The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter,Levain, Maturity and Percentage

ViktorHUN's picture

Starter,Levain, Maturity and Percentage

Hi there folks, im fairly new in the sourdough baking. Im baking for roughly one year now. And i have became very upset with my result at baking with sourdough. My starter is one years old. I saw some people use levain and some just throw the starter in the mix(TrevorJay) but i know that a well and freshly feed starter is a kind of levain.
My first question is: IF i am making a levain do i use a well feed and risen starter or just grab the starter from the fridge cold and throw it in the mix? Because i dont know what is better. A well feed starter used to make levain or a fairly fresh but 3-4 days old starter from the fridge?

My second question is: In the past days i use levain in the baking process and i gave it a 4 hour fermentation and it passed the float test. BUT. The whole levain was so weak that i made and underfermented loaf with a 5 hour bulk, and a 3 hour proof. How much starter should i throw in the levain? 1:2:2? 1:3:3 (starter:flour:water)?

My third question is: Im kind of pissed about that bakers percentage. Sorry for the word. Every body says different, and how much levain, or starter i should use. I want a fairly universal number. I know if i use more starter/levain my fermentation will be much faster BUT very ACETIC. If i use less stareter/levain my dough will ferment much slower or not at all. And here is the problem, my last bread i used more starter and proofed nothing at all. And before that i used half the starter/levain and proofed well. I keep them fairly warm 28C. So how much sould i use to get a mildly acid taste with a middle range fermentation time. Some bakes say that 20% of the flower weight is the best, but. 20% of THAT flour pre fermented or not THAT flours but addition that 20% flours?
sorry fot that much question but that gathered around in me for one years. Ive read so much article, watched so much video, so many profesional bakers, I feel like i know so much at same time i fail so many times so hard.
I feel so devastated and sad about that :( Please someone could help me out about that? Thank you very much.
Sorry for my english and grammar.

hreik's picture

Welcome.  I am far from and expert, but I will tell you what I do.  Your questions in order:

(1).  I always feed my starter before using it to make bread dough.  Twice at least>

(2) Let's say I need 100 gm of levain.  I will make 130 - 135  b/c some sticks to jar.  So in the morning I might take out 15 gms and feed is 15+ 15+ 15 = 45 gms. Usually I take a small portion out in the morning, feed it once and then feed again before I go to bed 45+ 45+ 45 = 135.  However If i need more I might feed it 1:2:2 .  I use it the second day after 2 feedings.

(3)  I don't quite understand your third question.  It took me  a long time to get the right amount of levain for my favorite bread.  I landed at 15% levain as a portion of my dough.  It works for me, but might not for you.

Best of luck


barryvabeach's picture

Viktor,  unfortunately, the nearly universal answer for your third question is " it depends".

Your starter at its best may have much more strength than someone else's starter.  In addition,  if you refresh your starter at 8 in the morning , its strength will vary as it develops.  So the best advice I can give is to keep good notes -  when did you last refresh your starter, how long did it sit before you incorporated it into your dough and at what temperature, what was the hydration of the starter, and what percentage of starter did you use to the final dough?   Then record your results, and make an adjustment in one of the variables and see how it works out.

I am not entirely sure about your last question, but it may  be whether you should measure the starter percentage as a percentage of the total flour including the flour portion in the starter, or as just a portion of the final dough minus the flour in the starter.  For example,  I am going to make a loaf with 500 grams of flour in total.  I am using 100 grams of starter that is 100 % hydration , which means there are 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water in the starter, and I will add 450 grams of flour when I mix the dough.  Some bakers would say that the starter percentage is 100 grams divided by 500 grams.  Others would say it is 100 grams divided by 450  ( the flour other than the starter) .   In the end, it does not matter as long as you keep your notes consistently.   

ViktorHUN's picture

For example the 20% of the flour should add to the whole mix? or the 20% of the flour that i will add to it? i mean
if i have 500g flour. 100g is 20%. and i use that levain 100g flour 100g water and a drop of starter. This levain is the best or 20% is 100g levain that is 50g flour and 50 g water and a drop of starter?

ViktorHUN's picture

Thank you very much

And is it okay to make levain with dormant starter? i mean not feed starter? Because i think the starter will be active again in a warm place with food around

Danni3ll3's picture

You use 1 part Levain to 2 parts water to 3 parts flour and 2% salt (of the flour amount). So for a ~750 g loaf, you need 125 g levain, 250 g water and 375 g of flour as well as 7 or 8 g of salt. 

Mix you water and your flour together and let rest for an hour or two. Add your levain and salt. Mix well and then do 70 slaps and folds. 

Wait 30 minutes, and do 40 slaps and folds. Wait another 30 minutes and do 10 slaps and folds. Then go to stretches and folds every 30 minutes until the dough has risen about 20 to 25%. If you use a transparent bowl, you will see lots of small irregular shaped bubbles. Depending on your room temperature and your ingredients, this takes 4 or 5 hours. At 73F, for me, it is usually 4 and a half hours. 

Tip the dough out on a bare counter, sprinkle the top with flour. Round out the dough with a dough scraper and let rest one hour on the counter. 

Do a final shape by flouring the loaf and flip it over on a lightly floured counter. Gently stretch the dough out into a circle. Pull and fold the third of the dough closest to you over the middle. Pull the right side and fold over the middle and do the same to the left. Fold the top end to the center patting out any cavities. Finally stretch the two top corners and fold over each other in the middle. Roll the bottom of the dough away from you until the seam is underneath the dough. Cup your hands around the dough and pull towards you, doing this on all sides of the dough to round it off. Finally spin the dough to make a nice tight boule. 

Sprinkle some rice flour in your basket. Place the dough seam side down, cover, let rest for a few minutes on the counter and then put to bed in a cold (38F) fridge for 9-10 hours. 

Or you can proof on the counter until a finger poke will slowly return about half way. 


Then bake in a Dutch oven or on a stone with steam at 450F covered for 30 minutes and then at 425F for another 17 minutes uncovered. If you put it in the fridge, bake it directly out of the fridge, don’t let it warm up. 


Many if us have used this recipe and made great loaves with it. The method is mine and that is what I finally settled on to get enough gluten development and a nice open crumb. I hope you try this and have some success. 

ViktorHUN's picture

I tried tried the 1-2-3 method but i didnt like it. Cuse of the bread was to sour and stiff via less water. Maybe my starter is the problem here because i know the living place can make a change in the starter :(

I saw bakers bake with high hidratation and less starter. For example: Trevor Jay cooks with 800g of flour and only add 80g or starter. That is like 10%. i found it very weak when i cooked with it.

Danni3ll3's picture

that would give you some success as a beginning baker. There are millions of bread recipes out there each with their own hydration and amounts of Levain. The 123 would have given you a start where you can adjust the water amount to suit yourself and your handling capabilities. 

Trevor’s methods work for him and many of us aspire to get the crumb of his loaves, however, I for one have not been successful even though he explains what he does step by step. I have learned a lot from him though and my crumb is more open. However, I am not sure I am ever going to get that open crumb of his loaves. And that’s okay! 

You need to decide on a recipe and work with it to get the kind of bread you want. 

Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

Great advice Danni! 1-2-3 can create really nice loaves. How much starter, water, fermentation time. Those are all variables that interact. There is never one secret key to success.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It sounds to me like you're in a tropical country or at least very warm right now.  What country are you located?

This makes a big difference when letting the starter  and dough proof.  28°C yields a good amount of sour taste in a loaf especially with crazy as it sounds, small amounts of starter in a large amount of recipe flour.  In the tropics I have often used a starter several days old fresh out of the fridge letting the levain builds with shorter proofs create a mellow loaf.