The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Levain

petercook's picture
petercook

Levain

Hello,

I am attempting to make my 1st levain. I would like to know about the look  and the smell of it.  Day one: 1 scant cup of whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup of bottled water mixed into a thick dough. The bowl I used is a tupper-ware container which I placed in boiling water for 5 minutes. The same for the lid and the mixing spoon. Covered tightly with lid. Let rest on counter for 24 hrs (temp 65-75 F).  Day 2 No change, no feeding. Day 3 Some slight sign of life, a few bubbles. The top of the levain was darker than the inside, not really black but quite dark. Un-pleasant smell, like baby vomit. Discarded half and fed with 1/2 cup unbleached A.P. flour and 1/2 cup bottled water. Cover again and let rest on counter for another 24 hrs. That's where I am at now. I'm concerned about the dark color on top and the un-pleasant smell. I really don't want to create same dangerous bacteria. Am I on the right track? Does this sound right?

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Hi Peter,

There is usually an off smell after a couple of days which goes away by the 1 week mark, but a couple of things you mention are not quite normal. First, boiling water is not typically used.  If you are unsure of your water supply, you can (and apparently subsequently did) use bottled spring water or boil it and let it cool down. Second, 24 hrs is a long time to wait between feedings. Based on your post, your proportions would give close to a 200% hydration mixture based on weight (assuming a scant 1/2 cup of flour is about 55-60 gm based on 120 gm/cup and 1/2 cup of water is about 110 gm based on 220 gm/cup).  With this high hydration the food gets consumed quickly and there is probably not enough of it, so the beasties break down the other components like protein, and this could be the source of the smell. A more common starter would be between 60-100% hydration based on the weight of the ingredients and calculated using bakers math.  A 100% hydration starter would have the consistency of somewhat thick pancake batter.  I refer you to this link and this by Debra Wink, whose formula for sourdough starter is tried and true by many on this site.

-Brad

 

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

I just thought of another thing that may be of help.  Soap can affect the growth of the starter.  Plastics can absorb things like soap and may inhibit growth somewhat, although I don't think this is your immediate issue.  One recommendation is to use glass that has been rinsed in a baking soda solution to remove the soap for your initial starter mix to eliminate the possibility.

 

petercook's picture
petercook

Oops, sorry. There was a typo in my post. The feedings consist of 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup bottled water. Also, I only boiled the CONTAINER, LID AND MIXING SPOON in order to have an absolutely clean container. . All water that went into the levain was room temp bottled water. Thank you for spotting this.

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Then that's about right for a 100% hydration starter.  You didn't mention what temperature you are fermenting the starter.  If it is above 75˚F or so you should think about feeding it more frequently, maybe every 12 hrs, until it gets going.  You can also increase the feeding ratio.  Now you are using about 1:1:1 starter:water:flour.  Try 1:2:2 instead.

petercook's picture
petercook

Day-time temps about 75 F, night about 65-68 F. It is really showing strong signs of life now. Lots of bubbles and it is increased in volume about 30%

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

It takes about a month for the cultures to become stable and mature.  Good luck.

 

petercook's picture
petercook

Wow!  A whole month of twice daily feedings? Question: That portion of the developing levain which I have been throwing away, can it be used to make bread if I added dry yeast. I hate to waste 20 plus cups of flour.

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Although it takes a month to become stable, you can still make bread with it, even after a week, although it won't have developed all the flavors it can.  You can also mix up smaller portions after you get a few days of consistent results.  I recommend that you invest in a small digital scale (which will also help you with using recipes (formula) that you find on this site).   I generally use around 20 gm of starter and refresh it with 40 gm of flour plus 40 gm of water to maintain my starter.  I refresh it once or twice a week and keep it in the refrigerator between uses. It is over two years old and has never given me any trouble, and the breads are excellent.

The waste is indeed frustrating, but there are many things you can do with the unused starter.  There is a wonderful and popular recipe for english muffins on this site, and I have recently been making Belgian waffles using my starter mixed with a bit of milk and baking soda.  Search the site for some other ideas - people here are very creative.

-Brad

petercook's picture
petercook

After a week of feeding, my levain died. Strange! It seemed to be doing so well. It was happily bubbling away, then when I switched to feeding it twice per day , kaput. Oh, well. Thanks for all of your help. I may try again someday.

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Sorry to hear about the starter, but most of us have to go through a couple of iterations before getting it working. I suggest trying the pineapple juice method that is described in Debra Wink's posts (referenced earlier).  It helps to prevent unwanted bugs from growing in the critical first few days.

 

petercook's picture
petercook

Yes, I will try that. Thank you for all the help.

grind's picture
grind

just yet.  Take 15 grams of your dying starter, dissolve in 55 grams of water and then mix in 100 grams of flour.  This makes a stiff dough.  Place in in a warmish spot and see what happens.  Your starter may just need an acid dump and a flour feast.

petercook's picture
petercook

Too late my friend. Funeral services were held 2 days ago.