The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Intermediate build versus direct (with daily starter maintenance)

foolishpoolish's picture

Intermediate build versus direct (with daily starter maintenance)

I'm currently keeping most of my starters on a 24 hour feed cycle.  Since only a very small amount of old starter is needed to build this up over the 24 hour period, there is typically enough 'spare' starter at the end of a cycle to make bread by mixing a 'direct dough' without the need for intermediate builds. 

My question is: How will this affect the results (compared to using an intermediate build)?  The purpose of the intermediate build as I understand, is twofold. Firstly you can build up a lot of active levain from a very small amount of 'mother' starter (important in a bakery situation where you have to make a lot of bread) Secondly, you are benefitting from the complexity of flavours that come from using a preferment. 

Since I have plenty of starter to use at the end of the feed cycle, the first of these issues (amount of starter required) is irrelevant.  The second issue of flavour would be addressed, I *think* by the fact that my starter is effectively the same as a 24 hour intermediate build.

The only other difference that I can see being an issue is specific to a given recipe.  For example, if a recipe requires a particular mix of flours or hydration and/or temperature for the intermediate build or there is a complex process involving  the incorporation of different ingredients over 3 or more builds (eg Panettone).

Please, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.  The results seem to be fine in my opinion but I do wonder if I'm missing out on something.




leemid's picture

The best way to see what would happen is to try it. I realize this is the obvious answer but many people don't have the nerve to just try it. I make the same recipe both ways and both ways are good.  There is a difference in flavor but the casual recipient of your largess would not note it, if you have to give away extra bread.  In my opinion, the best way to learn, or to become confident in what you have/are learned/ing is to make far more bread than you can consume and give it away, but in doing so you gain valuable experience and thereby, confidence.

Then in addition, although we complain about fuel and flour costs, we are all still wealthy enough to afford giving away at least a little of what we have. I personally can attest to the promise that if you cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.

That's my story,



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, FP.

Your reasoning is correct. (That means it agrees with my thinking.)

Sometimes, those spontaneous experiments yield interesting results, as Lee suggests.


fancypantalons's picture

Well, speaking for myself, I built my first sourdough using a firm intermediate starter that was risen to double over four hours, the refrigerated overnight.  The results were... lacklustre. 

I've since switched to building my sourdough directly from my starter, and the only things I've noticed is 1) a stronger sour flavour, and 2) a stronger rise.  Further, because I retard my dough overnight, I figure it's safe to sacrifice any flavour development that a firm starter would contribute.

So, personally, I'm sticking to my process of liquid starter direct to final dough.  I prefer the flavour, I get a better rise, it means less waste, and it's faster, too. :)

foolishpoolish's picture

So far the results have been pretty good. I find it a pretty convenient way of working (timewise). If I'm following a recipe I'll still try to follow it as closely as possible but now I'm also open to doing things such as mixing starters (eg mixing rye and WW starter rather than a WW/rye intermediate build). My most recent baking effort was a rye/WW/white boule using equal amounts of whole rye and WW starter. The taste, texture and aroma were great although it lacked a little of the nuttiness I'm used to getting in wholegrain breads.

Fancypantalons, it's interesting that you mention a stronger sour flavour. One of the reasons I like liquid levain (typically 100 to 125% hydration) is that I usually get fairly mild results. Of course that is very much affected by the ingredients, hydration and other factors in the final mix.

Anyway, I'm pretty happy with this way of working and thanks to some very healthy starters, I don't feel like I've sacrificed flavour. We'll see how it goes.


fancypantalons's picture

"Fancypantalons, it's interesting that you mention a stronger sour flavour. One of the reasons I like liquid levain (typically 100 to 125% hydration) is that I usually get fairly mild results."

It's worth noting that this varies greatly depending on the feeding schedule of my starter.  My maintenance schedule is normally a 1:2:2 feed, and if I use the starter after that feeding, the result is quite tangy.  However, if I'm doing a larger bread batch, or if I want a more mild flavour, I'll go with a 1:4:4 feeding, which results in a much more mild tang (which shouldn't be surprising... after such a feeding, the yeast initially outpaces the bacteria, and so the result is a starter that isn't as sour).

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Some authors make things far more complicated than they need to be.  Maybe it's to sell books.


Like the guy who wrote "Bread Alone" who wants you to pre-mix 80% white and 20% whole wheat to emulate French flours.  Great.  Now you've got one more tub of flour sitting around.  Why not just add white and whole wheat to the bread?


Similarly. I am skeptical of intermediate builds.  When you use sourdough you are not adding flavor the way you would if you added dill or cardamom or jalapenos, you are adding organisms that will, given time, create the flavors.


The flavors added by the starter are quickly diluted and dissapated.  I prefer to add a fresh, active sourdough starter and give it time to work in the final dough.  So, I build my starter to make sure it is active, to have enough for the amount of bread I am baking, and then I make the bread.


You can get a lot fancier than that (and I do use the Detmolder 3-stage for rye breads), but a lot of that sort of acticvity is just make work that will drive you crazy.




fancypantalons's picture

Yeah, the only thing I can figure is that the intermediate build is meant to build flavour through long fermentation.  Certainly the sourdough recipe from the BBA, which I use as a base, builds what is effectively a sourdough biga.  But with an overnight retard of the dough, you get the exact same effect, so I'm not sure what the point is, other than to make life more difficult. :)

KosherBaker's picture

This is a great question, that has been on my mind from the time I used my sourdough starter for the first time. I'm happy to learn that I'm not the only one, who doesn't do intermediate builds and just goes directly from the starter. :)