The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Robertson: Amount of starter to discard when re-feeding; Amount of starter used to make a levain

mareblu's picture

Robertson: Amount of starter to discard when re-feeding; Amount of starter used to make a levain

Though I have had success with Tartine's Country Bread, I am still confused by Robertson's directions on three points:

1.  Regarding feeding the starter.  Even after the seed culture has been successfully transformed into a healthy starter, it appears that Robertson discards 80% of his starter before each regular feeding (Tartine, p. 46) whereas others simply re-feed by adding to the existing starter at a ratio of 1:2:2 (starter: flour: water by weight) without discarding.  Am I reading Robertson wrong here?  

2.  Robertson calls for only "a tablespoon" (15 g) of mature starter to be used for seeding the levain (Tartine p. 147), whereas others, (i.e.Reinhart) use nearly four times that amount (71 g)for just slightly smaller amounts of flour and water (Reinhart, Artisan Breads, p. 61).  For those who have made both, what are the characteristic differences in the two (Robertson's, Basic Country Loaf and Reinhart's, Pain au Levain?

3.  Finally, is it possible to use mature starter directly in making a dough without first creating a levain?  If so, how does the final loaf differ

breaducation's picture

1. I believe this is correct. He has you make quite a bit more starter than you will actually need. I suppose he may have you do this because a larger starter ferments better and produces better flavor. At SFBI our base feeding was always no less than 400 grams, even just for maintanence of the starter.

2. I think Robertson has you start with so little seed because he is going for the "Young" Levain. If he were to use more starter as seed then the levain would be more developed by the time you went to use it. I've never made Reinhart's breads but it seems he goes for more of the normal approach to levain use where you want a fully ripe levain when used in bread. The potential differences in these two loaves would be that the Robertson approach would require a longer bulk time and the Reinhart bread would probably be slightly more sour.

3. A starter and levain are exactly the same thing with different names. I use each word interchangably. I think technically a levain is your last starter build before using it in bread but in practical use they are the same thing. You can definitely use mature starter in your final loaf.

mareblu's picture

Thank you for the clarification.  As point #3, do you then use the leftover levain as the base for the new starter, and if so, will this starter eventually resemble the "leftover starter" used for making the original levain?  If so, how long would this take?  If not, what characteristics would be evident in the final bread?  Many thanks

P.S. what is SFBI?

Pioneer Foodie's picture
Pioneer Foodie

First, I can't really abide the notion of "discarding" starter. Why not make something with it instead? Like, at the very least, pancakes.

Second, when I pour off starter, I pour out pretty much everything that will easily leave my culture container, leaving just a sticky residue that would have to be scraped out with a spatula. Then I build from there. And on my second build, I increase by about 4 to 8 times of the original volume. So if I have 1 lb of starter, I feed it 2 lbs flour and 2 lbs water, making 5 lbs of starter from the original 1 lb after refreshing from dregs.