Active dry yeast is hard to come by these days, so you can make your own ‘wild yeast’ by starting a sourdough starter and use it to bake bread (which is also hard to come by). Until now, I have been making my whole wheat honey oat flax bread, but I ran out of active dry yeast and had been seeing everyone make their own sourdough starter and bake beautiful bread, so I decided to start my very own sourdough starter. It’s been an emotional experience. I finally baked a loaf of bread after two and a half weeks. See below for links to all the resources I used.
Starting a sourdough starter is/has been an emotional roller coaster. There was literally one day where I was staring at my sourdough starter and was feeling depressed and like a failure, proceeded by 2 hours of google searching if I had killed my sourdough starter, followed by my 2 year old son asking me “what’s wrong mama” and me having to explain that I was just a little sad because I didn’t know what was happening with my sourdough starter. Then there was the time I woke up at 3 in the morning because I had forgotten to ‘feed’ my sourdough starter. Or the time my husband and I had a conversation at the end of the day because I had left him (twice) with all three kids and just went into my office to watch videos about sourdough starters.
The thing that I didn’t understand (and that maybe not a lot of others understand -based on the conversations I’m having with friends and others as clueless as I am) is that it takes TIME and a lot of patience to start a sourdough starter.
You see guides saying that you can make a sourdough starter and then be baking bread with it in 7 days. Well, that is like best case scenario, in perfect conditions.
I started my sourdough starter giddy with excitement, thinking I’d be baking bread in a week!!
It started off kind of funny – I told my husband I would never make a sourdough starter, but then after I couldn’t get active dry yeast at the store, I decided to just give it a try. He forwarded me a recipe from a reputable bread site. I mixed the ingredients together, and it was little pebbles. I knew that couldn’t be right, so I found another easier guide (this is the one I used) and it started off strong.
When you’re making a sourdough starter, you are essentially ‘feeding’ it a mixture of flour/water/saved sourdough starter…and then it grows wild yeast, and then you’re taking a little bit of that ‘fed’ starter, and feeding it again…then discarding the rest.
Since it’s just a mixture of flour and water, I decided I wanted to have a zero waste sourdough starter, so I’ve been baking up a storm. I’ve made the best sourdough pizza crust recipe (which so many people have been making on Instagram) and I’ve made amazing banana bread with sourdough starter discard (recipe in this Instagram post)
You feed your sourdough starter twice a day, until it grows/rises/falls predictably.
Here’s where things get tricky. It might not grow/rise/fall predictably in the first week, and you don’t know what the issue is!
- Is your air temperature perfect?
- Are you using a special spoon to stir it with?
- Are you feeding it the right things?
- Is your window facing the perfect way?
- Are you using the latest and greatest tools?
Who the *bleep* knows. All I know, is that day 7, mine didn’t look like it had a lot of activity, and I was literally in tears.
You’re feeding it it twice a day, and I don’t know about you, but if something you’re feeding twice a day isn’t showing signs of activity, you begin to wonder if it’s you…or if you’re doing something wrong or if it’s dead?
I googled away, and read that a good tip was to put the starter in your oven (turned off) with the oven light on. That was what did the trick for me.
Still…after doing that, it took a FULL WEEK to see my sourdough starter rise and fall.
There’s so much fancy sciencey stuff and fancy tools and whatever…it can be very overwhelming for a new bread baker. And I get it, bread baking is a science, but I don’t know…I just wanted to see if I would be able to make a loaf of bread before buying something new!
You name your sourdough starter – it’s a thing- mine’s name is Crust Hemsworth, so you’ll see me refer to it as ‘him.’
Anyway, after 2+ weeks, I finally had an active sourdough starter. The day before I was set to begin baking, I found myself sneaking away into my office and losing track of time while reading about sourdough bread baking and watching videos. Not gonna lie…my husband and I had a conversation at the end of the day because twice I just kind of left the room and left him with all three kids, only to be holed up in my office watching YouTube videos…not cool on my part. Sorry honey.
Finally the day came to bake bread…and oh wait…it’s a two day process!
I patiently followed all the instructions (I used this recipe for artisan sourdough bread from A Beautiful Plate) and after two days, I cut into the loaf of bread, and was giddy with excitement, it worked!!
Links/resources I’ve used:
- Sourdough starter recipe and guide: how to make a sourdough starter I used this one by Girl Versus Dough – which is adapted from The Perfect Loaf sourdough starter guide which I referenced a lot too
- Sourdough bread recipe with timetable: I used this recipe for artisan sourdough bread from A Beautiful Plate. I printed the recipe which printed out not only the recipe but also the timetable. It was so so helpful to have it printed out.
- I watched videos on shaping from A Perfect Loaf
- I didn’t use bread flour, I just used regular all purpose flour
- I didn’t use any special tools or baskets or whatever, I used what I had in the kitchen. A note to this, I have subsequently noticed that if I didn’t score the bread on top, it doesn’t rise like it’s supposed to
So there you have it, my emotional experience with a sourdough starter. It feels like it was a little dramatic, but from the messages I’ve been getting, I can tell I’m not the only one who has struggled with it. My only big comment would be that whatever your sourdough journey, please know you’re not a failure and that it is different for everyone.
Have you ever tried making sourdough bread? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!
Karen File says
Do you give out your recipes?
Hi Karen, Thank you so much for your comment, I think I replied to you over on Instagram, I definitely give out all recipes on recipe posts 🙂 Please let me know any time you have a question.
So encouraging to read this. Elvis just wouldn’t wake up last week, but I’ve divided starter into two and tried different approaches. Just taken a loaf out of the oven, only a week late. Waiting for it to cool ??
I love your starters name lol!! Hopefully he woke up…please keep me posted!!
I have made sourdough English Muffins with the discard. So good!
Oh my goodness, I’m going to have to try that!! I tried making biscuits with the discard and they were not ‘biscuity’ enough so I considered them a flop (they were too bready) but I think those air bubbles would be awesome in English Muffins!
Hi there! Thanks for sharing this, I am sure it will keep many people motivated to keep going and take their time with their starters. My first starter came to life in just 4 days, I had to leave it and start a new one due to moving. And this one took more than 2 weeks to bubble up even a little bit!
It can be very confusing when 99.99999% of sourdough starter instructions promise you a good strong starter in just a week, so I am glad that you are honestly sharing your experience.
I tell ally friends who are starting now never to worry. Unless you accidentally baked your starter or it is covered in fur, keep feeding it!
Greeting from Paris 🙂
Hi!! Thank you so much for sharing your comment and feedback!
I could not agree more, it can be so discouraging when the instructions promise a good starter in a week…when that doesn’t always happen.
I can happily report that I am now (months later) still baking with my sourdough starter, I’m so glad I didn’t give up.
Fairfax Avenue says
I haven’t had homemade sourdough anything in 50 years! I made a starter 3 weeks ago and the first loaf was a big success. Then I made pancakes, also quite good.. Thanks for your instructions to make sourdough pizza. I didn’t need to wait overnight, the batter only needed to rest from noon to 6 PM to be ready to use, it seems I have very enthusiastic starter. The pizza was great! Thanks for doing the experimenting so I could make such a treat for dinner! (The rye bread recipe I tried would have been better had I followed my intuition and not the instructions.) I look forward to more sourdough baking.
Susan Craig says
Welcome to the jungle – I am also a sourdough veteran. For zero waste of your starter – feed it to your compost bin on days when you do not want to bake. It really wakes up the bin!
Thank you for sharing Susan, and what a great idea for the starter!! I do have a compost in the basement with worms, and I’m sure they’d love a little sourdough starter.
Helen Becerra says
I tried to make sourdough starter for the first time a few weeks ago, I only had all purpose flour so ran with that. It took two full weeks for it to even rise a little bit, I almost gave up! I live in southern California so it wasn’t a cold air issue. It’s rising and falling like a dream now on week 3 and I’ve become very attached to it!!
I made one loaf so far, it was pretty good but not mind blowing, I’m going to try another this weekend once I can find whole wheat flour. Your loaf looks amazing!!
Thank you so much for sharing. Isn’t it crazy how you become emotionally attached to it? I’m going to try baking a little more this weekend (I put my starter in the fridge for the week) my first loaf was great (pictured) but then the subsequent few were kind of a flop (I didn’t have a good knife to score the top and I think that had something to do with it? Maybe? Who knows lol. Anyway, thank you for sharing that I’m not alone in this!