So, you’re looking to bake your own sourdough bread at home?
Firstly: you’ll need a sourdough starter. Before you start frantically searching the supermarket shelves for a sourdough starter, or worse yet, attempting to make one from scratch, rest assured you can make sourdough using dried starter flakes.
Luckily, we’ve included dried sourdough starter flakes in our Complete Sourdough Starter Kit, so you can get started on your first sourdough loaf faster than you can say ‘Vincent Van Dough’ (that’s the name of my sourdough starter). From there, all you’ll need to do is add water and follow these easy steps to activate your starter and ensure it’s big and strong so you can bake our simple Sourdough Bread Recipe.
You might be thinking that using dried starter flakes rather than making your starter from scratch is cheating, but trust me it’s not. Besides, the end result is exactly the same: a strong, bubbly starter that’s ready to be baked into a delicious sourdough loaf!
What is a sourdough starter?
Before we dive right into how to activate your sourdough starter, it’s probably best to first define what it is for novice bakers.
A sourdough starter, or a sourdough culture, is fermented dough filled with natural wild yeast and bacteria called lactobacilli. The starter is what helps the bread to rise, unlike normal supermarket bread, which uses commercial yeast.
Think of your sourdough starter as a living thing, because it is, quite literally full of life! There are over 50 million yeasts and five billion lactobacilli bacteria in every teaspoon of starter dough, which is what gives sourdough bread its signature sourness.
- Sourdough Bread Recipe
- Sourdough Tools & Equipment
- Complete Sourdough Starter Kit
- Dried Sourdough Starter
What you’ll need
- Dried starter flakes
- 4 tbsp Filtered water (room temperature)
- 35g flour
- Glass or plastic jar/container
- Plastic wrap
How to activate your sourdough starter: Step-by-step
Fill a glass or plastic jar/container with 50 grams (4 tbsp) of room temperature water (use filtered water, as tap water can contain higher levels of chlorine which may kill your starter). Make sure the container is made out of glass or plastic, as metal can react with the sourdough starter.
Place the dried sourdough starter flakes in the water and stir. You will need to leave this for several hours to make sure it has fully rehydrated (no dry flour). Cover lightly with a lid or plastic wrap.
After the dried sourdough starter flakes have fully hydrated, add 35g flour (4 tbsp) and mix well, and cover lightly with plastic wrap so it has room to expand. Leave at room temperature for 8-24 hours until you see small bubbles (time can vary due to temperature). If you do not see any bubbles after 24 hours give it a small feed (30g flour & 30g water) and wait another 8-24 hours. The starter can sometimes require an extra feed to become fully active (temperature can affect it).
- Your sourdough starter is alive! You need to feed it once or twice more before using in your sourdough bread recipe to make sure it’s nice and strong (it should at least double in volume after being fed - this is when it's strong enough). A typical sourdough starter feed is a 1:1 flour:water ratio – I use 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of filtered water every time I feed. Leave at room temperature (lightly covered) until it becomes nice and bubbly (this should take around 6-8 hours at room temperature). Discard part of the sourdough starter before adding new flour and water to the mixture – you only need a couple of tablespoons worth of sourdough starter left in the jar to keep it going.
Josh’s Baking Tip: don’t throw out your sourdough discard! Instead, use them in one of these 7 sourdough discard recipes, which include everything from fluffy sourdough pancakes to sourdough fried chicken.
- The sourdough starter is used in the sourdough bread recipe when it’s at its strongest, so make sure you give it a feed the night before, if you plan to make your sourdough bread the next morning (or first thing in the morning, if you plan to make it in the afternoon). You’ll need 150 grams of sourdough starter in the recipe, so feed it with 100 grams (heaped 1/2 cup) of flour and 100 grams of filtered water (1/2 cup), which will leave enough left over to keep your sourdough starter mixture going.
Your starter should be nice and active and ready to bake! Now you know how to activate your dried starter flakes, you can get started on your first sourdough loaf using our simple Sourdough Bread Recipe. Complete with step-by-step instructions and baking tips to guide you along the way, be sure to check it out and tag us on Instagram at @YouKneadSourdough so we can marvel at your creations.
Josh’s Baking Tip: Feeding sourdough starter every day can feel like a bit much, especially if you’re only baking once a week, so store it in the fridge! Simply give it a feed after you’ve used what you need for your sourdough bread, and place it in the fridge covered (loosely with a lid or plastic wrap – it needs room to grow).
Your starter will live quite happily for 1-2 weeks without needing a feed. When you need it again, say on a Saturday morning, take it out of the fridge on Thursday night and discard some and feed. Feed again on Friday night and it should be nice and strong to use for your sourdough bread the next morning.
Additional sourdough recipes and resources
If you’re feeling inspired after bringing your very own sourdough starter to life, then you might want to add some of these sourdough recipes to your baking rotation. Whether you’re a savoury person, a health nut, or a lover of all things sweet, we’ve got something for everyone.
- Healthy Whole Wheat Sourdough Recipe
- Ultimate Sourdough Pizza Dough Recipe
- Sourdough Serving Ideas
- Sourdough Christmas Recipes
Sourdough starter tips
Activating your sourdough starter is only half the battle when it comes to raising your ‘Vincent Van Dough', which is why we have compiled some top tips for ongoing care for your starter. These tips include everything from feeding your starter to storing it safely to knowing when it is ready to use.
How to feed your sourdough starter
- Remove and discard about half of your starter.
- Replenish what’s left in the jar with fresh all purpose flour and water.
- Cover loosely, and let it rise at room temperature until it becomes bubbly and doubles in size. Once it falls, the bubbles will become frothy and eventually disappear. Then you’ll know it’s time to feed your starter again.
- Feed your starter everyday if it’s stored at room temperature. If you keep it in the fridge, feed it once a week.
How to store your sourdough starter
Once your starter is established, there are two ways to store it: at room temperature or in the fridge.
If you’re like me and don’t bake every day, then you should store your starter in the fridge covered with a lid. You’ll only need to feed it about once a week or so to maintain its strength when not in use (you can just feed it cold and then pop it back in the fridge right afterwards without warming it up). When you are ready to make dough, feed your starter at room temperature as needed, to wake it back up.
Alternatively, if you bake more than twice a week you should store your starter at room temperature. This will speed up fermentation, making the starter bubbly, active, and ready to use faster. Room temperature starters should be fed one to two times a day, depending on how quickly they rise and fall.
When is my sourdough starter ready to use?
There are several ways that indicate your sourdough starter is ready to use, which include:
- Bulk growth to about double in size
- Small and large bubbles on the surface and throughout the culture
- Spongy or fluffy texture
- Pleasant aroma
Pro Tip: If you’re having trouble spotting the signs, you can always place a rubber band around the base of the jar to measure the starter’s growth. That’s what I do!
You can also try the float test, which is where you drop one teaspoon of starter in a glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready to use.
Sourdough starter FAQs
We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked sourdough starter questions, so you don’t have to scour the depths of the internet in search of answers. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Explore our extensive FAQs section for more information.
How do I know if my sourdough starter is bad?
Like any food, always use your sight and smell when it comes to judging whether your sourdough starter has gone bad.
If you can see an orange or pink streak in your starter, this is a sign that your sourdough starter has gone bad and should be thrown away.
Similarly, if your sourdough starter starts to smell bad, or you notice the presence of mould, then this is another indication it is off and should be thrown out right away.
What is the brown liquid on top of my sourdough starter?
If you notice a dark liquid on top of your sourdough starter, we can assure you it’s totally normal and harmless.
This sourdough starter liquid is referred to as “hooch” and it’s a naturally occurring alcohol that sits on top of your starter to indicate that your starter is hungry. Simply pour it off and discard it, prior to stirring and feeding your starter again.
Do I have to throw my starter away and start over?
The only reason to throw your starter away is if it has gone bad or has mould growing in it. Otherwise, it isn’t necessary to throw out a starter that isn’t showing signs of activity. If you don’t see any activity for a few days when starting, you may just need to give it another feed.
Why do you discard a portion of the starter before feeding it?
Removing and discarding a portion of your sourdough starter helps to refresh the acidity levels and to control the overall growth in size.
You also don’t have to throw out your sourdough discard, as you can use them in hundreds of different recipes, such as pancakes, waffles, crumpets and more.