Learn how to know when your sourdough starter is ready to bake delicious bread – signs, tips, and more for perfect results.
“How do I know when my sourdough starter is ready for baking?” is a question I hear A LOT!
In this post, I will walk you through some signs to look for if you’d like to determine whether you can bake bread with your new sourdough starter. But I will also give you some tips on how you can give your new starter a nice boost. Or what to do if you would like to bake bread with a young starter.
If you don’t have your own starter yet, I encourage you to check out my step-by-step instructions on how to make a sourdough starter from scratch.
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#1 Look at your sourdough starter
If you are reading this, you have probably just made your own sourdough starter from scratch. The best way to determine the quality of your sourdough starter is just by looking at it. A mature starter should have these signs of readiness:
- have visibly risen (some people like to put a rubber band around their jar to see how much it has risen)
- have plenty of tiny bubbles
- have a spongy texture
#2 Take a closer look
I prefer keeping my sourdough starter in a glass jar which allows me to see what’s going on inside. However, you can also take a small spoon or fork and inspect your sourdough starter.
It should look
- have a web-like structure
- have plenty of bubbles
#3 Did it get a good rise?
While I personally don’t think every successful sourdough starter needs to double in size, it should have visibly expanded after 4-8 hours. Of course, how much it rises depends a lot on the room temperature, humidity, and what kind of flour you have been using. At warmer temperatures, you will see more activity of the wild yeast while cooler temperatures may slow it down but favor acetic acid. I have written extensively about how to affect the sourness of your sourdough.
#4 Smell your sourdough starter
After you have looked at your sourdough starter, you can also smell it. A ripe starter should have
- a pleasantly sour smell
- tangy aroma
- no unpleasant odor
New To Sourdough? Check out My Super Simple Sourdough Course!
#5 Taste your sourdough starter
I often like to put a small amount of sourdough starter on a spoon and taste it. It should
- taste pleasantly sour
- have a fizzy, effervescent quality
#6 Listen to it
Yes, I like to listen to my sourdough starter. If it’s a healthy starter, you should be able to hear some small popping sounds when you hold the top of the jar close to your ear.
The fermentation activity generates carbon dioxide. You can actually hear bubbles rise to the surface of your sourdough starter where they make little popping sounds.
#7 Perform the float test
This is really simple: drop a small amount of starter in a small glass of water. The idea is that if it floats, you have an active starter and if it sinks, it’s not ready.
I personally do not rely entirely on this float test. It is just one of the various signs and symptoms to determine if it’s ready for baking. In the event that your sourdough starter does not pass the float test, you can always use it just like sourdough discard in any of your sourdough recipes.
What if you want to bake but your starter is still young?
Let’s say you have this great sourdough bread recipe and would love to bake but you are not if your starter is actually mature enough to bake with. In that case, I recommend adding a pinch of commercial yeast to your bread dough.
Some sourdough purists may object and say then it’s not a true sourdough loaf. However, I don’t think there is anything wrong with helping your dough rise until you have an established starter.
How to get a (more) active sourdough starter
Sometimes, you just need to give your starter enough time. 5-6 weeks is a good rule of thumb if you want to bake a loaf of bread. In the meantime, you can always treat it as discard sourdough starter. Over time your starter will become stronger!
Here are some tips on how you can get a healthy sourdough starter:
- keep it in a warm spot or use a proofing box (check out my review of the Sourhouse Goldie)
- use warm water when you feed it
- perform regular feedings
- use whole-grain flours
- for best results, use whole wheat flour although rye flour is the best flour
- use a smaller sourdough starter and feed it with fresh flour
More Sourdough Tips and Resources:
You might like to check out all my best articles on sourdough methods and how-tos.
Watch my sourdough videos on my YouTube channel