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How to make a Sourdough Starter

I’ve been using sourdough starter for bread baking for many years now. Around a decade! So, I’ve learned a few things along the way. I have also started many different starters throughout the years simply because it’s a hobby for me. So, let me show you how to make a sourdough starter!

Making a homemade sourdough starter is actually quite simple. The whole process takes 5-7 days.

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Making a sourdough starter is incredibly easy and only requires flour, water, air, and patience.

And, once you get your starter established, it can last for generations! (In case you haven’t noticed, I am really into things that last a lifetime).

Active Sourdough Starter

You can use any flour as long as it is unbleached. You can use whole wheat, all purpose (unbleached), freshly ground, Einkorn, Kamut, you get the idea ha ha!

Why would you want to use a sourdough starter?

The process of long fermenting dough is an age-old practice. You do not need commercial yeast to rise your bread dough with a sourdough starter.

Making a new starter is a process that is quite fun and rewarding. You will find the sourdough journey to be one of ups and downs but so worth the work.

Not only does it impart a wonderful flavor to your bread products, it also has health benefits.

For many, eating bread leads to bloating and tummy upset.

Long fermenting your bread dough can alleviate those symptoms for many.

There are so many sourdough bread recipes to try once you get you have an active starter.

Sourdough is not suitable for those with CELIAC DISEASE.

However, it can be very beneficial to those who are just a bit intolerant to gluten.

To achieve a bread that is more easily digested you want to ferment or rise your dough for at least 8-12 hours and up to 24 hours.

It can seem like an arduous and daunting process when you are brand new to sourdough, but it is very much worth the time and effort!

sourdough starter overhead shot

What you will need to make a sourdough starter

Flour

You can use all-purpose flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, or freshly milled flour.

I prefer freshly milled flour in my kitchen and have been grinding my own wheat for years. This is the grain mill I use: https://collabs.shop/rxide2

Fresh flour is full of nutrients that feed a sourdough starter well.

You can also interchange the flours as you go with no issues. I have used almost every flour imaginable and have never encountered a problem.

Water

The quality of the water is actually a huge consideration when making a sourdough starter.

Chlorinated water (tap water) can hinder the growth of bacteria and natural yeasts in a sourdough starter.

You can also use bottled water.

For best results use filtered water when feeding the starter.

The reason is that filtered water is free from chlorine but still has the beneficial minerals.

loaf of sandwich bread on a cutting board

Equipment needed to make a sourdough starter

Mason jar or glass jar with loose fitting lid

I like to use a mason jar and put a coffee filter on top with a rubber band around it.

You can also use the lid by just laying it on top and not screwing it tight.

Make sure it is a clean jar. It does not have to be sterile.

A stirring utensil

Many caution to not use metal utensils with sourdough but I have never had an issue doing so. If you are uncomfortable with using them a wooden spoon will suffice.

lady standing at counter stretching sourdough bread dough

Step by Step Instructions for making a Sourdough Starter

Day 1

On the first day, just add 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of filtered water to a pint sized mason jar and mix well.

Cover with a coffee filter and put a rubber band around it.

I wrap mine in a dark kitchen towel and place in a warm spot in my pantry or corner counter.

Leave it there for at least 24 hours.

Day 2

The next day, add another 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup. As before, mix well, cover and leave it for at least 24 hours in a warm place.

Day 3

By the 3rd day, mine was already showing great activity. The fermentation process has starter and it has lots of bubbles and smelling good!

On this day, you need to discard 1/4 cup and proceed to feed the same as the days before.

Great Activity

Day 4

Now on day 4, you should see quite a bit of activity, so, do the same as day 3. Discard, add flour and water, cover, and store away for one more day.

Day 5

Okay on day 5 things will change. We will transfer the starter to a quart jar and add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour, mix well, cover and sit on the counter.

Note the time and make a mark on the jar with a sharpee or some tape of where the starter comes to on the jar. If your starter doubles within 12 hours, CONGRATULATIONS! You made a sourdough starter using this sourdough starter recipe. You captured wild yeast!

Considerations

There are different odors that you will notice throughout the process of making your sourdough starter.

On day 2-4 you may notice a very off putting smell. Some have referred to it as a smelly feet smell.

This is quite normal and is nothing to be concerned about.

As the days go on you will notice the odor change to a pleasant yeasty smell.

When the starter gets hungry it will have an acetone smell almost like alcohol.

What do I do now?

You can start using your starter, however, it may take time and many feedings to be able to get great results making artisan bread, but, you are well on your way! Having your own sourdough starter will give you the ability to make so many delicious recipes!

If your starter gets hungry it will get a layer of liquid on top called HOOTCH. This is normal. In this state the starter is sometimes referred to as sourdough discard. This does not mean the starter needs to be thrown out.

It actually means it may not be strong enough to rise bread dough, but there are so many amazing recipes using inactive sourdough starter or discard.

Some people recommend doing the float test to see if your starter is ready to use. To do this you will take a small piece of your starter and put it in a cup of water. If it floats, it should rise bread dough.

I personally have not had the best success with this method. But it is a method that you can try out.

I recommend using the starter for recipes that don’t require a big rise.

Some examples:

Sourdough biscuits https://therosehomestead.com/sourdough-biscuits/

Sourdough Crackers https://therosehomestead.com/sourdough-discard-crackers/

Sourdough Scones https://therosehomestead.com/sourdough-scones/

FAQ’S

Can I change flours that I use in my sourdough starter?

Yes! I have used almost every flour out there. The starter feeds off of the starches in the flour, so it doesn’t make a big difference which flour you use.

If I store my starter in the fridge, do I need a tight-fitting lid?

No. You can still use a loose-fitting lid. I have had starters pop a tight lid off my jar because of the carbon dioxide that builds up during the fermentation process.

sourdough pretzel bun that has proofed and has bubbles on the surface of the dough
Sourdough pretzel bun that has proofed

Making these types of recipes will not only build up your starter but will build up your confidence as a sourdough baker.

Though it is a process that takes time and patience, it’s a new skill you will use for years and years to come!

Sourdough Sandwich Bread
What if my starter is active on day 3 but not active after that?

That’s actually quite normal. You may have a lot of activity right at first and as things settle down and the good bacteria and yeast are leveling off the activity may drop. Just keep going with the process and you will soon see activity again.

I’m on day 5 and it didn’t rise, what can I do?

There are several reasons the starter didn’t take off. Many variables are at play right in the beginning. For most simply adding a few raisins to the starter will get things going. Once it gets good and active you can remove them. Keep in mind don’t soley rely on rising. Look for signs of activity like bubbles and a yeasty smell.

Can I keep my starter on the counter?

Yes, you can keep it on the counter. Just keep in mind it will require more frequent feeding due to it being kept at room temperature.

sourdough starter bubbling in a glass jar

How to make a Sourdough Starter

Yield: 1 Sourdough Starter
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 5 minutes
Additional Time: 7 days
Total Time: 7 days 10 minutes

Making a sourdough starter is incredibly easy and only requires flour, water, air, and patience. And, once you get your starter established, it can last for generations! (In case you haven’t noticed, I am really into things that last a lifetime).

Instructions

    On the first day, just add 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of filtered water to a pint sized mason jar and mix well. Cover with a coffee filter and put a rubber band around it. I wrap mine in a dark kitchen towel and place in a dark place in my pantry or corner counter. Leave it there for at least 24 hours.

    The next day, add another 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup. As before, mix well, cover and leave it for at least 24 hours.

    By the 3rd day, mine was already showing great activity. Full of bubbles and smelling good! On this day, you need to discard 1/4 cup and proceed to feed the same as the days before.

    Now on day 4, you should see quite a bit of activity, so, do the same as day 3. Discard, add flour and water, cover, and store away for one more day.

    Okay on day 5 things will change. We will transfer the starter to a quart jar and add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour, mix well, cover and sit on the counter. Note the time and make a mark on the jar with a sharpee or some tape of where the starter comes to on the jar. If your starter doubles within 12 hours, CONGRATULATIONS! You made a sourdough starter!

Notes

You can start using your starter, however, it may take time and many feedings to be able to get great results making artisan bread, but, you are well on your way!

Did you make this recipe?

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29 Comments

  1. Thanks for instructions on starter. I was looking to do the hit dog buns and was like Sourdough starter, your website search was extra easy to find it.(some dont

    Melissa Ray Keene(Chester Keene’s wife)

  2. After I take 1/2 cup out of the starter to make bread, what recipe do I go by to feed my starter? The 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of filtered water?

    1. You can as long as there is less than 1/2 cup starter left in the jar. I usually feed mine 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and that lasts me all week for my recipes. You can feed your starter any amount you want depending on how often you are going to use it. As long as you feed it at least how much there is in the jar.

  3. Hi! I am new to your information sites, so glad that I came across it all. (via YouTube)
    I am new and trying to learn the sourdough baking thing. I am not new to baking or cooking – but this! Oh my word! I so appreciate your videos and the “easy, not stressful” methods that you use. But I’m stressed! My end goal is to make bread – at this point I am confused on what do I do after day 5. (I am only on day 2 so far… hoping I make it to day 5 on my first attempt) I understand it goes into the fridge, but how often do I feed it and how long until it is ready for bread baking? How do I know!?!!? 🙂 Thank you so much!!

  4. ” If your starter doubles within 12 hours, CONGRATULATIONS! You made a sourdough starter!
    You can start using your starter, however, it may take time and many feedings to be able to get great results making artisan bread, but, you are well on your way!”

    I’ve started the process – but confused at this point. My end goal is to make the artisan bread – how do I know when? And how?

    Thank you –

    1. I always recommend using the starter for recipes like biscuits, pancakes, and such for a week or so then you can try an artisan loaf. Some people have had great success with using it right away! Just keep in mind, the younger the starter the longer it will take to proof and the bread will be a bit dense at first. But every loaf will get better and better.

      1. Thank you for the response and the help. Apologies for the repeat question – I thought the first one didn’t go through.

  5. Hello! Thank you for your wonderful video. What do I do if my starter isn’t doubling on the 5th day? What’s next?

    1. “on day 5 things will change. We will transfer the starter to a quart jar and add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour, mix well, cover and sit on the counter.”
      Am i discarding anything on day 5 before I transfer-? How much of the starter needs to be added.

      1. You will take a small amount of the starter and add it to a clean jar. Then feed that small amount 1 cup water and 1 cup flour. The left over starter can be used for pancakes, crackers, or waffles.

  6. Thank you for sharing this simple to follow recipe! I’m on the last step but for some reason the starter hasn’t doubled by the next day. What does this mean? Should I let it continue staying on the counter?

  7. Hello Mary,
    I’m new and a novice to making bread. I love the ease and simplicity of your recipes. Your method of sourdough starter and maintenance seems attainable for me since I work 12 hour shifts. I may not have time to use the discard that day. How do you store the discard to use on a later date?
    ~Colleen

  8. Hello! 👋🏻 I’m excited to get started. I am a little confused about Day 5. If my starter doubles within the 12 hours, do I take out a 1/2 cup discard and then place in refrigerator? Then start the process of feeding 1-2 x a week? If my starter on day 5 has not doubled, what do I do?

    1. If it gets very active and bubbly, even if it doesn’t technically double, just put it in the fridge. You can use the starter straight from the fridge and feed it when the jar gets low. I feed mine once a week usually. I will take the jar out of the fridge, feed it 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup water and let it start getting bubbly. Then I put it back in the fridge for the week and use it straight from there. Hope that helps!

  9. Mary

    What size is the crockpot you use for your starter that you keep in fridge and how many cups of starter does that hold???

    Dorothy

    1. It’s a half gallon crock. It will hold more cups than I’ll ever need. I have never filled it up but I would guess it will hold up to 6-8 cups of starter.

  10. I’m on day 3 going on 4. My starter has doubled in my pint jar ( it’s just below the rim)! When I get up in the morning of day 4 what do I do with this new pet of mine? It’s as if I’m already ready for day 5. Thanks. 😊

    1. I would take some out and feed it again. It sometimes will drop in activity a bit on day 4 going into 5, but, that’s normal. Sounds like you are almost there! Yay!

      1. Hi Mary,
        Day 5. About a cup of starter in jar this morning liquid on top, and sour smelling rather runny. One problem…I was following your written instructions and transferred all the starter to a quart jar and added 1/2 cup unbleached white flour and 1/2 cup filtered water stirred, covered, and set on counter. I missed the video clip stating I was to remove 2 tablespoons and put into the quart jar. (must have been tired) What do you suggest I do next? Will the starter be ok?? Ugh I hope the fix is easy. LOL Cathy

        1. I would say it is just fine. Just take the 2 tablespoons out and feed that. Use what’s left over for pancakes, crackers, biscuits, or waffles.

  11. Morning Mary,
    The starter did drop a bit. When I stirred it WOW what a sour not yet yeasty smell. Yayyy! I ended up discarding 3/4 cup and adding 1/2 cup of unbleached white flour, and a 1/2 cup filtered water stirred it good and set it up. It is cold here still (IL) so the house is only at 66, I may set it on a heating pad lined with a towel on low to keep it warmer. (your thoughts?) I just want to say I looked at a LOT of websites before taking on this task, and yours was by far the BEST for me. You are so so easy to follow. My daughter follows you too, and I gave a good friend your website too. Thank you much and God’s Blessings to you. 🙂

    1. That’s awesome! Yay! I would say at 66 degrees a heating pad with a towel on top of it and then the starter is not a bad idea. It will ferment more quickly that way. I’m so happy for you!

  12. I goofed on day five and transferred all my starter to new jar and added the flour and water. Can this be saved?
    Thank you for your time.

    1. Oh, it will be just fine! You may want to use up some of it before feeding again. You can make things like biscuits or crackers with the starter.

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