Published On: Tue, May 12th, 2020

How To Make a Sourdough Starter

Discover how to make a sourdough starter at home as the founder of Margot Bakery, Michelle Eshkeri, guides you through the process in this step-by-step guide. 

how to make sourdough

Sourdough is the name given to a natural process of fermentation used most often to leaven bread and other doughs. It is an ancient process that at its most simple involves mixing flour, water and salt and waiting hours or days and then baking the mix.

The act of combining flour and water and leaving it to ferment will create a starter that provides the natural leavening for the dough. Wheat or rye flours are commonly used to make a starter and the yeast and bacteria that are naturally present on the grain are harnessed, concentrated and trained to behave in a predictable way.

Creating and maintaining the starter through regular refreshments during its establishment and thereafter, means that a loaf of bread is always within your reach. A vigorous starter will produce a lighter loaf and more satisfying results. If the starter is happy, the bread will be good.

How to make a sourdough starter

MAKES 100g (3½ oz) Ready in 8–21 days

  • 1kg (2¼ lb) whole wheat flour
  • Water

A basic sourdough starter can be made with any wheat or rye flour – it doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. I find wholegrain and organic flour is best as you are trying to harness the natural organisms present on the grain, so the more the better, although it isn’t absolutely necessary. Tap water is perfectly fine for sourdough starters and doughs – you can use very slightly warm water if the weather is cold and you want to give your starter or dough a boost.

The number of days it takes to make the starter will vary so the times should be used as a guide.

In warmer weather the starter will ferment faster in which case go with the lower end of the scale or even less time and the reverse is true in very cold weather or if your kitchen is especially cold.

A starter made with white wheat flour may take an additional 1–2 days longer to ferment and establish but should be ready to use by the end of 21 days.

Follow these important points when making your starter:

  • Leave the starter in a warm place. During summer the kitchen work surface is fine, in winter choose a constantly warm area – on top of the fridge, for example.
  • Keep at room temperature throughout and once your starter is ready to include in recipes, refer to How to store your starter.
  • Use a clean jar Transfer the starter to a clean jar every day at the beginning of the process. It is best to use a Kilner jar or a large jar with a cloth on top secured with an elastic band. Avoid jars with screw top lids for storing sourdough starters as they don’t allow the gases to escape.
  • Mixing the starter Always mix the starter with clean hands or a clean spoon until all the flour is hydrated and no dry patches remain.

A step-by-step guide to making a sourdough starter

Day 1

Place ingredients in a jar, stir, cover with a cloth, secure with an elastic band and leave in a warm place.

Ingredients to be added

  • 25g (1 oz) whole wheat flour
  • 25g (1 oz) water

Day 2

After 24 hours transfer the Day 1 mixture into a clean jar and stir in the Day 2 ingredients. Cover as before and leave in a warm place.

Ingredients to be added

  • 25g (1 oz) whole wheat flour
  • 25g (1 oz) water

Day 3

After 24 hours transfer the Day 2 mixture into a clean jar and stir in the Day 3 ingredients. Cover as before and leave in a warm place. There may now be some

bubbles of activity as the yeast and bacteria multiply. If not, then find a warmer spot and repeat the day 2 process for an additional 1–2 days.

Ingredients to be added

  • 25g (1 oz) whole wheat flour
  • 25g (1 oz) water

Day 4

After 24 hours weigh out 20g (¾ oz) of the starter from Day 3 and place in a clean jar. Discard the remaining Day 3 starter. Add the Day 4 ingredients into the jar. Mix until well combined with no dry patches of flour. It will be a fairly stiff dough. Cover as before and leave in a warm place.

Ingredients to be added

  • 50g (1¾ oz) whole wheat flour
  • 30g (1 oz) water

Day 5

Weigh out 20g (¾ oz) of the starter from Day 4 and place in a clean jar. Discard the remaining Day 4 starter. Add the Day 5 ingredients into the jar. Mix until well combined with no dry patches of flour. It will be a fairly stiff dough. Cover as before and leave in a warm place.

Ingredients to be added

  • 50g (1¾ oz) whole wheat flour
  • 30g (1 oz) water

Day 6

Weigh out 20g (¾ oz) of the starter from Day 5 and place in a clean jar. Discard the remaining starter. Add the Day 6 ingredients into the jar. Mix until well combined with no dry patches of flour. It will be a fairly stiff dough. Cover and leave in a warm place.

Ingredients to be added

  • 50g (1¾ oz) whole wheat flour
  • 30g (1 oz) water

Day 7

Weigh out 20g (¾ oz) of the starter from Day 6 and place in a clean jar. Discard the remaining Day 6 starter. Add the Day 7 ingredients into the jar. Mix until combined with no dry patches of flour. It will be a fairly stiff dough. Cover and leave in a warm place.

Ingredients to be added

  • 50g (1¾ oz) whole wheat flour
  • 30g (1 oz) water

Day 8-14

If the starter has at least doubled in volume and has visible bubbles 12 hours after the last refreshment then it may be ready to use for baking. If it seems alive but not moving much, continue the same pattern of discarding and refreshing 24 hours apart until at least doubled in volume 12 hours after refreshment. Use slightly warm water and move the starter to a warmer place if it seems inactive or is not increasing in volume every day.

Ingredients to be added

  • 50g (1¾ oz) whole wheat flour
  • 30g (1 oz) water

Day 15-21

If your starter does not seem strong enough, repeat the process for days 8–14. Once you have a good, strong starter you can be more flexible about storage and maintenance and expect consistent results when you bake.

Ingredients to be added

  • 50g (1¾ oz) whole wheat flour
  • 30g (1 oz) water

how to make sourdough

This is an exclusive extract from Modern Sourdough: Sweet and Savoury Recipes from Margot Bakery by Michelle Eshkeri, photography by Patricia Niven. Published by White Lion Publishing, RRP £22.

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

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