Growing your very own starter from scratch can be quite rewarding. It does take a little bit of TLC and time, but once your culture turns into an active, bubbly starter that can be ready to bake with in just a half day’s notice, the process will seem like a breeze.
If you don’t want the hassle or time constraints of growing your own, you can purchase our organic, wet starter here
what you will need before beginning…
- A tall transparent container, or large wide mouth glass jars (something you can fit your hand/wrist in to comfortably stir)
- A thin plain tea towel that you can cut or tear into small squares
- A few rubber bands (I save the ones that come off of produce you buy at the grocery store)
- Instant read thermometer (optional)
- Rubber Spatula
- A way to mark volume (tape, piece of paper, post it note, etc.)
- Kitchen Scale (you will use this for your starter AND your Sourdough bread, so this is a necessary investment if you don’t have one)
To get the culture growing and then to feed that beautiful good bacteria, we are going to need some good quality flour. This doesn’t have to be the most expensive flour you can get your hands on, save that for the actual bread you will be baking! We do, however want a healthy robust starter…and that means flour without any added chemicals or preservatives. You will need two types of flour:
WHITE FLOUR – You can use a white bread flour or just a regular all-purpose flour (I prefer all-purpose). Do check the labels though and make sure the flour contains malted barley flour (some white flours don’t). My flour of choice for a beautiful starter is Central Milling Company Organic All-Purpose flour. The ingredients are just organic wheat flour and organic malted barley flour AND I can get two big bags of it at Costco for an excellent price (win win!). Tip: If your Costco doesn’t carry it, you can make a request and they will usually order it in!
RYE FLOUR – Any rye flour will do here. We just want to bump up the nutrition available to the bacteria so they will feed and multiply like good little yeast beasties should.
Filtered tap water is best. Bottled water is good too. Definitely NOT distilled water and definitely not tap water that is softened (with a water softener). You don’t want the chlorine present in plain water out of the tap, but you DO want the minerals that are typically removed with a water softener. If you have a refrigerator that dispenses filtered water, that will be your best bet. You will want to use warm water (just in the beginning few days while growing your culture), and I don’t know of any filtered water that comes out warm, so be prepared to microwave your water or warm it using any method of your choice to bring the temperature of the water up to about 85 degrees. An instant read thermometer will help tremendously, but if you don’t have one – test the water with your pinky finger (it should feel just the slightest bit warmer than neutral. Er on the side of cooler rather than warmer).
feeding and discarding your culture…
Your flour and water mixture will be a culture until it is mature and stable enough to be considered a “starter.” The process of feeding will involve discarding a portion of the culture/starter and feeding back flour and water to the amount that remains. This is all done by weight, not by volume, which is why it is important to have a kitchen scale.
Feeding flour and water by weight
If you intend to use the same container the whole time while growing your yeast, you will need to know the starting weight of the container. This way you will be able to subtract that amount from your remaining culture after discarding. This may sound complicated, but I promise you it’s not. I will explain everything down below in the daily step-by-step instructions. If you have multiple containers (such as a few wide mouth glass jars) you can simply use a new jar each time you feed. Just make sure to zero out the scale before pouring some of the existing culture into your clean jar, and then washing out the old jar while discarding the rest of the culture you won’t be using.
Once your culture grows up into a ripe starter, you can begin using the discarded amount in things like sourdough pancakes or waffles, or this Sourdough Banana Bread recipe, all of which are delicious in their own right. But until then, think of it as just a small amount of flour and water and try not to be sad when you dump it down the drain. There really won’t be any “good guys” in there just yet, so it’s not very useful for anything.
Why discard at all?
The reason you must discard some of your culture or starter first is that the feeding process assumes that your culture (at first) will grow in volume, and then eventually when it becomes a true starter, should completely double its volume in 8 hours or so. If you never discarded any of the mixture, you would end up with gallons upon gallons of starter and I’m sure you can imagine why this is unwanted and unintended. Remember that the amount of culture/starter left over is the amount you will feed back, so you can also imagine how much flour you would go through just to keep your gallons of starter alive and fed. In short, we discard in order to make less and feed less culture/starter.
Your growing culture is going to be like a new pet or baby, minus the crying or potty demands. It will rely on you to feed it in a timely manner and keep it nice and warm and happy. Besides the first day, your culture will need to be fed around every 12 hours. You will need to plan accordingly, based on your schedule, what time of day works best for you. For me, it’s around 9:00. By 9:00 AM I am up and awake and have had my coffee and my brain can process numbers, for the most part 🙂 And around 9:00 PM I am still awake and it’s not too late for me to feed before heading off to bed for the night. Find a good time that works for you both AM and PM.
Let’s grow some yeast! Ready, set, GO!
100% hydration wild yeast starter
- Have your chosen container clean, dry and ready to go. Set the empty container onto your kitchen scale and write down the weight (in grams) on a piece of paper, then zero out the scale.
- Add to your container 100 g water, then zero out the scale
- Add to your container 50 g white flour, then zero out the scale
- Add to your container 50 g rye flour
- Remove container from the scale and mix or stir until well combined
- Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the container and smooth the top of the culture as best you can
- Place a piece of tape or the bottom of a sticky post it note to the outside of your container to mark the height of the mixture you just created
- Remember the weight of your container you wrote down in step 1? Write that onto your tape or piece of paper along with the current time of day
- Cut or tear your tea towel into a square that will fit on the top of your container with some hanging over and secure the square with a rubber band or alternatively tie with kitchen twine. We want to protect the culture from anything unwanted getting in, but we also want to allow oxygen to enter and accumulated gas to exit
- Place your new culture in a warm cozy spot to rest for 24 hours.
DAY TWO A.M.
- There may be some signs of life, and there may not. Has the culture risen in height at all? Any bubbles? Check the bottom of the container. Even one or two bubbles at this point is a great start. If the culture has risen since yesterday, even the tiniest bit, or you see even one bubble – proceed to the next step. If absolutely no signs of life are present yet, don’t fret, just set it back in its warm spot and wait another 12 hours before proceeding.
- Weigh your container with the culture and subtract the container weight (written on your tape/paper marker) this will give you the weight of your existing culture. Discard all but 75 g of the culture mixture
Place a new container or jar onto your scale and then zero it out. Pour 75 g of culture into the new jar. Wash old jar with remaining culture to be discarded.
- Add to your culture: 75 g water – stir to combine
- Then feed with: 50 g white flour and 25 g rye flour – stir to combine
- Scape down the sides again and mark the height on the outside of the jar with your tape or paper
- Replace the tea towel covering over the top and place the culture back in its warm spot
DAY TWO P.M.
- You may see more activity or signs of life now, or it may be the same as this morning. Anything from a single bubble to actively rising is a wonderful sign of progress.
- Repeat all of the same steps from the morning – discarding all but 75 g of existing culture and feeding with 75 g water – 50 g of white flour – 25 g rye flour
- Return it to its warm spot again after mixing
DAY THREE A.M. AND P.M.
- Sometime on day 3, your culture may appear dead or sluggish. Its usually not. Just carry on and feed exactly as you did on day two
DAY FOUR AND BEYOND
- Continue to feed as you have been doing, but by the morning of day 4 and the next subsequent 12 hr feedings, you should begin to notice your culture becoming much more active with each and every feeding.
- You will soon start to see a lot more bubbles, and the culture will begin to increase in volume substantially
- Once you go to feed and notice that the culture has come close to doubling itself (in 12 hours or less), start feeding with white flour only. This typically and usually happens by the end of day 4, if all has gone well.
- When your culture can double itself in just 8 hours, is full of beautiful bubbles, and smells pleasantly sour – it is ready to bake with! (approx 5-7 days)
- Congratulations! You have raised a healthy, ripe 100% hydration starter that will naturally leaven the most lovely home baked Sourdough loaves.
- Since your baby culture has graduated into a grown up starter – why not give it a name? It is your new pet after all. I think the name Erin is quite nice for a jar of sour goo 😀
P.S. If you’re not going to be baking off loaves of Sourdough bread every day, store your ripe starter in the fridge and feed once a week. The night before you intend to start making your bread dough, pull the starter out of the fridge and leave in its special spot over night (my starter lives in the pantry with the door closed). The next morning when you wake up, feed your starter as before, discarding or not discarding based on how much starter your recipe calls for. By the time you are ready to start your dough later that day, your starter should be ripe and active again and ready to bake with.