Simple Sourdough Starter

What better to have as a first post than to show you how to make a simple sourdough starter? This might sound crazy, but in as little as five days from reading this, you could be eating your own homemade sourdough bread. The best part? All you have to do after reading this is mix flour and water.

How incredible is that?

Just writing the paragraph above, I kind of felt like Tony Robbins pumping up the crowd at one of his conferences. I can’t help it. I’m just super pumped about helping you make amazing bread in the easiest way possible.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve only made bread with instant yeast or you’ve never made bread — you can make dope bread! There I go again, sounding all Tony Robbins. Or maybe that was more Oprah. I like that more. You get a loaf! You get a loaf! And you get a loaf!

To get you pumped about making your own starter, below is a cool time-lapse video I shot of a starter I made in just over four days. The video is seven hours condensed into 20 seconds.

I Thought Sourdough Baking was Hard?

Before I started making my own sourdough bread, I bought into the lie that it was really hard to do. I believed that it’s about yeast in the air, you gotta be in San Francisco, and it’s super hard to build and maintain. That’s why I drove from DC to Arizona with my starter in a little travel cooler, because I thought I need to keep my precious starter safe and wouldn’t be able to make another in the desert. Only now do I realize how much of a fool I was.

Of course, I was wrong, and everything I just said about starters is bullshit. First, they’re super easy to make and maintain, and they’re pretty hard to kill. In that way, you could say they’re like Steven Segal. You could wake them up from a coma in the fridge or freezer, give them a little feeding, and they’ll be back kicking ass and making loaves in no time.

Second, you don’t have to be in San Francisco. Sure, you can go there and make your starter. It’s a great city, but the air isn’t where most of the yeast is coming from. It’s coming from the flour. That’s why I’ve been able to make super-strong starters in the dry-ass desert of Arizona, and you can’t get further from the San Francisco climate than that. Except for maybe the South Pole. And, honestly, that might be the one place you can’t make a sourdough starter.

So I Can Do It?

Yes, you can! So, for everyone, except people living in the South Pole, I’m gonna show you how to make a simple sourdough starter, how to maintain that starter, and how to bake some super easy and super tasty breads and pizzas with said starter.

So, queue up the Black Eyed Peas, and let’s get it started!

How to Make a Sourdough Starter

Simple Sourdough Starter

Recipe by Matthew SullivanCuisine: Not EdibleDifficulty: Simple

A simple sourdough starter that will have you baking crusty loaves in as little as five days!

Ingredients

Directions

  • On the morning of Day 1, in a clean, non-reactive (glass or plastic) container, add 100 grams of whole wheat flour and 100 grams of warm (95 to 100 F) water. For best results, the container should have steep/vertical sides (like the Food Containers recommended or a Mason Jar), a base diameter less than 4 inches, and be clear or translucent. This will allow you to easily mark and monitor the activity of your starter. It’s also really important that the container is as close to a liter (or 32 ounces) as possible so that it has enough room to triple. After adding the flour and water, stir the mixture with your hand, a small spatula, or a stainless steel spoon to make sure all of the flour is incorporated. You can mix it any way that you like; however, a vigours stir will get the job done faster.
  • Once fully mixed, level everything off and loosely cover with a lid. The lid you use could be for something else (e.g., a Pyrex bowl). You just want to make sure that the carbondioxide created by your starter can escape. For the last part, use a piece of tape or rubber band to mark off the starting point of the flour/water mixture and place the container in a warm spot in your house (ideally 70-75 F) but out of the sun.
  • After 24-36 hours, you should see some activity. Most likely rising and air pockets on the side. Once your mixture is showing these signs and has risen close to about 50% above your intial starting point, add another 100 grams of whole wheat flour and 100 grams of warm water to the mixture (you should use the same container). Follow the same steps of stiring, leveling, covering, marking, and storing.
  • During the 24 hours after your Day 2 feeding, your starter should be pretty active and have doubled and possibly fallen. If it hasn’t doubled, let it go up to 36 hours. If it hasn’t doubled after that, see the first note in the Notes section below. If your starter doubled and everything is cool, stir the mixture (it will shrink when the air is removed) and then throw away all but 100 grams of your starter in progress. Add 100 grams of warm water and 50 grams of the whole wheat flour and 50 grams of the AP flour to your starter. Stir, level, cover, mark, and store.
  • 12 hours after Step 4, your mixture should have doubled, if not tripled. If it hasn’t at least doubled, give it a little more time to grow. If it’s good to go, toss all but 50 grams of that mixture and then add 100 grams of lukewarm (85 to 95 F) water and 100 grams of AP flour. Stir, level, cover, mark, and store.
  • Every 12 hours after, repeat the same process in Step 4, keeping 50 grams and adding 100/100, until your starter is tripling in about 6 to 10 hours. It shouldn’t take more than a few feedings if that.
  • Store Your Starter/Bake: Now that you have a healthy starter, it’s time to store it. Take your glass jar and add 50 grams of the starter with 100 grams of room temp water and 100 grams of AP flour. Let it sit on your counter until it triples. Once it has, place it in the fridge to use as needed. Since your starter is now good to go, you can also use 50 grams of what you have to get your first levain going to make a loaf of bread!

Notes

  • During Step 4, if your mixture hasn’t doubled after 24 hours, let it go for 36 hours. If it hasn’t doubled by then, repeat Step 3 by taking 200 grams of your mixture and adding the 100 grams of whole wheat flour and warm water.
  • You can use any whole wheat or rye flour to start. Aside from just liking King Arthur Flour and knowing that you can find it almost anywhere, they even sell it on Amazon and at Target, I feel more comfortable recommending a flour I’ve built several starters with. Especially since the natural yeast is in the flour. They also seem like a pretty legit company.
  • For most people, you will be totally fine using your tap water. If your water is overly treated, to the point that it smells super funky, you might want to consider getting a jug of distilled water from the store.
  • As mentioned on the Sourdough Baking Tools page, if you’re baking for the first time, I encourage just trying to find replacements that you already have instead of buying stuff. Once you’re baking more regularly, I highly recommend the stuff on my list (that is why I put it there and use it myself), since it will only help make each step of the baking process easier and improve the consistency of your product.
  • Related to the note above, the instructions are based on using the containers above; however, you can use your own containers, just make sure any lid you use is not on tight and that your initial mixture has at least enough room to triple (you’ll need about 1 liter). It’s also better to have a container with steep or vertical sides and a base no bigger than a bagel, instead of a wide, bowl-shaped container.
  • In addition to the water temp, the temp of your kitchen will play a role in how long it takes for your starter to develop. If it’s summer and you have a warm kitchen, it will be a lot faster than if it’s winter or if you have a cool kitchen. I recommend finding a warmer spot but not in the sun, which may cause your starter to dry out and get crusty.
  • To put the note above into perspective, I made my most recent start in four days in the summer in Arizona. The average temp of my kitchen was close to 75 degrees. One of my starters in Virginia, when the temp was usually below 70, took about double that time.
  • Instead of throwing away good starter, I like to use it to make baguettes. However, if you’re making your first loaf of bread, I’d recommend starting with my simple sourdough bread recipe.
  • Don’t be afraid to throw away a bad starter. If your starter is taking a lot of time to develop, be sure to make sure you don’t get any funky growth. Anything that looks like mold or orange metallic streaks is not good. If you see that, toss your starter and start over.

2 Comments

  1. Matthew just figured out this is you Michelle’s Matthew. Wow so excited to try your recipes. I just started making sourdough bread up to 3 loaves I made a really delicious ( airy too ) rye sourdough.

    • That’s awesome. Definitely let me know if you have any questions about any of the recipes. I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to write posts, so I have some of the recipes in my Instagram posts too.

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