The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Levain issue

Pg0581's picture
Pg0581

Levain issue

Hey Guys,

I'm new to making bread and am attempting my first sourdough. I have a pretty good looking starter and have been trying to build my levain. I started the levain build at 8 am and according to the instruction I'm following it should have been ready by 1-2pm. When I went to bed around 11:30 pm it had a lot of activity but still didn't look ready, so I let it sit overnight. When I got up it was active but had fallen from where it was the night before and wasn't passing the float test at this point. 

I re-attempted it this morning and am seeing the same results; very slow rise. The only thing I noticed that I didn't follow was I used whole wheat bread flour, rather than whole wheat flour, so I'm not sure if that has any effect on it or not? 

The picture above shows the starter I'm using (on the left) and the levain build at ~11 pm, 15 hrs later.

If anyone has any suggestions or input I'd love to hear it, thanks in advance! 

 

 

 

 

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

When you went to bed at 11:30 and the starter looked active....sorry to say this....but that is the time to make the dough with a nice lively active starter.  And, you don't look at a clock to tell when the loaf or dough is ready to go onto the next step, the dough will tell you.  I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  We have an excellent bakery here in town called Turtle Bakery.  An acquaintance of mine started it.  She called it "Turtle Bakery" because it took so very long for the sourdough starter to raise the dough some days she felt it was like a slow turtle.  But, she made great sourdough breads.  Use an active starter and the dough will inform you when it's ready for the next step.  You meet it's schedule, not it matching yours.

Pg0581's picture
Pg0581

Thanks for your reply, Stuart! 

I'm going to start another one tonight and hopefully, it will be ready by the afternoon. In your experience, is there any rule to how much it should expand (ie. 20%, 50% bigger than from where you started), or do you simply look for a lot of activity in the levain? (expanded, bubbly on the top & sides and passes the float test). 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Get to know your starter and you can make it work for you. Learning the rhythm of your starter will help and that'll come with time. The more you bake the more it'll become second nature. 

If your starter has matured and is ready to go but for some reason this hasn't fitted in with your schedule then refrigerate it and use when ready. 

Pg0581's picture
Pg0581

Thanks for the advice, Lechem. 

If I put the levain build in the fridge and say pull it out the next day to start the dough mix, does it need to return to ambient temperature before doing this?  

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Although many times I jump the gun and just give it more time to work in the dough. So I go by when the dough is ready and not the clock. It'll just take longer that's all but after kneading and keeping the dough at the ideal temperature you won't find much difference. Or when making the dough use warm water (not too warm but enough to bring the starter back to ambient temperature). Or if following the general rule take it out of the fridge and wait an hour or so before using. 

Pg0581's picture
Pg0581

Nice, so hopefully the one I have going now will be good before I go to bed again, and I'll refrigerate it. The last question.... for now :) Am I assuming correctly that the levain build needs to pass the float test as my starter did to truly know it's read for a bake? 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I've never done one. Yes it's a good indicator and highly recommended. But I'm of the opinion that if my starter rises then so will my bread. I go by how it looks and smells. If it's active, bubbly, peaked and smells good... then it's gonna make good bread. 

Pg0581's picture
Pg0581

Awesome, thanks again. Appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Best of luck. Hope to see some fine looking breads soon. 

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

You will learn by trial and not so much error, breads will just be different and you will learn what works best using your starter and how much a good levin expands.

Portus's picture
Portus

... whether feeding a starter to get it active before taking some to build a levain is not an unnecessary step.  In contrast, is a levain not just a rather large starter at the end of the day?

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Is an off shoot starter. Some people keep a starter just as a seed and the levain is a starter built from that for the requirements of the recipe. Other treat their starter as both. 

Portus's picture
Portus

... in your descriptions.  Following on, do you see any need to refresh a (seed) starter before commencing the build of a levain (starter)?  I tend not to refresh the former and go straight for the build, and look after the health of my (seed) starter as a separate issue. I guess my approach approximates the broad principles of NMNF.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Well it depends on a few factors. At the end of the day the levain build is a feed and if you're keeping your starter healthy then I see no problem. But if it's been a while since you've last fed your starter and you think it needs some tlc then can't do any harm. You could also build a levain in two stages so this off shoot starter has had two feeds. You might wish for your levain to be 'purer' turning it into a different flour and hydration so you might want a two stage build. Some might not be concerned especially of the starter / levain is only a small percentage so they feed and use their starter straight into the bread. Or they might bake the same bread everyday so there is no need to change anything or bring it back to health. They'll keep their starter at room temperature, feed it and use it. 

However you use your starter be it straight onto the bread or building an off shoot the principle is the same. What's going in your bread has been pre fermented and supplies the yeasts. 

A levain doesn't necessarily have to be a larger amount. It's more to do with the way you're treating your starter.