Start your sourdough journey with this guide on growing wild yeast! You just need flour, water, and a few minutes of maintenance each day to bake better bread!
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Simple sourdough starter guide
Before you bake a beautiful sourdough loaf, you make a sourdough starter! A sourdough starter is a process where you grow wild yeast for 6-12 days. I know this sounds complicated and time consuming, but I promise you that all it really takes is a few minutes of maintenance each day and a keen eye for when to nurture. Because yeast is a living organism, it must be fed and nurtured to reach a point where it is ready for baking. I’ve delved into each step of this process below.
You may be wondering Why can’t I use instant yeast?? Well, while instant yeast works perfectly for making things like English muffins and muffins, a sourdough starter is whole grain for the perfect sourdough bread flavor and texture. The bitter taste comes from acetic acid that develops during the sourdough growth process. There is a reason this process has been going on for thousands of years! Better bread is worth the wait. Using a sourdough starter will leave you with exceptionally tasty, leavened, and perfectly textured bread that can’t be replicated with instant yeast. Let us begin!
What you need to feed the sourdough starter
Only 2 of the simplest ingredients are needed here: flour and water. Making the best sourdough bread doesn’t require fancy ingredients. It is time, effort and attention to detail that will leave you with the best bread.
- Warm water: Using warm water is the most important tip for growing yeast. Low temperatures slow down fermentation, which is counterproductive to the sourdough initiation process. This also means that your entree should not be kept in an environment that is too cold. If you live in an area with cooler temperatures, you can add hot water to your mix to speed up growth.
- Whole wheat flour: I like to use whole wheat flour because it usually has a higher yeast content naturally. This facilitates the cultivation of the wild yeasts and bacteria necessary to produce bread. You can also use all-purpose or rye flour, but all-purpose flour may not bubble as much as other flours. As long as you keep an eye on your starter development, any type of flour will work.
How to make sourdough
Caring for a sourdough entree requires patience and diligence, but the end result is worth it! Promise!
- Day 1: In a quart jar, add 1 cup of flour. Add the cup of warm water and mix to form a paste. Screw the lid on tightly and set it aside on the counter for 24-48 hours.
- Day 2-5: After about 24 hours, you should see some bubbling activity. If it has bubbled significantly, it’s time to feed it.! Discard all but ½ cup of the entree and add ½ cup of whole wheat flour and ½ cup of water and mix. Screw the cap on and set it aside again for another 24 hours. If the starter is bubbling in less time, switch to feeding twice a day instead of once a day.
- Day 6: Do this for 6 days and when you get to the sixth day, instead of discarding half of the entree, remove half and reserve to use on your sourdough bread.
Top Sourdough Tips for Beginners
Since you are growing a yeast colony that needs certain conditions to thrive and grow, any imbalance can ruin your mix. Use these tips to make sure you get the best result from your sourdough starter!
- Temperature differences: Since cold temperatures slow the growth of wild yeast, in a cold environment it can take up to 12 days for the yeast to be ready to bake. In a warmer environment, you should be ready to make your bread after 6-7 days.
- Keep a schedule: The best way to get consistent results with your sourdough starter is to choose a certain time of day each day to monitor / feed it. This way, you can nurture your starter as needed. It’s easy to forget about it, but doing so can lead to irreparable results.
- When your starter is ready: If your entree starts to consistently double in height within hours of feeding, you’re ready to bake. This usually happens around day 6-7.
- Bread is not sour enough: If your bread doesn’t taste sour enough, there are a few tricks you can try to add to the acetic acid levels of your entree. One is to let the yeast grow in cooler temperatures. It will take longer to be ready to bake, but lower temperatures speed up the production of acetic acid, which will give the dough a more acidic flavor. Also, if a brownish liquid is forming on top of the starter, mix it up rather than scooping it out. This is a fermented liquid and it will also add a bitter taste to your mix.
- The starter motor smells of alcohol: This is usually a sign that your starter needs to be fed. When your entree is ready to go, it should smell like yeast and bread.
- Double boot size: You can increase the amount of starter you start with. Just make sure your jar is large enough to allow it to double in size and then mix in equal parts of starter, flour, and water.
Maintaining Your Sourdough Bread Starter
Don’t throw away your entree when you’re ready to make bread! Sourdough entrees can be used indefinitely if properly maintained and cared for.
- Storage: If you use your entree less often, you can store it in the refrigerator instead of on the counter. Keeping it in the fridge will slow down the fermentation process, so you’ll only need to feed it once a week or so.
- Reactivation: Sourdough starters are quite sturdy, so even if you forget it, it can be reactivated even after a couple of months of neglect. Just remove anything that has a crust on top, add fresh warm water, and feed regularly.
- Alcoholic beverage: If your entree has been in the fridge for a while, it may start to build up a liquid called ‘liquor’. It is usually brownish in color and is a normal part of the fermentation process for wild yeast. It is a very acidic and spicy liquid, so if you prefer a more acidic bread, just mix it up. If not, remove it and continue the feeding process as usual.
in a quart jar, add the cup of flour. Add the cup of warm water and mix to form a paste. Screw the lid on tightly and set it aside on the counter for 24-48 hours.
After about 24 hours, you should see some bubbling activity. If it has bubbled significantly, it’s time to feed it! Discard all but ½ cup of the entree and add ½ cup of whole wheat flour and ½ cup of water and mix. Screw the cap on and set it aside again for another 24 hours. If the starter is bubbling in less time, switch to feeding twice a day instead of once a day.
Do this for 6 days and when you get to the sixth day, instead of discarding half of the entree, remove half and reserve to use on your sourdough bread.
If you use your entree less often, you can store it in the refrigerator instead of on the counter. Keeping it in the fridge will slow down the fermentation process, so you’ll only need to feed it once a week or so. If you forget it, it can be reactivated even after a couple of months of neglect. The longer it stays in the refrigerator, the more dark liquid can build up on top. This is called brandy and can be remixed or poured before feeding. Make sure to let the entree come to room temperature before feeding, and then let it sit on the counter for about 12 hours until you return it to the refrigerator.
If you want to increase the amount of starter you have, first make sure your jar is large enough to allow it to double in size and then mix equal parts of starter, flour, and water.
All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is an estimate only. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measurement methods, and serving sizes per household.