Skip to Content

How to Make Sourdough Starter with Less Flour

I’ll teach you how to make Sourdough Starter from scratch without any commercial yeast. You need just 3 ingredients and 7-10 days to begin making real sourdough bread at home.

I’ve updated the process to use less than half the total amount of flour to create a lively and ready to use starter.

a spatula stirring a freshly made sourdough starter.

If you’re new to the world of sourdough baking, I’m so excited to get you “started” (pun intended!). Before you know it, I think you’ll be as obsessed as I am by the incredible living thing that is sourdough.

Yes, a sourdough starter is a living batter. It is built over several days to cultivate wild yeast from the environment and from the flour itself.

There are many ways to create and maintain sourdough starter. You may have read all sorts of warnings that you must use bottled water, that you should take it on vacation with you and treat it like a child. Relax, it’s really not that complicated.

I’m going to explain to you, step by step, how I created my starter. Along the way I’ll bust some myths about sourdough starters and, hopefully, show you that’s it’s really a very simple and forgiving process.

Once you have a starter, as long as you feed it periodically it can, theoretically, live forever.

How to make a sourdough starter using less flour

Although flour is usually inexpensive and easy to come by. It’s always good to create less waste.

So I revamped my process for creating a sourdough starter. With this new recipe the total amount of flour used is reduced from 30 oz (about 6 cups) down to less than 2 1/2 cups (12 oz).

The key is to keep the starter very small for the first 6 days of the process.

On day 7 we begin to bulk up the starter. By day 8, which is usually when the starter is active enough for baking, you’ll have a full 12 oz of starter. That’s enough to bake a loaf of bread and use what remains to continue feeding the starter.

All of my notes and photos for making a starter are still accurate with this smaller starter method.

Tips for making a successful Sourdough Starter:

  • You don’t have to use bottled water to make sourdough starter. I mixed two starters side by side, one with bottled water and one with tap water. You can see in the process photos that they behaved exactly the same. As long as your tap water is good to drink and is not excessively chlorinated, there is no need to use bottled water. I baked with both starters with good results.
  • I like to begin the starter with half all purpose and half whole grain rye flour. The wild yeast likes the extra nutrients in the whole grain flour.
  • The whole grain flour gives the starter a bit of a boost and nice flavor, but if you can just all purpose flour is that’s what you have on hand.
  • This is a 100% hydration starter. That simply means that it is made and replenished with equal weights of flour and water.
  • For best results, weigh your ingredients. The weight of the flour can vary based on how you fill a measuring cup. Weight measurements are most consistent and accurate, especially when working with small amounts in the beginning of the process.
  • The warmer the room, the faster your starter will activate. Since I was working in the winter months, I placed my starter near the furnace in our basement.
  • About day 4 or 5, the starter may start to smell cheesy (like sour milk) and may not rise as much. Don’t give up! The smell will gradually become more yeasty/fermenty and less cheesy. It will sort itself out as random bacteria die out and the good yeasts take over.
  • Use a plastic or glass container so you can see the progress of your starter. I like to use plastic, quart-size deli containers. They’re cheap and reusable. Get extra containers so you can transfer the starter to a clean container each time you feed it. They’re also handy for giving away starter to your baking friends.
  • Once your starter is ready to go, you can bake with it right away.

Scroll through the step by step process photos to see how the starter looks each day:

a plastic deli container with flour and water being mixed for sourdough starter
On day 1, mix equal weights of all purpose/whole grain flour and water. Tap water is fine if you have good drinking water.
side by side photos showing daily progress for sourdough starter
From day 1 to day 2 there was no activity. Don’t feed it at this point.
side by side photos showing day 3 and 4 for sourdough starter
By day 3 there was some activity and I started feeding. Day 4 saw more activity. There was no difference in activity between the tap water and bottled water starters.
side by side photos showing day 5 and 6 of making a sourdough starter
The starters become progressively more active and fragrant. They’re fed about the same time each day.
side by side photos showing day 7 and 8 of building a sourdough starter
By day 8 the starters are ready to use. I continued feeding for another day because I wasn’t ready to bake yet.
showing sourdough starter that is ready to use
Day 9 was baking day! The starter was bubbly, doubled in size in less than 6 hours and had a pleasant yeasty/fermenty aroma.

Daily Notes on My Sourdough Starter Progress:

  • Day 1. Mixed at 11am.
  • Day 2. No activity.
  • Day 3. Doubled in volume, smells “grainy”, like wet rye. Not pungent. Fed at 11 am.
  • Day 4. Rose to fill the container overnight, then collapsed. Smelled cheesy. Fed at 1 pm
  • Day 5. Didn’t rise much, cheesy but less pungent, fed at 12 noon
  • Day 6. Rose almost double. Smelled less cheesy, more sharp. Fed at 12 noon.
  • Day 7. Rose to double and almost overflowed the container. No cheesy smell, just fermenty, yeasty smell.
  • Day 8. Both rose to fill the container. No cheesy smell, smelled pleasantly fermented and yeasty. Ready to use.
  • Day 9. Left at cooler room temp overnight. Rose to double in less than 6 hours and didn’t collapse by 24 hours. Nice yeasty, beery smell. First day baking.

Congratulations! You’ve done it! You’ve created a living batter filled with wild yeast. Now let’s see how to feed & maintain your sourdough starter. If you want to continue saving flour you can follow these instructions for How To Keep a Small Starter.

Now that you’ve got your starter ready, check out the entire list of My Best Sourdough Recipes. Have fun!

I know you hate to throw away that sourdough discard. Check out these recipes that use sourdough discard.

Finally, did you know you can dry your sourdough starter? It’s true. Dried starter can be stored at room temperature indefinitely without feeding.

If you love this recipe as much as I do, I’d really appreciate a 5-star review.

containers of sourdough starter

Sourdough Starter

Yield: 12 ounces
Prep Time: 10 days 7 seconds
Total Time: 10 days 7 seconds

You can make Sourdough Starter from scratch without any commercial yeast. You just need 3 ingredients and 7-10 days and you can begin making your own sourdough bread at home.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz (28g) unbleached all purpose flour, plus 10 oz (280g) for feeding
  • 1 oz (28g) whole grain rye or whole wheat flour (see note)
  • 2 oz (1/4 cup or 60 ml) water, room temperature

Instructions

  1. On Day 1, combine the all purpose flour, whole grain flour and water in a pint size glass or plastic container. Mix until it forms a thick batter. Loosely cover with plastic wrap or a lid.
  2. Set aside at warm room temperature (about 75°-80°F is ideal) until the mixture starts to bubble. The warmer the room temperature, the faster the starter will become active. This usually takes 48 hours, so there is no feeding on day 2.
  3. On day 3 weigh out 1 oz (28g) of the starter and discard the rest. Combine the reserved starter with 1 oz (28g) all purpose flour and 1 oz (28g) room temp water. Stir to form a thick batter, cover and set aside at warm room temperature for 24 hours. After 3 or 4 days the starter might smell cheesy. It's fine. Keep feeding.
  4. On days 4, 5 and 6 feed with the same procedure. Weigh out 1 oz (28g) of the starter and discard the rest. Combine the reserved starter with 1 oz (28g) all purpose flour and 1 oz (28g) room temp water. Stir to form a thick batter, cover and set aside at warm room temperature for 24 hours.
  5. On day 7 weigh out 2 oz (56g) of the starter and discard the rest. Combine the reserved starter with 2 oz (56g) all purpose flour and 2 oz (56g) room temp water. Stir to form a thick batter, cover and set aside at warm room temperature for 24 hours.
  6. On day 8 you'll need to transfer the starter to a quart size container. Weigh out 4 oz (112g) of the starter and discard the rest. Combine the reserved starter with 4 oz (112g) all purpose flour and 4 oz (112g) room temp water. Stir to form a thick batter, cover and set aside at warm room temperature for 6-24 hours.
  7. The starter is often ready at this point. The starter is ready to use for baking when it doubles in volume within 8 hours of feeding and has a pleasant, slightly fermented yeasty aroma. If that hasn't happened by day 8 continue feeding until the starter is ready.

Notes

If you don't have whole grain flour you can use 2 ounces of all purpose flour.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

Bacon & Pepper Jack Pull Apart Bread
← Read Last Post
How to Feed & Maintain your Sourdough Starter
Read Next Post →

Janis Meadows

Thursday 11th of February 2021

Hi, My starter was doing fine then, bubbly doubling in size and kind of stinky! Then on day 5, nothing. No smell no bubbling nothing. Is it dead and I should start over? I was so close.

Eileen Gray

Friday 12th of February 2021

By "kind of stinky" do you mean a cheesy smell or a yeasty smell? I find that about day 3-4 I get a couple of days with a cheesy smell that eventually gives way to a nice yeasty smell. Keep feeding it and keep it in a fairly warm spot, a good 70-75F if you can. You can also try giving it two feedings over 24 hours instead of one. I find that you generally know if a starter is truly "dead". It gets a sort of clay/concrete texture with absolutely no life.

Justin

Wednesday 3rd of February 2021

I'm on Day 9 today, and the starter smells really good, yeasty, like a good sourdough would. The problem is it hasn't risen very much in the past few days? Almost not rising at all really. Days 1-7 the house wasn't very warm, probably in the mid-upper 60s versus 75 degrees - should i just keep feeding it daily until it rises?

Eileen Gray

Wednesday 3rd of February 2021

Are you sure it isn't rising at all? It could be rising and falling again. Try doing 2 feedings a day and see if that helps. You could also try and find a warmer spot to put the starter. When I'm growing a new starter I put it in the boiler room in our basement.

Iris

Wednesday 20th of January 2021

Hi Enjoyed your article. Can I save discard in the fridge and add discard in order to get enough discard for recipes? Thanks in advance.

Eileen Gray

Thursday 21st of January 2021

Yes!

Jim

Friday 9th of October 2020

Do I stir down my starter before I weigh it out ?

Eileen Gray

Friday 9th of October 2020

It doesn't matter. It will weigh the same either way.

Mega Suryadi

Monday 28th of September 2020

Hi, Eileen. I'm Mega from Jakarta, Indonesia. I've read your posts and QnAs and I find out they're really helpful. Thanks for your willingness to reply the questions one by one.

I'm a newbie in this 'sourdough world'. I haven't even started yet (I'm ordering my flour, digital scale, digital thermometer, and banneton and I can't wait to start my sourdough journey!).

However I've been wondering, since I live in tropical country (33°C; humidity 54%), do you have any tips for me to make a starter?

I read here and there, you guys feed your starter every 24 hours (but you live in a not so warm country like mine). If I live in a warm temperature environment, should I feed my starter more frequently or should I keep the starter in the refrigerator after around 8-12 hours? Or do you think I can just follow all your steps and recipes on making the starter?

Thanks a lot!

Eileen Gray

Monday 28th of September 2020

Making a starter should be easy in a warm climate. Since I don't have experience living in so warm a climate I can't say for sure if you'll need to feed more frequently. Although, getting to 33c (91F) is not unusual here in the summer and I feed my starter on the same schedule all year. I think you'll have to keep an eye on the starter and adjust as needed. If you find the starter is rising to double the size much faster than about 5-6 hours you could either feed again or, as you suggested, put it in the fridge to slow it down.