Makes: 1 batch of Levain natural yeast bread starter
Time: minutes a day for 5 days
This is a lesson in building a basic sourdough starter, also called Levain. This is the Ken Forkish method from Flour, Water Salt, Yeast. It is not the only way, merely one that I have found to be easy to make, and reliable. I’ve built it from scratch 5 times now and it’s produced the same results every time.
You will learn that starters are not as hard as they seem. By smelling, tasting and touching you will learn when your starter is too active and needs to be cooled, or needs additional flour or heat. A warmer environment makes for a more active starter, and more sourness in your sourdough so be prepared to go through a learning curve as you adjust your starter to your environment and your baking needs.
You will never feel more accomplished than immediately after you take your first successful loaf of levain bread out of the oven. I promise, if you like sourdough than this is worth the effort. If you have the time you can take a look at some of the widely researched health benefits of eating fermented dough vs a commercial yeast bread. Even some people who have gluten sensitivity find they can tolerate a fermented dough, but I am not a health professional. Do your research. What I can tell you is that it’s delicious and it keeps for up to 5 days on your counter, which is more than I can say for a home-baked commercial yeast bread that has no preservatives.
You will build your levain over a 5 day period, day 5 being the day you will mix your first dough for your first levain bread (or store your starter for later use). I have tried this both with white and whole wheat flour and I recommend whole wheat. There is more nutrients to feed your yeast and you will have a more active culture. If you are making a white only levain you need a warm environment, over 80F, for best results.
You will need:
- A 5 or 6 quart bowl or tub with a snug fitting lid
- A kitchen scale that measures grams
- digital thermometer
- 2500g of whole wheat flour
- 500g of white flour
Sometime before noon feed your levain. If you miss your deadline, it’s not the end of the world. Your bread may turn out more sour. Feed it a little earlier the next day or add extra days to feed before making your bread. If you miss a whole day you will end up with some boozy alcohol scented bread which can have some unpleasant flavors. Set an alarm on your phone. I was able to feed quickly in about 5 min from start to finish before work with no problem.
You will Need:
WEIGH YOUR LEVAIN BOWL BEFORE STARTING AND WRITE IT DOWN!
500g of whole wheat flour
500g of water at 90F (If your house is below 70F, then use warmer water, about 95F).
Add to your bowl and mix by hand until there is no dry flour. It will be like thick dough. Leave exposed to the air for an hour or two and then cover and store at room temp. Somewhere where it’s consistently 75F would be ideal but as long as it’s over 70 you will be successful. In the beginning I recommend paying attention to the temp of your mix and surrounding environment and how that impacts the look, smell, and taste of your mix. If your house is super cold, you can store your levain in the oven with the light on. But it needs to be monitored because you may have to heave the door ajar to prevent your levain from getting too hot.
Day 2 – sometime before noon
When you take the lid off your levain you will notice a perfume that smells sort of like leather. This is good. Your levain should be noticeably runnier than when you put the lid on and have bubbles. Bubbles are life!
Throw away about three quarters of the mix (just scoop it out with a wet hand into the trash – although this is a compost-able mix if you can get it there without making a mess).
Add 500g whole wheat flour
500g of 90-95F water and mix with a wet hand.
Leave uncovered for 1 to 2 hours. It is important to note that I shortened this because I had to leave for work so my exposure was only about 30min. Everything was fine.
Cover and put back into your warm location.
Your levain should now be bubbly, have some structure (a sort of web-like stickiness and some stretch from the gluten), and it should have a leather smell. Throw out three quarters and add:
500g of whole wheat flour
500g of 90-95F water.
Mix using a wet hand until incorporated. Leave uncovered for 1 to 2 hours then cover and put back into your warm spot. Today is the turning point. If you check it before bed it will have a sour porridge smell. Don’t worry. It gets better. Smelling and tasting through out the process is important. Observation is the key to repetition and success in a changing environment.
The levain should have doubled in size and be very bubbly. It will be smelling fruity and pleasant.
Today needs accuracy. You will be prepping your levain for mixing tomorrow.
Throw away all but 200g. Your final weight should be the initial weight of your bowl plus 200g of levain. The bowl will be almost empty but all is well.
Add 500g of whole wheat flour
500g of water 90-95F. Cover and put in a warm place.
Success! You should now have enough happy yeast to use in Pain De Campagne
How you feed your bread today will depend on what recipe you are using. Most sourdough recipes will have instructions for how to feed your starter on mix day.
For levain breads from Flour Salt Water Yeast:
Sometime between 7am and 9am:
Throw away all but 150g of the mix. Add the following:
400g of white flour
100g of whole wheat flour
Mix with hand until just incorporated. Cover and let rest in a warm place. By mid afternoon your levain should be ready to use in your final mix!
Here’s what it looks like in the final dough!
And if you have done it right, here’s what you get when you’re all done:
This is Pain De Campagne. You can find the recipe for it here:
Drop us a comment and let us know how it goes, we want to see your results!