The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Question about building a levain/starter

tinpanalley's picture

Question about building a levain/starter

I'm building a levain as per a specific set of instructions. It's a 4 day process but the way it's built, we'll be needing lots more flour and possibly our bathtub as a bowl for the amounts there will be by the fourth day (being sarcastic, which I find I increasingly need to announce online to be understood). Is it possible in the middle of this to take the next step of the daily refresh process and, keeping the same ratios, cut all the ingredients down to more manageable sizes?

The Roadside Pie King's picture
The Roadside Pi...

Your goal should be to reach slightly more than the levien amount needed over the four days. Slightly more to compensate for bowl residue.

Kind regards

Will Falzon 

AlanG's picture

This is just my own personal opinion based on over a decade (mostly self taught with help from this site and Hammelman's book).  Any recipe that calls for lots of flour and time to build a levain is just hogwash.  If you already have a good active starter, you certainly don't need that much time.  I keep my starter in the fridge and take a portion out in the morning for a 1:2:2 feeding.  It routinely more than doubles in size quickly and then I'll create the levain/starter that evening for the next morning.  It's always ready to go at 6 AM which is usually the time that I'm mixing the dough.   That is about it and the results are reproducible.  If the refrigerated starter goes more than 10 days without feeding, I'll feed it, letting it double in size before going back in.  I created the starter back in 2010 and it just keeps chugging alone.  I never have to throw out large amounts of unused starter.

tinpanalley's picture

I don't know where the confusion came in but I said I was building a levain, by which I meant that it was bein built from scratch. Not re-fed to be used again. If for whatever reason that wasn't understood, I'm hopefully clarifiying now.

JonJ's picture

Care to share on the method you're following?

Rock's picture




tinpanalley's picture

(This is for the "levain liquide" recipe in the French language Cordon Bleu Baking book. I don't know if it was published in English but feel free to reply to me in French, I speak fluently.)

mariana's picture


If this is the recipe that you are following

then yes, you can reduce the amounts in step 3 (day 3) to 100g each levain chef, water 40C, and T80 flour.

And in step 4 (day 4)  to whatever amounts you need to to obtain the necessary amount of levain to bake with and then some to keep refrigerated for the future bakes.

Otherwise, this recipe yields 2.3kg of liquid levain, enough for a bakery or a baking class demo bake, but too much for a home baker (probably), unless you'll make sourdough pancakes with it for a family. 

For example, 

day 4 

60g levain chef from day 3 (discard the rest)

200g T65 flour as indicated

200g 40C water as indicated


Mix, keep it for 3 hours at 28C. It gives you about 1.5 cups of levain final (450g)

This is a very good recipe. It never fails. I used it in the past. However, fermentation temperatures are super important for it to work, as well as using the appropriate flours. 

Good luck!

tinpanalley's picture

Yes, agreed on temperatures and flours. However, without the range of French flours, I've gone for local equivalents by protein amount. For the T80 we always use our Whole Wheat we have in Canada and for anything like T65 we use our All Purpose. This was easier when we lived in France although even there you'd be suprised how hard it was often to find anything but T55 and T45 in regular shops. Only organic shops in Paris had any of the others.

tinpanalley's picture

We did reduce on day 3, reverse calculating from what we wanted to end up with. Some simple math, wasn't hard to do. But we're finding today after having done the day 4 feeding that it's a little slow to respond, meaning we aren't seeing a tonne of activity. You probably don't remember back to when you first made this levain but do you think if we have to feed again a 5th day to get some bubble activity going it would be going by the same quantities as day 4?

Also, since it's so rare to know someone who has actually used the SAME book/recipe, how long do you think it can go in the fridge between uses and how would you wake it up again? 

Thank you!!

mariana's picture

There is not much of activity in their final levain according to their pictures either, so do not worry.

This is their mature final levain from page 34. Pictures 5 and 6 also show that it barely rose 25-30% when mature. 

Mine was so gluey, that I had to refresh it twice in a row to get a normal, poolish-looking levain with large beautiful bubbles on top. 

Did you prepare your yeast water with chopped raisins or apples for at least 5 days at 27C beforehand as described on the previous page?


Was it acidic or bubbly or gassy like champagne? It might take a bit longer than 4-5 days, even up to 10 days.  It is made with raisins and apples that are not oily, not glossy, must have dull whitish surface - these are wild yeasts and lactic bacteria.

These are wild yeasts to begin fermentation in yeast water and in levain. Due to them, the levain triples in volume on day 2 and then falls as shown in the pictures 2 and 3. 


The rules for refrigeration are described on page 34, as you have probably read them already. 

Here, they tell us to refresh it at least twice a week when refrigerated. I.e. every three days, on the third or the fourth day of refrigeration, even if you will not use it in baking, take 50g out add 100g water and 100g flour (or 25-50-50, or whatever) and then either let it mature at 27-33C, or refrigerate the refreshed mix right away and let it mature later on, 3 days later, before feeding it again.