Home Grown Sourdough Starter




Introduction: Home Grown Sourdough Starter

It seems like everyone loves sourdough bread, but very few people realize how easy it is to make and maintain a starter.

I've met quite a few people who used to bake with a starter that someone gave them, but when that starter lost its potency, they stopped, never realizing they could make their own.

Creating a starter couldn’t be easier, and with local berries in season in my area, there is no better time than now to make a starter with true local flavor.

The process for preparing a sourdough starter from scratch takes about 10 to 15 days depending on the temperature and starting conditions.

Step 1: Supplies

  • Flour
  • water
  • local fruit (I'm using raspberries from my back yard this year)
  • A large mixing bowl
  • wooden or plastic mixing spoon
  • measuring cups
  • plastic wrap
  • cheese cloth
  • cooking twine
  • rubber band (optional)

The fruit is optional but it is a great way to make sure the culture takes off quickly and adds some truly local flavor to your breads.

Step 2: Initial Mixture


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water

in the bowl and mix well

Step 3: Add the Fruit

place ~1/4 cup of the fruit into the cheese cloths and tie off the top with the cooking twine to make a small bag.

Add the bag to the flour/water mixture. without breaking the bag mash it a few time with the spoon to crush the berries. Mix well so that bits of berry and juice get mixed into the flour/water.

Step 4: Cover and Set Aside

Cover with the plastic wrap. Seal it with the rubber band (optional) and set the mixture in a cool dry place for 3 to 5 days.

Step 5: Waiting Step 1 (days 0 - 3)

By day 1, the mixture will have separated with a thin yellow layer of liquid forming at the top. A small number of bubbles will begin to form showing that the natural yeast present in the flour and fruit are starting to grow.

Check the culture once or twice a day. It is possible that some mold may grow on the surface or around the edges of the bowl. The mold won't effect the end results if it is removed quickly.

If you see any mold, uncover the bowl, remove it, add 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water, mix well and re-cover.

Step 6: Day 3 - First Feeding

On day 3, uncover the mixture, add

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water

mix well without breaking the bag of berries.

cover again and set aside for another 3 to 5 days.

Step 7: Wait Step 2 (days 3 - 6)

Wait another 3 to 5 days. Continue to check every day for mold. If any forms, remove it and mix in an additional 1/4 of water and flour.

During this time the culture will begin to take on a somewhat unpleasant cheesy odor. This odor will be replaced by a winey odor in the next step when more regular feedings are started.

Step 8: Day 6 - Transition to Regular Feedings.

On day six remove and discard the bag of berries. Add

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water

mix well, cover and set aside for another day.

Step 9: Day 7 - 10 Regular Feedings

For each of the next 3 days do the following:

In the morning set aside 1 cup of the culture from the previous day and discard the rest. Combine

  • the one cup of starter from the previous day
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/3 cup of water

Mix well, cover and set aside

Add an additional 1/2 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water one or two times over the course of the day.

The trick here is to feed the yeast enough to get it growing without adding so much flour and water that the culture becomes too dilute.

By the second or third day of this process, the mixture should double in size and be loaded with bubbles a few hours after feeding. If you are not seeing a ton of bubbles, increase the time between feedings to give the culture time to catch up.

Also by the second day the cheesy odor should be completely replaced by a much more pleasant yeasty odor.

Step 10: Maintenance and Use

Use this starter in any recipes that call for sourdough starter.

The culture can be maintained on the counter indefinitely by cutting the volume to 1 cup each morning, and feeding it with 1/2 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water 2 or 3 times a day.

It can also be stored in the refrigerator for weeks at a time without much loss of activity. To revive it from a long stay in the refrigerator, feed it as described in steps 8 and 9 until it doubles in size and is full of bubbles a few hours after a feeding (this usually only takes 2 or 3 days).

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    Question 3 years ago on Introduction

    I wonder why you use plastic wrap instead of cheese cloth to cover? All other sour dough calls to cover loosely with cheese cloth/muslin.


    Answer 3 years ago

    Short answer: Plastic wrap is not essential, but I prefer it.
    Long answer: People have been starting sourdough cultures for centuries, since long before there was such a thing as plastic wrap. Recipes predate plastic wrap, so people used other things and still do. I like that the plastic wrap isolates the culture from the outside. I rely on the fruit wrapped in cheesecloth to introduce the yeast. Nothing else is needed from outside of the bowl. The plastic also helps keep the odor down during the initial period when the yeast has not grown to dominate the culture.
    Many sourdough recipes stress using loose-fitting lids to allow the culture to breathe, but that isn't important. In fact, sealing the container gives the yeast an additional competitive advantage. Yeast are facultative anaerobes. They can survive and grow for a period of time without oxygen. When they grow without oxygen, they ferment sugars to alcohol. This is what gives a happy, healthy starter a winy odor. Being able to grow fast for short periods without oxygen is also what allows them to outcompete molds and other contaminants that could otherwise cause a problem.
    So as far as I see it, by sealing the bowl, we are actually giving the yeast a leg up on potential contaminants, allowing them to dominate the culture, creating a dense, healthy start that will live for years if fed properly.
    I wrote this article four years ago. I am still using this starter, even after periodically leaving it in the back of the fridge for a few months at a time.


    7 years ago

    Natural sourdough is great. the process to capture your own native yeast can be much simpler though. I find that three days usually is enough. Equal parts flour, water and stir every day. The yeast and bacteria will come from the flour itself, the air (so cover it only to keep bugs and debris out) and/or fruit. The white powdery film you sometimes see on fruit is wild yeast. Yeast gives the dough energy to rise and bacteria imparts the flavor. A slow ferment in the fridge will slow down the yeast but not the bacteria, so a more sour dough can be made. Modern bread shouldn't even be called bread, it's designed for machines, not people.