Making and feeding a sourdough starter is so easy – all you need are flour and water. There is NO yeast in this sourdough starter recipe! But using the right type of flour is very important! Don’t worry- our recipe and pro tips will help you from start to finish. Follow everything closely, and in just a few days, you will have a fermented, active sourdough starter, ready to use!
Already have an active starter? Jump right in and make a loaf of overnight sourdough bread!
Maybe you’ve heard that making a sourdough starter from scratch is really hard. I used to believe that too. In fact, when I was first starting out, I got my starter from a friend.
There was a sad ending when the oven was turned on, with a jar of sourdough starter inside. Learn from my mistake! After you make yours, be sure to read our article on how to store sourdough starter.
Sourdough starter is wild, natural yeast. It’s just a simple combination of water and flour that slowly ferments in a warm spot.
This living, fermented culture needs nutrients and air to thrive. As a result, you will see bubbly activity occurring daily in your sourdough starter.
Ingredients to Make and Feed a Sourdough Starter
There are only two ingredients you need to make a sourdough starter recipe – flour and water! But, the type of flour and water are important.
- Unbleached, all-purpose flour is what we use to feed and maintain our starter. For the best results, start with a fresh bag of high quality flour. We recommend and use the King Arthur brand.
- Rye flour or whole wheat flour is what we recommend to start the starter (day 1 only). Rye gives the starter a nutritional boost and makes for a more active starter.
When it comes to sourdough recipes in general, unbleached, all-purpose flour is best. Bleached flour ruins the natural coating of wild yeast on the grain. A sourdough starter thrives on friendly bacteria in the wild yeast.
Also, stick with the same brand of flour for feedings. The protein percentages can vary from brand to brand, as can the type of wheat used.
Changing brands can cause a decrease in activity. If this happens, it may take a few days of consistent feedings and discards in order to get your starter’s activity level up enough to bake bread.
Using bleached flour won’t ruin your starter, but it will become less active over time. If you can’t find unbleached, you can use bread flour instead.
Water straight from the tap often contains chlorine. If filtered water isn’t an option, let the tap water sit out for 24 hours, so the chlorine can evaporate.
What about organic flour?
Although some bakers don’t recommend organic flour to feed a sourdough starter, we successfully use organic all-purpose and rye flour for our sourdough starter recipe.
TFN Pro Tip
If you use organic flour and your starter looks thick and has less bubbly activity, switch to non-organic flour for several feedings.
This sourdough starter recipe makes a 100 hydration-type starter, which means, it has equal amounts of water and flour, by weight.
This is where a digital food scale comes in handy. If you use measuring cups, you’ll need twice as much flour as water, since water weighs more than flour.
Best Environment for Proper Growth of Starter
As it ferments and grows, keep your sourdough starter in a warm environment. In order for flour and water to ferment, they need a cozy place to ‘snuggle.’ Ideally, a location that is 75-80°F.
Over the past few years, we have helped to troubleshoot a lot of problems with sourdough. The most common problem relates to trying to grow a sourdough starter in too cool of an environment
During the winter months, cooler indoor temperatures can make it difficult for starters to thrive. We found an inexpensive, handy solution! It’s a low-wattage heating wrap that goes around the storage jar, to keep it the optimal temperature.
Note: Currently, this particular make/model isn’t available anywhere. However, this kombucha heating wrap (from a different manufacturer) is similar.
We recommend wrapping it around the top of the jar, so it provides more indirect warmth.
Do not keep your starter in a dark or overly warm place for longer than the first 12 hours. Like living organisms, sourdough starter needs light and a little air to thrive.
Storing and feeding sourdough starter in a cooler climate
Our home stays about 68°F during the winter and early spring. If you are in a similar situation, we suggest using one of the options below:
For the first 12 hours only, keep the sourdough starter in a place that is just a little bit warmer than 80°F. The higher heat will help kickstart the fermentation process. Locations that work well:
- In an oven
If your oven has a bread-proofing feature, that’s ideal because the proof setting is 85°F. Otherwise, store it inside the oven with the oven light on.
- Above your refrigerator
- In a microwave oven
- Warm laundry room while the dryer is running.
Sourdough Starter Recipe
Add the following to a 1-Liter glass, ceramic, or stoneware jar or crock:
- 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° F.)
Stir to combine. The mixture will be very thick and pasty. This is normal – do not thin it out! Your sourdough starter needs that flour for fermentation and energy. The mixture thins out 12-24 hours after each feeding.
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 in an area between 75º and 80ºF.
How and When to Feed a Sourdough Starter
Feeding and maintaining your starter is as simple as stirring in more flour and water, and discarding a little bit of the mixture along the way.
What is sourdough discard?
The discard is the portion you remove from a starter during feedings. Throw out the discard for the first 5 days. At this point, it isn’t fully grown and active.
For an established, active sourdough starter, the discard is the portion you will for the recipe you’re making.
- Remove 1/4 cup (60 grams) of starter and throw it away.
- Add 1/4 cup (60 grams) of warm, filtered water. Stir to combine, then stir in 1/2 cup (60 grams) of unbleached, all-purpose flour.
TFN Pro Tip
When you feed a sourdough starter, it is easier if you mix in the water first.
Watch for signs of activity – larger bubbles and a hungry starter that is thinner than when you mixed it.
Your starter might have a strong odor. This is completely normal.
- Remove and discard 1/4 cup (60 grams) of sourdough starter, and stir in 1/4 cup (60 grams) of warm, filtered water.
- Mix in 1/2 cup (60 grams) of unbleached, all-purpose flour.
Once again, follow the steps and ingredient amounts from day 4 to feed the sourdough starter. Depending on altitude and temperature, your starter may be active.
If it doubles in size within 4-6 hours of feeding, you can use it if you want to!
Feeding an Active Sourdough Starter
By the 6th day, your jar of sourdough starter should be very active and bubbly!
- Feed starter normally Once again, remove 1/4 cup (60 grams) of starter. Either discard it, or use it to make a sourdough discard recipe.
- Stir in 1/4 cup (60 grams) of warm, filtered water, then mix in 1/2 cup (60 grams) of unbleached, all-purpose flour.
At this stage of the sourdough starter recipe, you may see the contents double in size 4-6 hours after feeding. After 12 hours, it will have a lot of bubbles, and will look very much like a sea sponge.
If the contents are doubled in size in 4-6 hours after feeding, you can use it! If not, keep feeding it for a few days, following the same schedule of daily feeding.
It takes a solid, active starter to rise several cups of flour for loaf of sourdough bread. Consider your first few attempts as starter or trial loaves. Your starter will become stronger as you feed it over the course of several weeks.
Knowing When Sourdough Starter is Ready to Use
TFN Pro Tip – How to know if a starter has doubled in size
Just after feeding a sourdough starter, the contents will be at their lowest point. Use an erasable marker to note the level of the contents, or mark the level with a rubber band around the jar.
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.
Here are some signs that you have an active sourdough starter.
- Your starter is at least 5 days old (for low rise recipes) or 7 days old (for bread).
- Within 4-6 hours of a feeding, your starter consistently doubles in size.
- Your starter looks spongy and full of bubbles all over.
What is the Float Test?
We do not recommend using a “float test” to see if your starter is ready to use. Some perfectly active starters (including the ones we make) never pass this test.
As you can see, though, ours makes amazing sourdough bread.
Care and Maintenance
A sourdough starter is a live culture that needs regular feeding to survive.
For weekly (or less frequent) use
Keep the starter in the refrigerator. Take it out 12 hours before you want to use it. Depending on how much starter you need for the recipe, discard (or save for later) half, then feed the remaining starter.
We recommend keeping a discard jar inside of your fridge. perfect for recipes that use a large amount of starter, like sourdough discard cinnamon rolls.
For daily use
If you will be using it every day, keep your sourdough starter on the counter and feed it once daily. 8-12 hours after feeding, it is active and ready to use.
How to bake with your 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).
Sourdough Starter Recipe FAQ
Yes and No. We do not recommend making a sourdough starter recipe using bread flour. However, after 7 days, it will be fully active. At that point, you can feed your established sourdough starter with bread flour.
Initially, discarding half of a sourdough starter keeps it a manageable size. Although it may seem difficult or sad to discard half of your starter, it is a necessary step. Do not use the discard for the first 5 days.
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 may smell fruity or sour. Some people say that they think it smells like sweaty gym socks, and others say it smells yeasty, like beer. All of these aromas are perfectly normal for sourdough starter.
Are you keeping the starter in a warm area, 75 to 85º Fahrenheit? Are you using unbleached all-purpose flour for feedings? And warm, filtered (spring) water for feeding? If so, wait for another day or two – the starter will become active soon!
Making and Feeding a Sourdough Starter
Inital starter (day 1)
- 120 grams unbleached all-purpose flour 120 g = 1 cup dry measure. Can substitute with rye flour or whole wheat flour
- 118 grams warm filtered water 118 ml = 1/2 cup liquid measure
Subsequent feedings (day 3 and beyond)
- 59 grams warm filtered water 59 ml = 1/4 cup liquid measure
- 60 grams unbleached all-purpose flour 60 g = 1/2 cup dry measure
Creating the starter
- Day 1: In your glass or ceramic container, 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.
- 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 feeding it for a few more days, following the same schedule.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).
How to increase the amount of sourdough starter
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 the sourdough starter. There are two ways to do this:
- Feed your starter without discarding.
First, measure your starter. For example, if it’s 1 cup of starter, add 1 cup of water and 2 cups of flour. Or, weigh your starter, then add equal amounts of water and flour.
- Divide the starter.
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.
The best container for storing sourdough starter
To keep your starter healthy and active, using a proper container is important 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, we recommend using a Weck 1-liter tulip jar.