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Levain, Sourdough, or Starter — Whatever you call it, it is the secret to
authentic artisan breads. These are all starters leavened from the good
bacteria and wild yeasts in the air that thrive in your home. The main
difference in the two starters seems to be the type of flour used in creating
the starter. In Europe, rye flour is mainly used compared to white flour for a
Sourdough: The name
sourdough comes from San Francisco and their famous sourdough
breads. It is thought that French bakers brought sourdough
techniques to Northern California during the California Gold
Rush in the late 1800s.
Levain: A French word
for a natural leaven mixed to a dough-like consistency. Levain
has been used for centuries for making bread. It is thought to
date back to the time of Moses, on the banks of the Nile.
The principle is the same when making a levain or sourdough starter. A
small paste of dough of flour and water is used. The starter is freshened with
new food and water on a consistent schedule, and develops a colony of organisms
that ferment and multiply. In order to retain the purity of the culture, a small
portion of starter is taken off before the mixing of the final dough. This
portion is held back and used to begin the next batch of bread.
Creating your own starter to use for sourdough baking is very easy, plus there is real joy and
satisfaction in sourdough baking when you create your own starter and keep it alive to use. A good sourdough starter or levain can
last for years, even decades, with the proper loving care!
Check out Linda's Bread Making Hints:
Secrets to using the bread machine,
About yeast in bread making, and
Quick Breads. Check out all of Linda's wonderful
Sourdough Bread Recipes.
You can buy dried versions and then activate them or you can make your own. Ways to get
some sourdough starter:
Get a cup of starter from a friend or another baker. You take a cup of the
starter and add flour and water to make more of it. The starter can go on for years.
You can make a starter with normal packaged yeast you buy at the store (see recipe below).
Or you can purchase a
Packaged Sourdough Starter Mix by mail-order.
This is what I originally did many years ago.
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- Easy on-line shopping for all your bread baking needs such as
bakers bread razor,
wire cooling racks,
Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer,
plastic bowl scrapers,
silicone baking mats,
plastic bread bags,
dough rising bucket, and
Packaged Sourdough Starter Mixes.
Sourdough Bread Baking Kit:
The Artisan Bread Maker Kit contains the original San Francisco
Sourdough Starter, the 12-page instruction booklet, the Crinkly All-Cotton Tea
Towel, the Ultra-Sharp Razor Knife, the Pastry Brush, the Chrome-Topped Glass
Shaker, the Large-Dial Instant-Read Thermometer, the Plastic Bowl Scraper, a
Baker's Dozen of Bread Bags, the Measuring Beaker, the 3.5-Quart Bread Dough
Rising Bucket, the Dough Divider/Scraper/Chopper, the Loud Long-Ring Timer, the
Handmade Bamboo Starter Stirrer, and the Silicone Spatula.
Easy Sourdough Starter Recipe - How To Make Sourdough Starter:
Yields: 2 to 3 cups starter
Prep time: 5 min
2 cups all-purpose or bread
2 teaspoons granulated
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active-dry
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F.)**
* Adding a little
sugar will help jump start the yeast process, as yeast feeds on
sugar for its energy. Yeast rises by feeding on the sugars in flour, and expelling carbon
dioxide in the process. That's why using just a little sugar can
help boost this process. Don't overdo the sugar.
** If the water you
use contains chlorine, use distilled water, bottled water, or tap water that you've
allowed to set out for 24 hours when you make your starter. Chlorine can stop the development of yeast.
Mix the flour, sugar, and yeast
together in a clean and sterile container (use only glass, glazed
ceramic or crockery to hold your starter. No metal or plastic) that can hold
two quarts. Gradually stir in the water and mix until it forms a thick paste (don't worry
about any lumps, as they will disappear).
Cover the container with a dish cloth and let it sit in a warm
(70 to 80 degrees F.), draft-free place. NOTE: Temperatures hotter than
100 degrees F. or so will kill the yeast. The dish cloth will let wild yeasts pass through into the batter. The mixture should bubble as it
ferments (this will foam up quite a bit). Sometimes I place the container in my sink (if sourdough spills out
onto your counter, it is hard to clean off once it has dried).
Let it sit out (at
room temperature) for 2 to 5 days, stirring it once a day. The starter is ready
when it develops a pleasant sour smell and looks bubbly.
Once your starter
starts bubbling, then start feeding it daily with flour and
water according to the directions below. Then stir it,
cover loosely with plastic wrap (allow a little breathing
space), and store it on your counter top or in the refrigerator
Feeding your Sourdough Starter:
Your starter should be
fed daily if left sitting on the counter - Ideally very other week if refrigerated.
Sourdough Starter: When you feed your starter, feed it with approximately
of flour and water.
Remove approximately 3/4 to 1 cup of starter
(use this starter in a baked item, give it to a neighbor, or throw it away).
Replace it with same amount (3/4 to 1 cup) of warm water (105 to
115 degrees F.) plus (3/4 to 1 cup) flour.
I have also had excellent results using some rye flour. I usually
alternate using rye flour and regular flour for my daily
feedings of the starter. The rule is to use at least 50% wheat flour
(all-purpose flour or bread flour) to get the best texture and volume.
Let it sit out
for a few hours, covered, to become active before using in your baking.
Do not place your sourdough starter in an
airtight container! As a general rule of thumb, the amount you feed
your sourdough starter depends on how much starter you have. When practical, you want to approximately double the amount of
starter you have each time you feed it.
Refrigerated Stored Sourdough Starter - I find
working with a sourdough starter can be very time consuming.
Especially if you follow what most sourdough books say and feed them
everyday. That's too much work for me as I already have a cat. You even need a sourdough sitter when leaving town.
Because I don't use my starter everyday, I store it, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator until ready to use.
A sealed glass jar is hazardous as the glass may crack or shatter.
When I decide I want to use my starter, I then remove it from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature (usually I let it sit overnight on the counter).
I then feed it with one (1) cup flour and one (1) cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F.). I let this sit eight (8) hours or preferably overnight.
It is now ready to use in your sourdough recipes!
NOTE: If I
have stored my sourdough starter in the refrigerator a long
period of time, like a couple of months, I usually need to do
the feeding process 2 to 3 times to "wake" it up and get it real
active. I take it out of the refrigerator 2 to 3 days before
needing to bake with it and proceed with the feeding process every day.
Sourdough Too Sour:
If you think that your sourdough is too sour, throw all of it away except 1 cup. Add 2 cups of flour and
2 cups of warm water to it, and let it ferment for a day or so.
Starter: If you will not be using your starter for some time, freeze it. Two
(2) days before you need to use it, let it defrost. Then feed it and let it ferment for a day.
Utensils: Use only wood or plastic mixing spoons. Measure starter in liquid-type measuring cups.
Containers: Use glass, plastic, or stoneware
bowls or crocks. Do not use copper or
aluminum. Use a large enough container that can hold 3
times of amount of ingredients as the starter expands as it ferments.
Temperature: Before feeding your starter, let the
ingredients come to room temperature. Do not try to hurry the process by raising the temperature higher
than 85 degrees F. DO NOT EVER allow your starter to be subject to a temperature above 95 degrees F. or it may die. A warm place
means 85 degrees F. and draft free.
Covering Starter: Cover your starter container
loosely to let fresh air in and keep out unwanted flavors.
Never seal with a tight lid as sourdough needs
Water: Use the inside of your wrist for determining the proper
temperature of warm water to be added. Never use hot or cold water. If the water you use contains chlorine, use distilled water, bottled water, or
tap water that you have allowed to set out for 24 hours when you make your starter.
Chlorine can stop the development of yeast.
Liquid on Top: Remember that a clear yellow liquid
(hooch) may rise to the top of your starter. This is normal - just stir it
back in. (See Hooch below)
Avoid mixing the starter too much. Over-mixing knocks the gases out of the dough. These gases are needed for rising.
worry about any lumps, as they will disappear.
Strange Color or Smell: If the starter turns a strange color
(pink to orange) or smells bad - discard it and start over.
What is Hooch?
As your starter sits or goes quiet
in the refrigerator, the mixture separates and a layer of liquid will form on the top. This liquid contains
about 12% to 14% alcohol. Hooch is the alcoholic by-product of the fermentation process. The hooch will have a brownish
color. NOTE: The alcohol dissipates during the baking process. Stir that liquid back into the starter before using.
builds up in your starter, especially when being stored in the
refrigerator. You can either pour it off or stir it back in. If your sourdough starter is on the dry side, just mix the hooch back
in. If your starter is already too moist, pour it down the drain.
Regular feedings of your starter will reduce the amount of hooch.
If your sourdough starter or hooch starts looking pinkish or orange color, throw it
away and start over as this means that something bad or nasty has started growing in your starter.
Using Baking Soda (bicarbonate of soda or soda bicarbonate):
Many sourdough recipes call for
baking soda. The baking soda reacts with the sourdough starter to
give a good rise and it also sweetens the dough or batter by
neutralizing some of the acidic taste. Soda is a leavening agent.
Add just a small amount of baking
soda, 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (never add
more), will also give your sourdough a little extra rise. The
baking soda will cause your starter to instantly start bubbling.
Add the baking soda at the very last
minute before baking. This allows the air in the batter to produce a
fluffy sourdough when baking.
Check out my family's favorite
Sourdough Pancakes that uses baking soda. So easy-to-make and so good!
Linda's Favorite Sourdough Recipes:
San Francisco-Style Sourdough French Bread
I've spent much time experimenting with sourdough to come up with a recipe that
I feel can rival the famous San Francisco Sourdough French Bread.
Sourdough Semolina Bread
My husband loves the coarser texture of this sourdough bread recipe. He
said to be sure and tell you that it is even better served with honey.
Sourdough Fruit Bread
My husband and I loved this bread! We couldn't stop eating it!
You couldn't ask for an easier pancake recipe that this one, and the pancakes are so light that they "melt in your mouth." My family loves these
pancake, and it has become a tradition to make them when they come to visit.
Another great recipe to use your sourdough starter. Who doesn't like biscuits?
Comments and questions from readers:
I almost never contact people whose recipes I glean from the net, but I wanted to
let you know that your recipe was perfect for my needs. We were faced with buying a starter which I doubt we could find locally or
making our own. We had promised to bring sourdough for a party our son is throwing tomorrow and he is making a giant batch of cioppino,
which as you know demands sourdough to sop up the goodness and nothing else
- LOL. Anyway like an idiot I neglected to do anything
about it until Thursday night, so I quickly found your recipe and started one. Based on what I was reading there wasn’t a chance in
hell that I could do it by the time I needed to bake. Luckily yours was among the first results and looked to be something I could get
to where it needed to be by tomorrow morning (3 1/2 days later). Anyway it smells great and even if my bread flops (I use a bread
machine and I have never tried sourdough with it) I can still use it for Christmas dinner.
Anyway a few things that I tried seemed to speed it up. I proofed it right away
in the over at 100 overnight, it was roaring the next morning. I fed it as you said and the only thing different I did was because my
kitchen this time of year is 68 all day long, I proofed it for a half hour to an hour or so each time. Thinking about it for a minute
makes perfect sense, the temp does nothing to harm and microbes you would want in the starter but obviously if it isn’t sitting out
there isn’t much of a chance to get any wild yeasts or Lactobacillus
going. I think I am lucky in that Candida is very common on apples and we make cider every year in November, so it has to be flying
around the house now. Also I used a paper towel which I don’t think made any difference, I don’t like dish towels because you can never get one as clean as a
paper towel off the rack.
You might want to check out this site:
Sourdough Myths and Folklore, I did since I am pretty familiar with organic chemistry so was dubious
about the metal thing, and I think they are right on. Stainless steel really can’t react with much of anything you would put in it,
which is the whole point behind it being used in so much cooking equipment. You would have to put it in a strong base like lye or a
strong acid like muriatic to get much of a reaction going, and I doubt that even that would harm food. Steel is steel and all it can
do is make rust, and nothing else, without a lot of chemistry. Rust doesn’t matter to anything living unless you immerse it in it. Also
I agree with their chlorinated water statement, I brew beer and cider all the time and chlorinated water has never killed my yeast.
All you need to do is let it sit for 5 minutes to let the chlorine dissipate into the air, it doesn’t like being in water at all. There
is so little chlorine it can’t have time to react with anything before it dissipates, if it did the EPA would come down on
chlorinating drinking water like a ton of bricks
Again thanks for the recipe!
Tim Fisher at
I am so excited. I've just made your sourdough starter and am ready to make my first loaf of bread. Being new to sourdough I have a
question. What consistency should my starter be? Mine is, what I would call, a medium pancake batter consistency. Does this sound
right? - Judy (11/15/07)
Congratulations on making your sourdough starter. A medium pancake
batter consistency sounds good. That’s approximately what my
sourdough starter is.
Remember, when making your homemade sourdough bread, the consistency of
your sourdough will determine how much flour or water will need to be added when making the dough. You cannot follow a sourdough
recipe exactly because of this.
Linda Stradley - By
What's Cooking America© copyright 2004 by Linda Stradley - United States Copyright TX 5-900-517- All rights reserved. -