The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Adjusting Percentage of Levain in Recipes

Xaipe's picture
Xaipe

Adjusting Percentage of Levain in Recipes

I have been working my way through FSWY and have found his times to be way to long. I live in California and my kitchen temperatures are closer to 80. I have been just cutting down on the times of all the fermenting steps, but I am worried I am losing flavor. My question for the moment: 

If I am building a wholly sourdough bread and want to increase my bulk fermentation time, am I losing something by just decreasing the amount of levain? For example, I want to let it bulk ferment on the counter overnight, but the country blond dough I just made turned into liquid with a 11 hour bulk ferment (I followed his directions and went to bed at about hour 4). For the next recipe, instead of using 216 g of levain (12% of the flour), can I cut back to 120g and see what happens? I remember somebody writing that this might be detrimental because I am cutting back the percentage of pre-fermented dough. I don't understand all the relations at work here. Maybe do a poolish and a levain? I am not sure how that would work and what benefit I would get. 

Does cutting back on the levain seem like the best option here to keep long bulk fermentation times? Maybe retarding? That seems like a huge temperature change, however. 

Thanks!

KathyF's picture
KathyF

I live just north of San Francisco and I had that problem during the summer. It's just too warm. I believe that Ken Forkish said his home is more on the cool side. So I actually did part of my bulk rise on the counter and then popped it in the fridge for the night. Then I took it out and let it warm up for a bit. It shouldn't be detrimental to also try a lower percentage of levain either.

Filomatic's picture
Filomatic

I've had good results with retarding, and I also bought the Brod &Taylor proofing box and it works perfectly, including final proofing without covering the dough.  The minimum temperature is 70F.  http://www.amazon.com/Folding-Bread-Proofer-Yogurt-Maker/dp/B005FCZMU6 

KathyF's picture
KathyF

I love my Brod & Taylor! It is a lifesaver in the winter. The real trick in summer is keeping my dough from getting too warm. I'm thinking of this summer taking one of my coolers and setting it up with a rack and putting a little ice in it to bring the ambient temperature down a bit.

Xaipe's picture
Xaipe

I agree, the problem for me is the dough getting too warm. I heard of some people using wine coolers, perhaps that wouldn't be the worst idea if I could find a cheap one. 

PugBread's picture
PugBread

Water baths work exceptionally well for keeping things both cooler and more stable over a period of time. It may take a little adjusting to find the configuration that keeps your dough where you want it for the duration you want it, but I bet you can work something out pretty easily.

The idea is simple:

Use a large(ish) tub as your water basin (think: cooler sized). Your sealed bulk fermenter sits in the water bath.  You use water in the tub that is a couple degree cooler than you want. You refresh the bath water as frequently as you want. If you need to sleep - who needs that :D - then you drop in a frozen water bottle (or two) to help keep the bath cool for many hours.

I would suspect that a couple times using same-size batches and you would find the effort/process needed to keep things fairly consistent and where you want them. I used to do this all the time fermenting beer to keep the temperatures in the low 60s when the beer wanted to travel into the low 70s; now I used dedicated fermentation chamber for beer.  I've also do it for yogurt (using a cooler) and refreshing with hot water instead of cool; again, it didn't take much effort.

Xaipe's picture
Xaipe

This is a great idea. For dough, would the inside and outside (near the water) then develop at a strongly different rate? Or do you think the temperature would be relatively even throughout the dough?

PugBread's picture
PugBread

I can't say for certain, but I imagine that temperature will equalize throughout the dough for the most part if there are differences in temperature. There may be some spots that are a little warmer or cooler, but over time it should equalize pretty well.  If you are putting dough into a bath which is the same temperature as your dough, and maintaining the water at close to that temperature then it should pretty much stay where you want it.  Obviously, the thinner the dough the easier it will equalize with the water (i.e. flattened rectangular dough will likely be more evenly the same temperature than say a boule for bulk - then again, it may be negligible).

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Yes, battling the warmer weather can be a challenge.  The water bath idea is a great one.  You should also use cold water in the dough if you are doing room temperature ferments in the summer.  Heck, some people use ice water. So many things to try in the summer.  The picnic cooler is easy to use though.  I put the dough in the cooler and throw in two bottles of frozen water and it drops the temperature down to the high 60s.

Xaipe's picture
Xaipe

Hey all, thanks for the ideas on how to keep my dough colder. I am going to try the water bath/cooler idea. 

To get to a more theoretical question, is there a detriment to just lessening the amount of levain? Or is there something beneficial about higher levain content + cooler temperature. My mind tries to systematize everything and I would be interested in trying to figure out these relationships. Thanks!

PugBread's picture
PugBread

This is very much a generalization based on my current understanding...

Less levain will lengthen the time needed for bulk fermentation. It will also given more reproduction cycles of the microbes such that their attributes (flavor, acid, etc) become more apparent (in other words, less levain means longer bulk and more sour bread).

High amounts of young levain will move the process forward more quickly and allow for less expression of the microbes, thus a sweeter end result. Adding cool conditions to the bulk will lengthen the time needed for bulk but the same reduced microbe expression should remain the same.

All with a grain of salt (or 2% anyways). Lots of variable will affect this generalization.

Xaipe's picture
Xaipe

This was very helpful. I did notice that when I lowered the levain, the bread was sourer. I thought that was possibly due to me letting the levain get more ripe before I used it. But not it makes sense that the bacteria get more time to work. I am learning that the amount of variables to dough is staggering.