Sourdough bread is so incredibly tasty, and sourdough baking is actually pretty easy to do. There’s a world of possibilities in what you can make, from crumpets to pizza crust to bread. But first you need a sourdough starter!
Here’s what you need to know to get started: how to feed and maintain sourdough starter.
One of my best friends is named Marilla. She was born on a small island in Canada. She’s pretty steadfast. And so far, she hasn’t failed me. And no, she isn’t a fictional character.
Marilla is key to my family’s Friday grilled pizza nights. Our weekend bagels and crumpets. Our daily bread.
Marilla is my sourdough starter. She’s been a close friend since 2019, since my friend Kate sent her to me from Salt Spring Island. And you know what, learning to manage my sourdough starter was one of my biggest and best accomplishments of the last decade.
And lest you think I’m sitting over here in my flour-dusted apron all day all week long, let me assure you that this process takes me no more than an hour of active time each week. Working my sourdough starter into all kinds of amazing dishes is actually a fairly passive activity. And a delicious one at that.
Why Make This
It’s not as hard as you think. The good thing about sourdough bread baking is that it’s not as complicated as it might seem. Our grandmothers and their grandmothers before them used a sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast for years. We, with all our newfangled technology, can do it all the more easily.
It’s economical. If anyone in your home eats sandwiches, you know that bread from the store is not cheap. Not even the cheap kind is cheap. Since we’ve got seven people here, that’s a lot of bread. Over the last year, I’ve successfully replaced mediocre $3 loaves with exceptional, artisan-style sourdough bread for about a buck a boule.
Sourdough bread is delicious! It took some trial and error, but homemade sourdough bread has become a regular staple in our kitchen. My kids don’t really like store-bought bread anymore because homemade is just so good. In the immortal words of my kid sister, “Amazeballs!”
Here’s what you need for feeding and maintaining a sourdough starter:
sourdough starter – You can buy a starter online, get some from a friend like I did, or build your own from flour and water. I’ve never had success with the latter, so I’ve always used a commercial starter, or one from a friend.
flour – I have found that cheap flour doesn’t make for a good sourdough starter. In fact, Gold Medal has been the worst. I use one of these three brands of unbleached, all-purpose flour: Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, or Montana Wheat. The latter is the most affordable and readily available at Walmart.
water – I used filtered water, but there’s some debate about what’s best.
Step-by Step Instructions
If you are starting from scratch, follow the instructions on the package of sourdough starter to rehydrate it and get it going.
If you get some sourdough starter from a friend, you’ll need to feed it to get it going and keep it alive.
Here’s how to feed your sourdough starter:
1. Zero out the scale.
I use a scale to Measure Flour Properly, so it makes sense to use a scale for sourdough starter. Place your jar or container on the scale and zero it out. This means that the scale won’t count the weight of the container. (This is the scale I use.)
2. Weigh the starter.
You don’t need a lot of sourdough starter. Trust me. It grows quickly and you can easily have too much. 50 grams is good to feed.
3. Add an equal weight of flour.
Add an equal amount of flour to the container, in this case 50 grams.
4. Add an equal weight of water.
Add an equal amount of water to the container, in this case 50 grams.
5. Stir the ingredients together.
Stir the sourdough starter, flour, and water together well. You can use a fork, a thin spatula, or if you have a larger amount of starter, a dough whisk.
6. Cover the sourdough starter.
Cover the container loosely. You need for the gases to be able to escape the jar, else the pressure might actually break the jar. Set it on the counter to do its work.
The starter will rise and fall within 12 to 24 hours, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
The left picture shows the starter right after feeding. The right picture shows the sourdough starter the next morning. You can see by the line on the glass that it has risen and started to fall a bit.
The starter is ready to use when it is bubbly, smells fruity, has risen and fallen. You can also determine its readiness when a spoonful of starter floats in a bowl of water, pictured below.
You can now use your starter in recipes. Once you remove the amount for your recipe, you’ll want to feed the starter again.
I feed my starter once a week, keeping it in the refrigerator until I’m ready to use it. Since I bake pizza and bread on Friday nights, I typically feed some for bread dough the night before and use the discard in pizza crust.
Depending on the weather and the temps in your home, you’ll need to play with the frequency of feeding your starter as well as whether or not it will work for you to use cold starter in bread. I wouldn’t have done it a year ago, but currently it’s working for me.
Sourdough starter not only adds a tasty, sour flavor to baked goods, but it also acts as a leavening agent in the place of commercial yeast. While some baked goods may call for both commercial yeast and sourdough starter, starter alone should be able to leaven the bread.
This process of baking sourdough bread without commercial yeast is also called natural yeast or wild yeast.
Baking with only starter to give lift to bread takes more rising time, but the resulting bread is said to be more easily digested. Some folks with gluten intolerance have reported being able to eat wheat bread leavened with sourdough starter without issues.
A sourdough starter can be prepared by combining water and flour and fermenting it at room temperature, capturing the wild yeast present in the air.
You can make one from scratch, following the King Arthur tutorial, get some from a friend with an active starter who is happy to share, or you can buy some sourdough starter on Amazon. You’ll also need a starter crock or other clean container with a lid.
The feeding process doubles the volume of starter. If you don’t use it up in an adequate way, you’ll end up with bigger and bigger amounts of starter. You can either discard half before you feed it or find some great recipes that use the discard.
The cookbook Artisan Sourdough Made Simple does a great job of providing you basic, hand-holding advice and includes some fantastic recipes.
Things to Make with Sourdough Starter
Tell us what you think!
We love to hear your experiences with Good Cheap Eats. Click the STARS on the recipe card or leave a STARRED comment to let us know what you think of the recipe.
How to Feed and Maintain a Sourdough Starter
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup water
- Purchase a sourdough starter and follow the directions to activate it.
- Alternatively, you can see if you have a friend who can gift you some starter. You only need about 1/2 cup to get started.
- Weigh your starter. Add an equal amount of flour and water to that measurement. Stir, cover loosely, and allow to sit at room temperature until bubbly. The starter will have a distinct yeasty aroma.
- Once your starter is active and bubbly, you can use it in recipes.
- After you use your starter, you can discard half or use it in recipes that call for "discard".
- Use the starter continually in recipes, repeating the process of feeding it, at least once a week.
This post was originally published on May 20, 2019. It has been updated for content and clarity.