Demystifying Sourdough – Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Sourdough Starter – Why It’s Better For You – And How To Start One

The ultimate sourdough guide with common terms and troubleshooting tips.
This is your ultimate guide to sourdough starter and becoming a super healthy sourdough baker extraordinaire!

Sourdough can seem like a daunting and intimidating baking challenge but I’m writing this guide to show you how easy it is.

I will explain what sourdough is, how it works, and how to make it work for you. If you ever feel intimidated during the sourdough process just try to remember that up until two hundred years ago, all leavened bread was made traditionally with wild yeast and bacteria (sourdough)!

My fifteen year old sourdough is my pride and joy. I bake with it at least once a week and it’s become a part of my family and part of my history and evolution as a chef.

I’ve recently made a commitment to only eat soaked and fermented grains for the rest of my life.

I know, that’s a big commitment!

What that means is that I now make my own breads, crackers, pancakes, waffles, biscuits, muffins, tortillas, pasta, pastry crust, cookies, cakes, English muffins, and quickbreads all with my trusty and very happy mother starter.

It is my mission to transform every recipe that uses wheat flour into a sourdough recipe.

You can see all of my sourdough recipes here.

 

She of the beautiful Sourdough baked goods from Butter For All
Beautiful Sourdough Baked Goods
Copyright Butter For All

Page Guide

Page 1. Intro
Page 2. What Is Sourdough?
Page 3. Bread Terminology
Page 4. Why Eat Sourdough?
Page 5. Tools
Page 6. Starter Recipe
Page 7. Fresh Starter vs. Discard
Page 8. Starter Hydration & Feeding
Page 9. Favorite Recipes
Page 10. Troubleshooting Sourdough
Page 11.  Starter Insurance Policy
Page 12. Using Stale Bread
Page 13. Recipes You Don’t Want To Miss

39 Comments

  1. Cynthia Wright

    5 stars
    I have made your cinnamon raisin bread a lot and given loaves of it to others, it is awesome! I did the chewy pancakes once and loved them! The pizza rounds are in the fridge right now and I am looking forward to homemade sourdough pizza this evening. Finally just read your Demystifying Sourdough insruction. I started in a much different way but am certainly enjoying my sourdough journey, and you are definitely an inspiration and a help! Thank you!

    • Hi Cynthia!

      This comment is making my day, thank you! I love to hear how people are using my recipes and I love the positive feedback! I’d also be very interested to hear about your personal sourdough journey, please feel free to share it if you wish. I’m always trying to learn more about sourdough and there are so many personal experiences and recipes that are unique examples of the sourdough craft. Thank you for letting me share mine with you!

      -Courtney

  2. Marilyn M. McIntyre

    I first learned about sourdough through the Tassajara Bread Book back many years when I was a nomadic tree planter. My starter was always happy to sit quietly in a cooler and have since made it a practice to keep and use starter in the refrigerator. But today I found your site and learned so much more about how to use it, save it etc. Thank you. Tomorrow I will make the miniature apple maple pies. I am a very new follower.

    • Hi Raegan!

      Are you measuring by weight or volume? If by weight, then yes your starter is 100% hydration. But if you are measuring by volume (1 cup to 1 cup) then probably not 100% because flour and water will weigh out differently even if they are the same amount by volume. You can easily convert to weight by using the instructions above. Or if you are having success with the way you are doing it then no need to change. I like to keep my starter at 100% so the recipes I write are consistent.

      Hope this helps and I hope you enjoy my sourdough recipes!

      – Courtney

      • Raegan Stegmeier

        Thanks for your reply! So, I tried your burger buns and dutch oven boule. I had them sitting out in our sunroom, which is warmest room in the house. After 4 hours neither of the doughs had barely risen, so I turned our electric fireplace on and set them near it, but not too close. By morning they had somewhat risen. I formed my burger buns and left them to rise, but after 6 hours, there was hardly any change! My dough for the boule was nowhere near as soft as yours. I used 1/2 bleached all-purpose, 1/4 whole wheat, and 1/4 rye flour. After reading some more on your articles I tested my starter by dropping it in water after 4 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours, and 12 hours. All of the times it sank to the bottom. Please help!

        • Hi Raegan,

          I’m glad you gave me such a thorough description of what’s going on. It sounds like your starter needs some work. An active starter should double or more in 4 to 6 hours. So that means after you feed it, you should see some pretty significant rise within the next 4 to 6 hours at room temperature. Doing a float test is a good measure of how much gas has formed within your starter. So it sounds like very little gas is being formed by the fermentation process.
          How old is your starter? And it would be helpful to know how often you bake with it and feed it. I would also advise you to buy organic flour that is unbleached. Any chemical addition to flour will have a negative effect of the wild yeast and bacteria and could be playing a big role in you starter’s health.

          I would recommend feeding your starter every 12 hours for three days. Start with 150 grams of starter. Remove 100 grams, feed 50 grams of each organic flour and filtered water. Do this each time you feed. Keep the starter at room temperature the whole time. Refrigeration will suppress the activity. After three days of double feedings report back. If the starter is rising to double within 6 hours you are ready to start baking. If not we may need to look into things further!

          I sincerely hope this helps! Please keep me updated!

          Courtney

  3. Jess

    Hello! I am so excited that I have found your site! The information you’ve shared has been so helpful. I began my own starter when I was a teenager (some teens partied on a weekend. I baked) but when I went off to college I wasn’t able to bring it along and sadly it was trashed while I was away. However, I was recently gifted a bit of my mom’s friend’s starter and I am excited to have a second go.

    When I received the starter, her instructions to keep it were to place it inside the fridge and take it out once a week, discard (use) 1 cup, feed with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water, and return to the fridge. I figured if it had been working for her, I’d stick with it, so I followed that schedule.

    I didn’t see much activity, but I tried to bake with it anyway. I took it out of the fridge, let it come to room temp, fed it, and then tried baking with it. I didn’t see much rise, if any. Unsurprisingly, the loaf was short, dense, and weighed about fifty pounds. Seriously, brick loaf.

    I had to find some answers, so I took to the web and found your site. I followed your instructions to get my poor, limping starter back to health. I’ve kept it on the counter and fed it daily, and it has revived so that I see it bubble and grow, and peak a few hours after I feed it. I currently have about 100 grams of starter. I take out half and feed with 25g water and 25g flour. I haven’t braved baking with it again yet, but I am anxious to try.

    Here’s where I am stuck. After it is healthy, if I am not able to use it often, what is the best option for storage? I can definitely use it once a week, I hope maybe more. Should it go in the fridge again? What’s the protocol for feeding/using it out of the fridge? I desperately want this one to last, and I’m so thankful for any sourdough wisdom you can throw my way!

    Jess

    • Hi Jess,

      I’m so happy you found my website! I live for sourdough!

      It sounds like you are on the right track! Getting the starter revived is the first step and it sounds like you’ve been successful with that. Next, you will want to build up that starter until you have about 300g for baking. So go ahead and feed it (when you are ready to bake) with 150g flour and 150g water. Let that ferment and peak. My bread recipes call for about 250g of active starter.

      For storage, feed your starter again with 150x150g and let if ferment about halfway to peaking. Stick it into the fridge. The yeast activity will slow down dramatically but it will still have some sugar to consume so it won’t go hungry. If you are baking often (at least once a week) there will be no need to feed your starter before the next use. When you bring it out, let it peak and decide if you want to use the starter for bread or another project. If the starter seems active, go ahead and add it to a bread recipe. If it seems sluggish, remove some and feed again, then use the discard in crackers or pancakes etc. All starter will eventually rise bread, but you will have to wait a lot longer if the starter isn’t really active.

      Honestly all starters are different and respond to cold storage differently so you will have to use your sourdough sense (it sounds like you have it). The best way to go forward is to just start baking! The more you use and feed your starter the happier it will be!

      The main takeaway would be, don’t let your starter go hungry. Always feed it and let if ferment a bit before it goes in the fridge. If you leave it out it will consume all the sugar quickly and get more sour but it will also be very hungry and might not be as active and happy. Find that balance and feel free to reach out to me with more questions! You’ve given me inspiration to include this info in my sourdough feeding post! Thank you!

      I sincerely hope this helps,

      Courtney

        • Linda

          Hi there,

          Thank you so much for all this information! Words cannot express my gratitude towards you and the time you have devoted to this wonderful blog, filled with a sourdough lifetime of information.
          I just wanted to clarify the above, so for example if I am wanting to build my starter up you say you add 150 gram flour and 150 gram water to the starter during feeding correct? And when I add the 150 g flour and 15o g water do I remove 50% of the existing starter/discard as usual or do I leave everything in the jar and just add flour and water?

  4. lori kauffman

    Thank you for the beautiful video and web page. So I am on day 12 of the starter build and have a beautiful, active starter. My question now is how do I get to the 225 gms for the bake? How do I build it up?

    Thank you.

    • Hi Lori!

      Great question. It is super easy to build up your starter. Just feed it with equal weight flour and water and let if peak at room temp before using it for baking bread. I always keep at least 300g, usually more. And, I always replace what I’ve removed from the jar (let it ferment awhile too) before putting it to “sleep” in the fridge. To get up to 300 grams just feed 150g water and 150g flour. Once the starter has peaked measure out what you need for your recipe!

      Hope this helps and happy baking!

      Courtney

  5. Maegan K

    Hello!
    I’m just beginning my sourdough starter now, and I’m wondering beyond the initial 14 days of building the starter, how often do you recommend feeding the starter on the regular?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Maegan,

      First, congratulations! Having a sourdough starter is an exciting step into real traditional foods!

      I feed my starter before I use it and after I use it before storage!

      I’ve updated my post on how to feed your starter with more detailed instructions. You can find it here.

      Hope that helps! Feel free to message me if you have any other questions!

      Courtney

  6. Looking forward to reading through it. I made my first sourdough starter last night based on a recipe i found on an Alaskan University Extension pamphlet published July 1974, but for the complete novice i am, there are some questions left unanswered, so to the internet i turned and found your site. What a wonderful legacy you are leaving for the next generation and for us oldies (i’m 57) as well. Thank you. For one who is returning to the old agrarian practices to regenerate soil, soil microbes, forages, and keep water sources clean, it’s time to take care of my own body!

    • Hi Tauna!

      I hope this guide is a useful roadmap into the magical world of sourdough! Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me and the nice compliment. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. I love to help!

      Courtney

  7. Joan Hiscock

    I have just started a starter after many years not using one. I did years ago but was away travelling and it died so I threw it out. My question is when I take off the waste each day can I start another starter with it? Also if I start with equal flour and water how much starter will it create after a week. I used one cup flour to one cup water. I am taking off 1/4 cup each day. Thank you for your site bi enjoy reading your instructions and recipes.

    • Hi Joan!

      Wonderful! Starting a new starter is so much fun. Please see my recipe on page 6 of this guide. It will give you a formula to follow that has very little waste. The sourdough discard, once active and fermenting, can be used in a variety of recipes.
      You should definitely invest in a scale! This is the only accurate way to follow my sourdough recipes. If you keep your starter at equal weight flour to water it will be at 100% hydration. I can’t really tell you how much starter you will have if you don’t measure by weight. But if you just want to wing it, the starter should be the consistency of a very thick batter.

      Hope this helps! Let me know if you have other questions!

      Courtney

    • Hi Taylor,

      No need to start over! You will just have a larger starter for one day. Tomorrow remove 100g and proceed with the original measurements! The reason we keep it small in the beginning is so we don’t waste a lot of flour. It won’t hurt or change the process!

      I can’t wait to see what you bake when you get that baby going!

      Courtney

  8. Haley

    Hi!

    I started with the 50g of each flour and water. And remove 50g of mix, and replace with 25g of water and flour. I’m on day three, and it’s already starting to get the smell! I would like to have a large starter, as I bake often. Should I wait until day 7 or 14 to increase my starter, and can I add 150g of each flour and water on those days?

    • Hi Haley,

      I would wait until the end of the two weeks, or at least day 10ish. Even though it may be starting out nicely (and I’m super glad it is) it can take that much time for the bacteria and yeast to even out into symbiosis. And yes, you just build your starter with larger equal weights flour and water. Once the starter is ready, Make sure to try my discard crackers, they are a great way to use up starter that is still active before feeding again!

      Happy Baking!

      Courtney

  9. Alara

    Hi Courtney. I have both all-purpose and bread flour on hand. I plan on using my starter mostly for general pastry baking, but also occasionally for bread. I was originally planning on using bread flour for my starter, but would you recommend using the All-purpose instead since I plan on using this starter for all my baking needs? Or would you recommend having two starters, one for general baking made with all-purpose flour, and one for bread making, made with bread flour?

    Thanks! Really enjoying your information so far.
    Alara

    • Hi Alara!

      One starter for all projects is plenty. Sometimes people like to have a whole grain starter and a white starter, but it’s preference and not essential to making great bread. You can use any flour to feed your starter but it’s probably a good idea to stay consistent in the beginning. I personally use AP to feed my starter just to cut down on cost and keep my more expensive and quality flour for baking.

      I wish you much success!

  10. Alara

    “Some people have found that their starter is ready to bake with by day 7.”

    I’m having a hard time figuring out how to tell when it’s ready to start being used for baking. I’m sure if I give it the full recommended 15 days it will definitely be ready, but how will I *know* that it’s ready?

    • Hi Alara!

      Your starter should be doubling in volume in 4-6 hours when it’s ready to start baking with. Even then, new starters can be finicky, they take awhile to balance out and give consistent results. Don’t give up if the first few loafs are wonky!

      Hope that helps!

      Courtney

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