The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Mature Culture

ndowidar's picture

Mature Culture

Hi everyone,

 This year I decided I had to discover how to make my own artsan bread, sort of a late new year resolution, I guess. Since I'm a beginner and have no background experience at all, I took a beginner class from a local bakery. Of course, I couldn't retain all the information so I immediately bought the Bread book by Hammelman. I started from the beginning and chose some exciting recipes and assumed that the levains or bigas that we was asking for in the recipes were just made up 12 hours earlier more or less. Since it's been difficult to think of how to plan making bread in advance using these starters, I guess I've been subconciously working out a solution. This is what's kept me up at night thinking of how to prepare fresh bread balancing a family & a busy work schedule. So it dawned on me a this morning at 2 am that the mature starter he asked for wasn't the stiff biga I made in 12 hours, or the levain using a stiff mature culture 12 hours earlier, it was a "heterofermentative culture" that has been fortified through multiple feedings!

 So my question lays really here: What have I been doing these past two weeks? Since I've been making a biga to make a levain or a iquid levain in 12-24 hrs, have I been faking it? Is this a pseudo-mature culture? I guess the upside is, if I actually do have a true mature culture the bread will have a truer complex flavor. I thought the breads I made weren't that bad though. I feel a little guilty having felt so proud to have made bread over hours of attending and then realize that I should have actually started out with a real starter. OR, is it alright to do make bread this way? If anyone can help me figure this out I'd appreciate it. It's keeping me up! :)

 Nonetheless, I see the necessity to keep a culture fed now and I'll just have to figure a way to work that into the balance of city life- 'cause fresh bread at home is addictive! 



linder's picture

Check out the post on this site regarding Fred - BobS's sourdough culture.  It is a great way to keep a small amount of sourdough starter with less maintenance and fuss.

Also- IMHO, it is perfectly fine to make breads with bigas, poolish, sponge, or preferments other than sourdough, or just using a straight dough formula too.

Sourdough starter is just another tool in the baker's arsenal for coaxing the most flavor from your grains.  It is perhaps the oldest known way to make bread rise. 

Enjoy the journey.  It's all good- if the bread tastes the way you like it then, by all means,  claim success and keep on baking!



LindyD's picture


You certainly have an advantage by taking the bakery class and buying Hamelman's Bread.  Great choices!  Nothing like the hands-on experience at a bakery and Bread is a fantastic learning and baking resource.  

The above link explains the difference between the different preferments.  As you'll see, there is a difference between a biga and a levain, not only in the method but in the taste of the bread.  Technically, there's no commercial yeast in a levain (which is the French term for sourdough), only the wild yeast from the flour itself.  A biga does contain a small portion of yeast, so it's not a levain.

That said, of course it's okay to make bread the way you've been doing it.  It's your bread and as long as it makes your taste buds happy, that's what counts.   Since you noted you do not have a sourdough culture, you can create one by following Mr. Hamelman's instructions starting at page 427, or just keep on using your current method.   It's your choice, especially as once you create a levain, you need to regularly feed and maintain it (another item for that "to do" list).

Yes, it can get crazy balancing bread baking, a full work schedule and all the household chores, especially if, for example, you want to make a focaccia that uses a 16-hour poolish plus another six hours of fermentation once the dough has been mixed.  Takes some advance planning and timing, but the end result is worth it.

No need for you to feel guilty; just enjoy the bread you bake and keep on learning and challenging yourself!

ndowidar's picture

Thanks so much for your response. It feels great to get help from such a great community of experienced bakers.

 My fololow up quesiton is based off what I've been seeing in the Breed book by Hammelman (again). For the breads that use a levain or sourdough starter the recipe asks for say, a 1 Tspn of stiff or liquid starter to start the culutre 12-16 hours earlier. What I'm wondering is what's the difference if I begin the pre-ferment with a stiff levain, liquid levain or even a sourdough starter? If I have a mature stiff levain can't I use that to start any recipe adequately enough?




clazar123's picture

I bake once a week,also.

Remove starter from refrigerator.

Discard,feed to activate (sometimes I do this for a few days to increase  the population)

When it is well activated then make your "preferment" (in this case a levain according to the King Arthur descriptions)

Use whatever is left in the jar of the starter as your new starter to be stored in the refrigerator. I always put it in the refrig when it is just fed and risen (before falling) so it has max. population that goes into dormancy in the cold.This is also about the time you may extract some to add to the preferment.

Develop a pattern that works for you!

clazar123's picture

My daily bread recipes (made weekly) are designed that I make a standard amount of a preferment and use it all.

So I build up my refrigerated starter with 1-3 feeds over the day or two before I bake ( say Thursday and Friday-bake Saturday). If I haven't baked the last weekend or if I haven't used that starter for more than  a week (I have several starters), I will start feeding it on Thursday.

Friday night (for a Saturday bake) I take a few tablespoons of the very active starter and put it in a container with 1 cup AP  flour and 1 cup water.Stir it up and let it sit overnight (my kitchen is 60-65F).It is a pancake batter consistency. Next day, it is nice and bubbly and I make my dough-using all the preferment. Sometimes I use WW flour and sometimes I use milk as the liquid.

I have all the weight measurements but, to be honest, I have made these breads so often I frequently do not need to weigh anything out. I generally only do that when I am developing a bread recipe, trying a bread recipe and sometimes when I am not familiar with a recipe.

Any discard or leftover I would use for pancakes,make muffins, or add to sweet bread (such as banana bread). I am also exploring the possibility of using it to make a flake breakfast cereal by adding a few other ingredients and drying it in the oven. Lots of possibilities.

clazar123's picture

If I baked with the starter last week, I treat it differently from the starter that has sat (unused and unfed) for several weeks.

If it is a relatively well-used and recently fed starter, I would do a discard of half and feed on Friday AM. I would repeat that Friday PM. Saturday AM I would then take from the starter for the preferment,feed the starter and wait for an hour or so before putting the starter back in the refrigerator.

If it is a pretty neglected starter, I would do this for a few days or if it is in really rough shape, I would do very deep discards (leaving only a teaspoon or 2 in the jar) for a few days. This helps "clean" the culture and is a good method I use when a culture is becoming suspect. All discard goes into a plastic container for use later as previously mentioned (pancakes,etc). This is refrigerated.Sometimes it gets trashed.

Please remember there are a million different ways to use and feed starter. Some people are very precise, some aren't. Some people never refrigerate, others use it right out of the refrigerator no matter how much hootch is on  it. Different levels of success and sometimes great successes from the weirdest circumstances. Sometimes even consistent success from widely varied techniques. Find what works for you-timing and feeding wise.

I just bought a Brod&Taylor proofer so I can hold my starter at 80F consistently. It has made a HUGE difference in the yeast population. The preferments and starters are obviously (by smell) much yeastier. The difference of a few degrees makes a big difference on whether lacto or yeast grow well. Both can raise bread but yeast does it so much better. Should have bought one years ago!