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

wild yeast

bread cetera

the fresh loaf


Bourke Street Bakery

The Handmade Loaf

The Real Food Companion


Sourdough tastes good. It tastes reaallly good. Give me a fruity sourdough, with a little butter and I’m a happy woman.

I had toyed with the idea of making a sourdough starter for awhile, but it just seemed too hard. Too time consuming and too confusing as to what I was supposed to be doing. I read and I read, so many different ways to ‘start’ the starter, that my head hurt. All the pages were rolling into one, the words a blur, and nothing was sinking in. I closed my eyes at night thinking of starters and woke again, only to find my first thought of the day was sourdough starter…. Now what do I need to do again? Slash before prove or after? Steam? Oven at the hottest setting or turn it down a tad? Feeds beforehand? Ratio of starter to flour?…..?……?

Enough! Just do it girl. Get cracking.

Yes, there are a number of different ways to do it. Does that mean its complicated or versatile? Lets hope with versatile. I went with the “Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook” method, and for the next 3 weeks diligently fed dear “Suzie” (she had to have a name if she was going to be a permanent fixture in my kitchen) and hoped for the best.

* Now it must be said before I go any further. I’m a hack cook and a hack baker. I look for short cuts, I change recipes, and sometimes it could be said I completely bastardize recipes. Lets put it this way…. I’m not a sifter. Now this can be a downfall at times as the impatient me wants to take over and the delicate french chef in me gets thrown to the back of the kitchen. However, most of the time it works. The food is edible, and The Monkeys go to bed with a full and happy tummy. So for me, hack works… that being said, I wasn’t so sure hack was going to work in doing a sourdough starter.

I decided to do a rye starter. The rye apparently gets going easier and then you can switch over to normal flour, it just gives it a head start,(it’s then just a white starter.) So with rye flour and water in a bowl sitting on top of my fridge, the feeding began.

According to the method I was following, the starter wouldn’t be strong enough until after 3 weeks. But in the mean time I did play around with the portions I was supposed to be discarding.

Batch made with 'ferment'- oops

First up, a batch made at day 5. A Light Rye and Apple. Yeast used as a raising agent. Starter used more as ‘ferment’ taste. I have since read that you shouldn’t be using it at all at this stage as the bacteria levels are not right….. oops. I did wonder about this, as at this stage it smelt weird. Not like vomit, as I had read it could smell, just different… vomit didn’t sound so good.

Sunflower and Linseed with a small amount of dried yeast for backup. Fermenting overnight in fridge

Seeing if it would work in the bread maker. Yep it did. No yeast added and rose beautifully. It did go dry quite quickly though, when used in sandwiches, but fine for toast. I did try and start the bread maker in the morning and then left it sitting for a further few hours to prove before continuing on to cook. It rose beautifully again but then I worked out there wasn’t a just cook button and it had reset itself. So won’t be doing that one again…. dense, (the bread not me…or maybe a little of both.)

no commercial yeast, 10 hour prove

Light Rye with no yeast, two bulk proving times, and cooked 10 hours after starting.

Sunflower and Linseed, one feed 8 hours before mixing ingredients, 2 x 1 hour proving times with a knock back in between, then a slow ferment overnight in the fridge for 10 hours.

I still have to try the Bourke Street Bakery method of feeding the starter 3  times in 24 hours before adding other ingredients, then a long ferment over night. Some people do the extra feeds to build it up and some don’t. It seems there are so many methods in working with natural yeasts, and it’s just a matter of finding what works for me. That being said, if by chance anyone that knows what they are doing reads this and sees something that screams out- No you shouldn’t be doing that! Please let me know. Or just a sourdough tip, and the best methods that work for you.

Overall- I am really happy with the outcomes. I should have done a bread making course so all of this makes a bit more sense, and am hoping to down the track. But until then, I have a starter bubbling away happily, I’m producing edible bread, (actually it’s more than edible it’s really tasty!) I don’t have to rely on commercially made yeasts. I’m saving a bucket of money by not buying shop bread. (For the same price of 2 shop bought sourdoughs, I am getting 12 kilos of flour which in turn makes…. lots more loaves.) Then just playing around with different flavours, etc. like sunflowers, rye, bran, pepitas, apple.

I’m finding it so satisfying to make these breads, it really does feed my soul. I’m truly amazed that they rise and taste good, I just wish I knew more of the how, where, why part of bread making with natural yeasts.

In the mean time though, hack is working.