Making a Sourdough Starter

Share the sourdough love!

Do you love the delicious crispy, yet chewy sourdough bread you buy from the bakery? Imagine if you could bake it yourself at home? Well I’m here to tell you that you can!

In order to bake sourdough bread successfully, you need to create your own sourdough starter, a bubbly best friend if you will. A sourdough starter is basically a collection of wild yeast and bacteria. The most amazing part is that every single sourdough starter will be unique in it’s own way because it is dependent on many environmental factors unique to your home.

I’ve set out how to make a sourdough starter in 7 easy daily steps. You can read through them at the end of this blog in step by step format.

Now just a note – while 7 days is really all it takes to create a viable sourdough starter, your starter may need additional time until it’s ready to bake with. It is really dependent on your own home environment, temperature etc. Don’t be disheartened! You can still bake with it, but you will find that your loaves improve over time as your starter matures. Most people find their starter is “active” after about 14 days – but some can take a few months.

While you’re waiting for your sourdough starter to mature and become active – this is a great “discard loaf” recipe you could bake in under 2 hours!

What Flour Should I Use for My Sourdough Starter

You can really use any type of plain, non raising flour made from a grain that you like. Do not use self raising flour or bleached flour of any kind.

I have successfully created sourdough starters with plain flour (all purpose flour), baker’s flour and wholemeal spelt flour. I’ve also milled my own whole wheat berries and started a super active starter from this.

Your starter will gather yeast not only from the environment, but also from the bacteria on the flour. Whole flours will have more of the “good stuff” on them, so will generally take off sooner.

A little rye flour added to a plain or baker’s flour starter will often help it to start bubbling sooner. It’s like superfood for your sourdough starter!

Troubleshooting Your Sourdough Starter

While you are growing or developing your sourdough starter, you may have some issues or questions that arise. Here are the most common questions that I get asked. You’ll also find a full list of the most frequently asked questions about starting a sourdough starter here.

  • Liquid forming in or on top of your starter – sometimes you may get some dark liquid forming on top of or in the middle of your starter. It’s called hooch and is perfectly normal. Just pour it off if you can – or mix it back in – and feed as per normal. You’ll find that your starter develops hooch when it is hungry.
  • My starter smells like nail polish remover – again it’s perfectly normal, it’s just hungry, so feed, feed, feed.
  • My starter isn’t bubbling like the first few days – sometimes starters start out strong and then taper off a little between days 3-7. It’s ok and may just be that the good bacteria is taking a little longer to win. Just keep feeding it consistently and you should see some action. Even if it’s not really doing anything, the yeast will still need to be fed.
  • How do I keep my starter warm – it’s not totally essential to keep it warm, it will still work – it will just take a lot longer in a colder environment. Some ideas to keep your starter warm are inside the oven with the light on, next to the kettle, inside an Eziyo yoghurt maker or in a cupboard next to your oven.
  • Why is my sourdough starter forming a skin? – sometimes you’ll find that your sourdough starter develops a crust or skin. It’s totally ok and just means that it’s getting a bit too dry on top. Try using a jar lid (not screwed on). Just scrape the skin off and feed as per normal.
  • My starter has grown mould – if your starter develops anything pink or orange or furry, it’s definitely time to ditch it and start again. Make sure that your jar is super clean. If the mould happens a few times, consider using a different flour as sometimes the mould spores come from the flour and not the environment.
  • Can I feed my starter with different flour? – If you run out of the type of flour you started with, it’s ok to feed it with a different flour. If you just feed it once and then go back to the type you started with you shouldn’t have any issues. If you are swapping the type of flour for all subsequent feeds then your starter may go through an adjustment stage as the levels of bacteria and yeast get used to their new food.
  • Can I cook with my discard straight way – the short answer is yes you can, however it probably won’t be much good for the first 3-5 days. You’ll find that it’s better once your starter is actually active. When you’re ready to start using your discard, you’ll find lots of uses and recipes for sourdough discard here.

You can also join our Facebook Group for additional support in your sourdough endeavours.

How Do I Know When My Starter Is Ready to Bake With?

Sourdough starters can start to be ready to bake with from around 7 days, however it’s very unusual for a starter to be active enough at that stage. I would generally say 14 days MINIMUM before you try and bake with yours. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to bake with it before that, however, the longer it matures, the stronger and more active it will be. It will also become more resilient, meaning it’s much harder to kill and will be around a long time.

To check whether your starter is ready to bake with, put a teaspoon of starter into a glass of water. If it floats, it’s generally good to go. If it sinks, you need to feed it for a few more days and test again. This test is not, however foolproof so also take note of how your starter looks, smells and behaves. You will be able to tell if it’s ready to bake by observing some of it’s characteristics – you’ll find more about this here.

The best time to test your starter is 2-3 hours after a feed or when you can see that your starter is peaking. You want to test it before it starts to fall.

When you’re ready to bake with your sourdough starter, this is a great recipe to start your sourdough journey with.

What To Do If Your Sourdough Starter Isn’t Ready to Bake With:

  • Continue to feed your starter twice a day for a few days until it’s consistently rising and falling – and it passes the float test. Remember that every starter will be different. It could take 14 days, it could take 28 days.
  • If you need a break pop it in the fridge for a few days. When you’re ready, take it out and start feeding it twice a day again for a few days and then, once it’s active, see if it passes the float test. I generally don’t recommend keeping an immature starter in the fridge, however if you need a break or you’re going away, this is an option.
  • Try feeding it a different type of flour for a few feeds. Unbleached is best. Rye flour is always a good one – it’s like superfood to your sourdough starter.
  • If you live in a cooler climate you might only need to feed once a day. Check to see when your starter is actually hungry (it will fall and be smelly).

Can I Use Gluten Free Flour To Create a Sourdough Starter?

Yes, gluten free flour will work to create a sourdough starter. You may have to play with the ratios, but you most certainly can create and bake successful sourdough with gluten free flour.

Hydration of Your Sourdough Starter

The instructions for this sourdough starter use equal amounts of flour and water to achieve a 100% hydration level for your starter. Majority of recipes (and all of my recipes) use a 100% starter.

As long as you always feed your starter equal amounts of flour and water, it will be at 100%. Even if you only have 20g of starter, and you feed it 50g of water and 50g of flour, you’ll still have a 100% hydration starter.

When you are feeding your starter, you just need to make sure you always feed it more than it weighs itself. For example if you have 50g of starter in your jar, you’d want to feed it at least 50g of water and 50g of flour (a total of 100g) to make sure it has enough food. Generally, the rule is 1:1:1 so 1 part starter, 1 part flour, 1 part water. But as long as you feed the starter more than it weighs, it will thrive.

A lot of the time when a sourdough starter isn’t doubling consistently, it’s because it’s not being fed enough, so always remember the 1:1:1 ratio.

Changing Jars

If you’d like to put your starter into a clean jar then the easiest way to do it is when you feed it. Take out half of your starter, place in a clean jar and feed the starter in the clean jar as normal.

You can either use the discard in the old jar or just wash out and have a clean jar ready for next time. It’s a good idea to transfer to a clean jar when the rim of your old jar gets really built up. If you’re feeding everyday, change your jar at least once a week.

Storing Your Sourdough Starter

There are full instructions on backing up and storing your sourdough starter here. I’ve included tips on when and how you can start to put your sourdough starter into the fridge and how to dry your starter too.

A Note on Measurements

I have provided the measurements for this starter in grams because it is easier to ensure accuracy (although sourdough starters are very forgiving and can tolerate eyeball measurements – as long as you’re feeding your starter more than it weighs). If you would prefer to use cups you can do so using 1/2 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water. It will still work. However I really do recommend you get a set of scales and measure your starter, particularly in the first 7 days. It will make sure you set yourself up for success. Many people come to my Facebook Group asking for help with their sourdough starter – and often the problem is that they aren’t using accurate measurements. Once they do, their starters develop quickly and rarely have issues.

So let’s get started and create you a super active sourdough starter so you can start baking as soon as possible!

AuthorKateCategoryDifficultyBeginner

Make a sourdough starter today - all you need is flour, water and time. Bake your own sourdough bread from home with no special equipment.

Making a sourdough starter from scratch

Yields1 Serving
Prep Time10 mins

Measurements in Grams
 50 g Flour (plain, baker's rye, wholemeal)
 50 g water (preferably filtered)

DAY 1
1

All you need for today is 50g of water and 50g of flour plus a clean jar. Mix the water & flour together in the jar, pop the lid on loosely (or a piece of paper towel & elastic band). Place the starter somewhere warm for the next 24 hrs. If your house is cold, pop it near the kettle or oven to keep it warm.

DAY 2
2

Once your starter is 24 hours old, you need to check on it and give it a good stir. You do not need to add anything today - just get some oxygen into your mixture and then recover and pop aside for another 24 hours.

Your starter may already have some bubbles forming - this is a great sign. But it's also totally fine if it's not doing anything. Time is everything! Make sure it’s in a warm spot - a cupboard next to the oven is good. I keep one of mine in my plate draw next to my oven. Or next to the kettle if you're a coffee junkie.

DAY 3
3

On day 3 remove half of your starter and then add 50g of flour and 50g of water to the remaining 50g of starter in your jar. Mix it together with the end of a wooden spoon, being sure to get lots of oxygen into your mixture. Replace the cover and pop it away until tomorrow.

It's up to you how you want to feed your starter - you can just pour half out and then put the flour and water directly into the same jar (you can clean the sides and rim with a silicone spatula). This will not be super accurate and may mean your starter takes longer to build - but it will still work!

Alternatively you can place 50g of your starter into a clean jar and feed into that so you have a clean jar each time.

Don’t worry if you keep checking it - it’s completely normal 😉 It’s good to notice how it changes in shape, size and smell over the 24 hours.

At this stage it's completely normal for it to smell really bad and to have developed a layer of liquid on top (this is called hooch). It might look like the water has separated from the flour but it's just telling you that it's hungry. Stir the hooch in when you feed your starter. It's also quite normal for it to double in size. Keep going - it will be fine 🙂

DAY 4
4

Step 4 is to feed your starter in the same way as you did yesterday. Remove 100g of your starter and then add 50g of flour and 50g of water to the remaining 50g of starter in your jar. Mix it all together with the end of a wooden spoon. Replace the cover. You’ll need to do this twice today, around 12 hours apart. While your starter will be fairly forgiving, set a reminder on your phone if you think you’ll forget 😉 it’s just like having a pet 😉

If you want to keep feeding your starter into the same jar, mark where 50g of starter should sit and scoop out the 100g of starter so that the unfed starter sits at that line, then add your 50g of flour and 50g of water. You could even use an elastic band.

Alternatively, weigh your jar with the 50g of starter in it. Write down this measurement. Place your jar on the scale and remove the discarded starter down to that measurement. This will enable you to keep feeding into the same jar.

Once your starter is mature, you'll be able to just pour it out without measuring too closely.

DAY 5
5

Step 5 is to feed your starter in the same way as you did yesterday. Remove 100g of your starter and then add 50g of flour and 50g of water to the remaining 50g of starter in your jar. Mix it all together with the end of a wooden spoon. Replace the cover. You’ll need to do this twice today, around 12 hours apart. While your starter will be fairly forgiving, set a reminder on your phone if you think you’ll forget 😉 it’s just like having a pet 😉

It's a good idea at this stage to pop an elastic band around the jar you are using. Put the elastic band at the level of your starter when you feed it. This helps you to be able to see how far your starter is rising when it peaks.

sourdough starter with elastic band to show rise level

DAY 6
6

Step 6 is to feed your starter in the same way as you did yesterday. Remove 100g of your starter and then add 50g of flour and 50g of water to the remaining 50g of starter in your jar. Mix it all together with the end of a wooden spoon. Replace the cover. You’ll need to do this twice today, around 12 hours apart. While your starter will be fairly forgiving, set a reminder on your phone if you think you’ll forget 😉 it’s just like having a pet 😉

DAY 7
7

YAY! Your sourdough starter is a whole week old. Now I know you want to get to baking bread … but just remember that the most important thing about this whole process is time. Your starter might be ready, but chances are it will need a bit longer to mature - generally 14 days. You need to keep feeding your starter the same way as you have been, twice a day (discarding before you feed) until it's consistently doubling within around 2-6 hours after you've fed it. Once it's consistently doubling after every feed you can try and bake with it. Your starter will keep maturing as you use it.

Creating a sourdough starter - 7 day instructions

Ingredients

Measurements in Grams
 50 g Flour (plain, baker's rye, wholemeal)
 50 g water (preferably filtered)

Directions

DAY 1
1

All you need for today is 50g of water and 50g of flour plus a clean jar. Mix the water & flour together in the jar, pop the lid on loosely (or a piece of paper towel & elastic band). Place the starter somewhere warm for the next 24 hrs. If your house is cold, pop it near the kettle or oven to keep it warm.

DAY 2
2

Once your starter is 24 hours old, you need to check on it and give it a good stir. You do not need to add anything today - just get some oxygen into your mixture and then recover and pop aside for another 24 hours.

Your starter may already have some bubbles forming - this is a great sign. But it's also totally fine if it's not doing anything. Time is everything! Make sure it’s in a warm spot - a cupboard next to the oven is good. I keep one of mine in my plate draw next to my oven. Or next to the kettle if you're a coffee junkie.

DAY 3
3

On day 3 remove half of your starter and then add 50g of flour and 50g of water to the remaining 50g of starter in your jar. Mix it together with the end of a wooden spoon, being sure to get lots of oxygen into your mixture. Replace the cover and pop it away until tomorrow.

It's up to you how you want to feed your starter - you can just pour half out and then put the flour and water directly into the same jar (you can clean the sides and rim with a silicone spatula). This will not be super accurate and may mean your starter takes longer to build - but it will still work!

Alternatively you can place 50g of your starter into a clean jar and feed into that so you have a clean jar each time.

Don’t worry if you keep checking it - it’s completely normal 😉 It’s good to notice how it changes in shape, size and smell over the 24 hours.

At this stage it's completely normal for it to smell really bad and to have developed a layer of liquid on top (this is called hooch). It might look like the water has separated from the flour but it's just telling you that it's hungry. Stir the hooch in when you feed your starter. It's also quite normal for it to double in size. Keep going - it will be fine 🙂

DAY 4
4

Step 4 is to feed your starter in the same way as you did yesterday. Remove 100g of your starter and then add 50g of flour and 50g of water to the remaining 50g of starter in your jar. Mix it all together with the end of a wooden spoon. Replace the cover. You’ll need to do this twice today, around 12 hours apart. While your starter will be fairly forgiving, set a reminder on your phone if you think you’ll forget 😉 it’s just like having a pet 😉

If you want to keep feeding your starter into the same jar, mark where 50g of starter should sit and scoop out the 100g of starter so that the unfed starter sits at that line, then add your 50g of flour and 50g of water. You could even use an elastic band.

Alternatively, weigh your jar with the 50g of starter in it. Write down this measurement. Place your jar on the scale and remove the discarded starter down to that measurement. This will enable you to keep feeding into the same jar.

Once your starter is mature, you'll be able to just pour it out without measuring too closely.

DAY 5
5

Step 5 is to feed your starter in the same way as you did yesterday. Remove 100g of your starter and then add 50g of flour and 50g of water to the remaining 50g of starter in your jar. Mix it all together with the end of a wooden spoon. Replace the cover. You’ll need to do this twice today, around 12 hours apart. While your starter will be fairly forgiving, set a reminder on your phone if you think you’ll forget 😉 it’s just like having a pet 😉

It's a good idea at this stage to pop an elastic band around the jar you are using. Put the elastic band at the level of your starter when you feed it. This helps you to be able to see how far your starter is rising when it peaks.

sourdough starter with elastic band to show rise level

DAY 6
6

Step 6 is to feed your starter in the same way as you did yesterday. Remove 100g of your starter and then add 50g of flour and 50g of water to the remaining 50g of starter in your jar. Mix it all together with the end of a wooden spoon. Replace the cover. You’ll need to do this twice today, around 12 hours apart. While your starter will be fairly forgiving, set a reminder on your phone if you think you’ll forget 😉 it’s just like having a pet 😉

DAY 7
7

YAY! Your sourdough starter is a whole week old. Now I know you want to get to baking bread … but just remember that the most important thing about this whole process is time. Your starter might be ready, but chances are it will need a bit longer to mature - generally 14 days. You need to keep feeding your starter the same way as you have been, twice a day (discarding before you feed) until it's consistently doubling within around 2-6 hours after you've fed it. Once it's consistently doubling after every feed you can try and bake with it. Your starter will keep maturing as you use it.

Creating a sourdough starter - 7 day instructions

Sourdough Starter

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7 Comments

  1. Marylou Macias May 13, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    Can’t wait to start my starter. Please post more starter ideas and ways to use starter, what to do with starter hats thrown out.

    Reply
  2. Cindy webb May 15, 2020 at 1:56 am

    Can I use half white wheat, King Arthur flour or the half cup for starter?

    Reply
    1. Kate Freebairn June 3, 2020 at 1:33 pm

      You sure can. You can really use any type of flour you like 🙂

      Reply
  3. Andrew Vassiliades May 31, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    Great advice ,great learning thank you very much
    Is there a possibility to print your literature so I may laminate and put in my recipe file for easy reference …

    Reply
    1. Kate Freebairn June 3, 2020 at 1:32 pm

      Hi Andrew – you should be able to print out each recipe by clicking on the “print” button. Otherwise it will depend on your web browser as to how you’d print it out. However, I will have some e-books being released soon, so that will be an easy way for you to print out all of the information 🙂

      Reply

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