The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Calvel's Starter, p-90, "A Taste of Bread"

Bruce28's picture

Calvel's Starter, p-90, "A Taste of Bread"

Has anyone tried this starter/culture? This is a 60% hydrated starter with whole wheat and rye flour. I'm getting "nothing results." I've tried twice. Now I'm thinking maybe my flour is too old, and am going to through those out and try again. Both times, because of the 60% hydration this starter is very dry. Maybe dry is not the correct word. But its clumpy. After mixing it goes into a B&T proof box at 80 degrees for the 22 hours, as directed. Like I say, absolutely nothing happens. After 22 hours it's the same clumpy mass with out any volume increase.. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

One other question, in this starter formula/recipe is malt, diastatic malt, I have read that this is supposed to only used with flours that do not have the malt barley added. But then again this book was written in France,  maybe their flours do not have the malt added like we have here in the US. Any thoughts, please?


Be well,

Bruce, SHB

Brookings, OR 

ElPanadero's picture

Hi Bruce

I used the Calvel method just a couple of weeks ago.  It did NOT produce a working starter within a couple of days, however with some adjustment I got it active in about 4-5 days.  I should state that I used 1/4 the volumes stated and I've read that others have been successful with 1/2 the volumes and also 1/4 volumes but this could be the difference in the time scales.  So I used 75g of starter at the start of each feed and as required I used malt extract and salt in the initial stages.

What I chose to do after seeing the 2 day disappointment was switch completely to rye flour which to be honest is a pretty fail safe way to make a starter and how I would normally do it.   Once I did this the starter was away and running in 4-5 days no problem, smelled lovely and doubled up very easily after each feed.

Once the rye starter was up and running I used a small quantity of it to begin a white / AP starter which became useable within a couple more days.

So overall, I think if you're going to use the Calvel method, use the full 300g measures stated, however that's a lot of discard along the way.

My preference would be to always create a starter with just rye or wheat flour, the freshest you can get and this has never failed for me.  Then use that to seed other starters.  GL.


Bruce28's picture

Hey, thank you for your thoughts. Yeah, I didn't mention it, but I too, reduced the quantities, I moved down to 33%, 100g ww flour, 100g rye and 120g water. Same with the salt and malt, 1g each. Okay, that's what I'm going to do, follow your advise, get fresh flour and try again. But you favor rye flour, eh? I remember way back when I was having starter issues, I thought it was the rye flour. Went to that PINEAPPLE JUICE starter of P. Reinhart. Finally got a starter. Now I keep 3 in the frig.. Speaking of that, is there any "BEST" temperature to keep a starter. I'm thinking of getting a dedicated small refrigerator  just for starters. I've heard 40 degrees F, 50 degrees F, and, and, any thought?

You kept it at 60% hydration, eh? Hmm, and I was thinking that might be the challenge. Thought it might have been a French/English translation thing...



ElPanadero's picture

You don't need to abandon what you have and start over.  Simply continue but use all rye flour instead of AP flour.

"You kept it at 60% hydration, eh? Hmm, and I was thinking that might be the challenge"

The Calvel method requires that you use 60% hydration.  So the first mix is 600g flours and 360g water, thereafter it is 300g flour and 180g water.  If you didn't follow those proportions then that may be the reason for your failures.

Using 1/4 ratios, I was taking 75g starter, adding 75g flour and 45g water.   It should be a clay like paste that you get from this mix.

Once I got it up and running I switched to 100% hydration keeping just 50g of the starter back each feed, so 50g starter + 50g rye flour + 50g water.   However I have since reduced this down to keeping just 90g in the fridge (30g starter+30g rye + 30g water) which leaves me 60g to bake with at any given time.

jcking's picture


When attempting a new starter make sure the culture is stirred at least 3 times a day, the wild yeast like a little air and the stirring will also move them to new food source. A wet chop stick works well. Once the yeast take hold and multiply it is not necessary to stir.


Antilope's picture

when I began my starter. I used a round Gladware container, about 6 inches across and 3 inches deep. The starter was about 1/2 or 1 inch deep, so it had a lot of surface area and received a lot of air. I still stirred it twice a day.

Bruce28's picture

Thank you all for all of your very helpful comments and direction.


Bruce, SHB

dabrownman's picture

love wet.  I don't even keep the 100 g of rye starter in the fridge at less than 66% hydration.  Joe Ortiz uses the old French chef method and even his method is higher hydration,.  I think a tsp of OJ to lower the Ph some , chuck some fresh ground WW or Rye in there and  get the hydration up to at least 75% would help tremendously.  Science has moved on.....  Calvel's starter method will work but why not improve on it some as we learn more about how to do these things....

MostlySD's picture

I used the Calvel's method, only with a much smaller amount (80 g) and an even lower hydration: 50%. At those rates, the levain does not appear to grow much. Yet, when you break the cake in two, there is that unmistakable smell of ripe levain (beer-like) and the inside is changed, From a lumpy mass, it has become kind of spongy.

Actually, I took a few pics this week of my levain hoping to write something about the frugal home baker's starter. If I find some time tomorrow, I'll post them here. Now, once you take a piece of that levain chef and build it into a starter, usually two builds, it really blossoms. I have a pic of that too that I'll post time permitting.

pmccool's picture

which I posted about (sheesh, 7 years ago?!) here.  With one not-so-good and one good experience, I can't tout it as the next big thing.  It was an interesting experiment, though.


MostlySD's picture

Indeed, Paul! I checked your post and some of your pics look like mine, which I am including below.

First, building a starter starts with 20 g of levain chef

20 g levain chef

 Here's a close up of the levain.

Here I am building a starter always starting with 20 g of levain chef from the whole wheat/rye culture, whether I am building for a white sourdough or not.

 The levain chef is then rubbed in the build flour(s):

Water is added and the whole mass is kneaded until it forms a somewhat sticky dough. I would then flatten the small ball of dough into a disc and then sprinkle some of the flour that I'll be using for the dough on top, the main reason being that it allows me to monitor the growth in the starter more easily.

A photo of the 2nd build of one of the two starters:

A photo of the newly-fed levain chef (always 80 g at 50% hydration). After feedeing, it stays about 2 hours on the counter, then goes in the wine cooler. Usually by that time, there has not been much movement in the levain, but given the temperature of the cooler (around + 10 C), it will continue to slowly grow there.

And here is a photo of a 3-build starter that I had been preparing for a brioche. It too started with 20 g of levain chef.

And voilà! Obviously that is not the only way of keeping a levain and building starters. The purpose of this comment is to try to show that one can work with small quantities of leaven without too much difficulty.