The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Chef? Levain? Starter? Seed?

Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

Chef? Levain? Starter? Seed?

Ok, I've seen a lot of these terms being bandied about, and have a question or two of the more experienced.

My first two tries with sourdough were failures. The first one was actually too successful: the starter outgrew his container and tried to eat my kitchen. The second one I left out too long without feeding, and starved the poor bugger to death. That was attempting to follow the vague instructions in the Bread Baker's Apprentice. I was a little disappointed in his sourdough section.

My most recent try (Clyde) is going very well. He's been alive for a few weeks, and has made 2 beautiful loaves and a mess of bagels. And may I just say that sourdough rye bagels are heaven in round form. I'm using the techniques in Bread Alone. I'm currently using a rye starter.

So, a few questions:

  • Chef vs. starter: Most of the recipes I've seen say to use the starter after taking it out of the fridge and letting it activate for 8 hours or so. Bread Alone makes a distinction between chef/levain and starter. The chef comes out of the fridge, then part of it is used to make the starter, which activates and is used in the dough. The chef gets fed, and goes back in the fridge when its bubbly. Is this normal?
  • Will leaving my starter out longer be bad? I don't always have time to dedicate the whole day to baking. Is there a general guideline to how long a starter can be left on the counter and still be viable to go into a dough?
  • There were more, but I forgot.

Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

Did y'all go into hiding on me? :)


andrew_l's picture

Joe - starter. If you are prepared to feed it daily (or even twice daily) you can leave it out , covered, on the counter. There will be a LOT of waste this way!

If you are going to be using it once or twice a week, you can feed it, cover it, let your starter begin to ferment then put it in the fridge, where it will keep, untouched, for weeks and weeks if you want it to.

To revive it, simply remove a tablespoon of starter and put in a container with a tablespoon of bread flour and a tablespoon of water. Stir, cover and leave for about 8 to 12 hours. Take 30 grams of this, 30 grams water, 50 grams flour. Stir, cover and leave for 8 to 12 hours. Repeat this last procedure once more and the starter should have at least doubled in 8 hours - hopefully trebled - and is ready to make bread.

The original starter - which you took a tablespoon of starter from - feed with one tablespoon water and one of flour, stir together, leave to begin to ferment, cover and put back in fridge. Eventually, this starter will have grown to a point where you want to discard all but 30 grams, add 30 grams water, 50 grams bread flour, cover - and start the whole thing off again!

There is no need to leave the starter open to the elements - you aren't trying to "catch" free flying yeasts like in some safari park type manner - all the yeasts you need are in the organic, bread flour. Rye is probably the best to begin a starter with.

KazaKhan's picture

HOW TO TELL WHEN A STARTER IS A STARTER I haven't tried making a starter yet but I intend on using the information from the above link when I get around to it, I hope it helps...