Sourdough for Beginners

How to Know if Your Sourdough Starter Is Ready for Bread Baking

updated Apr 1, 2020
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You’ve been tending to your brand-new baby sourdough starter for a good week or more, feeding it daily, and giving it a warm, comfortable place to rest. Maybe your starter is lively and happy, producing a yeasty aroma and plenty of bubbles. At this point, you’re likely wondering: Is my starter ready for baking bread?

The answer depends on a lot of factors, including the flour you’re using, how warm your kitchen is, and, most importantly, how much time you’ve put into your starter. Luckily, there’s one test that eliminates any guesswork. Here’s how to know if your starter is ready to bake with.

Credit: Kaitlin Garske

The Double Volume Test

If your starter doubles in volume within four hours of feeding, your starter is ready for bread making. The best way to track this is to mark your starter’s height right after you feed it. You can put a rubber band around the container, mark the spot with a piece of tape, or even make a mark with a dry erase marker. Set a timer for four hours and check on it — if it’s grown twice as high as your mark, it’s ready to bake with.

At this point, you’ll want to act immediately and start your leaven (the first step in the sourdough bread process). If you wait, your starter will deflate.

Here’s our recipe: How To Make Sourdough Bread

The Float Test

We’d be remiss not to tell you about another test: The float test is simpler, but less reliable than the volume test. Add 1 teaspoon of your starter to at least 1 cup of a room temperature water. If it floats, your starter is ready for baking. The issue is that some starters, especially those made with rye or whole wheat flour, can be ready for baking and not float, which is why we recommend the double volume test.

Remind Me: How Long Does It Take to Build a Healthy, Happy Starter?

If you’re starting a brand new starter from scratch, it will need 7 to 10 days before it’s ready for bread baking. The first four to five days will be spent getting your starter active and bulking it up. After day five, you’ll begin discarding some of the starter and continuing to feed it, during that time the bacteria and yeast in the starter will become stronger and more robust.

Make sure you give your starter plenty of time to build a healthy colony of yeast and bacteria. Wait at least a week before you try testing it, and then rely on the volume test for best results. If you’ve got the itch to bake before your starter is ready, consider making biscuits or baking focaccia with your starter’s discard.