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Starting a Sourdough Starter

Jake (updated)

A wide mouth mason jar with a cheese cloth cover sits on a dark glossy wooden table. A large jade succulent covers the scenery behind the jar. The sourdough starter inside the jar sits at the level of the rubber band which marks the previous day's level after the feeding.

Creating an ecosystem of yeast and bacteria from a couple of ingredients, only to let it die due to negligence, has been a fun hobby of mine for the past couple years. While I haven’t made any bread with it, and have burned through a few bags of flour learning the process, I have found the process to be relaxing.

This is going to be my third attem-. Or, is it my fourth? Fifth? Who’s counting? This is going to be my n-th attempt at creating a sourdough starter from scratch. I’m going to use this post as a daily journal of sorts to keep track and learn with you all while I get this thing going.

Stuff I’m using

  • A 1 quart wide mouth Ball mason jar
  • A cheese cloth (to cover the mouth of the mason jar)
  • A rubber spatula
  • A food scale
  • Dark Rye flour
  • Whole Wheat flour
  • Some distilled water (I purchased a gallon of it at a local grocery store. You could use tap water, if it doesn’t have a high amount of chlorine or other chemicals.)

The Process

The process of making a sourdough starter isn’t that complex. The first day involves mixing together roughly equal parts of flour and water. Stirring until it looks smooth and has a pancake batter consistency. Then letting it do it’s thing. The following days will consist of keeping a chunk of the starter and feeding it more flour and water. About a week to a month into the process, we’ll end up with a bubbly goop of wild yeast and bacteria that we can use to bake bread.

Sound cool? Cool.

Day One

A mason jar with a flour and water mixture at the bottom. A rubber band is used to mark the level it's at to help determine the growth of the sourdough starter. The mouth of the jar is covered with a cheese cloth to keep pests out.

I put 25 grams of dark rye flour and 25 grams of whole wheat flour into my mason jar and added about 75 grams of distilled water. The reason I went with a 1:1.25 ratio of flour to water is that I’ve found rye flour needs a bit more water to get it to the pancake batter-like consistency. This is generally true for whole wheat flour as well. With all purpose flour you can stay at a 1:1 ratio.

Today, I felt I made a couple mistakes. I could have started with more flour, 50g of rye and 50g of whole wheat would have been best. I also think I could have used a bit more water. It was a bit thick, but it was smooth. Tomorrow, I won’t discard anything and add 100g of flour with 135g of water.

Day Two

Sourdough starter in a wide mouth mason jar with a cheese cloth over the mouth. The starter is extending slightly over the top of the rubberband used for marking the level of the starter after the previous day. The jar is sitting on a countertop with the morning sun shining in from the window in the background.
It’s hard to see in this photo, but the starter is just slightly over the rubber band marker.

There isn’t much activity yet, but there are some signs of stuff developing. As I was planning yesterday, I added 50 grams of both dark rye and whole wheat flour. I also used 135 grams of water. The consistency with that 1:1.35 flour to water ratio ended up being where I wanted with a smoother pancake batter consistency.

A sourdough starter sits in a mason jar with a cheese cloth over its mouth. The jar sits on a raw edge table in front of a window that is letting in the morning sun. A rubber band marks the level of where the sourdough starter is now.

Day Three

a mason jar with the beginnings of an active sourdough starter sitting in the morning light
It’s growing!

We’re starting to see some activity! While it’s hard to tell if the activity is the result of the stuff we want, yeast and lactobacilli, it’s encouraging to see something. For today’s feeding, I kept 40g of starter and discarded the rest. I added 51g of rye flour, 50g of whole wheat flour, and 135g of water.

a mason jar of sourdough starter just after the third day's feeding. The jar is covered with a cheese cloth and a rubber band marks the level where the starter is currently

Day Four

a mason jar with sourdough starter on it's fourth day. The starter is a solid inch above the previous days marker. The jar is covered with a cheese cloth and sits on top of a table in front of a window letting in the morning light

More activity! It’s such a simple thing, but I was getting giddy watching the starter rise throughout the day yesterday. It’s rising to a consistent level now. I’m hoping that’s a good sign. Today is the day where I’m starting to feel good about this attempt. For the feeding, I kept a bit more starter than yesterday, about 50g. I added 53g of rye flour, 52g of whole wheat flour, and 145g of water.

sourdough starter sits in a mason jar after the fourth day of feeding. The jar is covered with a cheese cloth and sits on top of a raw edge table in front of an east facing window letting in the morning light

Day Five

A non active sourdough starter sits in a mason jar. The level of the starter doesn't extend above the rubber band used to mark the level of the starter after the previous day's feeding. The jar sits on a wood table with a cheese cloth over the mouth of the jar.

Well, I suppose I spoke too soon. Day five has ended up flat. This has happened before on my previous attempts, and I’m not exactly sure what the reason is. This time around, I think it might have been too cold throughout the day. The temperature in the house was around 60 degrees. I’m going to try a couple strategies while the weather can still be chilly here in the Spring. Anyways, the feeding must continue. I kept about 50g of starter and discarded the rest. I added 57g of rye flour, 51g of whole wheat flour, and 136g of water. To keep the ambient temperature up, I’m going to keep the starter in my office with a space heater on. I might also try putting the starter in a cooler with a gallon bottle filled with hot water. I’m hoping I’ll see some more activity soon.

A mason jar containing a sourdough starter after the fifth day of it's feeding. There's a rubber band wrapped around the jar to mark the level of the starter and a cheese cloth covering the mouth of the jar

Day Six

a narrow mouth mason jar with its metal lid screwed on sits on a dark glossy wooden table. A large jade succulent and smaller pot with another succulent sit in the background. An immature sourdough starter sits inside the jar at the level of a rubber band wrapped around the jar which measured the level of the starter after the previous day's feeding.

Still not much activity. The starter smells a little sweet. I’m going to keep feeding to see if I can get this thing going. It’s a bit chilly here in Nebraska, about 50° F. Since I’m traveling for Mother’s Day I’m keeping the starter in a cooler with some jars filled with hot water. It seems to be keeping the ambient temperature somewhat warm. For the feeding today, I’ve kept 51g of starter, added 100g of rye flour, and 135g of water. I’m hoping to see a bit more activity by using all rye flour.

A wide mouth mason jar covered with a cheese cloth sits on top of a glossy dark wooden table. A big red plant container covers the background. Inside the jar is a sourdough starter after the day's feeding. A rubber band is wrapped around the jar at the level of the starter to allow for an easy indication of how well the starter is rising.

Day Seven

A wide mouth mason jar with a cheese cloth cover sits on a dark glossy wooden table. A large jade succulent covers the scenery behind the jar. The sourdough starter inside the jar sits at the level of the rubber band which marks the previous day's level after the feeding.

No activity again! The starter still smells okay. I’m not sure if there’s just not much wild yeast around, or if it’s going to take more time to get this going than I thought. For feeding today, I’ve kept 50g of starter, added 50g of rye flour and 51g of whole wheat flour, and added 136g of water.

Day Eight

A narrow mouth mason jar sits on a wood table with its metal lid attached. The outside lighting is dim so the dining room light is turned on to show the starter inside the jar.

It’s been a week now and there still isn’t much activity. There are some bubbles forming here and there, but no signs of the starter rising. It’s also starting to smell more sour. After doing a bit of reading, I think I’m still on the right track. It looks like starters will typically get a lot more bacteria growth in the beginning, making it bubble and smell sour. After a while, it could take two to three weeks, the yeast will get established and make it rise. I’m going to keep it going strong and hopefully things will work out. For today’s feeding, I kept 51g of starter, added 51g of rye flour and 51g of all purpose flour, and added 141g of water.

A wide mouth mason jar with a cheese cloth covering it sits on a wood table. Because of an overcast sky the interior lighting is turned on to show the starter sitting inside the jar.

Day Nine

A wide mouth mason jar covered with a cheese cloth is sitting on a raw edge wooden table. The sourdough starter inside doesn't show much activity as it hasn't shown any signs of rising past the rubber band marker

Still not much activity, but after reading up on things yesterday, I’m not discouraged anymore. The starter is very aromatic today. Very sour with a bit of sweetness. Today I kept 75g of the starter, added 50g of rye flour and 52g of all purpose flour, and added 115g of water. I didn’t do much different compared to the previous days. I decided to keep more of the starter and I warmed up the water in the microwave to get it up to 80° F.

A narrow mouth mason jar covered with a recently cut cheese cloth is sitting on a wooden table. The jar has some sourdough starter in it just after its feeding. A rubber band marks the level of the starter to better determine the activity of the starter throughout the day

Day Ten

A sourdough starter sits in a narrow mouthed mason jar with a cheese cloth covering it. A rubberband is wrapped around the jar at the level of the starter indicating that there hasn't been any activity.

Still not much growth. The starter smells fruity and sour. For the feeding I kept 75g of starter, added 50g of rye flour and 50g of all purpose flour, and added 115g of water.

A sourdough starter sits in a wide mouth mason jar covered by a cheese cloth. A rubber band is wrapped around the outside of the jar at the level of the starter to help indicate if the starter grows throughout the day.

Day Eleven

Sourdough starter sits in a mason jar covered with a cheese cloth. The starter rises above the previous day's rubber band by about a quarter of an inch indicating there is some activity and growth
Is- Is that some activity I’m seeing?

Finally some activity! It made my morning to see the starter about a quarter of an inch above that rubber band marker. The starter smells fruity and sour. I tasted a little bit of it and it was quite sour, but it wasn’t bad. It tasted like it was fermented, so I suppose that is a good sign! For the feeding today I kept 76g of starter, added 57g of rye flour and 47g of all purpose flour, and added 116g of water. I’m excited to see if there is more growth tomorrow.

A recently fed sourdough starter sits in a mason jar covered with a cheese cloth. A rubber band is wrapped around the jar to help indicate if there is any activity and growth

Day Twelve

Sourdough starter sits in a mason jar covered with a cheese cloth. The starter rises over an inch above the rubber band marker indicating it has a lot of activity and growth
YES!!!

Well, I think I’ve got an active wild yeast culture going now! It’s well over an inch above the rubber band marker, and by the looks of the markings on the side of the jar, it seems like it doubled in size throughout the day. I think I’m ready to call this a success. This is the first time I’ve gotten to this point and I’m excited to move on to the next challenge of baking my first loaf of sourdough bread! For now I’m going to continue my standard feedings. Going forward, I’m going to start using only all purpose flour and wean it off of rye flour.

References

Tagged with: Bread, Sourdough, and Sourdough Starter .

About Jake

Image of Jake

I'm a full stack web developer through my company, Modinfinity. You can usually find me coding at my favorite coffee shop or doing something outdoors. I love to cook and try new things with my girlfriend, Amanda.

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