Creating a Sourdough Starter from Scratch: A New Life

Sourdough Starter
Learn how to make a sourdough starter at home using just flour, water, time and temperature.

There are many ways to create a sourdough starter and one thing they have in common is they all have you throwing out a lot of flour. I’ve read books, blogs, social media posts and seen videos that all use a similar method. For many year I followed this method in the way I made a new starter and the way I taught others to make one. I was introduced by the zero was starter concept by baker Wayne Caddy of the Sourdough Slingers and since then have adapted my teachings.

So what exactly is a sourdough starter?

When flour and water are mixed and left at room temperature they will begin to ferment. Evidence of fermentation is visible through the production and activity of C02 (Carbon Dioxide gas). As a result of this fermentation, bubbles are visible on the surface of the sourdough starter. 

Once they have begun to ferment if we feed them with more flour and water they will become more active and start to multiply. In my experience, it can take anywhere from 4-7 days for a starter to become active enough for leavening bread. Once it is rising significantly in size after feeding, bubbly and billowy it is ready to use. The smell is lactic, fruity and acetic.  Notes of yogurt and a sour back drop.  

The environment in which a sourdough starter is created can affect your starter.  Whole Grains contain natural bacteria and wild yeasts on the outside of the grain. When the grain gets milled, the organisms on the outside of the wholegrain get mixed into the produced flour. Though the addition of water and time we can trigger the wild yeasts and over time they will come alive and start to multiply. Once they are active we can feed them so they remain alive and begin to thrive.

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10 Tips for Creating a Sourdough Starter:

  1. Use clean, sterile equipment when starting to avoid any unwanted bacteria and microorganisms in your sourdough.  We want to promote the growth of good bacteria and healthy yeast.  The beginning stage is when your starter is most vulnerable to unwanted bacteria and moulds.
  2. Always use organic, untreated and whole meal flours.  These flours are nutrient dense which can help the wild yeast thrive. 
  3. I use rye flour when starting a new starter.  Rye flour is high in sugars, nutrients and can really help fermentation. 
  4. Start with two containers.  While many starters are pictured in glass containers, plastic will work just fine.  Glass containers are very unpractical for any bakery but they work great for taking pictures of your starter.  Avoid any metal container as this can react with your starter and be detrimental to your starters health. 
  5. There are many tools that can be used to mix your starter and while many bakers use their hands, I have always opted for a rubber spatula.  For me it is quicker, easier to clean up and efficient. 
  6. Measure water temperatures with a digital thermometer. While you can make a sourdough starter without taking the temperature, it is good practice to take temps regularly.  This will also help with overall quality and consistency once your starter is established. 
  7. If you are in a cold environment you can use an insulated cooler with a hot water bottle to help maintain a warm environment, or your home oven (ensure its OFF) with a pot of hot or boiling water inside to create a lightly warm, high humidity environment. The same process can be used later for proofing doughs and breads. 
  8. Use a scale when measuring ingredients.  While you can use a volume measurements you will be FAR more accurate and consistent with a scale.  INSERT SCALE LINK This same principle applies to all bread baking and recipes. 
  9. Use water from a clean source.  In Toronto and many other cities we have chlorine and chloramine in the water.  While I have used tap water for many bakes and even to create a new starter, these additives can inhibit starter growth and development.  You can use filtered water or at the very least let your water sit out overnight and allow the chlorine to dissipate before using. 
  10. Have fun and take notes!

Creating a Sourdough Starter from Scratch

Day 1:

6g Bread Flour
6g Rye flour or wholemeal flour
16g water at 40-50C or 104-122F

  • Start by adding your water to the jar.  Next add your flour. 
  • Mix until well combined and then scrape all the flour into the corner of the jar. 
  • Leave this jar at room temp for 24 hours. 

NOTE – After 24 hours not much has happened but it will start to smell like corn and grass.

Sourdough Starter Day 1

Day 2:

6g Bread Flour
6g Rye flour or wholemeal flour
16g water at 40-50C or 104-122F

  • Add the same measurements as DAY 1 to the Jar, in the same order:
  • Add 16g water to your Day 1 Mixture, and mix to dissolve. 
  • Add the flours, and mix to combine
  • Ensure all of the mixture is together in one mass by pushing into the corner if necessary
  • Check the temperature of your starter.  With using warm water we should end up with around 29-31C or 84-86F which is a great temperature for fermentation. 
  • Leave in a warm place for 24 hours

Day 3:

At this point you should see some bubbles forming on the surface and the smell will be a little funky.  Usually in the early stages the smell is predominantly lactic as the acetic acids take longer to develop. 

6g Bread Flour
6g Rye flour or wholemeal flour
16g water at 40-50C or 104-122F

  • Repeat the same process as day 1 and 2. 
  • Leave in a warm place for 24hours.

Day 4:

Now we should see a great change in our starter.  C02 has started to be produced (see the bubbles) and our aromas should contain lactic and acetic acid. 

12g bread flour
12g rye or wholemeal flour
32g water 26C

  • At this stage we need to increase the feeding to keep up with our starters hunger (the growing microorganisms). Leave in a warm place for 24 hours.

Day 5:

Now we will really see some bubbles. Now the aroma should be more complex. Full lactic and acetic aromas are present and the starter should be looking alive. After each feed the starter should rise 2 to 3 times as high in your jar. A great way to monitor this is with rubber bands. Place a rubber band around the jar at the top of where the starter is after feeding. In just a few hours you will see the starter rising.

12g bread flour
12g rye or wholemeal flour
32g water 26C 

Day 6 and beyond:

To keep your starter alive and thriving we need to continue to feed the wild yeasts. I will be posting a full guide on how I manage and maintain my starter but for now you can feed 1:10:10 meaning 1 part starter to 10 parts water and 10 parts flour.
5 grams starter
50 grams flour
50 grams water

I like to feed my starter with whole wheat and bread flour for maintenance.  Rye will develop more acetic acid and while this can work and be used for a wide variety of breads I keep a 50/50 starter. 

Sourdough Starter Day 6

Reducing Food Waste

To put it in perspective the population of Canada is around 33 million and if 1% of the population make this formula with discard (around 333 000 people) we have thrown away over 500 000 loaves.  

By using the no discard method developed by Wayne Caddy we can reduce waste.  Most recipes start with 75-100grams of flour and they discard large amounts daily.  At the end of the process the baker can throw away 500-600 grams of flour. 

How often to feed?

If you want to bake often you should feed your starter daily.  Many guides call for 2-3 times a day but I find this a bit excessive and unnecessary for my baking goals. 

If you don’t bake often you can store your starter in the fridge will slow down your fermentation.  If storing in the fridge, before using you can take it out, feed it once and let it grow before using. 

Once your stater is active and ready you can start making bread, while you can use it for many things other than bread, a great start would be a beginner sourdough. For discard recipes be sure to check out my sourdough discard recipe section.

@sourdoughduffy

How to make a sourdough starter. It takes 5-7 days be patient. #sourdough #tiktokcooks #scienceathome

♬ Buttercup – Jack Stauber
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Creating a Sourdough Starter from Scratch: A New Life


Ingredients

Scale

Day 1, creating a sourdough starter from scratch:

 

6g Bread Flour

6g Rye flour or wholemeal flour

16g water at 40-50C or 104122F

 

Day 2, repeat day 1:

 

6g Bread Flour

6g Rye flour or wholemeal flour

16g water at 40-50C or 104122F

 

Day 3:

 

6g Bread Flour

6g Rye flour or wholemeal flour

16g water at 40-50C or 104122F

 

Day 4:

 

12g bread flour

12g rye or wholemeal flour

 

32g water 26C

 

Day 5:
12g bread flour
12g rye or wholemeal flour
32g water 26C

 


Instructions

Day 1, creating a sourdough starter from scratch:

  • Start by adding your water to the jar.  Next add your flour. 

    Mix until well combined and then scrape all the flour into the corner of the jar. 

  • Place in a warm spot in for 24 hours.

Day 2, repeat day 1:

  • Start by adding your water to the jar.  Next add your flour. 

    Mix until well combined and then scrape all the flour into the corner of the jar. 

  • Check the temperature of your starter.  With using warm water we should end up with around 29-31C or 84-86F which is a great temperature for fermentation. 

  • Place in a warm spot in for 24 hours.

Day 3, repeat day 1 and 2:

  • Start by adding your water to the jar.  Next add your flour. 

    Mix until well combined and then scrape all the flour into the corner of the jar. 

  • Place in a warm spot in for 24 hours.

Day 4, now we will use day 4 ingredients. 

  • Start by adding your water to the jar.  Next add your flour. 

    Mix until well combined and then scrape all the flour into the corner of the jar. 

  • Place in a warm spot in for 24 hours.

Day 5, repeat day 4:

  • Start by adding your water to the jar.  Next add your flour. 

    Mix until well combined and then scrape all the flour into the corner of the jar. 

  • Place in a warm spot in for 24 hours.

Day 6 and beyond:

  • At this point your starter should be ripe and active.  If it is not repeat day 4 and 5 until you see a significant rise and the starter is active. 


Notes

  • To keep your starter alive and thriving we need to continue to feed the wild yeasts. 

  •  I like to feed my starter with whole wheat and bread flour for maintenance.  Rye will develop more acetic acid and while this can work and be used for a wide variety of breads I keep a 50/50 starter.
  • If you want to bake often you should feed your starter daily.  Many guides call for 2-3 times a day but I find this a bit excessive and unnecessary for my baking goals.
  • If you don’t bake often you can store your starter in the fridge will will slow down your fermentation.  If storing in the fridge, before using you can take it out, feed it once and let it grow before using.
13 comments
  1. Beyond day 5. With the 1:10:10 ratio. Are you throwing out the other starter? Your feeding says you only feed based off of 5g of starter, so do you only keep 5g of starter?

    1. Hey Michael, once my starter is active and healthy I typically feed it 1:10:10 but keep the feeds small. Something about 5-10 grams of starter, 50 grams of water, 50 grams flour and in a small jar. I save any discard in a jar in the fridge and use it for other types of baking. If I know I won’t be baking for a few days I keep a small amount of starter in a jar on the counter and build it up before baking.

    1. Hello Lei,
      Typically this can happen because of temperatures or the type of flour being used. Could you share what type of flour you are using?

  2. Thanks Matthew.
    I’m getting at most a doubling of the volume of my starter (with a “reluctant” float test–doesn’t know whether it wants to sink or swim) and this is reflected in a relatively disappointing crumb. I discarded a starter that I’ve used for about 18 months and started again with feeds of all-purpose+whole wheat in equal proportions and about 10% rye. Results were pretty much the same. Water is room temperature (20-21C and left out overnight to dissipate Chlorine). Two feeds/day. Any ideas?

    1. Hey Richard,
      I am just seeing this comment now but I am glad we solved the issue via email regarding the flour you had been using!
      Happy baking.

  3. Hi Matthew! I am on day 4 and my mixture is liquidy. There is some water floating above the rest of the flour mixture. Am I to add less water? I noticed on your Instagram video the recipe calls for 12 grams of water, but above it says 16. Should I be adding 12 grams of 16 grams?

    1. Hey Alexandra,
      If the mixture is split with liquid on top you should pour off the hooch and only use what is under.
      Otherwise you can increase the amount of flour to change the consistency.
      As far as the video/formula goes I have used both methods and they both yield the same results.
      Happy baking,
      MJD

  4. Hi Matthew,
    My wife and have been enjoying your recipes and Instagram channel for almost a year now. Thank you!
    I’m having trouble getting good results with the starter. I always get some bubbling between day 2 and 3 then nothing happens afterward. I’m using half 00 bread and pizza flour with half freshly ground ww. Any advice?
    Best
    F

    1. Hey Fares,
      My first suggestion would be to check what temperature you are storing the culture at. I would also take a look at what you are using for 00 flour.
      If you want to send me a few pictures I would be happy to trouble shoot with you.

      1. Thank you for the reply Matthew. It worked finally. What I did is that I left 48 hours without feeding but when I did it exploded. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as over feeding but it seems that intermittent fasting did it well. 🤣

  5. I’m really confused about day 6 and on. I’ve taken 5g starter and put it in a new jar and fed it 50g flour and 50g water. Not sure how I proceed or what I do with stuff in fridge. I got bubbles but no doubling in size. I tried a float test and it sank.

    1. Hey Shonna,
      After day 6 you will need to regularly feed your starter. You should see it doubling in a 10-12 hour period with a 1:10:10 feeding. If you’d like it to go faster you can increase the amount of levain you are using.
      I try to use warm water about 26-28C for shorter feeds and a bit cooler for overnight,
      MJD

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