How to Make a Sourdough Starter (in Stick Drawings)

I taught a sourdough starter workshop last month and I really could have used some graphics to outline the process. Creating a starter from scratch may sound complicated (you can read more about it here and here) but involves only a handful of steps and your patience. I hope these slides will help explain this magical process of transforming  flour and water into a living culture.

Sourdough starter slides images

Sourdough starter slides images

Sourdough starter slides images

Sourdough starter slides images

Sourdough starter slides images

Sourdough starter slides images

Sourdough starter slides images

Sourdough starter slides images

There you have it, sourdough starter in stick drawings.

52 Replies to “How to Make a Sourdough Starter (in Stick Drawings)”

  1. This looks a lot easier than I thought! I’ll have to try it! 🙂

    1. Yay! Thank you so much. I had hoped images would help explain the process. Let me know how it goes 🙂

      1. I’m gonna try to do it tomorrow! I’ll post updates as I go on here! Images were a huge help 🙂

      2. Great! The looks on my students faces told me I needed visuals. If you have time, will you please let me know when you post (otherwise I may miss it)? I will also keep an eye out.

      3. Sure I can let you know! Is there a type of flour that it works best with?

      4. Darn! I didn’t include that info. I use half white, half whole wheat. Thanks for asking.

      5. Okay perfect! I think I have both

      6. So I just made it and it seems really dry. Like a dough ball. 🙁

      7. Uh oh. It sounds like it has too much flour in it. I use a scale to measure the ingredients as 100 grams of flour can vary between 2/3 and 3/4 of a cup. But the difference between those two measurements shouldn’t result in a dough ball. If you still have it, you could try adding water to make it runny. Or you could start again. I hope you are not deterred. I have kept notes of my sourdough baking from the beginning and I have had lots of disasters in there. Some loaves turned out as deflated as I felt looking at them 🙁

      8. Now there’s bubbles! I just made a post with pictures!

      9. That’s great! I’ll go check it out. Thanks for letting me know.

      10. Hello! I am trying right now with rye flour. Can I store it on a jar with tight lid like clamp lid? I ma scraed that ants might eat it. I live in the Philippines so ants are plentiful during hot seasons.

      11. Hi Anne,
        Yes, that’s fine. I usually keep a lid on mine. Some air can help it get started but my starter does just fine in closed jar.
        ~ Anne-Marie

  2. This is awesome Anne Marie! Love the drawings. I’m a visual learner so this is super helpful. I’ve got starter in my fridge that needs to be fed soon.

    1. Thank you, Karen. I thought (hoped) these would help break down the process. I look forward to seeing some of your bread pics 😉

  3. Nice images! They make a simple process seem simple.

    1. Thanks, Aggie. It is simple and I think you really learn as you do it. You know how it should smell, how the consistency should feel when you stir it, how much bubbling to expect (or hope for) and so on.

  4. I really appreciate these slides. Can you use the “discard” to make bread as well?

    1. Thank you! I have used the discard for quick breads and have had varying results. I have made good banana bread with it. Most of the quick breads I’ve tried have turned out a little dry but for the banana bread I add a bit of yogurt and that seems to help. I have made muffins a couple of times that were just plain weird. When I finally find a perfect quick bread/muffin recipe for discard, I will throw a party…

      If you feed your starter every day, then it will always be fresh. So let’s say right now I feed my starter. I will put the new stuff aside and can use some of the discard for my sourdough bread. BUT if your sourdough is in the fridge for a while, it’s not at its height of bubbly activity. You probably don’t want to use that to make sourdough bread. It won’t be as lively as starter that has been recently fed within the last 24 hours, preferably 12, I would say. So the short answer is use fresh, active starter to make sourdough bread.

      1. Ok then! Thank you for clearing that up.

      2. You’re welcome 🙂

  5. Fabulous illos!!! Easy to follow and creatively executed!

  6. Absolutely brilliant slides! You couldn’t explain it better. What kind of flour do you use?

    1. Thank you! I use half organic white, half organic whole wheat, so 50 grams each. (Weight is much more accurate than volume.) A friend just bought a grain mill attachment for her Vitamix and I hope to try her flour soon. Freshly ground is ideal!

      1. Thanks! Does the recipe work for rye flour?

      2. Well, I haven’t used rye in the starter but I think that should be fine. I have been adding rye to the dough when making the bread but I’m all out at the moment.

  7. Another idiot-proof recipe, made just for me, I’m sure! are you in cahoots with my friend John? Either way, thanks!

  8. When you say feed daily do you mean add more from the discard starter? Or do you mean mix same amount of flour and water and just add that fresh mix to the starter you have going?

    1. Use the starter you have going. This morning, I fed my starter. I mixed fresh flour and water and added a bit of the previous starter to it. What’s left of that previous starter now goes to the discard pile in the fridge. So now I have two batches–one recently fed and one discard. Tomorrow I will feed today’s batch. I’ll take a bit from today’s batch and add it to fresh flour and water. I hope that helps. Please let me know if it doesn’t.

  9. i still have to overcome the problem when try to make sourdough out of einkorn flour
    1]the water dosent mix well into the dough ,the dough crumbles into heavy peice wile the rest water stayes aside
    2]it becomes very acid taste but it doesn’t rise as should ,in the end get very dense tough bread
    3]out of all your offered starters ,which one if any is best in helping overcome the two problems above
    4]plus which starter if any has the minimum acid taste ,and the most creamy velvet feel to the tonge, while still the best aroma to the noise “?

    1. I tried making sourdough with einkorn and it did not work at all. I looked up einkorn in Michael Pollan’s book Cooked (I use his recipe) and apparently einkorn doesn’t produce gluten, so it doesn’t stretch around the carbon dioxide your fermenting dough produces. Thus, no rise. Switching to whole wheat and white (I know, I know, white flour is bad, but the last batch I made was only about 18 percent) will probably address your problems. Also, if you leave your starter out on the counter and feed it every day, it should produce a flavor a little less sour and more sweet. If you refrigerate it and feed it less often, it will produce a more sour flavor. But the difference doesn’t seem huge to me. I think you’ll notice the biggest change if you switch flours. I use ~ 60 percent whole wheat, 20 percent rye/spelt and 20 percent white. I hope that helps!

      1. Has anyone tried half white, half Einkorn?

      2. Hi Sunny. Cultures for Health has a long list of gluten-free sourdough recipes and may have one with Einkorn (I haven’t looked at all of them so I’m not sure):

  10. […] how to make “dorritos” out of maize meal! Watch this space. I have just started a Sourdough Starter and so will start making my own sourdough crackers to go with hummus dips and […]

  11. Can you add the discarded starter to yesterday’s discarded starter etc until ready to use. Sorry. I’m sure it’s a dumb question but I don’t like to start new things without knowing everything. Thanks in advance.
    PS. This visual is so helpful, especially for me. I’m mildly autistic and can understand visuals much much more easier than words. I SUPER appreciate that you did that

    1. That’s not at all a dumb question. I found all of this very confusing at first. Yes, you can keep one container of all your discarded starter and just add to it every time you have excess from feeding. I’m glad you found the visuals helpful. When I first learned how to make sourdough bread, I wanted pictures but didn’t have any. I know they would have sped up my learning process. Enjoy!

  12. Thanks. Now I understand. Regards from Colombia 🙂

  13. So happy to have discovered your articles. Just moved to Italy from California and I finally have time to try my own starter. Love the sourdough cracker recipe. Excited to get started.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Daniela,
      Lucky you to move to Italy! Where were you in California? I live in the Bay Area. I have learned a few things since I wrote this post and you might find the following update helpful: I’m working on a sourdough pasta recipe at the moment. The last iteration was pretty good. Sourdough pasta might be heretical in Italy though, I’m not sure… Enjoy your sourdough adventures!
      ~ Anne Marie

  14. We’re still in the early hard stages of figuring out how the school system and every other system in town work. But Bologna is beautiful and the people are warm. And we feel lucky every day. My husband and I lived in San Francisco for 4 years (met and married there) and then in Walnut Creek for 7 years. Sounds like we used to be neighbors. I would love to hear how the sourdough pasta turns out! And thanks for the extra link. If you’re come to Italy, you are welcome to stay here.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      I bet it’s beautiful! Yes, we were neighbors 🙂 My last batch of sourdough pasta was close but not quite right. Soon… Thanks for the offer to stay with you!

      1. I have a question for you! I mixed my new starter on Sunday just before bed and after only 30 hours it was bubbling. I fed it yesterday morning for the first time and was planning to feed it only once a day but it was really bubbly after 10 hours and had a sourdough-y smell so I thought I had better feed it again. After only 2 more hours it was bubbling again and actually fell overnight and was covered in liquid this morning. It seems that the cycle here is much faster than any I have read about. We had actually been wondering if the air here is really microbe friendly because cheese, even in the fridge ripens and goes bad in days rather than months. My question (finally!) is I can bake with it sooner than your recommended 5 days?

  15. Hi! Do you have any tips for high altitudes? My starter seems to do well for a couple of days but as soon as I start feeding it (like 2nd day into feeding) if fizzles out. I am wondering if I need to feed more often, or larger quantities, or …? Any ideas? Thank you.

  16. ok, you reach the step “is your starter ready”. Your starter is bubbling and you need to start feeding it daily. Every day, do you take 2-3Tbsp of the starter from the day before and then add it to a new batch of 100mg flour + 100ml water and “discard” all the rest? Or do you keep adding 100mg flour +100ml water to your bubbling mix everyday and discard when your jar gets too full?

  17. How do you make pancakes do you have a recipe that you can give out. I would appreciate it very much. Thank you, Star

  18. Hi Anne Marie,

    Is it okay to leave the starter at counter using a tight lid jar with iron clamp?

    – Anne

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