How to Make a Sourdough Starter from Scratch

How to Make a Sourdough Starter from Scratch

If you know me, you know I am always looking for ways to make a recipe healthier without sacrificing any element of deliciousness. Making sourdough bread is an excellent way to do that! It has great health benefits, especially if you grind your own wheat from whole wheat berries. But even if you don’t, the way that sourdough rises and ferments is a healthier alternative for your gut health than regular homemade yeast breads. 

When I started looking at sourdough recipes and researching the best ways to make sourdough bread, I’ll admit it was a little overwhelming. There were so many recipes with “weigh out 500 grams of this”, and “hydration percentage that.” Right off the bat I thought to myself, “Brooke. You are someone who RARELY follows recipes to the T (I have done a lot of ad-libbing in my cooking). Heck to the NO, are you about to weigh all the measurements for flour in your bread!”

But my stubbornness to learn how to make sourdough persisted, and I did end up doing the research and figuring things out. And it turns out, sourdough does NOT have to be that complicated. There are benefits to weighing your flour (consistency, for one). But there are also less technical ways to make absolutely delicious sourdough bread. For example, I base my bread doughs off of a generally specific measurement, then add flour if needed based on the texture of the dough. This is more my style, and I can teach you what kind of things to look for in your dough texture to make the perfect bread. 

So here I’ll lay out everything I know for you, along with a recipe to start your own sourdough starter from scratch below! 

If you’ve already worked with sourdough before and know all of this, feel free to skip to the bottom to get your starter recipe going.

HEALTH BENEFITS 

  1. Polyphenols – Sourdough starter and sourdough bread are fermented to collect natural yeasts which are already in the air. Sourdough has something called polyphenols in it, which are a type of compounds found in plant based foods and whole grains. These polyphenols are thought to help neutralize free radicals in your body, and even potentially help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and inflammation! Who knew?! 
  1. Gluten – The fermentation process also helps to break down the gluten in the bread, so that it is easier on your digestive system to eat! People with gluten sensitivities are more likely to be able to tolerate sourdough bread as opposed to other types of breads because of this. 
  1. Blood Sugar – Big spikes in blood sugar after eating bread comes from eating things like refined sugar & refined processed wheat. Sourdough bread has a lower glycemic load & index than white or even whole wheat non-fermented breads, so it won’t cause the same spike in blood sugars the way that eating other breads will. 
  1. Natural preservatives – Sourdough bread also has natural preservatives in it, which means that it will naturally keep longer on the shelf without growing mold on it. In this way it performs better than other homemade yeast breads made with instant yeast. 

WHAT IS THE HYDRATION PERCENTAGE ALL ABOUT? 

In lots of recipes for sourdough you may see recipes requiring “½ cup of active sourdough starter, 75% hydration” or “100% hydration”. This simply refers to the ratio of water and flour that you use to feed your sourdough starter. In this recipe below, I use 100% hydration and that has worked out great for me. This means that if I feed my sourdough 1 cup of flour, I’ll also give it 1 cup of water and mix it well. 

THE IDEAL DOUGH TEXTURE

You can use less water if you prefer, but keep in mind that sourdough bread dough should be significantly more wet than regular bread dough in order to get the best soft interior and crusty exterior. This is ESPECIALLY true if you are using whole wheat for your flour, since whole wheat absorbs more water than non-whole wheats. 

The wetness of the bread also helps you achieve those perfect holes that you see in bakery sourdough bread, which indicates that the bread is rising well and isn’t too dense. 

I always aim to have just barely enough flour for the dough to be handle-able and shaped. The dough should be soft and light in the feel & texture. 

TO WEIGH OR USE MEASURING CUPS? 

There are definitely benefits to weighing out your dough, or bloggers/bakers/everyone wouldn’t do it. Generally you can get a more consistent dough texture when you weigh everything out. But I personally prefer to bake bread based on the texture that I feel & see. For one, it makes bread making feel more like an art (silly, I know but it’s true!). Secondly, weighing out your bread is more precise but doesn’t always account for the fact that based on the kind of wheat and the time it was milled, different bags of flour/wheat may have different hydration levels before you even add your own water. 

Finally, it just makes my bread-making process feel easier when I don’t have to carefully weigh everything out, because I know what dough texture and feel to look for in a good loaf of sourdough bread. 

HOW TO GET STARTED – THE STARTER RECIPE

Sourdough starter takes about 10-12 days to get started, but after that you can keep the same sourdough starter for years, and make fresh sourdough for your family as you please! So do this when you’re not planning a vacation, all it takes is about 5 minutes each morning (you can do it while your coffee is brewing). 

It’s simple. You only need the below ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup of filtered water

Take the flour & filtered water and mix well together. You can use most types of flour, as long as it is unbleached. I started mine with a simple unbleached all-purpose flour, but you can also use whole wheat, or your own home-milled flour if that is something you already do! 

Make sure that whatever water you use is filtered drinking water. Do not use distilled water. 

Place the ½ cup of flour and ½ cup of filtered water in a clean glass or plastic bowl (glass is preferable, do not use metal). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it sit until the following day. 

The next morning, discard half of the starter mix and add another ½ cup of water & flour, then mix well and place the loose plastic covering back on top.

That’s it! Repeat this for the next 10-12 days, and then you will no longer need to discard the starter but can begin using it for all of the sourdough recipes that your heart desires. 

FAQ’s ABOUT SOURDOUGH STARTER 

  1. Do I have to feed my sourdough starter every day, or can I store it? 
    1. You do need to feed it once per day if the starter is sitting out on your counter. I only leave my starter on the counter and give it regular feedings, if I know ahead of time that I’ll be using it that week. Otherwise I keep it in the refrigerator. You do not need to feed your starter regularly when it is in the refrigerator because it goes dormant. If you leave it in the refrigerator for more than 2 weeks, you may want to pull it out and give it one or two feedings in a day just to stay really on top of things and make sure it is healthy before you put it back in the fridge.
  1. What if my sourdough starter starts to grow mold? 
    1. This happened to me and unfortunately, you will need to start over. If this does happen I might recommend checking to make sure the bowl you use is SUPER clean, washed with soap and dried right before you use it. This will help you to be absolutely certain that there isn’t some lingering bacteria from whatever was in the bowl previously. Secondly, I would recommend making the plastic wrap air-tight the first day and then letting new air circulate for 10 minutes or so each time you feed the starter. Do this for a few days until the starter is nice & fermented, then see if you can revert back to loosely covering it since that will allow for more natural yeast to be captured. 
  1. Do I HAVE to discard half of the starter each day? 
    1. So, technically no. You do not. I have read some say that not discarding half during the initial process can affect the flavor of your sourdough, but the main reason is to keep the size of your sourdough manageable. If you add ½ cup of flour and water for the first 10 days without discarding any, you will have a massive sourdough starter for no good reason which will require you to feed it more. This actually wastes more flour in the long term than if you had just discarded small amounts in the beginning and kept the sourdough smaller. You can always grow your sourdough starter later if you use it more than expected and are running low. Also keep in mind that as your starter matures, it will nearly double each time you feed it with all of the bubbling up. 

More questions?! Let me know in the comments below! 

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6 responses to “How to Make a Sourdough Starter from Scratch”

  1. Hi Brooke. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog. This is so great. You have motivated me to do a winter garden and sourdough. I have tried sourdough starters several times and fail each time. Question…does the filtered water need to be cold or warm? Also, can you use the discarded starter to make another starter? Maybe for a friend?

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    • Hi Kellie! First of all I’m SO glad you’re enjoying it! Thanks for following along! Secondly, the filtered water should be room temp. I haven’t read that the temperature necessarily matters from my own research, but just from what I know about yeast it thrives best in warm to lukewarm water. It would be the same for sourdough starter, since the starter is collecting natural yeasts from the air in your home. For the other question you had about the discarded starter, this is a super common question! People do not typically do this because the more starter you have, the more you have to feed it/maintain it. The concern is usually that people are afraid to waste their starter, so they don’t want to throw it away. But if you don’t discard at all in the beginning, then you have to maintain a huge volume of sourdough starter (meaning feeding it more flour) for the first 10 days and will end up will a huge starter which is pretty unnecessary. You can always grow your starter by feeding it more after the 10 days, and then the starter will already be mature and ready for use when you give it to your friend! That’s what I’d recommend. Hopefully that makes sense!

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  2. […] Finally, note that this is sourdough bread! You’ll want to make sure you feed your starter with flour and water the day before, to make sure it is bubbly and active when you incorporate it into your dough. This is a necessary step for all sourdough bread! If you don’t have a starter and want to make your own from scratch you can take a look at my recipe and instructions for how to make your own starter here.  […]

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