The Fresh Loaf

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Two-starter sourdough method

albacore's picture

Two-starter sourdough method

This recipe from Dan Lepard came to me in a newsletter email from Bakery Bits UK. I t looks interesting because it uses 2 levains in the same dough - one at 100% hydration and the other 400%.

I haven't tried the recipe yet, but I'm posting it here in case anyone wants to give it a go. Dan's recipes are usually very reliable.



Testing Sourdough pH

Get ready to embrace your inner 'geek' and look at testing pH levels of sourdough with brilliant baker Dan Lepard for surprisingly tasty results. His two starter sourdough method is a must try... 


One key thing I notice among the edgier artisan bakers I follow, is that they’re no longer looking for “the ultimate sourdough” and specific lactobacillus and saccharomycetaceae (bacteria and yeast). The brilliance and technical expertise of pre-cultured sourdough additives isn’t for them. Instead, what they yearn for is the microbiological expression of the flour, water, even ambient temperatures that they have on hand, and often related to a local grain grower. They want the ultimate expression from these elements though the sourdough process. 


Sourdough starter is today the life-blood for artisan bakers. We, as in the “neighbourhood of bakers”, use it all kinds of ways and not just for the well-known sourdough loaf. Sourdough starter can be used when making croissant, panettone, chocolate brownies, pasta even, wherever its acidity will be welcomed you can be sure that someone, somewhere has poured a dash of tangy sourdough into the mixing bowl.


Now I do like sour acidic things, I’m always looking for interesting vinegars, I prefer most fruit on the unripe sour-side for eating and cooking, and of course I love sourdough. In fact, my baking life today is quest for getting more acidity back in my sourdough. And this is where the Hanna Instruments electronic pH meter has been hugely helpful.


What this pH meter helps you do is get guidance as to the general acidity of your sourdough starter and loaf. One odd fact you have to remember is that a higher number is less acidic, while a lower number is more acidic. You first calibrate the meter by dipping it into a supplied solution that has a specific pH number, then you’re ready to go. Simply press the button to switch it on, dip it into your sourdough starter or dough, and then within 30 seconds (though the tech manual recommends 30 minutes) you get the pH reading.


You will see cheaper ones on the internet but this particular model – Hanna HI981038 – that BakeryBits supplies is specifically designed for bread and dough. This means that:


1. the meter has a smooth clog-free probe that makes it easy to clean with sticky dough mixtures, like 1:1 flour/water ferments, especially ones containing gluten that can clog and damage other models.

2. it has a conical tip that makes it easy to probe firmer dough, like your risen sourdough.

3. the pH glass tip, according to the manufacturer “uses a special low temperature (LT) glass… beneficial when measuring food products at lower temperatures” like dough given a chilled overnight rise.


Now what bakers might think of as the acidity in crumb is complex, as it also encompasses flavours that aren’t in themselves acidic but help the sensation: wine-like sour grape and grassy notes, hints of tart lemon and metallic twangs that you sometimes taste with rye flour. But in maximizing the acidity you also help underpin and enhance the sensation of those other flavours, a bit like how lemon juice makes strawberries taste more of themselves.


So to see roughly where I was pH-wise, I mixed three roller-milled white wheat flour starters to give a blank starting point. All three used 10g of active rye flour starter (pH 3.77), and were mixed:

(a) with 150g flour and 100g water,

(b) with 100g flour and 100g water, and

(c) with 200g water and 50g flour.


These were left covered overnight at 23C, and the following day using the Hanna pH Meter read as:

(a) pH 4.09

(b) pH 3.97

(c) pH 3.56 (3.77 in the photo here post-baking).


Now the difference of half a pH scale number is surprisingly noticeable, and if matching a corresponding difference in titratable acidity (a much more complex test, as bakers it’s easier and cheaper to judge by taste) you get quite a difference in flavour. So I needed to taste and judge the difference.

Two-starter sourdough method


It was baker Joe Fitzmaurice at Riot Rye Bakehouse & Bread School who told me that he sometimes added two starters to the dough mix - one very liquid and one less liquid – to magnify the flavour. So armed with the knowledge that the Haana pH Meter gave me I thought I’d give it a shot and it worked brilliantly, much more final flavour and acidity, plus a much more malty kick that I’d noticed before. Now these are the measurements I used but by all means tweak this to suit your preferences.


Makes one large loaf


135g water

125g liquid starter, 24 hrs old (taken from 10g seed starter, 50g flour, 200g water)

70g regular starter, 24 hrs old (taken from equal parts white flour and water)

300g Matthews Organic Strong White Flour

50g Marriage's Organic Stoneground Strong Wholemeal Bread flour

50g Marriage's Dark Rye Wholemeal flour

8g salt


Mix water with both starters, then mix in the flours until smooth and cover. Then an hour later mix in the salt and another 15g water. Leave covered for 2 hours then give one stretch and fold. Leave for a further 2 hours then shape tightly and place in a basket to rise in the fridge overnight. Turn out, slash and bake in a preheated Challenger Bread Pan with steam (an ice-cube added with the bread) at about 230F fan until done: I give it 25 minutes with lid on, and 15 minutes without.



GaryBishop's picture

A new experiment to try! And cool tech. I may have to buy one of those meters.

GaryBishop's picture

First I used 15% prefermented flour as in the formula. It wasn't sour enough for my taste. So for the second bake I used 30% PF. Good flavor and nice rise but I can't detect a noticeable difference from my normal bake with 1 PF. 

It could be that I'm old and don't have sensitive taste buds. 

It was an enjoyable experiment.

albacore's picture

I haven't tried it yet, so can't really give much help. I guess a pH meter might help to see what sort of pH you are getting pre-bake and if it is any different to what you usually get.


GaryBishop's picture

I came back to this and pushed it much harder this time.

I kept the 100% hydration starter with 20% PFF at RT (average about 66) for 24 hours. I kept the 400% hydration starter with 10% PFF at 90F for 24 hours. Then I made my go to loaf with 50/50 WW/BF. Much more sour than usual. 

I'm going to continue experimenting with this method.

 baker's %grams     
total flour100%22050%ww fraction   
preferment +40.0%88.0100%hydration   
ww flour17.8%43.1add 10%   white whole wheat
warm water17.8%43.1add 10%    
preferment 250.0%110.0400%hydration   
ww flour7.8%18.9add 10%    
warm water37.8%91.5add 10%    
hot water30.0%66.0     
final dough235.1%517.2     
pf flour20.0%44.0     
pf water20.0%44.0     
pf2 flour10.00%22.0     
pf2 water40.00%88.0     
olive oil8.0%17.6     
ww flour24.4%53.7     
bread flour45.6%100.4     
diastatic malt0.0%0.00tsp3g/tsp 
toasted sesame seeds00.0     
check flour100.00%220.0     
check liquid90.00%198.0     
Trying 2 preferments like
Mixed PF's at 8:30 on 25th. Keeping 100% at RT and 400% at 90F. Forgot the soaker so I rushed it. Wet as a result.
Mixed the dough at 8:50 on the 26th.
Into pan and 100F oven at about 9:50
baked at noon
about 4.75" tall. Looks good.
Very good. Nicely sour. Good texture.
albacore's picture

Well done, Gary; it just shows that it's often necessary to tweak a recipe with several trial bakes to get it to work how you want it - even when it is published as a "good to go" recipe.



Benito's picture

What an interesting bake.  I have been reading about these liquid levains, the Bake Code has been posting about them and they seem to add quite a bit of acidity to the bake for those who want a more sour loaf.  But I hadn’t read anyone combining a 100% hydration levain with a liquid levain.  

Lance, what was the pH on the dough at the time of bake?  I am always pushing bulk and worry about going too far and having gluten breakdown from excessive acidity.  For mostly white flour loaves I’ve been aiming to bake at pH of 3.8-3.9 but for doughs with more flour I haven’t yet found ideal which I think will vary based on flour composition of course.


albacore's picture

The only pHs Dan mentions are those related to the starter, Benny. A bit strange, I know!

Will have to try the recipe sometime to see.