How to Make a Sourdough Starter: Day One

Today we begin the great sourdough starter experiment.  The goal of this experiment is to catch some wild yeast and try to keep them happy so that they will multiply.  By harnessing the power of wild yeast in a sourdough starter, we’ll eventually be able to bake bread without using any commercial yeast at all.  That’s what traditional sourdough is – a bread leavened by wild yeast.  The process can be very technical and scientific, but I’m not going to delve into all those boring details right now.  Instead, we’re just going to jump in and get started and I’ll explain things as we go.

There are several different ways to create a sourdough starter and I don’t know that any one method is truly better than the others.  I’m using Peter Reinhart’s method from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, but what I’m about to share with you is a bit different than what’s in the book.  That’s because he updated the method after the book was published and shared the correction on his blog.  So, I’m using Mr. Reinhart’s updated instructions with a few small changes of my own.  I have successfully created a sourdough starter before, but haven’t used this exact method, so we really are embarking on a brand new adventure together.

Here’s how I started:  I mixed one cup of whole wheat flour with 3/4 cup of room-temperature pineapple juice in a bowl until everything was well blended.  I scraped the mixture into a clean glass jar and marked the level with a rubber band so that it will be easy to detect any growth if it occurs.  I covered the jar with a paper towel and secured it with a rubber band.  Now all I have to do is let the jar sit at room temperature for 24 hours.  Pretty easy so far, right?

Want to create your own sourdough starter?

Here are the instructions (click on the links for photos):

Day One: In a small bowl, mix one cup of whole wheat or whole rye flour with 3/4 cup (6 oz) canned pineapple juice (at room temperature) until all of the flour is hydrated.  Scrape mixture into a quart-size wide mouth glass container, such as a jar or glass measuring cup.  Mark the level of the starter with a piece of tape or rubber band. Cover the container with a paper towel, cheesecloth, or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.  Leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day Two: You probably won’t notice much change at this point.  Scrape the contents of the jar into a mixing bowl and add 1 cup of unbleached all-purpose or unbleached bread flour plus 1/2 cup pineapple juice (make sure juice is room temperature).  Mix until all ingredients are evenly distributed.  Wash and dry your glass container and scrape the mixture into the container.  Mark and cover the container just like day one.  Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day Three: You may notice some activity at this point.  The mixture may have risen some and there might be bubbles.  Regardless of whether you notice any fermentation or not, discard half of the mixture (or give it to a friend to cultivate), and mix the remaining half with 1 cup of unbleached all-purpose or bread flour and 1/2 cup filtered water (make sure water is room temperature).  Wash and dry your container and scrape the mixture into the container.  Mark and cover as before.  Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day Four: The mixture should have at least doubled in size at this point.  If it seems to be sluggish and hasn’t doubled in size, allow it to sit at room temperature for another 12 to 24 hours.  Otherwise, repeat instructions for Day three.

Day Five: Feed the starter (repeating day three instructions) first thing in the morning and then again in the evening (about 12 hours apart).

Day Six: If your starter has been very active and always doubles in size (or more) between feedings, then your starter is ready to bake with.  You may also choose to refrigerate your starter at this point and slow down the feedings to once a week.  If you’d like to bake some bread, here is a basic sourdough bread recipe to get you started.  If your starter still seems a little sluggish, continue with the twice daily feedings as above.

Day Seven: Same as above.

If you’d like to play along, I’d love to hear about it.  Please feel free to share photos of your sourdough starter experiments on the Pinch My Salt Facebook page.  If you’re a blogger and decide to write about the process, please share your links with me so that I can share them with others.

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110 Comments
  1. Annie

    WooHoo!!

    8:46 pm  Apr 26th, 2014
  2. Dylan

    Thanks for the sweet recipe!

    This recipe works amazingly well but I found that I didn’t need to use pineapple juice for my starter to come alive! Water and flour works just fine if you give the starter more time initially to get fired up (48 hrs without touching it). Eliminating the pineapple juice can help reduce the carbon and water footprints of our tasty homemade breads which, consequently, will up our DIY credentials haha (if you live near pineapples, however, I envy you!) I also found that using a kitchen scale ($2 at my local thrift store) made this whole process a lot easier. I was able to get that sweet 100% hydration at every feeding.

    As a side note make sure to give your yeasty-friends a good name and talk to them too (they’re beautiful living organisms!)

    2:48 pm  May 1st, 2014
  3. Anna

    I am wondering if you have to discard 1/2 on each of the days that copies day 3 or if you just keep adding.

    7:09 pm  Oct 5th, 2015
  4. Annie

    Yes, you have to keep removing half the starter until it reaches the point where it doubles after every time you feed it. Once your starter is “hot” then you are ready to bake bread. If you bake a loaf every time you feed your starter then you can use that discarded starter for your bread. Though, for one loaf, depending on your kitchen, the weather, type of flour, etc., you generally won’t need more than a third of a cup of starter. After you’ve been making breads for a while you will figure out for yourself just how much starter you need to keep around and how much you need for your baking.

    Whatever you do, do not put the discarded starter down the drain! If you’re not going to use it then put it in your compost or trash.

    I agree with Dylan about using a scale when baking. You will get consistent results that way. You don’t need a scale when feeding your starter–the amounts don’t have to be exact in any way. With the amount of bread I make, I keep about 2/3 of a cup of starter in my fridge or on the counter (depends on amount of time between baking). Then half of that will be put into the dough and the other half gets mixed with new flour and water. Consistency of the starter is according to personal liking.

    10:27 am  Oct 26th, 2015
  5. Annie

    PS: just for your hopeful information; I made Nicole’s starter 4 years ago and it is the best starter I ever had. It just keeps getting better and better. I’ve given a lot of it away to friends.

    10:31 am  Oct 26th, 2015
  6. Reberta

    The instructions state to leave the starter at “room” temperature, exactly what is that.? My house doesn’t get above 73 at the most, my friends is sometimes as low as 70. This is for the whole house except for the back porch & bedrooms which are colder. What do I do in this case?

    9:55 am  Dec 24th, 2015
  7. Nicole

    Hi Reberta- Just keep it in the warmest part of the house… high 60’s to low 70’s should be fine. It might take a little bit longer to become active during these cooler winter temps, but it should still work.

    12:53 pm  Dec 28th, 2015
  8. Reberta

    the last comment I made is the first one ever that I have posted.
    thank you!

    9:58 am  Dec 24th, 2015
  9. Mary

    I’ve always wanted to start a starter but worry I would have a hard time keeping up with it. We would go thru one small loaf per week. How do you manage this? Thanks

    6:30 pm  Jan 28th, 2016
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