DIY Sourdough Starter

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Making sourdough bread requires a bit more time and planning than many breads, predominantly because you need a sourdough starter to make sourdough bread. This starter is usually made with water, yeast, sugar, and flour and develops for about a week before it can be used in bread. Then, only a portion of the starter is used, and you feed the starter to replenish it, so you always have starter on hand, your starter continually “living” and developing over time. You can buy sourdough starter, but there are plenty of recipes out there for making your own. Here’s the recipe I use, which has been the most successful for me thus far.

4.7 from 6 reviews
Sourdough Starter
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey*
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
Instructions
  1. In a large glass or ceramic bowl, stir honey or sugar into warm water until dissolved. Stir in yeast.
  2. Slowly add flour to mixture, whisking to combine, and cover with a towel or dishcloth. Do use a towel rather than plastic wrap so the wild yeast in your kitchen can "catch onto" the starter, but be sure to use a towel that you don't mind getting dirty. Leave in a warm place to develop. If you don't have a warm place, it should be fine, as my kitchen was cool when I made my starter.
  3. Let your starter sit out for 2-5 days, stirring once per day to reincorporate the liquid that will settle on top. Once your starter has stopped bubbling and has developed a sour aroma, stir it once again and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Notes
*For a vegan starter, use sugar instead of honey

Sourdough starter needs to be fed about once every two weeks. To feed your starter, you first need to remove one cup. Use this cup of starter for baking. Then, feed your existing starter with 1 cup of all-purpose flour and ½ cup water. Stir until smooth and let sit, covered, at room temperature for about 12 hours before placing back in the refrigerator. If you're not in the mood to make sourdough bread with that one cup of starter, make something else! There are plenty or surprising ways to use sourdough starter - other breads, scones, muffins, and the list goes on....

Recipe Source: Annie’s Eats, Originally From: King Arthur Flour

Need some recipes to try with your sourdough starter?

Artisan Bread with a Sourdough Starter

San Francisco Sourdough Bread

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{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy June 20, 2012

Gotta try this… last time I tried to cultivate a sourdough starter, I ended up with a moldy mess! Hopefully this time is the charm :)
Thanks!

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brighteyedbaker June 21, 2012

Do give it a go. I had my share of sourdough failures until I made this starter. Nothing else was working for me, but I’ve had this one going for months!

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Diane Weber June 26, 2012

I do not have a large glass or ceramic bowl and the starter is making a mess out of the towel I have covering the largest glass container I have. Can I put it in my big tupperware bowl?

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brighteyedbaker June 26, 2012

I would say yes. I checked out what King Arthur had to say on the matter, and they say you can use “glass, crockery, stainless steel, or food grade plastic”. Hope that helps :) As far as your towel goes, let it dry completely and then you should be able to scrape off the dried starter. That’s what I did.

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Amanda Munhollon June 26, 2012

I live in Texas, but from Northern Ca. & you cannot find a good Sourdough out here anywhere! I am making the starter now- one question though, after you have made the starter & need to feed it, you it sit out “covered”-do you use a towel again to allow the wild yeast to enter again? Thanks ahead of time- Keeping fingers crossed!

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brighteyedbaker June 27, 2012

I always use a towel. I think you could probably cover loosely with plastic wrap as well, though, if that works better for you.
When it comes time to make your bread, I would suggest this San Francisco Sourdough recipe if you want a sourdough with real tang. Also, know that the flavor or a sourdough starter develops and improves over time. Good luck!

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Amanda Munhollon June 29, 2012

The first night after I made my starter, it grew up & over the largest bowl I have-what’s left is about 2 cups worth . It has not done anything like that since then. I have stirred it everyday to mix in the liquid that pools in it. Today is day 4 & its smelling pretty potent. It is a little runny though-do you think it would still be ok? Or would the overflow & loss of some of the starter would have any ill effects?

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brighteyedbaker June 30, 2012

I don’t claim to be a sourdough expert, but here’s my advice:
You say it smells potent. Does it smell very sour (like sourdough) or a bit like alcohol, or does it smell like it’s gone bad? If it smells like it’s gone bad, you should start over, but a strong sour or alcoholic smell is okay.
If you’ve determined that the smell is okay, you can try feeding the sourdough to increase the bulk. Don’t discard anything, just add 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water, stir in, and let sit until bubbly. Then, you can either store it in the refrigerator for later use or use some right away. Just make sure that once you do use some, you feed it again, and when you store it in the refrigerator, you take out a cup of starter every two weeks for use and replenish the starter with more flour and water.

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Mickey June 18, 2013

that ‘alcohol’ smelling liquid is hootch…really! 49ers (miners) drank it! good luck! I will have to try this recipe… used to bake all my bread ..sourdough!

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alexandra June 18, 2013

I think I’ve read that before! It’s crazy and kinda cool history too. :) You should try the bread for sure!

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Amanda Munhollon June 30, 2012

Fed it tonight & it is all bubbly just like the original batch-thanks so much! I will definitely let you know how it turns out!

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brighteyedbaker July 1, 2012

Good! You’re welcome. I’m waiting to hear!

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Amanda Munhollon July 5, 2012

I made the Sourdough Bread last night & I am excited to let you know this recipe came out awesome-my husband even agrees it is very close to what we used to buy back in California. Thank you so much for all of your help & these recipes. 1 Loaf is already gone-making more this Saturday! Your rock!!

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brighteyedbaker July 5, 2012

I’m so excited that everything worked out well for you. Which recipe did you use for the bread?
And you’re very welcome. I love feedback, and you’ve made my day with yours!

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Amanda Munhollon July 5, 2012

Awesome! I used your San Francisco Sourdough Bread Recipe-it turned out wonderfully, so good in fact that I am making more of the S.F. Sourdough Bread this weekend!

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brighteyedbaker July 6, 2012

That’s great! I’m glad you tried that recipe; it’s my favorite.

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Chocolate Lady December 6, 2012

I just told my daughter a few minutes ago that I needed to try my hand at making sourdough bread. I’ve been making all of our bread but have never attempted sourdough. This recipe is a must try. Thank you for sharing all of your recipes and tips. I just made your DIY cinnamon chips this morning; they are delicious, and I can’t wait to try them out in a few recipes.

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alexandra December 6, 2012

You should try it! I had such a hard time finding a sourdough recipe that works for me, and I haven’t looked back since I found this one! I’m so glad you’re appreciating the blog and like cinnamon chips. :)

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Lindsay February 6, 2013

Hello from Sydney! Your starter recipe looks the most straightforward of all I’ve seen, so I’m giving it a go. Thanks so much for the super straightforward instructions!

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alexandra February 7, 2013

Hi! Let me know how it goes with the starter, and if you have any questions at any point. This is the first starter I’ve ever used that worked for me, and I’ve been using the same batch since!

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Rachael February 13, 2013

I’m going to make this RIGHT NOW! Thanks for the inspiration and recipe. :)
Rachael recently posted..Sensitive Skin-Friendly Oatmeal and Baking Soda Homemade Face Wash RecipeMy Profile

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alexandra February 15, 2013

I’m so glad I inspired you! Good luck with your sourdough. I think you’ll love it!

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Noel April 14, 2013

Thank you for this information, I am looking forward to trying this as a SF native I miss the bread so much. I have a question though, I was reading the recipe you gave for making sourdough bread, it says “fed starter” only, so does that mean, if I feed it one time, then the next I go to feed it, I can take that “1 cup” of starter I’m going to remove and use that for sourdough? Or does that mean I have to use that one cup again for something else and feed the starter and THEN get another cup of starter that was just fed 5 hours earlier?? Maybe this is basic info, but I’m new to bread. THANK YOU!!!

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alexandra April 15, 2013

The idea behind fed starter is that you remove a cup of the starter, feed the remaining portion, and then use what you need in the recipe once the remaining portion expands a bubbles up a few hours later. Bake your bread, and feed the starter once more (to make up for what you took out). I realize it’s kind of a pain to have cups of starter you either need to bake with or throw away, but it’s all about keeping the natural yeast in your starter well-fed and maintaining a proper pH. If you try the sourdough recipe without feeding a few hours ahead of time, your starter won’t be active enough to leaven your bread.Let me know how your bread turns out; I’d love to hear!

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Noel April 15, 2013

Ok, now I understand. THANK YOU for your help~ I will let you know how it works out! Going to start my starter this week!

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alexandra April 20, 2013

You’re welcome! Sounds good. :)

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Debbie August 15, 2013

How frequently can you bake something? Can you use and feed the starter once a week or more often, if you love to bake for the neighborhood? What is your favorite sourdough roll recipe and where can I find it? Can I use the starter one day and feed it and then use it again the next day? My starter went crazy when I first made it the other day so I must have loads of yeast in my utility room, which is warm. And there was a very strong smell of sourdough in there. I’ve got it in the refrigerator now and it appears to be dormant. Should I add to it by feeding it or just wait until I bake in a week? Thanks

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alexandra August 15, 2013

You can feed the starter more often than once a week, even daily if you want to keep it at room temperature. If you want to do that, just feed it, let it get active, use the amount you need for the recipe, and repeat. If you keep it in the fridge, you should feed it before using and at least once every week or two weeks. I haven’t made sourdough rolls yet (I need to get on that!) but this is my favorite sourdough loaf. Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any more questions.

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Fey March 11, 2014

What else can we make with the sourdough starter? Do you have any other recipes that use it?

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alexandra March 14, 2014

For the most part, you can use this starter in any recipe that calls for a generic sourdough starter. King Arthur has quite a few on their website. As of now, the two recipes I have on the blog using this starter are the ones linked below the recipe for the starter.

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Mikal March 22, 2014

Mikal here from the Philippines. Embarked this afternoon on my first sourdough journey and hoping the warm weather in Manila will be ideal for my first ever starter batch. I bake/sell bread as a hobby and one of my regulars requested today that I add sourdough bread to my offerings. Your recipe seemed the most practical and I am looking forward to try it on my first sourdough bread. I also got inspired with the idea of having an heirloom starter i can actually pass on to my kids – my daughter actually named the first batch Allastair planning to treat it as a pet. I do have one question, during the first few days of the process, shouldn’t I feed the starter daily until I get the desired result ready for use?

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alexandra March 25, 2014

For this recipe, you don’t have to feed the starter during the beginning process; you just need to feed it every 2 weeks once you get it going. Hope that helps and I hope your bread-baking ventures with this recipe are successful! That’s awesome that you sell bread for fun!

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Stacey May 9, 2014

I started mine this morning. I’ve been saying for years I would do it but was always intimidated.
Question… I have heard someone say they’ve had theirs for a year. How long can you use a starter for?

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alexandra May 12, 2014

From my experience, you can keep a starter forever, essentially, as long as you feed and maintain it properly, and as long as it doesn’t show signs of going bad (unusual smell, color, etc.).

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jinx June 4, 2014

I have a sourdough starter, I would like to give some to my daughter so If I give her a cup of starter what would she then do with it?

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alexandra June 17, 2014

She should be able to feed it with 1 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour, just as you would with yours, and use it from there!

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Melissa in Colorado July 25, 2014

After my starter sat out for 5 days I stored it in the refrigerator for in a 1/2 gallon mason jar. When I opened the jar this morning, the mason jar lid flew off when I unscrewed the band. Any idea what might have happened and/or how to keep that from happening again?

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alexandra July 30, 2014

Well that’s a new one! Was it completely full when you took it out of the fridge?

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Tami December 15, 2014

CO2 build up. That’s all that was. Be nice to your starter and just leave the lid unscrewed next time so it can fart when it needs to. You’d explode, too, if you were all plugged up and couldn’t fart. *wink*

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alexandra December 15, 2014

Haha thanks for the tip Tami!

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David F September 14, 2014

Haven’t tried doing a sourdough starter, but it’s on my list of things to try. This week, I’m trying the “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” method (from the library). My first loaf turned out well, and hopefully the dough will get more like sourdough as it rests in the fridge. We’ll see…

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alexandra September 18, 2014

You should give the starter a try too! It’s a neat thing to do and churns out some pretty good bread. :)

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Nancy Farmer October 11, 2014

How large is a “large” container, needed to start with? Is it a quart, gallon? Will a glass jar work or does it need to be more open at the top? I can’t wait to try it. I have several friends that use a starter but the bread flavor is bland. I’m looking for a good “yeast” taste in the bread. Thank you

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alexandra October 14, 2014

I would use something larger than a jar. For making the starter, I would just use the largest bowl you have. For storing the starter, I would suggest maybe a 1.5 quart container. Let me know if you have more questions!

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Pat November 27, 2014

I have made the starter and not sure how much of the starter dough I should use to make a 700gm loaf? Most of the recipes I look at use a dried sourdough starter so difficult to estimate the amount in liquid form. Hope that makes sense!?

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alexandra December 2, 2014

Hi Pat, I wish I could help you but every recipe I’ve worked with uses a starter similar to this one, and I don’t have experience using dried starters. I would think you could use an equal amount of this starter and then reduce the liquid in the recipe as needed, but that’s just me trying to make an educated guess. :) You might want to try the King Arthur Flour baker’s hotline for more help. Since this recipe is adapted from them, they should be able to give you a bit more information on using it to make different breads.

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Latona January 23, 2015

Once you have your starter fully started and in the fridge, do you need to drain off the liquid before feeding it?

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alexandra January 26, 2015

No, you can just stir in the liquid and then feed as normal. :)

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Francesca February 18, 2015

I just did your starter. Today is day 4. it seems like something being fermented. I am waiting till tomorrow to put it in a jar in the fridge ro use half of it to make my sourdough bread. I live in Malaysia and fell in love with sourdough bread while i was living in Vancouver.
My questions is there is a scum like layer on top of the liquid. Mine has not risen like the others.
It this ok?
Thank you

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alexandra February 19, 2015

Can you explain to me what you mean by the scum-like layer? What does it look like?

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Franceca February 20, 2015

It is a layer like a layer of oil over water except in this case it was slightly brown and curd like in appearance. Once I stirred it, it slowly incorporated with the rest of the mixture. . But on day 5, it was no longer there.
Anyway, I made the artisan bread with the original unfed starter and it turned out great. Only, I forgot to put the salt!!

Now I am looking forward to making the sourdough bread. Thank you for the recipe. I shared it on Facebook.
Francesca

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alexandra February 20, 2015

It sounds like your starter is doing just fine. ;) Sometimes it will look odd like that, but as long as you don’t see mold, weird colors – like pink tones, or an “off” smell, you should be okay. (The starter will of course have a smell of its own naturally which is perfectly fine.)

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Pat March 19, 2015

Can I use whole wheat instead of all purpose flour for the starter? If so, then for the bread do I use whole wheat flour?

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alexandra March 19, 2015

I would say that, yes, you can use whole wheat flour for the starter. However, I’d stick to white flour for the bread, to help keep a similar texture in the final loaf. (100% whole wheat loaves tend to be more solid and dense.)

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steve c. September 17, 2015

Hi.
Last night I followed ur starter recipe and now its day 2. Its still pretty runny. Do I just let it sit for 2 -5 days stirring it every day .or do I add the feed for it? The one cup flour with one half cup waterr every day? Will that thicken it up?

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alexandra September 20, 2015

You’ll want to just stir it for the first 2-5 days, and then feed it once a week.

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christine January 28, 2016

can i make this with gluten free flour? any change to the ratio?

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alexandra February 2, 2016

I’m really not sure; I don’t have any experience making gluten-free yeast breads so I wouldn’t want to suggest that I know more than I do. I would suggest visiting the King Arthur website via the link below the recipe and asking the question there. They would certainly have more knowledge on the topic. :)

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John June 14, 2016

Thank you so much for all your explanation !!

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Amelia December 13, 2016

Hey,
I was just wondering how much, preferably in grams, this starter would make.
I am super excited to try it out as I love sourdough and I was just wondering how much I could get out of this recipe.
Thanks

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alexandra December 14, 2016

I’m guessing it would make about 700 grams based on the amount of flour and water in the recipe.

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Lily December 28, 2016

Hey,
So I started my starter today and set it on top of the fridge to hang out till I stirred it tomorrow, but I want to check on it and it had completely bubbled over all over the place! A good cup of it bubbled out. Is it ruined or can it be salvaged?

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alexandra January 2, 2017

I would just use what you have left and continue to feed as the recipe instructs; it should be fine! Might want to switch it to a larger container though. ;)

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Liza vK May 18, 2017

I tried a starter recipe from another website and it became a moldy mess. So I tried your recipe. Today is the 4th day. I used a cup of the starter to make bread and it turned out great! I fed the rest of the starter and after 12 hours, it’s alive and bubbly and in my fridge now, ready for a week rest. I admit I was a bit doubtful because for 4 days, I didn’t see much bubbles, just watery and separated batter. I figured as long as it snells sour and not moldy, it should be fine. And it was!! Thank you!

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alexandra May 18, 2017

Yay! So happy to hear you were successful! :)

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