Create your own fantastic sourdough starter doesn’t take great skill or expense. What does it take? Time and consistent care. Some people suggest creating a starter using particular grains, such as rye, but we used spelt and have had no issues achieving success.
Before Jessica started her sourdough culture, she read numerous resources, and was greatly helped by the tips given at the Traditional Cooking School. Our process is similar to the one it recommends.
Start with a clean pint glass jar or a small bowl. Clear glass is particularly useful, as it allows you to see activity in your new starter from the sides in addition to the surface. In the jar, combine 1/4 cup whole spelt or whole-wheat ﬂour and just under 1/4 cup water (or just over 2/3 cup, if you’re measuring). Some people like to measure by weight rather than volume. That takes more time and precision than we feel is necessary at this stage, but if you’d like to do that, measure an equal amount (by weight) of ﬂour and water; about
30 grams of each would be good for creating a new starter.
Mix the flour and water together thoroughly, scrape down the sides, and loosely cover the vessel with a clean cloth. We like to use a cloth napkin for this purpose, held in place by a rubber band. Allow it to sit for 12 hours in a warm spot out of direct sunlight.
After approximately 12 hours, remove half the mixture and discard; chickens or pigs, compost piles, or worm bins will all appreciate this healthy addition to their regular diet. Now, add another 1/4 cup ﬂour and just under 1/4 cup water. Mix them together thoroughly, scrape down the sides, cover it, and let it sit for another 12 hours.
An active, bubbling sourdough starter means you’re on the right track.
This is the basic routine for getting your starter going. Every 12 or so hours, remove half the mixture, add 1/4 cup ﬂour and just under 1/4 cup water, stir well, scrape down the sides, cover it with a cloth, allow it to sit 12 hours, and then repeat. Between Days 4 and 7, you should start to see bubbles and sniff a slightly sour smell — the beginnings of your starter’s rich and diverse microbial mix! If you’re using wheat ﬂour, once your starter is active, it will double in the jar, and large air holes will be visible through the sides. Spelt, and perhaps other traditional grains, won’t increase in size so noticeably, but you’ll see lots of tiny bubbles on the sides and top. This is likely due to the lower gluten content and different protein proﬁles among the various grains.
After about three weeks, your starter will be ready to use. At this point, you can also reduce the twice-daily feedings to 1 tablespoon ﬂour and just less than 1 tablespoon water. Continue to scrape the sides and keep it covered with a cloth.
Below are step-by-step instructions for making your own starter from scratch.
Simple Step-by-Step Instructions for Whole-Grain Sourdough Starter
Day 1, morning: Combine 1/4 cup whole-grain ﬂour and 2/3 cup ﬁltered water in a clean pint jar. Stir well, scrape down the sides, and cover it loosely with a cloth.
Day 1, evening: Remove half your starter and add 1/4 cup whole-grain ﬂour and 2/3 cup ﬁltered water. Stir well, scrape down the sides, and cover it loosely with a cloth.
Day 2, morning: Remove half your starter and add 1/4 cup whole-grain ﬂour and 2/3 cup ﬁltered water. Stir well, scrape down the sides, and cover it loosely with a cloth.
Day 2, evening: Remove half your starter and add 1/4 cup whole-grain ﬂour and 2/3 cup ﬁltered water. Stir well, scrape down the sides, and cover it loosely with a cloth.
Day 3, morning: Remove half your starter and add 1/4 cup whole-grain ﬂour and 2/3 cup ﬁltered water. Stir well, scrape down the sides, and cover it loosely with a cloth.
Day 3, evening: Remove half your starter and add 1/4 cup whole-grain ﬂour and 2/3 cup ﬁltered water. Stir well, scrape down the sides, and cover it loosely with a cloth.
By this time, you should start to see bubbles forming on the sides and top of your starter. This will let you know you’re on the right track. Over time, you’ll see more activity as the starter becomes stronger.
Continue to remove half your starter and feed it with 1/4 cup whole-grain ﬂour and 3⁄8 cup ﬁltered water twice a day for 3 weeks. After 3 weeks, your starter will be ready to use, but may not be strong enough for making breads just yet.
Continue to feed twice a day, but you’ll no longer need to discard half the starter. Just so that I don’t have way more starter on hand than I need at this point, I switch to adding just 1 tablespoon ﬂour and 1 tablespoon water at each feeding.
From your starter, you can make sourdough crackers for an easy lunch addition, though we often eat these as snacks or with dinner. Store-bought crackers are amazingly expensive in comparison with homemade batches —basic organic crackers run about $8 per pound, while specialty crackers are double that price!
Also, crackers are an excellent beginning recipe when your starter is young — and when you’re just getting started with sourdough! Since they require no rise and don’t suffer from many other complications of more involved recipes, your chances of success are signiﬁcantly higher. Successful sourdough crackers require two skills: a way to easily roll them out, and a method to score them so you don’t end up with one big cracker.
Roll our your crackers on a pan with no edges to make it easier.
Two things make rolling crackers easier: a pastry roller and a pan with no edges (such as a pizza stone). We use a large rectangular baking stone, though almost any edgeless pan will do. We tried recipes many years ago that had you roll the crackers and then transfer them onto a pan. The results were disastrous.
At least you’ll know better and can avoid a similar cracker catastrophe. If you don’t have a baking sheet without edges, you can roll them out on parchment. This will require you to carefully transfer the parchment to the baking sheet after rolling and scoring, which isn’t nearly as time-consuming or difficult as cutting and transferring individual crackers.
One of the main difficulties with crackers is breaking them apart evenly. First, score the rolled-out dough right before the crackers go into the oven. Second, use a pizza cutter to make this much easier. If you don’t have one, any knife will do; it’s just harder to get straight, long cuts. A cutter will also let you customize cracker size, or even get a little artistic — our kids always get a kick out of the decorative patterns along the edges that Jessica makes with a ravioli or similar cutter.
As scored crackers are cooking, they’ll naturally break apart or become weak along the lines as they bake. Once cooled, they’ll easily separate.
Score crackers before baking so they’re easy to separate when finished.
Now for the recipe! This is adapted from one we saw many years ago on The Kitchen Stewardship website. These crackers don’t have much ﬂavor, especially if you use standard wheat ﬂour. Spelt, kamut, and einkorn all offer far more ﬂavor.
Also, this recipe is a great base for all sorts of additions. Tomato, basil, rosemary, grated cheese — the sky is the limit! Yield: 6 to 8 servings, equal to 2 large trays of thin crackers, or 2 medium-sized trays of thick crackers.
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 1/4 cup palm shortening or lard
- 1-1/4 cup spelt ﬂour (or 1 cup whole-wheat ﬂour), divided
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
1. In a bowl, thoroughly mix the starter and palm shortening or lard to make a somewhat watery dough. Combine 1/4 cup spelt or whole-wheat ﬂour and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and mix into the dough.
2. Add enough ﬂour to make the dough stiff — for whole wheat, it takes about 3⁄4 cup; for spelt, a bit less than 1 cup. Since you’ll be rolling the dough out thinly, it’s important that it’s ﬁrm enough to work. Allow to sit at room temperature for 7 to 12 hours.
3. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Take about half the dough and roll it out on your baking pan or parchment, creating a thin, uniform thickness, depending on your preference. The entire tray must be about the same thickness, or some portions will burn and others may end up undercooked. Add more dough as necessary to ﬁll the baking sheet. This recipe usually ﬁlls one large baking sheet with some left over. We roll the extra out onto a second baking sheet, taking care to keep the thickness uniform, especially on the edges. If the crackers along the edges are too thin, they’ll quickly burn.
4. Once rolled, the crackers will be ready for scoring. Again, the size is up to you. Uniformity doesn’t matter when scoring, so be creative and do as you please! Sprinkle the crackers with salt if desired.
5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crackers are lightly browned. Note that thin crackers can go from almost done to burned quickly! When done, remove the crackers from the oven. You can cool them on the pan, but they may continue cooking if the pan holds heat well (like stoneware does); watch to make sure they don’t get too done. If you’re using stoneware or similar cookware, the crackers will crisp up a bit more during this time. You can also remove them immediately from the pan to cool.
6. Transfer the crackers to a bowl or dish and enjoy.
Excerpted from DIY Sourdough: The Beginner’s Guide to Crafting Starters, Bread, Snacks, and More (New Society Publishers), available in our bookstore.
If you missed our DIY Sourdough webinar, you can still catch the recording at the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Hosted by John and Jessica Moody, this webinar includes information on how to make and maintain a sourdough starter, and then use it in three simple sourdough recipes — all using whole-grain flours. You can also catch the DIY Sourdough Basics workshop video as part of the Food Independence Course. Learn more here.