How To Make A Sourdough Starter | Video Recipe


In this video I use an extremely simple method that calls for mixing flour with warm water, allowing it to sit for 48-72 hours until yeast activity begins, and then refresh/feed at set intervals for about five days, or until the starter is strong enough to levin a loaf of bread. If you've been around since the Free Culinary School Podcast days, you'll remember that in our sourdough series I recommended using fruit peels (apples/grapes) to inoculate your water and flour mixture with natural yeast.

After multiple tests, I've found that there is sufficient local yeast available on your hands, in your kitchen and in your flour, to get a strong sourdough starter going, and in a lot of cases, is much more forgiving then using fruit peels or skins. The reason being, unless your fruit skins come from a hyper local source (like an apple tree in your back yard or a neighbor's garden), then you are still technically importing and using a foreign yeast to inoculate your sourdough starter. At some point, the yeast that is naturally occurring in your kitchen environment will have to do battle with this "foreign yeast" which can kill your sourdough starter outright or give it off flavors (caused by dead or unhealthy yeast).


Tips For Making A Sourdough Starter
  • Always use filtered water, especially if your tap water contains chlorine and/or flouride, both of which can kill the yeast in your starter, especially at the early stages of development.

  • Start by making a 100% hydration starter (1:1 ratio water/flour), AKA a poolish. This is the type of starter that I prefer and will be using in upcoming demonstration videos for sourdough bread. Also, a high hydration rate (like 100%) allows the yeast to propagate faster as compared to a lower hydration starter such as a biga (usually around 60% hydration by the baker's percentage).

  • Once yeast activity begins, remove half of your starter and feed the remainder with the same amount of flour and water removed. So if you took out 400 grams of the starter, you would add back 200 grams of flour and 200 grams of water to the remaining starter.

  • Continue to feed your starter at the same time every day, until it becomes extremely active.

  • Once your starter can pass the "float test" 12 hours after feeding, it is strong enough to bake with. At this point, you can either bake your first loaf of sourdough bread or retard in your refrigerator, remembering to feed your new starter at least once a week.

Remember, this is the first step in your journey towards making great sourdough bread. We will be diving into different techniques and recipes in the coming weeks and months.

Further Information

This post is part of our ongoing Bread Baking Video Series, which teaches a wide array of baking techniques and recipes. For more information, you can also view our How To Cook Video Index.

34 comments

esavitzky
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Jacob,

Great video.

Noticed that you are recommending a 50/50 mix of whole wheat and bread flour.  Based on your earlier recommendation I have been using an 80/20 mix of bread flour to whole wheat for my poolish.

Besides the obvious taste differences, is the higher % of WW likely to make the boule more dense with fewer air pockets in the crumb?

thanks
Jacob Burton
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My approach has changed slightly since the FCS days. I like to feed with half whole wheat and half bread flour, especially early on, because they each have different types of sugars that will keep the yeast strain strong. It also gives a little more depth of flavor.

When it comes time to make a specific type of bread, I'll either dump out my starter almost completely (just leaving what clings to the interior of the container) or pull out a very small amount and expand. Either way, it gives you a chance to feed your starter whatever you want for the bread you'll be baking next. In each case, your starter should be ready to bake with in about 12 hours if left at room temperature, assuming it's a strong starter.

For example, for an enriched dough using a sourdough starter, I'll pour off all of my starter and then feed the container with all purpose flour, water and sometimes milk. Let stand overnight, and the next day you're ready to bake. If I'm making brown bread (something that I've been playing with lately), I'll feed 100g of starter with 100g whole wheat, 250g rye flour and 350g water, let sit overnight, and then use this as my sponge.

Because I'm usually baking rustic style or "country" bread, I find the 1:1 whole wheat/bread flour suits me well for feeding my starter, but this is just a personal preference that I encourage you to play with. You can either dilute the whole wheat out later, or use it to add a more complex flavor. We will be discussing this in-depth in upcoming podcast episodes so you will have the tools to play around and form your own personal preference.

In short: if whole wheat flour makes up less then 15-20% of your overall flour, it won't effect your oven spring or make your crumb more dense (at least it won't be supper noticeable).
Shane
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I didn't understand how important it is to actually TAKE OUT half the starter in order to strengthen it until I watched this video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpwFM_YRdwc 
But it seems such a waste to not use it in something really good. Does anyone have any suggestions for what I can use it for? I've seen some recipes to make pancakes.
My starter isn't active enough to pass the float test so I can't really use it to bake bread (maybe unless I add some instant dry yeast).
nir ladany

Hello  Jacob and every body

I've been watching your movies for a while  and would like to say that I am full of Appreciation for the time, beautiful work and effort you put in to them.

things like these are rare and are not obvious.

so thanks.

now I can ask my question :)

 

What are the indicators that the starter need to be fed?

Or how can I know when dose my starter need to be fed?

 

another question 

I started a very small batch of starter tow days ago and every thing  is OK but the smell is very acidic almost vinegary.

I used 50% wight flower and 50% Spelled flower

and 50% liquid (water)

I put the starter in a dark cupboard and let it seat and forget about it  for about 24 hours.

after that time, I took half of the poolish and strengthened it with flower and water and forget about it  for about 24 hours.

today when I came to check on it there was these smell of vinegar, I should noted that it is passing the flotation test and looks alive.

it is about 25-29°c in the room 

thanks 

Nir

Jacob Burton
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Hi Nir,

 

The best time to feed your starter is after it has fully expanded and then starts to fall back on itself. What you'll notice is that as the yeast continues to eat, the starter will about double in volume. At the end of the yeast's feeding cycle, the volume of the starter will start to decline, signaling that it is now time for another feeding.

 

However, an established sourdough starter isn't that sensitive, so you'd be surprised how long you can starve the starter and then revive with a few feedings.

 

If you starter smells vinegary and passes the float test, then congratulations, you have a strong sourdough starter! Some starter will smell more acidic then others, depending on the yeast and bacteria strains contained within the starter, which is what makes everyone's starter special.

 

Now that you have a strong starter that passes the float test, it's time to bake some bread! Good luck, and I'm glad you're enjoying the videos.

 

Jacob

 

amandamariec

I'm so glad I found this website! I've been looking for a while for a good demo on making a sourdough starter from just water and flour and I couldn't believe how hard it was to find. So, thank you! I have 2 questions, however. I live by myself and would only be making a loaf a week so I was curious if I could make a smaller amount of starter - say 2 tbs water, 2 tbs flour? Would it work the same since it is still the same ratio? Also, I always wash my hands before baking and cooking (as I hope most people do) but was wondering if washing your hands is actually a bad idea in this case? If you could fill me in I'd really appreciate it! Thanks again. 

GreenBake
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I hate to throw away leftover starter that’s healthy and active.

 

Recently, I’ve started to dry a thin layer of starter in a (usually non-stick) pan. In less than a week, I store it away.

 

Yesterday, I took some small stone fruits covered with white yeast fuzz/bloom:

8 oz. distilled water by weight

8 oz. King Arthur Bread flour

4 oz. Dried Starter pieces

About 1 cup of small stone fruit (plums?)

I mixed the items in a plastic bowl and covered it loosely, mixing it a few times that evening.

 

The next morning, the mixture was alive and kicking. Moorpark* is alive and well.

 

For those who wonder who/what Moorpark looks like, here’s a hint on it’s namesake:

http://www.arborday.org/treeguide/treeDetail.cfm?id=99

 

* Yes, Jacob, I did name my starter.

esavitzky
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@amandamariec,

 

For over a year now I have been following Jacob's directions for my starters (2) and have never been able to consistently get the starter to float after feeding. I have to admit it was probably because I used tap water which was probably the culprit, but the breads usually came out to my liking.

 

Recently, I have been getting into Chad Roberston's recipe (Tartine Bakery)  for his country loaf.  There are several variations out on the web for getting a starter going and I actually found one that was pretty simple and slightly different than Chad's. It uses a lot less flour and is pretty much foolproof.  Of course, I now use bottle water so maybe that was the issue.

 

All you need for this starter is a good white flour (I use Bob's Red Mill) and a medium or dark rye flour (not light).  I also use Bob's Red Mill dark rye.

 

You also need a pint Bell jar with lid and bottled water.  That's it.

 

Weigh the empty jar without lid and write the weight in grams on the jar using a Sharpie.

 

Then add 50 ml (grams) of water to the empty jar and then 25 g of white flour and 25 g of rye flour.

 

Put the lid on the jar and set it on your counter (assuming the room is about 77 degrees) and let it sit for 24 hours.

 

When the 24 hours is up, remove all but 50 g of starter from the jar and feed it with 25 g or white flour and 25 g of rye four along with 50 g or water.  Do this every 12 hours for at least 9 days.  

 

You will see that the starter not only bubbles, rises and falls predictably after a few days, but also loses the really tart smell it develops at the beginning.  After 6 days you can probably use the starter, but it is better to wait at least the 9 days.  The starter is likely to float after about 4 or 5 days after a 12 hour feeding.  Chad Robertson actually suggests waiting 21 days before baking but again, this  starter is a bit different than his.  A lot will depend on the temperature of where you store the starter and whether or not you do a lot of baking.  If you bake a lot, there are a lot of natural wield yeasts floating around which will speed things up a bit.

 

Once you pass the 9 day point, you can dial down the amount of starter you are keeping and slightly shift the ratio of white and rye flour.  You can keep a constant amount of 60 g of starter, removing all but 20 g when feeding and adding in 20 g of flour (13 white/7 rye) and 20 g of water. This is a manageable amount particularly since Robertson's levain only calls for a tablespoon of starter.

 

I am currently at Day 9 or 10 with my starter and am continuing to feed it every 12 hours although I can probably slow down to every 24 at this point.  I'm going to give Robertson's country loaf recipe a try this weekend.

 

Good luck.

 

Elliot

 

 

 

Jacob Burton
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You've gotten some pretty good advice here and I don't have much to add, unless you have a follow up question. One thing that I will highlight though is sometimes you have to through away some starter unless you're going to be baking with it every day. It's just par for the course.

GreenBake
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True, some starter will always have to be “sacrificed”... but dried starter, especially powdered or finely crushed, could create some interesting possibilities for baked goods, pancakes, etc. Dried starter also takes up much, much less room and doesn’t have to be fed.

esavitzky
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see my post on sourdough buttermilk pancakes.  Not that you will eat pancakes every day, but it is one way to make use of tossed starter.  Otherwise, cutting down on the amount of starter you keep is probably the best solution.

Silver Kat
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Waiting for this to release. I love using natural starters but usually end up making yeast bread - when I have time to bake bread I can't wait for the starter to wake up! When I had more time available, I kept my starter alive for nearly 3 years. It made great bread while it lasted.

Roger Lufkin
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My process began with 1509g, 336g (190g flour +146g water) for levining the next loaf + 700g flour + 473g water. 77% hydration. The first batch used 1/4 tsp. yeast plus sugar and salt. After that, I just kept recycling the 12oz portion, dissolving in the warm water for the next loaf.

 

How much of the levin is used in the bread dough for a loaf to do what it needs to? If my loafs begin using 700 grams of AP flour what percentage of levin do I add to this? I have seen suggestions as high as 60%.

 

Is a pat fermente different from the process you outline in your video?

 

I'm using straight AP to learn the process, also it's way cheaper for my budget when buying in bulk. ;) The dog has already received a large portion of mistakes. o.O Hopefully I can decrease the dogs share and increase my share. :D The first loaf was chaibata like because of high hydration, the edges were rocks.

 

After adding the levin how much rise time can I expect for 65-68 deg. f?

 

Will using the levin before it's ready cause any stomach trouble, do I have to wait for the good lactaids to form first? How do I tell? Typically, I have been letting the dough rise for 14-24 hours before shaping, resting and baking.

 

I am interested in learning about the natural levins so I'm going to give the method described in earlier posts a go. There isn't a whole lot of videos on natural levins with detailed explanations so thanks for making the video available.

 

RL

englis86
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I'm currently away at school and I don't have a scale here. If I were to cut the recipe to 1/4 cup flour to 1/4 cup of water, would that be okay? I know the whole volume vs weight issue, but I don't want to buy another scale just because I'm at school and not home. Also, my other issue, I only have all purpose flour, so the protein content won't be the same. Not sure how that will effect it.

GreenBake
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The difference between 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water vs. 4 oz. flour and 4 oz. water is striking.

 

With equal parts of flour and water by volume, you get a much thinner (more watery) starter if memory serves me.

 

I’m not sure how practical this would be, but you could always place 2 containers on opposite sides of a thin board balanced on the side of a pencil (like a seesaw http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seesaw). Then put the flour in one container and add water to the other container until the board is level.

 

Or you could try the King Arthur Flour website to find out how much one cup of flour weights:

 

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe/master-weight-chart.html

esavitzky
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@englis86

 

As GreenBake eludes to, try visiting the King Arthur site and use this approach.  Not perfect but better than guessing. 

englis86
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I specifically said I understand the whole volume vs weight issue. I know how to measure a cup of flour properly. It was more aimed at the consistency, so I should have been more specific in that question, that's my fault.
And just to clarify, 1/4 cup = 2 oz, volume.

You can never measure 1 cup of flour by weight and expect it to be accurate across the board. That King Arthur site is specific to their products which they can control a lot more. The partial size of flour shouldn't make a huge difference, flour can not be larger than 149μm, but that's obviously saying it can be smaller. The moisture content of the flour will effect the weight. The density will effect it. Getting around the volume vs weight issue is what I'm looking for. Assuming, it will probably be closer to 1/2 cup of flour to 1/4 cup of water to get the right consistency. I'd also probably want to cut it down even more if I can.

The protein content is this biggest issue I'm looking at here, that completely effects the outcome of any product especially bread. So I should just go buy bread flour. And I'm better off just buying another scale.

I apologize for not being specific in my question, but thank you for answering.

Jacob Burton
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If you're looking to just "start" a sourdough starter, then you can eye ball proportions or measure in cups. Even AP flour is OK. All that is important is that you get an active starter.

 

Once your starter is active, then you can go through the process of dumping most of it out the night before, and then feeding back bread flour, whole wheat flour and water in weighted measurements.

 

If push came to shove, I could actually make my sourdough bread just by sight and feel. There are a lot of tactile and visual cues that you can use during the bread making process, but as you said, nothing beets the accuracy of a scale.

 

But again, if all you're trying to do is start a sourdough starter, volume measurements will work fine for now. Look at the consistency of the starter in my video; if yours seems a little wet, then add more flour to sight, or if it seems a little stiff, loosen with some water.

 

Let me know if you have any more questions, and welcome to Stella Culinary.

englis86
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I did buy some bread flour to make this. The consistency from the one I started is definitely thinner than yours in the video. I just added more flour to get it to that consistency. I wish I had checked this again before I started it.

 

It's been a few days, nothing has really happened. There is hardly any gas forming, there will be a layer of liquid that forms on top, which I don't remember happening when I made one a number of years ago..?
If I give it another day and no gas starts to form, should I just start over?

Also. My starter smells fruity and not pleasant. If the pH has gotten too low the bacteria definitely would have taken over, but there isn't a pink hue to it, which happened the first time I made a starter (I didn’t know anything about sourdough then and the recipe failed to mention feeding it). Is the fruity smell normal or not good? 

 

Thank you!

Claudine
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I tried to make a sourdough starter and after 48 hours it still looked good, but the day after i fed it for the first time, the water parted on the top. Could it be because the plastic wrap did  not stick firm enough, should i use a lid? I used tap water because here in Luxembourg you can use tap water; or was my water too warm/cold? How many degrees should it have? As the first dough didn't succeed, i took the second one which i had put in the fridge after the first feeding. But after a day this one didn't work out either. Should I have added cold or warm water to it, now that i wanted to use it and bake bread as soon as possible?
Thank you
Ell Perry
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Wonder if I have a grasp of bread making. I am new to it and this is what I think, as to how it goes. TIA

1 Kilo, 1000 grams of 70% hydration sourdough: (2 / 500g rustic loaves)

1000 ÷ 17 (10 parts flour to 7 parts water = 70% hydration) = 58.82g per part. Round up to 59g

Flour, 10 × 59 = 590g > 270g starter = 320g balance

Water, 7 × 59 = 413g > 270g starter = 143g balance

Using a 100% hydration fresh starter. (50/50 by weight, flour and water)

1st feed) 20g chef / 20g water / 20g flour = 60g

2nd feed) 60g starter / 60g water / 60g flour = 180g

3rd feed) 180g starter / 180g water / 180 flour = 540g

 

540g fresh starter (50/50 by weight > of total)(270g F, 270g W)

 

Flour, = 120g a cup

Water, = 238g a cup

 

So,

1½ c fresh starter (approx. 540g)

2 2/3 c flour (320g)

5/8 c water (scant)(143g)

18g salt

 

*Sponge = fresh starter, ½ c water, 1 2/3 c flour autolyse 45 min. then add salt. Refrigerate over night to deepen sour flavor. In morning bring to temp and finish the dough. Let rise - punch down, shape loaves - rise - bake. *


L.P.
L.P.  

Jacob Burton
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Sounds like you got it. What you describe is basically expanding your starter, using it to leaven a 70% hydration loaf, retarding that loaf to reinforce the sourness, and then baking. All your calculations check out.

Let me know how the finished loaf turns out.
Ell Perry
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good. Decided to do a single Boule with the kilo of (spelt/bread 30/70%) dough. Shaped the loaf then put it upside down in a bowl sprayed with oil and sprinkled with semolina. I then sprinkled semolina on the bottom (top) and covered with the parchment round I cut and a towel for the final rise. I spritzed the oven with water and put a small pie tin with about 10 grams in the bottom (spritzed a couple of more time until the 15 min mark). Baked on a pizza stone w/parchment at 400°f for 55 min until 197° internal. Nice golden brown crust, good crumb, but I should have probably used 20g of kosher salt instead of 17g. Thanks for the feedback on my formulation.



Regards,
L.P.

Marco099
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Hi Chef,

Regarding the use of whole wheat flour here, do you use 100% whole wheat flour that still contains all of the 3 wheat berry components (germ, endosperm, bran) or a version that has been sifted/cleared at least one time?

I just acquired some heirloom seed, hard red winter cert. organic whole wheat flour and it was ground to order so it's extremely fresh and aromatic. It purposely contains all of the berry and is a medium grind. It has a protein content of 12-14% and is high in guten, according to the miller (who, btw, also farms the various grains). 

I know this flour is going to really up my game for certain rustic breads, but I'm trying to determine the best way(s) to utilize this flour, if at all, for sourdough starter, the poolish baguette? Should I bother sifting it for certain applications? This stuff ain't cheap, so I'm trying to avoid any obvious "rookie" mistakes when using this truly artisanal flour.

Thanks much.
Jacob Burton
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@Marco,

Sorry I'm just now seeing this. To answer your question, I use 100% whole grain flour. Try using 20% or less in your final dough formulation and it should come out great.
Marco099
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Thanks for the info. Since I posted this I've made a lot of progress in my bread making abilities. I use about 5% in 2 different baguette formulas I like.
Jacob Burton
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Good to hear Marco. Thanks for the feedback.
bucket_mouth
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Does sunlight have any effect on the starter? I started a new one named Stewart. He gave us some amazing waffles. Family said they were the best ever. I made a loaf of bread today. The process was an overnight event. I added water to the shaggy mass because I thought It looked dry. That was a mistake. I worked the dough for about twenty minutes and it was still very sticky so I cheated a bit and dusted my hands. I let it rise for 4 hours while I slept. I woke to a monster trying to escape the bowl. I did stretch and fold, tension pull rest for ten minutes about four times. kept relaxing. Went back to bed eafter putting the dough in a dusted bowl. Woke to a monster. Did stretch and tension pull to get a nice loaf. Still relaxing a bit. Put it back in bowl with towels. Let it sit for about two hours then put it in a round Pyrex dutch oven with no lid. Put a roasting pan in the lower rack during preheat, and threw water in it to create steam. Did this at the start and ten minute mark. Got some good spring and nice crack crust. I'll let you know how it tastes aftEr dinner.
Jacob Burton
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Sounds like you have a nice, active starter. How'd the loaf turn out?

To answer you question, yes, direct sunlight can adversely effect your starter. You don't have to store it in the dark, just don't store it in direct sunlight.
bucket_mouth
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The load was good but I am getting tastier loaves from the starter now that it's more aged.
Jacob Burton
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@bucket_mouth,

Glad your loaves turned out good. You'll definitely find that your sourdough bread will become much more complex as the your starter matures.
yuchunc
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Awesome series! but I got a couple of questions on the starter.
  • Why do you need to dump out the starter after the initial 48 hours?
  • Do you start another batch of starter with the "dumped out" starter?? or they just get tossed out??
Thank you!
bucket_mouth
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You are building the starter. Think of it as a living organism. You are disposing of the waste the yeast produces like the alcohol and sugars as the yeast breaks down the proteins in the flour. You feed it New flour and water wich makes the yeast grow and create that great fermented flavor. After a couple of feedings, it should be good too bake with. As your starter matures, you can make a preferment with a tablespoon of starter and flour and water at 100g each. Let that stand overnight and you will be ready to bake. You will get the feel of what your starter needs to get ready after it matures. Dave
Jacob Burton
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Great answer Dave. Thanks for jumping in.

@Yuchunc,

It is important to refresh your starter to keep it healthy. During the early stages, the starter you pull off is too weak to bake with, so it is just discarded. For more in depth information, listen to our audio podcast on sourdough starters and preferments.

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