Thing One and Thing Two
“The sun did not shine,
It was too wet to play…” From “The Cat in the Hat” Dr Seuss
Yes, a day of rain and record cold in the Mile High City and we all go nuts. We aren’t accustomed to anything but sunshine.
So I decided to finally write up my two levain experiment.
The question that was innocently asked: Why does my levain, with my less than precise maintenance routine still live, thrive, and reliably raise bread? In theory, it should be dead. But it is not.
BWraith had put forth the theory (and I tended to think it reasonable) that I might be raising a bunch of l. pontis which is typically found in culture with a low feeding ratio. We also theorized that if I changed the feeding ratio, the levain would struggle a bit, but a transition to a different lactobacillus would occur.
So for the past few months I have been maintaining two levains. One, my beloved Thing One, fed as usual. Once a day – Thursday through Sunday, “some” of it is removed and it is fed with 4 ounces each of all purpose flour and water. No exact feed ratio – just me eyeballing “some” based on- well, whatever it is I base this on. Sunday afternoon to Thursday evening it is kept in a special refrigerator at 50F. Thursday through Sunday it lives either on the counter in my kitchen, or during particularly hot days in my cool basement. (Yes, I know, once a day isn’t enough. And yet, it is…)
Thing Two – created from Thing One – was fed at a 1:5:5 ratio over that period of months. It never left Thing One’s side – so it lived under the same conditions and schedules. I was as careful as I could be about cross contamination.
Would they be different in any way?
During the summer I still baked something each week (You gotta eat…). I alternated between Thing One and Thing Two. To be honest, I was unable to tell the difference in any of my baking. Thing Two did not struggle or fail to double at any time.
But if I did any analysis, would they be different?
.2 oz of a ripe sample of each in a container showed me (if it is not clear in the picture) that they were practically identical. Thing Two was, however a bit stiffer, probably reflecting the fact that the gluten had not degraded as much as that for Thing One – which seems reasonable.
Mixed with .4 oz of distilled water (so that a pH strip could be used) they each showed a pH of 3.5. It had been theorized that the pH of Thing One should be lower – but no – they were identical.
Each sample was mixed with .4 oz of all purpose flour and allowed to ripen for four hours. Both rose nicely and well, I’ll be horn swoggled if I can tell the difference. If I hadn’t labeled them, I wouldn’t be able to tell.
So what have I learned? Uh, nothing? That the inner life of levain is a deep mystery? Just how determined those guys are to live? That I need to get out more?
I have been unable to find anyone willing to determine just which variety of lactobacillus is living in my levain tubs, but would welcome input from anyone who could help. Or any insight (Bill…) at all.
I really don’t know. I do know that a practiced hand and eye counts for something in this bread making business and I’ve been tending Thing One for years. It could be that we just “get” each other.