A good sourdough starter recipe is essential if you want to make your own delicious, healthy sourdough bread. My wife bakes sourdough bread regurlarly and it’s something I always eagerly anticipate. The smell of freshly baked bread is very appealing and there is nothing like the taste and texture of fresh sourdough bread.
- Don’t underestimate a good sourdough starter recipe!
What is a sourdough starter
A sourdough starter is used instead of yeast to bake bread.
Sourdough bread has a different taste, texture and a more complex taste than commercial bread. Sourdough bread is also considered a much healthier alternative.
Sourdough bread recipes use a fermented batter-like dough starter to make the bread rise and enhance the flavor. The flour used to create the sourdough starter naturally contains wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria and these microorganisms work together to create the special character and properties of sourdough starters and also the sourdough bread.
When flour and water is combined and left at room temperature, it creates a hospitable environment for yeast and beneficial bacteria to grow quickly. However, in the beginning the starter needs to be cared for daily to keep the bacteria in control. Otherwise unwanted microorganisms can spoil the starter. After some days when the starter become stable, caring for it becomes much easier.
- Wild yeast & friendly bacteria together create the amazing sourdough starter
The beneficial, probiotic lactobacillus bacteria consume sugars and starches in the flour thus creating lactic acid. Lactic acid makes the starter acidic which protects it against unwanted microorganisms. In addition, lactic acid has great health promoting properties therefore making sourdough bread a healthier alternative.
Different sourdough starter recipes can change the taste and texture of the sourdough bread. Therefore, the more experienced you get the more you can experiment with different kinds of sourdough starters.
Where to get a sourdough starter
Depending where you live you have a few options:
- Try getting a starter from a friend that has experience in baking sourdough bread. This is the best way to quickly get started with your sourdough baking if you’re a beginner. My wife once received a superb sourdough starter from an experienced baker in the Caucasus region where quality sourdough bread is legendary. This starter had been used for a long time to make excellent sourdough bread. My wife used it for a long time to bake excellent bread in our home too.
- You can buy a starter.
- Make your own sourdough starter. This option means you are in control of the process from beginning to end. It’s also great fun. Creating your own sourdough starter is not complicated. However, you might want to get some experience in baking sourdough bread before making your own starter.
Prepare your own sourdough starter
A good reminder is to keep things simple with your sourdough starter recipe.
- Only two simple ingredients needed—water and flour
WATER. Our experience is that most tap water works fine. However, in some places tap water contains chloramine that might disturb fermentation. Chloramine cannot be removed by boiling or standing. Try using spring water or filtered water not containing chlorine, chloramine, metals or unwanted microorganisms. Good, clean water will support the beneficial bacteria and yeast present in the sourdough starter. Do not use distilled water as it is basically dead water without any minerals.
FLOUR. Most flour will work since they naturally contain more or less bacteria and yeast. Try organic, whole grain flour (wheat or rye) containing more wild yeast and bacteria, more nutrients and without pesticides and other harmful substances. However, it might take a little longer for a full-grain sourdough starter to reach its maximum potential. It’s faster t ouse an all-purpose flour of some kind.
Different kinds of flours contain a different microorganisms. Therefore, mixing several flours combines more yeast and bacteria and this diversity makes a better sourdough starter and creates great sourdough bread. As you get more experienced you can experiment with rice flour, rye flour, spelt flour, whole wheat flour, barley flour, sprouted flour, einkorn flour and others.
CONTAINERS. Use a mixing bowl or measuring cup that can hold between 2 to 4 cups (500 to 1000 ml). It can be a glass, ceramic, plastic or stainless steel container. You should be able to cover the container with a wrap.
TEMPERATURE. While preparing the sourdough starter you need a spot where you can maintain the temperature within the 65 to 85F range (18 to 30C). If you live in a cool climate perhaps the top of your refrigerator might be a good spot.
PATIENCE. You cannot prepare a good sourdough starter in haste. Just let the process take its time. Wait at least seven days until you have stable starter for baking. Feed the starter another 30-90 days at room temperature and it will reach its maximum potential. You will be rewarded for your patience.
THE DON’TS. Don’t add additional yeast to the starter since the wild yeast and bacteria will kill it. Don’t add sugar, vegetable juice or anything else that might interfere with the natural process. All that is needed is already naturally present in organic, whole grain flour—yeast, bacteria and starch. You only need to add water.
Sourdough starter recipe step by step
You don’t have to worry too much about exact amounts, it’s all approximate. People have been preparing sourdough bread for thousands of years without being too picky about amounts. Relax and enjoy the process.
- 1/2 cup of flour (about 50-60 grams)
- 1/4 cup of lukewarm water (about 50 grams)
Mix the flour and water in the container until all the flour has been absorbed and there are no more dry particles. It will look like a sticky, thick mass, (very thick). Scrape down the sides of the container to prevent mold from forming. Cover the container with a plastic wrap.
Put the container somewhere with a consistent room temperature (like the top of the refrigerator) and let sit until bubbles start to form.
Waiting for bubbles. Check for bubbles after 12 hours. If no bubbles, wait another 12 hours. If after 36 hours nothing has happened, that’s probably a sign that something is wrong and you need to start all over again. When bubble are visible, continue with step two.
When the starter is active and bubbles are visible, you should feed the starter the same amount of water and flour. You now feed the starter regularly until it matures and stabilizes, which takes at least seven days.
Feed the starter using…
- 1/4 cup of water (50 grams)
- 1/2 cup of flour (50-60 grams)
Add water first and stir, then add the flour and stir thoroughly again. Scrape down the sides, cover, and wait for the starter to swell and rise; it might take another 12-24 hours. Your starter might swell to double its original size, sometimes less, sometimes more. But the main thing is that the starter is bubbling—it’s alive!
What causes bubbles? Bubbles form when wild yeast and probiotic bacteria in the flour are active. The bacteria consume sugars and release carbon dioxide (the bubbles,) alcohol, lactic acid and other substances. This increases the acidity of the mixture, preventing unwanted microorganisms from growing.
STEP THREE (after 2-3 days)
From now on you should discard half of the starter each time you feed it. I know, it might feel weird to throw away half the starter. But you cannot use it yet. You must let yeast and beneficial bacteria take complete control of the starter and this takes more time.
The starter should double in size between each feeding and should be bubbly. Don’t feed the starter too early, wait until it has about double the size and you see bubbles.
After you have removed half of the starter, add the same amounts of water and flour as you did earlier.
- 1/4 cup of water (50 grams)
- 1/2 cup of flour (50-60grams)
Repeat this feeding procedure for another 4-5 days:
- Wait until the starter has doubled in size and you see bubbles; this might take a day or two
- Discard half the starter. Don’t use it yet; it’s still too unstable
- Add the same amounts ingredients as before, stir well
- Cover the container and let it sit until it doubles in size
- Repeat the cycle…
When will the sourdough starter be ready for use?
After seven days!
If you used all-purpose flour right from the start, then the starter is ready after seven days. If between feedings the starter is doubling in size each time, then it is a sign that it has become stable. This means that the beneficial microorganisms has taken complete control of the starter and that no unwanted microorganisms are left to interfere.
- A ready, stable starter looks fermented and has a pungent, tangy taste
However, even after seven days, your sourdough starter will continue to mature for several months. Therefore, keep it at room temperature for more than a week if you can.
Now you can start using the discarded half starter in baking. You can use it right away or store it in a separate jar in the fridge until you will use it.
How long should a sourdough starter be kept at room temperature?
A sourdough starter reaches its optimal maturity after 30-90 days at room temperature.
As long as you keep your starter at room temperature you will need to feed it twice a day otherwise it will weaken and could die. You might want to keep the starter for a month or longer in room temperature until you refrigerate. The reason is that the starter will develop, mature and reach optimal performance during this time.
- After 30-90 days is the best time to refrigerate the starter
Keeping the starter in the fridge means you don’t have to feed it twice a day anymore. However, it needs to be fed regularly. We do it once a week since it’s frequently used. But once or twice a month is OK.
Maintaining a sourdough starter
A sourdough starter will keep indefinitely in the fridge as long as you feed it regularly. Treat it like a household plant that needs to be watered and fertilized regularly. You can even revive a starter that has been forgotten; after a few feedings, you can usually get it going again.
- As long as you feed the microorganisms the starter will keep its strength and stay alive
If you’re not sure if the starter is OK even after feeding it, it is sometimes safer, easier and faster to make a new sourdough starter from scratch. It’s only seven days.
Sourdough starter troubleshooting
Not many things can go wrong with sourdough starters and it’s a straightforward process to prepare sourdough bread. However, sometimes things might happen, mostly due to neglecting the starter or not following the principles outlined here. We have baked superb bread on the same starter kept in our fridge for several years without having any problems.
36 hours after feeding nothing has happened; no bubbles, no increasing in size
Something is wrong and it might be better to just start from scratch. However, if your starter is alive and strong, this happens very rarely.
A pinkish liquid on top of the starter
Remove it with a spoon and feed the starter to see if it’s can be revived.
Mold on top of your starter that was left in the fridge for too long
Remove the mold and the top layer of the starter, put the starter in a clean jar. When the surface looks clean, add all-purpose flour, water and stir vigorously. Let it sit for a day and see if the starter wakes up and looks fresh.
A clear liquid forms on the top of the starter in the fridge.
This is most often alcohol released by the yeast. If the starter is strong, just stir it into the starter. If you starter has not been fed for a while, pour the liquid out.