Water, flour, and time is all you need to learn how to make your own sourdough starter.
If this sounds like the start of a magic trick, that's because you'll be in awe watching this fermented concoction filled with wild yeast—essential as a leavening agent—make your baked goods fluffy and delicious. These three simple ingredients transform into a magic dough base that can be used to create fresh baked bread, homemade pretzels, or a variety of other baked items. Your entire family will be left saying, "ooh," "ahh," and "mmm."
How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter
A sourdough starter is basically a fermented dough. As it sits, it will become filled with wild yeast and lactobacilli bacteria. The yeast and bacteria help the dough rise and provide that signature sourdough flavor that is so popular in San Francisco and beyond.
Here's what you'll need:
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- Warm water (measurements detailed step-by-step)
- Unbleached all-purpose flour (measurements detailed step-by-step)
Day 1: Getting Started
Add one cup of whole wheat flour and half a cup of warm water in a clean glass bowl. Stir the mixture well, until the water and flour resemble a thick paste. Cover the starter with plastic wrap and leave it out at room temperature for twenty-four hours.
Day 2: The Feeding Begins
Take two-thirds of a cup of the starter—discard any remaining—and combine it into a large glass bowl with one cup of unbleached all-purpose flour and half a cup of warm water. Stir the mixture until everything is fully incorporated. Return the starter to the original bowl and cover it. Leave the starter out at room temperature for another twenty-four hours. This process is generally referred to as feeding your starter.
Days 3-5: Two Feedings per Day
By day three, your starter should begin to develop air bubbles as well as a tangy, yeasty aroma. You will feed your starter two times a day—once every twelve hours—on days three, four, and five. This process involves stirring your starter, removing half a cup, and placing that in a large glass bowl. Discard any of the remaining starter. Add one cup of unbleached all-purpose flour and half a cup of warm water to the half cup of starter. Stir the mixture until everything is fully incorporated. Repeat this process twelve hours later and every twelve hours for the following two days.
Your starter should continue to develop bubbles, produced by the yeast releasing carbon dioxide. This will cause the starter to rise considerably with each feeding. By the end of day five, it should double in size.
Day 6: Ready to Bake
On day six, your starter should be ready to make bread. By this time, it will have doubled in size with each feeding, and it'll be very bubbly with a strong, yeasty aroma. If you don't think your starter has doubled in size, spend an extra day or two feeding the starter until it has. After use, store your starter in the refrigerator.
Sourdough Starter Maintenance Tips
Once you create a sourdough starter, you'll have a base for baking that will continue to develop a richer flavor over time. Your starter will require weekly feedings in order to stay active. The basic process involves removing the starter from the fridge, giving it a good stir, taking half a cup of the starter—discarding the rest—and combining that half cup of starter with one cup of unbleached all-purpose flour and half a cup of warm water. Let that sit out for two to four hours until it is ready to use in a recipe or return it to the fridge. If you don't want to waste the excess starter, you could also give it to a friend who's looking to create their own starter, and they can follow this same process.
Temperature and humidity can affect your rise time and yeast bubble development. Check in with your starter throughout the day. If it rises faster, then you are ready to bake! If it needs more time, you can wait a few more hours.
If your first loaf doesn't rise as much as you would like, don't throw it away. A less-than-perfect bread can be used to make homemade croutons! Cut day-old bread into 1-inch cubes and toast them over medium-high heat in a pan with three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle salt and garlic powder on top. You can also use the loaf to make bread crumbs for a casserole.
What to Make with Sourdough Starter
Now that you know how to make your own sourdough starter, learn how to use it to cook some delicious baked goods. Here's one of my own sourdough recipes you can try:
Sourdough Sandwich Bread Recipe
Before you begin, make sure you have these items on hand as you develop your dough:
- 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (measurements detailed step-by-step)
- Warm water (measurements detailed step-by-step)
- 2 tsp. salt
Around 9 p.m., remove the starter from the refrigerator and let it sit out on the counter overnight.
In the morning, stir the starter, transfer it to a very large bowl, and add two cups of unbleached all-purpose flour and one cup of warm water. Stir the mixture until everything is incorporated. Let that mixture sit out on the counter for about five hours.
After five hours, stir the mixture. Remove approximately half a cup of the mixture and place it in your original starter container. We will revisit this in a moment. Add three cups of unbleached all-purpose flour and one and a half cups of warm water to the mixture in your very large bowl. Stir this mixture until everything is incorporated. Going back to your starter container mixture, add one cup of unbleached all-purpose flour and half a cup of warm water to the starter container. Stir this mixture until everything is incorporated. This mixture is your starter that you can use again next week. Leave both bowls to sit out on the counter for another six hours before returning them both to the refrigerator overnight.
Remove the very large bowl from the refrigerator. Mix one-third of a cup of warm water with two teaspoons of salt in a small bowl. Remove the bread mixture from the very large bowl and knead it on a floured surface, adding approximately two cups of unbleached all-purpose flour along with the water and salt. You will want to knead the bread for about ten to fifteen minutes until it's smooth and elastic.
Split the dough into two equal segments. Oil two standard bread pans and place the dough segments into the pans. Cover the pans with plastic wrap or a floured towel and let the doughs rise for three or four hours. When they have doubled in size, preheat your oven to 425 degrees, then place the pans in the oven for 30 minutes, rotating once mid-way through. Remove and enjoy!
Once you have your fresh bread, you can serve it with vegetable soup or another one-pot meal.
You can also try using your starter to make these vegan sourdough pretzels from Urban Earthworm, or this sourdough pizza crust from Food.com.
Check out the Smart Snacking board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest for more delicious recipes!
Images Source: Laurie Fanelli
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Why It's Good
After learning how to make your own sourdough starter, you'll be motivated to bake delicious homemade items such as bread, pretzels, and pizza dough.