A first sourdough (again), making a starter with yeast. Basic tutorial.

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I have had an unsuccessful love affair with sourdough for over 45 years. Part of my lack of success was, in fact, a misunderstanding of the very thing I loved, sourdough itself. Having grown up in Marin County my trained taste for sourdough was formed by the loaves of San Francisco. And of course, at that age, I would not understand or even believe that all sourdough was not to taste exactly like those loaves from the city across the bridge.

Years later my older sister made sourdough (starter) crocks for gifts one year. I was very excited to get that gift along with a sweet little homemade sourdough cookbook. The first recipe I made was for pancakes. Then some biscuits, and finally the bread I loved so much. But it was not the same, not in any way. Oh it was good and we ate it, all of it, but that loaf was not a San Francisco sourdough at all.

One day sometime later while cleaning out the refrigerator, I came across that little crock of sourdough and simply discarded it..............sorry about that, dear sister. 

Slowly fast forward those same 45 years and I now understand not only bread baking but how to use a sourdough starter. And the different yeast strains in different parts of the country as well. Not only will my sourdough starter not produce San Francisco sourdough bread, but many other starters in San Francisco also do not produce that same exact flavor, it really is the yeast, the years and in some ways the memories one holds dear.

Another lesson learned in these same years is this.......not everything sourdough is a loaf of bread. At our house I think we will be making a lot of biscuits, they go really well with homemade jam.

And with that, let's make a simple sourdough starter or as the author calls it,

A First Sourdough (Starter)
adapted from: Bread Winners

From Beatrice Seal:  "Most sourdough bakers will tell you the best way to start your sourdough stock is to get a starter from someone who has a good bubbly batch going, but there are other good ways alternatives such as this yeast starter"......

1 package or cake of yeast (scant 1 T)
2 t honey
2 c warm water ( use potato water*)
2 c whole wheat flour

Combine all ingredients in a glass or pottery container. NEVER USE METAL! Cover with a cheesecloth and let stand at room temperature for 48 hours, stirring it down several times. Potato water is an even better liquid than tap water. Each time you stir, you may notice a clear yellowish liquid on top of the starter. This is natural - just stir it down. Do the same before using it.

Opps! This jar is NOT big enough. For a yeast beginning sourdough; like this recipe, you will need twice the space of jar above the starter. A jar of this size would be fine for a wild yeast (caught) sourdough.

Proof, that this jar is not large enough!

This large measuring bowl is a better choice for the yeast activity that is a part of creating this sourdough starter. The jar will be used once the sourdough is ready to use and feed.

My notes: 

This starter called for whole wheat flour, one of our goals is to eat more whole grains. While I learn to bake with more whole grains, this seemed like a good start. I will most likely begin with a small amount of whole grain flour in future recipes and then as they are re-made add more whole grain while decreasing the white flour. I may never bake any recipe with 100% whole grains if it is not something we will enjoy.

When you need to stir down the starter, this clear liquid is normal. You should also notice a mild yeasty smell. 

What a sourdough starter looks like at the 48 hour mark,
This starter is 48 hours old, it is ready to use or place in the refrigerator. 

UPDATE: The information below is from one chapter in the book The Bread Winners. And while it is good and in fact, customary information, following it will possibly cause you to lose track of your starter and in time it will be worthless.

Another sourdough baker has offered the following information: Keep your starter on the kitchen counter, if you do not bake weekly (and why would you not, it is right there to remind you to use it, not in a dark, out of the way refrigerator) add 1 T of flour, stir well to refresh. You may refrigerate for longer storage between baking sessions if you prefer.

I remember keeping my previous sourdough starter in the refrigerator and that is why this post is titled "A first sourdough (again)". The many books I have read on sourdough baking have mentioned that it was oftentimes difficult finding a warm spot for the sourdough to rest between use. There is more to sourdough baking than biscuits and bread, bring on the fun!

Using the Starter:  Each time you use your starter, replenish it with equal parts water and flour. The starter should be kept in the refrigerator when not in use, then taken out and brought to room temperature before using it.

If you do not use the starter weekly (this can happen.....), take it from the refrigerator about every 10 days to be refreshed. Discard half the starter, feed with equal parts water and flour, keep it at room temperature until it bubbles, and then refrigerate, lightly covered.

* Potato Water

1 small potato - scrubbed but not peeled
2 1/2 c fresh cold water

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until the potato is done and beginning to overcook and mush. Let cool until barely warm.

Sourdough starter made with potato water.

Proceed as above.

For future potato water needs, when you make mashed potatoes for a meal, do not season the cooking water. When drained off to mash to potatoes collect the water and keep for bread baking.

Up next:  Sourdough Biscuits.


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PS, you may also enjoy our Homemade Household page, it can be found right at the top of the blog!


  1. wow, that is challenging, I have a japanese friend who makes starter from raisins, I suppose the different starters flavor of the bread, yum!

  2. When I retire from teaching in May (and do my photography business full time - and blog!), one of the first things on my list is to get a sourdough starter going.

  3. looks like a great start. I love sourdough and Never think to do it but you bet I will now. thanks for the inspiration

  4. I have had sour dough starters over the years, but eventually get tired of feeding them. I love sour dough bread so perhaps I should try again. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Hi Melynda,
    An interesting post! I have always wanted to try at making sourdough, planning to start after Chinese New Year. Thanks for linking with CYB!

  6. Great post! I've tried to make sourdough, but because we like a variety of homemade breads, I often forget about the sourdough and then eventually throw them out. Like Sage, maybe it's time to make some more.

  7. Thanks for this post. I have tried making a sourdough starter on occasion but haven't had any luck. Maybe I shouldn't give up!

  8. Very interesting post! I might just give this a go... sometime!


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