The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My Levain keeps dying - help please!

Shawn C's picture
Shawn C

My Levain keeps dying - help please!


I recently tried bread baking for the first time, after acquiring Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast.  The first attempt at making levain, and the pain de campagne bread went great except that I got distracted by the bread making and killed the levain.  The last three times I've attempted to make the levain, it's died on day 3 or 4.  I use a scale, check the water temp, and the house is fairly consistent in temp.  The first and fourth attempts both used KA whole wheat flour, the second and third attempts a different brand of whole wheat flour.  Any suggestions?

Thanks so much!

clazar123's picture

There is a lot of info on the toolbar at the top-look under lessons and look in the search box. On this particular topic you will get TONS of information.

I have never had a problem making a starter once I understood what was happening. Actually, even when I didn't. Luck ? Or just paying attention.

I use UNBLEACHED  AP flour just because it is cheap and available. WW can have some interesting enzyme problems but you will hear plenty of people say they just use WW and have prob with AP. I am also very unscientific and don't measure. I just know what works for me.

Recipe for starter:

1-2 tbsp UNBLEACHED AP flour

Enough water to make a pancake batter consistency (contrary to popular advice, I do use tap water)

Put it in 1/2 pint jar ,stir well and use a coffee filter rubberbanded over the top so mold spores won't deposit and critters won't fly in. Fruit flies love this once it gets going.

Stir 5-6 times/day so it doesn't get a crust on it. Keep it in a warm room-70-75F is ideal.I took it to work and left it on my desk with a spoon to stir it.

Stir for a few days and on day 2 or 3 a few small bubbles wll start.You don't need to feed it until it grows enough yeasties to eat so just keep stirring.

When it shows consistent bubble formation it needs a feeding. Throw out half, add a little lukewarm water to thin it out and then add enough AP flour to make a pancake batter consistency again.Discard is equivalent to cleaning the cage-it is a living thing,remember. Taste the discard-it shoud be starting to get tart.

Do this about 2 times /day-spaced about evenly.Keep stirring several times a day,also.I took my culture back and forth-home and work. If there is any hootch formation, add another feeding-this means it is hungry.

It should start to not only bubble but rise its level. At first it will be a little wild-that is the lactos-they are a wild bunch.

Then it almost disappears-the lactos have settled down and the yeasties (the work horses) are getting established.(This may be when you thought it was dead)Keep going! Discard,feed,stir,cover with breathable top.

Once it consistently doubles within an hour or so after a feeding, it is ready to start working. You need to build the amount a bit for use in a recipe.

I ALWAYS start a starter with a small amount of flour. Why do I want to throw away good flour! Some of the "Starter recipes" call for CUPS of flour. Yikes! I am too frugal!

I always had the best luck taking my starter to work and developing it. I wonder if that is because my office is in a ?slightly moldy/mildew smelling basement? And I know the yeasts come off the flour but I have built several over the years and they do have different characterisitcs. One was a very wild riser but he didn't last but a few months. I don't think that culture stablilized-he didn't play nice with other beasties and I think they ate him. The ones that were left were very poor workers. That one went into pancakes.

This whole process takes about 9-14 days.The "young" starter will take a while to consistently rise bread and to stabilize its culture. Once you have it for about 2 months and bake with it at least weekly, it will last a long time.

Either get reading or stirring or both but have delicious fun!


rcoplen's picture

You might want to try a 50/50 mix of Bread Flour and whole wheat flour. Due to the fact that wheat flour will contain more bacteria than white flour, this will help keep a healthy colony of bacteria developing! Since a small amount of starter is usually used it should not effect the flavor of your loaf!


Good luck and let me know if it helps!

pmccool's picture

Almost every nascent starter appears to die, usually around Day 3 or Day 4.  They don't, really.  It's just that the first signs of life are from a very gassy, bubbly group of bacteria.  When they die off, their replacements are a much quieter bunch; so much so that most people think that their starter has died.  However, the quiet bacteria are eventually supplanted by the yeasts that you want.  They announce their arrival with new bubbles and a yeasty fragrances.  So, just keep feeding your "dead" starter as directed an it will usually level out in another couple of days.


grind's picture
tchism's picture

I've used this process to make a few starters including a rice flour starter with no failures.It woks well.

FlourChild's picture

I think you're not killing your starter, it's just going through a normal, less active period that happens with most starters on their way to becoming mature. Keep feeding it through that period and you're likely to come out the other side with a wonderful starter.

pjkobulnicky's picture

It also helps if you avoid chlorinated water. A Brita type filter works well or boil some water or buy a gallon of distilled.


Fred Rickson's picture
Fred Rickson

Well, I have always used city (chlorinated) water for 50 years (various cities) without a problem.  Maybe just another often repeated  urban legend without basis in fact.  Just a guess.

grind's picture

Me too, just not as long as you.