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Make this easy sourdough starter recipe with just flour and water – no yeast needed! With my fail-proof tips, your quick, homemade sourdough starter can be ready for to use in just 5 days.
Maybe you’ve heard that making a sourdough starter from scratch is really hard? That’s what I heard, too. So, I decided to skip all that and get a starter from a friend.
That starter had a sad ending when I preheated my oven with the starter inside. So, learn from my mistake and be very careful if you ever put yours in the oven. I’ll talk about why you might store a sourdough starter in the oven below.
Since I’d always wanted to make a sourdough starter from scratch, I made a project of creating a fast, fail-proof homemade sourdough starter!
First, I read websites and books on sourdough to fully understand the whole process of how flour and water ferment to become wild yeast. Then, I put all that information to the test by making two sourdough starters.
The process was nearly effortless, and I can’t wait to share how you can make a quick sourdough starter that’s ready in less than a week.
Below you’ll learn everything you need for making a quick and easy sourdough starter without yeast. And, with my fail-proof tips, you’re sure to succeed!
Here’s what I’ll teach you in this post:
- What is Sourdough
- The best container for sourdough starter
- Ingredients to make the easiest sourdough starter
- How to make a sourdough starter from scratch
- Creating the starter
- How to feed sourdough starter
- Knowing when your starter is ready to use
- How to maintain your sourdough starter
- Frequently Asked questions
- Quick Sourdough Starter Recipe Guide
- How to store sourdough starter
- How to increase sourdough starter for baking
- Easy, fail-proof sourdough recipes
What is Sourdough
Sourdough is wild, natural yeast. It comes from mixing water and flour and letting it slowly ferment in a warm spot.
Natural yeast is a live fermented culture, so it needs nutrients and air to thrive. As a result, you will see live, bubbly activity occurring daily within your sourdough starter.
The best container for sourdough starter
Making sourdough requires only a few tools, some of which you probably have in your kitchen right now.
One of the most important items is the container you’ll use to store your sourdough starter. A glass container is ideal. Don’t store your sourdough starter in plastic or metal containers.
After much trial and error over the past several years, I believe the best container for sourdough starters is a jar. Preferably, a Weck 1 liter tulip jar as shown below.
Glass vs. Ceramic
When I first started with sourdough, I saw some cute crock containers at King Arthur Flour. And, I wanted to get one for my starter.
I soon realized the visual reminder from a clear glass jar is important. If you keep a ceramic crock (which isn’t see-through) on your counter or in your refrigerator, you might forget about feeding your sourdough starter.
Using clear glass also gives you the advantage of seeing the activity level from the top and the bottom. So although your starter might look smooth on the top, underneath, you’ll see bubbly activity going on.
I love the Weck tulip jar because it has a wide mouth and round, bulbous bottom that makes mixing ingredients effortless. Plus it has a handy glass top to allow in just the right amount of air.
Other tools and Equipment for making Sourdough
- Kitchen scale: optional, but weighing your ingredients is actually faster and gives you more control over your results.
- Thin wooden spoon or spurtle for mixing: keep metal and plastic tools out of your starter.
- Cast iron pot or oven-safe pot: for making artisan sourdough bread. A lidded pot keeps the steam inside during the baking process.
- Bread loaf pan: for making soft sandwich sourdough bread
- Parchment paper: it helps keep the dough from sticking
Ingredients to make the easiest sourdough starter
Making the easiest sourdough starter only requires two ingredients: flour and water. But, the type of flour you use does make a difference.
- Unbleached, all-purpose flour is what we’ll use to feed and maintain our starter.
- Rye flour or whole wheat flour is what I recommend to start the starter (day 1 only) to give your starter a nutritional boost and make a more active starter.
Be sure to have a fresh, 5-lb bag of unbleached, all-purpose flour on hand before starting this quick sourdough starter recipe. I recommend a high-quality flour like King Arthur flour.
Water: filtered water is best. Unfiltered water straight from the tap might contain chlorine.
So, if you use water from the tap, let it sit out for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate.
Fail-proof tip #1: Use unbleached all-purpose flour to feed your starter.
Wait, you just said that rye flour and whole wheat flour are what you recommend! And, I do, but just for day one.
When it comes to sourdough, unbleached, all-purpose flour is its friend. Bleaching flour ruins the wild yeast, which is naturally coated on the grain. Your sourdough starter thrives on the wild, natural yeast and friendly bacteria from unbleached flour and the air.
Using bleached flour won’t ruin your starter, but over time it will become less active. If you run out of unbleached, all-purpose flour, you can use bread flour instead.
Although some people don’t recommend organic flour isn’t recommended for sourdough starters, I used organic rye flour. And, I have successfully fed my early starters with organic all-purpose flour. However, if you start having problems with your starter: it looks less bubbly and active, try using non-organic flour instead.
This easy sourdough recipe is for a 100 hydration-type starter. That means that equal weights of water and flour are used.
Notice that I said equal weight. That’s where the scale comes in handy. If you use measuring cups, you’ll use twice as much flour as water since water weighs more than flour.
How to make a sourdough starter from scratch
In order for flour and water to ferment, they need a warm environment.
And, here’s where we talk about why you might keep a sourdough starter in the oven.
Fail-proof tip #2: Keep your sourdough starter in a warm environment.
Ideally, you want to keep the starter in an area between 75 degrees and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
I call this quick sourdough starter my 12-hour sourdough starter. For the first 12 hours, I kept my sourdough starter in the oven on the “proof” cycle at 85 degrees. Other suggestions are to keep it above your refrigerator, in the microwave oven, or the oven with the light on.
By keeping it warm, the fermentation process kicked into high gear.
Creating the starter
On Day 1, mix together:
- 1 cup (120 grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour, rye flour, or whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) filtered, warm water (85 to 90 degrees)
The mixture will be very thick and pasty. Do not thin it out! This quick sourdough starter needs that flour for fermentation and energy. You’ll see how thin the mixture gets after 12-24 hours after every feeding.
For the past few years, I’ve shared sourdough on Instagram. By far, the most common problems I helped troubleshoot were related to too cool of an environment for a beginning starter.
How to feed sourdough starter
Feeding in your sourdough starter is as simple as mixing in flour and water.
Follow this easy step-by-step Instructions:
Day 2 – Look for signs of fermentation: tiny bubbles on the bottom of the starter, pinprick sized bubbles on top. If you don’t see any signs after 24 hours, ensure your starter is being in an area that is at least 75º F.
Discarding and feeding
Remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stirring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour (60 g).
I find it’s easier to mix if you add the water first. Watch for signs of activity – larger bubbles and a hungry starter that’s thinner in texture.
Your starter might have a strong smell when you open the container to feed it. That’s all normal. Remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stirring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour (60 g).
Remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stirring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour (60 g). Your starter will probably be very active and doubling in size within 4-6 hours of feeding.
Days 6 and 7: Active, bubbly starters
Feed starter normally: remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stirring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour (60g).
Your starter should be active and bubbly. It may double in size 4-6 hours after feeding and look like a sponge after 12 hours.
If your starter is very active, doubled in size in 4-6 hours after feeding, it’s ready to use! If not, keep feeling it for a few days, following the same schedule of daily feeding.
How to bake with sourdough starter: feed it as usual 12 hours beforehand by removing 1/4 cup of starter (60 g). Add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g), then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour (60 g).
Knowing when your starter is ready to use
How do will you know when your starter is ready to use? Here are some signs that you have an active sourdough starter.
- Your starter is at least 5 days old.
- Within 4-6 hours of a feeding, your starter consistently doubles in size.
- Your starter looks spongy and full of bubbles all over.
How will you know if your starter has doubled in size?
Mark your jar with an erasable marker or use a rubber band. When you feed your starter (its lowest point), use the marker or rubber band to mark the level it is at.
Set a timer for 4 hours. How much has your starter risen? Has It doubled? If not, set a timer for 2 more hours.
This is the best way to see how much your starter is rising and falling.
It takes a solid, active starter to rise several cups of flour and make a loaf of sourdough bread. Consider your first few tries at baking bread as starter or trial loaves. As your starter becomes established – over the next several weeks – it will get stronger.
Get my sourdough recipe with starter for the easiest, no-knead sourdough bread!
I personally don’t recommend the “float test” to see if your starter is ready to use. Some perfectly active starters (including mine) never pass this test. As you can see, though, mine makes amazing sourdough bread.
How to maintain your sourdough starter
A sourdough starter is a live culture, and it needs regular feeding to survive. Follow the easy sourdough recipe below to maintain your sourdough starter to keep it strong and active.
Where to store your sourdough starter
For weekly or less frequent use, keep your sourdough starter in the refrigerator. Take it out 12 hours before baking. Depending on how much starter you will need for the recipe, discard (or save for later) half and feed your starter.
I keep a discard jar in my refrigerator. It’s perfect for recipes that use a large amount of starter like sourdough pancakes and waffles.
For daily use, keep your sourdough starter on the counter and feed it once a day. Then, use it for baking 8-12 hours after feeding.
A sample schedule might be to feed the starter in the morning, and mix your bread at bedtime, letting it bulk rise overnight.
How to feed your starter
Feed your starter using this formula:
Discard (or use) 1/4 cup (60g) of starter, then add 1/4 cup (60g) of water and 1/2 cup (60g) of flour.
Frequently Asked questions
Yes and No. While I wouldn’t recommend you make a starter from bread dough (days 1-7), you can feed your established sourdough starter bread flour.
Well, your sourdough starter could smell fruity or sour, or like rotten fruit, smelly gym socks, beer, or nail polish remover. A newly fed starter should smell mild. A very hungry sourdough starter might smell like nail polish remover.
Absolutely! Just be sure to use unbleached, all purpose flour.
For a starter, see my troubleshooting tips below. If it’s a recipe where the dough hasn’t risen, keep it covered and let it rise at 75 degrees (if possible) longer. During the winter, my overnight bulk rise can take 10-12 hours because the room temperature is only 65 degrees.
Initially, we will have to discard half of our starter in order to keep it a manageable size. Just for the first week. I know from personal experience that it’s hard to discard half of your starter!
See how to store sourdough starter, how to increase your starter, and troubleshooting tips below.
Quick Sourdough Starter Recipe Guide
Quick Sourdough Starter
- Glass or ceramic container
- Thin spoon (non-metallic or plastic)
Inital starter (day 1)
- 1 cup (120 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, rye flour, or whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup (120g) warm filtered water
Subsequent feedings (day 3 and beyond)
- 1/4 cup (60g) warm filtered water
- 1/2 cup (60g) unbleached all-purpose flour
Creating the starter
- Day 1: In your glass or ceramic container (I prefer these Weck jars), mix the flour and water. The mixture will be very thick and pasty. Do not thin it out! The starter needs that flour for fermentation and energy. You'll see how thin the mixture gets 12-24 hours after every feeding.
- Day 2: Look for signs of fermentation: tiny bubbles on the bottom of the starter, pinprick sized bubbles on top. If you don't see any signs after 24 hours, ensure your starter is being in an area that is at least 75º F.
Feeding the starter days 3 and beyond
- Day 3: Remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stiring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all purpose flour (60 g). I find it's easier to mix if you add the water first. Watch for signs of activity – larger bubbles and a hungry starter that's thinner in texture.
- Day 4: Your starter might have a strong smell when you open the container to feed it. That's all normal. Remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stiring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all purpose flour (60 g).
- Day 5: Remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stiring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all purpose flour (60 g). Your starter will probably be very active and may be doubling in size within 4-6 hours of a feeding.For those adventurous types, use your starter in a low-rise recipe like sourdough crackers or homemade tortillas. Or, if you're like me, wait until day 7 and use your starter for baking a loaf of bread!
- Day 6: By now, your starter should resemble a sponge 12 hours after feeding. It should be doubling in size 4-6 hours after feeding. If not, see my troubleshooting tips. Feed starter normally: remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stiring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour (60 g).
- Day 7 and beyond: If your starter is fully active, has been doubling in size within 4-6 hours after feeding, it's ready! If not, keep feeling it for a few days, following the same schedule of daily feeding.To use it for baking, feed it as usual 12 hours beforehand: remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stiring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all purpose flour (60 g).
How to store sourdough starter
You’re probably wondering where to store sourdough starter if its not in use. Afterall, it’s a living thing that needs flour and water.
Let’s say you’re going on an extended vacation. Or you decided to cut back on your carbs or go on a keto diet. All of those things have happened to me. Luckily, how to store sourdough starter is easy!
If your starter is well-established and has been used frequently over say 3 months, then just start feeding it less. I’ve been successful with feeding my starter every 2-3 weeks.
Sourdough starter storage for extended periods
For longer-term storage, you can dry your sourdough starter. How do you dry a sourdough starter? It’s simple!
- Weigh or measure the amount of your starter.
- Tear off a long piece of parchment paper and place it on a baking sheet.
- Use a silicone spatula to evenly spread the sourdough starter in a thin layer over the parchment paper.
- Let dry at room temperature for 1-2 days until it is dry and flakey. Break it into pieces and store it in a sealed container for 6-12 months. Write on the container how much the homemade sourdough starter weighted or measured.
To rehydrate your sourdough starter: take the pre-dehydrated weight and add equal weights of water and flour to hydrate. If you used cup measurements: if you had 1/2 cup of starter (before dehydration) then add 1/2 cup of water and 1 cup of flour.
How to increase sourdough starter for baking
There will be times when you need a large amount of starter for baking. In that case, you’ll need to know how to increase sourdough starter. You can do this two ways:
- On your next feeding, feed your starter without discarding. First, measure your starter. For example, if it’s 1 cup of starter, then add 1 cup of water and 2 cups of flour. Or, if you use weight, weigh your starter and add equal amounts of water and flour.
- If you need a large amount of starter, then split your starter into two containers. Feed both without discarding until you have the amount of starter you need. Save enough to keep your starter, then use the rest for your recipe.
My sourdough starter smells bad. What is sourdough starter supposed to smell like?
Although everyone’s sense of smell is different, as your sourdough starter goes through the stages of fermentation, the smells change.
In the beginning, it might smell fruity or sour. It might smell like gym socks. Some people think their sourdough starter smells like beer. All of these are perfectly normal.
It’s been 3 days, and my sourdough starter shows no bubbles at all.
Have you followed my two fail-proof tips for a quick sourdough starter? Have you kept the starter in a warm area that’s 75 to 85 degrees? Are you using unbleached all-purpose flour for feedings? If so, wait a few more days.