How to make your own sourdough starter: the path to great bread

Have you ever wondered how to make your own sourdough starter?

Whether it conjures up a crusty, flavorful loaf of bread or a bubbling crock of flour/water starter, sourdough is a treasured part of many bakers’ kitchens.

But where does the path to sourdough bread begin? And how do you start?

Start in your own home kitchen. And begin by learning how to make your own sourdough starter.

First, a word of advice. Sourdough baking is as much art as science. This method for making sourdough starter isn’t an exact match for the one you read on another site, or in a cookbook, or in your great-grandma’s diary.

If you have a process you’ve successfully followed before, then hey, stick with it. Or try this one and compare. All good.

A sourdough starter includes five key ingredients: flour, water, time, patience, and love. Click To Tweet

OK, ready? Let’s go.

The following timeline assumes you can find a relatively warm place (68°F to 70°F) to grow your starter. More on that below.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

How to make your own sourdough starter, day 1

Combine 4 ounces (1 cup) whole rye flour (pumpernickel) or whole wheat flour with 4 ounces (1/2 cup) non-chlorinated cool water in a non-reactive container. Glass, crockery, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic all work fine for this.

Note that whole grain flour (whole wheat or rye) is used at the beginning of the process. This is because whole grains contain more nutrients and sourdough-friendly microorganisms than all-purpose flour.

You also may have better results if you feed your starter with non-chlorinated cool water; from now on, we’ll refer to this simply as “water.”

Stir everything together thoroughly; make sure there’s no dry flour anywhere. Cover the container loosely and let the mixture sit at warm room temperature (about 70°F) for 24 hours.

A note about room temperature: the colder the environment, the more slowly your starter will grow. If the normal temperature in your home is below 68°F, we suggest finding a smaller, warmer spot to develop your starter.

For instance, try setting the starter near a baseboard heater, or atop your water heater, refrigerator, or another appliance that might generate ambient heat. Your oven, turned off but with the light on, is another option, as is setting the container of starter on a folded dish towel laid atop a heating pad on its lowest setting.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

A temperature-controlled bread proofer is the absolute ideal solution; if you bake lots of yeast bread, you might consider investing in one of these tools.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Day 2

You may see no activity at all in the first 24 hours, or you may see a bit of growth or bubbling. Note that this starter looks fairly inert when viewed from up top.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

But when viewed from the side, you can see bubbles starting to form under the surface.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Either way, discard half the starter (4 ounces), and add to the remainder 4 ounces (a scant 1 cup) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and 4 ounces (1/2 cup) cool water (if your house is warm); or lukewarm water (if it’s cold).

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Mix well, cover, and let the mixture rest at room temperature for 24 hours.

Note: Why do you need to discard half the starter? It seems so wasteful…

Well, it’s necessary for three reasons. First, unless you discard, eventually you’ll end up with The Sourdough That Ate Milwaukee – too much starter. Second, keeping the starter volume the same helps balance the pH. And third, keeping the volume down offers the yeast more food to eat each time you feed it; it’s not fighting with quite so many other little yeast cells to get enough to eat.

Also, you don’t have to discard it if you don’t want to; you can give it to a friend, or use it to bake. There are quite a few recipes on our site using “discard” starter, including sourdough pizza crust, sourdough pretzels, and my all-time favorite waffles.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Day 3

By the third day, you’ll likely see some activity – bubbling; a fresh, fruity aroma, and some evidence of expansion. The somewhat darker hue your starter got from its whole wheat beginnings will fade as you continue to feed it with all-purpose flour. It’s now time to begin two feedings daily, as evenly spaced as your schedule allows.

For each feeding, weigh out 4 ounces starter; this will be a generous 1/2 cup, once it’s thoroughly stirred down. Discard any remaining starter.

Add 4 ounces (a scant 1 cup) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and 4 ounces (1/2 cup) water to the 4 ounces starter.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Mix the starter, flour, and water, cover, and let the mixture rest at room temperature for approximately 12 hours before repeating.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Here’s the starter after its 12-hour rest. It may actually appear to be bubbling less than it did initially; this is normal.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Days 4, 5, 6…

Repeat two-a-day feedings on days 4, 5, and as many days as it takes for your starter to become very active — almost foamy. If your starter is in cool surroundings, you may find it takes up to 2 weeks (or perhaps even longer) to get going.

When it shows a markedly different type of bubbling, though, it’s just about ready to use.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

When you stir it down and feed it this time, make a note of how high it comes on the bowl or jar. You’ll know it’s ready to use in baking when it doubles in size in about 4 to 6 hours. You’ll see lots of bubbles; there may be some little “rivulets” on the surface, full of finer bubbles.

Also, the starter should have a tangy aroma – pleasingly acidic, but not overpowering.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

When it gets to this point — doubling in size in 4 to 6 hours — give it one last feeding. Discard all but 4 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup). Feed as usual. Let the starter rest at room temperature for 4 to 8 hours; it should be active, with bubbles breaking the surface.

Remove however much starter you need for your recipe (no more than 8 ounces, about 1 cup); and transfer the remaining 4 ounces of starter to its permanent home: a crock, jar, or whatever you’d like to store it in long-term. Feed this 4 ounces of starter with 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Let it bubble and become active for several hours before covering it and placing it in the refrigerator.

But wait — what if things haven’t gone exactly according to schedule?

No worries. If, after a week, your starter isn’t ready, don’t lose heart; keep feeding it regularly, and it will gain strength — really!

Be patient. The conditions in your kitchen may be more or less conducive to building a starter, depending on room temperature, the season, humidity, or how much you’ve been baking.

Remember, the keys to developing a successful starter are using good (unbleached) flour; having a consistent feeding schedule, and ripening (growing) the starter in an environment that’s adequately warm (at least 68°F, and preferably in the 70s).

Grape sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

When your starter is strong enough, it’s time to go ahead and make your favorite sourdough bread.

Good luck! And enjoy.

Want something printable to follow? See our recipe for Sourdough Starter.

Next: maintaining your starter.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Alyssa F.

    Hello! I am on day three and the instructions state there would be a fresh fruity aroma. I’m not sure mine has that, to me the closest I can describe it is like milk and sweetness. Did it go wrong? Should I start over? My home is usually between 72-78 since I’m in Georgia and I keep my starter covered and in my kitchen. I used whole wheat flour initially and now unbleached all purpose.
    Thank you in advance.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      No worries, Alyssa, keep going! Your kitchen is hot so we recommend feeding it with cooler water — around 50°F — to slow down the fermentation. Every starter is different. Keep up the feedings and it should be just fine. If you have any other questions, our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline is available at 855-371-BAKE (2253) or through chat and email on our website so always feel free to reach out to them! Annabelle@KFA

  2. Erin

    Hello!

    This is my first attempt in making a sourdough starter. I’m about 8 days in, and I’m seeing no activity. The dough has a pancake batter consistency. I was wondering if I’m doing something wrong?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Erin! If you don’t see any foam, bubbles or any growth after a feeding, it could help to use some whole grain flour, either rye or whole wheat. We encourage you to check out our blog on Sourdough Troubleshooting which gives helpful visuals on starters that are truly dead. The good news? It’s really really hard to kill them! Annabelle@KAF

  3. Vivian

    In the recipe for making your own starter, I’m curious as to why you use whole rye (pumpernickel) or whole wheat flour, but use plain AP to feed it?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We recommend beginning your starter with either whole rye or whole wheat flour because of the added vitamins and minerals that are present in whole grains. This extra nutritional boost kick starts the activity of wild yeast and activity. This isn’t necessary for regular upkeep and maintenance once the starter is established. It’ll actually make the starter too active (ferment too quickly) if you continue to feed it with whole wheat flour, so it’s best to feed it with all-purpose flour regularly. A single feeding of whole wheat flour here and there can be helpful if you’re seeing lulls in activity. Good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Elena Geangu

    I think I reached day 7 or so. I have been feeding the starter 2 times a day for the past 3 days. First two times I feeded 2 times/day, it showed few bubbles on top and more under as I could see through the bowl and when mixing. It is very elastic and smells slightly tangy and yeasty. It was also rising a bit. Last evening I did not see any rising, but bubbles were present under the surface. I forgot to feed it this morning and when I came home in the evening it had a surface which looked like a bit velvety and smelling very similar to fresh yeast. Is this ok? It’s still not raising much, though bubbly mostly under the surface. Shall I keep going? Thanks for making time to reply.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It sounds like you’re right on track, Elena, since you’re detecting the right kind of smell and also seeing bubbles below the surface. If you’d like to try to boost the activity into high gear, give it a feeding with whole wheat flour before switching back to feeding with all-purpose. The extra vitamins and minerals in the whole wheat flour might be just what your starter needs to start rising and expanding more rapidly. Good luck and feel free to call our Baker’s Hotline if you’d like to troubleshoot further: 855-371-BAKE (2253). Kye@KAF

    2. Elena Geangu

      Thank you very much for help. I fed some whole wheat and the switched to a mix of all purpose and rye flour. There are a minimum of 21-22C in the kitchen. Now the starter does double in size, has a pleasant fruity vinegary aroma, is webbed with bubbles and viscous. However, it does not raise more than double in 12h and is not very frothy. It is now in week 3 or so. Does it mean is ready or what can be done to bring it to the next level? Thanks again.

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      It sounds like you and your sourdough starter are ready to bake, Elena! The fact that it’s expanding in size (as much as double the original size) means there’s a health wild yeast culture in the starter. Continue to feed your starter regularly, giving it an occasional feeding of whole wheat or rye flour. We also recommend checking out our recently updated Sourdough Baking Guide for additional tips, tricks, and inspiration to bring your sourdough to where you want to be. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    4. Elena Geangu

      I just wanted to say Hello again, and a huge THANK YOU for your suggestions and supportive attitude. It took another couple of weeks of keeping the starter at room temperature and feeding twice a day until it got to the point of raising fast and high after feeding. So yes, persistence really paid off. After a couple of of disastrous bakes, I also got to the point of having bread that raises beautifully in the oven and tastes amazing. Thank you for keeping this forum active and for everyone posting. It really does help.

  5. Aaron Bastian

    Hi,

    I am on day 4 of making my first starter. I am getting hooch forming at the bottom of my starter rather than the top. It is pretty clear liquid and does not smell bad, but does not smell as yeasty as I would have expected, which lead me to think that there were some more bacteria than desired in the mix. When I mix the starter, it is very inviscid (more so than I have seen any pictures of), but there is no discoloration or any other bad signs.

    Today (day4 @ about 250g total), I put 80g water and 100g whole wheat flower with 100g of the starter into a new container thinking that it might put the yeast back in control of the situation.

    Is Hooch at the bottom a bad sign? Is what I did the right move?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      No problem with hooch at the bottom, Aaron — there’s always a weird slump between days 3 and 6 but by day 10 it should be more balanced and consistent. Keep going! If you have any other questions, our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline is available at 855-371-BAKE (2253) or through chat and email on our website so always feel free to reach out to them. Annabelle@KAF

  6. Deborah Mathewuse

    What size container should I start with? I have read you need to have an airtight container, and also for it not to be air tight. Help! Things I already have on hand are a good size ceramic canister with a non airtight lid, and a storage jar with a gasket and wire clamp that could have the gasket removed.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Deborah, we recommend using a sourdough crock with a loose-fitting lid if it’s at all possible. Our stoneware crock is 7½” tall and has about a 1-quart capacity. You can also use a large mason jar (32 ounces) with the top place slightly askew or something of a similar size and capacity. You want to be sure there is plenty of room for the starter to grow and expand within its new, happy home! Kye@KAF

  7. Christine

    I used exact measurements to begin the starter and find I have more of a dough ball. Is that the right consistency to begin with? I pictured it to be more liquidy. Thanks for a reply.
    Christine

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Christine! The mixture is usually thicker when it’s first stirred together, and it loosens up as it rests and grows. So long as you measured by weight it should be just fun and will thin out as it sits. If you have any other questions, our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline is available at 855-371-BAKE (2253) or through chat and email on our website so always feel free to reach out. Annabelle@KAF

  8. Rosanna Procopio

    Hi I got my starter from my son, it came in a frozen state. How do I get it started and what would be my mesures.

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Rosanna, it sounds like you should start by letting your starter thaw. Once it’s at a useable room temperature, follow the instructions outlined in this video on our website to get things going if it’s a start from King Arthur Flour. If it’s a starter that’s already been taken care of for a while, you can start with regular feedings as outlined in this recipe here. If you have any other questions, give our Baker’s Hotline a call: 855-371-BAKE(2253). We’re here to help! Kye@KAF

  9. Tuesday

    Want to develop a sourdough starter. I am in a place where the temp has been averaging 80-85 degrees. Is that a problem?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Welcome to the world of sourdough, Tuesday! Your starter will ferment faster than our instructions suggest, so you may find your starter bubbling up and beginning to deflate more frequently. It will help if you use cold water (around 50°F) to slow down the fermentation a bit, but other than that, it should be just fine. Annabelle@KAF

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