The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is my Levain Ready?

bmacneel's picture
bmacneel

Is my Levain Ready?

Hi Everyone! 

First-time poster here. I started baking with sourdough last year until I killed my starter in a move. I began again recently and have built a lively starter, but I started noticing an issue recently...

I use my own version of Ken Forkish's method where I take a portion of my mother out of the fridge, feed it with a 1:2:2 (Whole wheat) ratio for a couple days until it's good and active, then I do Forkish's method to build the levain of 1 starter: 1 whole wheat: 4 white: 4 water. More or less a 1:4:4. I believe he increases his ratio to get the starter as active as possible before putting it into the final dough.

My problem is, as we all know, Forkish wastes flour, so instead of using the astronomical amounts of flour he suggests for the levain, I use the same proportions but divided to a quarter (something he says is totally fine to do). I do 25:25 (whole):100 (AP):100. What happens, however, is with these increased proportions my levain (which has only a meager 25g of starter) takes forever to actually rise, though it does at least double in 12 hours or so, and smells of strong alcohol after 5 or so hours. If my levain is taking this long to rise, should I still mix it into my final dough after 6-8 hours like he suggests if it's only risen a tiny bit at this point? Or should I wait until it's doubled, then use it, regardless of time? I'm sure the problem isn't my starter, because with feedings of 1:2:2, it'll triple in 12 hours. Last time I made a sourdough loaf with this issue, the sourness was a little milder than I remembered after a solid 8 or 9 hour levain rise. 

 

Any thoughts?

BakersRoom's picture
BakersRoom

If I'm reading your post right, you use a whole wheat starter, then convert that to a white levain.  That's a little strange, because its nice to have a clean starter that develops slowly, and a fast moving levain. For that reason, I do the opposite of you. 

Regardless, when you take a whole wheat starter and try to convert it to white, you don't see good rise for a while, and you have to stir it to get proper development.  Use your levain when its bubbly and passes a float test in this instance instead of monitoring volume increase. 

bmacneel's picture
bmacneel

When you say that you do the opposite, does that mean you use a whole wheat starter as both the starter and the final dough's levain?

So since my starter in the fridge is whole wheat, I should either build my final levain using whole wheat as well, or convert the one in my fridge to white wheat, correct? 

Thanks for the reply!

BakersRoom's picture
BakersRoom

No, for the starter that I feed twice a day, the 'mother' starter that gives birth to all levains, is 100% white.  This is a clean starter in the sense that there is not a lot of microbial activity and alcohol production in comparison to a whole wheat starter.  This allows me to leave the starter for longer without it overproofing.  It also allows me to easily produce 100% white levains for things like sourdough pastries where I can't have any wheat in the flavor profile. 

When I make a European style sourdough bread, I make a levain that is mostly or 100% whole grains, and always containing rye.  It supercharges the levain, and gives you the kind of fermentation needed to easily form high hydration breads.  

But in answer to your question, I would definitely build your levain from mostly or all whole wheat.  You can have a whole wheat mother starter.  There are advantages to having one.  Its not as fragile, for one, and it has more power.  It can produce a very powerful levain.  Its just not for me, because I like a low maintenance starter that can easily make me sourdough batter for pastries.