Preparing Fresh Sourdough Starter for Baking



Many bakers begin using a sourdough culture with the idea of getting delicious, crusty, tangy loaves, fresh from the oven every day or two.

In order to use the sourdough culture as a natural leaven, it must be prepared with some advance thought. In certain baked goods like pancakes, there is a chemical reaction between baking soda and the acidic sourdough that does the leavening. However, yeast-risen sourdough is entirely dependent on the health of the culture’s microorganism population in order to rise.

For a good sourdough bread, you need an active, bubbly starter that is ready to leaven. Here are some tips that will help you create exactly what you need for bread-baking.

Determine How Much Starter You Need

Most sourdough bread recipes require 2 to 4 cups of sourdough starter, depending on the type of bread and the size and number of loaves you are baking. So if you continue to dump all but 1/2 cup of sourdough starter into the compost or a batch of pancakes (as when you do the regular feeding of the starter), you will be hard-pressed to have enough starter to bake with.

To build up a good quantity of starter, first determine how much you will need for your baking session. Add 1/2 cup or so for the perpetuation of the starter, and that gives you the volume to produce. For instance, if your recipe calls for 3 cups of starter, you will need to aim for a volume of at least 3-1/2 cups of starter.

Begin Feeding for Baking

Start as you would any other feeding. You may prefer to discard all but 1/2 cup of starter then start with that 1/2 cup. If, however, you have recently fed your starter and it is in good health, start with whatever amount was left after the last feeding, and focus on feeding it well and frequently enough to prepare it for work.

Just remember that you’ll be feeding it until it is very active, which means you might end up with more starter than you bargained for if you start with more than 1/2 cup, due to the feeding ratios.

Stick with Correct Feeding Ratios

It is important to stick with a general feeding ratio of:

  • 1 part sourdough starter
  • 1 part water
  • scant 2 parts flour

This is if you measure by volume. So, if you start with 1 cup of sourdough starter, you will mix in 1 cup of water and 2 scant cups of flour. If you measure by weight, you will need equal parts starter, water, and flour.

Mix vigorously to incorporate air, and allow to proof and double in size.

Feed at Least Three Times and until Needed Volume is Achieved

Keep an eye on the starter. It could take only 4 to 5 hours to double in size, or up to 8 hours. Either way, this is the point at which you really should feed it again.

If your starter has been stored in the refrigerator in a state of hibernation then you should feed it three times before it is fully active. If, however, it has been on the counter and fed twice a day, it may only require two feedings to become fully active.

Once it is active, determine whether you have enough starter to bake with. If not, feed it again using the same ratios as above.

You may end up with much more than the few cups of starter you need for baking, since you continue to feed at the ratio recommended. This is not a bad thing. Make pancakes, crackers, or muffins, or double your batch of bread.

When you have enough active bubbling starter for your recipe, go ahead and bake! Be sure to set aside at least 1/2 cup of starter for the next batch.

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