This post will explain 4 different types of sourdough starter and how to create them easily yourself. Sourdough is a skill, not a recipe, though this post contains the 4 types of sourdough starter recipes for you to explore.
There’s a surge of people making sourdough starters right now, and this post will give the recipe for 4 different types of sourdough starter and tips for creating a healthy, delicious sourdough starter that you can successfully bake with and enjoy for years to come.
Creating a sourdough starter will require the simplest of ingredients and tools (flour, water, perhaps milk and sugar, a jar or crock and a wooden spoon) but this is so very important to understand before you begin: Sourdough is a skill, not a recipe. It takes practice and patience, and even more so, a willingness to stick with it.
These four sourdough starters I’ve likened to the characters of the show, Sex and the City.
I hope this metaphor helps you choose the right starter for you to create for your needs.
Carrie is classic, Samantha is strong, mature, and sassy, Miranda is more modern and forward thinking, and finally Charlotte is the sweet one of the bunch.
For all sourdough starter recipes:
Non chlorinated water. If the water that you use is chlorinated, simply fill a glass and let it sit overnight. This will allow the chlorine to dissipate. Chlorinated water is indeed one of the only killers of sourdough starter.
A glass jar or ceramic crock and wooden spoon. Metal bowls or utensils will react with the good bugs in the sourdough in a negative way. I use a canning jar – a half gallon jar for my Carrie/Samantha starter (the one I bake with the most, and a quart jar for Miranda and Charlotte of which I use less often. More about these ladies in a minute.
Patience. You shouldn’t expect to use a starter for the first 2 or even 3 weeks. There’s very little that will kill or hurt the starter, but it takes time to starve the bad bugs that cause the horrible smell and feed the good bugs into proliferation.
Use the flour and water and milk and sugar that you NORMALLY have on hand. If you can afford and always have on hand boutique-milled organic flour, then by all means, make a starter with that. But if what you most often have is regular ol’ all purpose flour, then that’s what you should use. The benefits of consuming fermented foods such as sourdough are abundant, and thus you should not feel halted by the lack of expensive or out of reach ingredients.
Note On Feeding Your Sourdough Starter: It can be confusing to decide how much to feed your starter. Using a canning jar with marks on the side that indicate the amount within is a helpful start. Say (on day 1 or 101) that there’s ½ cup of starter inside the jar. Dump (or use or share with a friend) half of this – that means you’ll get rid of ¼ cup of the starter. This is often called the “discard.” Then there’s ¼ cup starter left in the jar. Feed it ¼ cup flour and ¼ water (or milk if making a Charlotte-style milk starter). Those ¼ cup measures of flour and water combine to make ¼ cup- which is confusing, because you’d think they’d add up to a ½ cup, right? The flour absorbs the water so you end up with just a ¼ cup (maybe a tiny bit more) added to your starter.
You can of course feed your starter more- a lot more. You could feed a ¼ of starter 10 cups of water and 10 cups of flour if you wanted. I never feed more than 3 cups because it’s rare that I bake up more than that in a day. It’s frugal to keep a smaller amount of starter because you do have to feed it first daily and later every few days (not unlike a pet! A smaller dog eats a lot less than a larger one).
What if I need more starter than I have? I’ve done this lots of times, as I’m still learning the ropes myself, and chosen a recipe that calls for more starter than I have on hand. Here’s what you do if that happens: Feed the sourdough starter the amount you need (if you need 3 cups, feed 3 cups water and 3 cups flour) and give it several hours in a warm place to bubble and digest some of that flour. It depends on your starter but sometimes 4 hours can be enough; sometimes 6-12 is best.
What to expect when starting any sourdough starter:
It stinks. Seriously, sourdough starting stinks to the high heavens. I’m confident this is why people don’t succeed- they think that because it stinks, it must be “bad” and toss it. Be prepared to gag when feeding the first 2 weeks. For me, the whole wheat Miranda stinks the worst (even worse than Charlotte, which is hard to imagine!).
Sourdough Starter Recipes
Remember: Sourdough is a skill, not a recipe. This will take practice and patience.
The Carrie: All Purpose (or other white) Flour and Water
This is a classic sourdough. The Carrie Sourdough Starter can be made to be more mild (more like regular sliced bread from the grocery store with a few tricks including feeding twice a day and storing in a cooler location like a cool spot on the counter or in the fridge) or it can be transformed into Samantha (see below). I bake with Carrie often and makes a great loaf of Dutch Oven Sourdough.
Combine 1 cup flour and 1 cup of water. Feed daily (as explained in detail above).
The Samantha: Flour, Water, Time, and Hunger
The Samantha Sourdough Starter is mature, more complex, and has a stronger sourdough taste.
You must start with a Carrie- that is, start with an established water and flour starter, and make her hungry. If normally you feed the starter every 24 hours, and wait 36-48 hours to feed. You’ll see a liquid (also known as hooch, as it is an alcohol) on top, likely, and that has a sour flavor. It may be dark, almost charcoal color, and that is fine. Stir that in to the starter before discarding. Repeat, baking with it as you like, and observe the flavor change. Continue to make the Carrie starter hungry, letting the liquid get dark (again, totally normal and okay) before feeding. In this way, you transform your regular sourdough into a more mature, sour Samantha.
The Miranda: Whole Wheat Flour and Water
Combine equal parts whole wheat flour and water. This starter took 3 weeks from start to when it started to smell sour in a good way (as opposed to a make-you-gag way). It stunk the most, and was the most finicky; it seemed to be flattest (least active) when the kitchen was cool or when I didn’t feed right at 24 hours. That said, now that she’s established, she seems to bounce back and bubble right back up after any unfavorable environmental conditions. I like to add the Miranda discard to my daily pancakes or to muffin recipes- because that’s such a small amount, I don’t tweak the recipe at all, the discard gets consumed, and I’m adding all that good protein and pre-digested whole grain to the pancakes and muffins.
I personally bake with Miranda less often. Whole wheat is a bit trickier for a beginner and since I have other starters, the Miranda is fed ¼ or ½ a cup in my house. That’s because if I need more, I feed more, but most of the time, I’m feeding for maintenance.
The Charlotte: Flour (likely white but you can try whole wheat flour!) Milk, and Sugar.
Combine 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk (whatever kind of milk you’re always going to have on hand) and 2 tablespoons sugar.
This starter has a creamy taste and texture once mature, but for the first week, looked horrifyingly like a brain there in the mason jar and smelled terrible. It quickly transformed into the easiest starter in my lineup. It needs to be fed the least often (only every 3-5 days!), smells the least, and seems resilient to temperature changes. While a blog post in Old Farmer’s Almanac claims (erroneously, I think) that old fashioned starters were only water and flour, my great grandmother Nona and many others who had a reliable milk cow made this type of milk starter. Indeed, sometimes, a little milk might have been easier to come by than fresh water. It was this creamy but still sour starter that my dad kept my whole childhood, making pancakes many mornings a week, and stored the cupboard.
When I started my sourdough journey, I was happy with my Carrie, but couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t creamy. When I finally read with fresh eyes Gail Jenner’s Sourdough Biscuits and Pioneer Pies, I realized that the starter I’d been used to had to be made with milk. This book has been a wonderful resource for sourdough recipes and care and I recommend it wholeheartedly. There’s a large section on sourdough baking that I think you’ll love.
It is my conclusion that if you always have milk in the house, and are not dairy intolerant, it is the Charlotte that is the easiest keeper, and as this has such a great texture baked into pancakes, muffins, waffles, doughnuts, and more, the Charlotte is the best starter to try.
If you are whole wheat in your house, make a whole wheat starter! Begin by baking (once it is smelling yummy) flatter baked goods like pancakes, crepes, waffles, and muffins to build your confidence and enjoyment. Then, work toward a loaf of bread as that’s a little harder to get height with whole wheat. It absolutely can be done of course, but start where the wins are most assured.
If you’re not sure, make a Carrie! It’s simple, very versatile, and will be very familiar in terms of smell (it smells a bit like the sourdough bread you’d get with a deli sandwich). If it’s a little tame for your tastes, follow the directions to make her into a Samantha.
If you are interested in learning how to bake sourdough from an expert, I can’t recommend Victoria of A Modern Homestead enough. She teaches an amazing video course where you’ll learn ALL things sourdough. She troubleshoots with you, teaches you about different grains, and you’ll rock all kinds of different recipes.
Victoria is a sourdough guru and I know you’ll love learning from her. I highly recommend you check out her course HERE.