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How to Make a Sourdough Starter

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 4 12

It's Alive!

or "How to Make a Sourdough Starter and have fun doing it!"

Making a sourdough starter is easy and fun, and the bread you make from it is delicious! It's also very economical because once you have a good starter going, you'll never need to pay for leavening (a.k.a. yeast) again.

Plus, it's not just bread people. You can also make sourdough pancakes, sourdough english muffins, sourdough pizza....I've even seen some out there for sourdough sugar cookies! The possibilities are endless.

So, for the sake of completeness, let's pause for some definitions.

What is sourdough? According to wikipedia, (information from which is, of course, definitive) sourdough is "a dough containing a lactobacillus culture, usually in symbiotic combination with yeasts. It is one of two principal means of leavening in bread baking, along with the use of cultivated forms of yeast."

Sourdough bread is one of the many ways that people are trying to get back to a more natural approach to grains and food in general. 

What is a sourdough starter? A sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water (see? it's really quite simple) wherein is cultivated a mixture of beneficial bacteria and wild yeast which becomes the leavening agent in the recipes in which this starter is used.

Can't I just buy a starter ready made? Yea, if you're a chicken. Is sumbody afwaid of a widdle fwour and water?

How to Make a Sourdough Starter
Credit: Flickr user Basykes

What you need to make Sourdough Starter:

1-Flour-I prefer making starters with whole wheat, but any good flour will do- all purpose, bread, whatever

2- Water- (Tap is fine. No need to buy fancy water)

3-A container-This container cannot be metal as that could interfere with the development of your starter. It can be plastic, glass, crockery, etc. I used a ceramic bowl to start mine in, an then transferred it to a plastic pitcher to maintain. The main thing is that the container must be large enough to allow for the mixture to rise and expand, or else you will wake up to a sticky mess. Also, the container need not have a snugly fitting lid. You can cover it loosely with saran wrap or a towel. Just so long as you keep kids, animals and bugs out, you're good.

4-A non-metallic stirring implement.-That's it. That's all you need. Oh, plus some patience. This while process takes about 4 days. But really, this will only take up 2 minutes of your day in actual work and you can spend all the rest watching your "stories" while eating peanut butter out of a jar with a spoon (just as long as it's not the same one that you are stirring your starter with.)

A good non-metallic stirring implement...

Rachael Ray Tools 3-Piece Spoonula Set, Orange
Amazon Price: $14.99 $14.29 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 14, 2013)
Yea, I could say spoon, but "stirring implement" is just so much more fun, don't ya think? These spoonulas are the perfect choice. (On a side note doesn't the word "spoonula" bring to mind a spoon with sallow skin, a widows peak, and a nice red-silk lined cape who continuously eyes your jugular? Maybe that's just me...)

How to make your Sourdough Starter

Day 1: Gather the aforementioned required materials. Put 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour in your container and stir. Cover loosely with saran wrap or a clean towel. Leave it out overnight.

Day 2:In the morning, more than likely it will look the same as when you tucked it into bed last night. Don't worry. Just stir it add 1/4 cup four and 1/4 cup water, then stir again and recover. (Truthfully, these amounts are arbitrary. The idea is to add equal parts water and flour, so as long as you do that, you'll be fine.)
At night before you go to bed, add another 1/4 cup of flour and water and stir. Recover, kiss it goodnight, and go to bed. OK, you can read it a story too but only if it promises to go right to sleep afterwards.

Day 3: Go check on your new creation. I hardly have to tell you this because you will be so excited to see if there are any bubbles. If there are, shout "It's Alive! It's Alive" and dance around the kitchen like the life-creating mad scientist that you are. If not, don't worry about it. Different environments have differing amounts of wild yeast floating around and therefore take differing amounts of time to liven up. In either case, "feed" the creature as outlined above and put it down for a nap.
Before you go to bed, feed it and cover it agin, making sure to stir before and after just like every other time. (Yes, some of you may not need that reminder but some of you are...well....special.)

Day 4: By now some of the excitement may be wearing off. Get up and go check on your starter anyway. By now, you should be seeing bubbles. If not, don't worry. Well, actually, you might worry a little bit. You probably did it all wrong. Perhaps you gave only a cursory glance to my instructions and you are using an all metal bowl and stirring with a huge metal spoon everytime? Or have you forgotten to feed your baby every morning and night? Well, if you still don't see any bubbles, just keep going like before for a few more days; sometimes it can take up to a week. Or, you can just give up. (Just kidding!)

Once your starter shows consistent signs of rising and bubbling up everytime you feed it (or looks kinda like mine in the picture), you are ready to use it in recipes. I will give you my basic sourdough bread recipe farther down, but first, a few points:

-If at anytime your starter becomes too big for your container, it's fine. Just throw some of it out, or add less everytime (like 2 Tbs flour and 2 Tbs water every time instead of 1/4 cup), or use the discarded starter in recipes for that purpose.

-If you notice a liquid ranging in color from light yellow to dark brown , that is good! Sourdough enthusiasts call it "hooch" and it is completely normal. Just stir it back in.

-The consistency of your starter is pretty much a matter of personal preference. Some people keep their starters more wet, some less so. Mine is usually about the viscosity of a pancake batter. If you are reading this and have no idea what a pancake batter would look like, then maybe in your enthusiasm you've overshot a bit. I can recommend a title for remedial training.

A nice jar to keep your "baby" in...

Bormioli Rocco Fido Round Clear Jar, 33-3/4-Ounce
Amazon Price: $4.89 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 14, 2013)

Sourdough Bread recipe using Sourdough Starter...

Maintaining your starter:

Now you can move your starter to any non-metal container with a loose fitting lid. You can either store it in the refrigerator or on the counter. The counter would be a better place to store it if you plan on baking more than once per week. The logic being that the refrigerator slows down the leavening process a bit so you will produce somewhat less starter.
How often you feed your starter will be determined by how much starter you need and how often. I wouldn't feed it less often than once a week though.

I hope this article on how to make a sourdough starter has been helpful to you. 

Leave a comment letting me know if you've ever tried to make your own sourdough starter!

A beautiful bread recipe book to check out...



May 14, 2013 7:19pm
Love Sourdough! I make focaccia and brioche often so I must try this
May 15, 2013 3:34am
Let me know how it goes, it's really fun!
Jun 7, 2013 7:54am
In college, a girlfriend and I (the same girlfriend featured in "Why I Am Madly In Love With Government Cheese") did the sourdough bread thing. We would bake loaves and then eat it as if it were candy! I remember having to "feed" the medium daily with instant potato flakes which was part of the fun -- it was like having a pet that needed tending. Good stuff, and a thumb's up!
Jun 12, 2013 5:27am
Thanks so much!
Jun 8, 2013 8:38pm
This sounds like a wonderful idea for trying it as homemade pizza dough.
Jun 12, 2013 5:27am
Yes, it makes great pizza dough!
Jun 10, 2013 9:14am
Yes-I like good sourdough, but never understood the chemistry behind creating a starter. Your article helped to simplify the process. Thanks!
Jun 12, 2013 5:27am
Glad to help!
Jun 11, 2013 10:44am
Nice article!

We have a spelt starter called Seymour in a glass jar. As in "feed me Seymour!" from Little Shop of Horrors. I know that wasn't the creatures name, but anyway. Yep we do the it's alive!!! thing too. Seymour is a member of the family and he is about 10 weeks old now and produces fantastic bread. We brush slices of it with olive oil and toast it on the BBQ!

We have notoiced Seymour produces a hooch layer too when he is done eating and as tempting as it is to try distilling it, we value our eyesight way too much! We had read somewher to remove it if possible so occasionally we get the turkey baster out and remove it.
Jun 12, 2013 5:27am
Haha, love the name!
Jun 12, 2013 4:15pm
Hey, "Seymour"--now THAT's funny. Good one, Claire (and I thought of our medium as a pet, too!)
Jun 13, 2013 6:22am
I love your writing style - informal but ohhhh so informative - thanks. do you think this would work with gluten-free flour? I might try it and see.
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