The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Liquid Levain

  • Pin It
animus's picture

Liquid Levain

I've been researching for a while, but haven't been able to figure out what's wrong with my liquid levain. I'm using the proportions from Daniel Leader's "Local Breads" (130% water to 100% flour, pg77), and while it bubbles quite noticeably and smells and tastes quite sour, it hasn't risen, nor formed elastic strands when stirred. I'm using a digital scale to make sure that the 56.5% hydration is accurate up to a gram, and it still seems soupy. I tried to make the French Country Boule (again from "Local Breads" though the recipe is similar to the others I've seen on this site) and couldn't get it to rise, though I refreshed the starter 12 hours before hand, and left it in the oven (only slightly warmed and shut off beforehand) overnight.

The consistency of the levain is described as milkshake-like, so I'm not far off since I would compare it to pancake batter. When I used the portion that I was throwing away for refreshing, I made sourdough pancakes. They rose a little and tasted quite sour. I can see it bubble when fed, so it's clearly active to some degree. However, I am still confused as to what I need to do to make it work in bread. The starter is over two weeks old. Any advice that anyone can give me on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

susanfnp's picture

I had a look at Leader's instructions and I'm a bit perplexed. I may be missing something, but it looks like there is no discarding of any portion of the culture for the first ten days; he just has you keep adding 50 grams of flour and 65 grams of water (all of) the previous culture, every 24 hours. That means that by day 10, you would be feeding 50 grams of flour and 65 grams of water to over 1000 grams of existing culture. A pretty small meal for a pretty big crowd. I don't see how this would work. And if you're leaving it in a warm oven, you're only increasing its appetite. I think your culture is starving to death! There have been some errors and discrepancies in Local Breads that people here have discovered, and I think this is one of them. (Not trying to disparage the book, actually I like it a lot.)

I have had better luck maintaining a ratio of 1:1:1 (culture:flour:water) in the initial stages, and refreshing every 12 hours, not 24. Here's my method of starter starting, if you're interested.

Also, just a clarification: the convention is to refer to hydration as the ratio of water to flour (by weight), not water to total amount of starter. So yours (Leader's) would be a 130% hydration starter, and mine as described above would be 100%.


bulent's picture

I had my starter from Lİnda Collister's 'The Bread Book'
4 years ago and been using the same starter for 3 years.
Than one day I had a vacation for two weeks. I made a special container with towels for a comfortable travel. But in the hurry I left it behind. My precious had gone. I couldnt recover from that day on. anyway I had many tries after that without success. I finally used dried yeast to make a regular bread and saved some of it as a starter. It worked and been using it for the last two months. But my conscience is not clear as it is not from the scratch. Today I found Susans's descriptions. I will have a go at the real thing again.

Thank you susan 

susanfnp's picture

 Hi bulent, you're welcome and good luck with the new starter! I don't know where you live but here in my piece of California the days are now warm enough to be able to find a toasty spot in the house to keep a new starter nice and cozy. When I go on vacation I put my starter in the refrigerator; it then needs feeding for about three days when I return before it is awake enough to use.


hansjoakim's picture

First off: I'm sorry to bump this old thread!

I was wondering if anyone has had any luck getting Leader's liquid levain going? I'm currently at day 4 in the process. The culture smells nice and sour, and there's a thin layer of hooch on top. It's very liquid, with a hydration of ~ 140%. I got to thinking about his "unorthodox" method of not discarding any culture between feedings, he simply instructs you to add 50g flour and 65g water every 24 hours. It sounds to me that the yeasties might be underfed, as Susan points out above.

Has anyone succeeded at making his liquid levain? I've failed a few times at getting a liquid levain going, so this time I wanted to follow a "foolproof" method from one of the great bread books out there. I guess some of the typos in the book detracts a bit from the "foolproofness" of his methods...?

Hans Joakim

keesmees's picture

throwing things away? starving beasties? hmmm...

when starting the starter there is no or very little microbiologic activity. but after a week or ten days it is active and then they need more that time you use about half of it to make a bread. this starter is of course not mature yet: so often it takes some extra yeast in the final dough (not in the starter) to make a bread. 

the recipe I used was: start with 50g rye/50g water. (=100 g)

stir twice a day for at least three days (no feeding)

then feed  twice a day with 1 full tablespoon = 12g flour  and as much water (12 g) to get the same consistency, during next 4 days (+ about 200 g = 300 g)

next day take 150 g to make a levain and put the rest (about 150) in a clean bowl and feed as before for 4 days again, and so on.

on every 4th day you can bake  leavenbread. if not baking, put the chef in the fridge for a while.

only when your starter is too sour for your taste, you could try to correct that with throwing away half of it. but that does not really affect the lactic acid/ acetic acid ratio (which should be about 85/15).


hansjoakim's picture


In my ongoing quest to get a starter up and running, I've read numerous (in principle!) pretty basic recipes. One thing that I've noticed, is the difference in how many days it should take to get a healthy culture going. Some indicate that yeasts should take over and dominate the starter after three to five days, while other recipes say you shouldn't expect any clear signs of fermentation until ten to fourteen days after you started. I guess this sort of microbiology is not 100% deterministic from the outset, so timings vary. But there's a significant difference in three and fourteen days. What are the most important parameters affecting time to build, say, a liquid levain? Is the feeding schedule or the feeding ratio important in this aspect?

My main reason for asking, is that after about a week of low to no activity in the starter, I've assumed it's dead and gone, and flushed it down the sink. Perhaps I should've waited a couple more days?

Any thoughts or comments appreciated :-)

Hans Joakim

karniecoops's picture

I think you may have been hasty binning your starter Hans.  Go with Susan's instructions - you won't fail.  Another couple of good links are:

Everytime I make a loaf I save a little bit of my sponge (levain) feed it 1:1:1 leave it on the bench a couple of hours before putting it in the fridge for next time.  Then I feed it up for the next loaf, save a bit usw (etc).

At the very beginning (and I only started my starter at beginning of Sept) I fed it 12 hourly for one week (chucking away half each time before feeding), then 24 hourly for the next week (chucking away half), and left it at room temp the whole time.  Then I made a loaf.  I haven't looked back.

Give it another crack!  Happy rising!


Janedo's picture

Of course, "it depends". Every times I have started a starter, I have started to use it at around 10 days, not before. Yep, you should have kept it going because even if there is a little activity, you can jump start it. Too bad, that's a week and lots of flour lost.


PaddyL's picture

That's one I made, flour and water, after trying and failing with others.  All I did with Collister's was to stir it up and let it sit, loosely covered, for up to 6 days, then I fed it a little more flour and yeast, let it sit a little longer, and by golly it is extremely active.  At one point, after it had been in the fridge for a week or 10 days without being used, I took it out, divided it in half and and made two separate starters, one white and one ww.  I've long since ditched the ww one, but the white one is still active.  It's liquid, by the way. 

gcatco6770's picture

I have a starter for over 2 yrs now that I started using rye wheat and grape skins. I won't use commerical yeast in sour dough starter. To get your starter going and keep it strong, feed it with good unbleached flour (I use King Arthur), and warm water daily. I have actually kept my starter dormant for over 4 months and it starts back up just as quickly once it warm it - around 70 degrees..