In a clean jar or crock, add 1 C flour and ½ C room temperature filtered or distilled water, and mix well with a fork. Make sure there is no dry flour left in the mixture (see-through containers are handy for this reason). Add more water in small amounts if all of the flour isn’t saturated enough. The starter should look like a lumpy paste.
Seal the lid and mark the starter’s height on the outside of the jar. Leave on the counter for 24 hours. The warmer the environment, the better your starter will grow. If your house is normally colder than around 70º F, consider keeping your starter on an appliance or device with ambient heat like on top of the fridge, water heater, or computer tower.
After about 24 hours, you should see a bit of activity in your starter. Activity can look like small bubbles throughout the paste, a noticeable “pff” of air pressure being released as you open the jar, and a slightly sweet-smelling, tangy odor. These signs point to the release of carbon dioxide from yeast and bacteria happily munching on simple sugars. Take a look at the height of your starter compared to the first marking. A rising starter is a sign of a feeding starter!
If your starter is still paste-like, bubbling, and buoyant after 24 hours, sit back and let it keep doing it’s magical, mystical thing. Thick consistency and high rise are signs the microbes are still metabolizing (eating) the flour’s sugars. Once your starter is deflated, thinned, and maybe even a little runny, that means it’s hungry, and you can move to the next step.
Feeding your starter is simple. Scoop out roughly ¾ of your sourdough starter until there’s approximately ½ C remaining. Discard leftover starter. Lots of recipes suggest using a scale for accurate measurements, but we prefer the effective lazybones method of doing things, so we’re using our eyeballs and measuring cups for this one. ??Add a scant cup of whole wheat or baker’s flour and ½ C room temperature filtered or distilled water to the starter; mix well. Reseal and let sit for 12-24 hours or until the starter starts showing signs of hunger. You are now the parent of a delicious, hungry sourdough starter, congrats!
Continue to feed the starter the same “meal” for 4-5 more days. Mark the starter’s height before each feeding to better monitor its rise. Check for signs of hunger every 10-12 hours or so. Everyone’s precious colony of joy has a different microbial make-up and feeding schedule, so the trick is to watch your sourdough starter for clues as to how it’s feeling. Feed when hungry; leave sealed when feeding. ??An overfed sourdough starter is a lethargic sourdough starter (and aren’t we all, honestly). Too much flour and water can dilute the microbes, resulting in unleavened and bland bread. It’s better to slightly starve than overfeed.
After 5-6 days, your starter should roughly double in size after feeding. Once it does, you are in the bread-making business! Sourdough starter can be stored in the fridge and fed once or twice a week. Feed the starter as usual and let it rest for 2-3 hours before transferring to the fridge; repeat the same process when you feed it throughout the week. If you’re an avid baker, you can keep the starter on the counter, but make sure to keep its 1-2x/day feeding schedule.
For the best results, make sure to use an active, fed starter for your dough. If you’re going to use your starter right away on the fifth or sixth day of cultivating, let the starter rest for up to eight hours immediately after feeding before adding to your recipe. If using straight from the fridge, check for signs of activity or hunger. ??A bubbly, slightly runny, slightly thick starter that was fed 2-3 days ago should be good to use without feeding. If your starter is topped with a layer of liquid or looks very thin, feed the starter and wait 6-8 hours or until it looks like the starter has fully metabolized its “meal” before baking.