About Sourdough

Sourdough, or a sourdough starter, is basically a fermented mixture of grain and water in which wild yeasts are able to grow and thrive.

Sourdough is considered to be the earliest form of leavening available to bakers.  Sourdough utilizes the natural yeasts that occur within grains, which are cultivated, along with healthy, friendly bacteria to produce a natural leavening agent that can be used in all sorts of baking.

There is a ton of awesome and wonderful information out there about sourdough, the best way to start, how to feed, different hydration rates, the list goes on and on. Here, we just want to focus on the simple, basic way of doing things. Please feel free to do your own research and find what techniques work best for you!

If you are interested in trying your hand at sourdough baking but don't yet have a starter of your own, you have three options.

1. Ask someone you know for some!
2. Buy some (check out our Sourdough Resources tab for recommendations on where to buy)
3. Make your own

If you do a quick Google search on how to start a sourdough starter, you are very likely to become either very discouraged or very confused, very quickly. There are probably as many methods for starting a starter as there are sourdough bakers out there, and each one claims that theirs is the "best" or "easiest" or "most foolproof" method.

The reality is that you really only need two ingredients to create a sourdough starter: flour and water. Yes, there are recipes out there that add sugar, fruit, cabbage, or even commercial yeast. Some will even have you go to the top of Mount Everest to "capture" some wild yeast. But in reality, your flour has everything it needs already to create and sustain a sourdough starter without any additional ingredients in your own kitchen.

Wheat Starter - Day 1:

4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 ½ oz) whole-wheat flour
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
(Total: scant ½ cup (115 ml) (3 oz/85 gm))
In a plastic container, combine the flour and water into a paste.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Set somewhere warm (or, as warm as possible in your kitchen).

Wheat Starter - Day 2:

4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 ½ oz) whole-wheat flour
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
scant 1/2 cup (115 ml) (3 oz/85 gm) starter from Day 1
(Total: scant cup (230 ml) (6 oz/170 gm))
Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 1, cover, and return to its warm place.
Wheat Starter - Day 3:

4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 ½ oz) whole-wheat flour
4 teaspoons (20 ml) water
scant 1 cup (230 ml) (6 oz/170 gm) starter from Day 2
(Total: 1⅓ cup (320 ml) (230 gm/8-1/10 oz))
Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 2, cover, and return to its warm place.
Wheat Starter - Day 4:

3/4 cup plus 1½ tablespoons (205 ml) (120 gm/4 ¼ oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup less 4 teaspoons (100 ml) water
1⅓ cup (320 ml) (230 gm/8 oz) starter from Day 3
(Total: scant 2⅔ cup (625 ml) (440 gm/15½ oz))
Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 3, cover, and return to its warm place. 
At this point it should be bubbling and smell yeasty. If not, repeat this process for a further day or so until it is!
You will want to keep your starter at room temperature until you can see that it is pretty healthy - that it is alive and bubbling.  Once your starter begins to show signs of life, you can begin caring for it more in "maintenance" mode than in "starting from scratch" mode. 

You can also feed it different types of flour - whole wheat, all purpose, bread, spelt, rye - it just depends on what kind of a starter you want (and we know people who have several different types!)

There are lots of different ways to maintain your starter, but the easiest way is to do what is called a 100% hydration.

The first step is to decide how often you will use your starter:
  • If you use it everyday, you should choose a nice temperate place in your kitchen for your starter to live. You will need to feed it everyday.
  • If you plan on using it only once a week or so, then placing your starter in the refrigerator is best! You will need to feed it about once a week. 
At each feeding, you will need to divide your starter in half (by weight or volume, depending on whether or not you have a scale). One half will be your "discard" - you can either use this to bake with, give it away, or throw it out. The other half will be fed and returned to its home.
  • Feeding by Weight:
    • You will need to know exactly how much of the starter you are keeping, so you will either need to weight it or get the volume (in a liquid measuring cup). You are going to add equal parts flour and water to your starter. So if your starter weights 100 grams (for example), you will add 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water. Mix thoroughly and return the starter to its container.
  • Feeding by Volume: 
    • If you don't have a scale, you can approximate equal feeds by volume, rather than by weight. To maintain an approximate 100% hydration starter without the accuracy of a scale, you will need to carefully measure your starter by volume, instead:
At each feeding (daily, if at room temperature, weekly if in the fridge), measure out one cup of your sourdough starter. The remainder will be your "discard," which, again, can be used in baking, shared with a friend, or thrown away if need be.  To the measured cup of starter, simply add one cup of flour and approximately 2/3 - 3/4 cup of water (remember - water is heavier than flour, when measuring by volume, which is why you don't want to use a full cup!). You want to use enough water that the starter maintains the same consistency as the measured one cup of starter that you are feeding. This lets you know that your hydration level is constant. As you continue to feed your starter, you will become more accustomed to how much water works for you and your starter.

Once you stir the flour and water (the feed) into your starter, it is best to let it rest at room temperature for a little while, as the starter "eats" faster when it is warmer. If you plan on baking within a day of the feed, you can keep it on the counter until you are ready for it. If you do not, simply place the fed starter back into the refrigerator.

Note: You may notice that some sourdough recipes call for fed starter while others call for "discard" starter, or, starter that hasn't necessarily been recently fed. For planning purposes, it is a good idea to make sure you know which your recipe calls for, so that you can plan ahead in case you need to feed your starter prior to beginning the actual recipe. 

Recipes that use unfed discard straight from the fridge will tend to have a bit more sourdough tang to it than the recipes that you use just fed starter. 

Notes on Containers: Non-reactive containers such as Plastic and Glass containers are best. We actually prefer a mason jar because it is easy to clean, its see through, and you can tighten/loosen the lid as needed.

Notes on Flours: Obviously, since there are only two ingredients in sourdough starters, the better the quality you use the better the end result will be. But this does not mean you need to go out and buy special expensive ingredients - store brand flour and tap water will do just fine.

Some recipes call for different hydration rates. This basically means the amount of flour compared to the amount of water in your starter. We recommend maintaining a 100% hydration, which means your flour and water is the same, but sometimes you need to change the hydration rate for specific recipes.
  • Lower hydration (50-70%) starters are firm and great for recipes that need to be kneaded a lot, require a lot of gluten development, hold a shape well (think challah and bagels) and create doughs that are not very sticky. 
  • Higher hydration starters (125%) are more watery, and allow the starter to eat through its food supply faster. These are easier to mix, but they tend to be stickier doughs, and generally don't hold up well to a lot of kneading (instead you can stretch and fold), but they also tend to need longer baking times.

To change a 100% hydration starter to a 50% hydration 
You need to feed it 1 part starter : 2 parts flour :1 part water

Take 10 g of your 100% starter.
Feed it 20g flour and 10 g water.
Cover and keep on the counter, continuing to feed it 2 parts flour and 1 part water every 12 hours for 2 days.

To change a 100% hydration starter to a 125% hydration
You need to feed it 1 part starter:1 part flour: 2 parts water

Take 100 g of your 100% starter.
Feed it 100 g of flour and 125 g of water.
Cover and keep it on the counter, continuing to feed it 1 part water and 2 parts flour every 12 hours for 2 days.