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What am I doing wrong? (Starter and Levain) - Flour Water Salt Yeast book

marto32's picture
marto32

What am I doing wrong? (Starter and Levain) - Flour Water Salt Yeast book

Hello,

I've been following Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast and working through all the recipes in the book. I've been loving it so far and recommend it to any new bread bakers. I'm now at the section where you develop your own levain and after my 2nd failed attempt, I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. After following all the instructions and using the levain in a dough recipe, it doesn't rise as it should.

One note that makes this difficult for me: I don't have a sense of smell (I'm smell blind) so I can't follow the odor queues. To compensate, I'm very meticulous about recording my actions to make sure the levain is maturing properly. Here is what I did to grow the levain, please let me know if you think I went wrong anywhere:

I use Bobs Red Mill Organic Whole Wheat and Bobs Red Mill Organic White in the starters and recipes. I also use Brita-filtered water. I mix everything in this 6qt tub and have the associated cover when I need to seal the mix in there.

  • Day 1
    • 8:48 AM
      • 502 grams Whole Wheat Flour
      • 509 grams Water @ 88.6 degrees F
      • Left uncovered 90 minutes after mixing
      • Covered
    • Ambient measurements (in my apartment)
      • 33% Humidity
      • 72 degrees F
  • Day 2 (by the end of day 2, levain has expanded to ~2qt line of the 6qt tub and there are bubbles throughout)
    • 8:34 AM
      • Removed 3/4 of the mix
      • 504 grams Whole Wheat Flour
      • 508 grams Water @ 90.7 degrees F
      • Left uncovered 60 minutes
      • Covered
    • Ambient measurements
      • 26% Humidity
      • 72 degrees F
  • Day 3 (prior to mixing, it was a full 2x volume from when I mixed on Day 2)
    • 7:26 AM
      • Removed 3/4 of the mix
      • 499 grams Whole Wheat Flour
      • 504 grams Water @ 93.6 degrees F
      • Left uncovered 60 minutes
      • Covered
    • Ambient measurements
      • 25% Humidity
      • 72 degrees F
  • Day 4 (prior to mixing, the levain had risen up to ~2 quart line of the 6 quart tub with bubbles showing)
    • 7:55 AM
      • Removed all but 200 grams of the mix
      • 500 grams Whole Wheat Flour
      • 506 grams Water @ 91.8 degrees F
      • Covered immediately
    • Ambient measurements
      • 16% Humidity
      • 70 degrees F
  • Day 5
    • 8:10 AM
      • Removed all but 150 grams of the mix
      • 400 grams White Flour
      • 102 grams Whole Wheat Flour
      • 422 grams Water @ 82.8 degrees F
      • Covered immediately
    • Ambient measurements
      • 16% Humidity
      • 70 degrees F
  • Day 6 (The book says the dough should have grown to 3-4x from day 5 but it has maybe just doubled in volume)
    • 7:13 AM
      • Removed all but 200 grams of the mix
      • 400 grams White Flour
      • 100 grams Whole Wheat Flour
      • 405 grams Water @ 84.7
      • Covered immediately
    • Ambient measurements
      • 22% Humidity
      • 70 degrees F

On the morning of Day 7, the dough has again just grown 2x (not 3-4x as it says in the book). The dough is then used in a pure-levain recipe which does not rise as it should.

I'm not sure what or where I'm doing/going wrong. It feels like the issue is on Day 4 as Day 1 - 3 results match what the book suggests.

Any help would be much appreciated.

Thanks so much!

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

You've noticed the very normal life cycle of a starter  (or levain using Forkish's preferred terminology). An initial burst of activity and after day 4 a quieter period. Some even 'go to sleep' but it seems yours didn't quite go that far and just quietened down. Yours seems healthy and is on the right track. Recipes for creating starters rarely describe this and just assume it'll go from strength to strength but as living things they rarely follow recipes exactly. If I were you I'd carry on but use a smaller jar/tub and a 1/4 of the amounts he recommends. No need to waste huge amounts of flour when less will work just as well. 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

 I agree with Lechem. Actually I can’t ever remember disagreeing with him :-). You could cut back on your proportions a lot and save flour and space.

I’m not recommending this drastic of a change yet, but (for example) my room temperature starter totals only 45 grams. 5g starter + 15g water + 25g flour. So, at least you can look forward to using a lot less flour in the future. 

Btw - the details of your information are impressive. It can be a great help for others when they try to help. Bravo...

Dan

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

Starter and levain builds.  Such a huge waste of money and even worse if it fails!  There are so many other better ways to make a starter.  Since you have WW you can can make a golf ball size dough at 65% hydration and put it in a brown paper bag surrounded and covered with white flour.  Seal up the bag and out it on the fridge for 7 days and forget about it.  On day 8 cut open the ball and scoop out the wet pats on the inside  and feed it 30 g each fo flour and a=water.  In 12 hours you have a levain ready to go.

Or you can use the pineapple juice method of Debra Wink on this site. Joe Ortiz's cumin and milk WW way or my rye flour method based on Peter Reinhart' method - both go from start to bread baked in 4 days.  Sadly, You picked the worst way possible to make a SD starter..

What ever you do don't throw out your current mix - do what Abe said below so you will some flour left to make bread with in a couple of days.  

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Good news is you're already over the difficult part of making a starter. Now you just need a more sensible way forward than continuing with Forkish's recipe. 

Here is a good visual of the whole process. I propose you take some of your starter/levain and transfer it to a clean small jar. Begin feeding it as in this video. Make sure your flour is unbleached and you include some wholegrain flour. Keep warm and continue with feeds until it's strong. You aren't starting from scratch don't forget so you can pick up from the videos 2nd feed and onwards. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Temperature is always worth looking at and so seldom mentioned in starter recipes.  Get that starter up to at least 75°F around the clock and you will see improvements.  76° even better.  It cools off quickly after feeding even with warm water but that isn't enough constant warmth.  When the starter is established and a little older the starter can handle cooler room temps when the yeast population is higher.  Until then, warmer please.

70°- 72° F is way too cold and will double the time it takes for success.  So day 2 is still day one and day 4 is day two and so forth.  

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Lately I’ve come to more fully understand the role of temperature as it pertains to fermentation, dough handling, and baking. Many recipes tells us to proof for X amount of hours, but how accurate can that be when we don’t know the temperature of that author’s kitchen at the time of bake. As Mini stated, no starter recipe is really complete without a mention of temperature. The difference between baking in a cold kitchen vs. a warm one is enormous.

Thanks again Mini, for your “mini” words of wisdom.

Dan

HansB's picture
HansB

The sooner a baker starts to treat time as an ingredient the sooner they will make consistently better bread.

HansB's picture
HansB

I agree with Abe, the method in the video is perfect. The Forkish method is also good if you reduce the amount of flour used. If not refrigerated, my starter is always at ~70F and works perfect.

Watch this at 54:30 it some of the myths associated with making a starter, like he says, it may upset some that like to complicate things. Keep it simple, use the method in Abes video.

https://youtu.be/4rlqTpRYo2E

marto32's picture
marto32

I really appreciate all the guidance and feedback. I'm going to use the video to revive this starter and continue trying to make a good sourdough. I'll keep recording my progress and maybe I'll post back here with an update.

roboboticus's picture
roboboticus

 How did it turn out?

I'm in a very similar situation, and have been looking for some guidance as to whether I should just continue the same feeding routine or make adjustments. Specifically, I'm at the point where my starter is consistently doubling, but not tripling or quadrupling.