How to Make a Sourdough Starter - Modern Alternative Mama
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How to Make a Sourdough Starter

admin January 6, 2012

sourdough starter

Image by matthewf01

So, I mentioned to my Facebook fans that I’m planning to try out sourdough again, starting now.  I’ve tried twice before.  Here’s how it went:

  1. First — I used sprouted flour, which, since the grain had already been “altered,” simply did not have enough rising power.  Crackers turned out okay, but any “real” bread was basically a brick.  After two bread attempts (which also smelled disgusting), I gave up.
  2. Second — I tried again with unsprouted flour and got some good bubble action…then forgot to feed it for a few weeks (lost my enthusiasm for the project) and it got moldy and had to be thrown out.

I am not going to let either of those things happen again.

No, I am going to create a successful sourdough starter that bubbles nicely and makes both good sandwich bread and a good boule (crusty bread — like the top image).  My Facebook fans wanted to join me on my journey, and perhaps some of you do, too.  I’ll be updating once or twice a week as I attempt to make this sourdough thing work for me.  Are you ready?  We can do this!

How to Make a Sourdough Starter

You will need:

  • Freshly ground flour (ideally)
  • Filtered Water
  • A glass jar
  • A dish cloth
  • A rubber band
  • A spoon

Okay, here we go.

I’m grinding white whole wheat flour in my Vitamix.  Some say it’s easier to start with white flour than whole wheat (lighter), but I’m not going to bother.  What’s the point?  The white whole wheat, however, is true whole wheat, just a different variety (than the usual red).  It’s naturally a bit lighter and makes yummy-tasting breads.  I recommend using that, and it’s gotten quite easy to find in stores now.

I’m going to grind about 2 cups at once, because that is the amount that gets the best results.  Too little and it whips it around and doesn’t work so well; too much and it’s very heavy and the motor has to work too hard.  I’m only going to start out with about 1/2 c. of it today, so I’ll put the rest in a bag and freeze it.

sourdough starter

Step 1: I’m adding my flour to a quart glass mason jar.  Having mason jars around is so handy.  Start with about 1/2 c. so the sourdough starter doesn’t get too heavy.  You need a very small volume at first to get good bubbles — a new starter with a smaller colony of beneficial bacteria won’t be able to rise a lot of starter.

Step 2: Add just over half as much water as you did flour.  I’ll add 1/4 c. + 1 or 2 tbsp. water, since I added 1/2 c. flour.  This basically makes a (very) thick batter.  It’s good.

sourdough starter

Step 3: Stir it up until it’s all together.  It should be very thick.  Thick is good.  I learned my lesson after many attempts.  (The sourdough starter below is a little on the thin side, really.)

sourdough starter

Step 4: Cover it with a clean cloth.  Mine is a scrap of birdseye cotton, the stuff that’s used to make cloth diapers.  I use it to sew cloth diaper inserts, but also as a substitute for cheesecloth in my kitchen.  It works great.  Top your jar with a rubber band to keep the cloth in place.

sourdough starter

Step 5: Put it somewhere warm and let it sit.  A space near your stove (but not too near) is good.  If you have other ferments in the kitchen, do spread them out — they have different bacterial profiles, and you don’t want them to cross-contaminate.

sourdough starter

Step 6: For the first three days, you need to feed your starter every 12 hours, or twice a day.  I’ll feed mine when I get up (or I’m making breakfast) and before I go to bed.  After this initial period, feed your starter once a day.  You can bake with it after three days, but it’ll get better with age.

You can feed your sourdough starter as often as 8 hours.  And, during those initial three days, you should throw out half of it before feeding it.  (You should do this any time the starter isn’t very active and you want it to become active.)  That’s so the volume never gets too high while you are trying to culture more bacteria.  I learned my lesson with this, too — yes, it does matter, and you do need to throw out some of it…at first.  Once it’s active, you won’t need to do this (but by then you should be using some of it, so the volume won’t get too high anyway).

One more quick note: sometimes, a grayish liquid will collect on top of the starter.  That’s called hooch, and it’s normal(ish).  If your starter is regularly making hooch, you either aren’t feeding it often enough, or it’s too thin.  Thick is better — because thin starter releases the bubbles easily, while thick starter traps them and produces the rise you’re looking for.

Have you ever made a sourdough starter before?  How did it go?

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17 Comments

  1. I tried a starter… I think it was over the Summer, and it was a big fat fail. It smelled so bad at first that I just couldn’t take it. Then, once it started smelling more like sourdough and less like vomit I think I let it die, or it got moldy or something. Anyway, at that point, I was totally over it and it had to be thrown out, sad.

    I’d like to try again eventually. Good luck with your 3rd attempt!

    Love the site redesign, by the way!

    Reply

  2. Total Sourdough novice question….When you say you are going to feed it, how much are you feeding it? Everyone always says to feed it, but I have no idea how much!

    Reply

    • 2:1 ration water/flour to starter. I do 1/4 c starter and add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. If you are going to feed it every day. Some people do 1/2 cup/1 cup which is what I do when I am close to wanting to bake bread; otherwise you go through so much flour it’s a waste.

      Reply

      • So – I’m feeding it double what I started with? If I start with 1/2 cup of starter, I’d need to do 1 cup flour and 1 cup water every time I feed it? And why is it wasting it? Don’t you use it? (not sure I’ll ever understand sourdough starters at this point!)

        Reply

  3. I wonder if I can start this with gluten free flour?

    Reply

  4. I did one for months and months…..and it began to feel like a weight – a burden to keep alive. So, I froze some to hopefully use later. And plus, we don’t care for the taste of traditional sourdough loaf bread. Good luck !!!

    Reply

  5. I have been dreaming of starting a sourdough starter for a while now but I’ve been unsuccessful at finding a tried and true recipe using gluten free flours! I’m not crazy about wasting my brown rice or sorghum flour but it would be awesome to come up with a combination that works! I think I’m going to give it a try starting with a small amount of flour and see how it goes! I hope this one works out for you!

    Reply

  6. I had a great sourdough starter. I had it in a Mason Jar. I made the mistake of shaking it to mix it in the jar and it foamed over like soda when I opened it. I went to clean the outside of the jar and yep…it slipped out of my hands and ALL OVER the floor. I’m going to try it again.

    Reply

  7. I love sourdough bread and I have learned it is way better for me as a diabetic. I am going to try to get a starter going with you.
    Thank you for your blog. I follow you every day and really enjoy it.

    Reply

  8. I have never done this, but have always wanted to try it. I also had no idea what “feeding” it meant. I’ll give it a shot wtih you!

    Reply

  9. for gluten free sourgough its a bit different. there is a very indepth recipie book you can buy, the info is on the cultures for health website. I have been successfull starting gluten free starters using yogurt to help it along. you start with 1:1 ratio of water and flour and then add a couple tablespoons of either yogurt, kefir, water kefir, or something with probiotics in it. then you proceed as normal. the book i mentioned above has lots of great info in at really got me started and also taught me a lot.

    Reply

  10. For a while I have been saying I was going to make my own sourdough bread, but honestly, it scares me. This post makes me think it might not be so scary after all. Maybe I will get brave and add it to my to-do list to do once I finish my current projects.

    Reply

  11. […] – Beef barley soup, sourdough […]

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  12. I am a lover of baking. I love bread, but more than that, I just love baking. I do a lot of sourdough bread. Here’s the thing, you only need to leave it covered with cloth for a couple of days. After that, leave it covered and just aerate it with a fork when you fed. You can leave it covered in the fridge for weeks and weeks with no attention necessary. Remember that illiterate and uneducated people have successfully made sourdough bread for thousands of years. You can do this. I am reticent to put this here, but I have a really stupid easy fridge method of making 100% whole wheat sourdough and I wrote a 99 cent booklet on working with starter. (Kate, you can delete this message if it is a too commercial, I know that it is a little bit so).

    By the way, Kate, I usually get this in a reader and have not stopped by to see your changes in a while. This looks fantastic!

    Reply

  13. […] Make your own bread. Try your hand at making your own sourdough starter. […]

    Reply

  14. […] new to real food pick one or two recipes you are comfortable making.  Take it from me, and Kate, don’t bank on a artesian loaf of sourdough fresh from the oven 10 minutes before meal time […]

    Reply

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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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