How to make a sourdough bread starter

The sourdough infatuation shows no sign of letting up here. How about you? Were you one of the countless bakers who took to the challenge of making their own bread during the covid lockdowns? Did you spend hours one Saturday night watching YouTube videos on getting the best rise from your loaf? (don’t judge!) Have you been feeling a little left out, and are yet to jump on the sourdough bandwagon? Now’s your time. Let’s talk about how to make an easy sourdough starter.

What is a sourdough starter?

Essentially, a sourdough starter is flour and water combined, and let sit to allow natural yeasts & bacteria in the air to ferment and develop into a thick liquid.

No two bread starters are the same, and they will smell different at different stages. In the first few days of making my last starter, it smelt like nail polish remover. While it doesn’t smell great, it’s completely normal and a sign of a healthy starter!

There are many ways to make your own sourdough starter. You could beg, borrow, or steal a starter from someone. Buy sourdough starter (either dehydrated or fresh) to give you a bit of a head start, or start from scratch. Personally, I’ve tried all three in my sourdough experience (this isn’t my first rodeo!). Most winters I get back into making sourdough, but when summer rolls around, life becomes a little too crazy to keep it going! To be honest it really doesn’t matter which way you start. All three will work just fine. But if you want to take the DIY road, let’s talk about how to make a sourdough starter.

Two hands holding a sourdough starter in a kilner jar
A two-week-old starter

What you need to get started

  • A clean glass jar – I love Kilner jars and was recently gifted this beauty above by Kilner Australia. It’s part of their sourdough-making kit and it works a treat! I’ve always used a glass jar because I can see how active my starter is and easily see how much it’s risen.

  • Bread flour (or flour of choice). I currently use white bread flour, but in the past, I’ve also tried whole wheat flour and rye flour.

  • Filtered water (or pre-boiled and cooled tap water). Chlorinated water can have an adverse affect on your starter. Always be sure to boil water prior to use, or use bottled or filtered water.

  • Electronic scales weighing both the water and flour is the best way to have a consistent starter. Measuring by volume as popped to weight is not accurate as a cup of flour can vary depending on how packed the flour is in the measuring cup.

  • Metal or silicon Spoon for mixing and scraping down the sides of the jar.

  • Elastic band to wrap around your starter jar. This helps you gauge how fast the starter rises.

Ok, let’s do this…

It generally takes at least 7 days to make sourdough starter recipe from scratch. Most of the time though, I find that it takes me a little longer (up to 14 days) till I’m completely happy to start baking with it. This could be because I tend to bake more in Winter (and our Winters are COLD) or because I sporadically bake bread, there are not as many wild yeasts floating around my house.

Day 1

In your super clean jar, mix even parts of water and flour. Because we are just starting I recommend starting small. 50g flour / 50g water is perfect and it’s less waste later on. When thoroughly combined, scrape down the sides of your jar, loosely cover, and pop it on the bench out of direct sunlight, at room temperature for 24 hours

Days 2, 3

Feed your starter with 50g flour and 50 ml water. Mix well, scrape down the sides, cover, and rest in a warm-ish spot for 24 hours.

Days 4, 5, 6

Discard half the starter. Feed your starter with 50g flour and 50 ml water. Mix well, scrape down the sides, cover, and rest in a warm-ish spot for 24 hours. At this stage, I also put a rubber band around the jar at the height my starter is. It’s a great way of measuring when the starter is at its peak and had doubled in size.

Day 7

By this stage you may have a beautiful, active starter, full of bubbles, that is consistently doubling in size after each feed. If not it may require a few more days of love and attention. Repeat steps on days 4-6 until you see an active, bubbly, and ready-to-bake starter!

sourdough making. Dough in banneton being prepared for baking. Sourdough starter and lame beside.
Dough going into a banneton, to rest and shape before baking

How to feed sourdough starter

Now that your starter is alive and kicking, you need to feed it daily…

Discard half the starter. If you are changing jars, I use about 50g starter (roughly 2 tbsp). Feed your starter with 50g flour and 50 ml water. Mix well, scrape down the sides, cover, and rest in a warm-ish spot for 24 hours.

What if I forget to feed my starter?

Don’t stress if you forget a day or two. My sourdough starter is now a couple of years old and I only feed it in the leadup to weekend baking. If it doesn’t get fed for a few days, just remove any crusty bits and feed it as usual. Depending on how long it’s been between feeds, it may take a day or two to get it back to full strength. I once didn’t feed my starter for about a week and it had completely dried out. I just scaped everything out and popped the water/flour feed into the jar. Basically, the bacteria had just hibernated and by rehydrating with flour and water, it reactivated. It took a few days of feeding, but it was back to normal within a few days.

Don’t throw out the discarded starter. Some of my favourite ways to use it up (instead of wasting it) are…

  • breadsticks / seeded crispbread
  • banana bread – one word. obsessed.
  • pancakes

What’s Next?

The big question is are you going to name your starter? Now obviously this is completely optional. I have found when I name it, I take a bit better care of it. Mine is called Billy Bob The Bread Starter. What’s yours?

Now you are armed with your homemade starter, your sourdough world is your oyster. You’ll constantly be looking at ways to include sourdough starters in your baking. Maybe the odd Saturday night will be spent learning tips on YouTube! It’s kinda addictive. Warning you now!

Obsessed with bread baking? Me too. Here are a couple of my favourite bread recipes

Ok, now go forth and bake (break) lots of bread

x

THIS POST IS IN COLLABORATION WITH KILNER AUSTRALIA & BAKEMASTER AUSTRALIA. TWO BRANDS I LOVE AND ADORE.  ALL OPINIONS ARE 100% MY OWN. 

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Two hands holding a glass jar with sourdough starter in it

How to make a sourdough bread starter

  • Author: Emma Lee
  • Prep Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 1 starter 1x
  • Category: bread
  • Cuisine: Australian

Description

The first step in your sourdough journey… How to make a sourdough starter from scratch


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 350 g Bread Flour
  • 350 g Water (filtered or boiled then left to cool)

Instructions

  1. Day 1 In your super clean glass jar, mix even parts water and flour. Because we are just starting I recommend starting small. 50g flour / 50g water is perfect and it’s less waste later on. When thoroughly combined, scrape down the sides of your jar, loosely cover, and pop it on the bench out of direct sunlight for 24 hours.
  2. Days 2, and 3 Feed your starter with 50g flour and 50 ml water. Mix well, scrape down the sides, cover, and rest in a warm-ish spot for 24 hours.
  3. Days 4, 5, and 6 Discard half the starter. Feed your starter with 50g flour and 50 ml water. Mix well, scrape down the sides, cover, and rest in a warm-ish spot for 24 hours. At this stage, I also put a rubber band around the jar at the height of my starter. It’s a great way of measuring when the starter is at its peak and had doubled in size.
  4. Day 7 By this stage you may have a beautiful, active starter, full of bubbles, that is consistently doubling in size after each feed. If not it may require a few more days of love and attention. Repeat steps on days 4-6 until you see an active, bubbly, and ready-to-bake starter!


Notes

Don’t be discouraged if your starter isn’t ready to go on day 7. Most of the time though, I find that it takes me a little longer (up to 14 days) till I’m completely happy to start baking with it. This could be because I tend to bake more in Winter (and our Winters are COLD) or because I sporadically bake bread, there are not as many wild yeasts floating around my house.

Keywords: Bread, Sourdough

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