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How To Make A Sourdough Starter in 5 Days

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Have you ever taken a bite of bread and found yourself wondering if you could make something just as good if not better? This is the ultimate guide to show you how to make your very own Sourdough Starter using simple ingredients, no specialty equipment, and ready to use in just 5 days. I’ll also tell you how to maintain it for years to come! Sourdough starter can be used to make all your favorites, from biscuits to hamburger buns to an amazingly easy no knead bread. It’s my favorite kitchen “tool”!

sourdough starter in a glass jar on a marble counter with a white napkin

About The Recipe

Imagine a sourdough starter that can be made in less than 5 minutes a day for 5 days. That’s a total time of 25 minutes! Think about that! Over just a few short days, you can have at your fingertips the basis of so many wonderful recipes! You don’t even need yeast! It’s like a dream, right?

I made my first starter over 25 years ago. It was a really complicated process I found in a bread book somewhere, and boy could that thing could eat! It ate through an entire 5 pound bag of flour a day!

Needless to say, that was way too expensive to keep up.

sourdough starter in a glass jar

So, after a few years of tinkering, I came up with this method for making sourdough starter. I’ve had the one I use today for over 18 years now. It has moved with me from Mississippi to Florida to North Carolina to Texas!

Now, I’ve made a brand new starter using my new method for this post just so you can see how to make your very own. (Don’t worry, I still have the original.😉) I’m so excited for you to share my passion and learn to make things like Whole Wheat Sourdough Fig And Walnut Bread! I’ll even throw in a recipe for Soft Sourdough Pretzels.

Benefits To Making Your Own Sourdough Starter

  • It’s super simple and only requires 3 ingredients.
  • Healthier than store-bought bread and much more flavorful.
  • Takes only a few minutes every day to take care of.
  • This starter is ready to use in only 5 DAYS!
sourdough starter in a glass jar with a white napkin and a container of flour

Equipment Needed

Ingredients To Make The Perfect Sourdough Starter (& Why!)

  • Whole Wheat Flour – This is the only flour that works to build this starter. You need the extra push (nutrients and microorganisms) from the whole grains.
  • Water – Regular tap water will work just fine in this recipe, but if you have a lot of chemicals in your water, you may want to opt for bottled.
  • Barley Malt – Helps attract and feed the wild yeast (the magic ingredient) that makes your sourdough rise.
  • Bread Flour – This is used to feed the starter after the first day.
ingredients for sourdough starter on a marble counter

How To Make A Sourdough Starter (Step-by-Step!)

Start by combining the whole wheat flour, water, and malt in your clean jar.

Let it sit out on the counter overnight! The next day, add bread flour, barley malt, and water. Mix together and let it sit once again!

Only three more days! Now, for the next three days, just add flour and water. Always let it sit out on the counter overnight!

And you’re done! You now have your very own sourdough starter.

How To Take Care of My Sourdough Starter

It’s actually very easy! Sourdough is very forgiving (thank goodness!). Starting at Day 5 after you feed the starter, let it ferment for an hour or so at room temperature, then put it in the fridge. The next day, an hour or two before you are ready to begin baking, remove your starter from the refrigerator. This allows it time to warm up a bit and come to life again. It should be bubbly when you use it!

After you finish using it, pour a little more off if you haven’t used at least 2 cups; feed it again, and return it to the fridge!

FAQ’s and Troubleshooting

Why is my starter runny?

If your starter is runny, it’s because it has eaten through all the flour you fed it with. Stir it, pour some off, and feed it again! Let it ferment for a hour or so, and put it in the refrigerator.

Why did my starter separate?

If your starter is separating, it’s because it’s gone way too long without feeding! The clear liquid on top is actually pure alcohol, but don’t worry! It’s easily fixed. Pour the liquid off the top, stir the starter and pour some out, feed the remaining starter, leave it out for an hour or so, and return it to the refrigerator. It will take a couple of days of feeding to restore that sweet yeasty smell and be ready to bake again.

Does sourdough starter need to be refrigerated?

Technically, no. It actually doesn’t. In professional kitchens, starter is kept at room temperature and fed on a schedule based around their baking schedule. That means it needs to be fed every few hours, and there is someone on every crew who is responsible for doing that!

However, in a home kitchen where you may not be baking every day, it’s best to refrigerate it. Refrigeration slows down the feeding schedule! How cool is that?

What is the grey liquid on top of my starter?

The grey liquid on top of your starter is called hooch. It is pure alcohol. Make sure you pour it off before you stir your starter.

Can I use my starter on day 5?

You can, but you would have to feed it early, give it a few hours (4-6) at room temperature, pour off a couple of cups, and feed it again, wait another couple of hours, and then it can be used. It really is much easier just to wait for day 6.

How soon can I use a sourdough starter after feeding it?

Wait until it’s bubbly. It will take 2-4 hours depending on the temperature in the room.

Why is my sourdough starter not bubbling?

If you are not in the process of building your starter, then it has eaten through all its food. Depending on how depleted it is, it might take a couple of feedings to get it back going.

How do I know if my starter failed?

If you are not seeing any bubbles by the time you get to day 4, pour it out and start again.

Can you revive a dead sourdough starter?

It depends on how dead it is. If you’ve left it sitting on the counter for 6 months without feeding it, it’s dead. If you’ve not fed it for a few days, it can probably be revived. Though, if you have been refrigerating it, you have a lot more leeway. Refrigeration slows down the process. I’ve personally gone 2 or 3 months in the refrigerator without feeding mine and been able to revive it without a problem.

How do you revive a sluggish sourdough starter?

About every 6 months, I like to feed it with whole wheat flour for one of its feedings. It really peps it back up.

What should a sourdough starter smell like?

A healthy starter should have a sweet, yeasty smell.

What To Make With Sourdough Starter

Now that you have your starter, you may be wondering what now? Well, the wonderful thing about sourdough (and it’s discard!) is just how many recipes you can mix it into. Here are a few of our favorites to make with our starter.

+ So many more!

Substitutions

  • If you don’t have barley malt, feel free to use honey instead.

Looking for more recipes like this? Here are a few you may like:

sourdough starter in a glass jar with a white napkin and a container of flour

Expert Tips

  • A new starter doesn’t have as much sourdough flavor as an older starter, but it’s still really good – and so much better than anything you can buy!
  • Keep your starter in a glass container with a loose fitting lid for the best results. Sourdough does not react well to stainless steel!
  • Sourdough will taste different in different parts of the country, based on the type of yeast in the air. If you move and take your sourdough starter with you, the flavor will change based on the airborne yeast in your new location.
  • Sourdough is very forgiving. It can come back to life from almost anything that happens, if you’re patient and tend to it properly.
  • About every 6 months, I swap the bread flour in one feeding out for whole wheat flour. It really helps to revive the starter and give it some kick.

When you make this recipe and if you find this helpful, please leave a comment down below! We love hearing from you and answering any questions you might have! Also, be sure to tag us on social media and hashtag it #BakersTable.

sourdough starter in a glass jar with a white napkin
4.34 from 3 votes

How to Make a Sourdough Starter in Five Days

A simple but essential recipe in every baker's kitchen! This is the ultimate guide to show you step-by-step on how to make your very own sourdough starter in just five days.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 1 quart

Ingredients
 

Day 1

  • Clean glass jar
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon barley malt or honey

Day 2

  • 1 cup bread flour
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon barley malt or honey

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Instructions
 

Day 1:

  • Combine flour, water, and malt.
  • Cover jar with a loosely fitting lid or plastic wrap.
  • Set in a warm, draft free place for 24 hours.

Day 2:

  • Uncover jar and stir ingredients.
  • Stir in flour, water, and malt.
  • Cover jar again and set back in a warm, draft free place for 24 hours.

Day 3:

  • Uncover jar. There should be a little bubbling in the mixture.
  • Mix.
  • Stir in flour and water.
  • Cover jar again and set in a warm draft free place for 24 hours.

Day 4:

  • Uncover jar. There should be more bubbles, and the mixture should be starting to smell sweet.
  • Stir together.
  • Add flour and water and stir together.
  • Cover again and place in a warm, draft free place for 24 hours.

Day 5:

  • Uncover jar. Mixture should be bubbly and have a sweet aroma.
  • Stir together, then pour off half the mixture.
  • Add flour and water. Stir.
  • Cover again and place in refrigerator.

Notes + Tips!

  • Healthy sourdough starter has a sweet, yeasty smell.
  • A new starter doesn’t have as much sourdough flavor as an older starter!
  • Always use a glass container with a loose fitting lid to keep your starter in.
  • Sourdough does not react well to stainless steel!
  • Sourdough tastes different in different parts of the country, based on the type of yeast in the air. If you move and take your sourdough starter with you, the flavor will change based on the airborne yeast in your new location. Crazy, right?
  • You can use sourdough starter for a variety of recipes, not just bread!

Tools You May Need (affiliate links)

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 455kcal | Carbohydrates: 95.4g | Protein: 12.9g | Fat: 1.2g | Saturated Fat: 0.2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 10mg | Fiber: 3.4g | Sugar: 0.3g

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.

When you make this recipe, remember to tag @bakerstble or hashtag it #BakersTable!

– Still Hungry? –

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42 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Hi am new to sourdough made your starter and it’s currently in the fridge .Now I’m at a loss as to what to do next Not sure if I missed something but please advise as to next steps for baking bread. Thanks

    1. Hi Marsha! You need to be sure you feed it for a couple of days before baking so that it regains its strength and has a pleasant flavor. To do that, pour off 2 cups of the starter and feed it with 2 cups bread flour and 1 1/2 cups water. Put it back in the fridge between feedings. Set it out and let it ferment for 3 or 4 hours before repeating. The day you are planning to cook, set the fed starter out about an hour or so ahead of time (to take the chill off it and let it start to bubble). You can tell if it’s ready to use by dropping a bit in a glass of water. If it floats, you’re good to go. If it sinks, let it sit a bit longer. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  2. 3 stars
    So I didn’t read how much to add every day, so I added flour, honey and water everyday it was 1 tablespoon of honey, 3/4 cups of water and 1 cup of flour, I’m on day 5 and it smells kind of like cheese is it garbage now? Or can I still use it.

  3. Traci, I’d love to try your recipe for the sourdough starter but was wondering if gluten free flour can be used? my granddaughter is celiac and I’d love to bake her some bread,

    1. Hi Bedelia! This starter will not work with gluten free flour. However, I can make some recommendations based on personal experience. If you want to bake daily and have a product that is close to sourdough in flavor, I recommend Gluten Free Artisan Bread in five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzog. My other top recommendation for gluten free bread is How Can It Be Gluten Free from America’s Test Kitchen. My son is allergic to wheat, and these 2 books are my staples.

  4. When you say add flour water and malt the next day , how much flour etc do you add and do you keep on increasing the content of the jar and donot discard anything before the day 5

    1. Hi Lilette! The amounts for each day are listed in the recipe card. As per my instructions, you do not pour anything off until day 5. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    1. Hi Cassandra! You don’t have to whisk. You can stir it in with a wooden spoon. It’s fine if it’s lumpy. The yeast will eat through it. Cover loosely is correct. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    1. Hi Diane! It should keep just fine. When you get home and get ready to bake again, pour off the hooch (the liquid on top) – don’t mix it in. Then just start back pouring off and feeding. Give it 2 or 3 days of feeding to get healthy again before you bake. Let me know if you have any more questions.

  5. I made this, my question is they say to feed it after its all done, I have made my bread, now what do I add to feed?

    1. Hi Suzanne! I feed mine with 2 cups bread flour and 1 1/2 cups room temperature water. If you have a larger or smaller amount of starter, you can adjust it up or down as long as you stick to that ratio (9 oz flour to 12 oz water). Let me know if you have any other questions.

  6. I messed up. Day 5 and I didn’t pour out half and added the cups bread flour and water. I was hoping to make the rolls today. Can I still do this? I don’t want to start all over

    1. Hi Joan! It should remain loosely covered. I use a glass jar with a lid that sits on top, not a screw on. You could also cover it with cheesecloth or even a clean dishtowel. Le me know if you have any more questions.

      1. Hi Diane! When you are making the starter, throw it away. Once your starter has achieved full strength (after 5 days), you can use it. Let me know if you have any more questions.

  7. I just finished day 5 and placed it in the fridge. I will make your biscuits Thursday. Do I take it out use the 1 1/2 cups then feed it?How much flour and water do I use? I will be an infrequent baker in one comment you said take it out and feed it 2 to 3 days prior to baking. How much flour/water? Do I pour some off before feeding it? Does it go back in the fridge?Specifics please for infrequent baking and maintaining. Thanks!

    1. Hi Jill! When I said feed it a couple of days before, I meant feed it each day starting a couple of days before. So, tomorrow take it out, pour off half, and feed it 2 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water. Do the same thing again on Wednesday. Set the starter out about an hour or so before you are ready to start the biscuits so that it can start to come to room temperature. When you have finished, you can pour off another 1/2 cup or so; then feed it. Put it back in the fridge until you are planning to bake again. And most importantly, relax. Sourdough starter is very forgiving. It’s nearly impossible to do anything to it that can’t be fixed. I’m always happy to help if you have more questions.

      1. Thank You! So after baking with the 1 1/2 cups then pouring off an additional 1/2 cup, I feed with 2 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water. Correct?

  8. Hi,
    Really like the directions and recipe. But how often do you need to feed while storing in the refrigerator?
    Thx

    1. Hi Mike! Sourdough starter is very forgiving! If you bake a lot, feed it every day. If you bake once or twice a month, start back feeding it 2-3 days before you plan to use it. If you leave it for longer and there’s any clear liquid (“hooch”) that has accumulated on top, just pour it off before you feed it. Let me know if you have any other questions. I’m always happy to help!

  9. Hi, on day 5 and after discarding half of starter do you feed it as in day 1 or as in day 4. Also, can the discarded half be fed as in day 1 or day 4 to start a new recipe that can be given away to friends and neighbors?

    1. Hi Martha! Just like it says in the recipe card, you feed Day 5 the same as Day 4 (2 cups bread flour, 1 1/2 cups water). You always want to make sure that you are doubling the amount of starter you have left. The discard can absolutely be shared! However, I would wait until after Day 5 to make sure that you have a fully fledged starter. If you are sharing the discard, the recipient just needs to pick up at Day 4 and move forward from there. If you have any more questions, please feel free to reach out!

  10. On day 5 it says throw away 1/2 about how much is that? And then when I feed it how much do I feed it with?

    1. Hi Bobbi! Half doesn’t have to be exact. You can just eyeball it. Sourdough starter is very forgiving! If you want an exact amount, you can pour the starter into a measuring cup and pour off half. The amount you feed is equal to at least the amount you have left. You can use a formula of 4 parts flour to 3 parts water by volume. For example, if you have 2 cups of starter left over, you feed 2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups water. I hope that helps!

      1. That does help me a lot. Do I dump 1/2 every day if I leave it out or if I put it in the fridge once week? Thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions. I’m excited to bake with it today was day 5 😊

        1. Hi Bobbi! I’m always happy to help!!! If you leave it out on the counter, it needs to be fed several times a day. That really is only necessary if you are baking a lot of loaves a day like you would in a professional environment. If you keep it in the refrigerator, you can take it out, let it come to room temperature, pour off the amount you need, feed it, and put it back in the fridge. If you don’t bake everyday, you don’t have to feed it everyday. It will keep. At the risk of repeating myself, sourdough is very forgiving. Just remember to refresh (feed) it for a couple of days before baking. Please let me know how your bread turns out!

  11. Hi, Traci, I have always wanted to make sour dough bread starter and I’m using your recipe to do it. Thank you! I have questions. Why do you throw 1/2 of the starter away? Isn’t that wasteful? Can I use the part that I’m throwing away to make something with it? When starting the starter, it asks for wheat flour. You said that using more wheat flour would make the bread dense. What do I do if I want wheat bread? Is sour dough just white?
    Thanks Traci!

    1. Hi Kristy! You need to throw the starter out the first time. That will be your first real feeding. Before that you may not get very much kick or as rounded a flavor. After that, cook with it. The principal behind not adding only wheat flour to the sourdough is the same as baking a loaf of wheat bread. You have to have regular flour mixed in or you wind up with a dense, inedible loaf. You can certainly add wheat flour in instead of bread flour occasionally. I do every time I feel like it needs a little bit of a pick-me-up. If you want to maintain more of a wheat starter, you’ll have to mix the wheat flour half and half with your bread flour. Just be aware that you may need to proof your bread a bit longer. And finally, you don’t need an all wheat starter to bake wheat bread.The sourdough is there for the flavor and if you are baking a true sourdough (no yeast), for the rise. Just add it in to your bread recipe. Let me know if I can be of further help.

  12. I have a starter that I’ve used for a while, but thought I’d like to try yours. Got a question for you, do you discard any of the starter as you are making it? Other recipes I seen say to discard a portion each day.

    1. Hi Debbie! I don’t pour off anything for the first 4 days. I start pouring off half on day 5. My starter makes a bit more than most that you find.

  13. Hey Traci,
    I noticed that on day one it says whole wheat flour buy on the next days it says bread flour. Is that correct or does it matter if I would continue to use whole wheat flour instead of bread flour?
    TIA!

    1. Hi MaryAnn! It is correct. You need the whole wheat flour to jump start the process, but you don’t want to continue to use just whole wheat. You need the bread flour to balance it out. Using just whole wheat will make your breads heavy and dense.

    1. Hi, Maria! Barley malt is an unrefined sweetener. It is used in breads to help the yeast along and to help the crust brown. You can use either the syrup or the powder. Either will work. If you use the powder, make sure it is diastatic malt powder. Hope that helps!

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