One of the best additions you can add to your kitchen is a sourdough starter! In just 7 days, you can begin creating delicious and gut healthy sourdough recipes with my guide on how to start a sourdough starter!
I first heard of sourdough starter as I began to explore more from scratch cooking methods. I thought it sounded WAY too complicated! There was no way I would be able to make beautiful artisanal loaves of bread. So I put off making my own starter for a long time.
A few months after my second baby was born, I decided it was time to give it a try. I figured at worst I would discover I indeed was horrible at making anything using sourdough! And at best, my family could start enjoying the many benefits of using sourdough in our home!
Over a year and a half later, I’m so glad I decided to take the plunge! We have made so many delicious recipes using our starter, including beautiful loaves of bread, delicious pizza dough, gooey cinnamon rolls, warm brioche, crispy sourdough pancakes, sourdough bagels, and more!
If you’ve been on the fence on whether or not to begin your sourdough journey, this is your sign to go for it! It is not as complicated as it may seem and the benefits of adding it into your home are great. So let’s dive in!
Before we get started on how to make a sourdough starter…
What are the benefits of sourdough?
If you have ever made bread without a sourdough starter, you have most likely used some sort of dry yeast. Dry yeast is often used to get doughs to rise quickly. Baking with sourdough starter takes more time for the rise, but there are great benefits to that.
The sourdough basically digests the gluten of the flour and processes the phytic acid during the fermentation process. Phytic acid is found on the bran part of wheat and is believed to be difficult to digest. It binds to certain minerals and makes it difficult for our bodies to absorb those important nutrients. Nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc are kept from being absorbed without the long fermentation process.
When baking with sourdough starter, the long fermentation period helps to break down the gluten and phytic acid. Many people who are sensitive to gluten can often tolerate sourdough bread because of this. Using yeast packets found in the store will not produce this same effect in your bread.
What is sourdough starter?
Sourdough starter is quite simple. It is basically flour, water and air left to ferment. While fermenting, the starter gathers the wild yeasts and bacteria in the air and uses that to grow. So it is the most “local” type of food you can make since it captures what is in your home! The taste of a fresh loaf of crusty sourdough bread from sourdough starter is just too good! Once you try it, it will be your new favorite addition to your kitchen!
How difficult is it to maintain a sourdough starter?
It is SO easy to maintain a sourdough starter. We will go through the whole process of how to start and feed it, but for a quick answer, it just depends on how often you plan to bake with it. If you are baking something everyday, you will need to feed it everyday and keep it at room temperature. If you are looking to just do something once a week or every several weeks, you can keep the starter in your refrigerator in the time in between.
When the starter is left on the counter at room temperature, it needs to be fed more regularly. (Once a day or even every 12 hours if it is super warm). When you are not planning to use it, placing it in the fridge sort of puts the starter to sleep. You can feed it with flour and water once a week still to keep it happy when stored in the fridge, but I have gone longer periods than that and still was able to revive it when I was ready to bake with it again. The only thing about storing in the fridge is that you will need to take it out and feed it about 12 hours before you plan to start your baking recipe so it has a chance to activate and bubble up again.
Here’s what you’ll need to make a sourdough starter:
- Flour (any organic flour will work, I used a mixture of whole wheat, unbleached all-purpose and bread flour)
- Quart Mason jar or glass bowl
- Plastic wrap or these mason jar fermenting lids
- Wooden or Silicone Spatula
- Measuring cups
- Filtered water
How to make a sourdough starter in 7 days:
Begin by mixing 1 Cup of organic flour with 3/4 Cups filtered water in your glass jar. You are looking for the consistency of a very thick pancake batter. If it is too thick, add 1 teaspoon of water at a time to get it just right.
Cover with plastic wrap or this fermenting lid and let sit for 24 hours. Easy, right?!
24 hours later, remove all but 1/2 Cup of starter from your container. You may see some bubbles already, however mine looked almost the same as the day I first mixed it. That’s okay. Keep going, it will happen! Once you have removed all but that 1/2 Cup (this is called “discarding”), “feed” your starter with 1 Cup flour and 1/2 Cup water. Mix it together and cover. Let rest another 24 hours.
Side note on discarding. This might feel weird to just throw away half or more of your starter you just birthed only 24 hours before. But don’t worry! It is an important step! If you did not discard part of the starter, you would need to feed almost double the amount of flour and water. That would then grow and possibly double, and then you would have to feed that monster amount of starter the next day! You would have WAY too much starter than you were wanting and using a lot more flour than if you just had discarded it.
On day 3, I had some real bubbles starting! Repeat the same discard/feeding routine you did the day before. Remove all but 1/2 Cup starter and feed with 1 Cup flour and 1/2 Cup water. Mix well, cover and let sit for 24 hrs.
On my starter’s 3rd day, I decided to feed mine with organic unbleached all-purpose flour. You do not have to change flours, but it’s just what I had out that day. Starters are super forgiving and don’t mind being fed different things! Once you get comfortable you can play around with it and see how it reacts to the different flours.
Repeat! Discard all but 1/2 Cup, Feed 1 C Flour and 1/2 Cup water, cover and rest 24 hrs. My starter seemed a little dry on day 4 (possibly because of switching flour types on it the day before?) so I added a little more water till I got that thick pancake batter consistency again.
Days 5 & 6
Your starter is most likely doubling in size several hours after being fed and is ready to be baked with!! Congratulations the birth of your sourdough starter babe!
To check to make sure it is really good to go, you can do the float test. This is easy and tells you a lot. Spoon a small amount of starter (about 1/2 teaspoon or so) into a cup of water. If your starter floats to the top, it’s ready to go. If it sinks to the bottom, you may need to do a few more feedings to get it going.
What if I am not seeing many bubbles in my starter on day 7? Should I throw it out and try again?
No! Don’t throw it out! I made this mistake when we lived in Northern California. I followed a recipe and by day 7 my starter was NOT bubbling AT ALL and I figured I messed it up. When I tried again, the same thing happened day 7, but this time I decided to just keep going and see what happened. It took about 5-6 more days of discarding/feeding it before I started to really see some action. Why? I don’t know! Climate? Water? Home temperature? It can all affect your starter. But learn from my mistake and don’t throw it out. Just keep going and you, too, can have yourself a beautiful bubbly starter baby 😀
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Looking for ways to begin using your starter? Try these recipes!
- Pumpkin Spice Sourdough Pancakes
- Pumpkin Spice Sourdough Bagels with Pumpkin Cream Cheese
- Easy Sourdough Sandwich Bread
- Sourdough Cinnamon-Sugar Brioche
- Sourdough Orange Cinnamon Rolls with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
- Easy Rustic Sourdough Loaf
In just 7 days, you can have your very own sourdough starter and be on your way to creating delicious and gut healthy sourdough baked goods!
- Organic Flour, Whole Wheat, Bread Flour or Unbleached All-Purpose
- Filtered Water
- Day 1: Mix 1 Cup Flour with 3/4 Cup filtered water. Cover and let rest for 24 hours.
- Day 2: Remove (discard) all but 1/2 Cup starter. Feed with 1 Cup flour, 1/2 Cup filtered water. Cover and let rest 24 hours.
- Repeat Day 2's steps for days 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Adjust water amount If needed. Remember, we're going for that very thick pancake batter.
- Day 7: If seeing bubbles and your starter passes the float test, you can begin baking! If not, continue feeding schedule for several more days until the starter is active and bubbly.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g
It’s half way through day 6. My starter has been bubbly for a few days, but is not growing in size. I did have it in my granite counter top until a day or two ago when I realized the counter may be acting as a cold stone at this time I put a hand towel underneath it. Is it normal for a starter to not grow at this stage? It is bubbly and has been for days now though.
Our Simple Graces
That’s great that it is bubbly! That means it is definitely becoming active. As far as doubling, is it possible that it has risen and then fallen when you saw it? Once it peaks in it’s rise, it will begin to fall back down and that is a sign it has digested the flour and may need another feeding soon. It could also be possible that it was a little cold depending on the temperature of your home. I would suggest to keep up with your discarding/feedings, keep it in a warm spot and see if you notice it rising more.
I’m starting day one today and excited to begin my sourdough journey!
Question about discarding, I feel like I’m going to have a hard time eyeballing keeping 1/2 a cup of starter in my bowl. Should I just measure out 1/2 cup and put it in a different bowl each day so I know I for sure have the right amount?
Also, when the starter is ready to use, do I need to discard and feed the starter BEFORE baking/cooking? Or do I cook first, and then feed and discard?
I’m unsure of when what is scooped out is considered “sourdough discard” and just part of the starter.
Our Simple Graces
Hi Kailee! Great questions- yes, you can definitely measure out a half cup of starter to save before throwing out the rest to be precise.
Once you have a mature starter that is ready to use for baking, you will need to use fed and active sourdough starter. So that is starter that has been fed 4-6 hours before you plan to bake with it and you are looking to use it when it is peaking in its rise. Use what you need for the recipe and then the rest is just your starter to either feed for another recipe or you can store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it again. You do not need to keep throwing out starter once it is mature.
“Sourdough discard” typically is referring to starter that is past its peak rising time and is no longer bubbly, but can be used in recipes that call for discard.
I know that was kind of confusing when I started with sourdough. Hopefully that makes sense?
I have been waiting for the float test to work Sunday was a week. I accidentally doubled the water and had to add extra flour as well. I think I might as well just give up and throw it away. Even before the water mistake it failed the float test. Bubbly yes but it has been bubbly the better part of a week.
I think it must be a bad recepie or something since it’s been 10 days and nothing.
Our Simple Graces
It definitely can be frustrating when it seems like it is not working. When I began my starter, it took longer than 7 days as well, however some climates it takes a shorter amount of time, so this recipe guide is a general guide and will be different from person to person due to a variety of things (flour type, water, temperature, climate, etc). I would encourage you to keep discarding and only keeping that 1/2 Cup of starter to feed until it activates. You could also try feeding it whole wheat flour for a few days as that sometimes helps give it a little boost. From someone who gave up and threw my starter away after getting discouraged from no results in the time frame I expected, I would encourage you to keep it up! It sounds like you are doing a great job and it may just take a little longer for it to activate. I hope this helps!
It’s not thetemperature in the house. I have all the thermometers and fire place up and on respectively.
To follow up, the starter is doing fine doubling in size daily. It does take 2ŕ
/3 cup water not 1/2. Maybe due to the whole wheat flour I added.
It does smell of alcohol however. Could that be due to it needing to be fed twice a day instead of daily?
Our Simple Graces
That is great news! The alcohol smell is a sign it has digested the flour and is hungry again – time for a feeding. If you do not wish to feed it as often, place it in the refrigerator after feeding it and that will slow down the fermentation. You will need to refeed and let it come to room temp before using for bread again, but that is what I do when I don’t plan to bake with it every day.
When starter is ready and you made your first loaf of bread do you put the starter in the fridge for next time.
Our Simple Graces
Hi Donna! Yes, if I plan to take several days off from baking, I will store the starter covered in the fridge. You will just need to maintain it by feeding once a week and bringing it out of the fridge giving it one, sometimes two, feedings before baking with it again. Hope that helps!
Hi Hollyn! I am looking forward to beginning the sour dough journey! I have read on a couple blogs you can keep the discard and use for recipes like pancakes? Is this correct? Thanks so much!
Our Simple Graces
Hi Katelyn! I’m excited for you to begin sourdough! Yes, you can use discard for recipes that call for sourdough discard, however it is generally advised to wait until the starter is established/mature to begin using it in recipes. Pancakes is a great way to use up sourdough discard if you have extra. Hope this helps. Happy baking! -Hollyn
It’s day 7 and my starter is not super bubbly yet and we’re leaving on vacation. Was hoping to bake bread to bring along… can I put the starter in the fridge until we get back and finish where I left off?
Our Simple Graces
Hi Kelly! Sorry it wasn’t ready yet, it sometimes takes longer depending on climate, time of year, etc. Yes, I would keep just about a half a cup or so in your jar with an airtight cover, place in fridge and resume feedings when you return home.
How much of the starter do you use when you’re ready to bake your bread and do you you use a regular bread pan? And how long do you bake it for?
Our Simple Graces
Hi! The starter amount will depend on the recipe you are using. I have several sourdough bread recipes if you would like to try making bread 🙂