It took me a while, but here it is: the Sourdough Starter for Beginners guide. Enjoy!
I’ve been baking sourdough bread at home for the past 8 years or so with varied results. From the absolute disaster – which actually happened not even on my first bake, but quite recently if you can imagine (I couldn’t) to the utter joy of finally achieving that elusive open, light crumb. I’ve gone through all stages: from frustration, to despair, to: ‘that’s it, I give up’, to: ‘looks rubbish, but at least it tastes good’. I have repeatedly killed my sourdough starter. And truth to be told, for most of the time during my first year of baking sourdough bread at home I had no idea what I was doing. None. It was pure luck – or lack thereof, to be precise.
There were few resources focused on sourdough starter for beginners back then. And any info I could find on the topic – no matter how well explained – seemed like rocket science to me. I spent ages reading *everything* I could find online and in print only to end up being even more confused. Hydration, percentages… all were foreign concepts to me at the time.
Looking back, there were two main lessons from all this experience:
- No matter how much you read, the only way to solve this sourdough starter ‘mystery’ is by studying and understanding your own.
- No two sourdough starters are the same. They develop differently, they have their own rhythm, their own flavour and even their own, unique yeast profile.
Sourdough starter for beginners –
a no-nonsense guide
If there’s one single piece of advice that I could give to anyone who wants to embark on this sourdough bread baking adventure, I’ll say this: start now – worry about percentages, hydration and other technicalities later. It takes about 10 to 14 days days to build up a strong sourdough starter, so plenty of time to read *everything* while cultivating your wild yeasts.
You only need some basic equipment, that is a couple of jars, long handled spoons or chopsticks and most importantly: kitchen scales – digital kitchen scales ideally. Exact measurements are important in baking in general and especially for beginners. Weigh is one of the few variables that you CAN control when building up your sourdough starter – and that’s why I insist on using digital kitchen scales.
How to make Sourdough Starter (for Beginners)
- strong white flour ideally organic
- water ideally filtered
- Day 1 – 09:00AMMix 50g flour with 50ml water straight in the jar. Loosely cover with lid and set aside on the countertop.
- Day 1 – 09:00PM Transfer 50g of your initial water & flour mix into a bowl. Discard the rest.Add 50g flour + 50ml water, mix and transfer into a clean jar. This is what will be called 'sourdough starter' from now on.Loosely cover with lid and set aside on the countertop.
- Day 2 – 09:00AM Transfer 50g of your sourdough starter into a bowl. Discard the rest.Add 50g flour + 50ml water, mix and transfer into a clean jar.Loosely cover with lid and set aside on the countertop.
- Day 2 – 09:00PM Transfer 50g of your sourdough starter into a bowl. Discard the rest.Add 50g flour + 50ml water, mix and transfer into a clean jar.Loosely cover with lid and set aside on the countertop. You might begin to see some activity, that is small bubbles within your starter – which is a sign that you're on the right track.
- Day 3 – 09:00AM Transfer 50g of your sourdough starter into a bowl. Discard the rest.Add 50g flour + 50ml water, mix and transfer into a clean jar.Loosely cover with lid and set aside on the countertop. The yeasts are slowly developing at this stage, so you might notice signs of some activity. Your starter should have a fresh smell and a nice texture.
- Day 3 – 09:00PM Transfer 50g of your sourdough starter into a bowl. Discard the rest.Add 50g flour + 50ml water, mix and transfer into a clean jar.Loosely cover with lid and set aside on the countertop. The yeasts are slowly developing at this stage, so you might notice signs of some activity. You might want to set a mark on the jar, either by using a rubber band or a marker pen. In this way you will be able to observe if ths starter shows signs of increasing in volume.
- Day 4 to Day 10 Continue with the same routine and refresh your sourdough starter at 12 hour intervals.By day 10 your sourdough starter should double in volume within 4-5 hours. In warmer seasons/regions the sourdough starter may double in volume within 3 hours or even less.
- Your starter is ready to use when it is at its peak volume (which should be roughly after 4-5 hours from refreshing it).
Sourdough starter for beginners – FAQ
What type of flour can I use?
Strong white flour is usually recommended for your sourdough starter. You need a flour that is high in protein, so look for anything above 13% protein. I currently use a strong organic flour with 13.4% protein.
Plain white flour might work, but your sourdough starter might be weaker, not as strong as you would expect.
Wholemeal flour, rye flour or spelt flour may be added in small percentages to your sourdough starter. If you do so, make sure to use less white flour so that you don’t mess up the hydration percentages (we’ll talk about these in the next blog post). If you use the above recipe, just replace 10g of white flour with the same quantity of wholemeal/rye/spelt flour each time you refresh your sourdough starter.
Self raising flour or any type of bread-mix flours should be avoided. These types of flours are not suitable for this project.
I am conscious about food waste. What can I do with the discard?
You will inevitably produce some food waste by discarding your sourdough starter. At the very first stages, there is little you can do about it. You can reduce the amount of waste by reducing all quantities shown in the recipe above from 50g to 30g, or even 25g. As your sourdough starter gets stronger, you will be able to use the discard to make scones, pancakes, muffins etc.
What can go wrong?
Anything, really! From no signs of any yeast activity, to weird smells, to messing up measurements, flours, and so on.
How can I make sure I get it right?
Your sourdough starter is basically a culture of wild yeasts that are feeding on flour and water. There are many variables in cultivating your own sourdough starter. Room temperature, indoor humidity levels, outdoor humidity levels, flour quality, water quality – these are all factors that influence how yeasts are growing and developing within your sourdough culture. Some of these factors you might be able to control – to some extend. But the level of control, the type and quality of water/flour – these are variables that make each and every sourdough starter unique.
What you can control is:
- type of flour: make sure you use the same type of flour to refresh your starter. Even from the same package if possible.
- water: use bottled water at room temperature. Filtered water should be fine too. I try to avoid tap water, as it is difficult to control its temperature. Too cold/too warm water is not good for the yeasts at this stage.
- tools/utensils: make sure you clean and thoroughly rinse your jars, lids and spoons. Traces of dishwashing liquid may be harmful for the yeasts.
- timing: yeasts love routine. They evolve and adapt to your refreshing schedule, so if you start with a 12 hour refreshing schedule make sure you are being consistent – especially during the first 10 days. Now a 10-15 minutes delay won’t do any damage to your sourdough starter, but 30 minutes or more might have an impact.
- room temperature: again, yeasts will adapt to your room temperature – just make sure you keep it as constant as possible.
If you’re planning to bake your own bread, why not try making your own home made butter as well? It’s easier than you might think. Click here for the recipe.
For more recipes and foodie inspiration follow me on Instagram at @mintandrosemary.
If you’re looking for new kitchen tools or gadgets, head over to my Amazon Influencer page for a list of carefully curated tools, utensils and cookery books – there’s also a special section for sourdough essentials. Do feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions, or if you’re looking to get a new kitchen tool/utensil/gadget. I’ll be happy to help!
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