Sourdough starter recipes cannot be simpler. A starter is essential to make sourdough bread at home. My wife bakes every week and there is nothing like the taste and texture of fresh sourdough bread. The sourdough starter recipe below is super easy but has other challenges.
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 standard bread. Sourdough bread is considered a healthier alternative.
To make sourdough bread, you first need 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 strains. These microorganisms work together to create the special character of your sourdough starter.
When flour and water is combined and left at room temperature, it creates a hospitable environment for yeast and bacteria to grow quickly. In the beginning, the starter needs to be cared for daily to avoid unwanted microorganisms that can spoil the starter.
Wild yeast & probiotic bacteria create the sourdough starter
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.
Different sourdough starter recipes can change the taste and texture of the sourdough bread. Therefore, it is exiting to experiment.
How to get a sourdough starter
There are a few options:
- Getting it from a friend is a quick way to get started. Once we received a superb sourdough starter from an experienced baker in the Caucasus region where sourdough bread is legendary. That was exciting!
- Prepare a sourdough starter at home to be in control of the process from beginning to end.
- Buy one on Amazon.com.
Preparing a sourdough starter
The sourdough starter recipe is really simple. Only two ingredients are needed—water and flour.
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. Some use spring water or filtered water. Avoid distilled water as it’s basically dead.
Any flour works since it naturally contains bacteria and yeast. We like organic, whole grain flour (wheat or rye). It takes a little longer for a full-grain sourdough starter to reach its maximum potential, but when it does it’s great. But many like a good all-purpose flour, which is also faster.
Different flours contain slightly different microorganisms. Therefore, mixing several flours adds diversity of yeast and bacteria which is better for the sourdough starter. Try experimenting with rice flour, rye flour, spelt flour, whole wheat flour, barley flour, sprouted flour, einkorn flour and others.
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.
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.
A good sourdough starter is hard to prepare 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.
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 fermentation process.
Sourdough starter recipe step-by-step
Don’t worry 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 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) and let sit until bubbles start to form.
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.
When the starter is active and bubbles are visible, you should feed the starter the same amount of water and flour. 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. Scrape down the sides, cover, and wait for the starter to swell and rise after 12-24 hours. Your starter should double its original size, sometimes less, sometimes more. 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 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 before the yeast and bacteria has taken complete control of the starter.
The starter should double in size between each feeding and should be bubbly. Don’t feed the starter too early.
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 4-5 days
- Wait until the starter has doubled in size and is bubbly which takes a day or two
- Discard half the starter
- 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 is the starter ready?
After seven days if everything goes well.
When using all-purpose flour, the starter is ready after seven days. If the starter is doubling in size between feedings, then it has become stable. This means that the beneficial microorganisms has taken complete control of the starter.
A stable sourdough starter has a pungent, tangy taste
However, even after seven days the sourdough starter continues to mature for months. Therefore, keep it at room temperature for more than a week if possible. Now the starter is ready to be used stored in the fridge.
How long should a starter be kept at room temperature?
At least 7-10 days. Some specialists believe that 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 might die.
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 but once a week is normal. And when not used, once or twice a month is usually fine.
Maintaining a sourdough starter
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.
If you’re not sure if the starter is still alive, then it is sometimes safer to make a new sourdough starter from scratch.
Not many things can go wrong with sourdough starters. Problems mostly occur due to neglect. We have kept starters in the fridge for several years. However, sometimes problems do happen.
36 hours after feeding the starter, nothing has happened; no bubbles and no increasing in size
Something is wrong and it might be better to start from scratch. 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 and 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 okay.
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 used often, stir the alcohol into the starter. If you starter has not been fed for a while, pour the liquid out.