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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122 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
  10. Annie

    Mary, here’s how i schedule my bread making. If you are asking about how to manage making a starter then just go to the top of this page and follow Nicole’s directions–awesome starter technique.
    I make one loaf a week with an occasional one in-between for a special occasion. Managing it is no problem for me. I want to have fresh bread early every Sunday morning so it has to be made the day before. Every Friday evening I prepare the dough and set it to proof all night while I’m sleeping. Sometime the next morning, anywhere between 10 and 14 hours later, I form the loaf, set it to its shorter proofing while the oven heats up and then bake it. It is always perfect for Sunday.

    If I need bread for a special get-together in an evening I set it out to proof the night before and it is ready for the gathering in the evening.

    I never worry about a loaf going stale. As soon as it it cool I put it in a brown paper bag and it is fine. To keep an uncut loaf longer than 24 hours I might put it in a plastic bag and then crisp up the crust in a pre-heated, very hot oven for about 6 minutes

    6:45 pm  Feb 3rd, 2016
  11. dianne

    My starter is thick. Not liquid. But i measured properly (even weighed the juice). Is this how it is supposed to be? It doesn’t look like the picture. It’s more like dough

    2:30 pm  Feb 9th, 2016
  12. Marilyn

    I am wondering if I can use gluten free flour?

    1:29 pm  Apr 18th, 2016
  13. Marilyn

    Can I use glutton free flour?

    3:37 pm  Apr 22nd, 2016
  14. Brian

    So I’ve combined the pineapple juice and King Arthur whole wheat unbleached flour.
    My mixture came out pretty dry so I added a bit more liquid. 24hrs later and the mix is pretty gummy/stretchy. Almost like an over moist pizza dough. Have I done something wrong?

    8:18 pm  Apr 25th, 2016
  15. Allison Green

    Hi! Excited to try out this starter, I’ve had such great luck with your other recipes. Your spicy pumpkin soup and roasted artichokes were what really got me cooking about five years ago, and I haven’t looked back since!

    A question about keeping the starter in the fridge… what steps do you use for feeding it each week? Do you let it sit out at room temperature for a period of time before or after the feeding?

    6:00 am  May 6th, 2016
  16. Colin

    Just tried this with the pineapple juice. It wasn’t doing a lot for the first couple of days but I kept at it. It started to bubble slightly so I fed it for a couple of days. Then one day I realized that I had forgot about it for a couple of days and when I checked it had a dry crust on the top. I just threw it away and fed it again.

    The starter had the distinct sour smell but wasn’t rising. I actually thought about throwing it away and decided one more day and feeding. I am glad I did cause today it has more than doubled in size. I am so excited.

    Time to try the sourdough bread recipe.

    7:44 am  May 24th, 2016
  17. Noelle Ray

    Thanks for this info! I just tried to start a sourdough starter with flour and water…it was bubbling like crazy in 3 days (I live in AZ where it is warm), but it didn’t smell good. I am going to try the pineapple juice to see if I can get the bacteria right! Thanks!!!

    8:48 am  May 31st, 2016
  18. Bethany

    I make this pancake recipe with the otherwise-discarded starter:
    http://whatscookingamerica.net/Bread/SourdoughPancakes.htm

    Sometimes when we don’t have an active batch, we’ll do a 24 hour starter JUST to make pancakes. It creates an entirely different texture of melt-in-mouth pancakes that make it hard to go back to another recipe. Enjoy <3

    6:14 am  Jun 9th, 2016
  19. Ann Waugh

    Dianne, the starter can be as thick or thin as you like. It depends on how you put the bread dough together. If the starter is very thin then you might need to add more flour to the dough depending on how hydrated you like your dough to be. The wetter the dough the more open the crumb will be. But it takes a very quick hand to get a loose, wet dough from the board to the basket. it’s all about personal preference. I keep my starter something like a thickish pancake batter. Nowadays my dough, when ready for the basket, is pretty darn loose and wet. Practice is the key.

    I use 520 grams organic, unbleached white flour, (2 tsp. salt is mixed into the flour) 1 2/3 C water and 1/3 C starter to make dough for one loaf. Because this makes such a wet dough I allow a lot of extra flour on the board and on my hands for forming the loaf.

    Allison, I keep my starter in the fridge until a couple of days before I plan on making bread. I take it out late in the day, feed it and let it do its thing on the counter over night. I usually feed it again the next morning, leave it on the counter and make dough that evening. Then I let the dough proof over night, form and bake the bread in the morning.

    Brian, you’re probably doing just fine. Some flours will make a smooth, gummy mass. Keep going with the recipe.

    Marilyn, Gluten free flours are another thing altogether. I have heard of some gluten-free sourdough recipes but I have strong doubts about them since they don’t have the gluten necessary for a good rise. The gluten-free breads that I have made use more of a batter than a dough. They often have special added things like gums and thickeners to replace the gluten. You might have to Google your question. If you find something let us know.

    Colin, no need to throw away that dry crusty top. Next time if that happens, just either stir it into the starter or lift it off and toss it. It is only the very top layer of starter that got a bit dehydrated and is not an indicator of spoilage. I set (only set) a plastic jar lid on the top of my starter to keep it moist yet giving it some air as well.

    5 years after following Nicole’s recipe here, my starter is still performing fabulously. Most of the time it sits in the fridge totally ignored by me…it doesn’t seem to mind as long as I feed it once a week. Twice is better.

    4:04 pm  Sep 9th, 2016
  20. Brian

    Does humidity matter? I live in Colorado where our average humidity is 10-30%

    4:08 pm  Sep 10th, 2016
  21. Nicole

    Brian, humidity shouldn’t affect things too much.

    10:19 am  Sep 12th, 2016
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