Friday, September 7, 2012

How to Make a Sourdough Starter

If you search for “sourdough starter” in Google, you’ll find half a dozen recipes on the first page alone all saying different things. Some will tell you to add sugar, honey, juice, etc., which can help, but aren’t necessary. Some will say to add yeast and this is definitely not necessary, since the starter will cultivate its own yeast. There are tons of ways to make a starter, and tons of different kinds of starters, but the truth is, all you need is two ingredients:

Water and whole rye flour. 

Seriously. That's it. 

Why whole rye flour? Because it’s high in nutrients and fermentable sugars. Personally, I also use flour that's organic and locally milled - but that sort of thing is up to you.

Okay, are you ready? Let’s begin.

First, take a sealable jar or container. Any kind will do. A mason jar. An old margarine tub. A Tupperware container. Anything with a lid.

Next, measure out ½ a cup of rye flour and dump it in to the container. Go on. I’ll wait while you do it.

Done? Okay. Now measure out ½ a cup of lukewarm water (use your wrist to test it) and dump that in with the rye flour.

Got it? Great. Take a spatula and swish it all around until it’s good and mixed. When you're finished, it should look something like this:

Now clap on the lid, and wait. And wait and wait and wait. 24 hours later, it should look like this:

What? You're not impressed? Yeah, okay, that's because it's not that impressive yet. Right now, at the 24 hour mark, you need to feed it. In this container of soon-to-be starter there is ½ a cup of rye flour and ½ a cup of water (from 24 hours ago), and in order to feed it, you’ll need to add those same portions again. So do that: add in ½ a cup of flour and ½ a cup of water, then mix it around and clap on the lid.

In another 24 hours, it should look something like this:

See how it’s risen? See the bubbles in there? It also might be starting to smell a bit funky - which is good. It's just not quite the funk that we want. That will take a bit longer.

After this, you're now going to want to feed it everyday, twice a day (at 12 hour intervals), for at least seven days before you make your bread. And if your starter is getting too big, just throw half of it out before feeding it, which will keep the size down (and not waste so much flour).

Got all that? Just in case, here's a recap:

Day 1: Add ½ a cup of rye flour to ½ a cup of water, then cover.
Day 2 (24 hours later): Add ½ cup of rye flour and ½ a cup of water to the 1 cup of rye-water mixture from the day before (this is called a feeding).
Day 3 (24 hours later): Throw out half (1 cup) of the rye-water mixture and add 1/2 cup of rye flour and 1/2 cup of water. Do this again 12 hours later.
Day 4,5,6,7... Feed your starter twice a day at 12 hour intervals until you're ready to make bread with it.

And that's it! Happy Baking!!

Addendum: I forgot to mention, if you’re not going to use your starter, put it in the fridge and it will go dormant. But before you use it again, make sure to give it a few feedings, or it will be too acidic.

Sourdough Apple Loaves 


  1. oooh, this was a timely reminder to renew the starter that has been sitting in a beaucoup cold spot in the fridge since, um, never mind. It has now been fed and coming to room temp, and I'll feed it again tomorrow and then it will start to bubble and we will have wonderful sourdough on Wednesday or Thursday! Thanks so much for the nudge!

  2. Once it is ready to bake, how long do you bake it, and at what temperature?
    Thanks for the info on how to start it!

  3. It depends on your oven, but for a good crust I start baking it at 450 for the first fifteen minutes, then lower it to 425 for approx. 30 more minutes. But keep your eye on it. You want a nice golden-brown crust and when you take it out, turn it upside down and knock on the bottom. It should sound hollow. Best of luck!! :)

  4. Kristen, three years later I'm going to give this a second try. The first time my starter didn't seem right so I got some from a neighbour, and had several months of fun sourdough baking before getting out of the habit and back into my thesis. Could it have been the chlorinated lukewarm tap water that foiled my original attempt at creating my own starter? Do you use tap water, or do you filter the chlorine out (or do the let-it-sit-overnight dechlorination method?).