Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Monday Mission: Make a Sourdough Starter

March 1st, 2010 · 136 Comments · Recipes

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to capture your own yeast from the air!homemade sourdough starter We’re going to make our own sourdough starters. Don’t get scared yet. Believe me, if I can do this, you can too.

I was so intimidated by sourdough that I waited over six months to try it. I was convinced I would never post on it and pessimistically assumed I’d fail, so I didn’t even take one picture when I made a homemade starter last fall.

But I have to tell you: capturing your own yeast is a monumental feeling when you see those little bubbles! Imagine me in my li’l ol’ kitchen, pulling a Tom Hanks/Castaway triumphant roar: “Look what I have created! I have CAPTURED YEAST! I have made BUBBLES!”

I want you to experience that, too.

Impact Ratings: healthpositive moneypositive

Level of Commitment: Making Strides

Creating a Sourdough Starter: The Basics

The true bare bones method for convincing yeast to settle in your sourdough starter is:

  1. Mix whole wheat flour and water.
  2. Feed starter flour and water daily.
  3. Wait for yeast to get hungry and eat your flour, creating bubbles.

A sourdough starter is simply a mixture of flour and water wherein natural yeast or natural leavening from your air consumes the starch and creates gas, giving your bread an opportunity to rise. What is natural leavening? A fancy way of saying bacteria; the good guys that keep our systems going. Sourdough is a fermented food, which makes it easier to digest because the grains are partially pre-digested by the bacteria.

In all my research so far on soaking grains and phytates and phytic acid…everyone agrees on one fact: Sourdough preparation absolutely has an impact on reducing phytates and is the healthiest way to prepare grains. Study after study demonstrates the health benefits of sourdough.

For now, just know that sourdough is so incredibly healthy, and has the added bonus of being FREE yeast. Particularly if you don’t find yeast in bulk, those little packets can make bread baking almost expensive!

Psst! If you’re a visual learner or just want more…more info, more examples, demonstrations, recipes, and materials about sourdough, I’m a guest lecturer in an online eCourse about JUST sourdough. Please check out the sourdough eCourse and our unique Pay What You Can method – enrollment is always open!

I’ll hold your hand. Here are some of the “crutches” I used to ensure a successful final product:

  • You can start with potato or pasta cooking water. The added starch is a feast for the little beasties and attracts yeast faster.
  • UPDATE: Some say that starchy water is inviting the wrong kind of bacteria. Apparently you can start with some pineapple juice instead and that will keep it more sanitary. ??? See the comments for great suggestions as well.
  • You can toss in a few unwashed organic grapes. You know the white film on the surface of grapes? That’s “bloom” or natural yeast. Be sure to choose organic if you’re going to add the grapes to your sourdough starter, but they’re not necessary if you can’t find them (or they’re way too expensive to bother) this time of year.
How to Make a Sourdough Starter

Materials Needed:

  • clean glass jar (some say switch your jars every day; I use the same jar until it’s too caked with dried starter at the top to pour anymore.)
  • flour (whole wheat preferred in my opinion, but the method works with white, rye, etc.)
  • water (cooking water optional) – non-chlorinated. If you have city water, you should leave water out in a jar with the lid off so the chlorine will evaporate.
  • spoon (some say don’t use a metal spoon; I’ve read that that’s outdated advice from when spoons were made of metal that would leach into the batter because of the acidity. I use whatever’s handy!)
  • napkin, cloth or coffee filter and rubber band to cover

Method:

  1. Pour some water into the jar. I used about a half cup and saved another half cup of potato water for the next sourdough feeding.
  2. Add an equal amount of flour and stir well.
  3. Cover your sourdough starter with cloth or napkin or coffee filter, secure with rubber band or Ball canning ring. The starter needs to be open to the air to catch the yeast but safe from bugs and falling objects.
  4. Store your starter in a warm place, away from any other ferments you have going.
  5. One option is the oven with the light turned on. If you set the jar right by the bulb, it will feel warm to the touch in a few hours. I didn’t believe that would work, I really didn’t! Just try it overnight and feel your jar for warmth. (Test the temperature of your oven – some get a lot hotter than mine, apparently!)
  6. About every 12 hours or so, add more flour and water in equal parts. I only used 1/4 cup at a time, because I didn’t want my starter to get too big.
  7. Pour off the bit of liquid that separates and turns dark before “feeding” your sourdough that meal.
  8. Once you consistently see bubbles in your sourdough starter, congratulations! You have captured yeast! Now you can get even lazier with your feedings.
  9. Feed your starter once daily, either equal parts flour and water or any grain you have – oatmeal, any flour, etc. Just a few Tbs will keep your starter happy until tomorrow. Some methods tell you to toss half your sourdough starter every time you feed. No way – no need to waste the flour! (You can also see the recipes at the bottom of this post for “discarded sourdough starter” recipes.)
  10. I usually feed with water and flour at the beginning, then switch to just flour (as if I’m feeding a fish!) for a few days. Once the starter is really thick, I add water with my flour. I use rye flour from time to time too, and I think it makes more bubbles. Rye is higher in phytase, so regardless of rising air, it makes the healthiest sourdough to be had.

I wanted you to be able to print the method easily, so here are the photos to tell the story and give you an idea of what you’re looking for:

whole wheat sourdough starter whole wheat sourdough starter

Plan to make my Homemade Cream of Potato Soup the night you start the sourdough, and save some of the cooking water. The initial mix was on Saturday at 1 p.m.

whole wheat sourdough starter IMG_8976

Eight hours later, there’s already some separation and action. No smell yet. I fed it again that evening.

dark liquid on sourdough starter dark liquid on sourdough starter

Blech. There’s the example of the dark liquid that you can just pour off your sourdough starter. I don’t think it hurts anything to leave it in, but I’ve read that it makes your starter more sour, and Sarah hypothesizes that it’s the “waste” of the bacteria. Yuckier! These two photos are from Sunday morning.

stir sourdough starter

By Sunday at 2:47 p.m., the sourdough starter was already bubbling away! I can’t guarantee that yours will take yeast this fast, because I probably cross-contaminated it with my other active starter. By midnight the starter was separated again; it’s more dense on top and bottom with liquid in the middle:

whole wheat sourdough starter whole wheat sourdough starter

whole wheat sourdough starterBy the afternoon on Monday, the starter has calmed down again and formed a thicker “crust” on top. I fed it more, but not quite two times per day, and imagine my surprise when I found this Wednesday:

mold on sourdough starter

I’ve never, ever found mold on my sourdough starter until today. (This would be the part where you read the disclaimer, realize I’m not a doctor, and do nothing that I tell you…) I scooped it out! I just baked bread this weekend (seven days after starting the process, if you’re counting) and it was delicious.

Tips for Success

Warm spot? For a good warm spot, you can turn the oven on for just a minute or less, then put the starter inside with the light on. I wanted to make it easy on myself, so I waited until summer to start mine so that it wasn’t 64 degrees in my house.

Smell? The starter starts out smelling like flour and water, and as it progresses, there’s more of a sourdough tang to it scent. You can definitely tell something is happening!

Time to grow? You betcha. A new starter takes time to “mature” before it’s ready for bread. I would recommend starting with pancakes, crackers, or a flatbread that won’t count on much rise the first few times you bake. That way you’re not setting yourself up for failure and doorstop-worthy loaves! :)

What to do with it? I started with some recipes that didn’t need much rise because I was nervous about my sourdough starter’s performance last fall. Sarah’s sourdough recipes include everything I’ve tried. Sarah also has A Definitive Guide to Sourdough…According to Me that is a must read as you get closer to baking bread.

***If you’re not going to bake at least once a week, store the starter in your fridge. Just remember to feed it some flour once a week, with water when it is too thick.

Maybe you’re really, really intimidated by starting your own sourdough (like I was). Feel free to check out some other options for Sourdough Starters:

Look for sourdough recipes all next week and some research posts this week, along with a soaked recipe, the final (celebrity!!) Real Food Face-Offs and a Mary and Martha Moment on “Just Food”.

NOTE: If you really want to master sourdough (or at least get up the guts to try it for real), consider checking out the GNOWFGLINS “Learn to Cook with Sourdough Online” multimedia eCourse. I contributed a few demonstrations and notes, but the real masters teach over 20 different recipes using a sourdough starter. The fee is “Pay What You Can” so no one is excluded from learning this super healthy way of baking. Click here for more details.

Other Sourdough posts and recipes here:

Sources: I am indebted to Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation for making sourdough sound less intimidating and Heavenly Homemakers for her photos.

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136 Comments so far ↓

  • Divina

    This post is just perfect timing. I made a sourdough starter about 3 weeks ago. Although I made some pita bread with it, I kept the rest of the sourdough in the fridge. I guess I need to feed it every week but I almost completely forgot about it. My starter is like a pancake batter. Never had a starter where the liquid is in between. They are always on top. Maybe next time I could pour out the liquid. I believe it’s active as I could see bubbles. I guess starter looks different from another. I have to check my starter again and feed it and see if it’s still alive. I will also check the other links you’ve provided. Thank you.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Divina,
    I bet you can revive it if it’s failing! Good luck! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Pam

    Boy, am I glad to hear that more will be coming in this week regarding sourdough. I made my first starter last week and am ready to tackle using it. Can’t wait to find out more!
    .-= Pam´s last blog ..CLEANING UP MY ACT =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jennifer Lachman

    Ok…Deep breaths. I am not afraid to make my own sourdough. I think that this will be the week! Can’t start till Thursday because I need to pick up some whole food flour from the whole food store.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jennifer Lachman

    sory, whole wheat flour from the whole foods store.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Stacy

    This is awesome! I have been wanting to make my own sourdough starter but kept putting it off. This is the exact kick in the pants that I needed to get started. I can’t try out your recipes if I don’t have sourdough starter! I will start mine this evening!
    .-= Stacy´s last blog ..Have you checked out the new Simple Living Media sites? =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lynnette

    You are AWESOME! I have been flying through my yeast baking fresh bread at home and know I need to ferment the flour but was at a loss until now. Thank you again for your timely post and for doing the leg work. This is going on my list to do.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jen

    Here is another link to a sourdough site that I found easy to understand and use :-)
    He has some good recipes too – also he is a high altitude baker and since I live at 7500+ I found his altitude notes especially helpful since bread is one thing that is rather sensitive to altitude!

    http://www.sourdoughhome.com/index.html
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Chicken Fajitas =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Fruitful Harvest

    I tried my own sourdough starter last year….It took about ten days and I’m not sure I did it corectly? My bread did not rise to well and I did not have any starter to keep for next time.

    I think I was not supost to keep dumping 1/2 out each time I fed it?

    I will reread your post several times before I start!
    I will give it another go! I’m excited!
    Thanks for the great post!

    I do make other breads almost daily…..I get my yeast at Costco! A large bag {1# I think?}for about $6.00.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Georgiann
    .-= Fruitful Harvest´s last blog ..Sidewalk Art~ =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Georgiann,
    Good luck! It really does like warm temperatures, so keeping the jar near a light will be worth the energy cost in the long run. Many starters also take some time to “warm up” or “mature” – I should mention that as the week goes on, eh? ;)
    Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Gia

    Great instructions on how to make a starter. I encourage everyone I know to do it. You will be surprised how your sturdy your starter can be. I store mine in the frig. so I only feed when I use it which is at least once a week. You will get the hang of it after awhile. I never dump any out but then again I use at least weekly. I love being able to make awesome stuff out of so little. Simple yummy no knead bread,-sourdough starter, salt, water and flour and only dirty one bowl and spoon.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Gia,
    I haven’t tried a no-knead bread yet. Is your recipe online somewhere? I’d love a “tried and true” favorite! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Natural Health Goodies

    It really sounds fascinating, I haven’t been quite brave enough to try my own – but I sure do love sourdough bread. I just threw out some organic pasta water the other day – drats! I’ll have to keep this in mind next time.
    .-= Natural Health Goodies´s last blog ..My Green Smoothie Inspiration and a Green Smoothie Recipe to Boot =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    NHG,
    Welcome! You’ll love it, and your little ones will like to see the bubbles, too. It gets a little addicting trying to get more “rise” going… ! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • lisa

    do you always make your starter with potato water? I’ve never heard of that in other sourdough instructionals & I would wonder if that’s where the mold issue came in? just thinking (made my sourdough starter a week ago, seemed to be working pretty good, but my loaves of bread were way too dense & sour) now I’ve got my starter out of the fridge & I’m feeding it twice a day & making something each day (trying to get it more active)- today I made pitas (easy & good!), tomorrow tortillas, then pancakes, THEN I’ll try bread again! :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Lisa,
    I did use potato water both times – I like to have a crutch! Although I wondered that, too, with the mold. I had dense loaves at the start, too, but I will show you my tricks next week. Also the starter may get better as it “matures”. Try varying the thickness to reduce/increase the sour taste. I found I only like pancakes the day after I bake bread, b/c the starter hasn’t been fermenting as long, for example.

    Where’s your pita recipe? I haven’t tried those yet… :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    lisa Reply:

    Hi, I got my sourdough pita recipe off this blog http://realfoodforlessmoney.blogspot.com/2009/12/sourdough-pita-bread.html

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Debbie

    Great timing. I just decided last week to try making a starter and today I made my first 3 loaves. Nowhere near perfection yet, but we’re started anyway. I need to work on getting the correct consistency. The bread took longer than it should to cook and was still a little gummy inside. Any tips?

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Erin from Long Island

    Oh man…..How awesome is “Wild Fermentation?!” My BFF just mailed me a copy and I have my first mead in the works. I have been scared to try sourdough, but I think I will give it a shot tommorow or Wed.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Holly

    Drat, I ordered a starter last week from Cultures For Health. Too nervous about a homemade starter not turning out right!
    .-= Holly´s last blog ..Starting seeds =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Gia

    I started out using breadtopia.com recipe for a no knead artsian bread. I have tweaked it a little depending on how much wheat I am using and if starter is thick or thin. But it is a great and easy way to make bread!! Now I just like to take any ole bread recipe and make it with starter instead of commerical yeast!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Gia,
    That is so cool. I haven’t yet ventured into adapting yeast bread recipes w/sourdough. Maybe someday!
    Thanks! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Julie

    Love the details and the photos with this. I had a sd starter that I used for 10 years, until we moved to the tropics and I couldn’t use it. We have missed it. I may have to try and revive it. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Upstatemomof3

    I have to say that is like super cool!! You must be all kinds of domestic and stuff to be able to do that.
    .-= Upstatemomof3´s last blog ..This Is Good For A Laugh =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Upstatemomof3,
    Although I love the sound of “all kinds of domestic”, I don’t even wear an apron, especially just to stir flour and water together. You just have to deal with some straight-to-crouton loaves every so often! ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Upstatemomof3 Reply:

    Well, I am just going to continue to think of you as all kinds of domestic because then I don’t have to feel guilty for not doing things like this. Okay? Okay! :)
    .-= Upstatemomof3´s last blog ..This Is Good For A Laugh =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Cori

    I just put a link to here from my blog after making a beautiful braided sourdough. Thanks !
    .-= Cori´s last blog ..braided sourdough =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Cori,
    Thank you! Your loaf is GORgeous! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Cori Reply:

    thanks!
    .-= Cori´s last blog ..sourdough recipe =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Brenda

    I’ve always wondered how this got started the first time, now i have the recipe. This will come in handy when we go back to Paraguay
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..No Pudge/TMTT =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • angela sackett

    this makes it look do-able! i love that you documented the steps with photos – very helpful for us “visual learners!” i am bookmarking to return and try. :)
    .-= angela sackett´s last blog ..tomato help {works-for-me-wednesday} =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Angela,
    Thanks for visiting! It’s (almost) as easy as it looks! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • ChrisG

    My starter is 2 days old and it’s starting to bubble an smells funky. One question, when I move it to the fridge do I need to leave it covered with the coffee filter or can I put a lid on the jar? Thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Chris,
    I’m so excited people are trying this! Woo hoo! It is a bit of a funky smell, but don’t worry about it. I have stored cold either way – probably safer spill-wise to use a lid though! Wait at least 7 days this first time before cold storage, though, you want to give everything time to mature.
    Way to go! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Coby

    Great starter tutorial. I started mine about 2 months ago and have baking up a sourdough storm ever since! I have made several kinds of bread, pancakes, waffles, muffins, donuts, biscuits, chocolate sourdough, probably more, but that’s all I can remember off the top of my head!

    I also took out a cup of mine and froze it for backup. My grandma does this all the time. That way if your dies, you can pull it out and start again.
    .-= Coby´s last blog ..Baking Day: Sourdough Donuts =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Coby,
    Awesome advice on freezing! I need to try some biscuits too, and I’m thinking about noodles. Fun! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Gollum

    A great tutorial. I’ve always relied on getting starters from friends (and then had to quit making bread cold turkey when hip spread developed), but I’m in the mood to bake again.
    XX00

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Yvonne@StoneGable

    What a wonderful post. I have heard that I could capture yeast from the air but was skeptical. I’m going to try this. Very informative and the photos are really helpful. Thanks for this great post!
    Yvonne

    [Reply to this comment]

  • chelsea

    Thanks so much for this! I’m a total newbie, but I am going to try it! What’s the worst that can happen right?

    I can do this. I can do this….

    Thanks for all your words of wisdom!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Katrina

    I’ve been working on a starter this week and have a question. Shortly after adding flour and water I see the starter bubble and rise. Then hours later it is all the way back down to its starting point. Is this what you mean by settling down between feedings? Is it supposed to drop back down like that?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Katrina,
    Yes, mine does! I think starters are kind of like…toddlers. I never really know what they’re going to do, but I keep feeding them and watching them.

    Keep it up! ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Carrie Reply:

    I got a sourdough starter from CFH and the first couple feedings it was bubbly and great. I started putting it in our oven with the light on and I’m worried it might have been too hot in there, especially since I put it right by the light. This morning my starter was not bubbly but it did have a good 1/2″ of the darker liquid on top, and it smells like sourdough… so I think it’s ok. The instructions I got say to always feed equal amounts of flour and water, so that’s what I’ve been doing. Seems pretty liquidy to me, other than maybe the second time when it had a tougher layer on top (I think from the heat??). The instructions also never said to pour off the liquid.

    My questions… do you think it is still working if there’s no bubbles to be seen? This was after about 24 hrs of no feeding. Also, do you always pour off the liquid on top or just sometimes? And, I’m curious where you learned about only feeding it flour until it’s too thick and then feeding it water with the flour?

    SO looking forward to getting some baked goods out of this labor of love little sourdough starter! We have no kids, so it kinda feels like I have a little child to care for now! :)
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..Goat’s Milk =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Carrie Reply:

    I should have read more of the comments below for some of my answers. I’ll be checking the temp of my oven here right away, maybe giving the SD some “rest” on the counter in the meantime.

    But I’m still curious about if I should be using water & flour every time and also if I need to pour off the liquid.

    This is all so fun to figure out!
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..Goat’s Milk =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Carrie,
    After 24 hours, that’s about the time you won’t see bubbles anymore. Add more flour/water and watch it go!

    Wild Fermentation was my source for laissez-faire feedings. He’s pretty easy going about it, and I liked that. I think you could go either way. Sometimes less thick starters taste less sour, so that’s something you’ll want to experiment with as you go. I do not always pour off the liquid, but I don’t always have liquid either.

    It def. feels like another child to care for! It’s a relief to be able to put this “kid” in the fridge for a while when I’m tired of feeding it, though. ;)

    Just like with children, there are many acceptable ways, I think, to care for sourdough. I hope you enjoy your first recipe efforts! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Natalie Reply:

    just a thought, do you think anyone has ever kept up two sourdough starters at the same time so that they could cater different loaves to different tastes?
    have a thicker/more sour starter when the german grandparents come over
    then, for the neighborhood potluck use the milder one
    ?
    ?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Natalie,
    You bet! Just don’t let them come within 4 or less feet of each other, or they’ll cross contaminate… ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Dani

    Okay, you’ve inspired me to try to make a starter… Again. I’ve tried before, and figured I would just give up until summer and my house had warmed up some more, but you make it sound so easy that I’m just gonna have to go for it. Thanks for the tip to keep it at a distance from other ferments.

    Maybe I’ll make a doorstop (I LOVE THAT!), but maybe… just maybe, I’ll make something slightly resembling yummy sourdough bread!!!

    I’m also doing Wardeh’s ecourse, and we’re covering sourdough in a couple of weeks (and I have a Carl’s dried starter for that), but I really want to get a starter from scratch going… there’s some sense of accomplishment there!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Anne

    I decided to start a sour dough starter just as I was about to dump out my pasta water and remembered your comment about potato water or pasta water. So I started it last Sat. at about 1 AM. I’m using my same cooler with my dog’s warming disk that I use for making my yogurt, except I don’t close the lid to the cooler. I’m just not sure if the sd is staying active. I had quite a few bubbles starting on the third day for a couple of days, but nothing so active since. I only fed it a couple of Tblsps. once a day after that, so I don’t know if I’m feeding it enough or keeping it consistently warm. I heat up the disk before bedtime, but then not during the day when I keep my house at 67 degrees. I think I would try sd crackers first, but want to try your regular crackers first so I have something to compare to.

    I’ll need to leave the starter for a week and don’t know if I will have time to make anything before that. If I put it in the fridge, do I take it out after a week or so and warm it up again? Will I see bubbles at that point? For my flour, I used Gold Medal All-Purpose and won’t feel bad if my sd fails and I have to throw it out. I had bought some King Arthur flour, but didn’t want to waste it on a potential failure.

    Thanks for posting on the starter.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Anne,
    It will take time to mature, don’t worry!
    Yes, after a week in the fridge, take it out, feed it, and let it be at room temp and hopefully see bubbles. I hear you on not wasting good flour! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Anne Reply:

    Thanks. It will be interesting to see what happens with the starter. I feel like I have nothing to lose.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • YeastSpotting March 12, 2010 | Wild Yeast

    [...] Homemade Sour Dough Starter [...]

  • Sonia

    I’m going to try this today! I have a few questions though, if you put it in the oven next to the light, do you need to leave the oven door open a bit? Or will there be enough yeast in the oven air?? Also, does it always have to stay that warm? or just until you ‘catch some’?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Sonia,
    I think it’s a pretty flexible process. Sometimes my starter is on the counter because I hate leaving the light on allllll the time. I usually just do that if I have something else to soak or rise in there. You do not and should not leave the oven door open, or your heat will escape. Just put it up on the stove during the day when you’re cooking to keep it warm, and don’t worry if it gets to regular room temp either. It may just take a little longer to get really bubbly, but the less stressful it is, the better, in my opinion.

    Good luck!
    Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Sonia Reply:

    ok thanks! I didn’t want to leave it on all the time but I didn’t want to screw it up either! :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • chelsea

    Question – will well water that runs through a water softener work or does it make getting this “starter started” impossible? It seems to bubble and grow when I use the pasta water the first couple feedings, but no real activity since. Smells kinda like feet, but otherwise, no bubbling or brown liquid. I restarted on Wednesday so it’s been 4 days.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Chelsea,
    I’m not sure on that one – I know you don’t want chlorine in the water, b/c that would kill the good bacteria. Softened water would just have its minerals taken out, partly, so…It can take up to a week to really get going, so I would just try a bit longer, keep it warm when you’re cooking on the stove, and see what happens! There are some other “how to” sites listed at the whole wheat bread post from Friday that might help you out, too. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Baking fool

    The yeast is on the grain, not in the air. If you can get wheat grain, whiz a couple of tbl in a clean grinder. Rye flour will strengthen your starter. A starater made with just water and flour is much more stable than starters that use potato water, milk, etc. You are better off using plain spring water (or boiled and cooled tap water – to get rid of the chlorine). If you get a pinkish or orangish mold or color, discard – that is a bacterial contaminant that can be dangerous. After your first couple of refreshments, discard half the starter before adding more flour and water – this keeps it vigorous. I give it some extra flour before storing in fridge. Try drying it for storage – take a tbl of your very active starter and spread as thin as you can on some plastic film. Let dry until it’s brittle. Break up and store in plastic sealed baggies in the fridge. To use, just soften over water, then add flour, and refresh as per normal. This is your backup supply.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Baking fool,
    You live up to your name! I need to dehydrate some of mine in case I get lazy someday. Why is the potato water bad?

    Would you throw out the whole starter if it gets mold (ahem) or just the mold?

    I thought it seemed bubblier with rye!
    I don’t understand the throwing out starter thing though. Just can’t wrap my brain around how the remaining starter knows some is missing, I guess. Am I crazy?

    Thank you! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • KristinaD

    Does this method work for gluten-free?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Kristina,
    That is a very good question! I don’t know how gf breads work without the gluten for rise. HOwever, the sourdough method doesn’t really affect the gluten, sooooo…I bet you could get the yeast from the air. Please let me know if you give it a try!!! Any starch should feed healthy bacteria. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kim

    Stupid question: Do you stir the starter each time you add the flour and water? I’m on my third day, it STINKS, and it is bubbling. I totally don’t know what I’m doing!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Kim,
    Definitely not a stupid question – I though I was killing something when i started my sourdough starter, too – it smelled so yucky. You’ll get used to it! Yes, definitely stir well. See the sourdough honey whole wheat bread recipe for a few more “care” tips. Sorry I missed your comment for a few days! Hope you’re still plugging along and feeding your starter – Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Sonia Reply:

    It worked! My starter has been super bubbly the past 2 days! Going to try sourdough pizza today.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Sonia Reply:

    opps this was suppose to be a reply to my other comment ^^;

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sonia

    My starter is not as bubbly as it was a week ago. I’ve only used some of it once and not since (because it wasn’t as bubbly). Did I do something wrong? Is it still useable? It’s still on the counter and I feed it daily.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Sonia,
    Definitely use some more! I hear that by taking some out, you’ll make it more vigorous. Sometimes mine doesn’t look super bubbly, but it still works for bread (this is after it’s matured). Don’t lose hope! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Michelle

    A note to anyone else who’s starter doesn’t seem to be working: if you’re using the lightbulb on in the oven method, check the temperature of your starter. If it’s over 100 F, it’s too hot and you could be killing your yeast! I just checked mine today and it was 115 F. My oven has two lights in it, so that’s probably why it runs so hot. I’m hoping that now that I’m leaving it on the counter it will take off :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Michelle,

    That’s a great point! I didn’t realize there was such variation, but another reader said that her oven at an former house was 110 or so and the new one is 135 – way too hot for any ferment! Enzymes should actually remain alive up to 118 degrees, but 115 is definitely pushing it and probably not too comfy for your yeast buggers. Thanks for the note! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Shauna Reply:

    Another thing to watch out for with the oven method… make sure to always check your oven before turning it on!! I put in my oven to keep it warm last night, and forgot it was in there when I went to make oatmeal muffins this morning… I half cooked it!! I was so disappointed! :( But, it was just flour and water, so I started a new batch right away. No harm, no foul, I guess, just a temporary setback. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Baking fool

    Remember to discard part of your starter before feeding, unless you are building a larger amount for a specific recipe. Rye helps strengthen the starter. If it seems a bit lazy, stir in a spoonful of pineapple or orange juice – this ensures an acid environment, which helps avoid bacterial infection and will not affect flavor. I avoid potato water or other addenda because I think you add too many variables and potentials for contamination. But you should feel free to experiment, just remember to keep some of your starter dried out and in the fridge as a backup, so that you don’t have to start all the way from the beginning.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter « Extraordinary Ordinary Life

    [...] there are lots of ways to do sourdough.  There are good tutorials here and here.  First I will share my recipe, then I will tell you how I keep my sourdough starter alive and [...]

  • oystergirl

    Love your site! You inspired me to explore sourdough and I linked to your site here…
    http://amoderatelife.blogspot.com/p/sourdough.html

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Esther Kingfisher

    I’m glad I found this page, as I enjoy experimenting with sourdough. I recently started some using potato water for Finnish Hapanleipä, and I found that it had a very sour taste compared to a starter made with just flour and water.
    .-= Esther Kingfisher´s last blog ..Springtime in the Woods =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Dani

    Okay, funny story. I accidentally made my own sourdough start when I was using some flour and water as a slurry (like a papier mache paste) to paste together my newspaper pots for the garden (my babies were needing to stretch their roots, and it was too cold at night to plant out yet; so I make newspaper pots. There are tons of instructions on the web, but I won’t use scotch tape to hold my pots together), and because I need to make SO MANY, I usually do it in batches.

    So, here I am, watching Persuasion on the DVD player, and the movie is over and it’s time for me to get up and stretch my legs a bit. So, I leave my “tools” (consisting of a stack of newspapers, glass, and my flour-water mix with a basting brush in it) out to the side. Didn’t come back until a couple days had passed–does that ever happen to anyone else? And by then, my mache paste had turned all bubbly and sour! Of course, I didn’t know how safe the ink was to actually consume, so I tossed this starter.

    It did inspire me to try my own, and so I started by leaving about 1/2 cup water out in a shallow bowl for a few days the next time the weather was warm enough to open the windows during the day. Sure enough, I have a nice starter going now–I’m not sure if leaving the flour exposed to the open air before mixing it with water helped it find some more local yeastie beasties or not, but I’m goin’ with it!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Karlie

    First,I know I’m late to the party here, but I have to say that Yeast is not a bacterium but it is a fungus. Bacteria in your starter would be bad – in a food-poisoning kind of way.

    I’m also really concerned about the casual disregard of contamination in your starter.

    Mold is a very bad thing. Some strains of mold produce toxins that are dangerous even in small amounts. It’s not a situation where heat kills the organism/aka solves the problem, but that you’re baking the toxins into the bread. Not a risk you should take! More info at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/molds_on_food/index.aspx

    The Mold means there is also the possibility of contamination beyond just the fuzzy spots you’re seeing on the surface. Ask yourself what else might have gotten in with the mold?

    Second, tossing half of the starter is due to the build up of metabolic waste. Yeast is alive and it’s waste product is alcohol, among other things, and when the alcohol level gets too high it can kill the yeast. So by either tossing half the starter or using it on a regular basis you freshen up the environment – like cleaning house. By removing half and adding fresh back you dilute any build up.
    .-= Karlie´s last blog ..Re- Have you seen this =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Morgan Reply:

    i wanted to check this out, and found the link to be outdated or whatever. here’s what i believe is the same thing Karlie was linking to: http://origin-www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Molds_On_Food/index.asp
    a healthy food enthusiast told me the Salem witch trials had something to do with a hay mold, i think. it was some kind of mold, anyway. maybe i’m thinking hay because i’m a (pet) house rabbit person, and this mold kills them easily:( they found this, i believe somewhat recently, after doing some excavating. after reading this USDA info, i hope i can atttempt my first sourdough starter!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • susieqtpies

    I’ve always wanted to start my own starter. Your post really makes me want to do it. THanks!!!
    If you can, stop over to my blog and link this up under the RECIPES 2 TAB. I’m sure some of my readers would love this and it will link them back to yoU!!! Thank you so much! Susie http://cafescrapper-scrapsoflife.blogspot.com/p/recipes-2.html

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kaelyn

    So, I started my starter about a week and a half ago. How long am I supposed to keep feeding it? It’s still sitting in the cabinet above my fridge. I had bubbles by the second day, but not as many any more (like 2 or 3 just on top) and I only had a little liquid to pour off once. I used WW flour. Mine is not a dough consistency, more like pancake batter. But it DOES stink! Any suggestions?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kaelyn Reply:

    Oh! And I haven’t discarded any…should I have done that. Do I need to just start over?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Kaelyn,
    Time to make something! The starter will be happier (and bubblier) if you take some out and then feed it more, so try some of the discarded sourdough recipes (pancakes, muffins, crackers, pizza dough – the latter two seem to work better if the starter is pretty sour) and feed again, then make bread. You need to keep feeding sourdough every day as long as the starter’s at room temperature, so if you aren’t going to be baking anything for a spell, store it in the fridge and just feed once per week until you’re ready for it. I’m learning a lot more from the GNOWFGLINS eCourse, in which I’m also a teacher (full disclosure – I’m totally involved – but it’s totally an awesome class). You can pick and choose which lessons you watch, but you might want to check out the care and feeding of sourdough so you can actually see what others’ starters look like. Here’s the link: https://rl102.infusionsoft.com/go/srdoecourse/ks/

    Best of luck! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Baking Fool

    It is best to discard half of your starter before you feed it – this is what helps it develop and keep it vigorous. What I would do is discard all except 2tbl of your starter. Mix in 1/4 cup of flour and of water. Stir very vigorously Tomorrw throw out half, do the same. Day 3 throw out half, add 1/2 cup water and flour, each. If it is still not activel bubbly at this point, add 1 tbl pineapple or orange juice – this creates a more acid environment which is helpful. Of it does not invigorate after 5 days, I’d start over.

    I would do the discard and feed for about 10 to 14 days before using the starter. The last few days you can increase the amount whatever recipe you want. When you spoon out what you need for the recipe, replenish using more flour than water – for example, 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water, to make slightly thicker starter for storage. Put in covered but not airtight containr and refrigerate. If you want some insurance, take 1 tbl of active bubbly starter and spread it out as thin as you can on plastic film and allow to dry. When dry, break up, wrap in foil and then in plastic baggie and refrigerate. If your starter dies, sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of flakes over room temp water, allow to soften/dissolve, then stir in flour and water and start building until you have enough – a couple, three days should be enough at this point. When using starter from the fridge, bring it out the day before or two days, discard half, and refresh as usual. Use it when it’s bubbly and active.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • My Sourdough Journey « Faithrace

    [...] It was no surprise to find great information coming from Katie Kimball at Kitchen Stewardship either!  Make a Sourdough Starter. [...]

  • liz

    I finally decided to try and make my own sourdough starter and I think it is going well! I’m only 3 days in and a have a TON of bubbles. I’m blogging about it here – http://veg2.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/sourdough-starter/ . I think I’m going to give it a few more days before I try to make something with it. Love all the helpful info – thanks!!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Liz,
    nice work! Have fun with it! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Anisah Reply:

    Hi katie we( mom and I) were wondering,when feeding your sourdoughstarter ,do you mix it or shake it in? mine, like Lisa’s, bubbled in 2 days! Also we left it on the stove a day after, and it bubled like crazy! Thank s!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Janet

    I’ve had a sourdough starter going for years, but it doesn’t have flour in the starter: just water, potato flakes and sugar. Does this formula break down the phytates as well as the usual and customary sourdough does? Thanks.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Janet,
    When you bake bread, do you then use wheat flour? I’ve seen that sort of starter for just GF baking before. I would guess that as long as you’ve got whole wheat for the phytase and that the sourdough is actually souring, as in fermenting, it’s probably lactic-acid bacteria, the good guys. But I can’t say for sure as I’ve never seen any research on the potato kind. Good question, though… :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Janet Reply:

    No, I normally use white bread flour, but I have several grandchildren that appear to need gluten-free products and I’m now wondering if my sourdough could help with making the wheat more palatable for celiacs. Thanks for any info. Janet

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Janet,
    Sourdough preparation can help some people who are wheat sensitive to tolerate wheat better, however – it’s VERY important to note that true celiacs must have no wheat or gluten whatsoever, never in any way. So you’ll need to find out just what your grandchildren are dealing with here. You can read up more on gluten issues here: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/11/05/food-for-thought-katie-learns-about-gluten/
    Best of luck! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Julie

    http://www.culturesforhealth.com/
    here is a great site for purchasing all things cultured.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Of Science and Sourdough (Sourdough Blueberry Muffins) | The Joyful Kitchen

    [...] How to Make a Sourdough Starter at Kitchen Stewardship [...]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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