Friday, February 17, 2012

Making A Sourdough Starter

Sourdough starters are available for purchase all over the place, from mail order websites to souvenir shops in San Francisco, but it's super easy to make your own. Once you've made the starter, try it out on these whole grain sourdough biscuits!


flour and water for homemade sourdough starter

You literally only need flour and water. Whole wheat and rye flours work great for this, but you could also use white flour if that's what you have. I grind my own flour whenever I need it. It's optimal to use dechlorinated or filtered water (read my post on how to easily dechlorinate your own) but this isn't essential. If you don't have a filter that removes chlorine, you can leave water in a jar overnight and most of the chlorine evaporates out of it. Chlorine in tap water can inhibit the fermentation that we're trying to achieve for the sourdough starter. To read more about my favorite low cost water filter, check out this article.


homemade sourdough starter
Covering your starter with a piece of cloth and rubber band allows it to breathe while keeping it clean.
Start with a cup of flour and a cup of water. Stir them together in a jar; the mixture should be thick but runny. If you want it to be ready sooner, you can also jump start the natural fermentation by using some kombucha or ginger bug for part of the liquid, (click the links for instructions on how to easily make your own kombucha or ginger bug). 

If you don't use a starter, wild yeasts from the air, from the surfaces of your jar, spoon, and the grains themselves, will find their way to your starter. This is what you want; those wild yeasts produce the gas that allows the dough to rise. Cover your starter with a cloth so it can breathe but stays clean, and stir twice a day for 3 or 4 days. After that it should be bubbly and smell nicely sour.


homemade sourdough starter
Leave room in your jar for expansion! Sourdough starter can double in size during fermentation.
It's ready to use in just a few days! I use about a cup and a half per recipe, and always replenish what I remove in order to maintain the starter. If you keep it on the counter, it needs to be fed daily. Feeding only involves adding a bit of fresh flour and water, maybe a half cup each day. Always stir twice a day unless you've got it in the fridge. 

Your starter will grow faster in a warm room, but if it's too hot you might have to stir and feed it more frequently. However, if you don't plan on using it again for a while, cap it tightly in a fresh jar, and stick it in the fridge where it will go dormant. It will keep this way for several weeks, and it's always easy to make a new batch of starter if needed.

If you bake seriously large amounts, you may want to have a bigger jar of sourdough starter. The instructions remain the same, just use larger amounts. If it smells bad or is moldy, compost your starter and try again. This could happen if it was contaminated, or if it went too long without being stirred or fed.


For more on traditional sourdough, as well as a whole world of fermentation ideas, check out the original source of my inspiration, two books by Sandor Katz. Both probably available from your local library, but also definitely worth owning. If you buy either through my ad links below, Amazon gives me a tiny bit of cash. Thanks in advance!


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May 22, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Wow! I've always been interested in this, but for some reason, have been afraid to try it. This is such an easy little tutorial, that I think I may actually give it a shot! Thanks for this! I'm pinning it for later. Thanks for sharing at Tiny Tip Tuesday!

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June 1, 2012 at 7:53 AM

Inviting you the Carnival of Home Preserving on my blog today and every Friday. Hope to see you there. Laura Williams' Musings http://laurawilliamsmusings.blogspot.com

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June 24, 2012 at 5:24 PM

Sounds interesting! Didn't know it was that simple.

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August 15, 2012 at 6:16 PM

Thanks for sharing this. I saw it on King's Court and I have always wanted to try this.

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Anonymous
August 26, 2012 at 4:54 PM

Ok, that's wonderful news. Sounds great and easy. Now, can you tell us how to use it in a bread recipe? or better yet, provide a recipe?

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August 26, 2012 at 5:25 PM

Well, that would be useful! I have a wonderful biscuit recipe I can share. Thanks for the request! These days I'm pretty much using soaked grains for everything, which make sourdough starter not necessary. I'll definitely get these recipes up soon.

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Anonymous
August 29, 2012 at 12:14 AM

Could you try this with a gluten free flour such as buckwheat or quinoa?

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August 30, 2012 at 7:20 AM

Sorry it took a while to respond, I had to think about this one. While I do use gluten free grains all the time, I've never made a sourdough starter with them, and I realize now why it wouldn't work. Rye and wheat, which I think are the highest in gluten, work the best. The gluten is needed to help the dough stretch and form the bubbles when it rises. That's why gluten free breads are more dense, right?
I do have a wonderful soaked grains breakfast cake recipe posted that you can use any grains for. You can also use basically the same recipe, minus the fruit & sugar, to make a cornbread type of bread, again with any grains. I honestly rarely use sourdough starters anymore, because I just soak all my doughs overnight in a bit of kefir or kombucha. This helps the dough be more light and fluffy, as well as more easily digestible, and it works with any grains you want to use.
http://alifeunprocessed.blogspot.com/2012/03/soaked-grains-breakfast-cake.html

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September 4, 2012 at 8:55 AM

the secret is out! I love sourdough pancakes the best. I came over from NapTime creations link up, I'm excited to see more of your creations.

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September 20, 2012 at 5:38 AM

GREAT tutorial...I too was wondering how this is done.
Laurie @ Pride in Photos

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September 20, 2012 at 7:48 AM

Thanks. Is this the starter for 'friendship' bread?

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September 20, 2012 at 9:00 AM

What a wonderful tutorial. My mom made her own starter and then...ohhhh the marvelous bread she baked. Perhaps it's time to give it a whirl.

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September 20, 2012 at 12:10 PM

This starter would work for any recipe that calls for a sourdough starter. I use it to make whole grain sourdough biscuits that are wonderful. Sorry I haven't posted the recipe yet.

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September 21, 2012 at 4:17 AM

Awesome tutorial -- I would love to try this. Thanks so much for sharing at Rural Thursdays this week. xo

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September 26, 2012 at 7:54 AM

Will be passing this along to my mom... she is a big fan of making her own starter. Thanks for sharing with us at Healthy 2Day Wednesdays!

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October 2, 2012 at 6:52 AM

mmmm...Sourdough is my most favorite bread, ever! I've never tried to make it though, so I'll have to keep this on hand. I would love to have you stop by 'Or so she says...' and share your great ideas at the Saturday link party (runs until Tuesday night...tonight!) I hope to see you there! www.oneshetwoshe.com

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October 2, 2012 at 7:46 AM

Thanks Mariel, I'll check it out!

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November 5, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Thank you for sharing this on Hearth & Soul Hop, a natural starter is always the best way to go. Great bread starts with a great whole food ingredients. :)

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Annie
November 27, 2012 at 1:09 AM

I made the starter two days ago, the first day it kinda of double in size and I stirred it down, the next day it became watery and didn't rise at all. I just checked it, it's still watery, didn't rise, but does smell sour (faintly). Can you post a few pictures to show the finished product or explain what comprises of a successful batch of sourdough starter? Thanks so much! Oh and I made the ginger bug, it's working because it's bubbling/fizzing and the fermented apple juice is in the works, too, so excited!! Thanks again.

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November 27, 2012 at 5:32 AM

I don't have a starter going right now to take pictures of, nothing besides the ones in this article unfortunately... but when it doubles in size, it's ready to use! This can take different lengths of time, depending on many factors like temperature and viability of your flour, but it sounds like yours had an early maturation! Try just feeding it a bunch more flour-plus water as needed to keep it a good, stirable consistency- then be ready to use it later that day or the next morning. The liquid on the top pretty much means it's exhausted the current food supply. Great to hear about the ginger bug! Good luck, Annie.

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Annie
November 27, 2012 at 3:32 PM

Thanks for getting back, I'll try feeding some more flour and water, and see how it goes :)

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December 18, 2012 at 7:22 PM

This is really great information. I have always wanted to make sourdough bread, but didn't want to find a starter. Now I can make my own.

I am now following your blog and pinning this. I want to know what you are up to! Great information.

Cynthia at http://FeedingBig.com

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December 18, 2012 at 8:30 PM

Thanks Cynthia! Yes, it's awesome that you don't have to wait for someone to come along to share a starter with you, or to buy one. Plus, if you don't use it for a while and need to replace it, it's so easy to just start a new one!

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December 26, 2012 at 11:00 PM

Hi Emily,
This sourdough starter looks delicious. I'm pinning it. Thanks so much for sharing at Wednesday's Adorned From Above Blog Hop.
This weeks party is live. Here is the link to the party
http://www.adornedfromabove.com/2012/12/5-fun-posts-and-wednesdays-adorned-from.html
Debi @ Adorned From Above
Joye and Myrna @ The Busy Bee’s
Linda @ With A Blast

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January 8, 2013 at 8:43 AM

Great idea! I love sourdough bread :)
I would love to have you join in several hops that I host or co-host! Starting today there is the seasonal Winter on the HomeAcre Hop at:

http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/01/winter-on-the-homeacre-hop.html

This gives you a chance to bring out archived posts on winter subjects :)
Tomorrow is Wildcrafting Wednesday, you'll be able to find it from my homepage at:

http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/

And on Thursday I host The HomeAcre Hop, another good place to bring out great posts that you would like to share again. I'd love to see posts on homesteading, farming, cooking, homeschooling...the list goes on :) You can also find that on my homepage. Hope you can join us for all of these fun hops!

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January 12, 2013 at 6:45 AM

I always thought this complicated but it sounds very easy! Thank you for sharing this, I can't wait to try it.

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January 14, 2013 at 7:15 PM

I just shared this on my facebook page and am featuring you on my hop tomorrow. I also wanted to see if you might be interested in being featured as a homestead highlight on my site. Each week I share a different person's journey towards simpler living. If you're interested, shoot me an email at gstuppycarlson at gmail. com and check out the info page: http://www.backyardfarmingconnection.com/p/homestead-highlight.html

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January 14, 2013 at 9:26 PM

Thanks for the feature, Gretchen!

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January 17, 2013 at 8:33 AM

Sourdough bread is something I've always wanted to try, but have yet to get around to. We are currently eating grain free, but will eventually start to allow some gluten-free grains in. I wonder if you've ever made gluten free sourdough starter? If so, I'd love to find out how you did it.

I've been enjoying your blog! You have a lot of great information :)

I'd like to invite you to join in my blog hop tomorrow, Get Real Frugal Friday, if you are interested :)

http://realfoodrealfrugal.com/category/get-real-frugal-friday/

Blessings!
Susan

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January 17, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Thank you Susan!
I've heard that the most glutinous grains (wheat & rye) make the best sourdough, and when I've tried with gluten free grains it hasn't worked. That's not to say it can't happen, but it's harder.
However, what I do for most of my baking is just soak the dough. I make cornbread or biscuits (with any grains really) and a breakfast cake that are both great, and versatile, and can easily be gluten free. The real secret is soaking the flour at least overnight, so it gets soft and tender and rises better!
When you're ready to try it, my soaked grains breakfast cake recipe is on this blog (just use the search feature) and I'll put up the cornbread/biscuit recipe soon.

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January 20, 2013 at 9:49 AM

This is great! My Aunt used to make sourdough bread when I was a kid, and I always thought it was yummy. Now I can try and make it myself ;-)

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January 23, 2013 at 7:04 PM

what do you do with the sourdough starter? I will follow so that I can see any recipes you may have.
Janice

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January 23, 2013 at 9:17 PM

Yes, thank you for the reminder. I have a great sourdough biscuit recipe I will share! You can use this starter in any other recipe that calls for a sourdough starter as well.

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January 31, 2013 at 9:27 PM

I'm impressed! I tried starting one from scratch at least 3 times and failed every time. I finally got one from a friend and it's thriving!

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February 1, 2013 at 8:16 AM

Do you use dechlorinated water? Beyond that, the only thing you have to do is stir it twice a day. I've never had one fail, and have started them many times this way. Any idea why yours didn't make it?

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February 19, 2013 at 7:17 AM

Interesting... so in what cases would you need to use a sourdough starter? If I soak all my grains for normal recipes, can I avoid sourdough starters or is it only needed for bread? Great post. It makes it seem so much easier than my book by Peter Reinhart who says I should add specific amounts to the starter and discard some of it half way through which seems like a waste. Thank you for telling us how long this will last in the fridge too.

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February 22, 2013 at 6:20 AM

Thanks for your tutorial. I will give it a try! I have a reverse osmosis filter, but it's good to know that leaving water out overnight will also help remove chlorine for when we travel.

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February 22, 2013 at 6:27 AM

I've never tried doing this, but I'm excited to try. I've pinned it for the very near future. Thanks for sharing!
Blessings,
Nici

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February 22, 2013 at 10:10 AM

So cool, thanks am pinning.
x
Natalie
www.marigoldsloft.blogspot.com

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March 7, 2013 at 3:59 PM

I love working with sourdough. I never have started a starter though b/c I got some from a friend and I have kept it going for 6 years now.
Here because of Wildcrafting WEdnesday.
Jennifer

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March 7, 2013 at 4:18 PM

Wow, that's great! Do you keep yours in the fridge as well, or do you just do a ton of baking? I find myself starting new ones all the time just because I tend to use it only in phases, and then go a long time without needing it.

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March 9, 2013 at 9:27 AM

This is awesome! I have wanted to try sourdough for a while now, I think that I might try it this weekend though! Thanks for linking up at what i am eating.

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April 24, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Thanks for sharing your post with us! I hope you join us again today (yeah I know it's a day late... linky issues) at Eco-Kids Tuesday!!

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April 25, 2013 at 11:53 AM

Can you tell me more about keeping it in the refrigerator and the dormant period? I'm taking a two week trip at the end of May and I thought I would have to just throw out my starter then since I wouldn't be able to have another person take care of it, but if I could save it during that time, that would be great.

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May 6, 2013 at 5:34 PM

Wow, I have never tried anything like this before. Thanks for linking up with "Try a New Recipe Tuesday."

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May 9, 2013 at 12:28 PM

I have 4 going at all times in the back of my fridge~ Feed them all once every two weeks:) I will be spending some time here, reading all of your wonderful posts~Lynn @ Turnips 2 Tangerines

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May 11, 2013 at 6:37 AM

Thank you so much for sharing this awesome recipe with Full Plate Thursday. Hope you have a very special Mothers Day Weekend and come back soon!
Miz Helen

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May 20, 2013 at 12:04 PM

I haven't made sourdough in years. Pinned - so I can try it again soon. Thanks for sharing at Terrific Tuesdays

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May 20, 2013 at 10:12 PM

Thanks so much for the how to! I love to bake bread and I love sourdough bread. I just freshly washed my Ball jars and am totally going to do this right now. Wish me luck!

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June 29, 2013 at 9:04 AM

hi mellow.. i'm trying this for the first time right now and i'm on day three. i was wondering if the close-up picture you show of the "bubbly" looking starter is what it looks like all the time or only after you stir it?? mine doesn't look like that yet (for the most part).. soon after stirring it gets a layered look with super thick doughy layer on bottom, a thin liquid layer, then a thin bubbly-dough layer (that actually does look like yours).. does yours layer like that?? i'm wondering if everything is ok, or if i should start over.

i appreciate your help.

peace.

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July 1, 2013 at 7:01 AM

It sounds ok- they can be different depending on the flour you're using, the temperature, etc. If it smells good, is not moldy, and is bubbling at all, you are doing great! I would continue to make sure you're stirring it enough (it can grow much faster in hot weather, so more frequent stirring might be needed during summer) and feeding it regularly.

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July 17, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Such a helpful blog!
I am new to baking so I'm clueless!!! My friends have all recommended Sourdough's International's sourdough starter to me, so I'm going to give it a go!!!

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November 4, 2016 at 10:33 AM

i'm so glad to have found your article on this subject. i made a starter recently using a recipe from the southern living cookbook, which told me to use commercial yeast (as did all the other classic cookbooks i looked at, weirdly). the blog articles i read on the subject all told me different things, and i got wrapped up in a cloud of confusion and decided to start fresh, after having a glass of wine. i think i just have one question for you (for now) -- do you feed yours during the first few days while it's maturing?
thank you! your method for ginger bugs has been really helpful to me, so i feel like you're the fermentation contessa. have a lovely day :D

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November 6, 2016 at 8:44 AM

Hi Emily! No, you don't need to feed it in the first few days, only stir it. I would just feed mine to replace what I use each time, or to wake it up if it's been dormant in the fridge.
Happy fermenting! :D

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