• Making a sourdough starter

Making a sourdough starter
Making a sourdough starter

Real sourdough bread is easier to make than you might think!

Sourdough is simply bread which contains a ferment (starter) to leaven it, rather than commercial yeast. The acids in the starter act as a natural preservative, which means sourdough tends to stay fresh longer than yeast-based bread. It's also great for people with commercial yeast intolerance.

Once you get your starter going, it's something you can keep and use forever. In Eastern Europe, it isn’t unheard of for families to pass down their starter from generation to generation. In my house, the starter has a name - Charles - and along with the cat and the plants, is sometimes checked on by a responsible adult when we go on any extended holidays.

Starting and keeping a sourdough starter is simple. You don’t need any special ingredients – just flour and water from the tap. Start with a small amount, and build the starter up by adding a little more flour and water every day. The starter is a living, breathing thing, so you are essentially feeding it when you top it up. Don’t feed it enough, and you’ll starve it – which is when it starts to give off a strong sour smell.

Keep your starter in a plastic pot or kilner jar, with a snug, but not sealed, lid. When your starter is very active, it will bubble and rise up - sometimes out of its pot. For this reason, I recommend not sealing the lid, as you could come downstairs one morning to find the container has shattered across the kitchen counter!

In my opinion, rye flour is the best type of flour to use. It works well in a lot of different recipes, becomes bubbly and active relatively quickly, and is very hardy.


Day one
1 tsp rye flour
1 tsp tepid water

Stir the two together, seal with a lid, and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day two
1 tsp rye flour
1 tsp tepid water

Mix the rye and water into your starter until all the flour is stirred in, and there are no lumps. Cover and leave for another 24 hours.

Repeat this process for three more days

On day five, you should notice small spores (air pockets) forming on the surface of your mixture. A small sample on the tip of your finger should taste of mild lemons, but not unpleasant. The friendly bacteria floating around in the air have now been captured in your starter and are feeding off the flour, creating air bubbles that will help rise your bread. You're now ready to bake!

Maintaining your starter

When using your starter in a sourdough bread recipe, be sure to hold back a little of the mixture in your plastic pot (a couple of spoonfuls is fine). This is enough to start building up your starter ready for your next loaf.

At this point, I often park my starter in the fridge. I don’t have time to feed it every day - and the temperature of the fridge will keep it in a dormant state for a week or two. A few days before I'm ready to bake, I'll get it out of the fridge, bring it to room temperature, and start the building process again.

Day one
50g rye flour
75g tepid water

Day two
50g rye flour
75g tepid water

Day three
100g rye flour
150g tepid water

By this time, your starter should be active and bubbly again, and itching to get to work rising into a beautiful sourdough loaf.


Sourdough spelt loaf

Recommended links

Sourdough starter instructions - Real Bread Campaign

Freezing sourdough nuggets – Dan Lepard

Sourdough tutorial – The Fresh Loaf

By Jennifer Farnell


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Latest Comment

Please can you confirm the measurements for the starter for sourdough - you have 1 tsp rye flour and 1 teasp water - is that teaspoon or tablespoon. Thank you Susie

FelicityF49008 FelicityF49008 Posted 15 Apr 2012 4:57 PM

Is this correct? 1 teaspoon?? rye flour/water? Other recipes suggest much more volume.

Shirley10 Shirley10 Posted 28 Nov 2011 11:03 PM

Hi AngelaG5, You can keep the starter forever! Traditionally starters are actually passed down through the generations of a family and the flavour gets better with age. Basically it is a living thing, so as long as you feed it regularly it will stay a live and just keep getting better. As Jen mentioned above, if you keep it in the fridge, you will not have to feed it daily, just every week or so. christineB92017, Spelt is another grain, like wheat or corn. It used to be very popular in Europe in the past, but it was over taken by wheat in baking. However, it is regaining popularity as people with wheat intolerances can eat it. You can find spelt flour in wholefood shops and in major supermarkets.

Celia Good Food Celia Good Food Posted 22 Nov 2010 10:36 AM


christineB92017 christineB92017 Posted 21 Nov 2010 6:11 PM

Hi If I make bread I usually freeze the loaf/rolls and use over a number of weeks. How long does the starter last? Should I start a fresh one each time?

ag05 ag05 Posted 21 Nov 2010 11:32 AM

Hi Mrs. S.H53230! That's correct, the bubbles are carbon dioxide produced by a symbioticic relationship between natural (not store-bought) yeasts and bacteria which exist in the flour and in the air. Commercial yeast is much more aggressive than natural yeasts, and therefore sourdough bread takes longer to rise (but is very much worth the wait!) CarolynM95349 - It's very interesting to hear about the things you add to your starter - I've never heard of adding eggs before! However, adding commercial yeast to your starter to accelerate it sounds more like a sponge than a true sourdough starter. There are many ways to bake bread, it's the fact you're making it that counts! You can also add raisins for the first few days of your starter's life to pick up some of the natural yeasts that live on the skin's surface. Different things work in different parts of the world, and I've found that I don't need raisins to create an active starter in the UK, but can't start one without them when I'm in Canada!

Jen - Good Food Jen - Good Food Posted 19 Nov 2010 10:43 AM

Mrs. S.H53230 is correct. There are yeast spores in the air, as well as in dry flour. I've been making sourdough bread for quite a long time, and have been a home economics teacher, so have training and experience in cooking. To speed the growth of sourdough starter,onemay add some yeast and some sugar. Feeding is important as the starter is used. We usually use plain wheat bread flour for the starter, then add the whole grain flour when mixing the starter with milk, or more water, and maybe eggs. There are some great recipes for sourdough, especially as it has been made in Alaska.Those early settlers used it for pancakes, biscuits,even cakes. Here in Texas housewives once used sourdough to share with neighbors in the form of Friendship bread, which included dried fruit and nuts.

CarolynM95349 CarolynM95349 Posted 19 Nov 2010 4:04 AM

I hate to say this but the bubbles are produced by YEAST - sourdough culture is a mixture of yeasts and bacteria - indeed if you follow the 1st recommended link to the real bread campaign it is fully explained there.

Mrs S.H53230 Mrs S.H53230 Posted 18 Nov 2010 6:26 PM