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Homemade Sourdough Starter

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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.

A glass of homemade sourdough starter

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.

A weck jar fill of homemade sourdough starter

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!

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.

A glass of homemade sourdough starter
Weck 1 liter tulip jar

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

a collage of my favorite sourdough supplies
See my recommended sourdough essentials: https://liketk.it/3zt4F

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.

Flour:

  • 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 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 don’t recommend organic flour for feeding sourdough starters, I used organic rye flour to create this starter. And, I have successfully fed my early starters with organic all-purpose flour.

If your starter starts looking thick and showing less bubbly activity and you use organic flour, try using non-organic flour for several feedings.

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.

two Weck jars with an all purpose flour starter and rye flour starter

Creating the starter

On Day 1, mix together:

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 these 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.

a glass container of sourdough starter day 2
Day 2 sourdough starter

Discarding and feeding

Day 3

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.

weck glass jar of quick sourdough starter day 3
Day 3 sourdough starter

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) stirring, 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) 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.

If so, use your discard in a low-rise recipe like sourdough crackers or homemade tortillas. Or, wait until day 7 and use your starter for bakingloaf of bread!

quick and easy sourdough starter recipe
Day 5: rye flour sourdough starter and all purpose sourdough starter before feeding

Days 6 and 7: Active, bubbly starters

Day 6

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.

Day 7

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 the 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).

Day 7 sourdough starter ready to be moved to a clean container
I mixed my rye sourdough starter with the all purpose one. They went into one jar container as their new home.

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.

  1. Your starter is at least 5 days old.
  2. Within 4-6 hours of a feeding, your starter consistently doubles in size.
  3. 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.

What About This Float Test I Hear About?

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.

a grey stab dutch oven with a loaf of sourdough bread with parchment paper

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 (60 grams) of starter, then add 1/4 cup (60 grams) of water and 1/2 cup (60 grams) of flour.

Frequently Asked questions

Can I make a sourdough starter with bread flour?

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.

What does sourdough starter smell like?

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.

Can you make a quick sourdough starter with all purpose flour?

Absolutely! Just be sure to use unbleached, all purpose flour.

What to do with sourdough that does not rise?

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.

What is sourdough discard?

The “discard” is the portion that is removed from your starter when feeding it. While you are creating your starter, you will discard this part. For established, active starters this is the portion you use to bake.

Why do you discard half of the starter?

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, but it is a necessary step.

See how to store sourdough starter, how to increase your starter and troubleshooting tips below.

Quick Sourdough Starter Recipe Guide

a weck jar filled with a sourdough starter
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5 from 2 votes

Quick Sourdough Starter

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 baking in just 5 days.
Course Sourdough
Cuisine American
Keyword Sourdough, baking, easy baking, sourdough starter
Prep Time 5 minutes
day 3 to 5 @ 5 minutes day 30 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 1 serving
Calories 861kcal

Equipment

  • Glass or ceramic container
  • Thin spoon (non-metallic or plastic)

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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 discard it. 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.
  • 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 discard it. Add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stirring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour (60 g).
  • Day 5: Remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g) to discard (see below). 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 may be doubling in size within 4-6 hours of a feeding.
    If your sourdough starter is very active and doubles in size within 6 hours you can use today's discard in a low-rise recipe like or homemade tortillas. Or wait until day 7 and use your starter for baking a loaf of traditional sourdough bread or sourdough sandwich 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) as the discard (use or toss), and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stirring, 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 set aside for baking, and add 1/4 cup of warm, filtered water (60g) stirring, then mix in 1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour (60 g).

Notes

To maintain your starter, feed it regularly. Discard (or use) 1/4 cup (60g) of starter, add 1/4 cup (60g) water, and 1/2 cup (60g) all-purpose flour.
How often you feed it depends on how often you’ll use it:
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.
For daily use, keep your sourdough starter on the counter and feed it once a day. Use it for baking 8-12 hours after feeding.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 861kcal | Carbohydrates: 181g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 11mg | Potassium: 253mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 1g | Calcium: 39mg | Iron: 11mg

How to store sourdough starter

You’re probably wondering where to store sourdough starter if it’s not in use. After all, 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.

Two jars of sourdough starter

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Troubleshooting

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.

Easy, fail-proof sourdough recipes


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20 thoughts on “Homemade Sourdough Starter”

  1. If I am on day three and I had the weck seal and clamps on. Do I need to toss it and start over? It is still active and is bubbling.

    Reply
    • No you don’t have to throw it out, but it’s probably starved for a little more air. Just remove the seals and the clamps and just use the glass lid they rests on top.

      Reply
  2. Help! I’m so confused! When I remove the 60 grams is that the discard? Or is that what I feed? I’ve read the directions several times. Thank you

    Reply
    • I’m not sure exactly what part you are referring to, but for the first several days you will have to discard a portion of your sourdough starter. If you didn’t then it would outgrow your container within a few days. After your starter is established (at least 5 days) then you can use the “discarded” portion in a recipe. Frequent bakers keep their sourdough starters on the counter and feed them every 1-2 days and use the discard for baking. If you are an infrequent baker, you can keep your starter in the fridge and feed it weekly. After a few months you can even feed it every 1-2 weeks.

      Reply
    • I have revised the recipe to say “Remove 1/4 cup of starter (60 g) and discard it.” For the first 1-4 days you will discard the 1/4 cup or 60 grams. If your starter is very active and bubbly, and doubles in size by day 5 you can use that discarded portion in a low rise sourdough recipe.

      Reply
  3. We were all so excited at my house to feed our starter today that I accidentally gave it too much water. I thought it was easier to stir (especially the one I started on whole wheat). It’s only day 3, but it’s been super active! Anything I should do or will it be fine?

    Reply
    • I’ve added too much water before, too! When that happens I usually add more flour to compensate. Usually what happens is that I confuse the flour and water amounts. If so, I add more flour. It is important to keep a similar ratio of flour to water to main the proper hydration level.

      Reply
  4. Do you discard at every feeding even after it’s been established or stored in the fridge? If you don’t discard, do you just feed it & wait?

    Reply
    • If you do not use take a portion of the sourdough starter for baking or cooking, then yes, you discard a portion when feeding. The goal is to keep equal amounts of starter, water, and flour in your starter. Some people keep a separate discard jar in the refrigerator to store their discard for use in recipes like pancakes, naan, and muffins that do not require highly active starters.

      Reply
  5. Hi there! So excited to make my 1st starter! Started yesterday, removed and added today and within an hour it doubled again and is still growing 😳should I tap it down, or stir it?

    Reply
    • Hi Ellen, yay on starting your sourdough journey! I leave my starter alone until the next feeding. When I started the new one for that blog post, I noticed that the first few days it was very bubbly – but then that tapered off. So don’t be alarmed if that happens. By day 5-6 it will double in size again within the first several hours.

      Reply
  6. I’ve been doing to discard and feedings daily but my starter is thin. Am I supposed to be keeping the tulip lid on it or something more breathable?

    Reply
    • Double-check your ratios or starter to flour and water – if you are using cup measurements then it’s twice as much flour as starter or water. If you are weighing your measurements, then it’s equal weights of each. The starter mixture should be thick and pasty when you feed the starter, then it will become thinner between feedings. Use the glass lid on top of your jar – without the gasket or clamps. The starter will get plenty of air with just the glass lid on.

      Reply
  7. I am on day 6 and am seeing bubbles but it has not doubled in size in the jar. On day 3 I was so excited because I did see doubling but since it has completely stopped. I am hopeful because it does look spongy and there are visible bubbles. I have kept at 75 to 85 degrees at all times and have been very precise with weighing flour and using the filtered warm water. Tomorrow will be day 7. What happens if it does not double today???
    Jan

    Reply
    • Hi Jan, your starter sounds a little sluggish. A couple of things come to mind to help kick the activity up. Are you able to observe the starter for the first 12 hours after feeding? If we are feeding it at night we miss seeing the peak activity of the starter. If so, you might see that the sides of the jar have residue leftover from when the starter peaked overnight. If it’s during the daytime and you are able to observe its activity then we’ll move on to the flour. Are you are using unbleached, all-purpose flour (not organic)? If so, and you have access to whole wheat flour or rye flour, I’d swap 1/2 of your app purpose flour for that on your next feeding. Are you keeping it in a covered jar? If it’s the Weck jar, you’d use the glass lid without the rubber gasket and clamps. If it’s a canning jar, don’t use the sealing lids – use plastic wrap with a rubber band. If you’re still having issues, send me some photos to my email at [email protected] so I can see what your starter looks like.

      Reply
  8. I’ve been doing this wrong all along. Lol. For some reason, although I read it a hundred times I was discarding the half cup I remove. I’m like “this is working but it’s a little weak”. Starting today I will do the 1:1:1. Indont know why I didn’t get that until I read some other stuff that used 1:1:1. You might just make that a little clearer for idiots like me. But I do think it’s coming along.

    Reply
    • So glad to hear your starter is coming along. I use a weighted 1:1:1 formula for this starter, not measured 1:1:1 (though some people do). The starter mixture should be thick, like my photos show. Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll take a look and see how I can make it clearer in my instructions.

      Reply
    • 5 stars
      I made the same mistake🤦🏻‍♀️Took me three weeks to realize what was going wrong! Finally made my first beautiful artisan loaf yesterday. Tomorrow I will try the sandwich loaf!

      Reply

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