The Fresh Loaf

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1st ever levain starter questions

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

1st ever levain starter questions

I've been creating my first levain starter this week per Ken Forkish's instructions in FWSY. It should be ready to use on Friday and I'm excited to try lots of levain recipes this weekend. However, having not ever used it before, I'm hoping for some tips and explanations from you pros - particularly on the following questions I have....

 

1. I've read in other posts that Ken's levain model uses a *lot* of material in the levain itself - it even looks abundant in the bucket. I plan on putting it in the refrigerator during the week (until pulling it out to revive on Thursdays for the weekend). How much of this starter should I actually store in the refrigerator? Can I put it in a ball jar (with a seal or without)? 

2. I'm assuming the answer to the above question will be to put in a much smaller amount than he calls for. That being said, does that change the ratios with which I used to "revive" it on Thursdays? Is there a golden rule about reviving a starter before use in bread (I.e. how much start to flour to water to use)? 

3. In his levain breads, the first step is to use X amount of starter and discard the rest. However....if I throw out the rest, won't I have just gotten rid of all my starter for future use? How much of the previous starter do I keep (after already scooped out what I need for a recipe) and what do I do with that remainder? I'm assuming feed it. When is the next soonest occasion I can use that remainder starter (I.e. can I bake more bread using that levain later that day? the next day?). 

 

I apologize for all the questions above but you guys are the right people to ask! 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

You have your starter from which you build a levain. The starter being the seed (not necessarily built to the correct specifications but rather a home for the yeasts and bacteria) and the levain being an off-shoot starter built specifically for the recipe you're doing. You're building a starter.

Some people use their starter straight in the dough by feeding it enough to take off and use. So it all depends on how you use it. Cross that bridge when you come to it. It depends on how often you bake and how managing and using the starter suits your needs.

1: You only need to store a little of the starter from which you can then build enough levain to use in the recipe.

2: You don't need to build more than you need. Build up instead of in excess only to discard. To revive a starter all you need to do is feed it and allow it to mature. Might not be built to the specs of the recipe yet. This is just to get the yeasts and bacteria nice and active. Then you move onto the levain where you take some starter and begin the preferment gearing it for the recipe.

3: I'll have to see a recipe to know exactly what he's getting at but here is where keeping a starter as a seed and building a levain has an advantage. Keep your starter nice and healthy by feeding it and in-between feeds store in the fridge. No need to keep a lot at all. When you need a lot more for the bread (which might also be built to a different hydration and with a different flour) then you take off some starter and build up to however much you need. No excess not discard.

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92
doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

I followed Forkish steps to create my levain starter but I'm wondering if maybe something isn't right? First off, the texture is not "liquid" like it is often describe. The starter is decently thick and comes out gloppy when I go to use it. Also, it definitely doesn't double in size and many people describe after a day of maturing. Could this all be because it's still so young? Is this because Ken's feeding are 80% hydration instead of 100%? It smells sour and there are pockets of air that form inside but doesn't seem to look like pictures of other starters I've seen. 

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

All of your observations are correct. I generally use 80% hydration Levain and it is just as you describe, except for the doubling part. Mine easily doubles but it could be because yours is still young. Feed it some whole grains and that should give it a kick. 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Starter: keep a small amount in the fridge (50-100g?)

When it comes to baking...

1: Feed starter then take some off to build a levain. Return starter to the fridge.

or

2: Take some off to build a levain then top starter back up (just a variation of 1 really). You can build a levain in two stages if you think it needs it for strength and depending on how long it's been since your starter has been fed.

or

3: If you bake quite often then you can just take some off each time to build a levain and then top starter back up when it runs low.

There is no right or wrong way actually. It's whatever works for you. As long as you keep your starter fed and healthy. When not using store in the fridge. And when you build a levain make sure it's had a good feed, built to the right requirements and it's nice and active.

Mlynn217's picture
Mlynn217

This was my first attempt at making a starter and using that starter in a recipe. It came out pretty good.

First Loaf:
First Loaf From

1. I just started my starter 2 weeks ago and only keep 60 grams at a time. I was too afraid to keep less and mainly because I only had a 2qt container to keep the starter in. I keep it closed when in the fridge.

2. I use his 1:4:5 (60g starter, 240g water, 300g flour) ratio that he recommends to keep the same hydration level used in his recipes.

3. Having just finished his Overnight Country Blonde this is what I did. I fed my starter on Wednesday Morning. Discarded down to 60g and fed my starter again on Thursday to make the levain. Thursday night I used 216g of the 600g levain to form his Final Dough. I put the leftover levain into the fridge to be my starter that will be fed next time I want to make sourdough. I did a bulk ferment Thursday night and shaped into loaves and baked Friday Morning.

I think Ken Forkish almost uses the words starter and levain interchangeably through out his book (at least to someone new to this). The key is to keep some portion of the starter/levain at all times and not use the entire thing in a single recipe.  So I have 384g of starter leftover that I will decrease to my 60g and store in the fridge till next week.

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

Nice loaf! I'm glad everything is working well for you. 

How is the consistency of your starter? I've followed his instructions and am almost 1 week into the routine. However, my starter seems to be thick and not liquid-like as it is often referred to as. Also, it doesn't double in size as many people describe after a feeding (I have it in the 6 qt Cambro as he recommends). Any suggestions? How does your starter look?

Mlynn217's picture
Mlynn217

The consistency feels like a wet dough would. My starter doubles if not triples in 24 hours. During the first week when first changing to white/wheat flour it didn't really rise at all. I then swapped back to rye/wheat for one day and it started rising with no issues again. Then the next day I moved back to white/wheat and have kept it that way since and had no issues.

If I had any suggestions I would say to make sure your water is the right temp and to swap back to the rye/wheat mix until it rises properly. You could also possibly make sure you are using clean water. I use mine out of the tap but some people only use bottled. My starter looks like a normal loaf that is 20% whole wheat.

If you prefer to see pictures of my starter I can take some to post here as well for a comparison.

 

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

I hope you don't mind all my questions! 

I'm going to store mine for the first time in the fridge this week. I'll take your suggestion of storing 60g of it. However, when should I store it - as in, do I need to feed it right before storing it? Does it matter much? I fed mine this morning and plan to store it tonight. 

Also...when I refresh it 2 days before I bake again, do I need to wait until it has doubled in size in order to mix it into a levain? I'm trying to get an idea of how I can time out my weekend.

Let's say I want to bake bread on both Saturday and Sunday...if I need the starter to have doubled in order to mix it into a levain, but I want to mix a levain Friday morning in order to mix the dough and shape it Friday night to bake on Saturday, do I feed the starter Thursday night?

 

Mlynn217's picture
Mlynn217

When I stored my it was after a full day of rising. So it still had the 600g in the container. Then when I went to refresh I threw the 540g away and refreshed starting with the 60g again. 

The one time my starter didn't double in 24 hours I waited another 24 hours to see if it would double and it didn't. Since this I have just fed it anyways when it is supposed to be fed. 

Here is what I would do to make bread on Saturday and Sunday:

Thursday
- In the morning remove 600g of starter from the fridge. Discard down to 60g and refresh at the 1:4:5 ratio.

Friday
- In the morning discard Starter down to 60g and refresh at the 1:4:5 ratio to make the levain.
- In the afternoon/night mix final dough for overnight bulk ferment. I used 250g of levain in the final dough just in case it was too cold in my kitchen (see his seasonal variations). This left me with 350g remaining levain to continue my starter.

Saturday
- In the morning shape the loaves and follow instructions on preheating oven and baking loaves.
- In the morning as well discard the 350g down to 60g of starter. Feed/refresh at the 1:4:5 ratio.
- In the afternoon/night mix the final dough to for Sunday's bake.

Sunday
- In the morning shape the loaves and follow instructions on preheating oven and baking loaves.

Please keep the questions coming! I am glad that I can help!