Easy Sourdough Starter Recipe

Sourdough starter is something that you need to make ahead of time to have ready when you’re going to make the bread, because it needs time to develop and activate before you can use it in bread recipes.

easy sourdough starter

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Sourdough bread was trendy for a while, then it wasn’t, then it was, then it wasn’t. Part of the reason that it falls out of favor is that the sourdough starter isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it thing, you have to pay attention to it or it can die.

People like the idea of it but making sourdough bread is definitely more labor-intensive than bread made with commercially-available yeast.

Stir more flour into the sponge mixture

How does sourdough starter work?

Sourdough starters use the natural yeast in the air to leaven the doughs they’re added to.

Yeast is a living organism that eats whatever sugars you give it. It then produces the carbon dioxide that will make the bread rise when the gas is trapped by the gluten strands that are developed when you knead the dough.

Since starters are made using the natural yeasts in the air, it’s more fragile than just grabbing a jar of yeast and using that in the bread recipe.

In fact, a lot of sourdough bread fails if you don’t give the starter and the sponges enough time to develop. If you’ve ever made a loaf of sourdough that ended up flat, it’s probably because you were trying to rush the sponge and ripening process, which you really can’t do if you want a good result.

I have a recipe for easy sourdough bread that works really well if you give it enough time, so check that out here: Easy sourdough bread recipe

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Sourdough sponge and starter in different bowls

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Easy starter recipe.

The easy starter recipe that I used for the loaves in the article is made from yeast to start with, since it’s the easiest way to make an active starter. But it still took three days for the starter to be ready to use, so you definitely need to plan ahead.

To make the sourdough starter, mix 1 tsp dry yeast with 3/4 cup warm water and 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, stir it well (it will be stiff) and put it in a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out, but poke some holes in it so that air can circulate into the starter.

Leave the bowl on the counter for three days to let the starter develop. It needs the air circulation so that it can grab the wild yeast that’s in the air. It’s okay to pull the plastic wrap back to check it, it’s just there to keep it from drying out, but air getting to it is fine.

As the starter sits, it will start looking more liquid, and it will rise and fall. That’s good, because it shows that the starter is active.

You can make sourdough starter with only the water and flour, but it might take longer to start bubbling. If you leave the bowl uncovered it could happen faster, since the starter will be exposed to the air and will be able to attract natural yeast from the air. It can dry out if you leave it totally uncovered, though, so keep an eye on it.

You can also make starters using potatoes, cornmeal, whole wheat flour, or yogurt, and each one will give you a little bit of a different flavor.

The flavor of your starter is going to be heavily influenced by which kind of yeast is available in the air where you are. San Francisco sourdough is the most famous version because there’s a specific type of yeast that lives in the area and gives the starters a signature flavor.

When we lived in northern California my mother had a sourdough starter that she managed to transport back east when we moved, but it lost the distinctive flavor over time because the same yeast wasn’t in the air anymore.

How to store your sourdough starter.

Once you make the starter, you can keep it in the fridge and feed it every week or so to keep it alive. When you want to bake with it take it out of the fridge ahead of time and feed it to perk it up.

I’ve seen people talking about their starters who say they only feed them once a month, so you can do your own research to figure out what a convenient schedule is for yourself. Starters can also be dried out and saved in a dry form, then livened up again by adding water and flour to the dry pieces.

Feeding a starter is just taking some of it out and replacing that amount with the same amount of flour and a little water. The new flour will give the yeast in the starter something new to eat, and it will stay active.

If you forget to feed the starter it can die, and you’ll have to start over. You’ll be able to tell if a starter is ruined if it has pink or orange-colored liquid on the top when you check it. The liquid that forms on the top of a sourdough starter is called the “hooch,” and as long as it’s a greyish color it’s fine, but pink isn’t good.

If you get a pink color in the hooch, throw the starter out and start a new one.

Since starters get riper as they mature you don’t want to have to throw your starter out, because you’ll lose the flavor that’s been built up over time, so pay attention to it!

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