How to build your own sourdough starter
and then use it for the rest of your life
Clockwise: Sourdough Ciabatta, No-Knead Sourdough Loaf and Sourdough Whole Wheat Loaf
Hello, bakers! You have seen and marveled at the wonderful baked goods we are all producing during this time of lockdown, and you want to get in on the action. You are intrigued by sourdough baking, especially, and you want to build your own starter. Great idea!
I built my first starter in 2009, while I was writing the “Sourdough Bootcamp” chapter in my first cookbook; a step-by-step guide to making and baking with your own starter.
I’ve learned a lot over the past 11 years—for example, I’m measuring by weight now instead of volume, for greater accuracy—but the basic principles of Sourdough Bootcamp are still pretty much the same---
A long slow build to ensure a strong starter, and no waste. Every time we remove a portion of starter to make room for more flour and water, we’ll bake something with that portion—quick breads, pancakes, pretzels, hamburger buns—anything that doesn’t rely on the starter for its leavening power until it's good and ready, somewhere around Day 10 or Day 11.
Once you’ve gotten through the starter-building phase your sourdough will become your lifelong pal, producing loaf after loaf of exquisite artisanal bread, melt-in-the mouth pancakes, light and tender scones, and endless, delicious variations on the classic cinnamon roll.
So. Let’s get started.
For day one, you’ll need:
A clear glass or plastic container (about 1L capacity) with a lid—I like something wide-mouthed that allows easy access for adding and taking away flour and water
A weigh scale or measuring cups
A spatula or a wooden spoon
Lukewarm water (around 80F (26C))
All-purpose flour or bread flour, preferably unbleached organic, but hey, whatever you can find
If you have a digital kitchen thermometer, bonus, but if not, don’t worry.
80 g unbleached, organic all-purpose flour or bread flour (about ½ cup)
80 g to *100g warm water (about ⅓ cup plus 2 Tbsp)
* Bread flour is higher in protein than all-purpose flour, and absorbs more water. I’ve found that I get best results with slightly more than 100% hydration with my bread flour. (100 % hydration simply means equal parts flour and water, by weight.)
If you are using cup measurements, simply mix flour and water together. If you’re weighing your ingredients, put your container on the scale, tare, add flour, tare, and add water.
Whichever way you measure, mix flour and water thoroughly so that all the flour is completely moistened.
Cover your container loosely and place in a warm spot in your house. I opted for the top of the fridge.
It’s best if your starter temperature doesn’t go below 68F (20C). At colder temperatures, everything just takes longer.
(The ambient temperature in my house in April is 70F (21C). For fun, I took my digital thermometer to several different spots—the kitchen counter, a place in the morning sun in the living room, the top of the fridge, the closed oven with the oven light on—and found that though the counter was 70F, the other three spots were consistently 72F or 73F. If you have a cold house, try using the oven with the oven light on.)
So, that’s Day One, completed. There’s no need to do anything else today, except to check back on your starter every now and then just to see what’s happening. Probably not much. You might see some air bubbles on the surface—those are simply the result of the mixing. And there may be absolutely no change at all. This is normal.
Go have fun. It’s sunny and warm in Whitehorse and it's time to get outside, maybe for one of the last skis of the season. See you tomorrow!
Tare your container
Tare after adding flour
Mix flour and water
Cover loosely and put in a warm spot. Go skiing.