How to Make Sourdough Starter from Scratch
The first step to making sourdough bread is making a sourdough starter. It’s easy though and takes only two ingredients — water and flour
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I made my first sourdough starter two years ago and since then I’ve made it twice more. It’s incredibly easy and the resulting ‘batter’ can be used to make not only bread but also pancakes, biscuits, crackers, pasta, and much more. It’s so versatile and healthy that I can’t help wondering why more people don’t try making it themselves. Perhaps it’s the perceived commitment of having to regularly feed it or maybe it’s the myth that you can’t culture a decent sourdough outside of San Francisco.
Benefits of Homemade Sourdough
Most people who make their own bread use conventional quick yeast because it’s convenient, inexpensive, tastes familiar, and the fermenting process is quick. Sourdough bread on the other hand takes a lot longer to make – in my experience around three times as long.
It’s worth it though since it has a unique tangy flavor and the slow fermenting process can make bread more digestible for those sensitive to gluten. Sourdough bread is also better for you since the process of fermentation unlocks key vitamins and minerals and protects the integrity of B vitamins in the baking process.
Sourdough Starter Storage
If commitment to having to care for your sourdough is an issue then know that it’s easy to start over again or to store your starter in the refrigerator for up to six months. Our house is a bit too cold to conveniently make sourdough bread in the winter so I mix enough wholemeal flour into the starter to make a thick batter then store it at the back of the fridge in a closed container.
There it goes semi-dormant and continues to slowly feed off the flour until you’re ready to bring it back to life. All this involves is taking it out of the fridge, and letting it gradually warm up to room temperature. At that point, you bring it back to a more liquid consistency with fresh water and flour. It’s great to know this if you’re planning to go away on a trip.
Local Wild Yeast
The yeast that we use to make my sourdough are wild yeasts that live in the air and on every surface around you. You’re breathing them in at this moment and touching them every time you touch any surface. Wild yeasts vary from region to region and so sourdough will taste slightly different based on where you are in the world.
The most famous sourdough yeast in the world is the yeast from San Francisco. Though you can order that particular strain online, the wild yeasts in your own home are just as capable and as flavorful, as anything you can buy. Plus they’re free!
Recipe for Making Sourdough Starter
Takes about 2-5 days
One bag of bread flour of your choice
*Chlorinated water may affect the yeast though so if you’re concerned, use purified or filtered water instead of tap.
1. In a ceramic or plastic bowl mix one cup of the bread flour with one cup of lukewarm water. Whisk it together for a couple of minutes to expose the batter to the air and then loosely cover the container with a lid or kitchen towel and place it in a warm place. In the summer you can put it in a warm window but if you’re trying to make a starter during the cool part of the year place the bowl near a heat source such as a fireplace, Rayburn, or even tucked away next to warm computer towers.
2. Now you wait for fermentation to begin. It can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days depending on how warm it is, which yeasts are around at the time, the type of flour you’ve used, and how long you whisked. Check every six to twelve hours and if you spot the first signs of fermentation, which are bubbles on the top of your batter, then you’re on your way to sourdough starter success.
3. Let your sourdough starter continue to bubble until there are signs of fermentation peppered across the surface of the batter – it will also begin to smell like sourdough at this point and can remind you of vinegar, old cheese, or sick. This pungent smell is completely normal so if you smell it don’t worry if your starter has gone off. The scent will get a bit stronger as you continue the process but I’ve found that the scent mellows out as the sourdough starter matures. At this point, you feed it with another cup of flour and another cup of lukewarm water. Whisk well and then cover and leave the starter to continue fermenting.
4. When the surface of the batter looks bubbly and frothy take out two cups of the starter and use it to make sourdough pancakes or crackers (don’t waste that flavor!). Then add another cup of flour and another cup of water to the remaining starter and whisk. Move the starter to a permanent place out of the sun and away from direct heat but within sight so you remember to feed it.
5. At this point you have a brand new sourdough starter. Feed it each day with a tablespoon of flour and water or every other day with double that amount. It doesn’t take long and I’ll generally tend to the starter as I’m making my morning coffee. Feeding it this way you can build up enough starter to make bread every week and/or loads of other sourdough recipes.
Hello, This is the first time I’m trying this. My starter is one week old today. I’m using a recipe that starts with 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of flour. I’ve been following the process of throwing 1/2 of it away each day when I feed it. It has bubbled and today is more liquid and also really had an odour today. For the life of me I can’t figure out how I will ever accumulate 2 cups of starter to make your recipe when I throw 1/2 away each day.
Thanks for your help!
Hi Sue — follow the directions in my own instructions and you’ll be fine. Also, don’t throw starter away if you can help it. It makes great pancakes, biscuits, and crackers!
Hi Tanya, thank you so much for your quick reply. I used your recipe (and fresh flour) and now have my starter. Wish me luck as I have the sponge in a bowl doing its thing…..hopefully fresh bread tomorrow. I will let you know how it goes. Thanks again! Sue
Tanya I wanted to update you. The first loaf was not successful for me, however the second one was. I know I was impatient and tried the starter too early. I now have two more loaves baking. I’m using cast iron pans with the pan of water in the oven. I made lids for the pans out of foil. The loaves look wonderful. Thank you again for your help.
That’s brilliant news Sue! Thank you for sharing an update and hope you’re loving your sourdough bread.
I made a sourdough starter some weeks ago and have baked 4 loaves so far. But used it all up last time. My present starter has taken a week to ferment but it’s going well. I’ll probably bake tomorrow. I bought whole wheat organic durum (kamut) flour. It is amazing. It is freshly milled when I buy it ( last years harvest from an organic grain farmer not that far away) . I have several recipes for bread I like trying out. And your bread recipe is wonderful. The crust is amazing. I have a special corner on the kirtchen counter for the starter. I love seeing to it and feeding it. Its so rewarding to see it bubbling and alive. And I love all the health benefits of homemade sourdoigh starter and the bread.
Thanks so much for the inspiration.
PS I used the juice from 3 oranges and a drop of water for the starter. It works well. As well as adding cornmeal to the wholewheat flour. The starter loves cornmeal btw
I added my water and additional cup of flour yesterday. Now it has a layer of liquid on top. Is this normal? Do I leave it alone or pour it off?
I’d pour it off – I suspect it’s sourdough starter ‘Hootch’
Your link to the Sourdough Bread recipe is dead on this article. I found it manually by searching your recipes. :) Thought you’d like to know so you can fix.
Thx! Will try these recipes!
Thanks so much! I’ve recently migrated my blog’s platforms and some of the links have been altered. I’ll look into this though and appreciate the heads up!
Can you use whole wheat flour?
Quick question…In step 5 yo indicate to add "one tablespoon of flour and water.." Doe you mean one TBS of flour and water mixed in some proportion? Or one TBS of flour and one TBS of water? I am planning to give it a go and would like to get the details right. cheers
The rule is equal amounts of flour and water for feeding…good luck :)
How do you make sourdough starter?
So, how do I make the bread once I have a starter? Did I miss that in the directions somewhere? Thanks!
Almost all the bread we consume on our homestead is sourdough. We love it…even better with carroway seeds in it. We use rye for our starter.
Carroway and rye…both add such depth of flavour!
The last 2 times I made sour dough stater I ended up with a black liquid on the top. I tried a 2nd time and same thing happened. I had used reg wheat flour and chlorinated water and packaged yeast per a recipe Any reason why this happened? I may try this one as I love sour dough bread.
The black liquid is called 'Hooch' and collects when the yeast are hungry! There's two things that are possibly going on with your sourdough starter: 1. You're not adding in enough flour on a regular basis or 2. The flour you're using is expired or low in nutrients.
Well it always happens when I start the bread after it has been made. I use whole wheat flour that is new. Should I add more flour that is required? is it ok to pour off this liquid and still use the starter?
Thanks for the reply.
The liquid is harmless so go ahead and pour it off and use your starter. How often are you feeding your starter btw? Maybe try a tablespoon of flour every morning and see how it does? It could also be that your starter is in a really warm place that might lead to it being a bit too happy and overactive. The important thing at this point is that your starter is definitely alive and you can use it to make bread :)
I only feed it when I use some. It does seem to have more liquid after I pour it off the first time. Definitely not to warm in here. I will try feeding it like you said and see what it does.
Should I remove some as I add it?
Thanks so much for the replies
Have you had any experience (or know someone who has) with using a gluten free bread flour? If so, what were the results?
It's possible to use gluten-free flour but I haven't tried it myself.
should the flour be plain or self-rising?
Neither…it should be bread flour.
My mother and neighor grandmother use to share it all the time , Making a batch to share with the other. I rememeber mother saying, OH i killed the bread, I forgot to feed it . YUMMY bread she made to .. THey didnt use bread flour ..They use plain I think and self rising if thats all they had . Back then things werent a bread flour world much ..
Oh Tanya, that bread and those pancakes! You certainly know how to make a gal hungry! I love sourdough. Unfortunately my last batch got taken over by fruit flies. I need to start another starter.
I've read what Sunnybrook mentioned, about the wild yeasts on fruits such as grapes. I think it was in Sandor Katz book, Wild Fermentation. I like to add a bit of whey when I start mine. I find it kick-starts the fermentation, and besides, I have to do something with all that whey. ;)
Sourdough is a favorite in our house, so I'd love to try this. Thanks for sharing!
Soudough is indeed delicious, I used to have it all the time until I moved away from the shop selling it. I have tried making it a few months ago, but the loaf was like a brick. I shall give it another go sometime though, you have made it look easy enough!
I think that I heard that using a ripe grape from the vine is a good source of wild yeast as the grape is a natural place for it to land and grow. I made starter years ago but I think I used a spoon of cultured buttermilk so I may not have had wild yeast sourdough but it tasted right.
I remember a while back, one of my friends was dancing with an empty mason jar outside. She told me she was gathering yeast from the air. I thought she was off her rocker, haha. A month or so later, I ate bread she had baked from the natural yeast she had "caught". I'm a believer of natural yeasts now and I can't wait to try your recipe. You make it sound so simple! Thank you for making this post. I can't wait to get mine started.
I have often though about making a sourdough starter, I tend to buy my sourdough bread from a local farm shop but would really like to have a dabble at making my own. I shall have to take a good look at your recipe.
Thanks for that Tanya, I hope to make some shortly as I love sourdough bread. I normally make bread once a week and make two loaves. Question 1: How much should I put into 2 1/4 lb of flour? and Question 2: where should I store it once it is ready to use and I have used it – on my worktop or fridge?
I love such sour bread! It's healthy and so delicious!
In Poland we make 'kwas chlebowy' – it's a fermented drink made from rye bread. It's very tasty! Look for recipes under the word 'kvass'. I really recommend this drink :)
Thanks for sharing your recipe!
Dewberry, I was just in Poland the beginning of September and had some kwas chlebowy that a relative made. I wasn't bad…I guess it is an acquired taste but then I only tried it once.