Levain (pre-ferment)


  1. Creating the Levain:

    • In a clean container, mix approximately 20 grams of your active sourdough starter with 100 grams each of flour and lukewarm water.

    • Stir the mixture until no dry patches of flour remain.

    • Cover loosely with a cloth or plastic wrap and let it ferment in a warm place (about 21-24°C or 70-75°F) for 4-6 hours or until it has doubled in volume and exhibits a bubbly, active appearance.

  2. Testing the Levain:

    • To test if your levain is ready, drop a small spoonful of it into a glass of room-temperature water. If it floats, it's full of the carbon dioxide gas produced during fermentation and is ready to use.

    • If it sinks, it may need more time to ferment. Leave it for another hour or so, then perform the float test again.

What's Happening during this phase:

Creating a levain is essentially an extension of the process you've been doing when maintaining your sourdough starter, but on a shorter timeline and with a specific goal in mind: to cultivate a large enough population of yeast and bacteria that can leaven your bread dough.

  1. Wild Yeast & Lactic Acid Bacteria Activity: As in your sourdough starter, the yeast in your levain ferments the sugars in the flour, producing carbon dioxide gas and alcohol, while lactic acid bacteria produce lactic and acetic acid, contributing to the tangy flavor.

  2. Enzyme Activity: The enzymes in the flour and those produced by the yeast and bacteria continue to break down complex carbohydrates (starches) in the flour into simpler sugars, which the yeast and bacteria can metabolize.

  3. Temperature and Time: The time it takes for your levain to be ready depends on various factors, including the temperature of your environment and the vigor of your starter. A warmer environment speeds up the fermentation process, while a cooler one slows it down.

  4. Testing the Levain: The float test is a quick and easy way to determine if your levain is ready. The principle behind the test is that a well-fermented levain will be full of carbon dioxide gas, which will cause it to float in water.

Using a levain for sourdough baking not only contributes to the leavening of the bread but also adds depth of flavor and helps to increase the bread's keeping qualities. It's another fascinating blend of science and baking artistry in the sourdough process!