Rye sourdough starter

This recipe is based on a recipe in Andrew Whitley’s brilliant book Bread Matters.  If you love baking bread, I urge you to buy it, as it is one of those rare books that punctures the myths around bread making and gives you the confidence to make good sour dough bread.


You need to allow 4 days to make the starter and then a further day for the bread to rise. Once your sourdough starter is made, it will keep indefinitely in the fridge.


Stone-ground organic rye flour is the easiest sourdough starter to make.  You need to find a space at home that is at a constant 28ºC to 30ºC or so, such as an airing cupboard. I used my cooking thermometer to check out the temperature of my airing cupboard.  Don’t place your bowl over direct heat, such as on a radiator. 

Makes 300g starter

100g stone-ground organic wholemeal rye flour

200g water


1  Choose the best time to start and feed your sourdough starter each day.  Rinse out a 500g container.  It can be a bowl that you’ll cover with clingfilm or a plastic container with a lid.  Wash your hands thoroughly as you’re going to use them to mix the starter.


2  Measure 25g rye flour and place in your chosen container.  Place a jug on the weighing scales.  Run the hot tap until piping hot. Pour some tap water into a bowl and check the temperature with a kitchen thermometer.  You need it to be 40ºC.  Measure out 50g hot water and using your fingers mix the water into the rye flour so that it forms a liquid paste.  Cover  loosely and place in your chosen warm place for 24 hours.


3  The next day (day 2) the mixture should look a little alive and smelling slightly sour.  Mix a further 25g rye flour and 50g water at 40ºC into the mixture.  Cover loosely and return to the warm place for 24 hours.


4  On the third day, the mixture should be frothy and developing a pleasantly sour smell. Add 25g rye flour and 50g water at 40ºC to the mixture.  Cover loosely and return to the warm place for 24 hours.


5  On the fourth day, the mixture may have separated slightly, but don’t worry, just repeat the process of adding 25g rye flour and 50g water at 40ºC to the mixture.  Cover and return to the warm place for 24 hours.


6  Remove your starter from its warm place.  It should smell quite ‘sour dough-ish’ and taste mildly acidic.  It is ready to use, but you can store it covered and chilled in the fridge indefinitely.  It will separate and form a dark brown liquid on the surface, but it’s perfectly happy and ready to be reactivated with more food. 


7  Every time you feel like making bread, just feed your starter by mixing in 25g rye flour with 50g warm water.  I just leave it out in the kitchen, covered until it starts to bubble (see photo) and then I return it to the fridge and use when I’m ready.  It usually takes a few hours to spring back to life.

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