The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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PMcCool's picture

Question about Leader's Auvergne Dark Rye

July 18, 2009 - 7:00am -- PMcCool

I've started Leader's Auvergne Dark Rye and run into some confusion.  Leader describes the first stage of the dough as a "thick, smooth batter".  That's using the starter, 350 grams of water and 500 grams of medium or light rye flour.  Right off the bat, a dough at 70% hydration is not going to be a batter.  In my case, the matter is compounded by the fact that I'm using a stone-ground whole rye flour, which is even more absorptive.  Batter?  No.  Play-Doh?  Yes.

davidg618's picture

I think one of the biggest differences between commercial artisan bakeries, that bake every day, and the amateur that bakes once or even twice a week is how each handles levain day-to-day. From my reading I've gleaned the commercial baker keeps his or her levain (starter) at room temperature, and feeds it on a periodic schedule every 8 or 12 hours. (I'm an amateur, so, experts, please correct me if I'm terribly wrong). on the other hand, most amateurs keep thier starters at refrigerator temperature (~40°F), and feed them once weekly, or less often.

I am less certain how commercial bakers maintain their starters' hydration, I assume, however, that perhaps as little as one day earlier they prepare a chosen amount of their maintained starter by feeding it an amount of flour and water that adjusts its hydration to the target for a days baking. Amateurs keep their maintained starters at a fixed hydration, and, although some amateurs maintain their starters very dry (50%-60%), or very wet (~200%), the usual maintenance hydration is ~100% to ~125%.

The challenge for us amteurs is, "How do I convert an alive, but nearly dormant, relatively cold starter to a formula ready starter, i.e., the correct formula specified starter weight and hydration?"; one might also add, in a reasonably short time.

Some recipes intruct a single feeding, without changing the starter's hydration, followed by a fermentation period--usually 12 hours--and adjusts the dough's flour and water weights to achieve the desired dough hydration. Some amateur bakers convert their maintained starter in one feeding to the target starter weight and hydration, and then feed it an additional one to nine times over a period of one or more days. Both these approaches work, and each have subtle secondary consequences, usually effecting the final bread's flavor. It's not my intent judge the merit of those consequences, merely note they occur.

What I want to do is describe the process I use, explain why I use it, and show some results.

First of all, I have two primary goals for creating formula-ready starters the way I do. One is related to the final dough. I want to achieve a very active starter, strong enough to produce two strong proofs, in moderately short time, i.e., 2-3 hours each; and with sufficient reserve to provide strong oven spring. And, I want to build this formula-ready starter in no more than 24 hours.

The second goal: I want to maintain only a barely necessary amount of starter, e.g., around 200g, 100% hyddration, and fed every two or three weeks.

I've succeeded in reaching both goals using a 3-build approach that triples the amount of starter with each build, and adjusts the hydration by one-third of the difference between the maintained starter's hydration and the formula specified starter hydration.

A couple of definitions, and a little math:

seed starter: the weight of maintained starter that when tripled 3 times yields the formula-specified starter weight.

Intermediate starter: the building starter, i.e. the starter at any time between the beginning of Build 1 and the end of Build 3.

formula-ready starter weight = seed starter weight x (3x3x3) = seed starter weight x 27; therefore:

seed starter weight = formula-ready starter weight/27. But, I always lose some--it sticks to the stirrer, and the its container's walls, so I add a little more, e.g. 20g.

intermediate starter hydration = seed starter hydration +(formula-ready starter hydration - seed starter ready hydration)/3 x # of last build.

An example:

Formula specified starter: 480g, 60% Hydration

Seed starter hydration: 100%

Added to make up loss: 20g


Seed starter weight = (480 + 20)/27 = 19g (rounded to nearest whole number)

Intermediate starter's hydration = 100 +(60 - 100)/3 x 1 or 2 or 3 = 100 + (-40)/3 therefore:

during Build 1 the Intermediate starters hydration = 86.7; during build 2 73.3%, and during build 3 60%.

Intermediate starter weights are: Build 1, 55g, Build 2, 167g, and Build 3, 500. (all are rounded to nearest whole gram.)

Now, I'm not going to do the Baker's math to calculate the flour and water weights added each build. I built a spreadsheet to do that for me, but it is possible by hand using Baker's math, and the intermediate starter weights and hydrations.

The results: Below are a series of five photographs that visually document the example above.

Why do it this way?

I reasoned that adding more than twice the weight of the seed starter (or the intermediate starter weights)  would dilute the density of the yeast critters beyond a "strong" density, i.e. each build should peak within eight hours or less, Yeast have little or no motility, so after a time, they are surrounded by their waste products: carbon dioxide and alcohol, not food, so production slows down or stops. Stirring , kneading dough, etc. all redistribute yeast, by-products, and food, but I don't want to be burdened with stirring. Furthermore, my goals focus on yeast production, not bacterial growth. (There are other things one can do to develop flavor contributing starters.)

1. Seed Starter: 19g of my refrigerator maintained starter.


2. Build 2. at its peak 16 hours after starting. I didn't photograph build 1, even at its peak it didn't cover the bottom of the container.


3. Build 3 at zero hour, I'd just added its flour and water additions and spread it out in its container.


4. Build three after only 3 hours (19 hours from the beginning); I consider its growth a good subjective indicator of its strength.


5. Build 3 after 7 hours (23 hours from beginning). You can see evidence it's peaked by the slight deflation around the edges. Immediately after taking this photo I made the dough...


...for this bread. This is D. DiMuzio's San Francisco Sourdough au Levain (firm starter) formula, but I used it for a Thyme-Feta Cheese-Toasted Chestnut vehicle, so it probably doesn't exhibit all the oven spring it might have in an uncluttered dough. Nonetheless, I think it stands a good example of my goal.


DonD's picture

This past weekend, I made a batch of Baguettes au Levain based on the recipe that Janedo had adapted from the Anis Bouabsa formula. This is my third try at this recipe and each time I tweaked it a little bit to correct some aspects that did not turned out to my liking. This time the loaves turned out pretty good with nice oven spring and airy crumb. The crust had nice golden color with small blisters, thin and crackly and deep caramel flavor. The taste was not sour but is rich and sweet with a slight tang.

The formula I used consists of:

- 125 g of stiff white flour levain at 67% hydration

- 300 g KAF AP Flour

- 150 g KAF Bread Flour

- 50 g Arrowhead Mills Organic Stoneground WW Flour

- 350 g water

- 1/4 tsp Instant Yeast

- 10 g Atlantic Sea Salt

I autolyse the flour mixture with the water without the yeast or salt for 30 mins prior to mixing in the levain, then added the yeast and the salt during the stretch and fold. I followed the 20 movements 3 times at 20 mins interval using the stretch and fold from Richard Bertinet (I like slapping the dough!). I let the dough ferment for 1 hr then refrigerate for 24 hours before dividing, shaping and baking.

I reduced the hydration to 70% to make the shaping and scoring of the baguettes easier. I also found that that little extra yeast really helps with the oven spring.

I proofed the shaped baguettes and scored them on a perforated pan lined with parchment paper which helps keep the shape, especially when working with a high hydration dough. To help me comtrol the scoring, I made a full size cardboard template as a guide while scoring.

I tranferred the loaves by sliding the parchment onto a jerry-rigged wooden peel made from a top cover of a Bordeaux wine case and from there onto the baking stone.

I baked 10 mins at 460 degrees F with steam from a cast iron pan filled with lava stones (thanks David!), reduce to 430 degrees and baked without steam for 13 mins, turned off oven and kept them in the oven with door ajar for another 5 mins ( thanks again David!) before removing them to cool on a rack.


I hope these little tidbits will be of help. Happy baking!


SallyBR's picture

Hamelman's Pain au Levain

May 24, 2009 - 2:26pm -- SallyBR

Today I made Hamelman's Pain au Levain - recipe on page 158 of his book BREAD 


For months now I've been baking his Vermont Sourdough series every weekend, allowing the shaped boule to retard overnight.

This recipe is slightly different - a little rye flour is used in the starter, and also in the dough. He does not recommend retarding the bread, instead it should be baked after 2 - 2.5 hs final rise at room temperature.

IN a way, it is a pretty "quick" method for a sourdough, and I did not know how it would turn out.

SallyBR's picture

Question on Hamelman's Olive Levain

May 1, 2009 - 6:53am -- SallyBR

I am making this bread tonight to bake tomorrow - in his recipe, he says the bread profits from retarding the shaped loaves, which I will do


but it does not say if they can be baked straight from the fridge, or if they should stay at room temp for a few hours.


has anoone made this bread? I think I will remove it from the fridge and leave it for 3 hours over the counter, since I've been doing this for his Vermont sourdough and works fine, but if anyone has specific instructions, I am all ears!



xaipete's picture

Liquid levain vs. stiff levain

April 22, 2009 - 11:41am -- xaipete

Is there a standard hydration level for a liquid levain vs. a stiff levain? I was reading Leader's Local Breads this morning and noticed that his liquid levain has about 130 % hydrated vs. his stiff which has about 50% hydration. I've also been readin Michael Suas's Advanced Bread and Pastry and notice that some of his SD formulas call for a liquid levain while others require a stiff starter.

flour-girl's picture

lame newbie sourdough question

April 6, 2009 - 7:09pm -- flour-girl

So, I just got Hamelman's "Bread" and immediately mixed up his Liquid Levain culture. It is nice and bubbly after two feeds today and I'm hopeful that I can follow his instructions over the next week or so to wind up with a viable starter.

I don't feel like his book, though, addresses how to take care of the starter once you've cultivated it.

Say I'll only be making sourdough bread once a week or so ... How often should I be feeding it? How much should I be feeding it? Should I be storing it in the refrigerator?


Udoughgirl's picture

Has anyone made Levain starter from The Village Baker?

February 24, 2009 - 11:33am -- Udoughgirl

The sourdough starter I'm trying to make (from The Village Baker) is quite a firm little ball and has such a thick crust on it that I don't see how it can possibly grow or form bubbles. It's day 3, and it should be showing signs of life.  The recipe said to cover it with a damp cloth, but nothing about keeping it damp, so I let it dry out. Mistake?   I could play with any of these factors at this point - an airtight lid instead of cloth, warmer or cooler temp, higher hydration of dough. I'd like to know how others have managed with this recipe. 

Thanks, Doh!


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