A Simple Sourdough Starter Recipe

March  8, 2019
11 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

In my book Sourdough, I detailed how to begin a sourdough starter culture using a yeast water method whose vigor I find encouraging to many beginning bakers. However, all you really need to get a culture bubbling is some quality flour and pure water to farm the microbes responsible for fermentation. Set it in a warm spot (70 to 75°F is ideal), and in about 1 week, you will have a responsive culture that is ready to leaven bread.

From Toast and Jam by Sarah Owens ©2017 by Sarah Owens. Photographs ©2017 by Ngoc Minh Ngo. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO —Sarah Owens

Test Kitchen Notes

Making sourdough bread from scratch can seem a bit mysterious to the beginner baker. Starters, yeast, feedings, discard—there's a lot to unpack. Luckily, in this recipe, Sarah Owens—expert bread baker and author of the book on sourdough (yep, it's called Sourdough)—breaks down the steps you need to follow in this very simple sourdough starter recipe.

So, what is a sourdough starter, anyway? Taste Cooking does a nice job of explaining it: "A starter is just a mixture of flour and water that has absorbed the yeast and bacteria from the air rather than a packet." When making sourdough bread, this naturally fermented mixture not only adds tangy flavor, but also a fluffy rise and springy texture.

You'll need only two ingredients to get your sourdough starter going: flour and water. Just stir them together in a small bowl, cover it with a towel, and let sit in a warm spot (this is key! cold temperatures aren't great for yeast) for a few days. After two or three days, you should have a bubbly little concoction that gives off a slightly boozy, yeasty scent (that means it's working). From here forward, take care of your sourdough starter as you would a pet—in fact, many bakers give their sourdough starter a name. Fluffy? Snowball? Meredith Grey? You tell me.

Feeding is where things can get a bit complicated, but don't worry—Owens walks you through how to discard a portion of your sourdough starter and nourish it with more flour and water. And if you get stuck, or aren't sure whether your starter is still alive (it most likely is), leave a question in the comments or in our Hotline and our community will give you a hand. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
A Simple Sourdough Starter Recipe
  • Prep time 24 hours
  • Makes 1 starter
  • 210 grams (1 ¾ cups) freshly milled stone ground all-purpose flour
  • 210 grams (¾ cup plus 4 tablespoons) filtered water
In This Recipe
  1. In a small bowl, stir together 60 g / ½ cup flour and 60 g / 6 tablespoons water to form a thick and sticky mixture with no dry lumps remaining. Cover loosely with cheesecloth or a clean towel and set in a warm location for 2 to 3 days or until you detect a light, boozy scent and see bubbles breaking the surface. Discard half and add another 60 g / ½ cup flour and 60 g / 6 tablespoons water and stir to combine. Replace the cheesecloth and allow to ferment at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. The mixture should be bubbly and active after this time.
  2. Discard half of the mixture and add another 90 g / ¾ cup flour and 90 g / ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon of water. Allow to ferment again for 8 to 12 hours. Once it is fragrant with a creamy, yeasted scent, perform the float test by dropping a dollop of the starter into a cup of water. If it floats, the wild yeast is active enough to produce carbon dioxide gases as a by-product of fermentation. If it sinks, perform one or two more feedings or extend the feeding time before trying again.
  3. Once your new culture passes the test, feed it daily with equal parts flour and water to the weight of the starter. (For example 90 g starter + 90 g water + 90 g flour = a 1:1:1 ratio.) This will produce a starter that is 100% hydration for the recipes in this book. Feed it daily if kept at room temperature, or store it in the refrigerator and feed it weekly, always discarding (or using!) some, but not all, of the original starter before each feeding. I like to keep at least 2 heaping tablespoons of starter (about 50 to 60 g) on hand at all times.
  4. Store your starter in a jar with a loose-fitting lid to prevent it from drying out. Mason jars with a flip top lid are excellent, as the rubber gasket can be removed, allowing the lid to be fully closed but still loose.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • plotto
  • Lorraine Tynan Jackson
    Lorraine Tynan Jackson
  • Smaug
  • Heather Grant Lindsley
    Heather Grant Lindsley
  • Thomas Mauer
    Thomas Mauer
Sarah Owens

Recipe by: Sarah Owens

Sarah Owens is a New York City based cookbook author, baker, horticulturist, and instructor. She was awarded a James Beard for her first book Sourdough and released her second in August 2017 titled Toast & Jam with Roost Books. Sarah curates private dining events, cooks for public pop-up dinners, and teaches baking and preservation gobally. Her subscription and wholesale bakery is located seaside in Rockaway Beach where she also teaches the alchemy and digestive benefits of natural leavening.

74 Reviews

Joel J. January 24, 2021
I don’t get it. Once one has a hatful of starter in fridge, one uses that to make sourdough bread along with other flour? What does it mean to save a portion of the original starter? How does one know what is original vs. “add on that is fed”?
Deny B. January 24, 2021
Yes, mix the starter with other flour to make the sourdough bread. No matter the type of flour you use.
Put the remaining starter in the fridge for further use. You can pick a portion of the fridge starter for one recipe. I feed first 20g of fridge starter with 20g/20g of water/flour until double volume. Then second feed the refreshed 60g starter with 60g/60g water/flour. Final weight of starter is 180g. I use whatever required for the recipe is required and return the remaining starter, if any, to the original starter in the fridge. This works fine and starter is always alive in the fridge. This feeding process takes 24h approx.
Joel J. January 24, 2021
Thank you, but how does one avoid a boatload of starter in the refrigerator if one bakes infrequently?
Peggy July 3, 2020
Does Sara Owens have a recipe for a gluten free sourdough starter?
Vanessa S. July 4, 2020
I heard her mention that she used her rice starter for gluten free bread.
chubs May 26, 2020
chubs May 26, 2020
Love your sour dough recipe. Saw it on 52foods and make it a lot. Every batch comes out different even though I am dead on with the weight of the flour, water, starter and salt. But it still tastes excellent. I use red fife flour and unbleached flour. Love working with red fife flour.
Katiearendale May 4, 2020
Ok so I am on day 3 and accidentally added the amount of flour /water combo called for in step two rather than the end of step 1. Can I save it ? If so pls let me know how! There are bubbles
Smaug May 5, 2020
Not a big deal at all, this is by no means a precision process. You might want to discard 60g. of your starter once it is nicely fermented, to keep your quantities the same as the recipe, but you could go ahead with more starter too. By the way, for anyone starting this, it's a good idea to get a tare weight for the container you're using before you start- makes it easier to figure what you have later.
Smaug May 5, 2020
For the scaleless, here's another simple recipe (from Nik Sharma, published in the SF Chronicle)- 1/3c. flour +1/4c. filtered water to start, add the same amount every day for 3 more days (no discards); should be ready by 5th day (assuming a reasonably high room temp.).
Nan May 6, 2020
Have you tried this? I've never seen a recipe with no discards.
Smaug May 6, 2020
I made the recipe in this article without the first discard; saw no reason on earth to throw away 1/2 of what I'd made instead of making half as much to begin with. The purpose of discards is simply to keep the amount of starter steady if you're not using it. Sharma's recipe is designed to build to a desired amount of starter; you would need to do discards (or uses) to keep it going unless you wanted to end up with a bathtub full.
pinky October 7, 2020
Can it be made with wheat flour
pinky October 7, 2020
Also can you start Nik Sharma’s starter with just 50 g of flour and then keep adding to it
Smaug October 7, 2020
I assume you mean whole what- works fine.
Glenda U. May 1, 2020
just baked my first loaf. taste good, right about of holes
if there is a criticism, its that it doesn't taste sour enough??
also would like to use the discard.
what to do with it?
also can I use half for gluten free?
Sbrocious May 1, 2020
I am just a beginner and have made a successful starter and made several loaves of bread. Not all of them have been perfect but we loved them regardless. I want to now keep my started in the refrigerator for future use. I'm unsure of how much starter i should keep and then how much flour and water to add to the mix and then to keep it going once a week. I am using grams to measure my jar, starter, flour and water. Thank you!
Deny B. May 1, 2020
May it helps you to say I keep my starter in the fridge all the time. I don’t use it very often such some water develops on top of it after couple weeks of inactivity. When I need starter, I just pick it from the fridge, stir it with a spoon, then extract a part of it, then return the starter to fridge. Usually, I remove 20g of starter, put it in a other jar, thoroughly mix 20g of water until completely dissolve then thoroughly mix 20g of flour. Then I leave it on top of the counter until it doubles volume or more. At this time, this may take at least 12 hours, maybe more than that. Then I redo the process one more time but with 60g water, 60g flour. In total I will get 120g of starter. Sometime, a third rise may be needed to get more starter or to provide leftover starter to return to fridge, with the main starter.
Please note that I live over the 49th parallel, I mean in a very cold place and my kitchen is about 21-22C. This procedure is working very well for me. It should also work for you either.
I would say, be patient and let the starter do it’s job before to feed again. Your main starter may missed some strength before you stored it.
Sbrocious May 1, 2020
Thank you. A lot of sights say to feed it once a week but i can't seem to find specifics. Have you tried drying your starter? I've seen that several times on sights.
Deny B. May 1, 2020
You’re welcome. I have dried once but never re hydrate it. It was very easy to do. Simply spread the starter over a sheet of parchemin paper or Silpat sheet and wait until dry.

Sourdough need patience. Sometime the proofing needs to be much longer than expected. So be patient and wait until the proofing is done, not the timer. 😊
Glenda U. April 28, 2020
I started my starter before I "met" you.
So my instructions were to start with wheat flour& I did organic King Arthur and it was a bit stiff. But I removed 1/2 when told to, and use white flour 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons of filtered water.
and I have been following you since.
My starter is still alive but I have fed it enough to do the float test,
Thought I would try that and if it didn't;t float I would start over.
what say you?
Glenda U. May 2, 2020
So baked my 1st bread and it was great.
used the throw away for starting a starter with gluten free flour. Mainly rice flour.
taste ok but still too flat.
do you do the drop in water test for gluten free as well?
can I use a variety of gluten free flours? Want to use up all my little bits until I find the one I want to use consistently.
does that make sense?
and where do I follow your answers?
Samantha April 28, 2020
I’ve been working on my starter for about 4 days. It passed the float test today, but it isn’t really bubbly. Maybe two or three bubbles Pop up to the surface each morning. It’s pretty gummy and elastic. Should I keep at it or start again?
Thomas M. April 28, 2020
I have always started all of my sourdough with organic non-gmo rye flower. I add the same water & flour from then on but use white hard red wheat flour.
Glenda U. April 26, 2020
I hada starter4 from an Idaho mining community and when I got it I was told NEVER to use metal around it. So glass jar, no metal spoon or container.
What saybyou?
Thomas M. April 28, 2020
no such rule. lots of folks like the hocus pocus of the 'mystery of sour dough and make 'rules' SS Is fine
Glenda U. May 2, 2020
Smaug May 5, 2020
Starter is acidic, so you wouldn't want it to spend much time in contact with reactive metals.
Tilt April 16, 2020
I’m having an issue and would greatly appreciate some advice.

I followed these instructions exactly and ended up successfully creating a starter which rose to twice its volume and was airy, spongy, and passed a float test. I then placed it in the fridge because I wasn’t ready to bake. Since then, I cannot get my starter to rise at all. Several times, I have taken a portion of the starter from the fridge and tried feeding it to revive it for a leaven but haven’t had any luck getting it to rise. I have even taken a portion and tried leaving it at room temperature and feeding it daily for several days now but again no increase in volume. I have small to medium sized bubbles breaking the surface so I know it isn’t dead. I live in a cooler climate averaging 20 degrees Celsius. So I’ve tried wrapping a kitchen towel loosely around the mason jar (I’m using one with a lid and the rubber gasket removed so the carbon dioxide can escape but the starter doesn’t dry out) and placing near appliances to provide a warmer environment. Still no luck. Should I try feeding it twice a day or extending the time between feeding to every two day due to the cooler climate? If I feed it twice a day when it’s not very active, will that dilute the starter and result in a weaker starter? What should I do to get the starter to become active enough to rise?
Deny B. April 16, 2020
May it helps you to say I keep my starter in the fridge all the time. I don’t use it very often such some water develops on top of it after couple weeks of inactivity. When I need starter, I just pick it from the fridge, mix it with a spoon, then extract a part of it, the return the starter to fridge. Usually, I remove 20g of starter, put it in a other jar, thoroughly mix 20g of water until completely dissolve then thoroughly mix 20g of flour. Then I leave it on top of the counter until it doubles volume or more. At this time, this may take at least 12 hours, maybe more than that. Then I redo the process one more time but with 60g water, 60g flour. In total I will get 120g of starter. Sometime, a third rise may be needed to get more starter or to provide leftover starter to return to fridge, with the main starter.
Please note that I live over the 49th parallel, I mean in a very cold place and my kitchen is about 21-22C. This procedure is working very well for me. It should also work for you either.
I would say, be patient and let the starter do it’s job before to feed again. Your main starter may missed some strength before you stored it.
Donna April 14, 2020
The recipe says it will have a 'boozy scent'. Mine smells slightly of (sorry) barf. What does that mean?
Thomas M. April 28, 2020
you barf bourbon? ;-) yeast of any kind is the result of an alcohol reaction between grain and sugar(s). Fresh yeast comes from the settling of yeasty boys to the bottom of the tank. Your sourdough should never stink but will smell of alcohol
Caleb A. April 30, 2020
Did you use bleached AP flour?
Donna April 30, 2020
Yes. I am in Mexico and I can’t get unbleached or bread flour. Any tips for a starter w basic AP? Thank you!
Caleb A. April 30, 2020
That’ll happen with bleached, try whole wheat or rye flour.
Donna April 30, 2020
That is so helpful, thank you! And then do I continue to feed it with the rye or ww? Much appreciated.
Caleb A. April 30, 2020
plotto April 12, 2020
How do you know how much starter/homegrown yeast to use per cup of flour required in a bread recipe?
Lorraine T. April 12, 2020
In the video, you made a starter with brown rice flour for gluten free sour dough bread. I've been discarding and feeding for one week. It has nice bubbles and smells fermented, but it doesn't float. Is it ready to make bread or not? I'm confused. Plus,
I could use some help finding a gf our dough recipe.
KittyKat April 10, 2020
Hi all, first-timer here and already messed up.😬 I was given an active starter out of the blue and found a recipe online that stated to add 1c flour and 1/2c water to feed it, so I did. I moved the starter over into a bigger jar in the process. In hindsight, it seems like way too much to add, no? My starter has quadrupled in size but looks very happy and bubbly. Help! How do you know how much to feed your starter? What do I do now to fix mine? And how do you weigh starters if you only have a flat scale? Many thanks in advance if any of you can help!🌷
Smaug April 10, 2020
If it's alive, you didn't mess up. The basic idea with feeding the starter is to remove what you need to bake with and replace it so you end up with the same amount, but home bakers may not be baking frequently enough to keep the starter refreshed; thus the whole deal with discarding part of it. Your proportions sound on the dry side, I would go with the proportions in this recipe. Most modern kitchen scales have a feature where you can put any container on the platform and zero out it's weight, so you're just weighing the contents. If you lack this, you could weigh your container empty (this weight is called the "tare"), then weigh it with the starter and subtract. Arithmetic is good for you.
KittyKat April 10, 2020
Oh thank you for your help, I was so worried I’d already ruined the starter! I did add 1/2c water to it so it’s less dry. I will attempt weighing it and go from there—wish me luck as my scale is old and I’m terrible at maths.😃 At this point, should I just discard a pretty big part of it At the next feeding to decrease the size or should I leave it be and refrigerate it until I’m ready to bake?
Smaug April 10, 2020
Wella wella wella- the amount of starter you keep should ideally be such that you use about half of it when you bake, so it's up to you and whatever recipes you're working from. No big deal about having extra, but if you're doing discards rather than using it, having excess becomes a bit wasteful. If you can track down an article on this site called "why is all the yeast sold out right now" there are a lot of suggestions for using discard among the million or so comments. If you plan on baking to any extent in the future, a new scale would be a great investment- I have a balance and a kind of nifty old spring scale, but the modern digital scales have them way beat for convenience and versatility. A lot of baking recipes now give only weights, with metric preferred because it makes calculations easier; also the scale makers generally give metric weights finer definition than ounce/pound weights. Weight measurements are often more convenient, particularly with the zeroing function (you can add ingredients directly and skip things like trying to scrape honey out of a measuring cup) and for some things- particularly fluffy ingredients such as flour or cocoa, are much easier to make reliably. My scale is an Oxo, a very popular line- I believe you can get a very nice one for $20-$30. Bon apetit.
KittyKat April 11, 2020
Thank you so ich for your reassuring replies to my questions, Smaug!💐
Tabby April 12, 2020
Question about weighing ingredients. When using the scaling adding ingredients in succession what if you add too much of one. Like salt or baking powder you can't remove what you've added since it's in the flour.
I'm always amazed watching cooks measure all the ingredients
Smaug April 12, 2020
You do want to be careful about that- work up to your weight, and give the scale a second to register before you add more. But things like salt and baking powder are really better measured with spoons; rounding off to the nearest gram isn't so great when your total weight is only a few grams. Some things, like flour, you can probably scoop a bit off the top if you overshoot, but caution is necessary.
Donna April 10, 2020
1. What if you don't have a scale, how do you feed it in correct proportions?
2. I am in a remote area and can get only very basic (not high quality) all purpose flour. What can I add to the starter to give it character, and at what point and how much?
Food52 is doing a great service in helping us through a very tough time. Thank you
Smaug April 10, 2020
The recipe gives volume measurements (eg 90g/3/4c. flour). If you keep it up for a while you'll get a feel for it. All purpose flours vary quite a bit; for bread making, a high protein (gluten) content is usually preferred. Bleached flours are as a rule lower in protein than unbleached, and different brands can vary quite a bit. If you use a soft (low gluten) flour your bread is probably not going to rise as high, but that's not necessarily a deal breaker; you can still make pretty good bread.
Smaug April 9, 2020
I got a working starter out of this in 3 days. I used King Arthur all purpose flour with a little bit of rye thrown in, and water from a Brita pitcher. I used a heating mat made for plant propagation to keep it at around 75 degrees. I skipped the first discard by making half as much to begin with, and used the second, which was quite active, to make some English muffin batter. So far I've made some muffins and a pizza crust from it; while having a pleasing degree of funk to them they aren't awfully sour- then again, I was somewhat spoiled by growing up in the heyday of San Francisco sourdough. I suspect time will increase the sourness, and I may also use some milk for the next feeding.
Nanacanana April 7, 2020
I appreciate this is not a GF solution but will this work for GF Flour blends . They have additional things like Xantham gum - would that contribute to failure ?
plotto April 7, 2020
Where can one get freshly milled stone ground all-purpose flour in the days of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Molly G. April 13, 2020
Heather G. April 4, 2020
I could only find cake flour....will that work?
jkurtley April 8, 2020
I am in a no way an expert, but cake flour has cornstarch in it. I would think that would alter the environment for the yeast to develop in this starter.
Smaug April 10, 2020
Yeast is only slightly more picky than cockroaches; it will consume pretty much any kind of carbohydrate, including starches and sugars, with no trouble. Wild yeasts are present in the air, but I believe lesser processed flours will bring yeasts (and maybe lactobacilli) with them and may be faster- rye flour is said to be particularly good for starters, and in my own limited experience it does seem helpful. You can probably get a starter going with cake flour, but it is a poor choice for bread making as it hasn't the strength to support a strong rise..
Thomas M. March 28, 2020
you have obviously never work with real wild yeast. It gets started with rye flour and an onion. you add BREAD flour as id grows. use it when it is white...
Natalie March 31, 2020
LOL, You didn't notice above where it states she wrote an entire book on sourdough bread? If her publisher and a website featuring good food seem to think she knows what she is talking about I think I'll take her word. Also, there is rarely ONLY one way to do things in life.
csemsack April 3, 2020
Sourdough starter is how we cultivate the wild yeast in a form that we can use for baking. Since wild yeast are present in all flour, the easiest way to make a starter is simply by combining flour and water and letting it sit for several days. You don’t need any fancy ingredients to “capture” the wild yeast or get it going — it’s already there in the flour.
Smaug April 9, 2020
However, using milk may help to capture or increase the presence of the lactobacilli that create for sourness. Or possibly sourity or sourination or something- not a word that comes up a lot.