Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

Filed in Real Food by on August 29, 2013 36 Comments
sourdough starter recipe

Sourdough starter, day 7

There is something about making bread that is both very satisfying and a little bit magical. A simple mixture of flour, water and yeast – with a little abuse (kneading)  and a bit of love (a warm place to rise) – turns into a nutritious, filling, food that has sustained people for centuries. Taking that experience one step further –  “making” your own yeast with a sourdough starter from scratch –  turns a merely wonderful loaf of homemade bread into a work of art for your taste buds.

Starting your own sourdough from scratch is not a difficult process. You don’t need a degree in chemistry or microbiology, you don’t need to be home every day at the same time to tend to the starter, and you don’t need to order a freeze dried starter and wait for it to arrive with the mail. You do need flour, water, a spoon, a plastic or glass container, and a little bit of patience, because we can’t make our first loaf of bread until the starter has been fermenting for a week.

There are many many different ways to start and feed a sourdough starter. The following method is one I use, and have successfully taught to everyone from high school freshmen to experienced bread bakers.

Day 1: Combine 1/2 cup of non-chlorinated water (use distilled water or water that has been boiled and cooled) and 3/4 cup rye flour in a 2 quart or larger container. You may add 1/8 tsp. of honey to get the starter off to a good start, but it’s not necessary. I usually add honey if I am starting this process in the winter when my house is cold, and leave it out if I am starting this process during warmer weather.

Loosely cover the container and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2: Stir the mixture and discard half of it. This can be an approximate thing, you don’t have to actually measure it. Add 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cup of rye flour to the container and stir to mix. Cover and let sit for another 24 hours.

Days 3 – 6: Each day discard half of the starter and add 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour. Stir to combine. You should see bubbles by day 3 or 4, but don’t panic if you don’t. If you don’t see bubbles and your house is cold, move the container to the top of the refrigerator (it’s usually pretty warm there) or near the pilot light on a gas stove to get the fermentation process going.

Day 7: We’ll be baking soon! Stir the starter well. Discard half of the starter and this time add 1 cup of water and 2 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour. (This amount can be used to make one very large loaf or two regular sized loaves of bread.) Let sit in a warm place for about 6 hours or until quite bubbly. The starter is now ready to use in your favorite sourdough bread recipe.

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About the Author ()

Renee Pottle, an freelance writer and Home Economist, is fanatic about all things food. She blogs about canning and food preservation at Find her professional food writing info at

Comments (36)

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  1. Brenda says:

    My sourdough bread is too “wet” to slash thru I see where bakers cut in pretty shapes. When I try that it just doesn’t work. Seems the dough would have to be quite stiff and mine isn’t, but the bread turns out really good- just not pretty.

    • admin says:

      Brenda, this is a wet dough (usually) and not one that I necessarily slash. But you are correct, while not quite as pretty as some it tastes great!

      • Brenda Carter says:

        Thank you for replying to my question regarding slashing a “wet” sourdough. I was feeling like I was the one with a problem since every recipe pretty much says to slash the top of the bread

        • admin says:

          You are welcome! It’s true that most sourdough recipes require slashing. But this recipe is “special” lol. Enjoy.

  2. Salinda Erdman says:

    I’m just curious as to why you are discarding 1/2 the starter each day? Couldn’t you just keep it and share it with a friend at the end?

    • admin says:

      Salinda, the “traditional” answer is that discarding 1/2 of it every day assures that there is enough food for the starter bacteria to grow. But – you are also correct. Once I have a starter that I want to reactivate (that has been sitting in the refrigerator for days or weeks) I almost never discard it – I simply add small amounts of flour and water to it each day until it is active and bubbling again. But, if it sits too long you may have to discard half to get it going again. So much depends upon where you live, the flour you use, the temperature, etc. You could try not discarding and see how it works!

      • Salinda Erdman says:

        So could I give the other 1/2 to a friend to start with, that she could feed?
        And by small amounts of flour how much do you mean? 1/4 C
        I’m just starting out with sour dough and wanted to play….

        • admin says:

          Giving half to a friend is a great idea! And yes, I add either 1/4 cup flour + 2 Tablespoons water or 1/2 cup flour + 1/4 cup water. Have fun with your experiments. 🙂

  3. Jade says:

    While my sourdough starter is bubbling away – day 3 only but it has been warm here, I would like to clarify that a second rise and knead is not needed for sourdough bread. For yeast-rise bread, the dough is let to rise and then punch down to knead and let rise again before baking. Is this step not necessary for sourdough bread?

    • admin says:

      Jade, as long as the recipe uses a good amount of active, bubbling starter (1 1/2 -2 cups) it should only need one rise. Sometimes I will do 2 rises but usually not. The key is to use a very active starter. Sounds like yours is working like a charm!

  4. Lyndee Devereux says:

    Hello Renee,
    If you would be so kind…I have a few questions for you. I have had my starter for about eight months but have yet to make a good loaf of bread. I have a semi-white and a rye. starter and have tried using both without any luck. When I put the recipe together everything goes well! Then when it rises…well it just doesn’t! I give it ample hours to rise but finally give up and put it in the oven. When the loaf comes out it is wonderfully brown on the outside but the texture inside seems to be undercooked. It has a great bubbly look but is waxy. I am almost ready to throw it all out the window but I can’t…I love the whole idea of the sourdough. And I would feel terrible because it is alive and I love all living things!! Do you have any suggestions? Thank-you. Lyndee

    • admin says:

      Lyndee, how frustrating! I will start by saying, because sourdough is alive it doesn’t always react the way it should – like a naughty child! However, here are a few tips:
      Make sure the starter is very active before making a loaf of bread. Really bubbly.
      Is your house warm enough? Sometimes, especially in the winter, I turn the oven on for just a few minutes to warm it up. Then turn it off and let the bread rise in the oven. Don’t forget to cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap.
      Instead of making one large loaf, try making two smaller loaves.
      If you use a really bubbly starter, just do one rise. In other words, make it into a loaf and let the loaf rise, then bake.
      Use a thermometer to check interior temperature. Most sourdough breads should be baked to 200-210 degrees.
      If all else fails, add a little dry yeast when making the dough. If it still doesn’t rise you know that the issue is something other than the starter. Usually it’s that the room is too cold.
      Give it plenty of time to rise, usually 3-4 hours. Good luck. Let me know how you do!

  5. Judy P says:

    Why can’t you use all of the starter by dividing in half and feeding both batches. By day 6, you will have 12 batches. Now you can bake a bunch of loaves and freeze them for later or for gifts. That way, minimal waste.
    After day 6, Combine all the remaining starter together and begin feeding the starter with 1/2 C flour & 1/4 C water. Could that work?

    • admin says:

      Judy, absolutely. You can feed both batches of starter. There are several ways to make a starter, some that don’t involve any waste. I personally have found this method works best, especially when it is chilly outside (and inside!). Experiment and see what works best for you. It often depends on the flour you use, your water supply, and the ambient temperature. Good luck.

  6. Bridget says:

    I’ve seen a lot of questions about throwing half of the starter away and had a possible solution. I, personally, will start a new starter from the “discarded” starter. Not every time, but just enough that I don’t feel horrible for wasting, yet just enough to share a few jars with friends or family. And I just keep following the schedule because after all, the starter is the same age as the first one I started. Hope this helps at least one persom. And thank you for sharing this recipe, I’m hooked on sourdough now!

  7. Zendelle says:

    I don’t understand why you have to throw so much of it away. If it makes too much, why not just use less flour to start with?

    • admin says:

      Zendelle, you can try starting a starter with less flour, and just adding more each day. It may work. But the reason for so much waste – I do recognize is as a lot of waste!- is to give the natural yeasts and bacteria plenty of food to get going. Once your starter is ripe and bubbly, you can follow the method I explained in an earlier comment to keep it alive. Please let me know if it works for you!


    • Rachel D. Sendejo says:

      I don’t ever throw away the starter, I make breakfast every morning for my twin grandsons or I bake for the elderly neighbors watching their grandchildren, I bake biscuits every morning or make pancakes or waffles with the extra.

      • admin says:

        Rachel, I am a bit jealous of your productivity! Adding the extra to other baked goods is a great idea, and adds nice flavor and texture. Once I get a good batch of starter going I don’t throw away any starter either, but just add small amounts to keep it alive every now and then. Hopefully I will write about that process later. Right now I am immersed in jam making. Hmmm…..wonder how close we live to each other. My jam and your biscuits sounds pretty good this morning. 🙂

  8. kathy says:

    ok….now I sound really silly… this just tells the 1st 7 days… I keep doing the same process…toss half then add the half-cup flour and 1/4 cup water…each day… use it as I want to for baking…

    but , is rye flour necessary or can I use all purpose?

    • admin says:

      Kathy, you can use all-purpose, just make sure it is unbleached all-purpose flour. We usually start with rye flour because it naturally contains more of the sour causing bacteria than other four types. But go ahead and try the all-purpose, it will most likely work. Let me know how it turns out!


  9. kathy says:

    1-is there a recipe which allows me to ‘keep’ starter on hand all the time?
    2–how much does this recipe make?

    3–can I use all-purpose flour from the first day? why rye flour?

    • admin says:

      Kathy, yes, there is a way to keep starter on hand all the time. I really need to post this method, but basically what I do is:
      Once the starter is established (day 7) lets say I use the 2 cups of ripe starter to make bread, which leaves about 1/2 cup starter in the container. I feed it with only 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water, let it sit on the counter for a few hours and then put it in the fridge. If I want to make another loaf of bread later that week, I take it out of the fridge, add another 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water and let it bubble away for 6-12 hours. Then I add another 1 1/2 – 2 cups of flour and 3/4 – 1 cup water and let it sit overnight, using 2 cups of ripe starter in another loaf of bread the next day. This method reduces the amount of waste. If you want to make a loaf of bread every day you can basically do the same thing, just add 2 cups of flour and a cup of water, let it sit overnight, make a loaf of bread the next day, add another 2 cups of flour, etc, make another loaf of bread the next day and so on.

  10. Katy says:

    Do you have any idea how much the recipe can be decreased? Would it work with 1/4 cup of flour?

    The thing that stops me from making sourdough is the fact one has to keep discarding part of the mix and adding more flour. Even at only 3/4 cup of flour, that’s expensive after 6 days when you’re using organic flour. Then you have to start all over again once you’ve made your bread.

    Also, I think the person who asked about using Rye flour wanted to know if the starter could be done using a different type of flour. I’ve seen recipes using regular wheat flour, so I know it can, but I don’t know about the proportions.

    • admin says:

      Katy, once the starter has been established you can use as little or much flour as you like to keep it alive. As I noted in the answer to Kathy, I use a different method to keep the starter going once it is established. You are correct, the waste can be HUGE! That is why I only use the “discard half of it” method to get the starter going, and use the “add flour when I want it” method to keep it going. Glad to see questions about this, I really need to post this other method. Thanks.


  11. Christibe says:

    Will this method make a liquid sourdough starter, or is it like a piece of dough?

    • admin says:

      It can be made into either. Following the directions exactly should give you a very loose starter. Not exactly a liquid, but not as solid as dough. However, you can adjust the water to make the starter whatever consistency you like. I personally prefer an almost liquid starter. Just add a little less liquid to the bread recipe.

  12. Charlie says:

    I was wondering if it’s possible to make a sour dough starter and sunbsequent loaves with gluten free flours?

  13. Mattie Novosad says:

    Must I use rye flour for starter?

    • admin says:

      Oh my goodness Mattie, I am so sorry for the late response. Suddenly I am not getting my notices. I will have to check into that. Yes, you absolutely can use rye flour for a starter. In fact, rye is probably the best flour to use initially. Don’t miss our new sourdough rye bread post – it will be posted later today. Take care. Renee

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