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. The Baker's Hotline

      To some degree, yes! The yeasts found in the air will always be unique to your own area, no matter where your starter originated, plus there are differences depending on the type of flour you use, how often you feed your starter, and how wet you keep it. But on a basic level, all starters will have a sour, yeasty smell to them. Hope that helps! Kat@KAF

  1. Mark

    Hi, I live in India and it’s summer here. Temperatures soar up to 45 C (113 F) pretty regularly. Also, since India is lacking the culture of baking sourdough, it would be very difficult to get a starter from a friend. The only option I have is to make my own starter. How would you suggest I go about it considering the extremely hot temperatures? Shall I start it off in a refrigerator and be patient with the growth of the yeast rather than leaving it at the 113 degree room temperature and risking the growth of mold and unwanted, probably harmful microorganisms?
    Thanks!
    P.S. The post was very informative and the images should help a lot by acting as a reference.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello, Mark! Is there by chance a cooler spot in your home that the starter could live? Using cold water when mixing things up will definitely help slow down the fermentation. Keeping it in an insulated container would also help prevent it from fermenting too quickly. Starting a sourdough starter in the fridge is very risky, as it’s unlikely that the would really start to thrive. If you can do it out of the fridge using cold water, (about 50°F) and keep it in a cooler or insulated thermos-like container, that would be ideal. Please feel welcome to reach out to our Baker’s Hotline with any additional questions. Annabelle@KAF

    2. Mark

      Hi, Annabelle, I seem to have got my starter up for the first day. I started it at night since the nights tend to get cooler and that I turn on the air conditioning in the room I sleep. The room temperature was about 26C (78-79F) throughout the night (I did start it with cold water and in a glass container, that was the best I could find). In the morning, when the temperatures seem to rise to 40-42C (104F), I alternated the starter between the refrigerator and table. The starter would stay in the refrigerator for 30 minutes and then on the counter for 30 minutes with a wet cloth wrapped around the bowl to make sure the temperature stays low.
      Also, I started off by adding a tablespoon of sour yogurt to increase the acidity of the starter (and prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms in the initial stages) and all some good lactobacillus to the starter.
      I have just fed it the second time. This time, instead of discarding half, I decided to conduct a side-by-side experiment by using all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour for the subsequent feedings. For the all purpose flour, I fed it 0.67 cups cold water and 1.25 cups all purpose flour to half the initial starter and for the whole wheat one, I fed it 1 cup whole wheat flour (assuming the whole wheat flour is “thirstier”) and 0.67 cups cold water. I am going to repeat the same process as the first day and I’ll keep this thread posted about the results.
      Thanks for the help!

  2. Laura

    what is the best container to make this in? I started it in a quart jar but I am not sure that is best?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Laura! We find that a wide mouth, quart-sized canning jar works really well for maintaining a starter. We also have stoneware crocks that work great for storing your starter too! Morgan@KAF

  3. Mary Farrand

    I am very excited to begin this process! I have buckwheat flour in my freezer. May I use this instead of whole wheat for the initial phase!?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Mary, we haven’t tried it, but feel free to experiment! If you find you aren’t seeing the growth you expect after a week or two, a combination of whole wheat with buckwheat is another option you might want to try out. Kat@KAF

  4. Debbie

    In the beginning directions you say start with 4 ounces of flour, but in parenthesis, you have one cup. Do you mean 4 ounces which is 1/2 cup or do you mean 8 ounces which is 1 cup?
    I just want to clarify before beginning.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Debbie, thanks for reaching out with your question! One cup of all-purpose flour is just over 4 ounces in weight. You might be thinking of water, which weighs around 8 ounces per cup. Hope that helps clarify! Kat@KAF

  5. Steph

    I started my starter about 2 weeks ago and everything for each feeding is weighed on the food scale. I’m still not seeing much activity- a little bubbling and some rise, but certainly not double. I’ve plowed through a huge bag of flour at this point with 2x a day feedings and am starting to get discouraged. What am I doing wrong?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Steph! We’re sorry to hear that you’re a bit discouraged with your starter. The bubbles and a little bit of rising that you’re seeing are a good sign though! Every starter is different, and it can vary on how long it takes for a starter to become predictable in its activity. We might suggest feeding your starter with whole wheat flour for the next day or so — this can help give the starter a little jumpstart. We hope this helps! Kindly, Morgan@KAF

  6. Janice

    Starting my starter today. 1c WW flour and 1/2c water. Is that correct? It is very dry looking whereas pictures from the instructions look more liquid. Which is correct? Thank you and I am excited to taste yummy sourdough bread soon!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Janice! Yes, that is correct. It sounds like a bit too much flour snuck its way into your measuring cup — scooping the flour directly out of the bag or container with the measure can compact in about an extra ounce of flour. We recommend checking out the “Recipe Success Guide,” link next to the ingredients header on the recipe page. You’ll see that either measuring your flour by weight using a scale, or fluffing and sprinkling the flour into your measuring cup are the best ways to ensure you’ve got the right amount. The consistency of the starter should be similar to that of a thick pancake batter. You can adjust your starter with a bit of water until it looks like the starter pictured here. If we can chat with you further about making your own sourdough starter, please feel free to give our Baker’s Hotline folks a call at 855-371-BAKE (2253). Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

    2. Janice

      Great Morgan. I was able to mix in more water to get the correct consistency. I am getting a few bubbles this AM. I am keeping my starter outside here in Florida since the temps are now at least 70. I am excited about this process. Thank you.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Absolutely, Leah! We suggest all-purpose because that’s what most folks have on hand, but feel free to keep feeding your starter whole wheat and pumpernickel indefinitely if you like. Some folks say they prefer the flavor of a whole grain starter, and yeasts are usually quite happy to eat them too. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  7. Momo

    How long can this be kept in the fridge and still be active? Or must it always be fed daily regardless? We only eat bread maybe one day a week so I don’t want to waste so much especially as we use expensive einkorn…

    Reply
  8. Kae

    I started my starter on April 15th with regular AP flour and things were going according to the guide up to Day 3. On Day 3, I had lots of activity (bubbles, rise, smelliness) and then I began the 12-hr feeding schedule. My starter has been stuck looking something like your Day 3 after the 12-hr rest – mine is a bit like a stretchy pancake batter, with a few bubbles on the surface (but not as many as yours had), and almost no small bubbles. I’ve kept feeding it every 12 hours in 1:1:1 but there’s hardly any activity even today. I’ve never seen small frothy bubbles and It doesn’t even smell anymore – I have to get in really close to smell anything, and it smells like flour after the 12-hr rest. Is there any hope for this starter or should I start new? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Kae! We’d encourage you to stick with it! Every starter is different and can take various amount of time to become established and predictable in its activity. You can try feeding your starter with some whole wheat flour for the next couple feedings to see if that will give it a little jump start, but we don’t think you should give up on this one. Best of luck! Morgan@KAF

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