HomeGeneralHow to Make a Successful Sourdough Starter by Elaine Boddy

How to Make a Successful Sourdough Starter by Elaine Boddy

Hi, I’m Elaine from Foodbod Sourdough, and I am a sourdough baker, cookbook writer and teacher, but mostly a sourdough ‘simplifier’. The key focus of everything I do, and share, is to show how truly simply it is to make sourdough. I remove the complications and the unnecessary steps – and often the fear – that can come with making sourdough. I show bakers all over the world how they can easily make their own healthy, tasty bread, week-in and week-out, in their home kitchens, to suit their lifestyles and timing. And that is just what I will be doing now in this column – sharing my simple sourdough ways with you. Welcome to my sourdough world.

I have now written three sourdough books, and I also host a podcast all about food, The Foodbod Pod.

Website: https://foodbodsourdough.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elaine_foodbod/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/foodbodsourdough

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/foodbodSourdough

How to make a sourdough starter

If you’ve ever fancied making a sourdough starter, now is the time! Below are my tips for success, and my simple guide for making a starter. If you do decide to have a go and need any assistance along the way, feel free to get in touch, I’m always happy to help. And if you do have a go, enjoy it!

What exactly is sourdough starter? Sourdough starter is where it all begins. It is the starting point for our creations, it’s what lifts our loaves, and gives sourdough its texture and flavor.

The key difference between a starter and other bread raising agents is that starter is in liquid form and lives and lasts forever, rather than being in dried form and added straight from a package. And it is truly simple to make and to use. Flour and water, that’s all it is – flour, water and time.

Top sourdough starter tips

My top tips to make and to keep your starter in good condition are:

  • Use good flour. You can use any wheat flour to make a starter, but if you are new to sourdough baking I would highly recommend using strong white bread flour or whole wheat flour. And choose the best quality that you can, it does make a difference and is worth the investment in your starter.
  • Water. in most places tap water is fine, but if you’re not sure, try filtered water.
  • Use a digital scale. Weighing your flour and water makes a huge difference to its strength.
  • Keep it small. I only ever use small quantities for making and maintaining my starter. This saves on waste, and keeps it lean and healthy.
  • Give it time. Starters don’t work to a clock – they will be ready when they’re ready. There are some ways that you can encourage it along, but patience is key.
  • Be consistent. When you find what works for you, stick with it.
  • Use a thermometer. Using a room thermometer it will help you to judge your starter’s activity; when it’s cold it slows down, when it’s warm, it works faster. By being aware of how your starter works in your kitchen, it will help you to plan when it’s time to use it.
  • And if you’re new to sourdough baking, don’t read too much. You can easily get overwhelmed with a flood of information. Choose a single source and stick with it while you learn how sourdough works.
  • Starters are very resilient. They are rarely dead unless they get moldy. Starters don’t need constant tending, or feeding just for the sake of it. Once your starter has been made and established, you only ever need to feed it to use it. It doesn’t matter if you use it once a week, once a fortnight or once a month. It will survive in the fridge when you go on holiday – no one needs to come and tend to it. And never assume you need to chuck it out and start again; starters can always be tended back to health, unless, as I mentioned, they get moldy.

How to make a sourdough starter

A sourdough starter is basically fermented flour and water; by mixing them together, allowing them time to ferment, managing how much we keep, and watching the consistency, we can easily create a happy working successful starter.

What you need:

  • A digital scale
  • A container, preferably a glass bowl or jar with a fitted lid, around 600ml. I use a 580ml Weck 744 tulip jar.
  • Good quality strong white bread flour or strong whole wheat flour. In the U.K., I use Matthews Cotswold Flour strong white bread flour, or their stoneground wholegrain flour. In the U.S., King Arthur Bread Flour is a great option.
  • Water – typically tap water works fine, the best thing to do is to try it and see.

More tips

Each step represents a single daily action. This can be done at any time of the day; after each one, stir the mixture well, scraping down the sides of the container, and mixing it all in, then loosely cover the pot again and leave it on the counter.

On the days you are asked to remove half of the contents, do so by eye and collect the discarded starter in a bowl and use it to make pancakes or other recipes.

While making a starter, always sit the lid on your jar so that it is well covered, but not wholly firmly pressed closed; as part of the fermentation process your starter will release gasses which need to be able to escape. This also explains why the underside of the lid can often be damp – this is all normal.


Day 1:

In your container, mix 50 grams of flour with 50 grams of water. Stir the mixture well; it will be nicely thick, even thicker if you are using the whole wheat flour option. Place the lid loosely on your jar, and leave it on the kitchen counter.

Day 2:

Add 30 grams of your flour and 30 grams of water, then stir and leave as above.

Day 3:

Bubbles may be appearing now, and it may be starting to smell eggy or cheesy, or wheaty and sour if using whole wheat flour. Add 30 grams of your flour and 30 grams of water, then stir and leave as above.

Day 4:

Your starter may now be smelling vinegary; that is all normal, it shows that the process is happening. Remove half of the contents of the container. Add 30 grams of your flour and 30 grams of water, then stir and leave as above.

Day 5:

If your starter is now looking less active and bubbly, do not be disheartened; it is all part of the process. Stick with it and keep building the strength in your starter. Add 30 grams of your flour and 30 grams of water, then stir and leave as above.

Day 6:

Remove half of the contents of the bowl. Add 30 grams of your flour and 30 grams of water then stir and leave as above.

Day 7:

Hopefully, you are now seeing bubbles all the way through the mixture and it responds and grows after each feed. White flour starters can look really exciting now, bubbly and even volcanic. Whole wheat flour starters will be more textured, with an undulating surface. Add 30 grams of your flour and 30 grams of water, then stir and leave as above.


if your starter becomes thin at any point, feed it with 30 grams of flour and 15 grams of water to maintain its thickness. Repeat this action if the starter keeps becoming thin.

And if your starter develops a murky, watery surface, it is not ruined, it is just telling you that it is hungry; feed it and continue, and if it feels thin again at any point, repeat this action. Always aim for your starter to have a thick wallpaper paste or American pancake batter-like consistency. Starters typically become thin if the flour is weak, or they are being kept too warm. Resist the temptation to leave them in warm spaces for hours and hours. Some warmth is nice, too much will weaken your starter.

Is my starter ready to use?

Your starter is ready to use as soon as it routinely grows and becomes active several hours after being fed. If you are not sure whether it is ready by Day 7, repeat the same process again from Day 4 onward until this happens. You’ll know what this means when you feed your starter and after a few hours it’s grown and become textured and lively.

Once it is ready, keep the lid tightly shut and store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it. From this point on, you no longer need to keep discarding and feeding; when you are going to use it, feed it for making your dough.

How to use your starter

Only ever keep a base amount of between 50 to 100 grams of starter at any time.

When you want to make your dough, feed this base amount of starter with 30 grams of flour and 30 grams of water to generate the amount of starter you will need for a single loaf, using my master recipe. Stir it well; it should have a thick, batter-like consistency. Replace the lid and leave it to respond, grow and become active. Once it has, remove the quantity you need for your dough, replace the lid, fit it on firmly, and return your starter to the fridge until next time. Then follow the process again.

For more tips, guidance and troubleshooting, plus everything you could ever need to know about making sourdough as simply as possible, check out my book, The Sourdough Whisperer.

For more help and advice, feel free to contact me directly at [email protected]

Photos by James Kennedy Photography

(This article appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)

Pastry Arts Magazine is the new resource for pastry & baking professionals designed to inspire, educate and connect the pastry community as an informational conduit spotlighting the trade.