The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

High Hydration vs Low Hydration Levain

joe_s's picture

High Hydration vs Low Hydration Levain

My background in sourdough baking we always used a hight hydration sourdough (100%) for all our wheeat based baking.  I have recently been playing with panettone in the traditional style, and all the recipes I have been using use a low hydration (~50%) levain. 

It would be very easy to convert the panettone recipes to use a 100% levain.

Does anyone know the technical reason for this, using a low hydration levain ... or is it 'tradition' coming out o the Italian tradition of using a biga which is also very stiff.



Joe S.

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

It's said, at least, that stiff starters have more rising power, in particular in enriched dough - such as panettone. And with quick builds, not allowing it to mature, it reduces the acidity.

Benito's picture

In addition to what Ilya said, stiff starters in general are lower in acidity.  Panettone in particular are very sensitive to the effects of acid, if there is too much it will lead to proteolysis and your panettone will not hold itself up and the top could fall off when you hang it upside down to cool. There are some experts on panettone on the site I’m definitely not one of them who could tell you more.

joe_s's picture

Thank you both.  Those are helpful comments to understand the dynamics.

Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

You might want to take a look at this and some more of the scientific data out there. Some of what is said on this site doesn't always match the science.

kapawlak's picture

Since no one has mentioned it yet, there is actually microbiological differences with the two kinds of levains. Starters contain not only yeast, but a huge variety of lactobacillus species with genes that produce different metabolic reduction  pathways and byproducts.


High hydration levains favor fast lactobacillus metabolisms that convert starch and small sugar into primarily lactic acid. This results in majority lactic acid contribution-- the milky sour favored in traditional white sourdough.


Stiffer starters impede lactic acid production due to sugar and starch resources not  being as free to move around. Ultimately you end up with high local concentrations of lactic acid,  ethanol, and complex starches which are then taken up by varieties of lactobacillus that eat it to produce acetic acid. When this is the majority, your bread will have a vinegar quality that is often favorable in rustic and rye loaves. 

hajonnes's picture

A question then arises,

Why use 100% hydration culture for 65% hydration dough?

Is this not sub-optimal for the final product.
Say that the bacteria that were plentiful for the 100% hydration dough will not multiply in a 65% dough and the ones that will thrive in 65% dough will only be a small number, which will mount  to longer time to get the correct fermentation.
This will not be so black and white but it would be interesting to hear if you have baked with the same hydration starter as the dough and what your experience is on taste development.