The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is my levain well prepared?

Miller's picture

Is my levain well prepared?

I'm still a bit in the dark with sourdough baking, but I did learn quite a lot in the last few weeks from advice and tips that I received here and a little bit by practicing.

Today I used 20g of 100% rye starter with 55g bread flour (12% protein) and 55ml water in order to prepare a levain. Twelve hours later the starter had risen by about 70-80%, but there were no significant bubbles in it. The consistency of the starter was sticky and stretchy like soft bubble gum. It was really elastic, almost like a membrane.

I discarded about 30g of it and added 40g bread flour and 40 ml water. I'm going to keep it overnight, another 11-12 hours.

My question is, assuming that the consistency of the starter will remain as I described above (sticky and stretchy, not many bubbles visible in it), would it be worth trying to use in a bake or am I going the wrong way about it? The reason that I'm asking is that everyone talks about lots of bubbles and a big rise of the starter being present when it's ready for use. Mine is not exactly like this.

BaniJP's picture

How old is your starter? If it's very young it's normal that it doesn't have a lot of activity yet.

Also rye starters behave different from wheat starters, they are more gloopy and sticky. But if you say it grows significantly in size, it probably is ready to go.

Miller's picture

The rye content was 20g and bread flour 55g at feeding time.

Cinnabon's picture

Hi Miller:

Your doing just fine and yes the levain will be stringy! When I make up a batch on mother dough (Levain) it spends a week or more in the fridge and just as you described it becomes a soft ,stretchy bubblegum like consistency! its the gluten strands!  This is a good thing! 

You are definitely on the right track! Now bake some amazing bread!,



Miller's picture

Sadly my timing is not right, because certain other commitments will not allow me to bake anything today. I'll therefore give it another feed during the day, make the dough in the evening, let rise overnight and do my bake the next day. I'm just going to follow the steps of a recipe that I found and I hope it works.

Miller's picture


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

for the bubbles, gas cells to developed and grow larger and then collapse somewhat before feeding.  I think rushing to discard and feed the starter is slowly diluting and weakening it.   When the starter was 80% risen, there was surly enough food to keep the yeasts going for another 12 hours.  Do not worry about starving it.  Wait it out.  It is better to be slightly under feeding than overfeeding.  Discarding if for maintenance. When building a levain, flour and water is added and rarely discarded. Otherwise one risks"throwing out the baby with the bathwater."

 Think of the starter as a mini bread dough (which it is but without salt) and if you want to see how it will react as a bread dough, pinch enough flour into it to make a soft dough.  How long will it take to puff up?  At your 80% puffy, degas and fold the dough to distribute the temperatures and stretch the developing gluten, strengthen the surface tension.  Stuff into the bottom of a straight glass and mark the level.  Mark also when the dough volume should be doubled and also triple. Now watch the dough (starter or levain) rise.  It should start to puff up and rise with a dome, curved top until it reaches its limit or peak where it can no longer hold itself up.

 A wheat starter will soon start to level out in the very top center and slowly deflate and sink as gasses are released and the dough matrix collapses. As it levels out it tends to loose its shine if it had one.  A pure rye starter may hold this domed shape longer and even stay domed while the inside matrix has long fallen inside. A simple tear in the dome is one way to test it.  Any mixture of rye with wheat will react somewhere in between.  Wheat will also rise higher than rye and each starter will rise dependent on the amount of water in the starter.  In any case there should be an ample supple of bubbles before more flour and ingredients are added to make a bigger dough ball.  After all, it's the gas that we want to puff up the bread. It's worth waiting for.

if you taste the sourdough starter, it should taste like wet flour when first fed and gradually increase with aroma and sour taste as it ferments.  Even me (with my incredible nose) needs to taste a starter or dough once in a while to check on the acid forming in the culture.