The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Levain not rising as it should

townesman's picture

Levain not rising as it should

So, I'm still trying to figure out sourdough/levain breads. I've had/maintained an active (125% hydration) culture for some time now (several months?), but I don't have the time to use it very often so I keep it in the fridge most of the time.

When I am going to use it, I generally take it out at least a couple of days ahead of time and feed it every twelve hours. It shows all the signs of being ripe and ready to use (lots of bubbles bursting at the surface, acidic smell, etc.).

I have tried a couple of the recipes from Hammelman's Bread book (Sourdough Seed Bread twice, Whole Wheat Levain once), but each time, when it comes to the end of the bulk fermentation, my dough has no gas bubbles in it whatsoever and has not risen or expanded.

Each time, however, I have left the dough out at room temp, as is, overnight (after the 2.5 hr. bulk fermentation period-so about an extra 8 hrs...) and found that in the morning there was at least a little bit of gas formation in the dough, although still not much.

I am at a loss as to what I am doing wrong.

*Generally every time, my starter seems to be more active than the recipe is calling for. It's ripe before the 12 hours that Hammelman calls for, usually at least by about 8 hours.

*Maybe it's expending all of its energy too quickly, and has nothing left for the final dough?

Any advice, comments, suggestions that anybody has are welcome.

cranbo's picture

Sounds like you have some timing issues.

If your starter is ripe early, you need to adjust your timings. 

In addition, you said 

when it comes to the end of the bulk fermentation, my dough has no gas bubbles in it whatsoever and has not risen or expanded.


If your dough hasn't just about doubled in volume during bulk ferment, then let it go longer, until it does. No one can give you an exact estimate on this time, depends on your room temp, dough temp, starter quantity, starter activity level. Bulk ferment could take anywhere between 2 and 8 hours to complete. You need to spend the time and pay attention to the dough at 30-60 minute intervals. Keep careful notes and you'll figure out how long it will take. Do this during a free day that you have, unless you want to stay up through the night :)

Leaving a finished dough out to ferment at room temp overnight is almost certainly going to overproof, unless your room temp is really really cold. 

Tommy gram's picture
Tommy gram

Keep the dough at 70-80 degrees and you'll see some action. look at the thermomenter as well as the clock. If you are leaving it out in a room that is 62 degrees youll be dragging not much going to be happening. But that may be a good thing depending on your schedule. Ever see the wind chill chart that shows how cold it feels when the wind is blowing x mph? So many bread books fail to emphasizethe critical import of the sweet spot temperature zone.  I have no qualms about putting the dough into the microwave for a minute or whatever the situation calls for and bumping the temp to keep things purring according to my schedule. Or I put the mix into the fridge to put ion the brakes, slow things down. To become master of the dough you must negotiate with the time/temperature continuum. 

I personally have made more mistakes by making a move too early than lettting the dough go too long.

But 125% , hmmm,  100% is the easiest dumb it down, but if you are an occasional not regular baker I have heard 50%  hydration is better, but I myself have never tried it.