How to Make Sourdough Starter and Care for It

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Get ready for 2022 by making your own sourdough starter. It’s easier than you think! Begin a starter today, and you’ll be able to bake a fresh loaf of sourdough as often as you like in the new year.

I want to show you how to make a starter without too much complication. You can read volumes on making sourdough starter. For the beginner, this is quite daunting. I’m hoping to give you a fairly easy explanation of what a starter is, what is does, how to make it and how to maintain it. I’ve successfully made and maintained a starter for three years, making bread and various sourdough recipes in our kitchen that disappears in about ten minutes.

I’ll be totally honest with you. A few years back I didn’t know what a starter was, why sourdough was so different from yeasted bread. I only knew I loved it.

Long before the sourdough craze during the lockdown, I wanted to crack this mysterious sourdough starter code, but it needed to be EASY!

What is Sourdough Starter?

Sourdough starter is a fermented, culture, made from flour and water. It’s science, chemistry, and a God send all in one. It captures wild yeast in the air (microbes, bacteria) and ferments into a gooey, bubbly reaction that must be fed to keep it going, because it is alive.

What Do These Bubbles Mean?

In simple terms, as acidic substances are produced, and a large amount of carbon dioxide is released, the bread will rise in the oven.

All the yummy, crusty fermented sourdough loaves begin with bubbly starter! It will result in a tangy bread with holes, which means the starter did its job rising and moving the dough up and around as it is baked.

This picture is in the early stages of building my starter.

Sourdough Starter
Sourdough Starter

What You Need to Make a Sourdough Starter.

You will need flour, water and a food scale. Don’t let food scale or the idea of weighing in grams scare you away. If this is your first time using a scale, measuring in grams, it’s easy.

When you place the empty jar on the scale, hit zero or tare. This will eliminate the weight of the vessel. When you add your flour, hit zero or tare again and add the water.

  • Place vessel on scale. Press tare.
  • Add flour. Press tare.
  • Add water.

How to Make Sourdough Starter

Start with 150 grams flour, 150 grams filtered water.

I use unbleached flour and filtered water with a 1 to 1 ratio for 100% hydration. This means equal water to flour. Some starters will be made as low as 65% hydration. That would mean 100 grams flour per 65 grams water.

High hydration produces an open bake with bigger holes, while low hydration will restart in a thicker start and stiffer bake.

  • Start with 150 grams of unbleached all purpose flour (or bread flour).
  • Add this to 150 grams of filtered water.
  • Stir in a glass jar, large enough to hold it and to double.
  • Place a rubber band around the jar, so you will be able to tell how much the starter grows.
  • Leave it in warm (ish) place. 75 degrees F, is ideal, although I usually keep my starter in 70 degree room.
  • Feed starter in 24 hours when it deflates and looks weepy. Do this twice a day for next six days.
  • To feed: Discard 150 grams of starter and replenish with 75 grams of flour, 75 grams water.
  • The part of the sourdough starter you are going to bake with is called the levain.
  • Once you discard the amount you need to bake, make sure to replenish with equal amounts of flour and water.
  • Starter should reach bubbly stage and smell good. (tangy, sourdough smell).
  • You can keep your new starter in the refrigerator and feed only once per week. I’ve kept mine going like that now for almost three years.

Starter Doubles Overnight: Here is one of my starters that was fed the night before and is made from all purpose flour.

What is a Levain?

The levain is the starter you are removing from the starter jar to bake with. It must be bubbly.

Is My Levain Starter Ready to Bake?

To test if your levain is ready, take a small portion of starter, drop in warm water. If it floats, you’re good to bake, as your starter is in the right stage. If your levain sinks, it’s not ready. Feed your starter, put in warm area and wait until it’s ready. However, if you are purposely using a stiff starter (low hydration), the float test won’t be applicable. To avoid guessing games, I always use a starter built with 1 to 1 ratio flour and water.

When and How do You Feed an Established Sourdough Starter?

Once you have your starter made, you have to care for it, as it is a living entity of bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms.

Discard 40 grams of starter. Add in 20 grams flour, 20grams filtered water. Stir.

If you plan on making sourdough every now and then, keep starter in refrigerator and feed once a week. There are times when your starter will look quite unpleasant. Sometimes it will smell like nail polish remover. Don’t throw it out. Feed it. It will turn around.

If you plan on making bread daily, keep it on the counter and feed it daily.

Why is My Sourdough Starter Watery and Smells like Alcohol?

This watery substance is called hooch. Pour it off, discard starter as stated and feed. Don’t let this state of the starter alarm you.

What Flour Do You Use for Sourdough Starter?

You can keep it simple and use all purpose flour or bread flour.

I began my original starter with a mix of all purpose flour and wholewheat flour 3 to 1 ratio. You can use all purpose flour, bread flour and add in some wholewheat flour. Bread flour is high in protein. Whole grain flours tend to contain more organisms to feed the yeasts and bacteria.

Switching Flours

Adding whole grain flour is not necessary, especially if you have several days to build your starter. I would not switch from 100% wholewheat flour to all purpose flour. If you start off with one flour and choose to change, do a gradual change.

How Do You Bake with Sourdough Starter

Most recipes use about 50 to 75 grams of bubbly starter. The starter, now referred to as the levain, is usually mixed with warm water. It will float and that is a sign it’s ready to do its job.

My Sourdough Experiences and Tips

  • Don’t order a starter on line. Make your own. It’s easy. I once ordered a starter on-line and it was a disaster.
  • Don’t use tap water, which may have chlorine. Use filtered or bottled water for starting and maintaining.
  • Don’t throw out your starter, if it smells like alcohol, has hooch (that watery smelly stuff) on top or has black spots.
  • Do throw your starter out if it has mold (pink, red, orange stripes).
  • If you’re keeping it in fridge, set a weekly alarm to be reminded to feed it.
  • If you’re keeping it on the counter for frequent baking, set a daily alarm.
  • When you are building a starter or ready to make bread, try to put starter in your warmest place. I put it in microwave oven overnight, as that’s our warmest place (especially in winter).
  • Don’t give up. You can make your own starter and you’ll feel proud once you see those bubbles rising.
  • You may find in time, you alter your sourdough feeding, flour, ratios, etc. Each starter has it’s own personality, its own requirements.
  • Climate changes and so will sourdough needs. Sourdough loves warmth and active feeding schedules may be adjusted in winter. You will find what works in your own kitchen.
  • Once a starter is established, you can keep it going (even with mistakes or forgetting a feed).
How to Make Sourdough Starter

How to Give Sourdough Starter to a Friend

I will usually pour out about 100 grams of sour starter that I would be discarding and give it a good feeding for a day or two before I gift it.

When You Receive Sourdough Starter – What To Do

  • Before you do anything, give your new starter a good feeding. Pour out half or up to 50 grams of your starter and replace the same amount of grams. 25 grams warmish water, 25 grams flour. Stir enough to not have dry flour patches. Put lid back on.
  • Decide is you want to keep your starter on the counter to bake a loaf or refrigerate for a time in future.
  • If you’re not ready to bake, keep in refrigerator, and feed once a week.
  • Prior to baking a loaf, you will want to make sure your starter is bubbly.

My Sourdough Bakes

Now that you have conquered making a starter a fairly easy way, get to baking. I love the recipes in this book, because they are spelled out for the home cook in easy fashion. I only caution that her baking times for the bread are a bit too long. You might reduce them. I’ll be blogging some of the recipes with my adjusted baking times.

Helpful Articles on Sourdough Starter

Help. Something is Wrong with My Sourdough Starter.

How to Switch Your Sourdough Starter to New Type Flour

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Easy How to Make Sourdough Starter
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5 from 1 vote

Sourdough Starter

How to make sourdough starter and how to maintain it.
Prep Time10 mins
Development Time6 d
Course: Bread
Cuisine: American
Keyword: sourdough, sourdough starter

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 150 grams unbleached all purpose flour see notes
  • 150 grams filtered water

Instructions

  • In morning, mix flour and water together In jar large enough to allow mixture to double. Keep In warmest part of kitchen.
  • After 24 hours, discard 150 grams of starter.
  • Add 75 grams each of flour and water. Mix. Put lid back on. Keep In warmest part of the kitchen.
  • Repeat this twice a day for the next four to five days,
  • You can now assess if your starter is ready to bake. Take a tablespoon of the starter at its peak, (risen and bubbly) and drop into some warm water. If it floats, you can probably feel confident to bake. I like to build a starter for two full weeks, but you may not need to do that.

Maintaining Starter

  • If you are keeping your starter out on counter, you must feed daily. If you are keeping your starter in fridge, feed weekly.
    Remove 50 grams of starter. Add 25 grams water, 25 grams flour.
  • You want to have at least 50 grams of starter available for baking, which means you want to have at east 100 grams of starter in your jar.

When Ready to Bake

  • Make sure when you are ready to use starter, it's at the most bubbly stage, which is active fermentation.

Notes

You can use bread flour, but I  have found keeping my starter going with all-purpose flour works just fine. Feel free to change to bread flour.
 

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