Stay at Home Sourdough Starter – Starting a Starter

To end up with this kind of bread...

Finding ways to make healthier and yummier food at home is something a lot of us are thinking more about right now.  With very limited ingredients and equipment, any of us can turn out really beautiful loaves of naturally risen bread.

Many people bake bread with commercial yeast, which is often sold in dried granules and comes from one commercially propagated yeast strain. Starter comes from naturally occurring yeast and yields a much wider type of texture and flavor in the finished bread.

This is a process that requires time, so it will be at least a week before your first loaf of bread but afterwards, you will have a constant resource to make an endless variation of breads.  

First, you need flour, water and a glass bowl or jar.

There is a tradition of some starter enthusiasts actually naming their starters. I'd like to introduce you to Breadly, my starter. need a starter. This is my starter, Breadly. Breadly is about to be fed flour and water to get ready for baking.

You may use any flour you have on hand, but for best results use an unbleached flour and, even better, a whole wheat or rye flour. Rye flour in particular is very conducive for the process that creates your starter.  Also it is best to use filtered water to remove chlorine that is in tap water, which tends to slow the growth of natural yeasts.

Making the Starter

  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • Place ingredients in jar or bowl and stir with a fork or whisk until the flour is completely dissolved.
  • Cover with a loose lid, loose plastic wrap or kitchen towel.
  • Set aside for 24 hours at room temperature, stirring it up 2 or 3 times with fork or whisk or chopstick during this period.
  • Repeat the above process, adding the additional flour and water to your existing mixture for 3-5 days or until you see bubbles forming in the starter. The bubbles should be throughout the mix and there should also be a slight, tangy sour smell.

You now have active sourdough starter!!!

Breadly has been fed and is ready to bake with. Notice the increase in volume and the fine bubbles. This is how starter looks when it's ready to rise bread.

Maintaining and Using Starter

Once you have an active starter, you maintain it by "feeding" it, which means giving it flour and water.  If you do not bake often, you can keep your starter in a jar or bowl with a lid or plastic wrap. If it is in the refrigerator, it can be fed every 7-10 days. 

If you keep your starter at room temperature, feed it once every 24 hours.

"Feeding" by volume (measuring cups) This is done using 1 part starter, 1 part water and slightly less than 2 parts flour.  For example: use 1/4 cup starter, 1/4 cup water and slightly less than 1/2 cup flour. Mix these parts together thoroughly, with chopsticks or other thin utensil and then put aside in refrigerator or at room temperature.

When getting ready to bake with your starter make sure that is fizzy and active with lots of bubbles.  Feed it at room temperature to get to this state.

This video from King's Roost breaks down the process of creating a starter in a very helpful way.

My favorite resource for baking with starter.

Artisan Sourdough Made Simple

Emilie Raffa's cookbook is a great resource for the beginning bread maker. Through appealing photos and straightforward directions she breaks down the process into approachable easy steps. I have made many of the recipes and I always feel like she is there coaching me as I read through the directions. The bread turns out consistently great. She has lots of delicious ideas for using starter discards as well. This book is available as an ebook download now.

An easy first bread recipe with lots of ideas for using every day kitchen utensils to bake a loaf of artisan bread is by Erica on The Pioneer site.

Finally, we would love to see photos for your starters, find out their names and see pictures of your bread creations on Instagram. Please @SCCLD when you share your creations.