The Fresh Loaf

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Mixing techniques for a starter feeding or a levain

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dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Mixing techniques for a starter feeding or a levain

Another TFL member, in a private message to me, expressed frustration regarding how to disperse the starter when feeding it or when mixing a levain. I thought this might be of general interest, so I'm sharing my suggestions. Besides, others might have even better techniques from which I might learn something. So, here is my method:

Re. dispursing starter when feeding it.

There are better sources of frustration to devote your problem-solving to, so here are a couple easy techniques:

1. Weigh your starter into your mixing bowl. Weigh in your water. Use some impliment (I use a dough whisk.) to break the starter into pieces about the size of a large olive. Give it a good whisk or stir with a spatula. Walk away for 10 minutes or so. Come back and whisk vigorously until the starter is almost completely dispersed. If your starter is healthy, you should have an extremely frothy, milky mixture at this point. Now add the flour and mix until all the flour has been incorporated and is moistened - no dry appearing flour on the surface. I do this with a silcon spatula about 90% of the way, then use my fingers, folding the "dough" over and over itself in the bowl. Then transfer the ball of levain to a clean container for fermentation.

2. If you don't have a dough whisk, do the same with a spatula, but, after the pieces of starter are softened, smear them against the side of the bowl with the spatula, give a few mixes, smear some more  and continue until the starter is well dispersed.

I like dough whisks. I have a large one and a small one. You can get them from KAF, breadtopia.com, and from Amazon.com. Some cookware shops carry them, too.

Hope this helps.

David

tn gabe's picture
tn gabe

This is what it's best for, isn't it? Not so good for mixing dough, oddly, but quite good at dispersing dough (or leaven) in water.

gary.turner's picture
gary.turner

I find my dough wisk to be an extremely effective and efficient dough mixer. It is likely the single best buy I've made  for bread baking in terms of bang for the buck.

cheers,

gary

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

to break up the levain.  I like utensils that can be used for many things well instead of one or two.  It's an Alton Brown thing he hooked me on.  There is only so much  money to go around for most of us and multi-tasking utensils sure makes cooking less costly.  Now that forks are posted I guess I can throw my whisk away.

proth5's picture
proth5

Because my house sitter takes care of my levain (or "the goop" as he calls it) during the week and has no interest in developing baking skills, I've had to come up with an easy to teach and repeatable method.

I keep my liquid levain in a small Cambro container (although I have also had good luck with those tall ZipLock screw top containers when the need has arisen) that is about four times the volume of freshly fed levain.  Discard is discarded until the whole thing has a weight that means that about 1 ounce remains (yes, I keep a large amount - I feel it gives the best flavor.  I've covered this in the "I feed the cat very expensive food every day and he doesn't do anything but sleep" discourse.)  4-5 ounces of cool water are then added.  The container is then "swirled" to disperse the remaining levain.  An equal weight of flour is then added and the whole thing roughly mixed with a stiff plastic scraper (this is the scraper that comes with a Cuisinart food processor and does have some heft to it.) When all the flour is moistened and there is no obvious water on the bottom - back away!  I've found that there is no reason to keep mixing to a smooth consistency for my storage starter.  In the 24 hours between feedings it becomes as smooth as though I had mixed for a longer time.

I use a similar method with pre ferments.  I like to put them in round, more vertical than horizontal containers so that I can put several of them in the proofer (I do love me that B&T proofer). To mix the small amount of seed that I use, I usually just and water and swirl the container - I then add flour as needed. When I get ready to do the mix, I weigh out the water and then pour most of it into the containers of the pre ferments I wish to use.  A quick swirl and a little nudge with a silicone spatula will dislodge most of it.  After adding this to the flour, I will pour the remaining water into the containers, cover them if I'm feeling cautious, and give them a really good swirl to clean out the rest of the pre ferment.

If I am using a firm pre ferment, I'll put the thing in a more horizontal than vertical container and just scrape it out with a bowl scraper.  I'll break it up with my fingers or cut it with kitchen shears and put it over the surface of the flour/water mixture (which has usually been undergoing autolyse) - I've always seen this disperse with mixing either by hand or by mixer.

Long to describe, but takes a very short time to execute. (I think I've timed myself at two minutes to refresh the levain)

One of the two reasons I like to keep a liquid storage starter is the ease with which it can be maintained.

I've looked at those dough whisks and folks (see above) really seem to like them, but they seem like one more danged thing to wash to me.  We all know I'm not afraid to get toys, but I hate washing stuff...

Hope this helps.

Happy Mixing!

Gene's picture
Gene

I work with just a stiff levain, which I feed à la Rubaud ... except that once the flours have been mixed, before adding the water, I break the inoculum into bits and using my fingertips and the mixed flours, rub the bits with the flour - kinda of a classic rubbing in method. Then add water using a spatula to work the water in - cut & fold method. I then knead the resulting dough like M. Rubaud does.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Or at least it will for 1/2 to 1 pound or so of levain.  And it's easy to clean.

Break up any ripe starter into the water with the fork, whether it is liquid or solid.  Add flour and continue to stir.  When the flour and water mix becomes homogenous (and maybe gathers around the fork for a firm levain), you've probably distributed the old into the new as much as is necessary.

If you don't have a fork (hard to imagine), or if your levain is bigger, your fingers can work just as well.  Just squish the levain into the water.  This means you'll be washing your hands for a longer time afterward.  That's sort of a pain, but no big deal, right?

Nothing against using a specialized dough whisk, but I'd encourage bakers and cooks to consider whether they already own what they need to accomplish this task.

-- Dan DiMuzio

mwilson's picture
mwilson

I was going to chime in and say pretty much exactly the same thing!

Great minds...

Michael

varda's picture
varda

I put the seed into a bowl that is too large for the quantity.   Then add the flour and water in that order, then take a large spoon and just mix the heck out of it until it is all uniform.   Takes a couple minutes with no special tools.   My seed is usually at 68% hydration so fairly firm.    The secret for this method to work is using a fairly large bowl so there is room to mix.    Generally I use my 4 cup glass measuring cup and then cover with plastic and leave on counter to mature.  

GSnyde's picture
GSnyde

I keep my 60% hydration mother starter in a 16 oz jam jar (Pudding Creek Berry Farms Ollalieberry, if you must know) in the fridge.  I refresh every week (almost), as follows:

Put clean jar on scale and tare to zero.  Put 12-15 grams of ripe starter in jar.  Add 36 grams cold water.  Stir with chopstick for a bit to break it up (I use a 30+ year old plastic chopstick I borrowed from a Berkeley restaurant that closed 20+ years ago).  Then smear it around with a small spatula (I love my set of stiff Oxo silicone spatulas!) until no big chunks left.  Add 60 grams of 70-20-10 flour blend.  Stir with chopstick until no dry flour left.  Screw on lid.  Leave on counter 12-15 hours.  Return to fridge.  The whole thing takes 3 minutes if I have the starter-feeding-flour mixed up in advance.

This works absolutely every time. 

The unused old starter gets saved if I think I'm going to make pancakes in the next few weeks, or otherwise thrown in the Gavin (that's what we call our little green bin where we are legally required to put our food waste for recycling; named after former SF Mayor, Gavin Newsom, who was so proud to require us to do this).

Glenn

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

have such a cute / talented / lawyer / ex wife ( not a good combo) for being such a dweeb?   I suppose she quickly figured out that your little green Gavin legacy highlight of his just wasn't enough for her :-)

Now I've gone from whisk to fork to chopsticks.  We had to know that the greatest of the Chinese eating / cooking  inventions would win out for stirring starter in the end.

I'll be proofing dough in a well oiled wok before you know it.

G-man's picture
G-man

Don't need many utensils in the kitchen at all, and chopsticks are the reason.

I use mine for stirring as well, the whisks I have largely go unused. It's also the only way to eat a salad or noodles of any kind.