Let’s talk about sourdough starter. The infamous, seemingly simple skill that somehow gives us all so many questions. I’ve tried my hand at a few starter recipes before, but every recipe I found had some gaps in the details, leaving me wondering:
“How do I KNOW if it’s active?”
“Is it supposed to be this liquidy?”
“When you say sour smell, do you mean like… this bad?”
“Oh god there’s clear stuff.”
“Oh god there are no bubbles.”
“Why the heeeelllll am I throwing this much away?”
So this is my sourdough starter recipe for people who have tried maybe once, maybe twice but need crystal clear instructions.
Because believe me. That was me.
Now I have a healthy starter named Ma’am and I couldn’t be more proud.
plus I love that my sourdough starter recipe requires the smallest possible amount of discard. Making it low waste, high reward. 🙂
So let’s get into it!
***Please note I built this starter while filming this YouTube video, so the photo quality is not ideal. I will update with better photos soon!
Ingredients you will need:
Think of time and temperature as ingredients, along with the rest of your ingredients. They are all equally important. But when you go to the store, make sure to pick up these items:
- Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour – I like King Arthur Blend
- Unbleached All Purpose Flour – another flour where I prefer King Arthur
- 1 (16-ounce) glass jar that you can cover loosely with a lid
Day 1 we start small. Begin by mixing 15 grams (2 tablespoons) of whole wheat flour with 15 grams (about 2-3 tablespoons) of cool water. Mix this together in your glass jar to form a paste. It will feel very very thick. Feel free to add a teaspoon of water if you need more help to saturate the flour.
Then cover this small amount loosely with the lid (make sure your flour can still get some air!) and put it in the warmest place in your home (finding a spot around 75-76°F is ideal) and let it rest for 24 hours.
We are not discarding anything on Day 2. I repeat. WE ARE NOT DISCARDING ANYTHING. Ok? Ily.
You might see a little bubble action in your paste, maybe a few things on the surface, but probably not much. That’s normal!
So on day 2, we are simply adding 30 grams of all-purpose flour and 30 grams of cool water. Mix until a paste forms and both flours are evenly combined. Cover it loosely and set it in the same place you kept it before. Let it rest for 24 hours.
Now for some common questions:
We start the process with whole wheat flour because it contains more nutrients for the yeast to feed on. But as we continue the process, too many nutrients could make the yeast overly active, making the sourdough harder to temper, control, and tend to. Switching to all-purpose allows us to have a more slow and controlled growth of this wild yeast.
The main goal when building a starter is to provide the wild yeast more and more nutrients and sugars to feed on. It is normal to add twice the amount of fresh flour to an existing starter, which is why so many recipes call for discard. Since we started small, we are going to discard starter only when it becomes too big for us to maintain.
THICK. It will look like a kind of thick white dough. Don’t worry, it’ll loosen over the 24 hours.
By now you should see some slight slight bubble action. See the photo above for reference. When you tip the jar to the side, you should see some bubbles clinging to the edges. The smell will be sour, slightly yeasty and not super pleasant just yet, but it will get there!
At this point, you have about 90 grams of starter in your jar. Things are getting big. This is the last time we can feed without discarding.
Add 90 grams of all-purpose flour and 90 grams of cool water to the jar. Stir well and let it sit, loosely covered, for another 24 hours.
Now is when you should start to see the fruits of your labor (aka bubbles in your starter) really start to form. See the photo above for what mine looked like on Day 4.
It will feel good, it will smell good, but trust me, it’s a long way off from being ready (and I have made this mistake before!)
What is happening right now is the wild yeast found in the flour is beginning to multiply. The starter is becoming more active.
The biggest mistake I Used to make in this phase was overfeeding.
In a rush to get more bubbles, I used to follow recipes that called for two feedings per day at this stage. But what I was doing was tossing most of the wild yeast before it could even get going!
Wild yeast needs to be PRESENT before it can feed. So don’t drown your starter with new stuff until the old stuff gets going. It will just make the process longer.
So for Day 4, pour only 90 grams of sourdough starter into a glass jar, then add 90 grams of all-purpose flour and 90 grams of water. Stir and loosely cover. Now we wait.
Now this is where my recipe differs from literally every other recipe on the internet.
Just like with raising an angsty teenager – we are giving this sourdough starter SPACE. Room to grow, room to breath.
The growth of your starter will depend on the temperature in your home, sunlight exposure, and so many other factors, so be sure to check it every 24 hours.
How to know when your sourdough starter is ready to feed again:
You want your starter to be bubbly, almost fizzy, slightly foamy and very liquidy. Use the photo above for reference.
When your starter is foamy at the top, very active but not really growing in size, that is when it is time to feed it again. For me, it took until Day 7 to see this kind of response from my starter.
When it reaches this level of activity, discard all but 70 grams of starter, and then add 70 grams of all-purpose flour and 70 grams of water. If you are using a 16-ounce jar, don’t use any more than this amount, otherwise, your starter might overflow (learn from my mistakes lol).
Let this starter sit for 24 hours. You should see it start to grow. It will double, almost triple in size, and then deflate by the next morning.
Day 8 and beyond
Day 8 was when my starter had reached a full enough strength for baking. You know when your starter is at full strength when after a feeding, it doubles in size within 5-6 hours, and occasionally even grows further. See the photo above for what my starter looks like when it is at peak ripeness.
Continue the Day 7 feeding process until you see your starter begin to grow like this.
But if your starter starts to lose activity, repeat the process from day 4 and give it some time to chill before feeding again.
You want a slightly fizzy starter before feeding it, this is what will help you achieve full starter strength.
Storing your sourdough starter
I currently store my starter in two ways: one on the counter and one in the fridge.
To store your starter in the fridge:
Use the same type of glass jar you fed your starter in. Feed your starter at its usual time, and then when it has reached peak ripeness, or maybe a little after, transfer 70 grams of it to the jar you want to store it in. Keep this in the fridge. Feed it once a week using 70 grams of starter, 70 grams of all-purpose flour and 70 grams of water.
To revive this starter, remove it from the fridge about 1-2 hours before you feed it. I’ve found it takes 2 feedings, 24 hours apart for my refrigerated starter to be ready to bake with.
To Store your starter on the counter:
I only recommend doing this if you plan to bake at least 3-5 times a week, or more. I have a starter that I keep on the counter that always has 65 grams of starter in it. I feed it daily with 65 grams of starter, 65 grams of flour and 65 grams of water. In the afternoon I portion out what I use to bake bread and leave 65 grams of starter remaining for the next morning.
You can neglect a starter for a few days here and there with this method, but I recommend daily feedings if you can!
Baking with this sourdough starter
Ok, so we have a starter, now it’s time to bake! For the perfect sourdough recipe, click here!
I also have some fun variations on a classic sourdough that you can find here.
In the meantime, feel free to check out my first-time process, the resources I used and everything I put into this recipe on my YouTube. I’ll link the video below.
And if you have any questions about my process, feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to chat over here!