Sourdough bread is AMAZING. The flavor, the texture, the smell… The best thing about sourdough bread is that it is easy to make a sourdough starter from scratch.
All it takes is patience and a little know-how to make a sourdough starter. Even then, the only real trick to making a great loaf of bread is to make sure that your starter is happily bubbling away before you bake with it.
Here is everything you need to know about making and maintaining a sourdough starter. There is a recipe for a homemade starter at the bottom of the post, but I recommend reading the whole post.
1. Creating a Sourdough Starter from Scratch
Though lots of places sell sourdough starters, within 24 to 48 hours your local strains of yeast and bacteria will have taken over the party. So it’s not worth spending money on a particular heirloom starter.
The best way to get a healthy starter is to create it from scratch and take a few weeks to build it up. By creating a good starter you will actually be improving the strains of wild yeast and bacteria in the air of your home.
Not only are the wild yeasts and bacteria perfect for baking bread, but they’ll also give you a good dose of probiotics for your skin and in your lungs!
See the bottom of the post for a simple recipe for making a traditional sourdough starter.
2. How to Feed Your Sourdough Starter
Feed your culture equal parts of water and flour. It is best to do this by weight (eg. 1 oz culture will eat approximately 1 oz flour and 1 oz water per day.)
However, you can also guestimate and do it by volume, adding flour until it is the consistency of a thickened sauce.
Sourdough starter is extremely flexible and forgiving. We never measure when we feed our sourdough starter and we’ve been baking bread with it since the early 2000s.
If you keep your sourdough at room temperature it will need to be fed at least every 24 hours to keep bubbling happily. In the refrigerator, it will need to eat at least once every 5 days.
If you plan on making bread regularly, then it’s a good idea to treat your starter like a pet and feed it regularly. Then it will be healthy and ready whenever you want to bake bread.
3. What is Sourdough Hooch
You can leave the starter in your fridge for up to a month without feeding. However, it will develop a brown liquid on top. This is called hooch, and it needs to be poured off before you start feeding it again.
It will take a few feedings to make your starter “happy again” but it will revive!
Here’s what the sourdough hooch looks like after a few weeks in the fridge. It can even get darker than this and still be fine to use.
If you aren’t making sourdough bread monthly, then I recommend making your culture from scratch each time. Once you’ve built up the right strains of yeast in the air of your home, it usually only takes 3-5 days to create a starter from scratch.
And that happens to be the same amount of time it would take to revive an unhappy starter.
4. Sourdough Discard
I’ve never discarded sourdough starter…
It seems like a huge waste, and I’m really not sure why sourdough discard is a thing.
Here is how you can avoid throwing away sourdough starter:
- Store your starter in the fridge when you’re not baking to slow down the fermentation.
- Use your excess starter to make things like pancakes, granola bars, or sourdough cobbler.
- If you still have too much starter then make these sourdough buns which use 2 cups of starter.
5. Fun Sourdough Facts
Who wouldn’t love some fun facts about sourdough starter? Here’s a bit of history and flavor to think about when baking your first loaf of bread.
- The flavor and properties of your sourdough are based on the local strains of yeast and bacteria. This variability in yeast influences the flavor and leavening time, which is why every region of the world has its own type of bread.
- Some areas have famous strains (Montreal, San Francisco) but most places should be able to make a decent sourdough starter. However, air pollution may result in a bad tasting or underactive culture. In that case, I recommend following a different method to make a quick and easy sourdough starter instead.
- Sourdough has a long history. It is even depicted in the artwork of ancient Egypt!
- Before the advent of modern heating, people in northern climates used to keep their sourdough warm in the winter by taking it into bed with them.
How to Make Sourdough Starter From Scratch
It’s easy to make a healthy sourdough starter from scratch. All it takes is patience and a little know-how. Here is everything you need to know to make a bubbling and delicious sourdough starter.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 5 minutes
- Yield: Approximately 1/2 cup 1x
- Category: Bread
- Method: Sourdough
- Cuisine: Traditional
- Diet: Vegan
- 1 oz flour (approx. 3 Tbsp)
- 1 oz chlorine-free water (1.5 Tbsp)
- Additional flour and water as needed, see notes
- Make sure to use flour that doesn’t contain any additives and beware of bread flour. The additives do not help catch and maintain a sourdough starter. It’s best if you can find plain milled flour.
- Create your starter by mixing the flour and water in a glass container. Mix it with a fork and loosely cover with a tea towel and leave it in a warm spot. (Above the fridge works well).
- Check the starter twice a day and mix vigorously with a fork to bring air into the mixture. It should start forming bubbles within 2 to 7 days (depending on your air quality, see above for details).
- Once it has started to smell sour and is bubbling, then you need to feed the starter daily. For the first feeding add 2 oz (6 Tbsp) of flour and 2 oz (3 Tbsp) of water and mix vigorously to incorporate air.
- Keep feeding the starter daily (see section above for details). Within 4-5 days, of feeding, you should have an active, bubbling culture. That means you are ready to bake bread!
- If you end up baking a lot of bread, then I recommend getting a digital scale that has a zeroing function to make feeding easy.
- The exact ratio of water to flour will depend on whether you’re using white, spelt, rye, etc. The goal is to make a thick, fully hydrated mix, but it shouldn’t be stiff. It will become more liquidy as the yeasts and lactic bacteria start to break down the starches. However, feel free to adjust the water to flour ratio as necessary.
- I don’t believe in wasting sourdough starter, which is why I only start feeding my starter AFTER it has started to bubble. See the section above for information on how to feed your sourdough starter and avoid sourdough discard.
Keywords: feeding, hooch, vegan, dairy free, egg free, simple, easy, homemade, discard, no discard, probiotic