Sourdough starter from flour to a baked loaf

Sourdough starter from flour to a baked loaf
Sourdough Starter, from flour to a baked loaf

Making your sourdough starter from flour to baked loaf will give you a proper sense of achievement and you’ll be wondering why you didn’t give this a try sooner after trying my step by step guide!

During Lockdown 1.0 March 2020, it seemed that the world and his wife was baking sourdough. I adore sourdough bread and I go out of my way to procure a loaf from a bakery in the city, so I wanted in on this action! While I made my starter quite successfully, the Instagram Live sessions I followed either missed steps (with one particular account I was avidly following jumped from the first bulk rise stage to cutting a slice of crusty sourdough – WTF!), or seemed really complicated that it scared me off. I duly put my sourdough starter Gabrielle in the fridge.

More recently I decided to give it another go, so I’ve been proudly showing off my sourdough baking prowess on my social media outlets. While I happily accept the compliments paid to my baking, I have received lots of DMs with questions relating to getting the sourdough starter started.

This is my second attempt at sourdough baking and it was even more beautiful on the inside – aren’t we all! This is made using my well established sourdough starter Gabrielle. I chose this name because when she comes out of the fridge and has a feed, she rises again (get it?)!

What is a sourdough starter?

The starter is going to be the raising agent for your loaf instead of yeast. Essentially it’s a live culture made from flour and water, and when left to ferment, the natural yeasts found in the environment will bring your flour and water to life!

By the end of this process, you WILL NOT need yeast to bake a loaf!

Once you have your sourdough starter, give it a name. You are going to be caring and nourishing your starter, so it’s only fitting to name yours.

What you’ll need.
  • Strong Bread Flour
  • Glass Jar
  • Water
  • Kitchen Scales
  • Elastic Band or Masking Tape
  • Patience
Let’s run through this list.

Strong bread flour. This is different to the flour that you would use for baking a cake. Strong bread flour contains more gluten than ‘regular baking flour’. Gluten is the protein in flour which is responsible for its elasticity.

The first time I tried to get a starter off the ground, the blog I found suggested using Whole wheat flour. All I can say is IT DIDN’T WORK (for me).

You may consider using a spelt or rye flour for your starter, but don’t. As you’ll soon see, the process of making your starter will having you regularly feeding and discarding some of your mixture. Speciality flour is always considerably more expensive than strong bread flour, so save the speciality flours to flavour your loaves and use strong bread flour that isn’t too expensive.

Glass Jar. When I attempted my first starter, I treated myself to a large Kilner jar, but this was a little over the top and by the time I actually started the process, I’d used it and I have no idea where it is! Lucky for me I like to keep jars instead of using plastic containers, so I use a small jam jar to start. You can always switch to a larger jar as we go through the daily process.

Water. Every blog says something different when it comes to the water you need. I simply use cold tap water.

Kitchen Scales. If you’re a fan of the Great British Bake Off you’ll know that baking requires ingredients to be weighed. You will need to weigh the flour AND the water. Don’t try to guess the amounts and don’t rely on a measuring jug or cups.

Elastic Band or Masking Tape. As you go through this process, we use an elastic band or masking tape to indicate the level of the starter after feeding to monitor how much rise you get. You want a really active starter for your loaf to be successful so this is a really useful tool.

Patience. The process of fermentation takes time and it builds flavour too. There is no part of this process that speedy, but that’s OK. This is going to be worth the time and effort. Just know that by the end of this process, you will have what you need to bake a loaf of sourdough.

Before we get started.

You maybe wondering how long exactly it will be before the starter is ready to be used? I just don’t know the answer I’m afraid. I’ve read some blogs that said that it could be possible to have a ready to bake with starter in just 7 days, but my experience is that it takes longer, and I will in this blog post show you the daily process until this starter is ready!

Day One

To Do – Weigh 60g of strong bread flour and 60g of water. Add both to your jar and mix until it forms a smooth paste. Cover with a loose fitting lid and leave it somewhere at room temperature. Use your elastic band or masking tape to indicate the level of your starter. It smells like wet flour (you may think I’m mad, but you are going to be smelling your starter as it develops).

Insider tip – my jar will be left in my utility room which is 20-21ÂșC. You maybe tempted to leave your jar to sit somewhere warmer, like your airing cupboard, but don’t. This process takes time and builds flavour while your sourdough starter comes to life.

Day Two

To Do – Nothing. Today we just check on the flour/water paste. No need to feed today.

Observations – it looks like something is starting to happen. There’s a mix of black dots and tiny bubbles starting to appear. The smell is different too. It’s not an obvious flour smell….. it’s a little funky.

Day Two, small bubbles
Day Three

Observations before doing anything – I can see a layer of hooch within the starter paste. It’s also on the top of the paste. Hooch is a residual liquid that is sometimes produced during the fermentation process. It’s a good indication that your starter paste needs feeding so don’t worry!

To do – Today we need to discard 50% of our starter paste – this should get rid of any hooch that may have formed. No need to mix anything, just pour 50% of the paste away.

Next, weigh 60g of strong bread flour and 60g of water. Add these to the jar with the remaining paste and thoroughly mix until they are combined. Use either a spatula or spoon to scrape away excess paste from the sides so that you can mark the top of the paste to observe any rise. Cover loosely and leave to rest for another 24 hours.

Day Three after feeding

Day Four

Observations before doing anything – This starter paste is very different to my original starter Gabrielle. This one is quite hoochy so I think when it’s ready for naming I’m going to have to come up with a ‘boy’ name. This time the hooch layer is confined to the top only, and when I gently tilt the jar I can see the bubbly starter paste beneath. Its funky smell continues to develop (it’s not quite yeasty, more along the lines of a feint cheesy aroma).

To do – Today we repeat what we did yesterday. Discard 50% of the starter paste – this should remove any hooch that has formed.

Weigh 60g of strong bread flour and 60g of water. Add these to the jar with the remaining paste and thoroughly mix until they are combined. Use either a spatula or spoon to scrape away excess paste from the sides so that you can mark the top of the paste to observe any rise. Cover loosely and leave to rest for another 24 hours.

Additional tip – you could at this point transfer the remaining paste to a clean jar before feeding.

Day Five

Observations before doing anything – This starter paste has a hooch layer on top of the paste again today, but this time it’s more clear whereas previous days it had a yellow tinge to it. It’s also quite fragrant.

To do – Today we repeat what we did yesterday. Discard 50% of the starter paste – this should remove any hooch that has formed.

Weigh 60g of strong bread flour and 60g of water. Add these to the jar with the remaining paste and thoroughly mix until they are combined. Use either a spatula or spoon to scrape away excess paste from the sides so that you can mark the top of the paste to observe any rise. Cover loosely and leave to rest for another 24 hours.

Additional observations after feeding – when I’ve finished feeding my starter paste, I like to wash the spoons I’ve used and clear-up before I cover the jar and put it back in the utility room to rest and today I’ve noticed that after only 10 minutes, lots of bubbles are appearing.

Day Five, starter paste 10 minutes after feeding

Day Six

Observations before doing anything – Looking at the starter paste while I’m making the boys breakfast, I can see that the starter paste is still quite hoochy.

Day Six, clear hooch layer

To do – Today we repeat what we did yesterday. Discard 50% of the starter paste – again this will remove the hooch that has formed.

Weigh 60g of strong bread flour and 60g of water. Add these to the jar with the remaining paste and thoroughly mix until they are combined. Use either a spatula or spoon to scrape away excess paste from the sides so that you can mark the top of the paste to observe any rise. Cover loosely and leave to rest for another 24 hours.

Additional observations after feeding – this starter paste is active almost immediately. Lots of bubbles forming almost as soon as I’ve stopped stirring and certainly before I start spoon washing!

Day Seven

Observations before doing anything – This starter paste is still producing a layer of hooch and I’m not getting much if any rise.

To do – I have a plan today to help stabilise the starter paste. Today there will be 2 feedings.

Feeding 1 – Discard 50% of the starter paste and feed with 60g water and 60g of strong bread flour. Leave to rest in the usual place lightly covered.

Observations after 1st feeding – There seems to be a little rise as well as the usual tell tale bubbles. 2 hours after 1st feeding, there are lots of little bubbles on the surface and I think we’ve had a bit of a rise too!

Feeding 2 – This took place approx 6 hours after the first and this time I won’t be discarding any paste, only feeding with 60g water and 60g strong bread flour. There didn’t appear to be any hooch at this point.

Observations after 2nd feeding – There is a lot more starter paste that I’ve had because there was no discard at the 2nd feed, but as I mix I notice the paste has a lovely elastic texture to it when mixing. It starts to bubble almost immediately – it’s looking promising but we’re not quite there yet!

Day Eight

Observations before doing anything – There is much less hooch than I have observed on previous days, so I think the starter paste is starting to stabilise.

To do – The jar needs changing today, so before feeding I want to discard 50% and then pour the remaining starter paste into a clean jar. Once transferred to a clean jar (it was 195g), the usual feeding practice, 60g water and 60g of strong bread flour. Leave to rest in the usual place lightly covered.

Day Eight, starter paste after transferral to new jar, but before feeding

Observations after feeding – It’s really bubbly almost immediately so it will be interesting to see if we get any rise up the jar today!

Day Nine

Observations before doing anything – Today is the first day that there has been no hooch layer and there seems to be evidence of a bit of a rise!

Day Nine, before feeding. No hooch layer!

To do – I’m happy that the starter paste is stable, so normal feeding practice today. Discard 50% before feeding with 60g water and 60g of strong bread flour. Leave to rest in the usual place lightly covered.

Observations after feeding – Lots of big bubbles almost immediately. I’m hopeful of some rise up the jar today so I’m going to check-in on the progress. Fed at noon.

12.24pm – there’s obvious rise happening!

Day Nine, 12.24pm time to rise

3.30pm – the starter paste has doubled in size! He’s alive!

Day Nine, 3.30pm doubled in size

4.50pm – still rising!

Day Nine, 4.50pm still rising

7.00pm – there’s been so much rise I think we’ve hit the top of the jar lid! I’m really happy with the amount of rise we got today!

Day Nine, 7.00pm

End of day observations – today I’ve witnessed activity from this starter that I’ve not had before with this one. Until this level of activity is consistent over a few days, I’ll continue the process.

Day Ten

Observations before doing anything – Yesterday was quite the day for this young sourdough starter. On taking the lid off the jar, there’s quite a lot of residue on the sides and the lid itself but I can see no hooch and that’s great. It’s got a lovely smell to it now.

To do – I’m going to discard 50% of the starter paste and then pour the remaining paste into a clean jar before feeding with 60g water and 60g of strong bread flour. Leave to rest in the usual place lightly covered.

Day Ten, paste in a new jar before feeding

Observations after feeding – I’ve finished mixing the flour into the paste and no sooner have I turned around to put the spoon down, I can see bubbles forming, get bigger and burst. This starter is quite active at this point, so I’m excited! Fed at noon.

7.00pm – The sourdough paste is rising nicely, but it’s nothing like it was yesterday.

Day Ten, rise at 7.00pm

Day Eleven

Observations before doing anything – Despite the starter paste not being as active as the previous day, we had a rise which the jar shows, there’s no hooch and we’re left with lots of lovely tiny bubbles.

To do – It’s another repetitive day. I’m going to discard 50% of the starter paste before feeding with 60g water and 60g of strong bread flour. Leave to rest in the usual place lightly covered.

Observations after feeding – The starter is starting to repeat previous days behaviour so I’m hopeful that we’re nearing the end of the starter process. It does seem long, and while some guides say a starter can be ready in 7 days, I’ve not experienced this and I’m not sure the flavour will have developed in such a short period of time. Fed at noon.

3.30pm – we have a lovely steady rise happening!

Day Eleven, rise at 3.30pm

7.00pm – it’s still steadily rising fairly evenly.

Day Eleven, even rise at 7.00pm

Day Twelve

Observations before doing anything – The starter looks just as it did yesterday (lots of small bubbles, evidence of rise and no hooch) which is a good sign of stability so I’m hopeful to be baking soon!

Day Twelve, looks as it did before feeding yesterday

To do – Same as yesterday I’m going to discard 50% of the starter paste before feeding with 60g water and 60g of strong bread flour. Leave to rest in the usual place lightly covered.

Observations after feeding – After feeding the starter paste looks bubbly almost immediately. It reminds me of the top of a crumpet! Fed at noon.

4.00pm – impressive rise at this point.

Day Twelve, rise at 4.00pm

8.00pm – the rise is now starting to deflate.

Day Twelve, 8.00pm declining rise

Day Thirteen

Observations before doing anything I feel like it’s groundhog day. It’s just like it was yesterday. That’s not a bad thing!

To do – Today I want to discard then transfer the paste into a clean jar before feeding with 60g water and 60g of strong bread flour. Leave to rest in the usual place lightly covered.

Observations after feeding – The starter paste is nice and bubble, hoping for some rise, and it smells lovely! Late feed today, 4.30pm.

5.30pm – Just an hour later the sourdough paste has doubled in size, but it’s a steady rise so I’m happy that we’re almost at the end of this process.

Day Thirteen, 1 hour after feeding

Day Fourteen

Observations before doing anything The starter paste is again lovely and full of small bubbles. The aroma is lovely and worlds away from that flour and water smell we had on day one!

Day Fourteen, lovely and bubbly

To do – Today we bake! No discard today. Only feeding with 60g water and 60g of strong bread flour. Leave to rest in usual place.

Observations after feeding – The starter paste has a lovely thick texture to it, and it’s starting to bubble straight away. Fed at noon.

3.00pm – In just 3 hours the sourdough paste has doubled in size. The rise is even so I have my plan to start the baking process tonight!

Day Fourteen, rise after 3 hours of being fed

7.00pm – on opening the jar to start making the dough, I’m presented with the gift of lots of tiny bubbles that are going to contribute to the rise of my loaf.

Day Fourteen, 7.00pm bubbles

Closing observations

Even though I’ve been through this process before, there were times when I felt that the process of discarding, feeding and waiting was never ending! The rise that I saw on Day Nine was where we turned a corner, but I knew that the sourdough paste wasn’t ready to be used to bake a loaf of bread.

If you have the patience to see this through until the end, I can promise you that you won’t regret it. Knowing that you can bake a beautiful loaf of sourdough with a starter that you nurtured is amazing.

Below is a gallery of the pictures I took when baking the bread. I’ll share the recipe and take better pictures soon, but feel free to comment with any questions.

You may wonder what I do with my starter once I’ve used it? The answer is I feed it (60g strong bread flour, 60g water, mix thoroughly and refrigerate it until I need it next!

Highlights of my Sourdough Bread Baking

There is no greater pleasure than baking a loaf of bread for your children to enjoy!

Coming soon……..trying my hand at making a Gluten Free Sourdough Starter.

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