By April 14, 2012 Read More →

How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

Sourdough is the original yeast-raised bread.  Here is how you can make your own unique sourdough starter.

by Leon Pantenburg

Commercial yeast is a relatively new idea.  But sourdough has been around ever since somebody figured out that raised bread tasted better than unleavened wheat cakes.

Sourdough starter is where great bread begins. (Pantenburg photo)

Essentially, sourdough refers to a bread that is made with a natural, liquid yeast mixture for the leavening agent.

There is always a mystique associated with sourdough starter.  For some reason, the story sounds better if the starter is old and established.

For example: that famous San Francisco sourdough flavor may be reported to come from a starter that has been around since the gold rush of 1849.  Or you’ll hear about starter that goes back to the Alaskan Klondike gold rush around the turn of the century.

My sourdough starter was given to me by my sister, Karla Moore.  She got it in a trade, and legend has it that the starter goes back to the Oregon Trail in 1847.  (Legend has it means I can’t prove something, and you can’t disprove it.)

But I have used that starter since I got it in 2004.  For years, it was the basis for my kids’ bread for school lunches.  My sourdough dinner rolls made with that starter have won several Dutch oven bread competitions, and it has appeared twice in the finals of the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championship cookoffs.

Regardless of its real genealogy, that starter has a family history already.

There is authentic heirloom sourdough starter available, and you will decide how important that is to your baking.  IMHO, any authentic/heirloom starter would inevitably get changed and mutated by native wild yeast spores.  I also think that sourdough flavor is heavily influenced by the natural environment of the area it is being made in.   (But consult an expert before you make up your mind: For more info on sourdough baking try my go-to bread book: Classic Sourdoughs by Ed Wood.)

For the prepper/survivalist, sourdough baking is a practical method of bread baking.  You don’t have to worry about running out of yeast, and once you acquire a taste for sourdough bread, other types seem bland and tasteless.  But first you have to have the starter.  It is not difficult to create.

Airborne yeast spores are everywhere.  To make a starter, an appropriate landing place is required. All you need is flour and water.

This technique for catching wild yeast comes from Ernie Hahn of La Pine, OR.  Ernie is a retired baker, a former competition cooking partner of mine, a Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society member, and the terror of the dessert category at any Dutch oven competition.  He is an instructor at many Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society seminars, specializing in breads.  Here is Ernie’s method for catching yeast and making a sourdough starter:

Sourdough Starter

2 c flour
2-1/2 c lukewarm water

Put flour in a crock, jar or plastic bowl that is at room temperature.  Add lukewarm water.  Gently fold the flour and water together.  Set the batch of starter in a warm, not hot place. Cover with a towel.

In about four or five days, the pot will be bubbling slowly and a wonderful aroma will fill your kitchen.  When you have used up a cup in a recipe, you will want to replenish the starter.  Generally, fold 2 cups of flour and 3/4 cup of warm water together and add to your starter.

(If you are not going to use your starter for a couple of weeks, put the starter in the refrigerator.  If you are not going to use it for a month, put it in the freezer.  Bring your starter to room temperature to get it working again.)

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12 Comments on "How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter"

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  1. Sour dough is important becuase if you can get the hang of it – even if you run out of store bought yeast you can still have somewhat normal bread! Besides that its just awesome. Good Article!

  2. Pete says:

    How much of the starter do you use to make the bread? I guess what would the the recipe be? 


  3. robin glover says:

    thx for the recipe, i have been looking for easy way to make bread!looking foward to trying it

    • Leon says:

      There are all sorts of wild yeast strains all over the country, and I look forward to hearing how yours comes out!

  4. jeff says:

    Sourdough originated in Ancient Egyptian times around 1500 BC and was likely the first form of leavening available to bakers. so it actually goes back even further that this article says..still great info.. thanks.!!!

    • Leon says:

      “But sourdough has been around ever since somebody figured out that raised bread tasted better than unleavened wheat cakes.”
      I don’t think anybody can even come close to figuring out when sourdough was first used.

  5. Raul says:

    Hi, Leon your ingredients for sour-bread starter is just flour and
    water you don’t use yeast? And the second question is what is
    natural yeast, (heirloom) and any other type of Yeast, i am a bit
    confused about yeast. I got a yeast starter from Calb Warnock
    from the book The art of Baking with Natural yeast. Can you tell
    the difference between Natural yeast and regular yeast? Thanks.

    • Raul,

      Natural or native yeast are what is floating around in the air and found natural on foods. Not something you can buy at the store. Regular yeast is store bought yeast. So “natural yeast” is the yeast that found in our environment all around us. This is also referred to as “wild yeast.”

      This is why Leon’s recipe does not call for yeast. The “starter” is a great home for wild yeast that will fall on the mixture and start reproducing. That’s all any “starter” is – a home for yeast. Sure you can buy some “starters” from the store that will come with some yeast but like leon said they will enviably be taken over by native/wild yeasts in your environment. So basically what you are doing is making a home for yeast and waiting for them to show up. Once they do, you feed them – they grow and multiply THEN you can use the starter to make future batches Sour Dough Bread.

      This is why Sour Dough bread has than “sour” flavor – because the yeast is “natural” or “wild”.

      Feel free to correct me if I have over spoken Leon.

      • Raul says:

        Stephanie I purchase some organic red turkey flour form Montana and it’s 100 percent organic so here is the question
        when leon says 2 cups flour and 2cups warm water for sour
        dough bread is this the starter? And i am Gluten intolerance
        so Caleb Warnock say’s in her book that natural yeast helps
        break down Gluten to be able to digest. can you shied some
        light on this please! Raul

  6. Raul says:

    Hi, Stephanie i am a bit stuck can you assist me perhaps!
    Is clay, or ceramic, stoneware better then glass to start
    a yeast and flour water starter? It seems like i can’t find
    an answer and nobody seems to want to help or they don’t
    know! Raul

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