Making Your Own Sourdough Starter: Step-by-Step

There are many recipes for making sourdough starter. This is a simplified version of a well-considered method that Emily Buehler describes in her book Bread Science. It begins with rye flour, which gets the process going, but ends with white flour. Making starter can take a week or more, so be sure to attempt it when you will be consistently available to nurture new life.

Day 1: Add 1 cup of rye flour to ½ cup of filtered water. Mix it into a thick, sticky paste, taking care to incorporate all the flour. Let it sit, loosely covered, on the countertop.

Day 2: Notice air bubbles within the starter as you look through the side of the jar. Relax and enjoy observing your starter, but do nothing.

Day 3: Your starter should have increased in volume, which you will be able to see by looking through the side of the jar; don’t worry if the starter collapses before feeding time. Before feeding, discard approximately half the starter. To the remaining starter, add ¼ cup of rye flour, ¼ cup of white flour, and ¼ cup of filtered water. Mix well to incorporate oxygen and let it sit, loosely covered, on the countertop.

Day 4: Your starter should again have increased in volume, and it might again collapse before feeding time. As you did yesterday, discard half the starter. To the remaining starter, add 1/8 cup of rye flour, 3/8 cup of white flour and ¼ cup of filtered water. Mix well and let it sit, loosely covered, on the countertop.

Day 5: Repeat yesterday’s feeding. Since you added less rye flour, your starter may have trouble rising; look for bubbles to confirm that there is life. Mix well and let it sit, loosely covered, on the countertop.

Day 6: Repeat the day 4 feeding. Again, you will want to check your starter to see if it has increased in volume. Check it regularly because it can rise and then collapse back onto itself within several hours. Keep feeding it as you did on day 4 until it increases in volume. This may take several days or longer. Bubbles are a good sign; so is starter that resembles a milkshake. Liquid may separate at the top and this is all right. Smell the starter. It should smell slightly sweet; also sour and a bit fruity. If it smells sharp or putrid, it is not developing as it should and you may need to start again.

After your starter begins rising to almost double in height: Stop using rye flour and feed your starter with only white flour. Discard half the starter. To the remaining starter, add ½ cup of white flour and ¼ cup of filtered water. Mix it well and let it sit, loosely covered, on the countertop.

Next day: Check to see if your starter has increased in volume. It may be unhappy with its diet of only white flour. Repeat yesterday’s feeding recipe: ½ cup of starter plus ½ cup of white flour and ¼ cup of filtered water each day until your starter is rising well and seems stable.

After your starter is stable: Once your starter reliably increases in volume about 4-6 hours after you feed it, you have a viable sourdough starter. If you like, you can keep up your daily feeding schedule to watch the starter and be sure. Or you can move the starter to the refrigerator and then transition to a regular feeding schedule, which I will describe in my next post.

Copyright 2014, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul