The Fresh Loaf

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FWSY Levain Issue.. Help please!

grainofstrength's picture

FWSY Levain Issue.. Help please!


I’ve been reading this forum for the past few weeks since I picked up Ken Forkish’s FWSY. I love the book and from the start successfully made every loaf of bread I’ve tried. When it comes to the Pure Levain breads, I’m failing miserably. 

I followed the recipe exactly, accounting for ambient temp, and it turned into soup. Smelly, awful soup. I then scrapped it and started reading. I found that the water in my area has a lot of chlorine (and very impure, which brought in bad bacteria). I then started realizing I don’t have to use the huge amount of waste that Forkish calls for, but adjust so I don’t waste as much.

Day 1 - I started a Levain with 250g KAF WWF and 250g 90° filtered water. Stored in oven with the light on. 

Day 2 - Discarded all but 50g of Levain, added 200g WWF, 200g water. 

Day 3 - It smelled like vomit. It was terrible. I read and apparently this was fine, just keep feeding. Discarded all but 50g, add 200g WWF and Water. 

Day 4 - Still smelled like death. Repeated the feeding. 

Day 5 - Opened it up and was surprised that it smelled like overripe fruit and yeast, what I read I should be looking for. It had tripled in size since the day before, almost coming out of the container. I then switched the feeding to (per FWSY) 50g Levain, 50g WWF, 200g APF, 200g Filtered Water. 

Day 6 - The mixture had more than doubled in the container. I fed it in the late morning the same as day 6, and wanted to bake a bread in the late afternoon (per the instructions). I did the Overnight Country Blonde in the afternoon, after the levain had doubled (7-9 hours later per the book). I left it in my oven with the light off overnight.

Day 7 - Morning of! I was so excited. I came downstairs, opened the oven... flat. It was a soupy mess, no rise. I chalked it up to maybe being too warm and the acid killing it at some point and maybe over fermenting. I threw it away, fed my Levain the same as day 5/6 and moved on. 

Day 8 - Tried the same thing, my Levain has doubled by morning, I fed it, and made the dough in the late afternoon. I put a camera on it to monitor the process (time lapse). To my surprise, it stayed flat. Did nothing, again! So I didn’t want to waste another thing of flour. At hour 9 (Forkish says to do a 12-15 hour bulk ferment at 65° - 70° ambient temp,  which my house is at) I decided to throw in yeast and save it. After adding yeast it rose, and it’s proofing now. I’ll see if it works. 

So that’s where I’m at. I’m gun shy to even bake a loaf of bread, as I don’t know what I’m looking for. As many of you have noted, Forkish is kind of vague on what to look for in a mature Levain that will raise a dough. 

I still have my Levain, I’ll feed it tomorrow, but I just want advice. I also started a rye starter per The Perfect Loafs instructions at Just want to really get through all the recipes in FWSY the way Forkish intended! I’m weird like this and want to. 

Many advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you in advance, sorry for my amateurness. 

stantonfinley's picture
grainofstrength's picture

Thank you! It was nice to read and thorough. I’ll keep it going and not give up!

stantonfinley's picture

Oops. 14 days that is.

hreik's picture

Forkish has very high hydration recipes.  For your first solo 100% sourdough let me gently suggest a lower hydration recipe.  Try Norwich Sourdough here: or Trevor Wilson's 65% recipe here:

Good luck


grainofstrength's picture

I’ll take a look, thank you for the suggestions!

kwbaker's picture

Being a relative newbie I had the same problem in finding that the schedules/temperatures/timings of recipes I was looking at weren't working for me. I've found the most success in these steps based off of observation rather than a set schedule:

1. I feed the starter two times a day and try to get sense of its rhythms. It's much more active when I do this. Mine seems to rise within 3-4 hours of feeding

2. I try to catch my starter on the rise to feed my levain

3. Once my starter has risen I create my levain and then ----- I wait!

4. I'm waiting and watching the levain. Once it gets bubbly and "wiggles" when I shake it (totally unscientific observation here) I do a float test. If it doesn't float I keep waiting.

5. Once it floats I make a move and whip everything together and use Trevor J Wilson's Rubaud method.

I used to autolyse the flour/water beforehand without the levain, but have had more success autolysing with the levain. 30 minutes after this I add the salt.

6. At this point, it's a matter of figuring out the nature of the dough. If it's more wholegrain high hydration, I do stretch and folds every 15-30 minutes. If it's more white, I do them every hour. I then keep observing the dough until it responds appropriately to the poke test. If it comes back slowly and deliberately I know I'm done. I pre-shape and shape and then throw it in the banneton in the fridge to proof.

I've tried paying attention to dough temperatures, ambient temperatures, but have found the most success in just trying to read the signs in the dough and acting accordingly.

Final note - I'd make sure that the filtered water you're using actually removes everything. My area uses chloramine which from what I understand is hard to filter, and it was creating the stinkiest, most rotten fermented products. I switched to bottled springwater - which I hate buying - but it has made a huge difference in terms of fermentation. The stinkiness of your levain makes me think that something is off with the fermentation. At this point, when mine gets stinky if I've left it too long it only gets vinegary.

Good luck!



grainofstrength's picture

Thank you so much for the detailed reply! I think the twice a day feeding might benefit it. I’ll try that after a few more days if it keeps going the way it is right now. Also, I just actually switched yesterday to bottled spring water. Hopefully that makes a positive change as well! I’ll update when I know more.