The Fresh Loaf

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Hamelman Liquid Levain Starter - Rises?

dmfarb's picture

Hamelman Liquid Levain Starter - Rises?


I'm a newbie, and after several attempts at creating starters, decided to follow (to the letter) Hamelman's Liquid Levain instructions from his book: Bread.

I have a question about liquid starters and rising. I am using Ceresota Unbleached Enriched flour from the local grocery store and spring water also from the local grocery store. According to Cook's Illustrated, Ceresota has an 11.5 to 11.9% protein content and Hamelman says use 11-12% protein content for his starters (did I mention that I am an engineer, former physicist/mathematician? Precision is my LIFE!) 

Hamleman's Liquid starter is at 125% hydration: discard half the old, add 4 units of flour and 5 units (by weight) of water (125% hydration) and do it every 12 hours.  The starter is so liquid that I question if it will every rise. I think that the gas is just bubbling out of the liquid instead of being trapped as it would be in a firmer (lower hydration) starter.

The question is: will a starter that is so liquid actually rise? Will it double in bulk? Will the gas be trapped in the mixture or just bubble out?

I keep the starter in glass Mason jars, and put the Mason jar in a water bath at 77 degrees F. (Got the idea from The Mason jar lids have a hole drilled in them to let gas escape. 

I guess this weekend I will convert some of the discarded starter to the 60-65% hydration starter using Hamelmans instructions and see if that rises.

suave's picture

In my hands 125% hydration levain based on all-purpose flour produces almost no rise over 12 h.

dmfarb's picture


Guess I should also mention that the rye flour I used was Bob's Red Mill Dark Organic Stone Ground (also frm the local grocery...). And Honey, but I don't remember the brand. Initially there was some rising, but in the last few days... nothing.

Thanks suave, I am beginning to understand.


proth5's picture

What you really need to see in your starter is the action of the yeast.  You should see bubbling but not a rise.  My liquid levain gets a fine mousse of bubbles on top when it is feeling well fed and happy.

You will get rise in your build - which will be at a lower hydration 


Sean's picture

I'm using the same starter and posters above are correct. You get bubbles, but not a lot of rise. Despite this, the bread rises and after a disastrous first attempt (e.g. a pair of lovely round bricks), I'm getting great results with the starter.

dmfarb's picture

Ok, thanks for the feedback, I guess the hydration affects the rise or lack thereof, probably an extremely low hydration would not rise because there would be no expandability in the dough.

A "normal" (60-75 or therebouts) will rise because the gas is trapped by an expandable dough that will not let the gas escape, but the dough will expand as the gas is created.

A very high hydration will let the gas escape because the dough is not cohesive enough to capture the bubbles, and therefore the dough will not rise...

The light is beginning to shine on the dull surface.



proth5's picture

Since you have Mr Hamelman's book, I will put my advice in the context of his formulas assuming you are not doing rye breads.

When you do your build make sure that it is fully ripe before moving on to the next step. When a build is at 100% (or greater) hydration (and some of his are) you will not see much of a rise (if any) but you should see bubbles.  Lots and lots of bubbles.  Do not move on if you do not see bubbles - there is still enough cohesiveness in the build to have surface bubbles at the high hydration.  If you don't see bubbles - or it takes more than 12 hours or so at 70degrees F to see the bubbles, you may want to consider that you are not mixing your build well enough. It is not only hydration, but gluten development that affects the ability to trap gases.  You can bake breads at with very high hydrations (80%+) and still get a nice rise if the gluten is developed properly. 

At 60% hydration you will see a domed surface on your build in addition to bubbles - but by no means should the build double in volume. 

Since you have a scientific bent, be sure to read the section on calculating dough temperature and many of the technical discussions in the appendix.  You will enjoy them.

dmfarb's picture

Thanks for the advice, I have been experimenting with sourdough for the last several weeks, and in retrospect every starter I made has worked. I was just confused. I bought several of the highly recommended books, read them, and investigated on the web.

I was just mistaken in the impression that a starter as liquid as Hamelman's would rise like all the previous starters I had made. When it didn't I thought there was something I had done wrong, since I used a flour (KA Bread) that had a higher protein content than he recomends. So I started an experiment, I now have three different starters, all begun from the same rye/honey base (day one) using three different flours (KA Bread, Ceresot, and Gold Medal all purpose). When none of those rose, I asked the question above.

Turns out my impression that a liquid starter would rise is wrong. I went through all the books and sites I had and could find no statement that said they would or they would not. Hamelman talks about seeing bubbles and so on, but makes no statement about rising of a liquid starter...

At any rate, I now understand my impression was wrong, and I have three, nicely bubbling, starters from three different flours growing on my back porch in a water bath.

This weekend I will try to make some bread from the Ceresota one, and if that succeeds I will discard the other two and go with Ceresota, its in the grocery store,  it has the right protein content, and I like the label!

Thanks again for the help.

tattooedtonka's picture

I am in no way trying to promote myself as a brain in the way of sourdough starters.  But a while back I was having issues creating a starter myself.  JMonkey and I did a tandem starter experiment and here is a link if you are interested.

TattooedTonka and JMonkey's Epic Starter Catching Tandem Trial

After I had just about given up on different attempts.  This worked like a charm.

I would also like to suggest that you look up anything by SourdoLady or BWraith, they have oodles of great knowledge on sourdough and have helped me greatly.

Good luck, and keep us posted.


dmfarb's picture


Just thought I would provide an update on the starters. I made three starters using Jeffrey H.'s Liquid Levain method, and all three worked. I used Cerasota, KA Bread and General Mills All Purpose unbleached. I have made a couple of loaves of what JH calls Vermont Sourdough, but I call Chicago Sourdough since I am close to Chicago and not in Vermont. (See JH's book...) 

I have started a couple more starters using SourdoughLady's pineapple juice method and rye and spelt flours. Since my real goal is Rye and Spelt based breads I am going to cook my way through the white flour and then discard that starter. The experience will do me good.

SourdoughLady's starters are in about day 4 and are doing just fine. 

Thanks again for all the help.  I'll report progress periodically, just to keep in touch.