • #
      Tessa — March 1, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      Hi Katja! I would say since your room temp is pretty cool that it should be just fine. For me, during the warmer months my house can get up to 26°C inside since I live in the desert, so I usually store mine in the fridge. The smell will increase as it matures for the first 2 weeks. After that it will mellow out and smell less sour. Hope that helps!

  11. #
    Ana — March 2, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Hi. I’m new to this and just realized I may have made a terrible mistake. I didn’t cover tightly on day 3, just loosely. Did I mess up the whole thing? Today is day 4.

  12. #
    jules — March 5, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Could you please explain why you discard half of the mixture? I find this bit most curious!

  13. #
    Maryanne — March 16, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Hello,

    I am a bit confused what to do when you keep it? Do you keep it in the fridge?

    Thank you!!
    M

  14. #
    Alicia — March 20, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Why do you have to throw away half of the starter?

  15. #
    Betty Shepard — April 4, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    Great article! I have had my starter for a couple weeks now and love using it for lots of recipes 🙂 I had the understanding that you needed to feed it with equal water to flour and more frequently than you recommend….has me curious if this has something to do with why my starter is so sour tasting. I have 2 starters that I try to rotate for bread, waffles, cookies etc and have been feeding daily. Or is it more about whether it sits out on the counter vs the fridge, I know the fridge slows it down and makes a small difference in flavor… I would love to hear what you think!

  16. #
    Lindsey G — April 7, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Hi. I have a question. You state that “The starter will mature over the next few weeks, increasing in strength and flavor.” However, you then go directly on to say …”After 2 weeks of regular feeding at least three times a week, the culture is mature and bread made from it will be mellow and more complex.” I like a very sour sourdough bread, so I’m confused. Are you saying that the starter will be strongest at that 2-week point, and from there the flavor will be mellower and less sour? I’m just very unclear on the statement that the bread will “mellow” from that 2-week point on.

    • #
      Tessa — April 7, 2016 at 10:23 am

      Yes, your understanding is correct! It will be plainly sour within those first two weeks, then will loose some of that direct sourness and start to develop a more complex flavor.

  17. #
    Renee — April 13, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    I love your videos. I am looking forward to more videos.

  18. #
    Daymon — April 16, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Thank you for the YouTube videos that you have made, and for this blog. I have family in Mesa AZ, and know what you mean about a hot climate. I have family in Mesa, AZ, and I grew up in West Texas so I know what hot and dry is all about. We have very high temperatures, like 114°F with humidity over 70% – these days have already begun here in Monterrey, Mexico.

    I am a disabled person, and have trouble finding things I can do. Sixty-five percent of my heart muscle is dead. The one thing I can still do is bake, so I’m looking for new things to try.

    My house is not air conditioned. Is that going to be a problem for me down here? Can you tell me how to substitute dry yeast in my old recipies for other levening, such as dry active yeast, baking powder, or baking soda. I noticed on comment above that someone made cookies with the starter. I will appreciate any help you can throw my way.

    Best Regards,
    Daymon

    • #
      Tessa — April 18, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      Hi Daymon, what a coincidence! I grew up not too far away from Mesa. I’m glad to hear you’re still enjoying baking 🙂 You might try getting your sourdough started during a cooler time of year since I know the weather is already warming up here in AZ. Either way, you’ll probably need to rely more on your fridge than those in cooler climates.

      Are you talking about substituting active dry yeast and instant yeast? Yeast and baking powder or baking soda don’t really have clear substitution rules. I’ve not experimented with that so I can’t give you any help there unfortunately.

  19. #
    Lauren Schmidt — April 20, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Hi Tessa! Big fan of yours! I recently made my own starter following your instructions and documented it on my own blog and I let everyone know to check out your instructions since you made it so easy! I am loving my bread! Thanks so much for all the awesome information!!

    http://theschmidtywife.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/an-amateurs-adventure-into-sourdough-from-starter-to-bread/

  20. #
    Richard — May 9, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    For people asking why you throw 1/2 away, it is because every time you feed it you have twice as much and if you kept that you would have to feed twice as much flour and water, then twice that the next day and so on. You’d end up with starter coming out your windows and flowing into the yard.

    • #
      Tessa — May 10, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      Thank you for your descriptive explanation, Richard! Hopefully people understand now 🙂

  21. #
    Julie — June 19, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Once you get to the mature starter phase and use some, how do you know how much to feed it? Does it depends on how much is left? We go through one boule a week so that is how I’d use it. Just need some clarification on the using and maintaining part of it.

  22. #
    Amanda — August 8, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Hi Tessa,

    I was going to try spelt flour, do you think this would work? Also, could you please explain the difference is between the starter flour and the bread flour? Shouldn’t I use the same flour?

    Thanks!!

  23. #
    Dominika — August 27, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Lovely video. Being born and raised in Poland I miss a good bread every day. Just made my starter and cannot wait to make a bread!

  24. #
    Agnes — November 23, 2016 at 4:04 am

    Hi Tessa,
    I have tried at lest 50 times to make my sourdough starter and it always fails: the first two days it is very happy and full of life, the 3d/4th day, it gets a bit more tired and then slowly it loses all live, just some few tried bubbles. – I have tried different recipes, different flower (spelt, rye, wheat, mixture of death and rye) and always use bottled water, have tried to add honey in the initial starter. Now I am at day 5 following religiously your description, discarding and feeding, the first two days were full of life but now there is no sign of raising in the starter, and 5 bubbles that look very exhausted.
    Have you got any recommendation you can give me? I am quite desperate to know why it never works (I make very successful yogurt, jun-tea without any trouble)

  25. #
    Chuck — December 11, 2016 at 10:24 am

    I have tried the Sourdough starter twice now. Each time I have the same results. I store my starter in the oven with the door ajar with the oven light on (74 degrees). I started with 100% whole wheat four by Baker Josef’s and bottled drinking water without chlorine by Arrowhead.
    Day 1: mixed 120 grams whole wheat flour with 120 grams drinking water (mix in a 4 cup mixing bowl and cover and set in the oven with the light on and door ajar.
    Day 2: pull out mixing bowl and notice a lot of bubbles and has tripled in size and is relatively sticky doughy in texture. Discard 120 grams starter, and add 60 grams Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour and 60 grams drinking water and mix. then loosely cover and set in the oven with the light on and door ajar.
    Day 3: pull out mixing bowl and notice lots of bubbles and like pancake batter with some hooch to drain off. Drain the hooch and remove 120 grams of starter, and add 60 grams Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour and 60 grams drinking water and mix. then loosely cover and set in the oven with the light on and door ajar.
    Day 4: pull out mixing bowl and notice some bubbles and like pancake batter with some hooch to drain off. Drain the hooch and remove 120 grams of starter, and add 60 grams Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour and 60 grams drinking water and mix. then loosely cover and set in the oven with the light on and door ajar.
    Day 5: pull out mixing bowl and notice some bubbles and like pancake batter with some hooch to drain off. Drain the hooch and remove 120 grams of starter, and add 60 grams Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour and 60 grams drinking water and mix. then loosely cover and set in the oven with the light on and door ajar.
    Day 6: pull out mixing bowl and notice some bubbles and like pancake batter with some hooch to drain off. Drain the hooch and remove 120 grams of starter, and add 60 grams Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour and 60 grams drinking water and mix. then loosely cover and set in the oven with the light on and door ajar.
    Day 7: pull out mixing bowl and notice some bubbles and like pancake batter with some hooch to drain off. Drain the hooch and remove 120 grams of starter, and add 60 grams Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour and 60 grams drinking water and mix. then loosely cover and set in the oven with the light on and door ajar.
    Day 8: pull out mixing bowl and notice some bubbles and like pancake batter with some hooch to drain off. Drain the hooch and remove 120 grams of starter, and add 60 grams Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour and 60 grams drinking water and mix. then loosely cover and set in the oven with the light on and door ajar.
    I do not believe this is working at this point. I tried the teaspoon of tarter in the water to see if it floats and it sinks right to the bottom. Your recommendations would be appreciated.

  26. #
    Angela — December 28, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    Why do you throw 1/2 away!!

  27. #
    Becky — January 1, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Happy New Year Tessa! Great video, but I didnt see where I could make it more sour..you had mentioned it…Im orginally from California & am used to San Francisco sour dough bread but i dont know how to obtain that. Ant tips ..please??
    Thank you in advance hon!
    Many BLESSINGS!
    Becky

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