How to Make a Sourdough Starter From Scratch Without a Food Scale
Updated: Jun 6
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Maybe it’s just me, but sourdough has felt like it's regaining popularity in the past few years! In my opinion, it’s much much tastier than regular bread, and it’s definitely healthier!
Don’t feel like you need a 100-year-old starter to have good sourdough! You can make a good sourdough starter in your own kitchen in less than a week!
Sourdough is always my preferred method of consuming gluten.
Because the grain is fermented, digestion is much easier for the body AND sourdough promotes stable blood sugar more than traditional breads. Sourdough is also a good prebiotic, so it also promotes a healthy gut!
I try to make everything baked with sourdough! Pancakes, crepes, cinnamon rolls, bagels, crackers, pizza crusts, etc! And of course, you can make sourdough bread! Sourdough bread does take a bit of practice, but once you get it down, it’s not hard at all. I make a loaf of bread and usually a batch of sourdough crackers weekly! The crackers have replaced processed snack foods like cheese-it’s in our house, and I also like to keep frozen sourdough bagels in our freezer, just to have them on hand.
Maintaining a sourdough starter can be intimidating, but don’t be scared! If you enjoy baking, and bake something weekly (or strive to bake something weekly) you can maintain a sourdough starter! It’s a great habit to have as you can control the quality of food in your home.
A few thoughts on the grains you choose to use: A healthy sourdough starter can handle any kind of grain as long as it has gluten in it. It is possible to have a gluten-free sourdough starter, but that starter needs to begin its life gluten-free. Traditional white flour from the grocery store will do, but I’d recommend a whole grain. My preferred flour is einkorn, which is very high in protein and plenty of other great nutrients such as zinc, Vitamin A, fiber, B vitamins, and many other minerals that are not available in modern flours. Most grains today have been hybridized, meaning bred for production. Einkorn is the exception. If Einkorn is not available to you, I would also recommend organic flour from red or white wheat berries. Commercially grown and processed flour is just that, processed and commercially grown, meaning, sprayed with pesticides, and likely genetically modified.
Food in its whole form is almost always better for your body, and this definitely includes grains!
Usually, for soft bread, like a loaf, rolls, or bagels, I use a combination of einkorn and either organic wheat from red or white wheat berries. This helps keep the bread a bit lighter and fluffier.
I also have the ability to mill my grain fresh when I bake. Here’s the mill I use. This is best because most flours are actually rancid by the time you get them home from the grocery store. If you’ve ever smelled freshly milled flour, versus store-bought flour in a bag, you’ll notice a difference! If you don’t have this option, don’t worry too much, just try and buy organic.
Most people have a large variety of tools they use in the kitchen to maintain a starter and bake sourdough bread! I don’t have any of these, and I’ve still been successful! However, if you’d like to make your life easier, here is a good list of tools:
As I said before, I don’t have any of these tools, and I’ve still been able to churn out plenty of excellent loaves! If you’re like me or want to bake some before you decide to invest in all these tools, you can still start a sourdough starter without a scale!
The basics of a starter are fermented flour and water.
You’ll know you will have a healthy sourdough starter when it's bubbly. When you feed it, it should almost double in size, and then it should drop back down to the previous level. The time this takes depends on the temperature in your home. If it’s winter, and your home is slightly cooler, it may take a few extra days for the starter to become active. If it’s summertime, you can have a healthy starter in as little as 4 days!
Day 1: Let’s Get Started
Add half a cup of flour and half a cup of filtered water into a jar. Shake, and set the lid lightly on the jar. Don’t screw the lid into place and air needs to be able to escape. Set the jar aside on the counter and wait a full day.
Pour about half the starter out. This is sourdough discard. You can fry it in a frypan for a quick pancake, or throw it out. Add a quarter cup of flour and a quarter cup of filtered water. The idea is to take away about half the mass of the starter, and then replace that mass with fresh flour and water. During this time, we’re trying to develop a culture that needs feeding. The culture is made up of naturally occurring yeast in the air in your home.
If you’re able, repeat the previous process TWICE during these days. Feed your starter once in the mornings and once in the evenings.
You should have a healthy bubbly starter at this stage! If it’s not bubbly and does not double in size after you feed it, continue feeding it twice daily until it does become bubbly.
Maintaining your starter:
Place it in the fridge during times when you're not using it. Refrigeration will slow down the fermentation so that the starter can go longer times between feedings. If you have a healthy starter (preferably about 3 months old), it can last up to about 2 months without being fed. For regular use, I’d recommend not letting it go in the fridge longer than a week. When you’re ready to use it, bring it out, feed it, wait a few hours until it doubles in size, and get to baking!
A healthy starter can actually tolerate quite a lot. It can tolerate all kinds of flour (as long as it has gluten). If you have a healthy starter, you can deplete it down to a tablespoon, feed it 3 cups of flour, and in a day, you’ll have 3 cups of healthy sourdough starter! It can handle too much food, but not too little. When in doubt, feed it more!
If you don’t have a water filter, simply place a jar full of water in a dark cabinet for 24 hours. After sitting that long, the chlorine in the chlorine will evaporate from the water, and it’s ready to be used for sourdough.
Instead of just throwing the discard away, plop it in a pan of butter, and fry up a pancake. Or go savory, and fry it in olive or coconut oil. Add chives instead of syrup. You can also make delicious sourdough discard crackers!
And that's it! How to make a sourdough starter from scratch without a food scale! Sourdough seems intimidating for newby's (at least it was for me), but it's actually a very forgiving thing, and just takes a little trial and error. Once you feed and use your starter enough, the concept of how it works sinks in, and it becomes so much more intuitive. Have you used sourdough before? What's been your experience? Let me know in the comments!