The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pain au levain questions.

Xevus's picture

Pain au levain questions.

Hi. I have some questions about pain au levain starter. For starters (no pun intended) on the Internet i've discovered two almost identical, yet different receipes


#1 -


#2 -


They both call for 4 oz of water and flour, but different amount of cups. I've found #1 first, and started to make a starter, but being from europe, i hand't realized that ounces there are probably fluid ounces and not weight. So i've added 114 grams of water and 114 grams of flour (50/50 mix of bread and whole wheat) every time. By the day 3, it was pretty obvious that something is wrong - the starter was not any near like the picture, although it did had the smell and the bubbles. Also, it started to become separated a little, with thin layer of murky liquid on top and dough-like mass on the bottom. I've googled a bit more and found #2. And then i realized that i used a wrong measure, and put too much flour, basically twice as much.


However, the numbers on #2 EXACTLY matched what i was doing. Now, i've became really confused and just decided to follow through to the day 5 and make a bread and see what happens. My starter did ok as far as i can tell, but it never was close to "doubling in size". It did grow somewhat on day 5, but nowhere near 2x volume. Still, i've proceeded to make a levain from reciepe #2 and let it sit for 10 hours. It also did pretty ok, definetley doubling in size during that period. Then i mixed the dough, but instead of prescribed kneading i did autolyse for 20 minutes and only then added the salt and started to knead it with mixer. It was still too wet, so i've added about 1/2 cups of flour, untill it formed a ball around hook and started climbing it.


After that i did a usual rise with punchdown in the middle. Had little issues cutting into 2 pieces and then forming round loaves. However, my biggest dissapoint was that the loaves deformed by sliding outwards, instead of rising. So far, this is my biggest issue with bread making, same happened with my ciabattas. I would be glad to receive some feedback and advices on my story :)

wally's picture


For starters (pun intended) you took the correct path in weighing your flour and water instead of relying on cups or ounces for measures.  What you saw on day 3 was good - you have an active yeast culture which produces alcohol as a by-product which rises to the top as a murky liquid (popular myth has it that alaskan prospectors used to drink the stuff, which they called 'hootch.')

You have the options of making many kinds of starters - very liquid ones or very stiff ones.  Stiffer starters increase acidity - sourness - and also don't need as frequent feedings as the more liquid ones.  But in the end, they all work, though with subtle differences in flavor.  That's for you to work out. 

I think the biggest problem with both recipes you cite above, is that they call for using the starter after only 5 days.  In my experience, most starters aren't ready for 'prime time' until about 8 days out.  You can tell: the starter will at least double if not triple in volume before collapsing.

If you are not refrigerating it, it should be fed at least once a day (some would argue every 12 hours, but that can be a lot of work).  Once it is developed, you need to discard the greater portion of it before feeding, or else you'll soon run out of room for it in your house - and then neighborhood.

Good luck!


ehanner's picture

 I am adding links below for a process for creating a starter using  whole grain flour and pineapple juice.  The pineapple juice lowers the pH of the mix and helps prevent the situation you are in now with the stratified liquid. This process and post is written by a frequent poster here who is also an expert in the area of microbiology. You can skip to the end of Part 2 and just get to the process but I suggest reading the part of the thread that is her work and her answers to questions.

Your starter must at least double in 12 hours to make bread. My starter will do that in 4-5  hours made using this process. Everything is by Tablespoons during the initial steps and then she uses Oz. I do everything in grams but all that matters is the ratio of flour and liquid. This works very well, many before you have done this process all over the World.

Pineapple juice solution Part 1 and

Part 2

I suggest you first build the starter, then use it to make French bread using a standard Pain Au Levain recipe from here or elsewhere. Make this bread several times to get the feel of the dough before you try an advanced dough like ciabatta. A pain au levain dough will have a hydration of approximately 67% which is much easier to handle than an 80% ciabatta formula.

If you have questions let us know.



Xevus's picture

Can you please give me a link for "standard Pain Au Levain recipe from here" because i couldn't find one.

Xevus's picture

I think i have some bad luck with starters. The first (which i've wrote about) went really bad after 3 more days - intstead of alchohol odour there was very strong smell of acetone. So i had to throw out that starter.


Meanwhile i've started a fresh starter, based on pineapple receipe above, and that also doesn't look very promising. Take a look on the picture, this is day 6.