Learn how to make a sour dough starter from scratch the easy way. Video tutorial shows the steps from beginning to end with photos for every step.
I am naturally drawn to homemade cooking and from scratch recipes made with wholesome ingredients. Maintaining a sour dough starter is just another step in that direction for my family.
Sour dough starter became unheard of for quite some time due to the conventional packets of dry yeast. I still keep yeast in my cabinet but you can’t beat the flavor and health benefits of a sour dough recipe. It’s worth the little extra work.
Creating and maintaining an active sour dough starter filled with gut healthy microbes is so fascinating to me! I want to inspire you to get creative in your kitchen too.
This post seems lengthy but I want you to be able to refer back to it when you have questions about your starter process. Read the whole post and come back in the future when you need help – I’m sure you’ll gain more confidence. I hope to cover all bases and potential problems you may run into during your sour dough starter creation.
Let’s get into it!
My sour dough starter(s)
Confession – this is my 3rd sour dough starter to create and I’m definitely feeling more confident about it.
The first starter I created by following a rigid schedule which involved weighing my ingredients. It just became too complicated and randomly grew black, fuzzy mold around the rim of the mason jar I kept it in. It was discouraging. I developed the idea that sour dough starter was too hard and not worth the effort.
I decided to give it another try.
The second starter I created was lost during the great snowpocolypse of 2021 in Texas. We were without power and water for days and then the next week we had our floors replaced. The temperature in my house was fluctuating so much and my kitchen was off limits for so long that I just couldn’t take care of it like I needed to.
This time though, I’m excited and feeling confident.
Let me walk you through what I’m doing differently this time around so that I can help you avoid giving up or making the same mistakes I did.
What makes sour dough bread sour?
Sour dough is a fermented grain, or other alternative, that cultivates a colony of good bacteria such as yeast and other microbes. The fermentation process creates this strong, sour smell and flavor that makes sour dough so distinguishable.
This sour flavor and smell is similar to other fermented products such as yogurt or sauerkraut.
Some health benefits of sour dough
Bread in general has had a bad reputation the last few years. Every new diet is filled with restrictive guidelines forbidding you from eating any bread products because they’re too high in carbs.
Bread isn’t all bad though!
Sour dough bread tastes great, is easier to digest for those who are sensitive and is often first pick when looking for a healthier bread option. This is due to the gut healthy bacteria present in the starter.
Why I love sour dough
My husband and I love to cook and try new things in the kitchen. I’ve always had a natural interest in alternative, or rather, traditional ways of doing things. Sour dough is just another way for me to feed that interest. If you’re interested in other old fashioned homemaking skills read this post!
Before I created my own sour dough I honestly couldn’t remember if I’d ever even really eaten anything sour dough but that did’t stop me form wanting to try it out for myself.
Once I tasted the starter cooked in with pancakes and other baked goods I knew I wanted to make it a regular ingredient in my kitchen. Sour dough just tastes so different than store bought bags of processed breads.
I’m certain it’s a flavor you’ll fall in love with too.
Let’s make a sour dough starter
Now that I’ve captured your interest, lets talk about how you can create your own bubbly, active sour dough starter to use in your kitchen.
Some things to keep in mind
- You have to have patience. The process of making a delicious and healthy sour dough starter takes time. Usually, a starter is mature enough by day 7 to use in baking, however that is not a definitive time frame. Your starter may need 10-14 days to become bubbly and active enough to use in baking.
- Don’t over think anything. Overthinking will cause you to worry that you’re doing something wrong or that you may have killed the starter. Sour dough starters are quite resilient so, again, have patience and keep going.
- Follow my instructions but don’t be such a stickler. If as you’re feeding your starter you notice it seems too thick, add a little more water. You want the starter to be slightly thicker than the consistency of pancake batter, so just use your own judgement at times.
- Separation, or the gathering of yellow or black liquid on top of your sour dough, is completely normal and even expected. It is a sign that your starter is hungry and needs to be fed. Just mix it into the starter, discard and feed.
- If, at any point, you notice mold growing (black, fuzzy, rotten smell) you must throw the starter out and start over. Don’t try to scrape it off and keep using it. You don’t want to make your family sick. Mold usually only grows if the starter is left out at room temperature and neglected for months and months or has had some kind of bad bacteria introduced during a feeding.
Tips for sour dough starter
- Scrape down bowl during feedings to ensure incorporation of all ingredients.
- Don’t add the full cup of water at each feeding. Add a little at a time so you can assess the consistency of the starter.
Glass bowl (must be glass because metal can react and kill good bacteria that you want in your starter)
Wooden spoon for stirring
Plastic or glass measuring cups
Tea towel (unless using a non airtight jar in place of the bowl)
All purpose flour (or some other alternative such as whole grain wheat or einkorn)
Filtered water (cannot use tap because chlorine and other chemicals will interfere with bacteria growth)
The starter process
Note – creating a sour dough starter is the repetitive process of adding and discarding starter. Keep in mind that you cannot bake or cook with the discard during the first 7-10 days since the starter isn’t mature. There aren’t enough microbes to create a rise in bread products yet and it will not provide that delicious sour taste until it is mature.
Day 1 – place your clean bowl in front of you with your wooden spoon. Combine 1 cup flour and 1 cup filtered water. Mix well with wooden spoon to incorporate air in with the ingredients. Be sure to stir vigorously and scrape the bowl. Place a clean tea towel over the top of the bowl. Leave out on counter top for 24 hours at room temperature.
Day 2 – This is the first day to remove discard. Remove the tea towel from the bowl and stir with wooden spoon. Using a clean plastic or glass measuring cup, remove half (about 1 cup) of starter from the bowl and discard. Please don’t worry about making sure all measurements are exact here. Just make sure you’re removing about half the starter from the bowl (if you remove one cup, you should have about 1 cup remaining in the bowl).
Now, to the remaining starter, add 1 cup flour and 1 cup filtered water. Stir vigrously, scrape the sides of the bowl and cover with clean tea towel. Leave out on the counter for another 24 hours.
Day 3-5 – repeat the same instructions from day 2 for days 3,4 and 5. Discard, feed, rest for 24 hours, repeat.
Day 6 & 7 – repeat the same instructions every 12 hours instead of every 24 hours. Discard, feed, rest for 12 hours, repeat.
After day 7, there should be enough activity in your new sour dough starter for you to begin baking with. You will know when your starter is maturing because you will see an obvious rise and fall. Around day 7, my starter finally began to rise about 3-4 hours after a feeding and then would settle back down.
I would suggest this sour dough pancake recipe from Lisa at Farmhouse On Boone. It’s a great recipe for beginners and your whole family is going to love the flavorful new taste of their pancakes.
On days 3-5 you may find yourself second guessing the starter and wondering if you’ve killed it or something. This is when you have to have patience. Continue to follow my instructions even if you have to continue feeding for 7 to 14 days.
The reason the maturation is set in day ranges is because the starter is dependent on its environment.
Sour dough is made with microbes present in your home. They are all different which means they all grow at different rates. Temperature in your home can affect how quickly a starter matures too.
If your home is really cold, like during the winter months or if you keep the thermostat low, you could store your starter in the oven with the pilot light on. The light provides just enough warmth for the yeast to grow.
Maintaining your sour dough starter
Once you have created a mature sour dough starter you will have to continue to feed it because you don’t ever want to use all of your starter in one recipe. You feed it so that it continues to grow and provide you with starter to add to your recipes.
When your starter is mature you no longer have to discard and throw away starter because you’ll just be using it in your recipes.
If you’re leaving your starter out on the counter, feed it every day. If you leave your starter out at room temperature and feed it every day then you need to bake with it every day too or it will rise and overflow out of the bowl or jar you store it in.
Store the starter in the refrigerator if you just want to use it once or twice a week. Before you get ready to use it, remove the starter from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature and then feed it. You can bake with your starter 4-12 hours after being fed at room temperature.
For best results, bake/cook with your starter when it has risen to it’s peak – about 4 hours after a feeding.
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Leave a comment below
I’d love to hear from you on your sour dough journey!
If you have any questions about your sour dough just leave it in the comments and I will get back with you.
I hope you find a way to incorporate sour dough into your baking and hopefully you’ve learned something new from this post.