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What Consistency Should a Sourdough Starter be?

Flour and water seems simple enough to make your own sourdough starter at home. What consistency should a sourdough starter be? What kind of flour should you use it for best results? Learn how to weigh it properly or eye ball it like a pro.

If you have these questions you have come to the right page! I am going to show you how easy it is to catch wild yeast and maintain an active starter. The purpose of this post is to teach you how to do your sourdough starter with or without measuring. You do not need to measure how many grams of flour or water every day but you can if you would like consistent results. Sourdough can be measured in cups and done quickly when you know what consistency your starter should be.

what consistency should a sourdough starter be

What is a Sourdough and why do you need a starter?

Sourdough bread is bread leavened (rises) with wild yeast. If that sounds foreign to you, let me try again. Sourdough bread is bread that gets its fluffiness and rises from natural yeast that is in the air all around us. A sourdough starter captures concentrated yeast through fermentation. This is how everyone made bread before you could hope in the care and buy of a packet of dry active yeast. It is the orginal way to make bread.

I love making sourdough bread. Yes, it takes all day. It is a slow-down and enjoy-the-process kind of thing. The flavor is unbeatable. Once you start making your bread it’s really hard to go back to a store-bought loaf of bread. It might be faster to grab a bag off the shelf but with prices climbing every day, grocery store storages, and questionable preservatives and fillers. Making bread, especially sourdough is a skill everyone should take the time to master. And you just can’t do that without a sourdough starter.

It can be tricky but I think I have made just about every mistake possible so you don’t have to. Feeding ratio, flour types, hydration starter amount, room temperature, warm temperature, stretch fold, knead, it can all be SO overwhelming. I think the first time I opened a book on sourdough I closed it right back up. I thought to myself there must be a simpler way to do all this!

So let’s talk first about the star of the show: an active sourdough starter.

Let’s break down starter:

Yeast is what makes bread rise. Have you ever looked at a piece of bread closely? It is filled with little bubbles. Little pockets of air puff up the loaf to make it stand. Yeast is what makes this happen. When someone says yeast you might think of the tiny packets in the back of your aunt or grandmother’s baking cupboard. It is crazy to think but yeast is everywhere. It’s in the air all around us. We don’t need to buy yeast. It is all around you for free. Commercial yeast is very convenient. It definitely has its place in the baking world. I feel like sourdough is a completely different world! So let’s jump into it!

What is a “starter” and how to make one

Sourdough starter can be made with flour and water. Unbleached, organic bread flour will give you good results but any kind of flour from freshly milled to plain all-purpose will work just fine too. Sourdough starter is equal parts flour and water but an important thing to note when people are saying this they are speaking in GRAMS so a cup of water and a flour of flour might be too runny or thick depending on your flour. You will want to know what consistency you need. Weighing your flour is important when you are learning what consistency you need to look for. Freshly milled flour is very fluffy and has not settled like a bag of all-purpose so it’s best to weigh things first instead of guessing when you start.

Why Sourdough?

Why sourdough? So this all-day event, all the measuring and folds and making sure we don’t let the starter die sounds like a lot of work. Why bother? Well like anything in life when there is a lot of work, there is a lot of reward. Sourdough is indeed sour. It is sour because it is fermented. Fermentation has a host of benefits. It is easier for us to digest because it breaks down the acids in the grains our bodies have a hard time processing. Some people with gluten sensitivities find they can eat sourdough bread and other sourdough goodies. The fermentation can help the bread last longer than yeast bread. This is because fermentation is more resistant to mold.

Okay, let’s talk about that starter. Sourdough starter is a living organism. So you can start by giving your starter a name.

Meet Matilda the Sourdough Starter of East Pine Home.

sourdough starter consistency

Let’s talk about flour. Flour is really important when thinking about a healthy starter and getting your sourdough journey off the ground. You can use just about any type of flour in your cupboard. But if you are serious about getting things going quickly, you can start by using whole wheat flour, bread flour, rye, or unbleached all-purpose flour. These flours will give your starter the fastest start. For things like rye you can start making sourdough bread in as little as 8 days. If all you have is all-purpose white, it might take 14 days to get going.

What about water?

Next, let’s chat about water. Yes, your water matters. If you are on town/city water that has chlorine in it. That is a big no-no. Use filtered water. Chlorine will kill the wild yeast you are trying to keep alive. If you have a well and drink your tap water chances are you are already testing your water regularly so if you are clear from chlorine you are good to go.

What should you put your starter in? I am sure if you are here you have seen a sourdough starter before. I’m going to guess you have seen them in a glass jar. You can store your sourdough starter in a wide-mouth clean jar. But heed my warning from a woman who hates doing more dishes than necessary. I don’t have my dear Matilda in a pretty glass mason jar. Matilda is a practical girl and lives in a large glass jar or glass Pyrex bowl. Once upon a time, I had her in a pretty glass jar and it was a nightmare to clean. The thing a lot of people won’t tell you about sourdough is how utterly messy it can be. When flour and water meet.. they can create a film of cement on those pretty glass jars. I have found a larger the easier to clean.

When discarding always put as much as possible in the garbage and not down the drain. When cleaning spoons or jars be sure to run the hottest water you have for a few minutes to help keep your pipes clear.

A new sourdough starter is worth all the time and effort. It is an accomplishment to make a homemade sourdough bread recipe with natural yeasts. It is a great way to add fermented food to your diet.

active thick sourdough starter in glass jar with white dish cloth

Let’s get started

Now that you have your flour picked out you can start your starter. This process might feel wasteful but in a week or two you can save that “discard” for a whole host of recipes.

Sourdough starter recipe If you are using freshly milled flour, weigh your wheat berries in grams BEFORE you mill them.

Day 1: Mix 1/2 cup (100g) of flour and 1/2 cup (100) of water. Mix vigorously until all combined. Put a little lid, cloth, cheese cloth, loosely on the lid of your jar.

Day 2: Add 1/2 cup (100) of flour and 1/2 cup (100g) of water

Day 3: Discard 75% of your starter mixture so you only have a small amount (about 1/4 cups remaining), Add 1/2 cup(100g) of flour and 1/2 cup (100g) of water.

You might see a clear liquid or grey liquid forming on top of your starter. This is not mold. As your starter ferments “hooch” or “scooby” will form. This is just the fermentation process doing its thing. Just scoop it off the top of your new starter and continue as normal.

Repeat the daily feeding (step 3) every day for 10 days, you should start to see bubbles forming by day four.

Once you have a consistent rise and fall you can feed your starter with 50g of starter, 170g of flour and 150g of water

Consistency of Sourdough Starter

Now let’s talk about finding the right consistency. When starting to build your starter you can leave it a bit thinner but once you start making bread you will want it THICK, You want your sourdough starter to be the consistency of thick pancake batter. if it’s too thin add a scoop of flour. If it is too thick add water to find the right consistency. In my opinion, a thicker starter is better than a thin one because as it oscillates it will relax.

When trying to establish a mature starter try to keep her out of extreme lower temperatures and higher temperatures. A healthy sourdough starter should be kept in a warm room. 70 degrees is just about perfect. You can keep your starter in our oven with the light on if you find your kitchen is a bit cold. I leave mine on the counter so it will rise a little slower about 12 hours to hit the peak. If you want it to rise fast on days it’s colder it’s a good idea to find a warm spot in the house.

This part of the sourdough process can feel wasteful but once your starter is established you can collect your discard in a container and keep it in the fridge to use in your discard in sourdough discard recipes. Crackers, brownies, and even cinnamon rolls are all amazing with some sourdough discard!

This routine will be the regular feedings until day 10. By day 10 your starter should be good and strong. By now if your starter is in a jar you can take a rubber band and put it around where the starter is when you feed it. After 6-12 hours you can watch as your starter rises, doubling in size.

Float test

The “Float test” is taking a little bit of your starter/ teaspoon of the starter, when it is at its peak with lots of bubbles and plopping in it a glass of water. If it floats then your starter is gassy and bubbly enough to make a loaf of bread. But the key word there is PEAK. you will see your starter double in size and it will look slightly domed. That stuff will float but it’s not the most optimal for bread. You want it at its peak. that is the moment it stops doming but has not sunken down. It will have slight dimples on the top and that is the best starter for your bread. This can take some time to learn what to look for.

thick sourdough starter consistency thick pancake batter

If she is alive and well..

If your sourdough starter lives you can now really get going with sourdough. Because I have six kids Matilda (my starter) lives in a spacious container. Part of the reason is that I need more than 1/2 cup of starter at a time. If I am gearing up for a baking day I know I want 3-4 cups of starter bubbly and ready to use. If your starter is ready and you’re going to play around and experiment you can increase the amount of flour and water you put in your starter feed. This is when it’s important to know what sourdough starter consistency you are looking for. When you figure out the consistency you are looking for you don’t need to think about the ratio of flour or the amount of water. You can just mix it up and go

You will have to feed your starter every day. If that sounds like too much and you think you want to be a weekend sourdough baker. That’s fine too. Once your starter is going (14 days) you can pop her in the fridge. Take her out Friday morning to warm up, feed her Friday night, and bake on Saturday. There are a lot of different ways to store a sourdough starter. You can even put it in the freezer for two months, thaw it, feed it and in a day or two it is ready to bake again.

What Next?

An established good starter is pretty hard to kill. It is the best thing when you get the hang of it and the uses just never cease when feeding a hungry crew of children. Your feeding schedule is not something to be stressed about past the two-week mark. morning or night so long as it is done every day you are good. I used to set a timer on my phone so I wouldn’t forget but now it’s natural. I have forgotten from time to time and Matilda is going and still thriving. Don’t stress too much over your starter. It is something that can go for a long time in the fridge as well if you know you’re entering a busy season of life and don’t have time for a sourdough recipe.

In a lot of recipes, you will see the authors measuring in grams. They are using a digital scale. This will give you the absolute best results and the most consistent. But if that thought stresses you out I am here to reassure you sourdough is not really that complicated. So long as you have an established starter. You have a shot at some pretty amazing sourdough recipes.

Learning what consistency sourdough starter should be can be tricky but with some practice, it becomes second nature!

Can you freeze your starter?

I learned that this is one of the best options to store sourdough for future use. If you are heading into a busy season of life and do not want to deal with sourdough starter discard, baking and more just pour 1/4 cup of your starter into an airtight container and pop it in the freezer. I found out sourdough bakers do this all the time in case they do kill a starter. This saves them from starting over.

As your sourdough starter thaws, you might not see any signs of activity. The longer it has been in the freezer with no feeding the less chance it will come back to to life. If you want to take it out and let it thaw, be fed, get active again at least every month. then you can stick it back in for later use. It is a good idea to always have a little starter in the freezer as a backup starter. Just in case something happens to your fresh starter by accident.

sourdough Starter placed in freezer

I hope you learned more about what sourdough starter consistency should be.

Remember to do what you do for His glory. Until next time xoxo – Sam

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2 Comments

  1. Hi! I am trying this whole starter thing for the first time and am using your post! I am on say two, and had a quick question on how to get through days 4-10?! I noticed yours stopped at day 3 and just said to continue … am I repeating steps from day 1-3? Thanks in advance!!! Juliana

    1. Samantha Hatt says:

      Just repeat day 3! you can save all your discard in a container in the fridge and use it for pancakes, waffles or any other discard recipe.

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