Sourdough starter

Sourdough Starter Recipe | Just Flour & Water

A sourdough starter recipe cannot be simpler. A good starter is essential if you want to make sourdough bread. I bake sourdough breads regularly as I really enjoy the taste and texture.

And sourdough starter recipes are very simple.

What is a sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter is used instead of commercial yeast for baking bread. The starter creates a slightly different taste and texture and adds more taste to the bread. The starter is a fermented batter-like dough that makes the bread rise.

The flour used to prepare the sourdough starter naturally contains wild yeast and bacteria that work together to create the special character.

A ready sourdough starter

To begin with, the starter needs daily care. However, later it becomes much easier to care for it. The microorganisms in the starter consume starches and creates lactic acid which preserves the starter.

Are there different kinds of starters?

Yes, you can prepare starters on 100% white flour, 100% rye, or a mix of several fours. A 100% rye starter adds more complex tastes than a wheat starter that tend to be more elegant.

I use two starters at home: one is an Italian starter called Lievito Madre which is based on 100% wheat. This I use for pizza dough and Italian breads like Focaccia. I also have a 100% rye starter that I got from an old bakery. They did no know how old their starter was, only that it was created before 1920. They were more than willing to share it. This starter is strong and produces loads of complex tastes.

How to get a sourdough starter

Here are a few options:

  1. Getting it from a friend is a quick way to get started. A friend once gave us a superb sourdough starter from an experienced baker in the Caucasus region where sourdough bread is legendary.
  2. Prepare a sourdough starter at home. This will require about one week. After that, the starter usually improves during a few months until it reaches it’s peak.
  3. Buy a ready starter on Amazon.com.

A few starter tips

The sourdough starter recipe requires only two ingredients—water and flour.

Water

Tap water usually works fine. However, in some places tap water contains chloramine that might disturb fermentation. Spring water or filtered water is fine.

Flour

Any flour works since it naturally contains bacteria and yeast. Try organic, whole grain flour (wheat or rye). It might take a little longer for a full-grain sourdough starter to reach its maximum potential, but when it does it’s great. All-purpose flour is also great and fast.

Different flours contain slightly different microorganisms. Therefore, mixing several flours adds more diversity in the sourdough starter. Experienced bakers experiment with flour made from rice, rye, spelt, whole wheat, barley, sprouts, and einkorn. However, if you’re a beginner you should stick to a simple starter recipe: all-purpose flour and water.

Containers

Use a mixing bowl or measuring cup that can hold between 2 to 4 cups (500-1000 ml).  It can be a glass, ceramic, plastic or stainless steel container.  You should be able to cover the container.

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 the refrigerator might be a good spot.

Patience

A good sourdough starter is hard to prepare in haste. Just let the process take its time. Wait at least seven days before baking. Though the starter can be used after seven days, it will continue to improve for another few months. You will be rewarded for your patience.

The don’ts

You don’t have to 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 fermentation process.

A beautiful sourdough raising

Sourdough starter recipe step-by-step

You don’t have to be too picky about amounts; it’s all approximate. People have been preparing sourdough bread for thousands of years without being too picky. Relax and enjoy the process.

STEP ONE

  • 1/2 cup of flour (about 50-60 grams)
  • 1/4 cup of lukewarm water (about 50 grams)

Mix the flour and water in a container until all the flour has been absorbed and there are no more dry particles. It will look like a sticky, thick mass. 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).

Wait 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 bubbles are visible, continue with step two.

Bubbles and increase in size show that it’s fermenting correctly

STEP TWO

When the starter is active and bubbles are visible, feed the starter the same amount of water and flour. Keep this up for at least seven days.

Feed the starter:

  • 1/4 cup of water (50 grams)
  • 1/2 cup of flour (50-60 grams)

Add water first and stir thoroughly. Scrape down the sides, cover, and wait for the starter to swell and rise after 12-24 hours. The main thing is that the starter is bubbling—it’s alive!

What causes bubbles? Bubbles form when wild yeast and bacteria in the flour are active. The microorganisms consume sugars and release carbon dioxide (the bubbles,) alcohol, lactic acid and other substances. This increases the acidity which prevents unwanted microorganisms from growing.

STEP THREE (after 2-3 days)

From now on 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. However, don’t feed it until its bubbly.

After removing half, add the same amounts of water and flour as earlier.

  • 1/4 cup of water (50 grams)
  • 1/2 cup of flour (50-60grams)

Repeat this feeding procedure for 4-5 days

  1. Wait until the starter is bubbly
  2. Discard half the starter
  3. Add the same amounts as before, stir well
  4. Cover and let it sit
  5. Repeat…

When is the starter ready?

Try making you first sourdough bread

After seven days.

If the starter is roughly doubling in size between feedings, then it’s stable. Now the good microorganisms are in complete control of the starter. A stable sourdough starter has a pungent, tangy smell and taste.

The starter continues to mature for months and you can speed this up by keeping it at room temperature for more than a week. However, as long as you keep your starter at room temperature you will need to feed it every day.

When keeping it in the fridge you only need to feed it once a week or so. A sourdough starter will keep indefinitely in the fridge as long as it’s fed. Treat it like a household plant that needs regular care.

Troubleshooting

A few things can go wrong with sourdough starters, mostly due to neglect.

A pinkish liquid on top of the starter

Remove it with a spoon and feed the starter to see if it’s still alive.

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 and put the starter in a clean jar. When the surface looks clean, add flour and water and stir. Let it sit for a day and see if the starter wakes up and looks okay.

A clear liquid forms on the top of the starter in the fridge. 

This is most often alcohol released by the yeast. Just pour the liquid out and feed the starter. the alcohol into the starter.