This easy DIY sourdough starter tutorial will have you baking naturally leavened goods in no time.
In a world of instant yeast packets, we have lost the old world art of working with the natural yeasts present in flour to make our own baked goods. And while instant yeast packets do provide a quick and easy way to bake breads, there is nothing like pouring a cup of your own homemade bubbly starter into a recipe.
I remember my first experience with a sourdough starter and feeling like I couldn’t get it down. One day you see bubbles, the next you don’t. Or you finally get around to feeling confident enough to bake a loaf of bread, just to get a large flat puck. Maybe you’re like me and always buy your starter online because you’re too scared making it from scratch won’t work.
Working with sourdough is tricky and intimidating. It doesn’t take long searching the web to find that out, but it doesn’t have to be. Just because there are a lot of steps doesn’t mean it’s extremely difficult to do. I now have almost a year old starter that I’ve been successfully baking goods with that sits out on my counter. And all I did was a little self educating online and some experimenting with flour, water, a bowl, and a wooden spoon in the kitchen.
What is a Sourdough Starter?
A sourdough starter is a culture of bacteria and wild yeasts. If you are familiar with Kombucha, milk/water kefir, or yogurt, it is the equivalent to a SCOBY, grains, or culture. Natural yeasts present on the wheat in flour feed off of the carbohydrates present.
Sourdough Starters are how breads were leavened for hundreds of years before the creation of yeast packets.
What you need to make your own Sourdough Starter
It’s as simple as three tools, two ingredients, and a little patience.
Glass Bowl or Mason Jar – Use glass. Since the nature of a starter is acidic, metal bowls will react if exposed for an extended period of time
Wood spoon – You can use a metal spoon for stirring since it’s only coming in contact for a short amount of time. A wooden one is just my choice utensil here
Tea Towell or Cheesecloth – A lot of tutorials will tell you a loosely fitted lid works for covering, but I have had the best experience with a tea towel rubber banded around the top
Flour – Any type of unbleached flour is good here. Wild yeast are naturally found on the grain, so when you’re using a bleached variety, nothing is present to create the starter. I have found whole wheat flour to be a good option for a nice bubbly starter.
Filtered Water – Just like with any ferment, you want to make sure you’re using a water that won’t kill the good bacteria present in the starter. Bacteria is what makes our starter!
Steps to Making a Sourdough Starter
Start by adding 1 cup of your flour and 1 cup of water to a container of choice. Mix well working out all large clumps. Depending on the air quality of where you live, you may need to add less or more water. We’re aiming for a medium pancake batter consistency here.
Once combined, cover with a tea towel secured with a rubber band and let it sit on your counter for 24 hours. You may notice a thin layer of water that will settle on top of the starter mixture during this time frame. This is totally normal. You can either stir it back in or let it be, it’s a natural part of a sourdough starter.
On day two, you are going to remove half of the sourdough starter and discard it. It’s not really sourdough at this point, so don’t feel too guilty for trashing it.
Add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour again. Stir in and aim for that same pancake batter consistency as day one. Put the tea towel back on and let the starter hang out for another 24 time period on the counter.
Day Three – Six
As tedious as it seems, day three through six will just be repeating what you did on day two. You most likely won’t notice any bubbles until day four or five. Have patience! The yeasts need time to build up and populate the flour / water mixture.
By this point, you should have a bubbly starter that shows obvious signs of life and has a fermented sour smell. Look for bubbles through the side of the jar and a foamy bubbly consistency on top of the starter. At this time, you can officially start using your starter.
While I don’t recommend trying to make leavened breads at this stage of your starter’s life, you absolutely can make sourdough discard recipes that don’t require the leavening action of the starter to get a decent baked good. Some great ideas for this are waffles, pancakes, quick breads, and muffins.
I do want to note that I did not start to see decent leavening action with my sourdough starter until a couple of months of constantly feeding and using it. This may be the case for you as well. Just have a little bit of patience with it and don’t get discouraged. Anything sourdough really is an art.
Sourdough Starter Tips
When doing something for the first time, you typically have a good bit of questions. Below are some notes I thought are worth including for your peace of mind
- Timeframe – The process of creating your starter may take a little longer than the time frame noted here if your house is cooler. Remember, yeasts are living things and will need warmth to feed and multiply. If your starter is taking a while to develop, try moving it to a warmer spot in your house.
- Bubbles – Not seeing any bubbles? That’s normal too for a developing starter. This is why I recommend a breathable cover over a loosely fitted lid. Starters need a healthy supply of airflow. and even when a starter is mature, you have have more bubbly batches than others. I’ve noticed a thicker starter means a more bubbly starter (think air pockets)
- Layer of Water – What you’re seeing is something called hooch. It’s very normal and means your starter may need another feeding. Although hooch in the beginning is typically just from separation of the ingredients. It can vary in color from clear to dark brown and have a sour smell. I normally just stir mine back in and feed the starter if the fluid is clear. If brown, it can be skimmed off and a fresh feeding is needed.
- Storing the Starter – When not using your sourdough starter, I recommend storing it in an airtight container in your fridge, pulling out to feed periodically. You will need to give it about three feedings before it is usable.
- Maintenance Feedings & Discarding– Once your starter is established, it will not need to be fed the 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water every day unless you simply want to. I normally just scoop in a few spoon fulls of flour and eye the water looking for the right consistency. Discardings can also stop after the starter is established. Naturally you will be using the starter discard in recipes anyways unless you only use your starter to make leavened breads.
Easy Sourdough Recipes
Below are some easy wholesome recipes to use your new starter in. Happy baking!
Simple Sourdough Pancakes
- Unbleached All Purpose Flour
- Filtered Water
- Day 1 - Combine 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water to create a medium pancake batter consistancy
- Day 2 - Discard half of the starter and add the same measurements of flour and water as day 1.
- Day 3 to 7 - Repeat steps of day 2
- Starter should be active and ready to use by now