Dec 23

How To Make Sourdough Starter

How To Make Sourdough Starter

One of my 2011 resolutions is to start making more of our family's grocery staples from scratch -- granola, yogurt, pancake mix, etc... and of course bread. I have an awesome Zojirushi breadmaker, but I'm guilty of not using it nearly enough. That's all about to change, and I'm starting with sourdough bread.

Since sourdough starter takes around five days to finish fermenting, I decided to get a head start and whip up my first batch this afternoon -- and I certainly learned a thing or two in the process. Namely that sourdough starter rises.

Yes, in hindsight I suppose that should have been a given... But when the recipe instructed me to pour the starter into a quart-size container, I did, even though there wasn't much excess room.

Doesn't it look pretty in the mason jar? I covered it with cheesecloth and went about my business. Twenty minutes later I walked back into the kitchen and was horrified to see that my starter had risen through the cheesecloth and was spilling over onto the counter.

Really it was pretty comical, and I wish I'd thought to snap a picture, but I immediately went into cleanup mode. At least you won't make the same mistake!

Making Sourdough Starter Making Sourdough Starter
Making Sourdough Starter Making Sourdough Starter

How To Make Sourdough Starter

How To Make Sourdough Starter


  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 c. warm water (105-115 degrees)
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 T. sugar or honey


  1. Gather your ingredients. You'll need yeast, flour, water, and either sugar or honey to feed the starter.
  2. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water.
  3. Whisk together the remaining warm water, flour, sugar or honey, and dissolved yeast mixture.
  4. Cover the sourdough starter with cheesecloth and let stand at room temperature for 3-5 days, stirring three times daily. The starter is ready for use when it smells fermented and the vigorous bubbling ceases.
  5. When your sourdough starter is done fermenting, you may store it in the refrigerator in a covered plastic container.
  6. Maintenance and Use of Sourdough Starter:
  7. To use your starter, first stir it up. Then measure out the amount of cold starter that you need, and then let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before proceeding with your recipe.
  8. Replenish your starter by adding 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, 3/4 c. water, and 1 t. sugar or honey to remaining starter. Let stand at room temperature for a day, and then you can cover and place it back in the refrigerator.
  9. If you don't use your starter within 10 days, remove one cup of starter and add 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup lukewarm water and stir well. You can then refrigerate it again immediately.

Once you get your sourdough starter going, check out the recipe for my bread machine sourdough loaf -- simple and delicious!

by Tara | 56 comments

  • I can't wait for the Sourdough Bread recipe! I've had starter in my fridge for 6 months that I have religiously been "feeding" every week. I've tried a few recipes, but they just lack in flavor. Maybe yours will be just what I'm looking for.
    Oh, and, yes, they never do tell you to leave room for the atarter to rise, do they? That's one stinky mess! LOL

  • Denise Wilson

    Please share your recipe for the bread after you try it. I agree with Alicia; I need a tasty bread recipe. Looking forward to trying this!

  • I've been making friendship bread since doing a project with my son's class, I'd be happy to share some of that starter!

  • Oh gosh how I love sourdough starter!!!! I have a couple of favorite ones I've always used....I think I'll make some! Thanks for the reminder T:) You got great looking photos woman;)

    • Thanks, Lori! If you have a good bread recipe, I'd love to hear it. I haven't been very impressed with the ones I've tried so far, which is why I haven't posted any...

  • Jessica S.

    Will this work with whole wheat flour?

    • Yes, you can absolutely substitute whole wheat flour. I didn't have any on hand when I got the urge to try this or I would have used it.

  • lyn

    I'm starting a personal blog to talk about weight loss, exercise, etc. I will want to feature a recipe once a week or so. What kind of a program/template are you using for recipes? It's beautiful and so crisp.

    • Hi Lyn! I actually have been saving my recipes on Plan To Eat so I can use them in my meal planning easily. They have an option to export them as html, so I use that and then just paste it into my blog post. Pretty handy!

      • lyn

        Thanks. I'll have to check that out. Organizing recipes is on my list for 2011

  • Carrie

    Hi, Tara. I've been looking for a good bread starter. Thanks so much! Also, where do you get your recipes? Random places (like I do), or do you come up with them on your own? I'm always looking for good recipe resources. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Carrie! It's actually a little bit of both -- I'm always tearing new recipes out of magazines or bookmarking them online. Plus I have a huge cookbook collection. Sometimes I'll follow the recipe to a T, but most of the time I kind of just use them as inspiration and tweak them to my tastes or to use ingredients I have on hand.

  • Jean

    A great book about making bread is called Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day. After you've got that down then try Healthy Bread In Five Minutes. If you make this bread then reuse the container (without washing) for a new batch you have a loaf similar to a sourdough without the trouble of a starter. Try the cinnamon rolls and frost with a cream cheese frosting - wow. My family also loves the peasant loaf and the rye. I recommend starting with the Artisan book first. There are things to learn before you start changing up ingredients and using vital wheat gluten.

    • I'm glad to hear that! I actually bought the book last week and just mixed up my first batch of dough last night. I didn't have a chance to bake a loaf today. I can't wait to try it and will definitely be posting about i!

  • Lacey

    Can you post a picture of what your starter looks like? I have mine ready and am waiting for the next step.

    • Sure, I'll take one tomorrow when I have better light. Also a friend sent me a sourdough bread recipe to try that sounds promising, so maybe I'll give that a try and be able to share it too!

      • Mairi Brayton

        I've got the starter together and it's been 7 days and it has stopped bubbling and smells like a brewery. My question is, is it supposed to be like pancake batter, thinner or thicker? Mine is on the thin side. I hate to waste ingredients making bread if the starter isn't right. Please let me know as soon as you can. Thanks

  • Michele Hamilton

    Have you made the bread yet? Would LOVE to have the recipe!

    • I'm going to try the new recipe I mentioned above tomorrow. Hopefully it's "the one"! I guess I kind of jumped the gun by sharing my starter recipe before having a really good bread recipe to share also. Lesson learned, but I was excited to try something new, LOL.

  • Kelly Perry

    looking forward to bread recipe!

    • I've got one in the bread machine right now. Hopefully it tastes as good as it smells!

  • Kelly Merg

    Well, how did it come out? I'm dying here to know!

  • Kristi

    I'm on day 2 with my starter and it's not really bubbling. Should I start over? I hate to waste a bunch of ingredients with bad starter. I used bread machine yeast in equivalence to a packet, is this ok?

    • Mine doesn't bubble much beyond the second day either. I'd say it's probably ready to use already, Kristi. With the warmer temperatures indoors this time of year, it will ferment much more quickly.

  • Kristi

    Thanks Tara! It is now smelling sourdoughy instead of YUCK!!! So, I'll try a loaf today!

  • Tara, I'm a little crazy about homemade yogurt - I think everyone can and should do it! Hope it's not too bold to share my method with you so you have someplace easy to start on that goal. (And there are no dishes or fancy machine with my techniques.)
    Enjoy! :) Katie

    • Thanks, Katie! I've actually been meaning to look it up on your site because I recall you mentioning it at Blissdom. It's next on my list to try!

  • Nicolle Colvin

    I'd like to share my starter- how much do I give?

    • I think one cup would be enough to get her started. Just build yours up for a few days without throwing any out when you want to share it.

  • Aa1158

    I started the starter on Sunday and now the starter is somewhat seperated....liquid on the bottom and bubbly on the top. Is that right? Also, no feeding?

    • You just need to stir it three times a day. This particular starter is not "fed" on a daily basis. You feed it when you use it or if about ten days have passed since you last used it.

  • Shell Blue2

    Have you tried Artisan Bread in Five Minutes? Get the book from the library! It's quick and you can do everything homemade from bread to cinnamon rolls to pizza with the same dough/starter idea.

  • Shelli T

    My daughter just have me a sourdough starter using your recipe and I am so excited to make some. Have you ever used gluten free flour with it? I have some coconut and almond flour I'm thinking about trying.

    • I have not tried gluten-free flour with it, but I'd love to hear your results if you try it!

  • Teresa


    • Oh dear, I'm not sure that's salvageable -- so sorry! I think I'd probably start over. :(

  • Christine

    My starter began without adding yeast and really hasnt shown activity at all. It is an old recipe and one I thought would work. Should I toss it and begin one with a package of yeast or wait another couple of days? It is only a day or two old right now.

    • It can take as long as 3-4 days for it to show activity when you're trying to gather yeast naturally, and some areas of the country are more conducive to using this method. I'd give it a couple more days before throwing it out and trying to start it with packaged yeast.

  • Sara

    Well I was so happy to find this... Sourdough is my favorite.. I followed the recipe for the starter it sat out on the counter for 5 days. I put it in the fridge for a day and then I made the bread. It smelled so great.. But taste salty! It doesn't taste like sour dough... HELP!!!! : (

    • Hi Sara! Did you perhaps use a self-rising flour? That could maybe account for the saltiness. Did you use my sour dough bread recipe or another?

      • Sara

        I used gold medal all purpose flour, I did see that I may have missed the Tablespoon not teaspoon of sugar..? I didn't realize it said tablespoon until now. I guess that less sugar might make it salty? I did use your recipe.

  • kim

    hi how much is a package of yeast in grams or teaspoons? Ta Kim

    • Kim, I believe it's 2 tablespoons for the brand that I use. There should be a conversion chart on the jar somewhere so that you can verify it for your particular brand.

  • Vicki Mullis

    This may be a stupid question, but I've just retired in Costa Rica, and apparently cooking has become my hobby. I'm getting ready for the first time to make sour dough starter and I don't have cheesecloth, nor know where I could buy it here. Will a dish towel work?

  • Vicki Mullis

    My bread came out AWESOME!! I made the starter on Saturday, and it was ready by Tuesday. I live in high altitude in the mountains of Costa Rica, so wasn't sure about adapting it, so didn't even try. It did rise so high at one point, the lid on the bread maker actually lifted, but I punched it back down. The finished product almost didn't fit in my bread-maker-the top didn't crust over because it was right up against the window, but it tastes delicious! I posted a picture on facebook, and one friend wants to know if it is bread or a souffle!

  • Nina Kuchma

    I have a similar sour dough starter the cook book I got it from just says to feed it 1tsp sugar or honey every ten days only need to add flour and water after using it. It works well haven't tried making bread but my husband loves the pancakes.

  • Rachael

    I love your blog!!!
    Am definitely going to try this with my new San Francisco sourdough starter : ) Just ordered it from Sourdough's International! Love their products.

  • Dianne

    I tried your Sourdough Bread Machine recipe in my bread machine using my sourdough starter. The bread is wonderful! I had tried several recipes that did not work. Your's is a winner! Thanks for the recipe.

  • Erik

    Oops, I just noticed it wasn't your starter recipe that said to start with rye flour. Anyway, I added a couple of tablespoons of rye flour when I woke up my starter and this may have contributed to the more sour taste also.

  • I just got a new bread maker for Valentine's. And I have your sourdough starter bubbling away. I can't wait to use it!

  • Brian

    Doesn't the Zojirushi make sourdough starter in a 10 day cycle?

    • Yes, it does have a 2-hour sourdough starter course, which makes a very mild sourdough bread. You can also do a 10-day sourdough starter it in, but the directions instruct you to keep the starter in the pan for the 10-day timeframe, so unless you have more than one pan, you won't be able to make any other bread during that period.

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