This sourdough starter recipe shows how to create a sourdough starter from scratch. It also answers questions on maintaining a sourdough starter.
Before you click 'Jump to recipe' please, take the time to read through this post. I walk through sourdough starter trouble shooting in detail and all you need to know to get your starter up and running.
For a sourdough bread troubleshooting guide check out this post here -- Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting
A healthy and active starter is the heart of a good sourdough loaf. (See my recipe for a simple sourdough loaf here.)
What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter is essentially a collection of wild yeast and bacteria that feed off a mixture of flour and water. Flour and water are added daily to provide a fresh food source.
Initially when starting a starter, it’s a gradual process of catching and nurturing these wild organisms and giving them food and the ideal environment to grow.
Later on, when the starter is ready to bake with, the yeast will be responsible for the rise of the bread as it releases carbon dioxide.
The bacteria in the starter, which is the lactobacillus strain, also release carbon dioxide, but not as much as the yeast. The bacteria is responsible for the sour tang in sourdough breads. This is due to the lactic and acetic acid they produce.
It is important to nurture and grow the yeast colony in the starter so it is strong enough to leaven your bread. This takes time, but it’s crucial if you want a good result.
Sourdough Starter Recipe
Creating a starter can be different for everyone. It depends on the temperature of the room, humidity, yeasts in the air and flour. This can all change how quickly or slowly your starter grows and becomes active. Here is a basic guide on getting started.
Ingredients in the Sourdough starter
To create a starter you need flour and water. You can use an unbleached all-purpose flour for this process and save the nicer flours for the actual bread baking.
Rye flour is often used in starter creating as this can make the starter appear active faster. However, this is often due to extra bacterial action which may look bubbly and active but doesn’t necessarily mean your starter is ready to go.
The bacteria grow much faster than the yeast. Because the bacteria also produce a little carbon dioxide, this can create bubbles in the starter very early on. However, these early bubbles do not indicate your starter is ready to bake with.
Tap water can be used to create the starter, though use filtered water if you think your water may hinder the starter process.
Sourdough Starter Environment
Yeast likes warmth in which to multiply, but not an excessive amount. Keep your starter in a space between 68°F and 75°F (20°C and 24°C).
If the environment is too cold, a starter can slow right down. In the same regard, if it is too hot whilst the starter is still being created it can make it sluggish and slow.
Winter weather tip - In a chiller bag add in a sealed jar of hot water, along with your starter. Close the bag to keep the heat in. This works well to create a warm space in the cold winter time.
Sourdough Starter Process
I feed my starter at 100% hydration. This means it is fed equal parts flour and water in weight. It is important to measure the ingredients for a starter this way as equal volume isn’t consistent.
Water weighs much more than flour and your starter will become too liquid.
Day 1: combine 50 grams flour and 50 grams water in a glass container and stir very well. Leave in a warm place, out of direct sunlight, covered with a cloth.
Day 2- Feed your starter 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. This means, adding in a fresh 50g of flour and 50g of water and mixing it really well with yesterday's mix.
Day 3: Pour 50g of the starter into a bowl and feed it 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. (A ratio of 1:1:1.) Mix it well. Discard the rest. Tip this freshly fed starter into a clean jar and use a rubber band to mark where the starter comes up to.
Making sure the new jar is clean and marking it with a rubber band will show clearly if the starter has risen or fallen.
Day 4-10: Pour 50g of the starter into a bowl and feed it 50 grams flour and 50 grams water, (A ratio of 1:1:1.). Mix it well. Discard the rest. Tip this freshly fed starter into a clean jar and use a rubber band to mark where the starter comes up to.*
By day 4 or 5 your starter may have bubbles (or it may not yet and that's fine!) and have a slightly sour smell. It's not ready to bake bread with but it should have enough acid to be used in discard recipes like pancakes and cookies.
You may not notice the starter is quite runny when it’s time to feed it again. This is due to the acid created by the bacteria.
If your starter is splitting and forming liquid on the top or the bottom, check that the environment in which you are keeping your starter isn’t too warm. You may need to increase the feedings to 12 hourly if this keeps happening.
Because you want to nurture your yeast and bacteria with ample food. By keeping only a small amount of starter and feeding it, there will be plenty of food to feed those organisms. If you feed the entire starter each day, it starts compounding and soon you’ll be going through an overwhelming amount of flour.
If your starter is doubling easily by day 6 or 7, within 6 hours of feeding, you can start feeding it 1:1:1 twice daily.
By day 10 it may be ready to use. Test your starter's activeness, as shown below.
Starter Activeness Test
To test how active your starter is and if it's ready to bake with, you'll need your starter to double within 6 hours at a room temperature 68°F and 75°F (20°C and 24°C).
You will also feed your starter at a higher ratio of flour and water to check if the yeast colony in your starter is large enough to inoculate this extra flour in under 6 hours. If it's too slow, it will show the starter isn't quite ready to bake a successful loaf with.
Take 1 part starter and feed it 2 parts flour and 2 parts water (A ratio now of 1:2:2.) Mix it well in a jar or glass.If you tie a rubber band around your glass jar to mark where the starter came up to before it rose, you'll be able to see how much it has risen later on.
Pop the starter in a warm place, out of direct sunlight.
If it doesn’t double or triple within around 6 hours, it will need a bit longer. Continue twice feeding of 1:1:1 and try the test again later on.
Sourdough Starter Recipe F.A.Qs
My starter was frothy and bubbly on days 2 & 3 but now on days 4 & 5 it's not rising.
Don't fret! Chances are it was the lactobacillus bacteria in your starter forming those bubbles, and not the yeasts. Bacteria also create bubbles while they are converting sugars to lactic and acetic acid, but it's the yeasts in the starter that will give rise to your bread. The yeast colony takes a little longer to establish themselves. Be patient and keep feeding and refreshing your starter
My starter has split and now has water forming on the top.
This is a sign that your starter is hungry. Your starter might be fermenting a little too fast and the yeasts have run out of food. This can happen if room your starter is in is too hot.
Check the temperature and fix it if it's too hot before continuing. Then, carry on with the 1:1:1 feeds, but you can switch to 12 hourly feeds if it keeps splitting.
My starter rose really high and then it fell right back down.
It is normal for a starter to rise, reach its peak and collapse once it has run out of food. Once your starter can double within 5-6 hours after being fed 1:1:1, switch to 12 hourly feedings.
If it doubles within 4-5 hours with the increased feedings, try the starter activeness test.
I forgot to feed my starter for ages and now it's dead.
Doubtful. It's pretty hard to kill a starter! Unless it's super contaminated with harmful bacteria or mould, chances are you'll be able to resurrect it.
Just start up again with regular feedings and discards.
My starter used to double in 6 hours and now it's taking much longer.
Has the temperature changed? If it's colder your starter will take longer to double, or if the temperature is too hot it will also slow things down. Aim for a temperature between 20-24°C (or 68 - 75°F.)
Have you increased the feedings? If you increase the feeds before the starter is ready, it will slow things down a bit.
Will my starter grow mould or get bad bacteria in it?
If you keep up with regular discarding and feeding, in a fresh jar each time, your lactobacillus colony will thrive. As they do, the amount of lactic acid they produce will inhibit mould growth and harmful bacteria.
A contaminated sourdough starter is pretty rare. If you do see mould growing on your starter or it develops a pink, red or orange tinge, discard it and start again.
It's day 5, I want to bake with my starter and I've fed it 1:2:2 but it hasn't doubled in 6 hours.
Your starter isn't ready yet. The yeast colony is not mature enough and there aren't enough yeasts yet inoculate the newly added flour in under 8 hours. Keep on discarding and feeding for a few more days and then try again.
Starters are so forgiving. Just look for the changes happening and adapt accordingly.
Maintaining the Starter
Looking after your starter is just as important as creating one. It’s important to keep it refreshed often so there is not a build up of acid.
An overly acidic starter can ruin the gluten structure in sourdough bread, which can make it extremely hard to bake with.
To keep the acid content low, you can keep refreshing your starter 2-3 times a day at 1:1:1, or twice a day at 1:2:2. This may need to be increased if the environment is very warm.
Your starter will rise to its peak, after which it will collapse when the yeast has run out of food. Ensure you use your starter when it has at least doubled but before it passes this peak.
Once your starter is well established, it can refrigerated when it isn’t being used. However, do feed it before placing it in the fridge. Either 1:1:1 if you plan to use it within the next day or two, or 1:2:2 if it will be longer.
The aim is always to keep the yeast active and happy and the acid content low.
Young starter vs Mature starter
The longer the time between the feeding of your starter, or the bigger your seed starter amount, the more acid that accumulates in your starter. A starter fed and used within 6 hours will have less acid than if it was fed and used 12 hours later. A starter fed 1:1:1 has a higher amount of seed starter than one fed at 1:2:2 and will have more acid.
Using a starter with a low acid content allows your dough to be a lot more stretchable and easy to work with. A starter with a high acid content can make it very runny and tricky to manage. It can turn your dough into a wet mess.
For a sourdough bread troubleshooting guide check out this post here -- Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting
The world of sourdough is an exciting place and everyone has such a different take on their bread and a different recipe. One thing I'm sure everyone will agree on is a healthy active starter is a key ingredient.
Have you made this? Tag me and let me know! @home_grown_happinessnz
Are you having trouble with your sourdough breads? Check out my Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting Guide.
- Day 1: combine 50 grams flour and 50 grams water in a glass container and stir very well. Leave in a warm place, out of direct sunlight, covered with a cloth.
- Day 2- Feed your starter 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. This means, adding in a fresh 50g of flour and 50g of water and mixing it really well with yesterday's mix.
- Day 3: Pour 50g of the starter into a fresh jar and feed it 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. (A ratio of 1:1:1.) Discard the rest.
- Day 4: Pour 50g of the starter into a fresh jar and feed it 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. Discard the rest.
- By day 3 and 4, your starter might be bubbling and have a slightly sour smell.
- Day 5-10: each day pour 50g of the starter into a fresh jar and feed it 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. Discard the rest.
- If your starter is doubling easily by day 6 or 7, within 6 hours of feeding, you can start feeding it 1:1:1 twice daily.
- By day 10 it might be ready to use, though it could be earlier. Test it using the starter activeness test as written below.
To test how active your starter is and if it’s ready to bake with, you’ll need your starter to at least double, or triple within 6-8 hours. You will also feed your starter at a higher ratio of flour and water to check if the yeast colony in your starter is large enough to inoculate this extra flour in under 6-8 hours.
Take 1 part starter and feed it 2 parts flour and 2 parts water. Mix it well in a jar or glass.If you tie a rubber band around your glass jar to mark where the starter came up to before it rose, you’ll be able to see how much it has risen later on.
If it doesn’t easily double within this time, it will need a bit longer of twice daily 1:1:1 feeds.
Serving Size:1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g