Sourdough starter from scratch!

sourdough starter |

Leavening bread with sourdough is a very old and reliable technique.To make your own starter you don’t need any secret ingredients or a chemistry lab. All you need is flour, water, and some patience. That’s it. Believe me, it’s easy. It’s also cheap and once you’ve got your sourdough culture, you can keep it for years and make the most wonderful sourdough loaves.

To make your own sourdough starter, all you’ve got to do is mix flour and water, stir from time to time, feed the mixture every day, and be patient. After five days (sometimes it takes longer, depending on climate and other factors) you will  have an active sourdough starter, also called mother culture or mother starter, which you can use for bread baking.

In this post, I’ll show you step by step how to make your own starter, how to use it, and how to maintain it.

To make the starter, I used a tall and narrow plastic container with a lid. Instead of a lid you can use a piece of plastic and a rubber band. Don’t cover the container too tightly, the starter needs some air.

My sourdough starter took me five days to make. You need to feed your starter every 24 hours, for example right before breakfast. I made my starter from rye flour, which is the standard flour used for sourdough in Germany. Dark rye flour works best here, but you can also use whole grain rye, whole wheat or all-purpose flour. Don’t use bread flour with additives (like malt), bleached flour or high protein flour.

Please do not (as in never ever!) add any yeast to the developing culture.  Not at any point. The yeast will  mess with the other microorganisms and kill your starter. Adding yeast is not a shortcut to a starter, it will just end in a disaster. So don’t do it, ‘mkay?

Sourdough starters need a warm environment. So it’s best to develop a new starter in summer or put  the container, covered in a towel, on the heating. I developed mine in the kitchen, where the temperature was 22-24°C. Temperatures up to 30°C are ideal.

On the first day combine 50 g of flour and 100 g of water in a container.(If you’re not a friend of metric measurements, use 1/2 cup = 60 g  flour and 1/2 cup = 120 g water) Stir until most lumps are gone. The mixture’s consistency will be very liquid, a batter not a dough. Let this sit and stir at least once (after 12 hours).

For the next 5 days or so, your schedule will look like this: 1. day: mixing and stirring after the first 12 hours; 2. day (after 24 hours): mix in more water and flour, stir after 12 hours. 3 day (after 48 hours): mix in more flour and water, stir after twelve hours, etc….

On the second day, after the first 24 hours, you may already be able to see some changes in your mixture. Mine had already started to ferment a bit and looked like this:

sourdough starter |

Feed the dough with another 50 g of flour and 100 g of water. Stir, cover and let sit for 12 hours. Stir the batter and cover again. At this time, my starter was getting a little bit more active:

 sourdough starter |

On the third day, after 48 hours things started to get interesting. The starter smelled weird, which is normal. The batter had risen and bubbled quite a bit:

sourdough starter | seitanismymotor.comFeed the starter with 50 g of flour and 100 g of water and stir. At this point, the batter should be very active and start to rise a lot.

sourdough starter | seitanismymotor.comIf you stir it, it might collapse, but that’s okay. Don’t forget to stir after 12 hours:

On the fourth day, after 70 hours, the starter still smelled weird. If you taste it at this point, you should be able to detect a slightly sour smell already.

sourdough starter |

At this time I had so much starter that I decided to discard a cup of it. You could also use it for pancakes or waffles. Then I added another 50 g of flour and 100 g of water. The mixture was bubbling and rising and did thrive really well.

On the morning of the fifth day the miracle had happened. The wird smell had transform into a fresh and pleasant sour smell, almost like green apples. I knew the sourdough was ready because that’s exactly how my old starter smells.  It tasted pretty sour, too. This is it, your very own home-made sourdough starter. That wasn’t too difficult was it?

sourdough starter |


Now you can bake with your starter for the first time. By now, you should have a lot of starter. For your bread, measure out 1 1/2 cups of starter.

Put the remaining starter in the fridge. That is your mother starter. If you don’t bake with it, the mother starter has to be kept in the fridge. You don’t  feed it while it’s in the fridge. It’s best to use a glass jar with a lid (like a peanut butter jar). Keep the starter in the jar and put the lid on but don’t close it air tight. The starter will need some air. When it cools down in the fridge, the microorganisms will stop growing mostly but not fully. That’s why the starter needs some air. If you want to use that starter for your next bread, take 1-2 tablespoons of the mother starter and mix it with the amount of flour and water your recipe calls for plus 1/4 more (You can discard the remaining old mother starter or make some pancakes). My recipes usually call for 200 g starter, so I mix 125 g flour and 125 g water with those two tablespoons starter from the fridge. Let this mixture sit for about 16 hours to refresh the starter. In these 16 hours the mixture will be transformed into a fresh ripe and active starter, which you can use for your bread recipe. (You can find several sourdough bread recipes in the recipe index of this blog.) But before you dump this fresh starter into the bread dough take away the extra 1/4 (= 50 g). These 50 g  are your new mother starter, which you have to transfer to the fridge again, for future use. Again you will take some from the fridge, mix with flour and water to make a fresh starter and discard the remaining fridge starter. I hope this was not too complicated and you are still with me. Now back to your first bread. Remember your 1 1/2 cups of starter? To make your first bread you can use a very basic bread recipe. I use a standard bread recipe that calls for 500 g of flour, 300 g of water, 10 g salt. I figure out how much flour and water my starter consists of and how much additional flour and water I need to get to 500 g of flour and 300 g of water. My starter has two parts water and one part flour by weight. 1 1/2 cups starter (345 g) makes 230 g water and 115 g flour.

To make my first sourdough bread I need: 345 g starter 70 g water 345 g whole wheat flour 10 g salt Mix everything and knead the dough very well, adding more water or flour if necessary. Shape the bread and transfer to a proofing basket or place in a loaf pan. Cover and et rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until doubled in size. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 250°C (480°F). Transfer the bread to the oven and reduce heat to 200°C (400°F). Bake for ca. 50 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing. Some additional bread baking tips: If you use a proofing basked, you will have to remove it from the basked and transfer it to a baking sheet. This baking sheet should be hot, so keep it in the oven while preheating. You can also use steam in your oven. This helps to make a nice crust. Pour a cup of boiling water on the bottom of the oven right before baking.sourdough starter |

49 thoughts on “Sourdough starter from scratch!

  1. Your starter needs NO air at any time. Keep it completely sealed at all times except when you are using it or feeding it.

    I would suggest using equal weights of flour and water. That creates a 100% hydration starter. That makes it easy to know how much flour & water you are adding to your bread recipe.

    Before using your starter to make a loaf of sourdough bread do the float test of your starter. Fill a small cup with water scoop a teaspoon of starter out of your container into the cup of water. If it floats it’s active enough to use. If it sinks it won’t leaven your dough.

  2. Post- comment log: Millet did not work with Kombucha for me. I went back to Quinoa and it was very happy indeed.

  3. Beautiful photos – this post has been here for a while and I just found it in 2016! I have been making sourdough starter using my home brewed kombucha (green tea). It works super fast and always on tap, and I use it with a variety of flours including quinoa and millet. I have also been using it in my seitan roast recipe which I adapted from Julie Hasson’s Vegan Diner book – she uses Marmite – and instead I use sourdough starter, replacing 1/4 cup of garbanzo bean flour with the quinoa flour starter (or whatever flour I have on-hand). The flavor of adding sourdough starter to the seitan is so nice – and I always have more starter on-hand. I even make my own yeast extract from starter – which I think is far tastier than Marmite or Vegemite. But I’m not Aussie, so don’t get irate at me!

  4. I tend to fail at most baking attempts but would love to start making my own bread. Sourdough is the only type of bread my stomach can tolerate, but the good stuff, fresh from the bakery goes so stale so fast. Maybe I’ll have better luck making it at home in small batches?

  5. Hi I’m gonna try this and see how it goes have never made this bread before but love the idea of it. I’m in Ireland so we don’t have the heat you guys have but will keep it in the airing cupboard and see how it turns out. You have made it look and sound so simple I’ve just got to try it.

    1. If your room temperature is low, you can grow the starter in your oven. No temperature set, just the light switched on. That should result in a warm enough environment for the starter. Good luck!

  6. Ich lebe in Florida und mochte gerne das Brot backen, abeer ich bin kein grosser Rechner. Ich versuche so gut wie moglich mit Tassen Gewichte zurech zu kommen. Ich fliege nach im Mai 2012 nach Deutschland und will mir die Messe Becher oder Gewichte kaufen. Wo kauft man die? Danke fur eine Anwort schon vorher. Kerstin Decker

    1. Hallo Kerstin, Messbecher kann man in Geschäften kaufen, in denen es Küchenzubehör gibt. In größeren Städten gibt es sie auch bei Karstadt oder Ikea. Für Rezepte mit Grammangaben ist aber vielleicht eine Waage einfacher. Gibt es ebenfalls in den oben genannten Geschäften.

  7. Hi Mihl, I read that you could use the first rinsed water from making seitan for your sourdough starter, where would this fit in?

  8. Thanks for the step by step process! I’ve always been scared to do sourdough, but have been really interested in it.

  9. I’ve tried to follow all your instructions and everything was going well (even the good smell at the end…), but my first bread tasted really too sour… Do you have an idea of what happened ? Is it something that already happened to you ? Whatever, I am really grateful because it’s been a long time I wanted to create my own sourdough. And many thanks for your blog that is, to my mind, one of the best vegan blogs on earth ;) all the best from France.

    1. Hi OM,
      There could be many reasons for this. You might have used too much starter, it might have prooved too long, there was too much acetic acid in your dough or it’s your tastebuds (There’s probably a difference between German and French breads when it comes to sourdough). Hard to say from here, because I don’t know which recipe you used and under which conditions you baked.

      1. Thanks for your reply. I’ve used your above recipe for the first bread with homemade sourdough but with half-proportion for each ingredient. Maybe with the warm wether (here too) there was too much acetic acid, as you said. I will persist and give you some news of my baby sourdough! – by the way, I was in Germany last week and did apreciate a lot german breads, so it might not be a culture shock – :)

  10. Thanks for the tutorial, mihl! I now have my very own sourdough starter (which – at least before it got sent to the fridge – appeared to be alive and kicking; given the temperatures at the moment I can’t really think of anything that might have gone wrong). However: I’ve just had a look at it, sitting in its half-closed jar (for about a week now – I know that’s liminal), and there’s sort of a clear-scum layer on top of it now and it smells different – somewhat like a certain kind of glue (note to honni qui mal y pense: no, it’s not a habit) or maybe alcohol. Did I do anything wrong during my ‘pregnancy’?

    1. No, that is completely normal and usually happens if the starter sits in the fridge for a couple of days. In fact, it’s alcohol, called “hooch” in English and “Fusel” in German. Just stir it into the batter again. Und nicht zum Selberbrennen benutzen ;)

      1. Oh, that’s good news – thanks! After that first bread I made with the sourdough tasted to divine I would’ve hated disaster to strike so soon. And luckily I won’t be tempted too much to start my own illicit distillery – though if you put up a recipe for, say, Moonshine Muffins or Fusel Fettucine…

  11. Thank you a lot for this fantastic step-by-step instructions :D I’ve never tried making my own started, so this has been really useful for me. I’m bookmarking it for future experiments ;)

  12. Wow. This is such an amazing post. I’m fascinated and intrigued. I’ve always loved sourdough bread, it is one of my favorite things to eat. But I’ve never even considered that I could possibly make it myself! You make everything look so easy and accessible. Thank you for that!

  13. Oh Mihl that is sooooo great! A really clear list of instructions, I love it. It’s complicated but I can see it making more sense if I read it a few times more :) Your bread looks absolutely amazing.
    Thanks so much for this!

  14. This post is so useful, Mihl! Thank you so much for the step by step pictures and instructions. I *hate* store-bought sourdough bread, but I have always wanted to make my own to see what it’s like. Most things store-bought aren’t nearly as good as their homemade versions, so I have been curious to see if I like homemade sourdough bread. This is awesome! *bookmarked*

  15. Thank you so much for providing this detailed tutorial! I’m looking forward to giving it a try.
    I have two questions:
    – you said you had so much starter on the fourth day that you decided to discard 1 cup of it; would it be ok, then, to make a little less of it from the beginning (using, for example, 30g flour and 60g water), or would it not work as well with smaller quantities?
    – when we put the mother starter in the fridge, you say we must not close the lid air tight; when we make the starter, however, should we close the container lid tight or not?
    Thank you for taking the time to answer my (probably stupid and unimportant) questions; I appreciate it! I guess I’ll feel more confident having these details.

  16. This is perfect! You make it sound so easy, and I’m sure it is once you get started. Bread making is something I’ve wanted to do for awhile but making a sour dough starter always sounded so intimidating. This is on my list of things to do when I return to Canada. This and kombucha!

  17. I’ve got a sourdough start that’s been alive and kicking since November last year. I made it in Chicago and brought it back to England (well aware I’m probably violating some kind of law there). I’m pretty amazed by how resilient it is. I’ve left it just sit in the fridge for weeks, then take it out to feed it and it’s fine. I do wonder if I’ve been keeping my start too “thin” though – the liquid tends to separate from the flour over time. Now if I could only manage to nail baking with this stuff. My free-form loaves often turn out like pancakes (too wet a dough I guess?). It’s disheartening! But I will persist.

    1. Monica,
      When you feed it do you take out one cup, use it or through it away and then add one cup flour, one cup water? It is okay if it separates but it should look clear not a color like orange, blue, or such. It’s better to feed once a week even if you aren’t going to use it…….

  18. Wow, thanks for such a thorough tutorial! I haven’t had the greatest luck with sourdough starters (I’ve killed two so far) but this makes me want to give it another go. That finished bread certainly looks like it was worth the effort- Yum!

  19. Mihl!!!! can you feel the bear hug i’m giving you right now?!?! i’ve always been waaaaay too intimidated to make my own sourdough starter – you are THE BEST to post such easy and awesome instructions and lovely pictures to go along! thank you sooooo so so so so much! i am going to make some starter so i can make dan some sourdough bread – he’s going to flip out and be so happyfaced! thank you!

    1. Jessy, you could try to make a starter with gluten free flours as well. Brown rice and millet come to my mind. I know people are successful with this and in that case you could enjoy some sourdough bread as well.

  20. a friend offered to give me sourdough starter a while back, but i was plagued with the feeling like i was adopting a kid. feed it? :) i’ll leave the bread baking up to the bread people in this world, and drool over your creations.

    1. Ha ha, it is definitely like a kid or a cat. But you only have to feed it only about once a week, don’t have to take it for walks and it doesn’t scream ;)

  21. It never occurred to me that this is something you can do by yourself! So freaking cool! Thanks for the detailed instructions.

  22. Excellent tutorial. I did a sourdough bread class a year ago and loved baking up fresh loaves using my own “mother starter” instead of worrying about yeast. Your instructions are very clear and the pictures really illustrate the changes you should see at each step. Knowing how well your breads turn out – I feel like I now have a trustworthy reference to share with sourdough-hungry friends.
    Thank you.

  23. Wow, these instructions are awesome, thank you!

    I’m going to try to make bread before I attempt anything this complicated but I’ll be bookmarking it for future use.

  24. Oh Mihl! Thank you soooo much! I am so perplexed by this and intimidated by this process but love sourdough bread so much–I just finished a loaf this afternoon–one I bought this week at the store! Your steps make it seem like even I could manage making a sourdough starter! I am elated you took the time to document all this for us! I will be printing this out so I can follow your very clear, concise directions (the pictures help, believe me!). Okay, so I am a little nervous, but here goes me with my sourdough experiment! I will keep you posted! Thanks so very much!

  25. Great tutorial–thanks for posting! This is sure to be really useful for people who are hesitant to try sourdough bread baking, like I was until realizing how easy it was to make and maintain my own starter. :)

  26. Mihl, thank you SO much for these very clear instructions! I now have no excuse! I love sour bread, but have always bought it. All going well, we’re in for a treat!

  27. I have never attempted to make my own sourdough started, although I LOVE sourdough bread! I am going to make this starter today! Im so excited to try it out. I will let you know in about a week how it goes!! Awesome step by step instructions too! Im so glad you posted this!

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