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Troubleshooting Levain

DSM's picture

Troubleshooting Levain

Hi everyone,

I've finally decided to wade into the deep end of the pool and make my own starter/levain. I've used two methods so far, one given in Reinhart's BBA, and the other in Forkish's FWSY. The only think I changed was using pineapple juice for the first two day's of Forkish's method to try to deal with the bacteria/pH issue.

Both methods have given the same odd results. Basically everything seems to go great for the first 2-3 days while using the pineapple juice. The starters were roughly doubling in 24 hours, but once I stopped using the pineapple juice and whole wheat flour and switched to water and mostly white/bread flour, both starters stalled and only increased in volume by maybe 50% over 24 hours. 

So is this just an issue with time, as in, if I keep giving them regular feedings with they will eventually get back to the pineapple/whole wheat flour levels? Or it an issue with pH and/or bacteria and I need to continue the pineapple juice regimen longer and/or taper it off slowly? Or is it a flour issue? Or am I just over-thinking this and everything is fine?

Thanks for the help!

adri's picture

I never used pineapple juice but I have to say, I never managed to make a good levain in just 5 days. I always needed at least 2 weeks. (I was able to bake with it after 6 days but with proving times of 2 hours or more with a very high percentage of levain.)

The first 2 to 3 days I always had  more activity than the following days. I think this is because by then other bacteria vanishes. I'm not sure if pineapple juice brings it's own yeasts, that will give a false appearance of activity as they afterwards play no important role in the sourdough symbiosis. I know honey does.

As I don't know anything about your water quality. I fortunately live in a region where we have such a high quality of water coming out of the tap that we don't even have bottled water any more in the supermarkets. (Or just plastic bottles). But on my holidays in Spain, my starter was performing better with boiled water. A still weak starter really might have been stopped performing.

The rise of 50% over 12h is no real information to me withouth knowing how much starter you feed with how much flour and how much water ... at what temperatures.

DSM's picture

I use filtered tap water, but maybe it's worth giving bottled water a try.

As for the ratios, BBA gives a ratio of roughly 2:1:1 (starter:flour:water) when building the seed culture, and then roughly 1:2:2 when building the barm, with the water at room temperature.

FWSY gives a daily feeding of 1:5:4, with 1 part of the flour being whole wheat flour, the other 4 parts all-purpose white, and the water temperature at 85-90 deg F.  

I keep the starters next to a radiant heater in my kitchen, but the temperature fluctuates between 60 and 75 throughout the day/night (maybe even closer to 80 right next to the heater). Not ideal, but the best I can do.

BobS's picture

Keep going.

When you remove the 'support' of the acid in the pineapple juice it takes the levain some time to recover.

If it's rising it's alive, so continue to feed. 

Also read Mini Oven's excellent remarks on working with your starter in this thread:


WoodenSpoon's picture

just keep waiting/feeding/discarding or whatever your schedule is.

dabrownman's picture

first day - nothing. Day 2 and more so on day 3 the starter takes off for all the wrong reasons with the wrong wee beasties having a field day.  The pineapple juice supposedly gives the culture an environment that favors the good LAB and yeast while suppressing the bad.  The good beasts  will start to fight it out to the death with the bad ones.  Day 4 less activity  day 5 -6 the culture may appear to be dead.  This death  is expected and good thing.  Starting on day 6-7 you will be starting to get the good stuff going in earnest.  The next week just builds in that.  Then you can start making bread say on day 10 ir so but by day 14 for sure.

Your starter may be a day or so off the schedule but maybe not too.  They are all a little different.

Happy SD baking