Your easy guide to all things sourdough, including a 7-day tutorial to grow a sourdough starter, tips to keep & feed the starter, plus easy recipes to use it.
More great sourdough recipes can be found on the Best Bread Recipes page.
In the years since I first shared my sourdough explorations with you, I've gotten a LOT of questions about growing a starter, keeping it, and recipes using it.
I wrote a bunch of tips that I learned in the first year after growing my own sourdough starter, and then published a number of recipes using the starter.
Since I still get quite a few questions, I thought I'd finally publish how to grow, keep & use a sourdough starter, along with an update (now that I just realized that I've kept that original starter going for FOUR YEARS!) and a list of all the recipes I've posted on the blog.
So consider this to be AOC's main guide to all things sourdough! (Disclaimer: I'm by no means a sourdough expert - I'm simply sharing my easy home kitchen, occasional-user sourdough tips with you!)
What is Sourdough?
Sourdough is made by 'growing' the natural yeast that occurs in flour with good bacteria found in the air (lactic acid). Each area of the country (and world, for that matter!) creates it's own varieties of sourdough depending on the air and climate because of this bacteria - like San Francisco's famous sourdough that can't really be exactly replicated outside of it's coastal climate.
The wild yeast and the lactic acid bacteria working together create the bubbles and gas to rise bread. Because of the starter's pH level and the presence of antibacterial agents, it's able to prevent colonization by unwanted yeasts and bacteria - this is why you can have a starter last for many years.
What this means for you is that your starter may take longer or shorter to grow than the steps I outline below. It's okay - and as I discussed in my sourdough tips page, the main thing I've learned with sourdough over the last three years is to have patience, with both the starter and the dough.
How to Grow A Sourdough Starter in 7 Days
(Adapted from Heavenly Homemakers)
- Gather 1 half-gallon jar or 4-qt. or bigger glass bowl (not metal or plastic, sourdough is acid-based), 1 cup whole wheat flour + 1 cup rye flour (you can use all whole wheat - 2 cups total - but I read that rye flour makes the best sourdough starter, so I added half), and 2 cups warm water (just warm tap water) - using warm water is the major difference in my adaptation, as I've read - and experienced - that yeast responds better to warm water. NOTE: if your water isn't good or has additives, use a filtered water.
- Put the flour into the jar or bowl and stir in the water. It should be mixed well and look pretty liquidy - that’s just the way it’s supposed to be the first day.
- Cover the top of the container with muslin (or cheesecloth). You can secure it with a rubberband or tie, but I didn't, as you want the bacteria to find it's way in - just not dust or bugs.
- Keep in a warm place - I set mine on the top of the refrigerator, since I started making it in February.
Update: from here on in the process, you can use less flour and water to feed, if you'd like. As long as you start to see bubbling and activity, 1/2 cup or even 1/4 cup flour-to-water ratio should be okay (if it stalls, I'd use more again).
You'll end up with less starter at the end, but that may be a good thing.
- After 24 hours, the starter may have separated some (like in the day 2 photo above). You can pour off the dark liquid that is on the top or mix it in - this is called the "hooch" and is perfectly normal. (Over the years I've realized that it always produces some hooch as it waits in the fridge, since hooch means the starter is hungry. Mixing it back in seems to create a more sour bread.)
- Pour the starter in to a fresh, clean jar or bowl (transferring it to a new jar or bowl each day allows the sides to remain clean- I've no idea if it's truly necessary or not). Add 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of warm water, stirring well. Replace the cloth and return the jar to it's warm spot. (note: your starter probably doesn't smell very soury yet and that's okay)
- Repeat day 2: pour any liquid off (or mix it in), put your starter into another clean jar or bowl, add 1 cup flour and 1 cup warm water and place it back in it's spot, covered with the cloth.
- Your starter may have risen some by now, have a slightly sour smell, and have little bubbles as well as the hooch after waiting 24 hours from day 3 (but again, don't worry if yours looks different - just keep moving forward..). Repeat the steps from days 2 & 3.
- You may not like the smell of your starter by this stage, but don't think it's bad - it's just working. There'll be a number of different smells as you go through the process. There may be be a lot of liquid with stuff on the top - again, normal.
- Add 1 cup flour and only 3/4 c. of warm water* to your starter (again you can choose to pour the liquid off or mix it in).
- Your starter may outgrow your container today or tomorrow - go ahead and move it to a bigger glass bowl when you see it's getting near the top.
*Note: what I've learned is that the more liquid-to-flour ratio, the more sour your starter and subsequent bread. 1 cup water to 1 cup flour is considered a 100% hydration and is a bit more liquidy and sour. If you want a less sour bread, try a 3/4 c. water-to-1-cup-flour ratio, which is what I now do, since it seems to make the starter rise better. However, you can actually add only 1/4 c. or 1/2 c. water at this point if you'd like hardly any sour flavor.
- You should see bubbles in your starter today and maybe liquid depending on how much water you added yesterday.
- Add another cup of flour and 3/4 -1 c. of water, transferring the starter to a large bowl, like an 8-qt. size glass measure. Lay your piece of muslin or cheesecloth over the bowl and return it to the warm place.
- Repeat day 6.
- Today's the day to make something using your new sourdough starter, which should have bubbles and have grown in its container! At this point it's considered an 'active' starter.
- Place 1-2 cups of the starter in a glass jar, place a lid on the jar - but don't seal tightly - and place in the refrigerator. This is now the starter you will feed and use each time you want to make something.
- As for what to make with the rest of your new starter, I found the hard way that even though the starter looked all bubbly and active on day 8, it's not really mature enough yet to rise bread really well.
- So my suggestion on day 8 is to make these amazing waffles, a batch of these slightly addictive crackers, or a basic sourdough pancake recipe.
Week 2 and Beyond
- Once a week, remove your sourdough starter from the fridge, pour into a bowl and feed it with 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 3/4 to 1 cup of water (the thicker starter above was fed the 1 to 3/4 c. ratio), stirring well.
- Leave it to grow and become active again 12 to 24 hours before using it in a recipe. It should double in size during that period. Depending on how long the starter has been in the fridge, it sometimes needs more than one feeding. You’ll need to feed it until it is reliably doubling in size, how ever many feedings that takes. To be strong enough to raise bread, the starter should double in 6 hours or less after feeding.
- Remove all but 1-2 cups and return that to the fridge in a clean jar. Use the rest to bake with - this is the "discard."
- Tip: I clean the jar I store the starter in with warm water only - no soap, so not to introduce anything weird into the starter.
The idea is to get in the habit of using your starter at least once a week by bringing it to room temperature, feeding it until it's doubling in size (feeding as many times as needed to double in 6 hours or less), and then making something with a portion while putting 1 to 2 cups back into the fridge for the next week. Each time you use some of the starter and refeed it, it is maturing and growing stronger.
Suggested timeline for what to make with a brand new starter:
- Weeks 2-3: waffles, pancakes, and crackers
- Weeks 4-5: english muffins, bagels (and maybe a King Arthur Flour sourdough recipe, which always use a bit of yeast with the sourdough).
- Weeks 6-7: easy sourdough artisan bread, sourdough cheesy batter bread (batter breads don't require kneading, etc.)
- Week 8 and beyond: Finally, after your starter has been successful with these items, it's time to try a traditional sandwich loaf! I always use my friend, Gina's (Homejoys) soft sourdough bread - she also has a lot of great sourdough tips and recipes, so be sure to check her site out!
My Year Four Sourdough Update:
After using my sourdough at least monthly (it's hard to do it every week!) for more than three years, I got tired of being a 'slave to the sourdough.' Last summer I stopped needing as much bread and I didn't bother with my starter - until seven months later.
Our power went out in a snow storm and the contents of our fridge needed to be put in a cooler. I left the sourdough starter - which had about a 2-inch layer of hooch by now - outside in the cold, figuring it was long gone.
However, after our power came back on, I decided to see if I couldn't bring it back to life, since it still smelled like sourdough starter. (Some people have said they threw out their starter because it was growing mold - I've never had this happen! The hooch had some white bubbles floating on it, but it wasn't mold - so look carefully to be sure before throwing out your precious starter.)
I started feeding it and guess what? It came back to life - 7 months and 5 days with no power later!
I fed it for a week before baking with it, just to make sure it was good and strong. Then I baked up a batch of artisan bread and my daughter declared it my best sourdough yet!
Moral? Don't give up on your starter.
(PS- and the first photo in this article is what my starter looks like when I first pull it out of the fridge, too, thoroughly inactive. A little flour, warm water & time and voila, it comes back to life!)
Go here to see more tips for keeping and using your starter.
Here's a list of all the sourdough articles & recipes on An Oregon Cottage:
- Sourdough Bread? My first bread-baking attempt: Feb. 2010
- My Sourdough Tips after 1 year
- Amazing Sourdough Waffles
- Easy Whole Wheat Sourdough Crackers (really - this dough is a dream to work with!)
- Easy Whole Wheat Sourdough English Muffins
- How to Make Sourdough Bagels
- Cheesy Sourdough Batter Bread
- Easy Sourdough Artisan Bread
Have you grown your own sourdough starter? Have any tips to share?
Hi! I received my refrigerated starter from a friend. I fed it this morning. It’s been 12 hours and it hasn’t doubled. However, it is just slightly bubbly. What do I do now? Thank you for your help.
You'll need to pull some of the starter out (what is called the 'discard') and then feed what's left and keep repeating that until the starter doubles. You can use the discard in recipes that don't need a lot of rising, like crackers, waffles, coffee cake, or lemon bread. 🙂
I was lucky and got a sour dough starter from my friend. I'm a little confused. I have read some of your comments. Here is my predicament. I fed the starter. I got lots of bubbles. I did the water test but the lump didn't float. So I left it alone again. Today - I don't have any bubbles. Do I discard some of the starter? How much do I discard? And how much do I feed it. The total weight in the glass jar is 817 grams. HELP. What do I do?
How long between feedings did you go, Susan?
When you're growing a starter to use, you want to feed it every 12 hours or so until it's doubling in volume (use a glass measuring cup to hold it or place a rubber band on a jar at the level you started at).
I never do a test float - it rarely works for me, yet the starter works to raise my breads. I don't know if it's because I use a whole wheat starter or what.
If a starter seems inactive (all will at one point or another), remove half to 3/4 of the volume and then feed it. If you have 1/4 cup left, feed it 1/4 cup of flour and 3 tablespoons water (or weigh to get your amounts). I like to feed slightly more flour to water, as I find it produces more activity for me.
You should see lots of activity then - and if not, just do the same thing again. It usually bounces right back! (Oh, and make sure it's in a warm part of your home if it's a cold season.)
Appreciate your time and your reply to my question.
Deby Brooke says
I was gifted a sourdough starter and have been feeding it using the following formula: 113 grams starter, 113 grams flour and 113 grams water. I think this is a 100% hydration formula. I see that you use 75% hydration in your starter. Can you tell me the amounts in grams of starter/flour/water that I need to use for this 75% formula? I’m confused about how to calculate the 75% hydration in my starter. All the info I’ve found gives the flour and water amounts but doesn’t tell how much of the starter to use in the feeding. I’ve been using your recipe in my breads and they are good but think they could be better so want to use your exact measurements. Thanks!
This article may help: https://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/sourdough/hydration-sourdough-starter/
That said, I am not an exact bread baker - I tend to go by look and feel of a dough. Which is actually beneficial for sourdough since it changes based on weather, temperature, etc. Sometimes my starter is 75%, sometimes 85% - but I don't do 100% anymore, as I just found my starter doubled better at a lower hydration.
Jacki Matejka says
I just received my starter from a friend who shared from her 70 yr old starter. I grew up with starter in my moms fridge but never learned the art of starter, other than it’s right to be coveted. And so, when I got the starter from my daughters chef friend, with the 70 yr old claim, my anxiety erupted (never do I feel anxious). I started to read...and read...and read, oh, and watch. I realized that the process was simple, and NOT! A couple videos and articles explaining the process of “feeding” and maintaining your starter, left me feeling incapable, unsure, is it 1:1:1 or 1:5:5 or HELP! Do you discard meaning you actually toss out half or some of it, how does it become ready for baking AND refrigerated for storing, do I have the time to prepare for either (I was leaving for a camping week in 1 week). Was this shared starter already ready (giver is out of contact for 3 days), I want to make something, even if it’s just pancakes (which I grew up on, and will definitely provide the nostalgic feelings that hit me when I found out I was being gifted this coveted seed). So I forced myself to meticulously follow another’s path and fed my new baby, it definitely behaved as purported, I felt more relaxed and planned on doing it agin that evening 24 hours later, but as expected, anxiety fueled my task, I found another suggestion, and this morning after 12 hours, it was overflowing i.e. doubled in size, Is it ready for baking? I thought? Do I continue the process, another day, another week, I’m camping in a week? Ugh! My husband found your video, so we watched your video on artisan bread, and I immediately watched it again, I had made a double batch of starter with last nights feeding (?throw it out? I couldn’t!!) so now I have an opportunity to use one, and refrigerate the other (I don’t know if that’s the right call, but I’m hopeful) my 2nd batch has doubled and is full of bubbles, think I’ll try to maintain (feed) this one outside the fridge, until leaving on our trip. Your video was comforting, when you shared the steps, you offered variances that at least suggested it’s not HARD science, and now that I have a 2nd chance jar, I feel brazen to jump! I’m even considering bringing my starter to make bread in my motor home. With your recipes on my iPad I am ready to enjoy.
Sorry for the long rant, after re-reading, I realized the intent of my comment wasn’t even broached. How much volume should I maintain for starter inventory while also providing enough for my recipe...wait...I think I may have just answered my question, if I’m feeding it to double, i.e. when it ultimately becomes double, my starter can support my recipe and my starter inventory. Am I right? If so, and I keep a cup of starter, then I can produce a cup for a recipe, would that be sufficient in all recipes, if all I’m doing is making 1 batch of whatever? Pancakes (I can’t wait), waffles (I am the waffle queen) bread, the intent of my gift, English muffins...do I dare? Hopeful!
Wow, your comment - love this. 🙂
But it is so true about feeling overwhelmed and wondering what to do - totally get that!
I'm not sure if I completely understand your question, but you add what you need to have enough starter to make what you want and then have at least 1/4 cup left to feed.
So if I start with 1 cup of starter, I feed it 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cups of water (I always do less...). This should give me 2 cups. If it doubles in the 6 hours or less, I use it to bake with - 1 to 1 1/2 cups - and then feed the rest.
Since you started with an established starter you won't actually need to throw out the discard (that's for building a new one from scratch), but we still call it "discard" when we remove part of the starter to bake with, because that's needed to keep the starter healthy.
Hope that makes sense!!
Jacki Matejka says
it does indeed, in fact now i have watched your video a total of 5 times, and this final time, i've paused it at each step, since I am in the midst of my 3rd hour of rise, gonna enjoy (hoping) some bread tonight with some steamed clams. looking forward to some of your other recipes, so far the pancakes were awesome, also looking forward to future articles!
Well thank you ! I’ve tried to bake bread with a week old starter & now I know it was the age & not my ability 🌈
Ha! Yes - keep trying!
I just got a starter today. What is my next step? Do I feed it or wait?
You'll want to feed it daily. Remove some and measure what's left - anything from 1/4 cup to 1 cup - and add that much flour and water if you want a 100% hydrated starter (I now add more flour, so I'd add for example, 1/4 cup starter, 1/4 cup water, and just under 1/2 cup of flour).
When it's doubling in 6 hours or less, you can make bread. Remove what you need and make sure you have at least 1/4 cup left to feed again.
You can make crackers, pancakes, or waffles with the starter you remove (called the "discard.")
Hope that helps!
Kathy Nelson says
After the starter is done and now Im ready to make bread or whatever. Can I switch the feedings to all white flour? I’m not a fan of whole wheat or rye bread.
I got a sourdough starter from sister in law and want to pass some into my sister in law's. Is there a certain process to passing some into them? Is there a certain amount I should give them?
I would take out a portion - it doesn't have to be big, just 1/4 to 1/2 cup - and put it in a mason jar (to give away) and feed it. If you are not seeing her right away, I'd refrigerate it.
Natasha Johnson says
after day 8, we can start o store it in the fridge and use/feed once a week, right? or do i continue to leave on my counter and feed daily (seems like a lot). I am assuming that it grows stronger even when fed once a week?
Yes to all, Natasha - you can store in fridge and feed weekly and it will continue to grow stronger. Some people do feed daily, but they must be making a lot of bread and baking, lol.
I am on day two and just fed my starter. I fed 1/2 cup flout to water. I used 1/4c wheat and 1/4 rye. Do I continue to use the wheat and rye together or should I switch to all wheat? I am not sure what to do as far as the mix of flour is concerned after day 1.
Yes, you can move to just wheat when you'd like.