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What do I need to know before making a sourdough starter? How long does it take for a sourdough starter to be ready to use? Do you have to discard sourdough starter every time you feed it? What happens if you use sourdough starter too early? All of these are great questions I get asked often, so I hope today’s post is a help to you!
My journey with sourdough starter began over six years ago when I met my sweet friend Lisa from Farmhouse on Boone. Lisa and I became friends over on Instagram, and her all natural lifestyle intrigued me.
I went on the Whole 30 diet shortly after having my third son, Caleb, and after those thirty days I decided that it was time to make some serious changes. I became very interested in sourcing better food for my family, moving towards a whole food diet, and transitioning over to an all natural lifestyle.
For the longest time, however, sourdough intimidated me. I tried my first sourdough starter recipe in 2020 during the pandemic. Since I don’t tolerate gluten well, I was determined to make one with gluten free ingredients. I was successful, but unfortunately we just didn’t like the flavor.
I gave up on sourdough for a while after that, but in 2021 I decided to give it a try again with regular organic wheat flour. There are so many wonderful benefits of eating sourdough, and even though I would have to avoid eating a lot of my creations, I knew that my husband and boys would be better off eating fermented grains.
What do I need to know before making sourdough starter?
I followed Lisa’s simple instructions which I will link here. Honestly, guys – don’t over think it. I promise it’s really so simple. Equal parts flour and water, stir, cover. That’s it. For supplies you will need:
- Glass bowl or large mouth mason jar (metal can react with beneficial bacteria and yeasts)
- Wooden Spoon
- Tea Towel, rubber band or lid for your mason jar you can keep loose on the top
There’s a bit of a process that first week, yes. You’ll have to discard starter every day before feeding it again. But after that first week, it’s the easiest thing to manage.
I personally use organic wheat flour, but I’ve also used freshly milled Kamut flour. You can use an all purpose flour, whole grain flour, whole wheat flour or bread flour as well, but eating organic is just something that is important to my family. I have read that regular flour is easier to use on your starter, but I have had no issues with organic.
You also need to be careful about the type of water you use, do not use tap water. I have a Berkey water system which I highly recommend, but any type of filtered or bottled water should do.
Like I mentioned in the supplies above, for storage I like to use a quart size mason jar with a plastic lid that I set on the jar loosely to allow air in. Every week and a half to two weeks I like to pour my starter into a clean jar and wash the one it was in. After a while, the top of your jar starts to get goopy and hard and I tend to like things clean and tidy, which is why I switch mine over often. You can also use a bowl with a tea towel for your starter mixture though. Anything that is glass that you can can set on the counter and keep an eye on.
What steps do I follow to create my sourdough starter?
As I mentioned above, I followed my friend Lisa’s step by step guide for my first time creating a starter. Here are the steps I followed:
- To begin, start by mixing one cup of flour and one cup of your filtered water. Stir it very well, making sure everything is mixed together. Place your lid on your mason jar, but don’t seal it, or if using a glass bowl place your clean tea or kitchen towel over the bowl and set aside. Allow it to sit for 24 hours.
- On the next day, discard or take out half of the mixture and repeat the process. Add one cup flour, one cup water, stir very well to make sure all of your ingredients are mixed, and cover. There are many recipes you can make with sourdough discard, so you don’t need to throw it out, I have made sourdough flatbread, english muffins and many more delicious things!
- On the following three days, just continue to repeat these step-by-step instructions daily.
- On days six through seven, follow the same steps, but feed it every 12 hours instead of every 24 hours.
- In a week’s time you should see a nice bubbly, healthy starter that has doubled in size. You are now ready to enjoy so many delicious recipes like sourdough pancakes and sourdough pizza crust!
How long does it take for a sourdough starter to be ready to use?
If you make a starter from scratch following the steps above, it is typically ready to use in 7-14 days. You want your starter to look active and bubbly, rather than flat with little to no bubbles. People often worry after day 7 or 8 when their starter doesn’t seem to be taking off.
Don’t worry or throw it all out! Keep feeding it and have some patience. Maybe change your water source or location of the starter. I find that my starter seems happier during the fermentation process near my oven during the cold winter months, but during the summertime it does well in room temperature no matter where it is.
What happens if you use sourdough starter too early?
If you use your sourdough starter too early, it won’t have leavening power. Remember, starter is a live, fermented culture. It’s what makes your dough rise. When you use sourdough starter in your recipes, you no longer need to use commercial yeast.
What is “fed” sourdough starter?
Once your starter is active and bubbly and ready for baking, you’ll start to notice that recipes call for “fed” starter. Fed starter basically means that you’ve fed it flour and water 6 to 8 hours prior. In the summer months when it’s warm in my kitchen, I can feed my starter as little as 4 hours ahead of time and it’s usually ready for use.
Conversely, unfed starter means that it’s flat with little to no leavening power. But you can totally use both fed and unfed starter in recipes! Another name for unfed starter is discard, so if you are researching recipes to use unfed starter with, keep that in mind. Discard crackers are one example of a delicious way to use unfed starter!
Do you have to discard sourdough starter every time you feed it?
Once you have an established starter, you do not need to discard some of it every time you feed it.
I never throw starter away or keep an extra jar for discard like I see so many people doing online. That’s too complicated! If I have unfed starter that I need to use up, I will just make something that calls for discard. Flatbread is one of my favorite recipes for unfed sourdough starter.
After I’ve used some of my starter – whether fed or unfed – I always make sure to feed it afterwards. I’m never meticulous when it comes to feedings. I roughly stick to a 1:1:1 ratio, but I never measure.
So if I have a half cup of starter in my mason jar, I’ll feed it (roughly) a half cup of fresh flour and a half cup of water. If I’m entering in a busy season or a vacation where I know I won’t be using my starter regularly, I simply store it in the fridge until I’m ready to use it again!
What if you don’t use your starter regularly?
If you don’t use your starter regularly with your schedule, or you are leaving for a vacation or a long period of time you can simply put your starter in the refrigerator or follow any of these options:
- Refrigeration: Place your sourdough starter in the refrigerator. This slows down its fermentation process. Before leaving, feed it and let it sit at room temperature for a few hours to become active, then refrigerate. It can stay in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks without feeding.
- Freezing: For longer periods, consider freezing your sourdough starter. Divide it into small portions, place them in airtight containers or freezer bags, and freeze. Thaw and reactivate by feeding it when you’re ready to use it again.
- Dehydrating: Spread some starter thinly on parchment paper and allow it to air-dry. Once dry, break it into pieces and store it in an airtight container. To revive, mix with water and flour.
Remember to feed and refresh your starter before using it in your bread recipes after returning from vacation, it should be bubbly and active.
What is hooch?
Hooch, is the liquid that can accumulate on the surface of a neglected sourdough starter. It is a byproduct of the fermentation process. When a sourdough starter is not fed regularly, the yeast in the starter produces alcohol and creates a layer of liquid on top.
This liquid is called hooch. It is a sign that the starter needs to be fed and maintained. Some bakers choose to pour off the hooch before feeding their starter, while others mix it back in for added flavor. Regular feeding and maintenance help keep the sourdough starter healthy and active.
Can you purchase sourdough starter?
Some of My Favorite Sourdough Recipes
- Simple Sourdough Bread Recipe – My favorite and it’s SO EASY!
- English Muffins – Farmhouse on Boone
- Waffles – Little Spoon Farm
- Flat Bread – Raspberries and Kohlrabi
- Sandwich Bread – Farmhouse on Boone
- Pancakes – Farmhouse on Boone
- Blueberry Sourdough Muffins – King Arthur Baking
- Cinnamon Rolls – Farmhouse on Boone
And that is all about my sourdough starter, friends! Sourdough has so many amazing health benefits, and having a starter on hand at all times for baking is now a must for me! Don’t let it intimidate you, it’s actually a lot easier than it seems. If you have any questions or if there’s something I didn’t cover in today’s post, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!