Easy Sourdough Starter

The recipe that excites me most in our latest book, The The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, is the easy Sourdough Starter. I’m an admitted baking geek, so spending hours on a recipe can be exciting to me, but I know this concept sounds like work to some and just terrifies others. That’s why Jeff and I set out to write these books in the first place, being able to compel busy people to bake bread at home has been our mission. Now you can also create a sourdough starter; easily, without fear and without dedicating your whole day to the project. In fact, it only takes a few minutes a day to get your starter up and running. It really is that easy, but it takes several days to get your starter strong enough to actually use in a batch of bread. Until it is ready to go, you can always bake any of the other yeast filled recipes in our books.

All you need to make your sourdough starter is flour, water and a container to keep it in. Nothing special or fancy. Just make sure the container can hold at least two quarts of starter. You’ll see some Baking Bloopers below of what happens if your container is too small.

Once you have created your starter you can use it to bake beautiful loaves, with or without added yeast. The flavor is incredible and you will still be making a large batch of dough and storing it for up to a week, so you will do the work on one day for many loaves.

To make the starter:

Day 1: In a clean Jar or container* add 1/2 cup flour (unbleached white, whole wheat, rye, brown rice) and 1/2 cup water. That’s it.

*the jar needs to be big enough to hold 2 quarts and it needs to be open to the air, since you want to gather the natural yeasts from the flour and the environment. If you seal your jar, you won’t collect the yeast and/or the jar may actually explode. Yes, I said explode, see picture at the bottom of the post.

Stir the flour and water. Let this mixture sit for 2 days on the counter at room temperature.

Day 3: You should see bubbles forming in the starter. That’s the sign you are off to a great start. If you don’t see any bubbles on day 3, leave it for another day.

If you have bubbles, add 1/2 cup flour (you don’t have to stick to the same kind you used on the first day I like to make mine with a combination of whole wheat, rye and white flour) and 1/2 cup water. Str together and let sit for one day.

Day 4, 5, 6: Add 1/2 cup flour and water to the jar and stir on each of these days to build the strength of your starter. Let sit at room temperature after stirring.

By the 6th day your starter should seem mildly bubbly and it will have a pleasant sour smell building up. Add more flour and water so you have at least 3 1/2 cups of starter to use in a batch of dough.

Day 7: Once it is nice and strong, the starter will be actively bubbling and puffy.

If your container isn’t big enough, the starter may try to escape. You’ll notice I never snap the jar shut.

Now you are ready to use the starter in any of our recipes.

Here is a basic rule to using sourdough in your recipes, but for WAY more information and specific recipes check out chapter 11 of The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. You will also find information about how to store your sourdough long term and how to reactivate it if you haven’t used it in many months.

To bake with your starter: Use about 3 cups of the activated sourdough starter for a full-batch of dough, which make 4 to 5 pounds of dough.  This means that you need to decrease the water in the recipes by 1 1/2 cups, and the flour by 1 1/2 cups. Adjust the water and flour to create a dough that looks and feels just like what you get with our yeast-based recipes. Depending on the strength of your sourdough starter it may take 2-12 hours for your dough to rise. This slow rise is part of the beauty of a natural lavain bread.

If you want to use your sourdough in combination with commercial yeast, you can use half as much starter (replacing just 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup water). Some people like the lighter sour flavor and it gives beginner bakers a sense of insurance to add the yeast.

Shape and bake as you would any of our recipes. This one is proofed in a Round Basket/Banneton and baked on a preheated Baking Steel.

Baking Bloopers:

This why you never want to use a screw top glass jar for your starter. If you have a really large glass jar that will fit the dough, be sure to poke a hole in the top of the lid so the gas from the yeast can escape.


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135 thoughts on “Easy Sourdough Starter

  1. I have a beautiful, active, gluten free sourdough starter that I’d love to try with a recipe from your gluten free book ( which I love!!) I know how to adjust flour and water amounts to incorporate the starter but I’m wondering if the dough should be refrigerated at some point like the original recipes or just baked after an 4-6 hour initial rise? Any possibility you’ll write a sourdough recipe for us GF folks? I recommend your GF book to people all the time, it really does make the best gluten free bread!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Cynthia. But… I’m afraid we don’t have experience pushing the sourdough option in GF. We refrigerate our dough because that’s how we get the time savings, and since stored dough gets a little denser, and GF is denser in the first place, we’re suspicious that this is going to be… well, dense. If we ever get the energy to really test this, who knows, a book could be in the offing.

      I’m guessing that you’ll get better results without the storage, but then you have a lot of work for each loaf.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      I do not, but I know several of our readers have done it with success. I am not sure what they used for a starter, since we don’t have a GF starter recipe in our book.

      Thanks, Zoë

      1. Thanks! I’ll have to play around with it – I’ve had great success with your first book, and now that I have Celiac, the GF one. It’s really been wonderful to bake bread again.

  2. Hi,
    I’m new to sourdough and intrigued by your method, which seems a bit different from any other method I’ve seen. My starter did not get nearly as bubbly as yours, and my first loaf turned out very dense and lacking flavor wise. Of course, I’ve developed MANY questions as a result. As I’ve researched to try to understand my problem, I’ve come to wonder if there is a facebook group or any other resource for sharing information on how to make this particular form of sourdough?

    Also – does your starter method have a particular name? It’s proportions make me wonder if it’s a poolish? And I’m wondering why other methods all have one discard some starter but your method does not require that?

    Thanks much!

  3. From what you’ve said (“didn’t get bubbly,) it sounds like your starter wasn’t mature enough to actually raise the loaf adequately. Don’t try a loaf until it looks like ours in the pictures.

    The only reason to throw some away is if you’re “expanding” through feeding faster than you can use it up. That’s not the operative question. Make sure you’re at the pancake batter consistency when you’re feeding.

    And right here–is the forum for our stuff. We don’t have a separate forum for sourdough.

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