Sourdough Pizza Starter Recipe

Sourdough Pizza Starter

In this article I provide an easy recipe for sourdough pizza starter as well as explaining exactly what it is and how it works. It may seem like magic (and it kind of is!) but it’s actually really straightforward.

Sourdough starter for pizza
An “active” (bubbly) sourdough starter – ripe for sourdough pizza making

Once you’ve made your sourdough starter you’ll be ready to make incredible sourdough pizza. Keep reading for more information and don’t miss the recipe at the bottom of the page.

You should have a wonderful sourdough starter for your pizza in no time!

What is Sourdough Pizza Starter?

A sourdough starter is needed to make sourdough pizza. It is basically just flour and water mixed together, and kept in such a way that natural (wild) yeast is encouraged to grow in it.

Sourdough Pizza Starter
This is what a large jar of (ripe) sourdough starter looks like

What is a sourdough starter for pizza?

A sourdough starter for pizza (or any dough) is basically just a mix (usually 50/50) of flour and water – a wet dough. This dough is “topped up” with more flour and water regularly, to encourage yeast growth. This starter dough is then added to your other ingredients in order to make pizza dough.

Topping up your starter is known as “feeding”. This is because you are feeding the yeast culture living inside your starter each time you top it up.

There are trace amounts of yeast present in flour. By providing the yeast with additional flour, you are allowing it to feed on plenty of fresh nutrients, encouraging growth.

And by adding an equal amount of water, you are providing a moist environment for the yeast, allowing it to flourish.

Over time, the yeast grows into a healthy culture. At this stage, the starter is ready to bake with. It is easy to tell once the starter is ready because it will be very bubbly – “active” is the technical term!

What is a sourdough starter?
An “active” sourdough starter should look like this

A sourdough starter can be kept indefinitely when fed regularly. In fact, some bakers have a starter which is hundreds of years old! It can be passed down through the generations, and used as many times as you like.

Actually, the older a starter is the better it is, in general. Older starters tend to be more active (produce a better fermentation), more resiliant, and produce more flavour. Keep hold of your starter as long as possible and don’t be afraid to feed it with different flours from time to time. This may help to improve the depth of flavour your starter offers.

Pizza dough sourdough starter with no yeast?

Whilst a sourdough starter doesn’t require any yeast to be added, it still has yeast in it. Yeast is a key ingredient to great pizza, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Yeast makes pizza dough light and airy, and easy to eat, as well as producing a wonderful flavour. Without yeast, pizza would be dense and chewy, difficult to eat, and nowhere near as tasty!

Neapolitan pizza slice up close on wooden board
Yeast is the secret to amazing pizza like this!

The beauty of sourdough is that the starter contains natural yeast (wild yeast), so we don’t need to add any to it. A sourdough starter also helps to produce more flavour in the dough when compared to commercial yeast, thanks to the natural bacteria inside it. Think of it a bit like yogurt that naturally contains good (and tasty) bacteria. The bacteria helps to give it the sour taste.

Feeding your sourdough starter

A sourdough starter should be fed regularly to keep it active and ready to prove pizza. To feed it we basically just stir in some more flour and water.

At room temperature a starter should be fed every day ideally. But when stored in the fridge, feeding every 1-2 weeks is fine.

Feeding sourdough starter

When we’re ready to make pizza, we remove it from the fridge and feed it for 2-3 days, building it up to the amount we need. This is known as building a levain (pronounced “le van”) – which is French for “rise” (ie “prove/ferment”).

What is the best ratio for a sourdough starter?

The best ratio of flour to water for a sourdough starter is generally accepted to be 1:1, or in other words, equal parts flour and water. This ratio is known as the “hydration”, since it tells us how much water is in the starter.

There are 2 reasons for the 1:1 hydration ratio. These are as follows:

  • High moisture content
  • Ease of use

Let’s go over these in more detail.

High moisture content

Firstly, the high moisture content (high hydration) provides excellent conditions for yeast growth. This makes it easy to achieve a very “active” starter, which is capable of producing a light and airy pizza crust, thanks to an excellent fermentation (prove).

What is the best ratio for a sourdough starter?
A high moisture content encourages excellent fermentation

Ease of use

Secondly, having a starter with equal amounts of flour and water makes recipes easy. This is because calculating how much flour and water is in the starter is very straight forward.

For example, let’s say we have a 200g starter. Because we have a 1:1 ratio, we know there is 100g water and 100g flour in our starter, without having to do any complex calculations.

Sourdough pizza starter hydration
Using a starter with equal parts flour and water makes for easy pizza dough recipes

The easiest way to achieve this 1:1 ratio is to simply weigh out the flour and water. I like to use digital scales (and grams), as these are the easiest and most accurate.

Sourdough pizza starter percentage

The ratio of water to flour (the hydration) in a starter is often expressed as a percentage. The weight of water is compared to weight of the flour, in what is known as baker’s percentage.

As a percentage, the 1:1 ratio is 100%. This is because there is as much water as there is flour, or in other words, there is 100% as much water as flour.

For more information on this, check out my article on baker’s percentage here.

How much to feed sourdough starter

As well as the hydration of the starter (100% or 1:1 water to flour), you also need a ratio for how much to feed your starter – or the “feeding ratio”.

1:1:1 starter feeding ratio

Many people choose to use a ratio of 1:1:1 when feeding. The first 1 represents our starter, the second 1 represents the flour to be added, and the third 1 represents the water to be added. For example, let’s say we have 50g of starter, a 1:1:1 feeding ration would mean we would feed the starter 50g of flour and 50g of water, for a total starter size of 150g.

1:2:2 starter feeding ratio

However, I prefer to feed the starter in a 1:2:2 ration as it tends to result in a more “active” starter (or levain). This is particularly useful when feeding a starter that has been in the fridge. It will “wake up” quicker and will tend to produce a better fermentation.

With the 1:2:2 ratio, we are effectively feeding the starter twice as much, since we should feed our starter twice its weight in flour and twice its weight in water. The flour is the main “food”, with the water being there to ensure the same hydration. For example, with the same 50g starter, we would feed it 100g of flour and 100g of water, for a total starter size of 250g.

Sourdough starter feeding notes

Notice that in both cases, we still feed the starter with equal parts flour and water. This ensures our hydration is always 100% (as mentioned previously) and should never change (except for advanced use cases).

Also notice that with the 1:2:2 feeding ratio, we end up with more starter after feeding (when compared to the 1:1:1 ratio). This allows us to keep less starter in the fridge (taking up less space) and still end up with a nice amount after feeding. This is a nice added benefit to this feeding ratio, but the main reason I recommend it is for the more “active” fermentation that it encourages.

It is also generally good practice to keep feeding your sourdough starter in the same ratio (eg 1:2:2). This should keep your sourdough consistent in terms of it’s flavour and fermentation. But of course you can feel free to experiment if you like. There are many ways to make great starter!

When is my starter ready to use?

Your starter is ready to use when it is nice and bubbly, and it has roughly doubled in size. This is known as the “peak” of your starter and normally takes around 8-12 hours to reach (following feeding), depending on how “active” your starter is.

In general, the more your starter has been fed, and the older it is, the more “active” it will be. Some active starters can be ready in as little as 6 hours, especially if it is warm.

A good way to tell if your starter has reached its “peak” is to put a rubber band around the jar to indicate your starters level just after feeding. You should then be able to tell easily when your starter has risen to twice its initial size.

When is my starter ready to use?
Placing a band around your starter is a great way to tell when it’s at its “peak”

The “peak” is the moment just before the starter starts contracting (falling back down the jar). Take note of roughly how long your starter takes to reach its peak and then you will know for next time. Bear in mind that temperature can have a significant impact on this time. The warmer it is, the faster your starter will ferment.

The feeding ratio and hydration of the starter can also effect this time, so it’s important to keep these consistent. As mentioned previously, I recommend a 1:2:2 feeding ration and 100% hydration, or 1:1 hydration.

Sourdough starter needs air?

There is a common myth that sourdough starter needs to be open to the air – ie not have a lid on it. The reasoning is usually that the starter takes yeast from the air, but this is not the case.

Flour naturally has trace amounts of yeast in it. When given a moist environment (by adding water), this yeast can grow. The yeast feeds off the carbohydrates in the flour. When topped up regularly, or fed with fresh flour, this yeast can grow into a healthy colony of wild yeast and good bacteria.

Sourdough starter for pizza
Contrary to popular belief, sourdough doesn’t need “air” – in fact, without a lid, it may overflow (and get flies in it)!

This is why developing a starter takes some time – around 1-2 weeks. Initially there is only a tiny amount of yeast in the flour – not enough to prove pizza. By providing it with more carbohydrates in the form of fresh flour, we can encourage it’s growth. The addition of water alongside the flour ensures that we always keep a nice moist environment for the yeast.

So, a sourdough starter doesn’t need to be exposed to the air. In fact, I recommend that you keep a lid on your starter. This will prevent flies or any other foreign material from accessing your beautiful yeast culture. It will also ensure that your starter doesn’t dry out and should extend it’s life should you forget to feed it.

Sourdough Pizza Starter Recipe

The recipe below is possibly the best recipe for sourdough pizza starter that you will find. I have developed the recipe from lots of trial and error! What’s more, I go into detail on every step along the way.

Making sourdough starter for pizza is much easier than most people think. And now you have an idea how it works, let’s get into how to make it!

It is worth mentioning that in this recipe, I recommend keeping a very small amount of sourdough starter. The reason for this is that as we top the starter up (feed it), it is easy to end up with too much starter which ends up getting waisted. Of course, you can give any leftovers to friends and family, but there’s only so much you can gift until they get sick of it!

Sourdough starter in glass
I recommend keeping a very small amount of starter in a little jar or glass

Also, we can easily add to our small starter and build it up before making our pizza dough. This will be covered in more detail in the next article on making sourdough pizza. In this, I’m focussing on making the starter itself.

With that being said, let’s get into the sourdough pizza starter recipe.

The Recipe – Sourdough Pizza Starter

Follow this recipe and feeding schedule for 1-2 weeks for the perfect pizza sourdough starter.

Ingredients

The quantities listed below are enough for feeding your starter every day for 2 weeks. This should be plenty to establish a healthy sourdough starter.

270g flour (oo flour or strong white bread flour)

270g water

Method

For the sourdough starter

Here’s the method for making a healthy sourdough starter which can then be used to make incredible sourdough pizza.

Sourdough starter for pizza

This starter can be kept indefinitely, as long as it is fed (topped up) from time to time. Storing it in the fridge means it will only need to be topped up every 1-2 weeks, as opposed to every 1-2 days at room temperature.

Some sourdough starters have even been known to survive months without feeding in the fridge! But they will need to revived with regular feeding for a few days before using for sourdough pizza.

  1. Mix 25g water and 25g flour in a small jar/container (use digital weighing scales if possible). Start by adding the water first, followed by the flour, this makes the mixing easier. Use a knife to mix, this makes it easy to remove any dough stuck to the knife with your fingers, and add it back to the jar.

    Feeding sourdough starter

    Mix it with a knife or the wrong end of a spoon

  2. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap (or similar) and keep at room temperature and out of the sun. A cupboard is a good place. Do not store in the fridge at this point as we need some warmth to encourage healthy and speedy yeast growth.
  3. The next day, after around 24 hours, it’s time to feed our starter. Start by removing 40g from our sourdough mix, leaving roughly 10g in the jar (a very small amount). The 40g can be discarded. This may seem wasteful but it’s the reason I recommend a small starter, we are only wasting 20g of flour and 20g of water.
  4. Now, starting with the water, top up our 10g of starter with 20g of water and 20g of flour. This is known as a 2:2:1 feeding ratio, as we’re feeding our intial 10g with twice as much flour and water (20g of each). This should lead to a very healthy and “active” starter.
  5. Cover the starter and store at room temperature as in step 2.
  6. Continue with this feeding every day, or around evey 24 hours, until your starter is very bubbly and has grown about double in size. At this point, the starter is “active”. It will probably take around 1-2 weeks for your starter to reach this point.
  7. Once you have an active starter, continue to feed it for 2-3 days just to make sure you have a healthy starter. It should rise and bubble in about the first 12 hours after each feed and then fall back down in the next 12 hours or so.
  8. When you are happy that you have an “active” sourdough starter, you can store it in the fridge (unless you want to make pizza straight away) where you only need to feed it every 1-2 weeks.

Building a levain

Levain is the French word for a sourdough starter that is intended to be used for making a dough. It literally translates as “rise”. You may be asking: “isn’t all starter intended to be used for making dough?”, but the answer is not necessarily.

In my experience, it is better to build your small amount of starter into a larger “levain” each time you want to make sourdough pizza. This method ensures that you have a very healthy and active starter each time you make pizza. It also means that we don’t have to worry about feeding our starter everyday – we just have to feed it well in the 2-3 days before making pizza. It also means that we don’t end up with lots of waste.

Sourdough pizza levain

Your levain should look something like this – the band shows how much it’s grown

  1. Ideally, start with a room temperature starter (but this is not imperitive if you are low on time). If your starter was in the fridge, ideally you should make sure it has been out of the fridge for about a day or however long it takes to get to room temperature (depending on your climate).
  2. Feed your 50g starter in a 2:2:1 ratio as before. This means topping up our 50g starter (in the new jar) with 100g of water and 100g of flour. This now leaves us with a 250g jar of starter – this is known as our levain.
  3. Leave the levain for around 12 hours to prove (it should bubble and rise to about twice its size).
  4. At this point, you can use your levain (starter) for making pizza dough if the recipe calls for 200g of starter or less. We want to keep around 50g for future use.
  5. If you need more starter, you can feed your starter again, which will make it even more active, and you will have more starter to use if your sourdough pizza recipe calls for it. To feed it again, take your 250g starter and feed it with 500g of water and 500g of flour. This will leave us with a 1250g levain which is plenty of starter for most home recipes.
  6. After using your levain for making pizza dough, I like to save a very small amount (around 50g) to use as our new starter for next time. We can keep this in the fridge as before.
  7. The “new” starter has been fed recently, which is why I prefer to keep this one. If you discard the first starter, you can use the small jar for your new one.

Notes

  • In this recipe I used 00 flour for the starter as this is generally the best for Neapolitan style pizza. Strong white bread flour is a good substitute though. You can also experiment with adding some wholemeal/rye flour to your starter (eg 25%-50%). This can help to produce more flavour but I have kept it simple in this recipe.
00 flour for pizza starter

00 flour works just fine in a starter

  • You can keep more sourdough if you prefer. Personally, I find keeping the smallest amount possible to be the most practical (takes up little space in the fridge) and the least wasteful.
  • Keeping some of your leftover levain to save as a starter is generally a good idea, since this has been fed recently. You can leave this in the fridge and it won’t need feeding for a couple of weeks.
  • When building your levain, you can adjust your feeding to end up with the amount of starter you need for your recipe. For example, let’s say your recipe calls for 500g of starter. You can start with 20g of starter for your levain, and feed it 40g of water and 40g of flour. Then you can feed this 100g levain with 200g of water and 200g flour – you now have a 500g levain. Just don’t forget to make a little extra than you need so you can save some for next time (around 50g).
  • You can place a rubber band (or similar) around your starter/levain to indicate the level. This will help you to see when it has doubled in size – this is when it’s at it’s peak and is the best time to bake with.

Keep reading for more detailed information on sourdough starters for pizza.

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Final thoughts on sourdough pizza starter…

Hopefully this article and recipe has giving you an excellent starting point for sourdough pizza (pun intended)! If you think I’ve missed anything out or you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below. I try my best to answer them as quickly as I can.

Sourdough pizza from starter
Delicious sourdough pizza is the nest step…

Congratulations on taking your first step towards amazing sourdough pizza with this sourdough pizza starter recipe. Also, bear in mind that you can use your starter for other doughs too, such as loaves of bread.

Now, time to get started on that sourdough! Over and out.

Tom Rothwell from My Pizza Corner eating homemade pizza

About Me

I’m Tom Rothwell and I’m super passionate about all kinds of homemade pizza! In the last few years I've been on a quest to find the perfect pizza. Now I'm sharing what I've found out with the world!

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I often get asked what type of oven I use for my pizzas. Well, I use a pizza oven made by a company called Ooni.

The range of pizza ovens that Ooni offers is just brilliant. They cover all bases, and all price points. There's affordable and portable models such as the Fyra 12 Pizza Oven and then there's state-of-the-art models such as the Karu 16 Pizza Oven pictured below.

In all honesty, I would say that the oven makes a huge difference. If you're looking to make authentic Italian pizza, a pizza oven is a must.

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By clicking the link below and purchasing from Ooni, you would be supporting this website. I've been using their ovens for a long time now and I wouldn't recommend them if I didn't believe in their products.

Time to make some amazing pizza!

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Comments
  1. Avatar for Rodney Bates Rodney Bates says:

    Hi Tom, couple of questions if you could clarify please. Looks like you end up with around 500g of starter, so using a jar of that capacity or a little more is ideal I assume? Is the removing 40g in step 3 a one-off, or do you remove some each day you feed it? Appreciate any response you can provide

    1. Avatar for Tom Rothwell Tom Rothwell says:

      Hi Rodney, thanks for the questions. I only ever keep 50g of starter and then I build it up (make a levain) when I mant to make pizza.

      To do this, I remove 40g each time I feed it. Although this may seem wasteful, it prevents us from having a huge starter which leads to more waste.

      Also, be sure to check out my sourdough pizza recipe which is out now!

      Hope this helps.

Ooni Pizza Ovens
Tom Rothwell from My Pizza Corner eating homemade pizza

About Me

I’m Tom Rothwell and I’m super passionate about all kinds of homemade pizza! In the last few years I've been on a quest to find the perfect pizza. Now I'm sharing what I've found out with the world!

Ooni Pizza Ovens