DIY Sourdough Starter + Zero Waste Crackers
Making a sourdough starter from scratch is one of the easiest things you can do, and it doesn’t need any special ingredients. Literally all that is required is flour, water, a bowl, a spoon, and a little bit of patience. Even if you’re not sure you want to start baking sourdough every week (although I assure you, once you start, you won’t want to stop!) the sourdough starter can be used to make sourdough crackers.
Crackers are far quicker and simpler to make than sourdough bread, but equally delicious… plus crackers are one of those things that are impossible to find zero waste or plastic-free in my experience. Homemade, simple, delicious, waste-free… what’s not to love?!
To make a sourdough starter from scratch, we utilize the natural yeasts and lactic acid bacteria present on the flour. Another term for it is wild fermentation – how cool does that sound?! That’s how people made bread and other fermented products for thousands of years, before commercial yeasts were available. They harnessed the power of nature.
If we’re going to use the natural yeasts and bacteria present on the flour, then I recommend buying the best flour that you can find. Once your sourdough culture is established you can relax a little, although I’d always recommend buying the best ingredients that you can afford. If your tap water is chlorinated, fill a bottle and leave at room temperature or in a sunny place for a few hours to let the chlorine gas dissipate – you don’t want to kill the starter before it’s started!
How to Start your Sourdough Starter
Mix together 50g flour with 50g water in a bowl (1 gram of water is the same as 1 ml water). You can use more but don’t use too much less as it will be much harder to work with. However much you use, you want the flour:water ratio to be 1:1.
At this point it will look like a dough, and it will smell like wet flour. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave on the side at room temperature (if you’re home is cold or it is winter, a warmer place will help get it going faster). Stir every few hours. If a skin forms on top, simply stir it in.
It may not seem like much is happening at the start, but if you pay attention to the smell you will notice that it starts to smell less like flour and has developed a sour smell. This is a sign that it is working. Hurrah! Look out for bubbles forming in the dough. In the beginning there will only be a couple, but it’s another sign that your starter is beginning to do its thing.
After a couple of days of stirring, you will need to feed your starter. Even if you’re only noticing a couple of bubbles, the starter will dry out over time, and as it sticks to the side of the bowl and hardens the volume tends to decrease, so feeding helps refresh it. Take another bowl, add 10g of your starter to it, and then add 50g flour and 50g water to this (you can use other volumes, but the ratio should be 1:5:5 starter:flour:water). Stir thoroughly, and cover with the tea towel.
Leave the remaining leftover starter in the original bowl, cover with a plate and store in the fridge. This will be used for making the sourdough crackers later.
Keep stirring the new starter every few hours (this doesn’t need to be exact, just whenever you remember). You should notice that the bubbles are becoming more frequent (you may not see a lot, but more than you saw at the start). Depending on how active your starter is getting, you can either feed again in 24 hours, or leave for a couple of days.
To feed, repeat as before. Take 10g of your active starter and add to a new bowl with 50g flour and 50g water, and stir well. Any leftover starter can be poured into that bowl sitting in the fridge with the original starter.
Each time you feed, you should notice your starter getting a little more active. You’ll want to feed it at least 5 times, once a day (timing is not that important) before it’s ready – and by ready, I mean active.
Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter
Once your sourdough starter is ready, you can either store on the kitchen counter, or in the fridge. Store in a jar with a loose-fitting lid, or with a fabric circle secured with an elastic band. You want air to get in, but no creepy-crawlies. If you keep it on the kitchen counter you’ll need to feed it every day. If you keep it in the fridge you can feed every 1-3 weeks (once a week is best, but it will be fine if you feed it every three or so). I keep mine in the fridge.
When you want to feed your starter, allow to return to room temperature if it has been in the fridge. Keep the ratio the same 1:5:5. Keep the discard in the fridge until you are ready to make crackers.
Zero Waste Sourdough Crackers
Once you’ve made your sourdough starter you should have a bowl of discarded starter sitting in your fridge, waiting to be made into crackers. I have to thank the Zero Waste Chef for this idea, as previously when I had excess sourdough starter I’d throw it away. It felt so wrong, but that’s what all the recipes tell you to do. Turns out, they are all wrong! Throw nothing away, and make crackers instead. Thanks Anne-Marie!
This recipe is a combination of the one by the Zero Waste Chef, and also some notes I have from a Plastic Free July workshop back in 2012 which has no references except a comment that the writer was called Katie.
215g discarded sourdough starter
3 tbsp olive oil (30g)
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp bicarb soda
Extra olive oil and salt to top.
I found that when I made a starter from scratch, feeding every day for 5 days left me with 215g starter. But you change change the quantities of flour to starter, they don’t need to be exact – just remember it’s approximately twice the starter to flour. You want to make a dough, so if it is too sticky add more flour.
The moisture in the starter also varies depending on how fresh it is. If you need to add more flour, do so!
Mix the olive oil with the starter and stir until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the starter / oil mix and combine first with a spoon, and then with your hands. If it is still sticky, add flour in small quantities until you have a dough. Knead to ensure it is smooth.
Place in a glass bowl, cover with a tea towel or a plate (or both!) and leave to rest at room temperature for 8 hours (or overnight). This allows the dough to sour and develop flavour.
After 8 hours, divide the dough into 4. One at a time, roll the ball out onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper using a rolling pin (yes, my zero waste kitchen contains baking paper. I re-use each piece several times. You can read more here). The reason for the paper? After waiting 8 hours, I don’t want to take the risk that my crackers will stick to the metal tray and burn.
Roll the dough out to between 3 – 5mm thickness, trying to ensure it is even. Trim the edges, and cut into rectangles with sharp knife.
Brush with olive oil, and then sprinkle salt on the top.
Bake in an oven at 150°C (350°F) for 8 minutes, then turn over and bake for another 8 minutes. You will find that the crackers on the edge cook a lot faster than those in the middle, so if you want to remove those sooner you’ll avoid them over-cooking. You want them to look golden but not too brown.
Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.
- 8 hours in the ideal, but this recipe is really flexible. You can make the crackers after only leaving the dough for 30 minutes (but longer is better). If you forget and leave them longer, you will still have good crackers.
- The dough can be frozen or refrigerated if you want to make a big batch of dough and keep some for later.
- I would guess they would last a week, but I’ve never been able to find out as they all get eaten long before! They don’t lose their crunch after storing so they are definitely something that can be made ahead.
As always, I’d love to hear from you! Do you make your own sourdough, and have I tempted you to give it a go? Do you already make your own crackers? Do you have any recipes and tips you’d like to share? What toppings and flavours do you think would work best? Please tell me your thought in the comments below!
I LOVE homemade crackers – there’s no comparison between homemade and store-bought, as far as I’m concerned. But I’ve never made sourdough ones before, even though I have a beautifully vigorous starter that I make bread from daily (for my café – I don’t eat a loaf of bread a day by myself, just to clarify!)! I can’t wait to give these a try!
I agree completely Lauren – the only problem I have with these is I eat ALL of them the day I bake them, no matter how big the batch is : / I need to learn restraint! I really like the sour flavour that these have, and I love fermented foods generally – win win! Let me know what you think when you make them : )
Once you’ve got your sourdough starter how do you make the bread? Thanks for your post, it’s very helpful!
I wrote this blog post back in 2013 which was a basic recipe. I’ve changed it slightly since then but the principle is the same. Some sourdough recipes have too many steps or require too much input for my liking! The bread may not look quite as good, but it still tastes great : ) https://treadingmyownpath.com/2013/04/24/baking-sourdough-bread-2/
Maybe sometime soon I’ll update the recipe! : )
Brilliant, thank you very much – I’ll give it a go!
Hi Lindsay, I have started only a few weeks ago making sourdough bread with the help of a book, and my husband is delighted with the result! Although I must admit that my first 2 tries with the starter failed (never got bubbles). I was happy to follow the recipe of this book (The Larousse Book of Bread by Eric Kayser, French baker), because his recipe was the only one I came across which was not discarding the excess of the starter. But now, I am very tempted to try those crackers, so I will have to change my way of doing the starter !! And maybe infusing the olive oil with rosemary first would add some extra flavor to the crackers ? I will definitely give it a go anyway ! And thanks for all the tips for making the sourdough starter, they would have helped me when I first started doing it!
Thanks for your comment Isabelle! I haven’t experimented much with flavours but I think that would be amazing! I’ve mean meaning to make some rosemary crackers but I don’t have any dried rosemary currently. I did make some with nutritional yeast rolled in and they were very good!
Do let me know how you get on! : )
Hi is it possible to make this gluten free. I know some bread recipes don’t easily convert to gluten free. It would be good tp know your thoughts
Hi Penny, unfortunately I don;t think it would work. I tried feeding my starter gluten-free flour once and it was a complete disaster, so I wouldn’t want to risk it.
I have been moving my starter VERY gradually to lower wheat (not GF) for my FODMAP partner. I work on a 100g feed – so 100g of existing starter, 100g of water. For the flour, I am now using 50g unbleached plain flour (not wholemeal), 30g spelt, 20g rye. So far it has responded well and is very active. Next step is to reduce the flour a bit more and introduce some barley. (FODMAPs can tolerate gluten, but have varying levels of intolerance to a specific wheat protein.)
Note that I use a 1:1:1 starter ‘recipe’, not your 1:5:5 method – no particular reason – it’s just the way I began my sourdough adventures some time ago from other web sites.
I love these crackers! Absolutely tasty. I’ve also found the cracker recipe makes great pita bread (my leftover starter might be quite active?). All I did was roll it out as small pita size dough instead and left it for 10-20 minutes then into a hot oven for ~8minutes. They puff up like a treat!
Thanks Renee, and thanks for your tip – I will have to try it! They sound great! : )
Love your blog heaps of great ideas thankyou. I have just followed these instructions to make a sourdough culture (something I’ve never attempted before). I made the crackers with my leftovers and they are Amazing!!! (Ate the whole lot in one day) but now I am unsure whether my culture is ready to make bread with. It is bubbling constantly but in your bread instructions it apparently should double in size and then sink? Mine doesn’t look as active as the photos on that page. Should I just keep feeding it? I have just been keeping it at room temperature and feeding everyday.
Many thanks Lucy
Also is it ok to make the sponge in a stainless Steel bowl or does it have to be glass?
Good question. Sourdough has a tendency to rust everything. If it’s a good quality stainless steel bowl it might be fine, but I’d be a bit scared of wrecking it if you did it that way often. I don’t have one big enough so I’ve never tried. Still, if you don’t have a glass bowl you could try it…? sorry I can’t be more help!
Hi Lucy, thank you so much! Yes, they are a little too amazing – I eat them all at once too! Hmmm… I don’t think my starter is currently doubling and sinking – maybe it’s to do with the flour used. Also how narrow the jar is, possibly! You can use it to make a sponge and if it’s not super active it will take a bit longer for the sponge mix to ferment. I’d say just try it! I think if you’ve been feeding every day for a week it should be good. Temperature also makes a difference – if it’s warmer it will be far more active.
Just go for it! You’ll learn far more just by doing!
Hahaha disaster! but the second round of crackers were fabulous:)
I’ve just set out my first batch of starter, can almost taste those crackers! What gifts we receive when we learn to declutter and live more simply , like having time and space on the counter to make breads and crackers. Synergy!
My first starter is beginning to bubble! Thank you for this post— I’ve read it a dozen times in the past week, trying to prepare myself for a life of sourdough.
Wow, I was optimistic back then! Nearly a year later, I’m starting over; I screwed up my starter somehow last time around.
Wow, looks really super. Our (organic!) bakery does packets of crackers but in cellophane. Any chance of this to print out?
Hi Jean,I don’t have any fancy plug-ins that make it easy to print at the touch-of-a-button. I’d suggest pasting into a word document and printing that! :)
Looking forward to trying these, thanks so much!
My pleasure, Pam :)
How can I build enough starter up to make bread with it?
I’ve made crackers…so yummy. I didn’t poke them like I ussually do with homemade crackers so most of them puffed up. I also brushed half with melted butter and lightly salted them. So so so yummy.