The Fresh Loaf

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Barm conversions

mammiesbaker's picture

Barm conversions

I usually make sourdough bread with a barm made and refreshed according to Reinhart in BBA.  I am happy with the results, but would like to try other sourdough recipes, for example The Vermont Sourdough recipe in Hamelman's.  It calls for a liquid levain.  Is there a way to convert a part of  my barm into a liquid levain, or do I have to start from scratch with a liquid levain recipe?  I was trying to figure it out with a % hydration, but I don't know what hydration the barm is.  I am sure it is somewhere between a liquid and a stiff.

 Hope someone can help.  Thanks, Fran

foolishpoolish's picture

Hi Fran

Liquid levain usually refers to hydration greater than 100% (125% is what Hamelman calls for, I believe) can have it as high as 140% (or beyond!)

Stiff starter is usually around 60% and is typical of a refrigerated storage starter.

In the past I have favoured 100% hydration starter fed daily, for various reasons not least because it makes calculations for total flour and total water in a recipe relatively easy (equal parts water and flour in your starter)'s also annoying to clean as it falls into that nightmare area of marshmallow stickiness between easy-to-pour liquid and dough-like stiffness.

To convert from one hydration to another is fairly straightforward although you may find it takes a few feedings at the new hydration before the starter really takes off.  If you are only using a small amount of original starter to feed your levain/build/starter/whatever - then you really only have to worry about the ratio of the new flour and water you are adding.  

PS There are some who may have something to say about the term 'barm' - but I shall leave that to their expertise to explain ;)

Suffice to say that levain, chef, starter all typically refer to sourdough cultures of some form. 

Hope that helps,




mammiesbaker's picture

Thanks so much FP.  I have just refreshed the barm and it is aging in the refrigerator.  Tomorrow I will attempt to make a small batch of liquid levain from it.  I am not sure what my barm hydration is.  I take a pound of old barm and add 8 0z of flour and 8 0z by weight of water.  So, I end up with 2 pounds of barm which will usually be enough for a weeks worth of bread.  I bake all in a couple of days and freeze the finished product.

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Barm is largely an English process, though it was used other places.  It refers to capturing yeast from fermenting beer and using that to raise bread.  It was used before reliable commercial bakers yeast was available instead of using sourdough.


Not only is barm not sourdough, it is the anti-sourdough.   You can't make a barm out of sourdough any more than you can make a vegetarian (or Kosher) meal out of a pork chop.


I am told that since he wrote BBA, Peter Reinhart has expressed regret over his misuse of the term barm.  However, once it's in print you can't recall it, so we keep hearing about people making barm out of their sourdough.  Or a battery poolish (poolish and biga are both yeasted technques).




proth5's picture

If you own the book "Bread...", if you look on page 362 in the appendices, you will find instructions on how to convert from a liquid to a stiff levain (or vice versa).  They are very easy to follow.

Since I cannot explain it better - I will not try.

Happy Baking!