How To Make Starter, the Easy Way

Really. Truly.

Editor’s note: Join us for this afternoon’s member discussion on Thanksgiving leftovers. We’ll be sharing Bittman recipes, answering questions, offering inspiration, and more. We’ll send the email link at 1 p.m. and run the discussion until 3 p.m. EST.

We hope that Mark’s piece in The New York Times about bread making will spur even more people to delve into baking with whole-grain and naturally fermented starter (“sourdough”) — and we realized it was easy enough to get newcomers started with a simple starter recipe. (Our bread recipe is too long to publish here, plus obviously, we hope you’ll buy the book.)

In Bittman Bread, we provide a starter recipe that begins with making a yeasted bread. We did that because a) it works, and b) we saw it as a way of encouraging simple breadmaking.

But there are countless ways to make starter and this is (as far as we know), the fastest and easiest. It does take a couple of days, but once established, “maintenance” is simply use: If you bake bread weekly, or even somewhat less frequently, this starter can be stored in the fridge more or less indefinitely. Our technique is to boost the starter whenever you bake, but if you prefer you can just feed it weekly or so, and use the excess to make pancakes, for which we’ve included a recipe.

So: In a bowl (or a plastic-covered container), combine 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast with a 1/2 cup of flour (whole wheat is best, but all-purpose is fine here) and enough water to produce a thick batter – 3/4 cup or so. Stir that, cover it with plastic or the lid, and leave it at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.

You can feed this once or twice a day; either will work, but twice a day will give you faster results. Just add another 1/2 cup of flour and enough water to restore the texture to batter-like. The mixture will be bubbly and smell yeasty. (If it gets too big for your container, you can discard some or, again, make pancakes – but that’s not a requirement.) After three or four feedings – probably by the second day and certainly by the third (counting the first day as zero) – this starter will power any sourdough bread recipe, and you’ll never need yeast again. (Or you can wait up to 72 hours before using it; just cover and refrigerate it until you need it. You can wait even longer if you keep feeding it.)

Every time you bake—or once a week if you’re not baking anything — feed the starter roughly equal weights of flour and water to compensate for whatever you use. (Occasionally you may add a little more water to keep the starter loose enough to easily spoon or pour.)

Want to hear more about Bittman Bread? Check out our podcast and an excerpt from the book.


Makes: 12 hearty pancakes (4 servings)
Time: 8 to 12 hours for the jumpstarter. Up to 24 hours hibernation (optional but helpful). 1 to 2 hours to mix the batter and cook (depending on whether the jumpstarter hibernated).

Assuming you want these for breakfast, get things rolling before you go to bed. (If you want breakfast for dinner, start in the morning.) A couple of technical notes about the cooking: Whole wheat requires you maintain a slightly lower temperature than you’d normally use to cook pancakes; this gives them time for maximum rise while ensuring the centers are cooked through and the outsides are perfectly browned. You can make them any size, but we like to keep them on the small side, which makes them easier to maneuver in the pan or on the griddle.


  • 100 grams whole wheat starter

  • 225 grams whole wheat flour, plus 50 grams for feeding the starter

  • 300 grams whole milk, plus more if needed

  • 50 grams water for feeding the starter

  • 30 grams turbinado sugar (about 2 tablespoons)

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • Pinch salt

  • 2 eggs

  • 30 grams butter, melted (about 2 tablespoons), plus more for cooking and serving

  • Maple syrup for serving


1. Combine the starter, 100 grams of whole wheat flour, and 100 grams of milk in a large bowl. Stir, scraping the sides and bottom as necessary, until all the flour is absorbed. Cover with plastic or a damp kitchen towel and let it sit at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. (Meanwhile, feed the remaining starter as described above.)

2. When you’re ready to make the pancakes, add the remaining 125 grams flour and 200 grams milk, along with the sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir just to combine, then add the eggs and melted butter and stir again until almost smooth; some lumps are preferable to overmixing. Add a little more milk if the batter doesn’t plop from the spoon easily. Cover and let the batter sit until bubbly, at least 30 minutes but no more than 2 hours.

3. Heat the oven to 200°F. Fit a wire rack into a baking sheet and set it in the oven. Heat a large griddle or skillet (preferably cast iron, carbon steel, or nonstick) over medium heat. When a couple of drops of water skid across the surface of the pan before evaporating, it’s hot enough. Put a pat of butter on the griddle or in the skillet. When the butter stops foaming, ladle in enough batter to make pancakes about 4 inches across each. Spread the batter evenly as necessary; you want them about 1/4 inch thick.

4. Cook, undisturbed, until the edges are set and bubbles appear in the center of the pancakes, 2 to 4 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed; you want there to be some sizzling without burning.

5. Carefully slip a spatula under a pancake and peek to see if it’s brown on the bottom; at this point, you can rotate them on the same side to cook more evenly if you like. Once the bottom is brown, turn the pancakes. Cook the second side until lightly browned, another 2 to 3 minutes. Serve right away or transfer to the pan in the oven to keep them warm for up to 15 minutes while you cook the rest. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more butter to the griddle as necessary. Pass maple syrup and more butter at the table.

Recipe from Bittman Bread: No-Knead Whole Grain Baking for Every Day

Pancakes (1)
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