The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Newbie question on levain...refrigeration

smasty's picture
smasty

Newbie question on levain...refrigeration

I've just finished reading "Bread" from cover to cover, and am ready to begin my very first Levain culture.  The question I have is is it ever refrigerated?  From what I understand from the book, it's just fed every day and left out on the counter?  Even when it matures?  Page 358 gives great instructions for building a culture, I guess it sounds funny to me that it is never put in the fridge.  Thanks!

Sue

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Sue, I'm a bit surprised that a book dealing with "Bread" didn't go into more detail about how to nurture levain over time.  I'm not familiar with the book but, if it's intended for beginners, it doesn't appear to be a book I'd recommend.  You will not, intiailly, want to refrigerate your culture.  It needs a higher temperature and time to develop the living cells necessary to sustain itself.  But after it has taken on life it can be refrigerated.

Tune in to this thread:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/13236/sourdough-starter-questions

To be more direct, you certainly can (and IMHO should) refrigerate your levain between scheduled uses.

This could be helpful too:

http://sourdoughbaker.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19&Itemid=25

And don't let the title "levain" throw you for a loop when you're reading about how to build and maintain them.  Whether you use the term levain, poolish, biga, etc. they are all pre-frements and (again, IMO) can be handled pretty much the same way regardless of the label.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I can't speak for him, but from comments he has made elsewhere, my impression is that he does not recommend refrigerating starters.

asicign's picture
asicign

I've just made my first levain bread from 'Bread'.   (Vermont Sourdough) Came out great!  Incidentally, Hammelman's book is definitely not for beginners.  He does take some things for granted, so it's probably not a good choice for someone who has never baked bread.  He does not talk about refrigerating his starter, but I don't bake every day, so I do.

smasty's picture
smasty

Thanks for the comments and links.  I've been baking bread regularly for only 3 months, and have used 24-hour preferments, but never a culture.  So I do feel that "Bread" was the appropriate next step for me, but you are very right in that I had many questions about things that more experienced bakers would know.  "Vermont Sourdough" is my first target too!  I'm glad to hear of your success.  I'm off to read the links.  Thanks!

Sue

smasty's picture
smasty

After 1 day and this morning's feeding my baby levain is exploding.  I'm going to have to find a bigger bowl for it before the night feeding tonight (yes I'm discarding so volume remains the same). 

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

If this is, in fact, your brand new starter's first day, what you're quite likely seeing there is not yeast rise but bacteria rise. This is normal but you should expect your starter to take several more days to actually become active. 

I've just done a side-by-side Sourdough Starter project with both a water based and a pineapple based formula - well, the exact same formula except for that - and posted it on my blog. The pineapple formula is Debra Wink's which she has posted elsewhere here. 

My blog: Step-by-Step, Side-by-Side Sourdough Starter: Intro

Debra's post on her Pineapple Juice formula: Debra’s Pineapple Formula

 

 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Great Blog series, Paul. I love it when others do the experiment for themselves. Thanks so much for posting this :-)

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

I would have wanted to also link to your website but didn't see anything anywhere that points to one. You should get a huge lump of the credit since it's all based on the work you put together... 

And while I have your ear... 

Wally's different. A little more sour, pungent (the 'Stink' is gone now) where PJ is 'soft' in aroma and taste but seems to have a little more expansion muscle. Is this normal? What is happening in the mix/mixes that would do this? They clearly are based on the exact same routine and ingredients save for the pineapple juice. 

What's your guess: will PJ tart up or will Wally go sedate? Or are they just "different" and will remain so?

Somehow I also think this would go to the question of SF starter 'turning' after a time. Not exactly sure how that fits in but there something pointing that way here for some reason.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Paul,

Thank you for crediting me, I really do appreciate it :-)  I don't have a website---just the occasional blog post here. I think about it sometimes, but realistically, I don't know where I'd find the time to keep up with one. I can't even keep up with TFL ;-)

At this point, both your starters are still young and haven't stabilized yet. I find it takes about two weeks of regular feeding (after the yeast become vegetative) before the transformation is complete. That's when mine become the most fragrant and robust. It's usually a noticeable change one day, rather than something that happens gradually---more or less all at once, but not necessarily right away---if that makes sense. I believe it indicates a "changing of the guard," so to speak. Maybe that's when Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis comes into its own. Or, maybe it's a change in the yeast. Saccharomyces sp. are most commonly found in "spontaneous sourdoughs" such as these might be considered right now, while Candida humilis is the most common in type I sourdoughs, continually refreshed over time. Yours are probably still somewhere in between.

If you continue to feed them both the same flour, using the same hydration and refreshment rate, on the same schedule, at the same temperature, I would expect them to eventually become the same starter. However, it takes longer for populations to stabilize at warm temperatures than cool, and it sounds like it's pretty warm where you are right now. The differences between Wally and PJ, may be as simple as a difference in the relative numbers of yeast to bacteria. A paper I read recently by Van der Meulen, et. al., showed it takes about seven to ten days for the yeast population growth to level off (after it starts growing). PJ is ahead of Wally, and probably has more active yeast. That would account for its greater expansion muscle and softer aroma. But, expect them both to continue to change for a bit.

On SF starters, what I know for sure is that Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis and Candida humilis (previously named C. milleri) are found in type I starters all over the world, so the organisms are not what make SF sourdough unique. In fact, L. sf. is more sensitive to acidic conditions than many other soudough lactobacilli. So if you keep your starter sour or neglected, you will lose it and your starter will be taken over by less desireable, albeit more acid-tolerant bacteria. If you buy an SF starter, and don't provide similar enough conditions, or maintain it in the same manor as it was, then you can't expect it to remain the same. Starters may be hard to kill, but the populations therein are very "shifty" and sensitive to the environmental conditions put on them by practices of the baker.

Thanks so much for sharing, and all the time you put into this project :-)
-dw

CanuckJim's picture
CanuckJim

I've certainly read Hamelman's Bread, and have to agree it's not for beginners.  I'm virtually certain that refrigeration is not recommended in his environment because the starter is refreshed and used every day.  Here, we always advise people who do not bake every day to refrigerate the starter after it has been refreshed and allowed to stand at room temp for about 12-14 hours.  The reason for refrigeration is to prevent mold and attracting nasty bacteria that thrive at higher temps.   This is especially true in summer.

Jim