The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

levain

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ackkkright's picture
ackkkright

levain

 


I have maintained a sourdough culture since early summer, and use it successfully at least once a week. My method has been sporadic. I bake a variety of breads, and have not had the discipline to perfect a single formula, but vary the experiment with each bake. This site has been a great help to me, and I appreciate all the contributors. I find many answers by poking around, but would like to ask a specific sourdough starter question:


Formulas generally instruct to refresh the starter, and then build the levain. Is a ripe levain no different than an amount of starter? When I use an amount of starter, I will typically feed the remaining starter to create an amount needed for the next bake. I allow the fed starter to grow, then refrigerate until I am ready to use it. When ready, I remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to resume activity, and then use it.


Is this not a good idea? Are there arguments against this method? It seems to work for me, but I wonder.


Thank you for all of the information and help here.


 


 


 

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

If it works for you, don't fix it. You might consider what you're doing procedurally incorrect but if your starter is thriving, and it sounds like it is, you're fine. There are a boatload of threads here testifying to the resiliency of a good starter and I have my own story.


As long as you follow a reasonable procedure of cleanliness of your equipment and feed your starter or replenish it on a timely basis, enjoy the baking. Just think of all the starters that have been used since someone figured them out and how they might have been treated or abused.


Dry some discard for a backup and put it in your freezer for your peace of mind. Don't expose your starter to temperatures over 95F. Post some pictures of your baking. You'll feel all the better for it.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

From what I've experienced and read, levain is simply a sponge or poolish and often structured on a barm foundation.  So, if I understand your question, I'd have to say the answer is "yes".  IMO, there's far too many descriptors for identical or nearly identical elements used in bread making.  Pete Reinhart writes that Poolish is simply a wet sponge that was designated "Poolish" by French bakers in honor of the Polish bakers who taught them the sponge technique.  At least, that's my understanding of what I've read.  Starter, on the other hand, appears to be a barm and it is used to build the sponge (Poolish).  So I build a seed culture with which I build a barm with which I build a sponge .... etc.  Kinda takes the fun out of the process don't it?


With respect to the method you're following (your second paragraph), it describes pretty much the typical method I use and I have no compaints about the outcome.  The loaf of french bread I made today was produced using your method and I didn't hear any complaints at the dinner table.


 

wally's picture
wally

Flournwater put it well - a rose is a rose.  Levain is the French term for sourdough, so technically a levain and a starter aren't different. Usually recipes that call for a 'levain build' incorporating a bit of starter do so because the amount of flour in the 'final dough' is so great that most bakers don't maintain sufficient starter to digest it at one time.  So instead of simply adding starter to the final dough (and waiting forever for fermentation to complete), there is an intermediate step - the levain build - which allows you to begin with a small amount of starter and larger amount of dough, and then basically convert that into a levain of sufficient size to support a final dough mix.


The only difference between levain and poolish or biga I'm aware of is that the latter two are used to impart a nutty as opposed to a sour flavor to doughs.  Thus they often use baker's yeast instead of sourdough as a leavening agent.  However, I've made good poolish using a very small quantity of sourdough instead of yeast which has provided fuel for the poolish without giving it a sour tang.


Larry

ackkkright's picture
ackkkright

Thanks for the replies.


I mostly just wanted to make sure I am not missing out on a crucial step towards perfection. Haven't achieved perfection, but my baking continues to be very satisfying.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

When you reach perfection remember to send up a flare.  Perfection is a lofty goal worthy of pursuit, but it's rarely achieved.  Although I have created a few "perfect" loaves, I'm not capable of doing it consistently.  But I'd rather work with bread than just about any other type of cooking/baking.  My failures provide an opportunity for me to revisit humility and learn from the mistakes.  They also make pretty good toast.


If your baking is satisfying you've reached a plateau that will carry you a very long way toward personal fulfillment, and your comments posted here suggest to me that you have what it takes to grow in this wonderful world of bread making.