7 Easy Steps to Making an Incredible Sourdough Starter From Scratch

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If you had told me many years ago that I could make enticingly crunchy, tender, and healthy bread at home with only a few elemental ingredients, I would not have believed you.

I would have claimed that baking bread requires a professional mixer, a specialized oven, and a list of ingredients so long your eyes start to glaze over. But now I perform this alchemy daily in my home kitchen: transforming three basic ingredients into wholesome sourdough bread. How does one begin the journey of making naturally leavened bread at home? It starts with, well, making a sourdough starter from scratch.

A healthy sourdough starter means great bread.

Despite all the mysticism and lore about creating the concoction, a sourdough starter is merely a naturally fermenting mixture of flour and water. Add water to dry flour, let it sit on the counter for a few days, and you’ll see nature weave life into a once lifeless lump: bubbles will appear and the mixture will rise.

This natural fermentation can be harnessed and (once it is stable) controlled to produce bread so flavorful and healthy that it’s hard to go back to anything else.

7 Easy Steps to Making an Incredible Sourdough Starter From Scratch via @theperfectloaf

I created my sourdough starter years ago (using this sourdough starter recipe), and it’s the same one I use to this day. It’s a spoiled brat now, to be sure, thanks to all my coddling, but in exchange for my attention and flour, it stays on schedule. Besides, when I’m baking, it does the heaviest lifting (bread nerd joke, sorry). Initially, it was the quintessential rebellious child. Sometimes it wouldn’t show any fermentation activity, and at other times it was utterly unruly. Back then, I didn’t realize what it needed to thrive. I didn’t see how vital timely refreshments (also called feedings) were or how much temperature impacts fermentation.

The key to raising a well-adjusted starter is to be observant of its needs, give it space to grow, and adjust the refreshments to encourage maximum fermentation activity. And a healthy starter means great bread. 

But first, let’s quickly look at what a sourdough starter is.

The Perfect Loaf Sourdough Starter Illustration
Michael Hoeweler

What is a sourdough starter?

At a high level, a sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water that hosts a stable blend of beneficial bacteria and wild yeasts. This mixture is continually maintained with regular refreshments (or feedings) and is used to leaven and flavor new bread dough. The starter is the cornerstone of successful sourdough baking, and especially for a home baker with changing environmental conditions in the kitchen, learning how to care for and use one is the key to bread with the best flavor, texture, and keeping qualities.

A few tips before we begin

Water that’s high in chlorine or chloramine (disinfectants used by some cities to clean tap water) can impede fermentation. The night before you want to make your starter, fill a large jug with tap water and let it sit out uncovered overnight to allow any chlorine to dissipate. If your city uses chloramine instead of chlorine, letting a jar sit out overnight will not work. In this case, you'll have to use bottled water or filtered water (if you are concerned, you can test your water with over-the-counter test kits to determine whether there are additives or other issues). Alternatively, you could use bottled spring water until you get your starter fermenting reliably, then try switching back to tap water with a portion of the starter to see if it's able to handle the tap water (but don’t use all of it just in case it doesn’t work).

After you mix the flour and water in the jar, be sure to keep the jar lightly covered during the rest of the process. Either a porous cloth or a lid resting on top of the jar will work well. Use a container with enough headspace for the mixture to rise—I like to give at least 5-inches of headspace. Additionally, it’s a good idea to place your jar in a bowl while it’s resting in case the mixture overflows.

During the first couple of days, there’s often a surge in fermentation activity that then drops off dramatically; this situation is probably caused by other yeast and bacteria that are initially present but eventually die off. When this happens, many first-timers think that it has “died,” and they start over. Don’t be fooled by this lapse of activity; continue with the schedule and eventually, the desired yeast and bacteria will move in and stabilize the starter.

The entire process is exceptionally temperature-dependent. Instead of a typical cooler room temperature, I find a warm temperature of around 80°F (26°C) helps kickstart activity since this is near the temperature at which the bacteria and yeast are most active. A home dough proofer (which I highly recommend) and a yogurt maker are great tools for maintaining such an environment. If not, a home oven, turned off, with the light on the inside (and a thermometer to monitor the temperature), or a microwave with a bowl of warm water inside, will both work well.

For even more tips on this whole process and many things related to sourdough starters, check out my Sourdough Starter Frequently Asked Questions page →

7 Easy Steps to Making an Incredible Sourdough Starter From Scratch via @theperfectloaf

Helpful tools to make a sourdough starter

You can see a rundown of all the tools I use for baking sourdough, vetted over years of baking, over at my favorite sourdough baking tools page. Here, I list what I consider the necessary tools to get started:

Weck glass jar

Have at least two clean jars on hand. I like these Weck jars (#743, 3/4 liter jars) best because they taper out towards the top, making it easy to stir, and they don’t have any hard-to-clean lips or edges. Also, using the glass lid without the provided rubber seal and clips provides just enough of a seal to keep moisture and heat trapped inside. I recommend using glass jars because you can easily see the fermentation as it progresses. It can also help to place a rubber band around the jar at the height of your starter after mixing so you have a visual guide for how high it rises between refreshments. Two more reasons I like these jars: they're high quality and very economical. They are actually canning jars, so you can use them for many other things around the kitchen (jam, homemade pesto, dried fruit, cereals, and so on).

If Weck jars aren't available, these Anchor Hocking might be a good alternative.

Silicone spatula

I use a small, firm spatula to do my feedings. It's sturdy and easy to clean with a sponge, and if things get messy, you can run it through the dishwasher.

Scale

A kitchen scale is indispensable and guarantees accuracy when measuring the amount of flour needed for each starter refreshment. Measuring flour by volume is inherently imprecise as the amount of flour packed into a measuring cup can vary. Further, it’s a good idea to get used to using a scale for weighing ingredients, as this method is essential for improving your baking consistency.

Rye flour

Using whole grain (“dark”) rye flour helps expedite the fermentation process. In comparison to white flour, rye flour is teeming with extra nutrients that help kickstart the entire process. If you don’t have rye flour, a good quality organic whole wheat will also work well.

Unbleached, all-purpose, white flour

With my starter of 10+ years, and outlined in my post on how I feed (refresh) my starter these days, I typically refresh it with 70% all-purpose flour (or bread flour) and 30% whole rye flour. I like this mix because you get the fermentation boost from the whole-grain flour and the increased gas-trapping ability and gluten strength of the white flour. This helps me spot the signs of fermentation throughout the day and is a good compromise, using just enough whole grains without my starter getting overly acidic too quickly.

Thermometer

An instant-read thermometer will help monitor the temperature of your starter and ensure that it's in the optimal range for increasing fermentation activity.


Stgarter refreshment schedule

Sourdough starter rise and fall
The daily rise and fall of a sourdough starter

In the beginning, your starter refreshments will occur just once a day. As your culture becomes more active, you'll increase this to twice a day. Because of the frequency of these feedings, one of my goals is to help you set things up so it's quick and easy to do your feedings and move on with your day. Once you get the hang of things, you only need about 5 to 10 minutes per day to keep your starter going–totally manageable.

A sourdough starter is very resilient. If you forget to feed it one day or feed it several hours after it needed a refreshment, don't worry, in almost all cases it will spring back.

The following sourdough starter recipe schedule will provide you with a reliable and robust sourdough starter in 6 to 9 days. Once you have the culture stable, it will last indefinitely as long as you refresh it regularly. If you don't plan to bake frequently, you can toss the starter in the fridge and feed it only once a week. (I'll discuss this in more detail later in this post.)

Your schedule will follow the natural rise and fall of your starter. As soon as you feed it, the yeast and bacteria in your culture will begin to metabolize the sugars in the flour, creating gasses (among other things) as a byproduct. These gasses cause the starter to rise throughout the day as seen above. Once they subside, then the starter falls.

Daily refreshment process

At each refreshment, we will perform the following quick steps:

  1. Stir your starter a little bit with your spatula
  2. Place a clean jar on your scale and scoop in some portion (outlined below) from the jar you just stirred down
  3. Add fresh flour and water; mix well to incorporate completely
  4. Cover the jar loosely and let rest until the next feeding

That's it! Once you get your process down, it should take no more than a few minutes each day.

Sourdough starter recipe: Making an incredible sourdough starter from scratch

Day One

Add whole grain rye flour to jar
Mix flour and water together
Mixture forms a mostly dry paste

Initially, I like to use two jars for this process: each time you refresh, swap in a clean jar. Starting on Day 4, you can use the same jar: discard down and add fresh flour and water.

I first like to weigh the jars I'm using (without the lids) to find their empty weight. Then, take a permanent marker and write the jar's weight on the bottom. This way, we know the baseline weight of the jar so we can quickly figure out how much starter to keep during each refreshment.

In the morning, place a clean, empty jar on the scale and tare3. To that jar, add 100 grams whole grain rye flour and 125 grams water and mix until all dry bits are incorporated. If it's cool in your kitchen, warm the water to 80°F (26°C) before mixing. Lightly cover the jar and set it in a warm place–80°F to 85°F (26°C to 29°C) is ideal–and out of direct sunlight for 24 hours.

Day Two

Incredible fermentation activity the first day of creating sourdough starter

You may or may not already see some fermentation activity. As mentioned above, this potential initial surge of activity is typical and should subside around Day 3. What you can see below is how my initial mixture expanded significantly (in fact it bubbled out of the jar; this is why setting the jar in a bowl is a good idea). Don’t be discouraged if the surge disappears by the third or fourth day. Stick to the schedule, and it will come back!

Add flour to your carried over sourdough starter
Adding water to mixture

Place a second, empty jar on the scale and tare so that it reads 0 grams. Scoop in 75 grams of the mixture that has been resting for 24 hours. Next, add 50 grams rye flour, 50 grams all-purpose flour, and 115 grams of water. Again, if it’s cold, warm the water to 80°F(26°C).

Stir everything well

Mix well until all dry bits are incorporated, cover, and place in the same warm spot for 24 hours. Discard the rest of the mixture in the first jar and clean it in preparation for the next day.

Day Three

In the morning, you may start to see more activity, or you may see none. You can see below that the initial surge of action I had on Day 2 disappeared. However, my mixture started to show the beginning signs of beneficial yeast and bacteria taking hold: some bubbles on the top and at the sides, rose to some degree, and it started to take on a sour aroma.

Sourdough starter just starting to show signs of fermentation

Regardless of what signs your mixture is presenting, don’t fret and stick to the schedule. Remember, if it's cold in your kitchen, warm your water to 80°F (26°C) to help speed things along.

If a layer of clear liquid (“hooch”) forms on the top of your mixture just stir it back in and keep with the schedule.

Place a new, clean jar on the scale and tare. Scoop in 75 grams of the mixture that rested overnight and add 50 grams rye flour, 50 grams all-purpose flour, and 115 grams water. Stir until well incorporated. Cover the jar and let it rest for 24 hours.

Discard the rest of the mixture in the first jar and clean it in preparation for the next day.

Day Four

This day is the first day of the process that has two refreshments in a single day: one in the morning, and one approximately 12 hours later.

In the morning, you should start to see signs of fermentation activity if you haven’t already, and begin to see them again if you experienced the surge-and-drop that I described above. There will be bubbles scattered on the sides and top, and the level of the mixture might have risen and fallen a little (evidenced by streaks on the sides of the jar).

(COOKBOOK NOTE: If you're following my cookbook on page 34, there is a typo in the chart showing the ingredients for days 4, 5, and 6. Please follow the ratio of ingredients listed below or the ratio of ingredients in the book under Day 3!)

Refresh in the same way that you did on Day 3. Place a clean jar on the scale and tare. Scoop in 75 grams of the mixture from the jar that fermented overnight, add 50 grams rye flour, 50 grams all-purpose flour, and 115 grams water. Mix thoroughly, cover, and let rest for 12 hours.

Discard the rest of the mixture in the first jar. From here on, simply use the same jar each day (no need to switch to a clean jar) by discarding the contents down and adding fresh flour and water as instructed.

After this 12-hour rest during the day, discard the contents to 75 grams and refresh again with the same ratio of ingredients. Let the new mixture rest for 12 hours (overnight).

Day Five and Six

For Days 5 and 6, continue to discard down the contents of the jar and then refresh with the same ratio of ingredients as you did on Day 4, twice a day. You will see fermentation activity increase more and more4. Keep using the same jar for these refreshments.

Day Seven and Onward

In the morning on Day 7, discard what's in the jar down to 20 grams of the mixture. To this, add 30 grams rye flour, 70 grams all-purpose flour, and 100 grams water. Mix thoroughly, cover, and let rest for 12 hours during the day. In the evening (after about 12 hours), discard the jar contents down to 20g, add the same ratio of ingredients as earlier in the day, and let rest 12 hours (overnight).

At this point, you should see the height of your starter rise and fall in the jar predictably each day. This periodic behavior is a good indicator that it is strong enough for you to use for your first loaf of bread. If your starter is still struggling to show activity, continue the refreshment schedule with the same ratio of ingredients for another day–or even several more days–until things pick up. The process of stabilization can sometimes take longer, depending on the flour used and the environment (especially if it’s cool in your kitchen). Be patient and stick to the schedule!

Once you get the hang of your starter and its feeding schedule, feel free to adjust the ratio of ingredients. For example, in warmer months I'll reduce my mature starter carryover to 10g to 20g depending on the temperature. To read more about how I change these ratios and maintain my starter, check out my comprehensive sourdough starter guide page which includes my current feeding schedule, an in-depth FAQ, and more.

The starter will continue to develop flavor and strength over the next week and into the future. With an active starter, you can now use a portion of it when it is ripe. A starter is ripe when it has risen, is bubbly on the surface and at the sides, has a sour aroma, and has a looser consistency than when first refreshed.

Having issues? Check out my list of the 21 most common sourdough starter problems (with solutions) →

What is the best flour to feed my sourdough starter?

I get asked this question often. Once your starter is rising and falling predictably, it's okay to switch your refreshment flour to suit your preference. You can continue with a mixture of rye and all-purpose, change to 100% all-purpose white flour, or even switch to using 100% whole wheat.

There is no right or wrong flour to use when feeding a starter.

Each flour will affect the starter in a different way, changing how fast it ferments, how acidic it becomes in the same timeframe, and eventually, the final flavor profile. There is no right or wrong flour to use when maintaining your starter; it's up to you and your starter!

Check out my post on how I feed my sourdough starter to find out what flour, water, and ripe starter percentages I'm currently using to maintain my starter.

Next steps for a healthy sourdough starter

How to make a sourdough starter
Strong fermentation in this starter, despite the small bubbles!

After your starter is rising and falling predictably, review my sourdough starter maintenance routine for all the steps I do to keep my starter healthy. You can adjust your feeding schedule based on your baking frequency. If you can bake almost every day, you’ll want to feed your starter once a day to keep it in ready-to-use shape. If you want to bake only on the weekends, you can put your starter in the refrigerator to slow down its activity; to learn more about this method, check out my Weekend Baking Schedule.

You can also scale down your starter and maintain a smaller one. Scaling down your starter will mean less flour and water needed for each refreshment (to save ingredients). See my guide to maintaining a smaller sourdough starter for a recipe and process.

What if I need a break from maintaining my starter?

Maintaining a sourdough starter should always be on our terms, not the other way around. Maintaining a starter indefinitely can be a daunting task, but there are ways to put it on pause if you need a break from baking for a while. Remember, the refrigerator is our friend to slowing fermentation, and there are even ways to stop all fermentation activity altogether (and it can stay this year for years!).

Check out my guide to storing a sourdough starter for techniques to put your starter on pause for a week, a month, or even a year (or more).

Final thoughts

These days, refreshing my sourdough starter is a liturgical part of my day. It takes minutes to provide my starter with fresh flour and water. In return, my starter produces flavorful and healthy bread. I like to think it’s me making the bread; it's me controlling fermentation, it's my hands mixing and shaping the dough. But the reality is, I’m just a small cog in nature’s machinery. All I need to do is lend a helping hand and stay out of the way. Happy baking and buon appetito!

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Sourdough discard recipes

Sourdough Starter Recipe

  • Author: Maurizio Leo
  • Prep Time: 7 days
  • Total Time: 168 hours
  • Yield: 1 sourdough starter
  • Category: Sourdough, Baking, Bread, Starter
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This sourdough starter recipe will help you create your own sourdough starter from scratch at home in seven easy steps. Your starter is the cornerstone of great bread—once you have it showing consistent signs of fermentation each day, which takes on average 5 to 7 days, you're ready to start baking sourdough bread!


Ingredients

  • 300g all-purpose flour
  • 400g whole-grain rye flour
  • 800g water

Instructions

  1. Day One
    To a clean jar, add 100g whole rye flour and 125g warm water. Mix ingredients and keep somewhere warm for 24 hours.
  2. Day Two
    To clean jar, add 75g of the mixture from Day One (discard the rest), 50g whole rye flour, 50g all-purpose flour, and 115g water. Mix ingredients and keep somewhere warm for 24 hours.
  3. Day Three
    To a clean jar, add 75g of the mixture from Day Two (discard the rest), 50g whole rye flour, 50g all-purpose flour, and 115g water. Mix ingredients and keep somewhere warm for 24 hours.
  4. Day Four
    On day four, you will give the mixture two feedings. In a clean jar, add 75g of the mixture from Day Three (discard the rest), 50g whole rye flour, 50g all-purpose flour, and 115g water. Mix and let rest for 12 hours. In the evening, after 12 hours, repeat the discarding and feeding you did in the morning. Let the mixture rest overnight.
  5. Day Five and Six
    For days five and size, continue to discard down the jar contents and then feed with the same ratio of ingredients as Day Four, twice a day. You can use the same jar for these feedings.
  6. Day Seven and Onward
    In the morning on Day Seve, discard the jar's contents down to 20g of the mixture and add 30g whole rye flour, 70g all-purpose flour, and 100g water. Repeat this feeding twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, indefinitely.

Notes

You don't have to use a new, clean jar each time you feed your starter, but I find it's helpful to keep track of the weight of the jar so you know how much you're carrying over. 

Keywords: Sourdough, starter, naturally leavened, mother, chef, mum

If you use my method for creating a starter, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look!

Frequently asked sourdough starter creation questions

Why do you need a sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter is a continually maintained mixture of wild yeast and suitable bacteria used to seed fermentation in new dough for bread, pastry, and more.

How long does it take for a sourdough starter to be ready?

In general, I’ve found it takes about 7 days from when you first mix flour and water to when a sourdough starter is ready to be used to bake bread.

Is a homemade sourdough starter safe?

A well-maintained sourdough starter can live virtually indefinitely. The high-acid environment of the sourdough starter helps stave off any unwanted pathogens. However, if you see any signs of traditional mold (pink, white fuzzy, green), it’s best to discard the entire starter and start a new one.

Should I make or buy a sourdough starter?

While buying a sourdough starter is very easy online, it’s a very easy process to do at home! Plus, creating your own starter exposes you to the signs of fermentation, what steps you need to perform to maintain your starter, and gives you a chance to get to know the feeding (refreshment) process.

How long does it take for a sourdough starter to peak?

Some bakers use the term “peak” to refer to either the point at which a starter is ready to be used or needs feeding, or it can refer to the physical peak height of the starter in the jar. I find judging a sourdough starter’s readiness based solely on the height it has risen to may lead to using it at an incorrect time. After all, the height of a starter is simply a display of the strength and other characteristics of the flour. To determine when your starter is ready to be fed (or used for baking), look for a combination of signs: some rise, bubbles on top and at the sides, a sour aroma, and a loose consistency (it should loosen the longer it ferments). From there, use the timeframe for fermentation as a guide: at about 72-78F (22-25C) with 30-50% whole grain flour and 20% ripe starter (the seed, or inoculation), it might be ready after 12-16 hours.

Why doesn't my sourdough starter have big bubbles?

It's okay if your starter doesn't have big bubbles. Large bubbles can be the result of the flour you're using and the hydration. What's more important overall, is to see strong signs of consistent fermentation: some bubbles, consistent rise each day, a sour aroma, a loosening in texture.

Why is my sourdough starter not rising?

It's worrisome if you don't see any rise in your starter, you should see some. Usually, no rise is a sign it's not fermenting properly and needs more time to establish. Continue with the feeding schedule outlined in my guide on how to make a sourdough starter and it should begin fermenting after a few days.


What's next?

If you're looking for something to make with the discarded sourdough starter that you’re generating every day, have a look at my sourdough waffles, sourdough pancakes, and sourdough banana bread. For an approachable recipe–and an excellent starting point for digging into the whole bread-making process–check out my Beginner's Sourdough Bread recipe or my Simple Weekday Sourdough Bread.


  1. The “tare” button on your scale will zero it out after you place your jar on top. This will allow you to measure the flour and water your place in your jar (and exclude the jar's weight).

  2. If you've written the weight of the empty jar on the bottom as I indicated on Day 1, you should know exactly how much the resulting weight of the jar plus carried over starter will be—discard down to this weight.

  3. The “tare” button on your scale will zero it out after you place your jar on top. This will allow you to measure the flour and water your place in your jar (and exclude the jar's weight).

  4. If you've written the weight of the empty jar on the bottom as I indicated on Day 1, you should know exactly how much the resulting weight of the jar plus carried over starter will be—discard down to this weight.

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