How to Make a Sourdough Starter from Scratch

There is something really satisfying about baking your own sourdough bread from its humble beginnings as a bag of whole wheat flour.

For first-time bakers, it can be intimidating to make your own sourdough starter, but I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than you might think.

Not all of us are so lucky to have a sourdough starter passed down to us from our bread-baking forefathers and foremothers, so I have compiled a step-by-step guide for making your own fresh sourdough starter from scratch.

All it takes to create your own yeasty youngster is some flour, water and time – but, before we start let’s define what a sourdough starter is for any baking newbies out there.

Sourdough starter from scratch

What is a sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter, also referred to as 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 active dry yeast. 

A sourdough starter is how we cultivate the wild yeast in a form that we can use for baking bread. Since wild yeast is all flour, the easiest way to make a starter is to simply combine flour and water and let it sit for several days. There’s no sorcery needed to capture the yeast, because it’s already in the flour, which means that literally anyone can make their own starter, and is likely why people have been doing this for thousands of years.

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. 

Are you ready to partake in the ancient practice of making a sourdough starter for yourself? Let’s jump right in.

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How to make your sourdough starter

how to make a sourdough starter

What you’ll need

  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 750ml glass jar
  • Measuring jug
  • Measuring spoons
  • Fork or Danish dough whisk

Step-by-step guide

This method for making your own sourdough starter from scratch is simple enough for even beginner bakers to follow. The whole process should take at least 5 - 7 days, so make sure you set aside plenty of time to nurture your starter from a bag of flour to a live culture.

Day 1: Make your sourdough starter

  1. Combine ½ cup (60g) of whole wheat flour (1⁄4 cup) of warm water in a large glass jar or container
  2. Mix the mixture with a fork until it’s smooth and the consistency is thick and pasty
  3. When it’s at the desired consistency, cover with plastic cling wrap or a lid and allow to rest in a warm spot for 24 hours 

Pro tip: if you’re looking for a warm spot to store your starter, place it on a cookie sheet inside your oven (turned off) with the light on for several hours, or inside your microwave with the door ajar and the light on.

Day 2: Check for bubbles

It’s time to check to see if any small bubbles have appeared on the surface of the starter.

Bubbles indicate the fermentation process has begun, which is what you want at this stage. However, if it’s still not bubbling, don’t stress, because they could have already came and went overnight while you were dreaming of all the delicious sourdough you’ll be baking.

Now, you don’t need to do anything else, so leave your starter in a warm spot for another 24 hours.

Day 3: Feed your starter

feeding sourdough starter

Regardless of whether bubbles are visible or not, it’s time to feed your starter.

To do this you’ll need to remove and discard about half of your starter from the jar using a spoon. The texture will be stretchy at this point, so don’t freak out when you notice this change.

Add ½ cup of all-purpose flour and ¼ cup of warm water to the mixture and combine it with a fork until it’s smooth. Be mindful that the texture should resemble thick pancake batter or plain yogurt at this point, so add more water as needed. 

Then, cover your starter again and let rest in your chosen warm spot for another 24 hours.

Day 4, 5 and 6: Keep feeding your starter

On these days, simply repeat the same feeding process as outlined on day 3.

Remove and discard half of the starter, and feed it with (1⁄2 cup) of all-purpose flour and (1/4 cup) of warm water. As the yeast begins to develop, your starter will rise, and bubbles will form on the surface and throughout the culture.

But, when the starter falls, it’s time to feed it again.

Day 7: It’s alive!

After 7 days your sourdough starter should have doubled in size, you’ll see plenty of bubbles on the surface and the texture will be spongy, fluffy, and similar to roasted marshmallows.

The very last step is to transfer your sourdough starter to a clean glass jar and store it on the kitchen benchtop at room temperature or in the fridge

Now, your sourdough starter is ready to use, you can use our sourdough starter recipe to activate your starter and start baking your own sourdough creations. Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram @youkneadsourdough and hashtag it #youkneadsourdough so we can see your little yeastie boys (and girls).

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