The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Raymond Cavel's Sourdough Starter

hkooreman's picture

Raymond Cavel's Sourdough Starter

Has anyone used Raymond Calvel's process for developing a sourdough starter.  It's supposed to take just 2 1/2 days to get a starter that is ready to use.  I found a description of the process here:

If anyone has used it, how well did it work?  Also, I noticed that the formula calls for both malt and salt.  I was wondering what these ingredients would do for the starter.  I was interested to try the formula out but thought I would check and see if anyone has used it successfully before I start.  Thanks.

Antilope's picture

I have not tried Raymond Calvel's sourdough starter, but it sounds like something worth trying. It appears he does several things differently than most starters. He incubates the starter at 81-F, he uses salt and malt in the starter and he stores it in the fridge at about 50-F to preserve all of the levain's flavor. He says that storing the sourdough starter below 46-F damages the natural levain aroma, even though it maintains its fermentation and ability to rise.

Here's a link to the original chapter in the book "The Taste of Bread" by Raymond Calvel in Google books where the sourdough starter technique is described.

From Chapter 10, page 89

"The malt is added [malt flour or malt extract] to increase the amylolytic power of the flour. Salt is added to protect the dough against the action of proteolytic action that might possibly weaken the gluten during the very earliest stages of dough fermentation. This proteolytic effect might otherwise damage the dough by softening it excessively, since this first fermentation stage may last for more than 20 hours. For this same reason, salt also fulfills an important role in the renewal or feeding of cultures that are ultimately to be used in the building of a naturally fermented sponge or levain."

From page 89 & 90

"During rest periods, the dough is kept at around 27°C (81°F) and protected from dehydration. "

From page 90 & 92

"Today, the equipping of bakeshops with walk-in coolers or refrigerators simplifies the preservation and storage of the chef [French term for sourdough starter] and allows the use of one or two cultures in breadmaking. However, the storage temperature should be kept at 10°C (50°F) or slightly higher in order to preserve intact the flora that make up the natural levain or "sourdough." At a temperature lower than 8 to 10°C, part of the flora is damaged, and the bread loses some of its distinctive characteristics. That is not to say that fermentation is inhibited: the chef and the sponges rise correctly, but the resulting loaves do not have the distinctive aroma of bread made with a natural levain."

FlourChild's picture

I have Calvel's book and tried his starter technique side-by-side with Maggie Glezer's technique from Artisan Breads. However, I did not use diastatic malt since American unbleached flours generally have malting enzymes already added to them (I don't think French flours from the era when his book was written had malting agents added; perhaps they still don't).  

At the time, I did include the salt that he recommends, but I might not do it again.  French flours have lower protein levels than American flours, and so may be more susceptible to enzymatic degradation.  I also wouldn't worry about protein deterioration during the early formation of a starter because, unlike a pro bakery, I wouldn't be in any particular hurry to bake with the new starter and would be content to wait before trying to make bread with it.

Finally, thanks to Debra Wink and this site, I've also learned how important acid is to early starter formation, and the fact that salt inhibits LABs more than it inhibits yeast might lead me to omit it.  

So back then, I kept the salt and omitted the malt, and I also reduced the size of his starter significantly to see if it could be adapted to a home environment.  I used my folding proofer to keep the temperature steady at 81F for the entire three day period.  My culture did not proceed at his fast rate, and looking back on it I would say that the feeding intervals were a little too short for the progression that my culture did go through.  Perhaps the mass effect- which I am still struggling to define- was not with me.  Or perhaps American flours are not malted to the level that his added malt would have produced.  Or perhaps American flours have lower mineral (ash) content than French flours, and that slowed the progression (starters like minerals).

After the three day prescribed period was over, I kept feeding Calvel's starter along side Maggie's starter, and it only took a couple of more spread-out feeds until it took off.  In the end, it was the early finisher, so that's the one I kept and still have.  Maggie's also took off, but a little later than the Calvel starter.

Even though Calvel includes the salt to protect the proteins, perhaps it had other helpful effects, like inhibiting leuconostoc or making the LABs and yeast work harder to thrive in the salted environment.  Or, it might be that his culture took off earlier because his schedule was tailored for 81F and so was closer to what was actually happening in my jars.

Looking back on the process with what I now know, I believe that the single most important factor in beginning a starter is learning how to read the activity level of the culture (bubble formation and rise ability) and knowing when to time feeds.  Nothing slows a culture down as much as feeding too late or too early, except maybe overly cool temps. 


charbono's picture

Monica Spiller, at the Whole Grain Connection, also recommends the use of salt when generating a new starter.  She says it aids in selection of the right bacteria.