Try my easy, step-by-step, and no-fuzz method for how to make your own sourdough starter from scratch from simple ingredients.
Have you been wondering how to make your own sourdough starter?
Maybe you have been too intimidated by how complicated it sounds? Or maybe you had some sourdough failures and haven’t tried again?
Let me tell you that it’s actually very easy to bake with sourdough!!
And it’s just as easy to make your own sourdough starter!
Of course, you can always buy a starter and follow the instructions (you can find some great ones here).
But wouldn’t it be great, satisfying, and cheap to make your own?
I will show you how simple it is!
How I learned to make a sourdough starter
I grew up eating sourdough bread. My mom learned from my grandmother (her mother-in-law) how to make it when she married my dad. In my grandmother’s family, they had been baking sourdough bread for generations.
I would watch my mom grind the grains in the morning and adding her sourdough starter. She would let the dough rise. Midday she would take off some dough that would become her next starter and put the rest of the dough in the loaf pan. In the evening, she would bake the bread. I remember the smell of the bread wafting through the house. Often, we would “fight” for the first warm slice of bread with just some butter and salt.
Once I lived on my own, I just continued this tradition. Yes, there have been times when I wasn’t baking much. However, I have always come back to it.
My boys ate the sourdough bread when they were growing up. As teenagers, though, they preferred some store-bought, softer bread. Oh well … Now recently, both of them told me individually that they actually really like this bread. My heart was singing …
Why bake with sourdough?
Apparently, the first sourdough bread dates back to 3700 B.C. in Switzerland. People found out that if they left the dough out, the gases of the wild yeasts leaven the bread.
We know understand that sourdough also breaks down the inherent phytic acid in grains.
The bacteria and yeast in the sourdough help to predigest the starches in the grains, thus making it more easily digestible. Often, people with gluten sensitivity have no issues eating sourdough bread.
Furthermore, even though you are baking your sourdough bread at about 350˚F, the inside never reaches that temperature. That means that the probiotics are still alive in there.
In contrast to yeast breads, sourdough breads stay fresh longer and are not as susceptible to mold.
How to make your own sourdough starter
As I said before, you can absolutely buy a starter from a good company (such as www.culturesforhealth.com).
Or you have a friend who bakes with sourdough who might give you their starter (or a portion of it to be precise).
However, I find it easiest and most satisfying to make my own. Every now and then, I have done that over the decades. For example, when I moved from Germany to the US, I had to make a new one. Or if for some reason, I hadn’t been baking for a while and I wasn’t sure about my old starter.
As you will see, it’s really quite simple.! All you need is flour, buttermilk, water, and caraway seeds. You can try omitting the caraway seeds. My mom reminded me, though, that the starter will be better with them.
What do you need to make a sourdough starter?
I used organic white wheat flour because that is what I had. You can also use rye flour or a combination of both. Rye actually works great with sourdough!
Next, I use buttermilk. I prefer using organic buttermilk or make your own. I thinned it down with just a bit of water and mixed the flour into it to form a thick but runny batter.
Even though I can’t speak from my own experience, I have heard that you are not supposed to use reactive ware with your sourdough. Thus, it does best in a glass jar, or ceramic crock, or something enameled. Just try to avoid stainless steel. Sprinkle about 1 tsp of caraway seeds into your starter.
Now, you stir it up, cover it loosely (beeswax wraps are perfect here), and put it in an undisturbed spot such as a window sill. Make sure there is no draft.
What to do over the next days:
Every day, you’ll want to check in with your sourdough starter. The first few days, you may notice some more bubbling but it may still be lacking the typical, pleasant sour smell. Don’t let that fool you!
After a few days, and it may take up to 7 days you will have your sour. It will smell sour (not like buttermilk) and it will bubble. Just remember that with the warm temperatures of summer this process might happen quicker than if you’re doing this in the colder winter months.
To check for its ripeness, you can also drop a bit of it in water. If it floats, it’s ready. If it sinks, it needs to ferment another few days.
You have a sourdough starter – now what?
Congratulations! You have successfully made your own sourdough starter! You can either go ahead and bake bread (such as this European-style whole-grain bread or a lighter, artisan-style bread) or use it in other recipes, such as homemade sourdough pasta.
Pro Tip 😉:
One trick that I use when I am not sure about my starter is to add about 1 tsp of commercial dry yeast to whatever I am baking. You still get the long fermentation with the added insurance that your baked goods will rise nicely.
To keep your starter until the next time you bake, simply add a lot of flour to it, mix it into a stiff dough that’s hard to work, pour some flour on top, and place it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
This method is perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to do daily feedings of their sourdough starter and/or anyone who doesn’t bake very often.
How to maintain your starter?
Since I love when things are simple and no-fuzz, the maintenance for my sourdough starter is the same.
In my family, we have never fed or discarded any of our sourdough starters. Instead, we have been using a very simple method that I describe here. This easy method works best for people who bake 2 times a week or less.
Troubleshooting your sourdough starter
Now, I say this to everyone who is new to sourdough baking: DO NOT GIVE UP! Your first bread may not rise. That’s ok. Just keep some of the sourdough starter and try again.
My breads ALWAYS come out different. Changes in the ambient temperature, humidity, wild yeasts in the air and in the flour all affect your sourdough.
Instead, I recommend you relax and start getting a “feel” for your sourdough starter. It will be so rewarding once you get the hang of it.
And remember, if you don’t “trust” your starter, you can always add some yeast (about 1 tsp for an averaged sized bread) to your dough to make sure it does rise!
If you have more questions, head over to this article in which I try to answer the most common questions about sourdough.
Now I’d like to hear from you in the comments below! Have you tried making it? How did it turn out?
How to Make a Sourdough Starter
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 dash filtered water
- 2-3 TBSP flour white or rye flour
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
- Combine buttermilk, water, flour, and caraway seeds in a glass jar (or in another non-reactive container.
- Lightly cover and leave in warm, undisturbed spot. Check every day for progress. You can also stir it.
- Depending on the environment (temperature, moisture, wild yeasts), this can take about 7 days.
- Your sourdough starter is ripe when it has a pleasant sour smell and is bubbly and foamy. You can also drop a bit in some water: if it floats, it's ripe, if it sinks, it needs a few more days.