The Fresh Loaf

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Another Newbie Question

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Timbo's picture

Another Newbie Question

So I have a nice active starter now. So.... can I use it for whole wheat & rye or do I have to have a starter for each? I thought It just provided the sour and wild yeast but I have seen many posts that talk about specifically rye or whole wheat. Any help would be appreciated.

WoodenSpoon's picture

You can totally use one culture for all manner of bread, I'm not familiar with a dedicated WW chef and if you ever want to make 100% rye breads (that are naturally leavened) you will need a rye chef, but other then that one culture should do ya for the vast majority of your wild yeast needs.


MisterTT's picture

what sort you want it to be and keep that. Rye is easiest to maintain and keeps best if you don't bake too often, but really there isn't too much of a difference. If you're going to be baking a "100% something" bread, just use a very small amount of seed starter and several builds. It will result in a "99% something" bread, but no one will know the difference!

All that said, from personal experience I'd suggest keeping a rye starter either stiff or liquid -- you won't believe how easy and forgiving it is.

Mirko's picture


Hello Paul,
Thanks for writing and for asking your astute questions. Feel free to quote me on the answers.
I’ve maintained two starters for a number of years: a firm German-style rye culture (made the third week of August, 1980), and a liquid levain kept at 125% hydration (it’s about a dozen years old). We use the rye for all our rye breads, and the liquid is the base levain for all other breads. We convert this one to stiff or to whole grain as needed, but only for the build(s) that will then be used in a final dough mix, not in order to continue perpetuating stiff or whole grain starters. These methods are practical and not terribly labor intensive, and we use them successfully at the King Arthur Bakery every day. By the way, our starters get two meals a day, seven days a week. On Christmas, New Years, Easter, and other holidays when we are closed, they receive one meal, as a baker is in for a short time on the holidays in order to make preferments and do some other things to enable us to open again next day.
Certainly, for the baking of just a couple of loaves or so, there is no reason to keep more than one starter. While it’s good (and important in my opinion) for today’s ever more skilled bakers to know how to convert a liquid starter to stiff and vice versa, there’s no reason to necessarily do that, because as you pointed out, the amount of mother culture going into the builds is very small. Small adjustments in flour or water will compensate at the time of the build so that levain consistency is correct. And if one maintains just a liquid or a firm white culture, he or she can easily give a couple of meals of rye flour in advance of making rye bread–that will suffice; there’s no need for occasional rye bakers to perpetuate a rye culture.
Why do some bakers prefer to maintain a liquid levain culture and others a firm levain? On the face of it, I’d say it’s mostly about personal preference–some bakers prefer the ease of mixing a firm ball of dough, while others find mixing a batter consistency starter easier. As for all that science about acetic acid developing more favorably in firm environments and lactic acid in looser ones, that’s all good and true, but it’s ultimately up to the baker to determine the flavor of the bread. For instance, what if I kept only a liquid levain culture and wanted to make a bread on the acetic side, but didn’t want to convert to a firm levain? I could do a few things to encourage more sour flavor: I could preferment a higher proportion of the overall flour, I could extend the bulk fermentation somewhat, and of course the easiest way would be to retard the shaped loaves overnight. All of these would encourage more acidity in the final loaves. Treating things in the opposite manner would give milder results. Aren’t we lucky that after all we are the ones who determine the bread’s outcome by our cumulative series of engagements with the dough?
I hope this answers your questions adequately. And I hope you and your colleagues are continuing to enjoy both the learning and the resulting breads!
My best,