Take Your Bread Making to the Next Level By Making Your Own Sourdough Starter

Take Your Bread Making to the Next Level By Making Your Own Sourdough Starter

If you’re anything like me, the idea of creating your own sourdough starter sounds like some kind of crazy scientific experiment for the advanced bakers of the world. Wild yeast? Fermentation? Bubbles? I really should have paid better attention in chemistry class. Is that even the right science?

What if you don’t have a fancy sourdough starter passed down to you, or don’t feel like spending a bunch of money on starter? As I researched the process, I was surprised (and thankful!) to find that making your own sourdough starter is super simple! All it takes is a bit of patience and about five days of feeding.

Creating sourdough starter is a bit like growing a child:

  • Feed it when it’s hungry.
  • Give it the space it needs.
  • Make sure it’s a comfortable temperature or it might become unruly.

I clearly don’t have children. Here’s how to make a sourdough starter from scratch!

What is Sourdough Starter?

First thing’s first: you probably need to know what you’re working with.

Sourdough starter (or levain) is fermented dough filled with yeast and a bacteria called lactobacilli (don’t worry, this is the good kind of bacteria).

Having a sourdough starter is what allows sourdough bread to rise.

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What You Need to Make Sourdough Starter

how to make sourdough starter - stirring starter in a jar

In terms of ingredients, all you need is flour and water. Yup, it’s that simple. The wild yeast you need to make bread is already present in the flour and in the air around you, so you’ll just need to mix flour and filtered water together and let them hang out for a few days to allow that wild yeast to thrive.

You can use all purpose flour, rye, whole wheat, or any other kind of flour you want. After all, wild yeast is everywhere, all the time!

It’s best to use bottled water for this, as tap water often has chlorine and fluoride, which can mess with your stater production.

Other materials you’ll need include:

  • A glass jar (32-64 oz)
  • A rubber band
  • Coffee filter
  • Silicone spatula
  • Measuring cups or food scale

 

Step by Step: How to Make Sourdough Starter

Day 1:

  • Combine 4 oz of flour and 4 oz of bottled water in a glass jar.
  • Stir with your spatula until the consistency is like a doughy, thick, smooth pancake batter.
  • Cover the jar with a coffee filter to allow the mixture to breathe, and secure it with a rubber band.
  • Store in a place that has a consistent room temperature (70-75 degrees).
  • Let it sit for 24 hours.

Day 2:

  • Now that you’ve given birth to your mixture, it’s time for its first feeding!
  • Add 4 oz of bottled water and 4 oz of flour to your mixture and stir well.
  • If you see bubbles forming, that’s good! That means your yeast is finding a nice home in your starter, feeding off the sugars in the flour, and releasing carbon dioxide (hence, the bubbles). If no bubbles are present yet, no worries. It all depends on your kitchen environment, so sometimes you have a slower start.
  • Cover with the same coffee filter and store in the same spot for another 24 hours.

Day 3:

  • Repeat the previous steps (adding 4 oz of water and 4 oz of flour to the mixture). Stir well.
  • By now, you should be seeing some more bubbles forming.
  • The mixture should give off a sour, musty smell. If it doesn’t, just give it a few more days. This is a living creature, and everything grows at its own pace.
  • Cover and store again in the same place for another 24 hours.

Day 4:

  • Repeat the previous steps (adding 4 oz of water and 4 oz of flour to the mixture). Stir well.
  • By now, there should be several bubbles forming, and it should have doubled in volume!
  • The mixture should give off a very sour smell.
  • Cover and store again in the same place for another 24 hours.

Day 5:

  • Ready for use!
  • The starter should have, once again, doubled in volume and be very bubbly. If not, continue with previous steps (adding 1:1 flour and water) every day until the mixture is bubbly, sizable, and pungent.

 

Maintaining Your Starter

how to make sourdough starter - starter growing

To maintain your starter, discard about half of the mixture. You can use the discarded starter for pancakes if you don’t want to waste it! Here’s a recipe we like.

  • Feed your leftover starter with new flour and water, discarding about half of the mixture daily. Always make sure you’re maintaining that 1:1 ratio of flour and water.
  • If you’re going to use your starter soon, leave it out but keep discarding half and feeding it daily. Keep feeding it daily until you use it for bread baking (aim for 5-7 days).
  • If you don’t plan on using your starter for a while, store it in the fridge. In colder temperatures, your starter will go into hibernation, so you’ll only need to feed it once a week! Once fed, let it stand in room temperature for 2-3 hours before putting it back in the fridge (to allow the yeast to re-activate).
Chelsea Frank

About

Chelsea Frank was born and bullied in Los Angeles, CA. When she's not performing stand up comedy or crying while doing squats, Chelsea writes about all things health, beauty, and travel. Her work has been featured in Shape, Uproxx, TripSavvy, The Daily Beast, Thrillist, and Reductress, among others. Fun fact: she's traveled to over 50 countries and has gotten sick in pretty much all of them! Follow her on Twitter.

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