HOW TO MAKE AND KEEP SOURDOUGH STARTER

Learn how to make best sourdough starter with wild yeast for the most delicious sourdough bread. Step by step instructions and problem solving.

I’ve been interested in artisan bread making for a while now and because of my Eastern European roots, it is sourdough bread that has a very special place in my heart. Over time I have learned that there are 3 ingredients that bring success when it comes to making sourdough bread: flour, water and a mixture of patience and perseverance. Well, let’s call it four then!

The first stage of making any sourdough is a sourdough starter.

Making a sourdough starter is something you fit around your lifestyle. It takes only 5 minutes every day, over a 5-day period, to make sure the starter is ready to make the sourdough bread with it. However, it is a process of caring for a living creature, which needs stable conditions, the right temperature and frequent feeding.

Learn how to make best sourdough starter with wild yeast for the most delicious sourdough bread. Step by step instructions and problem solving.

During that time the good bacteria called Lactobacillus and Acetobacillus, together with wild yeast that lives in the air all around us, turns the flour and water into a bubbling and ready for action sourdough starter.

The texture and flavour of sourdough bread relies heavily on the quality of the sourdough starter.

Learn how to make best sourdough starter with wild yeast for the most delicious sourdough bread. Step by step instructions and problem solving.

If fed and cared for properly, your sourdough starter can live forever, literally. But if it is unhappy, neglected and forgotten, it will die and you’ll have to start growing it all over again. I know something about it. But hey! We all learn by mistakes.

Talking about perseverance:

I was super determined to keep my starter alive to the point where even month-long drive around Britain on holiday last year didn’t stop me from taking it along in a jar. Some people worry about the weather and all I worried about was whether at the next overnight stop there will be a comfy and balanced place for my jar of sourdough starter. You should see my partner’s face every time I pulled my jar out of a bag…

Learn how to make best sourdough starter with wild yeast for the most delicious sourdough bread. Step by step instructions and problem solving.

It is fun though, and it is easy to get hooked. Once you have a nice slice of a good, homemade sourdough bread you will appreciate all the hassle. So here we go:

How to make sourdough starter with flour, water & wild yeast

Learn how to make best sourdough starter with wild yeast for the most delicious sourdough bread. Step by step instructions and problem solving.

HOW TO MAKE AND KEEP SOURDOUGH STARTER
Author: 
Recipe type: Bread making
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: makes 400g sourdough starter
 
Ingredients
  • 400g strong white flour
  • 400g tepid water
Instructions
DAY 1 - 5 minutes
  1. Combine equal amounts (weight wise) of water and strong, white bread flour in a glass or plastic jar/container (not metal) until you have an even batter. The best thing to do is to place a bowl on a scale, tare it to zero and pour 100g flour and then 100g of water - both ingredients should be even in weight and the total weight on your scale show 200g.
  2. Cover your container with a lid or a plastic foil, allowing a little access to air. I use a glass jar that used to have a rubber seal around the lid, which I removed for the purpose of growing the starter in it. I can close the lid, but there is a very small gap which doesn’t make the jar airtight - and that’s perfect!
  3. Place the jar in a room/cupboard where there is a stable temperature in a range of 70F-75F and leave your sourdough starter for 24h.
DAY 2 - 5 minutes
  1. Uncover the container with the sourdough starter you made yesterday. You might see the first few bubbles on the surface, but if you don’t, don’t worry and follow with the first feeding as below:
  2. In a separate plastic or glass bowl, combine 100g flour and pour in 100g of water - both ingredients should be even in weight.
  3. Add your old starter to the new one and mix vigorously, allowing lots of air in. Rinse the old jar/container and pour the sourdough starter back in. (This will keep things tidy and allow you to see the progress of your starter clearly.)
  4. Cover with a lid or a plastic foil, allowing little access of air and place the jar in a room/cupboard where the is a stable temperature in a range of 70F-75F and leave your sourdough starter in peace for another 24h.
DAY 3 - 5 minutes
  1. Uncover the container with the sourdough starter you fed yesterday. You should notice that the sourdough starter increased in volume, that there are definite bubbles appearing all over the surface, and that it has a slightly sour, yeasty, but healthy smell - a bit like overripe fruit.
  2. If that’s the case - perfect, follow with the feeding as in day 2. If not, refer to solutions in the notes at the end.
DAY 4 - 5 minutes
  1. Uncover the container with the sourdough starter you fed yesterday. By day 4 there should be plenty of bubbles in your starter creating a sort of foamy layer at least ¼ through the depth of your starter and also a significant increase in the volume of the starter - it should appear like it has risen. It should smell fruity, yeasty, slightly sour and there should be no doubt that it is alive and healthy.
  2. If that’s the case - perfect, follow with the feeding as in day 2. If not, refer to solutions in the notes at the end.
DAY 5
Your sourdough starter is ready to use. It should be full of bubbles, smell pungent, fruity, sour and healthy. You are now ready to make a sourdough breads.
  1. Discard half of it and store the rest refrigerated in an airtight, glass or plastic container. Read "how to keep sourdough alive forever" in the post below.
Notes
Please refer to "Sourdough starter issues and solutions" section for advice.

Sourdough starter issues and solutions

  1. No bubbles on day 3 – if there is no activity in your sourdough starter something definitely went wrong. Make sure that you left a little bit of air access and that the temperature in the room you keep the starter does not exceed the recommended range of 70-75F. If that’s not the case, with the day 3 feeding you might give your starter a little push with an addition of a tiny pinch of dry yeast. It should encourage the activity.
  2. There is a layer of water on the top and no activity. If your starter smells ok, but there is a layer of water on the top it means that your measurements of flour and water were off, your scale is not working properly, or the flour is less absorbent than expected. Pour the water out and feed the rest of the starter normally. It is better if there is less rather than too much water. Less water will only slow ripening of the starter down, too much can spoil it to the point where it will go off and will become moldy and useless.
  3. You sourdough starter smells off, there is a layer of red water, spots of green, white or black mold. All of these are a “no, no” for me and I would just discard that starter and start from the beginning making sure that the ingredients are measured correctly and the temperature is right and stable where the starter is kept.

How to keep sourdough starter alive forever?

On Day 5 you’ll have about 800g of the most lively and potent cooking ingredient. That’s a lot of sourdough starter! I found that the chance of getting the measurements wrong and spoiling the starter is smaller if you work with larger volumes of ingredients in this recipe. Here’s what to do next:

  • When you finish using your sourdough starter transfer 200g of it into an airtight container and keep refrigerated until you need to use it again. (The longest I kept my starter refrigerated was 6 weeks before reactivating it to bake my bread again. If you’re planning to keep it refrigerated longer I would suggest to feed it as below and return back to the fridge for further storage)
  • When you’re ready to bake again remove your sourdough starter from the fridge and discard dark liquid, which separated and gathered on the top of the mixture. Feed it twice over 48 hours with 100g flour and 100g water each time (as in Day 3 and Day 4 in the recipe above). After 72 hours your refreshed starter should be all lively and ready to be used again (as described in Day 5 in the recipe above) to make leaven for the sourdough bread.

What to do with the sourdough starter left over?

To produce 2.5 pound loaf of sourdough bread you’ll only need 1 tablespoon of the sourdough starter. What to do with the rest? Well, you could:


You CAN keep your sourdough starter literally for as long as you care for it. Here is an amazing article about 122 years old starter nurtured by generations in Lucille’s family: “It has lived through the turns of two centuries, the Great Depression, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam and beyond, blues, jazz, rock ’n’ roll and 23 U.S. presidencies…. read more here.

On next Friday I’ll tell you how to make the most amazing sourdough bread with the use of the sourdough starter recipe above. Soooo exciting! Stay tuned.

Learn how to make best sourdough starter with wild yeast for the most delicious sourdough bread. Step by step instructions and problem solving.

Learn how to make best sourdough starter with wild yeast for the most delicious sourdough bread. Step by step instructions and problem solving.
  1. I am on day 2 of my starter and it is already bubbly. I am keeping my fingers crossed.
    I have failed in the past, but I think it was through neglect of feeding every day.

    Your instructions are very clear.
    Thankyou
    Kind regards
    Margo

  2. My sourdough has been out getting fed for a while. It smells wonderful, always has some bubbles on top, but I’m afraid it’s not ready because in your pics it almost looks foamy on top? Mine is not like that.

    • I have never made starter with whole wheat flour, (although I made whole wheat sourdough with my plain flour starter – you only need 1 tablespoon of it anyway, so it doesn’t make a difference to either health benefits or the flavour), but I would say yes, use the same measurements, see how it goes and let me know!!! 🙂

    • Hi Thelma,

      I sometimes reduce the amount of starter this way if I don’t have plans to use it in other recipes anytime soon. You can use a lot of it if you make let’s say sourdough pancakes (http://garlicmatters.com/banana-sourdough-pancakes-recipe/) or in a cake recipe which calls for the starter in the ingredient list.

      But if a few tablespoons is all you need to make the leaven for the loaf or two once a week, it is best to discard most of the excess of your starter and store the remaining part in the fridge util you are ready to refresh it before preparation to make bread again. Otherwise you’ll end up with way to much of it and you really don’t want to be storing liters of the starter in your fridge, unless you are using it on an industrial scale.

      I hope this answer your question, but please do let me know should you wish to chat about it in more detail.