how to make a sourdough starter

I made a sourdough starter a year ago and have been happily dibble dabbling in sourdough ever since. I love it and my family loves it. It’s easily become a regular part of our life. When I initially started it, I had no idea what I was doing, had confused myself, and so just played around until I got into a rhythm that I liked. The whole process is still very much evolving and I am by no means an expert though. How I do things, constantly gets tweaked and changed and I’m fine with that. There is a LOT to understand with sourdough and bread making in general and I still feel I only have a tiny grasp of it all.

I’m fine with this though. I’m happy to keep fiddling, tweaking and learning. I’ve had a few questions lately of how I started my starter. I partially documented it here, but was never really sure whether it would work properly. It did work though and a year down the track the starter is strong, happy to get reduced to nothing, frozen, bulked up, popped in the fridge, loved on the bench. It’s very much still there.

So could I do it again? Could I make another? Was it a fluke the first time? Were the planets aligned and the sourdough fairies happily hovering when it all happened the first time? Let’s find out. Let me see if I can make another, and this time show a bit more of the process, (as long as it didn’t turn grey, smell like vomit, smell like acetone, grow purple mould, or simply just die.)

You’ll need a ceramic bowl, an old plastic shopping bag, rye and bakers flour, tap water. Try to feed your starter at approximately the same time each day.

 Day one- Added 50g rye flour and 50mls water together. Weighs 100g.

 Smells like- rye flour and water

Looks like- rye flour and water

 Day two- First feed. Adding 50g rye flour and 50mls water to flour and water mixture. Now weighs 200g.

Smells like- rye flour and water.

Looks like- rye flour and water.

Day Three- Second feed. Adding 100g white flour and 100mls water to the mixture. Now weighs 400g.

Smells like- Fruity and floury, things are starting… Go on, take another smell to make sure.

Looks like- It’s puffed up a little, it looks a little stringy when you stir through the feed. That tiny black speck in the middle is a bubble.

Day Four- Third feed. Adding 200g of white flour and 200mls water. Now weighs 800g.

Smells like- a bit fruity, a bit yeasty, a bit…?

Looks like- more bubbles, with a few white streaks with the change of the flour.

Day Five- Fourth feed. First I need to divide the starter, (otherwise it will be too big- this just goes in the compost). Take it back down to 100g of starter and add- 50g white flour and 50mls water. Now weighs 200g. (This is repeating Day Two)

Smells like- A bit fruity, a bit yeasty, nothing unpleasant at all.

Looks like- Bubbles. Lots of action going on now.

Day Six- Fifth feed. Repeating Day Three. 100g of flour and 100mls water, now weighs 400g.

Smells like- fruity/yeasty kind of action.

Looks like- bubbles, a whole lot of them.

day seven copy

Day Seven-  Changes. The smell of the starter becomes slightly more acidic smelling. As long as there are plenty of bubbles happening, you can decide whether you want to keep feeding it and bake with the discarded amount of starter or store it in the fridge, (this is now your mother.) At this stage your starter is a little vulnerable as it’s still new, but the older and more feeds it has, the stronger it will be.

By storing the mother in the fridge you slow down the fermentation process. (I store mine in the fridge, feeding and baking with it twice a week.)

Before you want to make up a dough, you will need to refresh your starter at least 3 times within 36 hours, (eg. 7am, 7pm, 7am.) Longer, if you have left it for any length of period.

*****

Now as this was just an experiment and I didn’t really need another starter (or to be using up any more flour). I decided to mix up a dough. The bubbles were good and big, and ready to rock.

Into the mixer, with 200g of starter, 375g flour, 250mls water. Quick mix with the dough hook, then forgot about it for 2 hours, (I usually leave it for 40 minutes.) Added 1 tsp salt, mixed again with the dough hooks and then by this stage it’s late and I couldn’t be bothered thinking about anything bread, so whacked a plastic bag over the top of the mixing bowl and popped it in the fridge.

Day Eight- 7am out on to a lightly floured bench, for a quick stretchy, three way fold. Then back into the mixing bowl with bag over the top, and placed in the warmest spot in the flat. Couple of hours later and it’s doubled in size. Back to the lightly floured surface. A stretchy, three way fold again, a little shaping and then on to a paper lined tray with a bag over the top again. Chase the sun once more and forgot about it for half the afternoon. Doubled in size (ish).

Pre-heated oven, then

slashed and into the oven at 240C with steam.

So did it work? Yes, I think it just might have.

*****

EDIT- Simple, Everyday Sourdough Recipe here.

If you are interested in getting into sourdough, there is some more information on other methods, troubleshooting, and maintaining the starter below. (There is a LOT of information to take in, but it’s a versatile beast that works in many mysterious ways for a lot of different people.) These people who have shared their vast sourdough knowledge on these sites have been doing it far longer than I have, so please have a read, and happy playing with your new pet.

sourdough baker

sourdough.com

wild yeast

bread cetera

the fresh loaf

Books

Bourke Street Bakery

The Handmade Loaf

The Real Food Companion

About these ads

68 thoughts on “how to make a sourdough starter

  1. I’m happy to see you’ve obviously caught the sourdough bug. Did you know that there’s a serious school of sourdough bakers in Europe that insist on creating a new sourdough starter every 6 mos or so? I found that interesting, in light of the more conventional belief that the older, the better.

    But you must be very careful, lest you allow the sourdough bacteria to draw you in to the fascinating world of fermentation.

  2. Great post. I had a sourdough starter going almost 10 years ago but never could get into the regular baking routine so it met it’s demise. I may have to give it another go.

  3. Posts like this are a wonderful resource for those of us starting out. It’s difficult to know what our starters should look and smell like at all of the different stages.

    Also a bit intimidating when after two weeks I don’t think mine has as many bubbles as yours did after one. I also need to aim for a more open structures in my finished bread.

    If I ever need to start again I think I’ll definitely start with some rye flour next time.

    Ohh it’s gettng addictive!!

  4. Has it been a year already since you made your starter? I am so impressed. You obviously have the touch as you seem to have done this new starter with no trouble at all. Go Brydie!

      • Oh you two are teasing me I know…, its so darn interesting isn’t it this bread making yeasty bubbling thingo. I just don’t eat enough bread but geez but I’d love to play with this fermenting goodness. I just might too :)

  5. Great post subject and photo’s, too, thanks Brydie. Making me feel a bit guilty about the starter I have languishing, neglected in the fridge. I’m never quite sure how long I can leave it there, unloved, before I try to kick it into life again. Don’t want to throw it out if I don’t need to, but don’t want to kill family with botulised bread either.

    • I read a post somewhere in blogland about reviving starters at different stages in the fridge, and how long you could really keep it going. Can’t remember the outcome or the link though… so that was helpful :-)
      Plump it up again and pop some in the freezer maybe?
      Botulised bread….maybe get the teens to try it first.

  6. you make it seem so easy though I wonder how I would go with all that time – am just starting on a batch of my fave potato bread but one day will test the kindness of the sourdough fairies – one day….

    but for now … I am interested in what you do when you have to divide the starter – I think it is called toss off and have seen people talk about recipes with this – do you use it or just chuck it?

    • Johanna I never have any to chuck out any more. This second starter was just an experiment so only the one lot to chuck out- but only because I already had so much. The first time I did it, I used it for some loaves and just added a little dried yeast to back it up. Initially when I was starting out and I had excess starter I made sourdough flatbreads, (like naan). These days though, I fit the bulking up to what I need.
      (geez, I hope that makes sense!)

  7. Excellent sequence of photos, Bryds. Sooo…now you have two pets, eh? Will they merge together and ‘become one’? I have to say it was your droolworthy sourdough posts that got me motivated again. Thanks! ;)

    • No, only the one pet again now…actually two today as I’m bulking a rye one but the other one was,errr, deleted. I did feel a little guilty, he had worked so hard and all, but I really didn’t need another.

  8. Thanks for this timely post Brydie. I’ve been wanting to do a sour dough starter for quite a while, and lately have been thinking that I have to get back into the swing of making bread for myself, whether it be with a starter or just plain ole homemade! :)
    I guess I also felt a little intimidated by it too. But I just may give it a go this week.
    Is it best to use rye in the beginning, and does white have to be used from the 3rd day on? Or can you use any flour you like?
    Your finished loaf looks so tasty! x

    • Pam have a flick through some of the links I did. I don’t want to give the wrong advice, but from the way I have played is…. Rye is a good one start off with as it ferments faster than the white. That being said, you can just start off with a white one (Richard’s link at the bottom started with just the white). You can keep using the rye throughout, or swap it over. I swapped it as the white is cheaper and it was just an experiment. Today however I’m swapping a white starter back to a rye as I’m making a 100% rye loaf that needs a rye starter. It’s a versatile beast!
      So in short answer… both flours are do-able :-)

      • Ooh lovely! Thanks for that Brydie. I actually prefer not to use white if I can help it. Much rather the heavier flours. But am open to using a mix at times. :)
        If I ever get around to it, I’ll do a post on it and let you know.
        and thanks, I will have a look through those links too. :)

  9. Beautifully done, Brydie!
    I made a starter whilst on vacation- and used it up there rather than bringing it home. Now I have to coddle the one I left behind- I need to get some more rye flour soon!
    Your crumb shot is so tempting!

  10. Oh wonderful. I started to make a starter following the tutorial at sourdough.com but it didn’t go quite as plan. I got to day 8 and forgot about it…no bubbles had appeared and I gave up but you make it look easy! I’ll definitely give it another go. Thanks.

  11. Hi – thanks sooo much for the ‘recipe’ and photos to go with it. i have just started day one, and then realised…(dumb question – sorry) do i just leave it on the bench with a cover over it?
    cheers
    Kim

    • Hi Mairi, thanks for jumping on over :-)
      I haven’t used a wholemeal flour before for a starter, but definitely give it a go. The only reason I used the rye initially is because it kick starts a bit quicker than regular flours (ferments quicker), saying that you can also just do a starter from regular flour as well. I’d love to know how you go with it.
      Good luck!

  12. Thank you much for your straight forward, easy to follow steps! I’ve been wanting to do this forever (well, at least several years) but have been really intimidated. I so appreciated your laid back, conversational tone. Unfortunately unexpected social obligations/fun on day 7 and poor kneading (which I hope to now rectify) resulted in a dense loaf. However, the flavor was amazing! So I’m excited to continue practicing my newbie technique with my starter, though I’m a bit nervous about keeping it alive. Feels like a big responsibility!

  13. Pingback: Sourdough Basics @ Not Quite Nigella

  14. Reblogged this on Whole Foods, Whole Person and commented:
    I’m mostly reblogging this for my own use as I love bread baking and I really miss my ex husband’s handmade sour dough loaves. I keep meaning to learn how to make my own starter so I can make my own, and now I can :)

  15. Pingback: simple, everyday sourdough | Cityhippyfarmgirl

  16. WOW!!! It does seem like a huge responsibility o look after this little organism… I so much want o make a sour dough from scratch though…. Oh well, I have managed to look after five children ,hopefully I can look after a sourdough and produce a loaf of bread. Wish me luck!

  17. Great blog and instructions by the way. I have started by sourdough journey. Made one starter already and made a loaf but…..it was a disaster! I suppose my expectations were too high. So back to the drawing board and have been Wild Yeast’s starter with a much better result and am now having a go with your recipe for bread which surely has to be better than my first attempt! Dough is currently in the fridge waiting for me to finish tomorrow morning and have put some of the starter in the fridge to see how that does as well, it’s all an experiment and I feel a bit like Dr Frankenstein, will post the result though cannot promise a photo.

      • Well I am happy to report that my loaf was a vast improvement on my first attempt. Slashes didn’t quite work out but there were definitely more holes and the loaf did rise. However it was still a little bit denser than I would have liked, I was paranoid about over proofing (as per my first attempt). The dough seemed a little bit too wet, though I realise that sourdough is not like normal bread. Having mixed the starter, flour and salt I left it overnight in the fridge and did quite a lot of folding the next day, but it still stuck to my fingers a little bit. Am now getting some more starter ready to try another loaf in a few days, will try your recipe again. I did take photos but am not quite ready to share them with the world just yet!

  18. I took some extra starter and put it in my dehydrator. Crushed the result and put in a mason jar on the shelf. Then if my starter ever dies (it has happened), I have some of the same and never have to start over. The original came from Idaho relatives about 45 years ago!

  19. This looks like a lovely loaf! When I was a student in Madrid in the 70s , the lady I stayed with used to regularly make a starter using unwashed grapes ( about 3) apparently there is natural yeast on the skins. It has worked for me in the past.

    • Sandra I’ve heard this many times about the unwashed grapes. Pretty amazing, when you think about it really :-)
      I haven’t played with using the grapes as I haven’t needed to, but I say whatever gets a great loaf on the table is a winner in my book.

  20. Ok. So day 5 you divided the starter and continued on with that one bowl but what did you do with the separated bit ? Could you feed that too and then divide it again and just keep repeating? I know you would end up with a lot of starters that way but I figure you could just make a couple of loaves a day? And also with the starter you had left after taking 200g out to make a loaf, did you just continue to feed it with 50g f and 50m w each day to keep it going?

    • HI Yaz, thanks for taking the time to comment. I wrote this post some time ago, and am currently editing a new version of it, (yet to be posted though!) I’m hoping it will make a little more sense to the person who hasn’t made sourdough before, but in the mean time…
      You could do as you said, but that seems like a lot of work and a lot of bowls :-) I would say for the initial divide on day 5 when you are still working on that bacteria, just discard it. I have used it before, but it’s not particularly strong at this stage, and this is the one time where it really is better off just composting it. After that keep feeding as per the instructions.
      (around day seven- depends on the temperature in your kitchen)
      The smell of the starter becomes slightly more acidic smelling. As long as there are plenty of bubbles happening, you can decide whether you want to keep feeding it and bake with the discarded amount of starter or store it in the fridge, (this is now your mother.) At this stage your starter is a little vulnerable as it’s still new, but the older and more feeds it has, the stronger it will be.

      By storing the mother in the fridge you slow down the fermentation process. (I store mine in the fridge, feeding and baking with it twice a week.)

      Before you want to make up a dough, you will need to refresh your starter at least 3 times within 36 hours, (eg. 7am, 7pm, 7am.) Longer, if you have left it for any length of period.

      Hope this helps :-)

  21. I don’t think sourdough starter works well down here where it’s hotter weather. I tried it and got a pink mess that looked scary and never tried it again. Any adivce, anone?

  22. Thank you so much for the step by step – I’m going to give it a go. But just wondering how to you store the remaining starter and how do you get it going again? Thanks in advance.

    • As long as there are plenty of bubbles happening, you can decide whether you want to keep feeding it and bake with the discarded amount of starter or store it in the fridge, (this is your sourdough mother.) In the beginning your starter is a little vulnerable as it’s still new, but the older and more feeds it has, the stronger it will be.

      By storing the mother in the fridge you slow down the fermentation process. (I store mine in the fridge, feeding and baking with it generally about twice a week.)

      Before you want to make up a dough, you will need to refresh your starter at least 3 times within 36 hours, (eg. 7am, 7pm, 7am.) Longer, if you have left it for any length of period- this is how you get it going again….hope this helps :-)

  23. I myself prefer the potato base starter to the flour base. It is less work,Two quarts water, 6 boiled potatoes pureed, , 3 tablespoon salt, tablespoon yeast of any kind, I use my beer yeast, 1 third cup sugar ,one cup water. Boil potatoes in 2 quart water , let cool and puree , one cup of water to dissolve yeast or one cup beer from bottom of fermentation or bottle in place of one cup water and yeast, mix place in a gallon jug wide mouth, let stand for 72 hours and then refrigerate . I put in 1 liter pickle jars, when making bread I use two cups and a cup of bottom beer and I am really happy with the sourdough. I feed it when I get down to four cups with potatoes a bit of sugar and salt is important and let ferment. I also use about a cup of dough from previous batch in my new batch of sourdough bread.

  24. Thanks so much for this post – so clearly written and easy to understand!

    It’s really encouraging to see that your second attempt at starting a sourdough was so easy! I too was amazed at how easily I created my white sourdough 5 years ago, but also wondered if it were a fluke. I typically bake a few times a week, but sometimes travel means I’m not at home to continue the routine. I’ve been paranoid that my sourdough will meet an unexpected sad demise – maybe confiscated by a customs officer, or forgotten by a bug-sitting friend, or by being accidentally tossed or used – but maybe I could start over should the unthinkable happen!

    My proven backup plan is to keep some of the really active sourdough frozen – and I have found that it happily recovers from a 3 month freeze, with just a couple of days of TLC. I love your enthusiasm and heartily agree with your comments on the bubbles calling me to bake!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s