Sourdough starter and secrets for success

Sourdough starter and secrets for success

Sourdough is a spongy tasty delight but it's not easy to do. Here are sourdough starter tips, tricks and a recipe to get you on track.

There’s nothing quite like biting into a piece of freshly baked sourdough slathered in butter, feeling the crunch of the crust mix with the tangy yet satisfying and slightly spongy interior. Simple pleasure.

There’s a lot of hype around sourdough these days. Making starters, feeding them, getting the perfect recipe, tricks and tips and all the rest. Sourdough is definitely in vogue.

But like some of the best fads in the world (shoulder pads, skinny jeans, 3D movies, and roller skates), sourdough was invented long ago and the generations keep rediscovering its value. We’re not talking the 80s here. We’re talking 3700BCE.

Who invented sourdough?

No one knows. It’s been around since before people recorded the dates of inventions. The oldest example we have today was excavated (yup, fossilised bread) in Switzerland and dates back to 3700BCE. Let’s just say it’s a trend that’s stood the test of time.

We are going to answer some of your common sourdough questions and give you a really good starter recipe to get you going.

In this blog, we will answer the following questions:

  • How is sourdough different from (read: better than) other bread?
  • What is a sourdough starter?
  • What can cause it to flop?
  • What conditions do you need for it to succeed? 

Plus, we’ll give you a basic, affordable and ideal starter recipe.

How is sourdough different from other bread?

The main difference is the type of rising agent used.

In other types of bread, commercial yeast is used. In sourdough, you use a starter that contains naturally occurring wild yeast.

Sourdough is a slow-fermented bread. The long fermentation process causes the breakdown of gluten which, in turn, makes it kinder on your digestive system.

It also has that great slightly tart flavour that just hits the spot.

What is a sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter is the thing you use to make the bread rise.

It is a live fermented culture made from a combination of flour and water that uses wild yeast for the fermentation process.

This wild yeast is a mix of lactobacilli and yeast from the air and gives it its sour flavour.

Think of the starter as a little creature that needs to be fed and watered to grow and thrive. Much like a child, but with less effort.

You can tweak the ‘sourness’ of the bread by allowing your starter to mature for longer and leaving it until the smell is quite sour.

What can cause your bread to flop?

  • An inactive starter

The most important element is your starter – it needs to be active and alive (we’ll cover this in the starter recipe below).

  • Bashing or neglect

If the dough gets knocked about when you’re transferring it from the proving basket to the oven, or if you leave it for too long before going into the oven, or if you make too many or heavy-handed ‘slashes’ in the dough, this can all affect it. 

  • Opening the over door

If the oven door is opened too many times before the crust has ‘set’, this can cause it to flop. Don’t be tempted! Keep the door closed!

What conditions do you need for your bread to succeed?

  • The correct temperature, primarily of the water, but the air could be a factor too.
  • The correct amount of water. Too little and it will struggle to prove and the result in dry, hard bread.
  • An active starter.
  • Decent quality bread flour.
  • Love for what you are doing (honestly).
  • TIME! Essential. You can’t rush it.

Sourdough Starter Recipe

This is the timely but easy process of making a starter. You can use this for more than sourdough bread.

In the process of making the starter, you will have discard (half the starter that you need to get rid of).

The reason for this is that you need to feed the starter certain rations of flour and water relative to its size. If you let it get too big, you’ll have to increase its food and you’ll end up with a trough of starter.

The discard is still good, though, and can be used to make fluffy pancakes, waffles, crackers and other yummy snacks.

Making a starter takes a week but only takes five minutes of your time each day.

The below recipe is courtesy of Brett St Clair of Baker and Co. in Bristol. 

Day 1

• Mix 150 g wholewheat flour with 150 g water (preferably purified). • Put in a jar that is about double the size of the mixture. • Cover it loosely with clingwrap, foil, muslin cloth or a tea towel.

Note: we use wholewheat flour initially because it is has more nutrients and is more water-absorbent than plain flour, so speeds up the fermentation process.

Day 2

• You might see some bubbles. If not, don’t stress. • Add 1 Tbsp of wholewheat flour and 1 Tbsp of water and mix, cover and leave.

Day 3

• You should see some bubbles and maybe get a bit of a sour aroma. • Add 1 Tbsp of wholewheat flour and 1 Tbsp of water and mix, cover and leave.

Sourdough Starter

Day 4

• Switch to white flour. • Add 1 Tbsp of white flour and 1 Tbsp of water and mix, cover and leave.

Day 5 & 6

• There should be many bubbles and a good tart smell. • Repeat the process as you did on day 4.

Day 7

• Your starter should be nearly ready. You’ll need to refresh it one more time. • Mix 40 g of the starter with 200 g water and 200 g white flour and put in a fresh jar.

Leave overnight and you should be ready to use it to make your bread.

PRO TIP: The discard from the rest of the mix can be used for pancakes, crackers, waffles, etc.

If you are only going to bake every now and then, your starter can be kept in the fridge and you can refresh it once a week as you did on day 7.


Once you’ve got your starter, you can give the bread a go. Be patient. This is a labour of love. You need to nurture your loaf to life. Once you nail it, though, your sense of achievement will be through the roof and your tastebuds, as well as your friends and family, will be hailing you in awe.

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Lisa Parsons

Lisa is a content writer and strategist with experience across many platforms. She is also a personal trainer and has a keen interest in holistic health encompassing physical, mental and emotional wellness. She enjoys travel, books, puzzles, learning languages, and a buttery Chardonnay.

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