Levain, Sourdough, or Starter
Whatever you call it – it is the secret to authentic artisan breads
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!
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.
Easy Sourdough Starter Recipe – How To Make Sourdough Starter:
I have found that working with a sourdough starter can be very time consuming. Especially if you follow what most sourdough books say and feed them everyday. That is too much work for me as I already have a cat! You even need a sourdough sitter when leaving town!
Because I do not use my starter everyday, I store it, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator until ready to use. 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 1 cup flour and 1 cup warm water. I let this sit 8 hours or preferably overnight. It is now ready to use in your sourdough recipes!
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 temperature 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 OreRockOn.com (12/22/12)
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 is 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