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Levain mix: 1:1:1 versus FWSY 1:4:5

TwistedBreadStarter's picture

Levain mix: 1:1:1 versus FWSY 1:4:5

I’ve started making Levain loaves using the Flour Water Salt Yeast book. In this book he uses 1:4:5 for levain:water:flour parts of the levain renewal. So that’s 80% hydration, and the levain culture put into the result is only 1/10th of it by weight.

Compare that to the standard “wet starter” where it’s simply 1:1:1 components. That’s 100% hydration, and the levain part put into the mix is 1/3rd the final result by weight.

I’ve gotten pretty decent results using the FWSY ratios, but I’m wondering about going to the 1:1:1, especially because I’d like to maintain a smaller starter (eg 60g total weight after feed), and 1:1:1 appears to be more practical for this. 

Can anyone comment on the 1:1:1 versus 1:4:5 ratios— are there important differences or considerations I need to be aware of?


Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

I haven't baked recipes from that book, but you can maintain your starter with 1:1:1 ratios if it works for you for maintenance, but build a separate offshoot levain using the ratios in the recipe you are following. Higher ratio generally makes for a stronger starter, and changes in hydration affect its properties too, so it might be important for the recipe to come out right, or at least how it was intended. It might work well anyway.

TwistedBreadStarter's picture

Hi Ilya, I hadn't thought of that - keeping 1:1:1 then doing different mix for the offshoot to bake with - thanks!

barryvabeach's picture

I checked the book out of the library, read it, and tried a few recipes, and was not a fan of his approach in general, so can't say much about the book.

In terms of ratios, a lot will depend on temperature, timing ,  flour, and what you are trying to do. 

If you are refreshing from the refrigerator to make enough starter for a loaf, then I find a 1:4:4 ideal for whole wheat flour - it gives the yeast enough food for me to refresh in the morning, and when I get back from work it is ready to use in my recipe.  If you wanted the starter to be ready sooner, you could use a 1:3:3 or even lower, especially if you want to use a starter that is less ripen when you add it to the dough.  I find that when AP or bread flour, which I almost never use, a 1:3:3 gives me similar results to a 1:4:4 for whole wheat. Likewise,  I vary a little depending on the temperature of the house.   Changing the hydration can also alter how long it takes for the yeast to multiply.

There is no right or wrong, IMO, it depends a lot on what you are trying to achieve in terms of yeast development ( which can impact both flavor and texture ) .

Our Crumb's picture
Our Crumb

For several years, I’ve been maintaining an 80% starter in 40% ww flour, using it for weekly 60% ww doughs at 80% hydration. I like an 80% hydration starter because theoretically it’s a compromise between the sweet airiness you get using a classic liquid starter (e.g., Tartine Country) and the dough strengthening value of a stiff starter (e.g., Italian traditions).  And I like to think that bugs adapted to 80% hydration will perform well in dough of an identical hydration.  Truth be told, I doubt you'd find a significant or even detectable difference between using an 80% vs 100% hydration starter in most formulae.  Only way to know is to try and compare.