- Whole-wheat flour
- Warm water (ideally filtered)
- Find a small, nonreactive container that allows plenty of room for expansion. Glass is great, because you can see what’s happening inside the container. Stir 100 grams of flour (about 1 cup) into 125 grams of water (just over 1⁄2 cup) to combine. Cover jar with cheesecloth and a rubber band (or with the nonsealing lid if using a traditional fermentation crock).
- Leave jar on counter for a few days, and stir vigorously for about 30 seconds (a chopstick works well) several times a day to aerate mixture. Don’t worry if you forget once in a while, but try to do this at least twice a day. Use these times to observe and smell the mixture. If it looks dry, stir in a bit more warm water.
- When you begin to smell a yeasty aroma (like beer) and notice some bubbles on the sides or top, your starter is ready for feeding. This means that wild yeast and bacteria have begun to ferment the mixture, and they will need more food to keep going.
- Feed starter once or twice a day after this point by discarding about half of it then stirring in 100 grams of flour and 125 grams of warm water until combined.
Note: If storing your starter in the fridge, make sure it is “fed,” or fully active, before using it in recipes. Take the starter out of the refrigerator a day or more before you plan to use it, and feed it about every 12 hours to get it going again. A previously refrigerated starter will probably need to be fed at least twice before using it in a recipe.
Trouble-shooting TipsIf you end up with a starter that smells putrid instead of pleasantly sour, it probably wasn’t aerated enough, causing undesirable bacteria to proliferate. In addition to proper aeration, try bread expert Peter Reinhart’s recommendation and start over using unsweetened pineapple juice instead of water. The acid should help control the wrong bacteria, allowing the desirable bacteria to thrive. Check out Sourdough Culture for more great recipes.
When making a live starter from scratch, as well as using your starter to bake bread, it’s best to measure ingredients by weight, but we have also included volume measurements in case you don’t have a kitchen scale. If you make starter from scratch, it’ll be about a week before you’ll be able to bake bread.