Step-by-step instructions to create your own sourdough starter, keep it alive and make bread. You’ll also enjoy the easy Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread Recipe, but you can use any flour.
Sourdough Starter And Sourdough Bread
In the old days, mothers would often give their daughters a sourdough starter when they left home to set up their own housekeeping.
Sometimes, the same starter was kept alive for generations. Sounds weird, but when you understand what a sourdough starter really is, it makes perfect sense.
As you know, every fall I start my winter reading of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Ma says she hopes she never has to eat another sourdough biscuit.
She also gives Mrs. Boast a starter of her own when she compliments Ma’s biscuits. Because of the strong flavor of sourdough, I guess if your main diet was a loaf of bread, you could grow tired of it.
Benefits of Sourdough
A sourdough starter is made by catching wild yeast from the air. It used to be easier to capture these wild yeasts because there weren’t so many disinfectants used in the home. They weren’t even available then.
Sourdough is a fermented food and many people here in the U.S. are just now seriously considering the health benefits of fermented foods.
It has a great flavor and the longer you keep it alive, the stronger the flavor becomes. If you don’t like the sourness or just don’t like the way the wild yeast you capture tastes, simply start a new one.
Sourdough is an old form of a grain fermentation process. We know that it was used at least as far back as 1500 BC in ancient Egypt and remained the traditional process to leaven bread until baker’s yeast was introduced a couple of hundred years ago.
Traditional sourdough uses “wild yeast” with the lactic acid bacteria that are naturally found in flour to produce leaven bread. Because of the health benefits of true sourdough bread, it continues to be popular among people who enjoy food that nourishes the body.
Commercially available sourdough bread is not made the traditional way. When you cut corners to improve production and profit, you lose the great health benefits of sourdough.
1. Digestion is Easier
The starches found in grains will already have started to break down in the sourdough starter before they reach your digestive system. This makes it easier for your body to digest them.
Sourdough bread also nurtures beneficial bacteria in your gut and helps with their reproduction.
2. Helps to lower glycemic index
Certain starches are depleted in the fermenting process which makes consuming sourdough products help to keep your blood sugar from rising compared to conventional breads.
Although the reasons are not well understood yet, some research points to sourdough fermentation possibly modifying the structure of carbohydrate molecules. This reduces the bread’s glycemic index which helps to manage your blood sugar levels.
The process of developing a sourdough starter gives time for some of the protein gluten to be broken down into amino acids. This makes sourdough products easier to digest for those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
For the best results, I use my Einkorn sourdough starter. Einkorn flour has helped our family be able to consume bread products again. This is because it has a different kind of gluten from modern wheat varieties that is easier to digest! It also is the best tasting bread we have found.
4. Less Phytic Acid
Lactobacillus, a lactic acid bacteria, is found in sourdough bread in greater quantities than other commercially made bread. This leaves less of the phytic acid which means more minerals will be usable for your body’s nutritional needs.
5. Less yeast
In true sourdough bread yeast populations are reduced. This helps your body maintain a healthy level of yeast without creating problems of overgrowth that may result in Candida.
If you’ve had to fight Candida, then you know what eating regular bread can do to the gut.
6. Proven Historical Record
Sourdough has a long and outstanding track record throughout history.
It is a traditional bread consumed by the generations of the past. Modern conventional bread making for the masses is relatively new.
7. Fewer Additives
Sourdough bread contains acetic acid, which helps to naturally preserve bread. The best sourdough starter is made with non-GMO, organic grains like Einkorn – the original wheat.
8. Better Nutrition
The nutritional composition of sourdough bread depends on the type of flour used to make it.
Using an ancient grain that is organically grown in healthy soil to create your sourdough recipes will provide a much higher nutritional value. Modern wheat used in conventional bread is far less nutritious.
I prefer to use Einkorn whole wheat instead of white flour. Modern whole grain bread is higher in minerals than modern white bread flour but their absorption is limited by phytates.
Phytates are regarded as anti-nutrients because they bind to minerals, hindering your body’s ability to use them.
However, sourdough lowers the bread’s pH level which lowers phytate content. This helps your body absorb a greater amount of minerals from every bite.
Whole grain sourdough bread contains many vital nutrients and vitamins, which are more absorbable by your body’s digestion.
Studies have been published that show sourdough fermentation may reduce phytate content by 24-50% over commercial yeast fermentation! That’s a huge percentage. It also has the added benefit of releasing antioxidants.
9. Rich Taste
When sourdough is made right, it will be appreciated by your taste buds! The best bread begins with the right choice of flour to start and feed your starter and make your bread.
When we switched to Einkorn flour, we didn’t know how much more our bread could smell inviting. The deep tones and nutty flavor just can’t be gotten in any regular bread loaf.
Don’t be intimidated by making your own sourdough starter and keeping it alive. It may sound complicated, but it really isn’t. There are some basics to keep in mind and then, enjoy the step-by-step process.
I will share with you a simple and easy way to make a sourdough starter and sourdough bread with simple ingredients, so no worries!
You can find more bread-making tips in our sister article on sourdough bread in the bread machine.
Sourdough Lessons to Keep in Mind
I remember in 1990, when I first started experimenting with sourdough, I caught a really yucky wild yeast. We couldn’t eat the bread.
I was afraid to try again until the sweet little lady teaching me told me to not use any chemical cleaners for a week or two before I started again. She was right.
The next one was really good. That was the beginning of my search for a healthier way to clean my home. I just couldn’t shake the question of what the chemicals were doing to our lungs and health if it made the sourdough starter so bad.
1. The first thing I would tell you is to keep in mind that a sourdough “recipe” is really more of a guideline. Treat it as a starting point for the types of bread you’re making. Why?
- Your sourdough is alive. Sometimes more so than at others. It won’t act the same every time. It’s not like anyone else’s either. It’s uniquely yours!
- Temperature is key. In the making of sourdough starter and bread temperature makes all the difference. Your house may not be as cool as mine or vice versa. The warmer the temperature, the faster sourdough develops. So too, the cooler the temperature, the slower it goes.
2. The older your starter the stronger the flavor. If you have a mature starter and the recipe calls for a high starter to flour ratio, you’ll have a strongly flavored bread. A high ratio would be something like 1 ¾ cup starter to 3 cups of flour.
If you prefer a lighter sourdough taste, you’ll need to lower the amount of aged starter you use in a recipe and replace the missing amount with warm water.
3. You may not use the same kind of flour as me. Yes, flour type changes the texture, absorption, and even the proving time of bread. You don’t have to use the same flour as myself or anyone else, you can still have a healthy starter and great tasting bread.
4. When you are first getting your sourdough starter going, it will be 3-6 days before you can make bread. I have had starters be ready three days but 5-6 is a good rule of thumb.
5. When you have made bread, you can let your starter rest by placing it in the frig until 2 days before you are ready to make bread again. The 2 days is allow it to come to room temperature and to be “activated” by what you feed it.
6. Use a glass jar to store your sourdough starter. Plastic and metal both give bad tastes to the starter. Air needs to be allowed into the jar so use a loose fitting lid or a loosely woven cloth to cover it. If you use a metal jar lid, poke holes in the lid to let air in.
7. The old-timers just left their sourdough starter in a warm place and fed it a little along to keep it alive. Of course, they used theirs much more often than we probably do so it was just a part of daily life.
Most people refrigerate their starter because they don’t use it often. While I am thankful for my refrigerator, we also know that off-grid living is totally a possibility in our unstable world. Knowing how to do things without electricity is important.
I keep my starter in a cabinet beside my refrigerator because it’s the warmest place in my kitchen.
8. The starter will separate, don’t worry, this is normal. When you revive it, all will be well.
9. I never use metal utensils when working with my bread because it leaves a metallic taste in the yeast. I always use wooden spoons.
10. With every other feeding of your starter, transfer it to a clean, sterilized jar. This will help prevent mold and other bad bacteria from growing on the sides of the jar where residual starter likes to cling. You can do this every time if you prefer not to keep track.
Create A Sourdough Starter From Scratch
- Mix one cup of very warm water (105-115 degrees F) and one cup of flour in a glass quart jar.
- Cover the jar with cheesecloth, a crocheted dish rag or some other loose fiber rag. You want it to be able to breathe. Some people use plastic wrap successfully, but I haven’t tried it.
- Some people add one teaspoon of sugar. There are two schools of thought on this. One school says if you add sugar to jump-start the feeding, you no longer have a true sourdough. The other says sugar is a natural food for yeast and so it’s still a true sourdough. Personally, I haven’t added sugar to my sourdough starter for at least 12 years. Decide what you want to do and go with that. I find there’s always a balance between two extremes.
- Let the starter sit on the counter at room temperature for two days. Keep it out of direct sunlight. You can wrap a dishtowel around the jar to prevent light from getting in. I’ve done it with and without the darkness and I haven’t seen a big difference.
- On the morning of the third day, feed it one cup of flour and one cup of very warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit), and mix well.
- Check it in a couple of hours, if you see a foamy layer, you can make bread.
- IF you do not see bubbles, wait 4 hours more and check it. If you see bubbles proceed with making bread.
- IF you do not see bubbles after the full 6 hours, feed the starter 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F). Combine well and let it sit overnight.
- If there is no sign of life, I mean no bubbles of any kind, it is dead and you will have to start over.
- If there is life, proceed with bread making.
How to Revive a Starter to Make Bread
1. If you refrigerate your starter after you make bread, it’s important that it be at room temperature to revive it. To ensure this, take the starter out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for 24 hours. If you keep it at room temperature, proceed with step 2.
2. In the morning, feed your starter 1/4 cup of very warm water (105-115 degrees F) and 1/4 cup flour. Combine well and cover it with a loosely woven rag or the loose fitting lid.
3. Before bed feed it ¼ cup warm water and ¼ cup flour.
4. Repeat this for 2 full days, feeding morning and evening.
5. If twice a day feeding doesn’t work for your schedule, you can feed it once a day. For once a day feeding: feed ½ cup warm water and ½ cup flour once a day for 2 full days. Use the third day as usual.
6. You should see foaming action after the first or second feeding. Once you see foaming action you know the yeast is alive and you can make bread with it IF you have enough starter to make bread and have ¼ cup leftover as your starter.
7. I like to feed mine for two days and make bread after I feed it the third morning. This feeding process is called making a sponge.
8. When you are ready to make bread, pour off the 1 2/3 cups of starter or whatever amount you need for the recipe. Put the remaining starter in your jar and cover it with the lid you have chosen. Refrigerate or keep in the warm dark place you have chosen.
9. If you have a large family or plan on making bread once a week, you can leave it out of the refrigerator in a warm place like the old-timers did.
With it being just the two of us now, I make ½ of this sourdough recipe every 7-10 days, depending on our menu plans.
Sourdough Bread Recipe
This recipe makes two 9”x 5” loaves. To make only 1 loaf, ½ everything. The flour for one loaf is 2 ½ to 4 cups.
- 5-7 cups whole wheat flour or flour of your choice (See note at bottom for ancient grain like Einkorn whole grain flour)
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 3/4 cup milk
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 2/3 cups starter sponge
- coconut oil for oiling bowl and pans
1. Scald the milk in a small pan. Remove from heat and add butter, real salt, and warm water. Let cool until lukewarm before proceeding.
2. Put the starter sponge in a large mixing bowl and add the lukewarm milk mixture to the stater bowl.
3. Stir in enough flour to make a medium-stiff dough. This should be 4-5 cups depending on your humidity and temperature. I prefer to use a wooden spoon, but if you prefer your mixer, use it.
*Update: I have to say I do love this tool my kids gave me. It works great even for heavy bread dough and doesn’t impart metal taste because of the stainless steel.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and use the remaining flour to knead your dough for 10 minutes. Your dough will be soft, pliable, and still a little sticky when done.
5. Don’t cut the time, (if you are using most flours) this is important to activate the gluten to give your bread a nice rise and texture.
6. My best tip for kneading and handling wet, tacky dough is to moisten your hands with water instead of dusting them with flour. Re-wet them every time the dough begins to stick to you. This avoids the mess of flour dust getting everywhere and keeps the bread moist as well.
7. If you use a mixer to knead your dough it should only take 2-3 minutes.
8. Oil a large bowl, I grease the large bowl that I mixed the dough in.
9. Place the dough in the oiled bowl and turn it to coat both sides.
10. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled.
- Sourdough bread takes much longer to rise than bread made with active dry yeast.
- It may take 3-6 hours for this to happen, it just depends on the humidity and temperature.
- More humidity makes shorter rising times because it allows for more expansion since the air is lighter than dry air (seems backwards I know) and cooler temps take longer for bread rise to finish.
11. Lightly oil two 9”x5” bread pans.
12. When the dough has doubled in size, separate it into 2 equal portions and shape it into loaves. Place them in your prepared bread pans.
13. You can brush the top of the dough with olive oil or egg wash for a shiny crusty top. You can also sprinkle flax seeds or seed toppings on top of the loaf if desired. If you do add these, gently, slightly press them into the top of the loaf.
14. Cover with a towel or dishcloth and set in a warm spot to rise. I put mine on the stovetop and turn the oven on to preheat. This second rise should take 45 mins to one hour.
15. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
16. (optional) 10 mins before you put the bread in the oven, put a pot of boiling water on the oven rack and remove it when you put your pans in. I do this to increase the humidity in the oven to create a little more rise.
17. Bake for 40 mins – 1 hour depending on your pan size, how your oven cooks, and the color of loaf you want.
18. Take pans out of the oven and let cool in pans for 5 minutes then remove loaves from pans to a wire rack to finish cooling. For a soft, buttery top, brush the tops with butter.
19. When you remove the loaves from the pan, tap the bottom of each loaf. a dull, hollow sound means the loaf is done.
20. Let the loaves cool for at least one hour before you cut them using a sharp knife.
1. I like to bake my sourdough bread in my cast iron Dutch oven for a more rustic loaf. To do this, leave the dough as a whole instead of dividing it into loaves. Bake it for at least 1 hour. Check every 10 minutes after the hour if it’s not done.
2. You can use any oil you like to oil the bowl and pans.
3. You can use any flour you like just remember to look for texture and consistency when mixing and kneading instead of just dumping the amount called for in any recipe.
4. If you choose to use Einkorn Flour, only knead for 3-5 minutes.
Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread Recipe
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- 5-7 cups whole wheat flour or flour of your choice - I use Einkorn Whole Wheat Flour
- ¾ cup warm water
- ¾ cup milk
- 2 Tbs butter
- 3 tsp salt
- 1 ⅔ cup sourdough starter sponge
- coconut oil for oiling bowls and pans
- Scald the milk in a small pan. Remove from heat and add butter, real salt, and warm water. Let cool until lukewarm before proceeding.
- Put starter sponge in large mixing bowl and add the lukewarm milk mixture to the stater bowl.
- Stir in enough flour to make a medium stiff dough. This should be 4-5 cups depending on your humidity and temperature. I prefer to use a wooden spoon, but if you prefer your mixer, use it.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and use the remaining flour to knead your dough for 10 minutes. You dough will be soft, pliable and still a little sticky when done
- Don’t cut the time, (if you are using most flours) this is important to activate the gluten to give your bread a nice rise and texture.
- My best tip for kneading and handling wet, tacky dough is to moisten your hands with water instead of dusting them with flour. Re-wet them every time the dough begins to stick to you. This avoids the mess of flour dust getting everywhere and keeps the bread moist as well.
- If you use a mixer to knead your dough it should only take 2-3 minutes.
- Oil a large bowl, I grease the large bowl that I mixed the dough in.
- Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled.Sourdough bread takes much longer to rise than bread made with active dry yeast. It may take 3-6 hours for this to happen, it just depends on the humidity and temperature.More humidity makes shorter rising times because it allows for more expansion since the air is lighter than dry air (seems backwards I know) and cooler temps take longer for bread rise to finish.
- Lightly oil two 9”x5” bread pans.
- Place them in two lightly oiled bread pans.
- When the dough has doubled in size, separate it into 2 equal portions and shape into loaves. Place them in your prepared bread pans.
- (optional) You can brush the top of the dough with olive oil or egg wash for a shiny crusty top. You can also sprinkle flax seeds or seed toppings on top of the loaf, if desired. If you do add these, gently, slightly press them into the top of the loaf.
- Cover with a towel or dish cloth and set in a warm spot to rise. I put mine on the stove top and turn the oven on to preheat. This second rise should take 45 mins to one hour.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- (optional) 10 mins before you put the bread in the oven, put a pot of boiling water on the oven rack and remove it when you put your pans in. I do this to increase the humidity in the oven to create a little more rise.
- Bake for 40 mins – 1 hour depending on your pan size, how your oven cooks, and the color of loaf you want.
- Take pans out of the oven and let cool in pans for 5 minutes then remove loaves from pans to a wire rack to finish cooling. For a soft, buttery top, brush the tops with butter.
- When you remove the loaves from the pan, tap the bottom of each loaf. a dull, hollow sound means the loaf is done.
- Let the loaves cool for at least one hour before you cut them using a sharp knife.
Storing Homemade Sourdough Bread
- The bread will have a better sourdough taste once it is completely cooled and over the next few days as you eat it.
- I keep mine in the frig in air-tight bags or containers because homemade bread does not keep as long as store bought, preservative laden bread.
- If your family will eat it within 3-4 days, it will be fine without refrigeration.
- I recently learned this tip and I did try it. I find it does work well. Once your bread is sliced and completely cooled, wrap individual pieces in parchment paper and place them in a freezer bag. Put the bag in your freezer.
When you need bread, take it out of the freezer and let it come to room temperature, and use it as you like. It will retain its moisture and fresh taste.
A loaf will keep for up to one month in the freezer without experiencing too much loss of freshness so I’m told. Ours doesn’t last that long!
There now, simple, easy, homemade sourdough bread! Told you it would be so easy. You may prefer making sourdough bread in your bread machine. I use the bread machine method during the hot summer.
The Benefits of Einkorn Flour
I cover Einkorn flour in detail in other articles. I have also shared many of our Einkorn Flour recipes with you.
I use Einkorn Whole Wheat flour to start and feed my sourdough and to make our bread.
I have put together my tips for using Einkorn, the original ancient grain, to shorten your learning curve. As well as an Einkorn Conversion Chart. We want to provide the information you need to be informed and make your own decision.
As always, we’re here to help in any way we can.
Can I use oat flour?
Hi Carol, I have never personally used oat flour, but I have seen on the internet and YouTube other people saying they have used oat flour for sourdough starter. I’m certain it would require an adjustment to the liquid proportions since oat flour is especially “thirsty”. Thanks for asking such a great question. I’ve asked my homestead blogging friends if they have a post or know of someone who has tried oat flour for this purpose. If I hear something that will help you, I’ll reply again here.
If you try it, let us know how it goes.
J N says
This might be a stupid question but how does one alwaya keep a starter going? Keep feeding what remains after taking part out to make a loaf?
No question is stupid, wee all had a time when we didn’t know so ask away. Yes, you have to keep feeding the starter. Ideally, if you keep your starter at room temp on the counter, you have to feed it twice a day. However this is a laborious process. What I recommend is to keep it in the fridge and feed it once a week.
J N says
Thank you! Getting a starter going tonight !!
I read that if a starter has sugar in it then it is not a true wild caught sourdough starter. What say you about this. Confusing, all this information.
Rhonda Crank says
That’s a hot topic there, Becky. I only add sugar to mine if it’s not “growing” fast enough. That means it’s alive from what it’s caught in the air, but needs a boost or at least I think it does. In truth, if I let it sit long enough and feed it often enough, it’ll grow without the sugar boost. I guess it’s a personal preference kind of thing? As Papa would say, there’s as many ways of getting something done as there are people who do it 😉
RobbieAnn Montgomery says
Dear Rhonda, thanks for this recipe I’m going to make my starter and “get started” with sourdough bread making. Also, I printed out the recipe but got an additional 6 pages of ads down the righthand side of the sheets of paper and the comments. So, if you’re espousing the greenprint then maybe they should deliver what you’re thinking they are. RobbieAnn
Thanks Robbie for letting me know. I’ll check the plugin. Cleanprint has never printed ads before…I’m sorry for the inconvenience. Thanks for letting me know.
Angi @ SchneiderPeeps says
yum!!! That bread looks delicious. This is something I’ve never done before but it’s on my list. Part of the hang up for me has been the idea of having to buy a starter, so it looks like I’ve run out of excuses for not trying. Thanks so much for sharing at Simple Lives Thursday; hope to see you again this week!
Rhonda Crank says
Thanks for including me, Jess! 🙂