Our sourdough starter

I’ve tried a few sourdough bread starters over the years but this one has been the easiest to start and produces a great sourdough bread. The only reason I’m starting it again is that I managed to kill my last one. As it turns out, sourdough starters that contain dairy don’t like to be left out of the fridge long term.

This recipe is from one of our favourite bread books – Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible. It’s definitely in the “if you only buy one…” category.

Sourdough Starter

2 cups of lukewarm water
1 teaspoon of active dry yeast or fresh yeast
1 tablespoon of sugar or honey
1/4 cup of nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 cup of plain yoghurt
2 cups of bread flour

Feed for the starter

1/4 cup of water
1/3 cup of bread flour

You’ll need a medium sized glass bowl with a loose-fitting glass lid (or gladwrap is fine). Pour the warm water into the bowl and sprinkle the yeast, sugar and milk powder over the surface. Stir with a whisk until dissolved then stir in the flour and mix until well blended.

Loosely cover with a glass lid, gladwrap or a double layer of cheesecloth and let stand at room temperature for at least 48 hours, whisking the mixture twice a day. You can leave it for up to four days, depending on how sour you want the starter to be. The mixture will start to ferment and bubble with a clear liquid forming on top – just stir that back in.

On day two to four (depending on when you want to stop) it’s time to feed the starter. Mix in 1/4 cup of water and 1/3 cup of bread flour, cover again and let it stand overnight. Store it in the fridge, loosely covered and feed it again every two weeks.

Using the starter

Bring it to room temperature before using.  Remove the amount of starter you need then add one cup of flour and 1/2 cup of non-fat milk to the remaining starter. Mix well and let stand at room temperature for a day to start fermenting again, then refrigerate. I’ve found that if you are using and replacing the starter regularly (once a week or more) you don’t need to feed it as well, unless you want to grow the starter to the point you can split it in half and give some away to another keen baker.

The starter will improve with age (my last one was nearly a year old when I killed it). It should smell of pleasant fermentation – yeast and alcohol. If it starts to smell foul or develops a pink colour it has probably succumbed to an airborne pathogen – discard it immediately and start again.

It helps to leave yourself a note for the first few days’ activities so you don’t have to keep diving back to the recipe.


  1. matt Says :
    17 January, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Hi John, how much starter do you use for say – 1kg flour?


  2. Br3nda Says :
    29 February, 2012 at 11:13 am

    could you share your recipe for the actual bread please?

  3. Nicksta Says :
    4 March, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Hi John,
    I’m also a lover of home grown sour dough. If you’re interested in a non-diary based version that is literally flour and water, the Bourke Street Bakery have an amazingly simple sourdough starter that I have been running with for almost 2 years, and which has traveled to, and now resides in, 5 countries.
    And the best part of sharing your starter… when you somehow manage to kill your own, or accidentally through it out :-( one of your friends can come through with some of theirs to share – saves you the 4 weeks it takes to grow it strong enough to never again need yeast. I recall mine was initially 50;50 flour and water, with a splash of OJ and maybe 1/2 tsp honey, then nothing but organic unbleached flour and water.
    Happy baking!

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