How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

October 10, 2012
in the beginning there was flour, water and native yeasts!

sourdough, sourdough! its been quite the buzz word for the past year, and a definate trend in irish baking: featuring its own category at the blas na hErearan awards. last year diva brought home a silver award for the seeded sourdough loaf, in the bread category. while being shortlisted in the new sourdough section, we left without a shiny medal. but  we’re sending out a big congratulations to Cloughjordan Woodfired Bakery for taking home both silver and gold for their sourdough breads, as well as Billy’s Bakery for their bronze! its great to see smaller producers taking home medals at such a big awards ceremony. for a full list of this year’s winners click, here. and for a cute picture of shannen, kasia, and myself browse the photo album, here

so now we know sourdough is on the map, and its no question why: its mystical to see a bread rise with just flour and water, its healthier for you and has loads more flavour. the most natural way to make bread is with the natural local yeasts that live in sourdough starters. and anyone can make their own starter! its truly just flour and water.

i made my first sourdough starter while studying specialty desserts and breads at the Seattle Culinary Academy, in 2006. we learned from a master bread baker Don Ried, to feed our starters, make bread and how to keep the starters going for continous bread making. what a wonderful experince it was to make bread just from three ingredients: flour, water and salt. we made lots of other breads in the academy bakery, but the sourdoughs have stayed with me as the kings of breads.

at the bakery in Ballinspittle we make sourdough breads everyday, our range includes: the wheaten loaf (shorlisted this year in the Blas na hEireann), the seeded loaf (silver winner last year), the walnut loaf, the rustic rye, the polenta pumpkin seed, the fig and almond bread, the olive loaf and recently trying out a stinging nettle boule! there’s a lot to choose from and what’s more is our Ballinspittle Sourdough starter turned 2 years old this september! we celebrated by adding sourdough pancakes to the cafe menu. scrumptious!

baking with sourdough is a timely process but one that requires little hands on time. just patience. you will always have bread at the end of baking, but i would recomend letting your breads rise in their own time and try not to speed up the process, the longer the rise, the better the flavour. there are alternatives to fuller flavour breads using other ‘preferment’ style starters, click here for my blurb on preferments, back in 2012.

i started my own sourdough starter for this post to give you a blow by blow on the steps in creating a bubbly citrusy sourdough starter. my starter is in its second week of life and nearing its active maturity, with regular feedings (additions of flour and water) this starter will live and leaven breads for years to come! exciting isn’t it? i hope its not just me!

in my next post i will be using this same starter to make a basic sourdough loaf for everyone to try at home. recipe included! so stay with us.

Sourdough Starter
recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s, The Bread Bible. a lovely and technical bread book, for the avid bread baker.

this is the recipe (it’s really just an outline) i used to start our sourdough at the bakery. i’d like to think of the sourdough craft as a tradition, passed down from baker to baker. so im using the same recipe to pass along to the next baker. in many cultures friends and family share their own sourdough starters giving a little to the next person. to then, go on and create their own breads. bringing people together with through bread. its touching! some bakers use organic fruit like grapes in their starters, harbouring the natural yeasts on the fruits skins to culture and kickstart their activity. in this recipe we start with organic rye flour, rye is a fruit (of sorts) after all! rye flour has more natural sugars and consequently gives the start a good step up in the world. you can use whole wheat flour too, using normal flour can work, but it may take longer.

you’ll need:
organic rye flour or organic whole wheat flour; bread flour; well water or bottled water

day 1
mix 1 cup or 120 grams rye or whole wheat flour with 1/2 cup (120grams) water, mix till moistend and a firm dough is made. place in a 1 liter container with a lid or cling film, i used a mason jar with a parchment lid and string, and store in a warm place for 48 hours


day 1, see top photo for the ‘close up.’

day 2
you won’t see much happening

day 3
the starter wil now look look like a loose batter and have tiny air pockets on the surface and side of container. spoon out half the mixture and discard it. then you will feed the your starter for the first time.

ready for first feeding
mixture has become loose, a sign its working!

To Feed: you should have around 1/2 a cup of mixture, to this add: 1/2 cup (60grams) bread flour and 1/4 cup (60grams/60mls) well water (or bottled water). cover again, and leave in a warm place for 24hours.

‘feeding’ is adding flour and water to your starter, for the native yeasts to eat, and release the gases needed for rising your bread!

day 4
your starter will start to give off a citrusy aroma, if it doesn’t don’t worry yet. feed starter as above, cover and let rise for another 24 hours.


an active bubblin’ sourdough starter, happily at work

day 5
if you have an active starter and its at the right temperature, your starter may have doubled in size by now, even tripled! if not keep feeding your starter till this happens.

i give mine 2 weeks of feeding every 24 hours to be sure its completely active. your starter can be used to leaven bread before then but it may be slower to rise. its a bit of a commitment to get going, but what isn’t in life?

the good news is you can back down to once a week feedings, if your starter is fully active. to test this leave your starter out after feeding, if fully active it should double in volume in 6-8 hours. feed again and store in the fridge till needed.

before baking your bread from a refridgerated starter be sure to remove your starter 1- 2 days before you plan to bake your bread, so it can have time to refresh after two 12 hour feedings and become less acidic. more on this in the next post!

if you have any questions on making your own sourdough or this recipe, don’t hesitate to comment below!

for the next episode of sourdough madness go to the next post: Managing Your Sourdough Starter


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4 thoughts on “How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

  1. Anonymous

    I loved reading about your sourdough starter and I cant wait to try it.

    Do you have instructions on baking a loaf of sourdough once I have my sourdough starter?

    Cant wait to read more of your posts.

    Thank you


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