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Creating a Sourdough Starter From Scratch

Perfect for Bread, Cake, Naan, Muffins, and Bagels

By Andrea LawrencePublished about a year ago 8 min read
Making sourdough foods isn’t as hard as you might think. The hardest part might be getting your starter made. | Margaret Jaszowska, Pexels

Starting Your Sourdough Starter

I’ve been making sourdough foods for the past few years. I even got my husband into making bread from our starter. I’ve learned some tricks along the way. Fair warning: This is one of the more challenging ways to make baked goods, but with practice, you can ace this.

Here is what you need to make a starter:

  • A bag of wheat flour
  • Lukewarm water, 90–100°F
  • Time
  • A glass container, either very tall or very wide

It will take at least five days to form a proper sourdough starter. The more it ages, the better it will taste in baked goods.

For the first five days:

  • Add a 1/2 cup of wheat flour and a 1/4 cup of lukewarm water together. Stir it together for 2 minutes.
  • Cover the bowl with a towel or plate. Let it sit for 24 hours.
  • The next day: add another 1/2 cup of wheat flour and a 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. Cover it. Repeat the same steps for days 3–5.

I advise starting this process on Monday. By Saturday, you can make your first sourdough treat.

Working With an Established Starter

Your sourdough starter will likely smell bad by day 4. Don’t put your nose up to it and take a big sniff. The smell will eventually get better, or you will get used to it. After your starter has been established, and if the smell is still getting to you, try adding a 1/8 cup of pineapple juice into it.

Here are some of my pro tips:

  • Adding cut-up grapes to your sourdough starter can help enrichen it. Grapes help with yeast production.
  • After you’ve established your starter, you can try different flours in it. I suggest focusing on one type of flour at a time, so your starter has enough time to absorb the new flavor profile. Ideally, I would focus on a new flour type for the entirety of its bag before switching to something else.
  • Don’t use a metal container for your sourdough. The acidity of the starter will attack the bowl, and it will ruin the flavor and texture.
  • Store your sourdough starter in a place that is draft-free. I place mine in the oven — just make sure other people in your household know it is there. It will become normal to check the oven before using it.
  • After the first week, you can store the sourdough in the fridge, which will slow down the growing process. This means you won’t have to feed it as often. I do this when I go on vacation. When I return, I take it out and set it on the counter to warm it up, then I revive it with flour and water.
  • Make sure your starter is sealed to prevent bugs from getting into it.

One of my favorite bakers to follow online is Tiktok user Rachel/Sourdough Enzo. She makes incredible designs on her treats. I don’t think I could ever be as talented as her. I like to watch her videos for inspiration.

I’ve included a couple of her videos in this post, so you can get an idea of what excellent sourdough looks like.

When Should I Feed It?

You should feed your sourdough starter daily for the first week or so. Every 24 hours. When you feel you have a good understanding of your starter, you can relax a little. Feed it every other day, or twice a week. (I recommend daily or every other day.)

To feed your starter:

  • Add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. Make sure to completely mix it.
  • If you want your starter to have a softer texture, add more water.
  • If you want your starter to be thicker, add more flour.

Hint: if your starter isn’t bubbling, you can add more feedings into your schedule. Try twice a day.

Do I Need to Discard Portions of the Starter Frequently?

There are different opinions on this. Some people think you should discard some sourdough after every feeding. I personally don’t think that’s necessary, and it’s somewhat expensive to waste that much flour.

I find using a large glass bowl and feeding my starter regularly works just fine without frequent discards. You should be using your sourdough often enough that your starter isn’t getting too big. There are also “discard recipes” you can find online.

Try to slow down on feeding it. Also, put it in the fridge which will slow down the growth process. It will harden it, but you’ll feed it less.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Look for recipes that call for a large amount of sourdough starter.
  • Consider selling portions of your starter to your neighbors. They may want to try baking with sourdough, but they don’t want to spend time making a starter.

Best Mixing Practices

When you feed the starter, you want to spend about 2–5 minutes making sure everything blends together. I prefer to stir it with either a knife or a whisker. I find using a spoon makes it way too easy to accidentally flick out the flour and get it everywhere.

When done mixing, it is important to clean off any utensils that were used. Dried sourdough is hard to get off objects. My dishwasher tends to cook the starter onto the utensils, making it even hard to get rid of all the residue.

Has My Starter Gone Bad?

Most likely, no. If you left it out uncovered for weeks at room temperature and with no feedings, then yes, you probably destroyed it. Sourdough starters are fairly resistant, but there are certain factors that let you know it’s not worth saving.

Some signs that something went array:

Unusual colors: pink, yellow, and orange. The sourdough starter color should be in the brown family. Not a color of the rainbow.

  • If the smell is extreme, like moldy meat, then it has decayed. I would look for other signs before declaring the starter dead because knowing by smell can be tricky.
  • Is fuzzy mold growing on it? Is the mold everywhere?
  • If it has dark liquid on top: it’s not dead. It’s just hungry. Feed it!

Remember: You can create a new starter simply with wheat flour and water. Of course, a longer-lasting sourdough starter has matured and tends to have a better flavor profile.

It’s not the biggest deal if you have to start over with a new starter. Just keep in mind that the first five feedings should be with wheat flour, not other flour types.

Sourdough bread is easier to make than you think. It all starts with making your starter. You have to plan well in advance to make your bread: it takes a minimum of five days to create the starter. | Marta Dzedyshko, Pexels

Finding Recipes

The first book that I used for my sourdough journey was: Starter Sourdough: The Step-by-Step Guide to Sourdough Starters, Baking Loaves, Baguettes, Pancakes, and More. It was given to me as a wedding present. The author is Carroll Pellegrinelli.

I recommend buying a cookbook or two and experimenting from there. This way you have a nice recipe collection you can rely upon. These books often have tips that can help sharpen your skills.

I also use recipes online. I bookmark the ones I really like. The problem with electronic recipes is that baking is messy, and you don’t want to ruin your phone or computer with your flour-encrusted hands.

Tiktok is also a reliable source for finding other sourdough bakers. You can learn from others by following their videos.

What Should I Make First?

I recommend a bread recipe for your first bake. Ideally, your first bake should be something with a low amount of ingredients. I also recommend baking regular bread first because sourdough bread tends to take a really long time to make. You want to have a feel for how to make bread before moving on to something more complicated.

Always follow the recipe directions carefully. You may have to add more flour or water if your dough isn’t coming together.

  • If your dough is turning into crumbs, you need more water.
  • If your dough is really sticky, add more flour.

I find in winter when things are dry, I need more water for my dough. It’s okay to keep adding flour and water until you get the right consistency.

When baking sourdough, there is one important ingredient you can’t neglect: time. These recipes can take several hours — and in some cases, multiple days! It’s a good idea to plan ahead rather than spontaneously decide you’re going to bake with a sourdough starter.

You don’t want to be up at 4:00 am trying to proof a loaf. Read the whole recipe first for time cues. Sometimes those time prep indicators at the start of a recipe lie. Also, unless you’re a pro, the recipe will likely take you longer than it says.

Recipe Inspiration

When you get a little more confident after trying bread a few times, then you should experiment with other baked goods. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Naan. Your family will enjoy an Indian food night. Naan also freezes well.
  • Bagels. This is one of the more fun sourdough recipes. You can try making it in different colors. Bagels are great in various flavors, both savory and sweet.
  • Hamburger buns. The first time I tried this, it was imperfect. You want a fluffy sourdough starter, not a thick one.
  • Pretzels. There are “discard recipes” specifically for pretzels. If you’re in a jam and need to get rid of your starter fast, make pretzels.
  • Waffles. Breakfast is often people’s favorite meal of the day. Waffles go great with fruit and syrup. Also, maple goes really well with sourdough.
  • Cake. A sourdough coffee cake will have a delightfully tangy, earthy flavor.
  • Donuts. They’ll melt in your mouth. It’s another treat where you can experiment with ingredients.
You don’t just have to use sourdough for bread. You can also use it for desserts. Try making a chocolate cake with it. | Tim Douglas, Pexels

The Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread

The lactic acid produced in the starter process will give the bread a sour, earthy taste. Sourdough bread is made by fermentation of dough and naturally occurring lactobacilli/yeast.

It has a low glycemic index compared with other bread types. The enzymes during fermentation affect the absorption of dietary minerals.

The fermentation process reduces wheat which may help with non-celiac wheat sensitivity. Another big plus: there is less chance for irritable bowel syndrome when eating sourdough bread compared to white bread.

Sourdough is an excellent source of antioxidants. Studies have shown that the peptides found in sourdough bread can lower the risk for some cancers, signs of aging, and diseases like arthritis.

  • Sourdough is rich in nutrients that the body can easily absorb. It doesn’t rely on preservatives, which is always a good thing.
  • Potassium from sourdough aids in the function of your cells. Potassium helps regulate your heartbeat. It strengthens your nerves and helps muscles to function properly.
  • Antioxidants found in sourdough help protect your cells from damage. It can prevent serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
  • Eating sourdough can help you keep your blood sugar levels stable.
  • Your insulin levels will not spike as high when eating a slice of sourdough bread compared to white bread.
  • The fiber in the bread feeds the good bacteria in your intestines.

Moral of the story: sourdough bread actually nourishes your body. It’s natural, it’s easy to create at home, and it’ll impress your friends and neighbors. Sourdough baking is versatile and can protect you from serious diseases.

Sourdough bagels will impress your friends. The first step is getting the right starter: you want it fluffy and light. | Anna Tarazevich, Pexels

Resources

  • Brennan, Dan. Sourdough Bread: Is It Good for You?, WebMD Editorial Contributors, 29 Sept. 2020
  • Pellegrinelli, Carroll. Starter Sourdough: The Step-by-Step Guide to Sourdough Starters, Baking Loaves, Baguettes, Pancakes, and More. Rockridge Press, 2019.
  • Sourdough Enzo, Rachel. sourdough_enzo; Tiktok.

*****

Originally published: https://discover.hubpages.com/food/Making-Your-First-Sourdough-Starter-Bread-Making-101

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About the Creator

Andrea Lawrence

Freelance writer. Undergrad in Digital Film and Mass Media. Master's in English Creative Writing. Spent six years working as a journalist. Owns one dog and two cats.

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