Sourdough Starter Guide

Making Sourdough starter is an involved, tedious, and flour-laden, sticky process. It’s not for the impatient or the just-want-to-eat-it-right-now types. A loaf of crusty sourdough bread from your favorite bakery will be the easiest option. …

Making Sourdough starter is an involved, tedious, and flour-laden, sticky process. It’s not for the impatient or the just-want-to-eat-it-right-now types. A loaf of crusty sourdough bread from your favorite bakery will be the easiest option. This long-lasting challenge is not for everyone.

Sourdough, which is yeast-based bread, is believed to be the oldest type of leavened bread. Its existence is documented at least back to ancient Egypt. Sourdough is made from yeast and bacteria that naturally occurs in the mixture of flour and liquid. To make a good loaf, you must first make a starter or “leaven” using only flour and water. The starter is used in place of yeast. The starter is a bubbly, globular mixture of flour-and water that gives sourdough its distinctive “sour” flavor. It also gives it its moist, spongey and holey texture.

What time will it take for the starter to be ready?

It depends on whom you ask how long it takes to make starter sourdough. Some recipes call for starters to be made in five to seven days. Others claim that it should take 14 days. The answer lies in the starter’s appearance and smell, not how many days it has been.


It is important to use the correct types of flour and the right amounts. Oswaks says that all-purpose flour (APF) is not recommended. Oswaks says that you can use it but bread flour is better for your bread. Bread only has three ingredients: flour, water, and salt.

A majority of starter recipes require one-half to one-half cup flour and one-half cup flour to feed them. It could take up to a week. For the first five to seven working days, ensure you have enough flour to provide sufficient food for the starter.

Equipment for Bread Baking and Starter

Baking Scale

A baking scale is the best tool to achieve precise results. Baking is a precise art, so it is highly recommended that you use a baking scale.

Measurement cups

You don’t need a baking scale, but even if you do, make sure that you have measuring cups for liquids and solids.

Non-reactive containers of at least one quart in size, glass or food-grade plastic preferred.

The container should hold your starter. It should be large enough to hold your starter.

Stirring with a spoon or spatula is possible

It’s likely that you will use your hands quite a bit, so make sure to have some spatulas on hand.

Bowl scraper

The dough for sourdough bread is sticky and wet. This dough is a bit difficult to handle.

A breadbasket or bowl with a towel in it

You will need somewhere to place the dough when you are proofing it. Bread proofing baskets allow the bread to take the correct shape. Their clothes make it easier to flip the dough onto the baking sheet. You can substitute a 10-inch bowl with a cloth in it. This is a tedious process so why not get a good proofing basket?

Dutch oven or roasting pot for steaming

(See below for notes on steaming)

Kitchen timer

Bread is all about timing. When the recipe is for a specific time, set a timer.

Bread bland

It’s also known as a baker’s knife and is used to score the bread before baking. A sharp knife is fine, but a lame (a double-sided blade) will produce better results.

  • Making Starter
  • Start your starter
  • 1 cup (113g), whole wheat bread flour
  • 1/2 cup (113g), warm water if you have a warm house, or warm water if it is cold.
  • To feed your starter
  • White bread flour: 1 cup (113g)
  • 1/2 cup (113g), cool water if you have a warm house, warm water if it is cold.


This method for making starter is based upon the King Arthur Flour starter recipe. You can also make Tartine using a different method.

Day 1

Mix the whole wheat flour and the water in the container. Mix it well until the flour is fully combined with the water. Cover the container with a kitchen towel and allow it to rest at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2

There may be no activity for the first 24 hours. Or, you might see some growth or bubbling. You can either throw away half of the starter (113g, or about 1/2 cup) and add 1/2 cup (113g) white bread flour and 1/2 cup (113g) cool water (if you have a warm house) or lukewarm. Cover the bowl and let it rest at room temperature for 24 hrs.

Day 3

Your starter should have grown a little by the third day. It will be bubbly throughout and have a pleasant, pungent smell. This means that your starter now requires feeding every 12 hours.

Each serving should contain 113g starter. This will make a generous 1/2 cup. Mix 1 cup flour with 1/2 cup water. Stir to combine. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and continue to stir every 12 hours for two more days.

Day 5

The starter should be bubbly and have a pleasant sour odor. If the starter doesn’t rise enough, discard it and feed it every 12 hours until it becomes an aromatic, bubbly starter.

Storing Starter Long Term

Once your starter has matured, you can store it in your refrigerator for a long time and feed it once per week.

Float Test

Now that you have created your starter, how can you tell if it’s ready for use? One surefire way to tell if your starter is ready to bake bread is to check if it floats.

Oswaks says, “If it floats (or nearly floats), it’s good to go.” It needs more time if it is just dead at the bottom.

Drop a tablespoon of starter into water. The starter should be at room temperature. It’s ready to go if it floats. Oswaks suggests that you take the starter out of the fridge and let it cool at room temperature for at least 2 hours before baking. You can then check to make sure it floats.

You can now bake bread

After you have created a bubbly, fragrant, and floatable sourdough starter, you can start making bread. Although there are many sourdough recipe sites that claim they are easy to make, it is not possible to make a simple sourdough loaf. Although it is simple because it only requires flour, water and starter (leaven), the process can take several steps and can be tedious. While some recipes don’t require you to knead them, others will. These will take longer to rise. Some recipes require kneading and can be risen in a day.