There’s something about sourdough bread that sets it apart from the rest. The thick, golden outer crust, open crumb, and tangy flavor… it’s wonderful. Sourdough bread is leavened by wild yeast as opposed to the commercial options that are more commonly used in bread recipes (you’re probably familiar with active dry and instant yeast). Unlike commercial yeast, wild yeast needs a vessel to thrive in. That’s where sourdough starter comes in. Sourdough starters and bread can take a bit of trial and error at first, but they’re worth it. Wild yeast adds flavor to bread that’s incomparable.
All-purpose flour (see step one for more flour options)
Filtered, room temperature water
Container or bowl that holds at least 4 cups
Gather your Ingredients and Tools
A digital scale is important when creating a starter. Set yourself up for success by making sure that all measurements are exact.
Contrary to popular belief, the wild yeast used for sourdough is not actually captured from the air. It’s present in the flour, and it’s present in all flours. All-purpose flour is an easy option for getting started and it offers consistent results. However, you can also use rye flour, whole wheat flour, or a mix. Any grain-based flours should work.
There most likely won’t be a noticeable difference at this point. Give the mixture a good stir. Place the container back on the kitchen scale and zero it out. Add another 4 ounces of flour + 4 ounces of water. Stir vigorously until combined. Transfer the mixture to a clean container. (Another option is to weigh out the ingredients in a clean bowl, then wash the original container and use it again). Cover with a paper towel or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
You might start noticing bubbles at this point. The starter might have risen slightly. If not, don’t panic! Sometimes it takes a bit longer depending on various factors (room temperature, etc).
Stir the mixture vigorously (it might smell slightly sweet and yeasty at this point). Place a clean bowl or container on the scale, and zero it out. Pour in 4 ounces of the starter and either discard the rest or give it away. Add 4 ounces of flour + 4 ounces of water. Stir vigorously to combine. Cover, and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
The mixture should be very bubbly, and may have doubled in size by now. The consistency should be thinner and more elastic when stirred. The smell should be pungent. Go ahead and taste it if you like; it won’t hurt you.
Place a clean bowl or container on the scale, and zero it out. Pour in 4 ounces of the starter and either discard the rest or give it away. Add 4 ounces of flour + 4 ounces of water. Stir vigorously to combine. Cover, and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
The starter isn’t doing anything: If nothing is happening after 8 to 10 days, start over. Make sure the container is always clean and the mixture is stirred vigorously each day.
There’s a layer of liquid on top: This is OK. Pour the liquid off before adding the flour and water. Continue as normal.
There’s a very bad smell: If the starter begins to smell rancid as opposed to yeasty, bad bacteria got in there. Start over. To avoid this happening again, make sure the container is always clean to start with and that you stir vigorously every day.