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1 post, 2 builds, 3 levains


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Home » Blogs » alfanso's blog 1 post, 2 builds, 3 levains February 3, 2019 – 5:57amalfanso's picturealfanso

1 post, 2 builds, 3 levains

The purpose of this post is to reinforce that folks shouldn't just assume one levain will act like all, or even any other differing hydration or composition levain.

During the current Community Bake of the Hamelman Five-Grain Levain, Designing Woman (Carole) expressed concerns about building her 1st very liquid levain. I’d pointed her to a post of mine from two years ago which spelled out what to expect, as results from feedings and builds will vary. I haven’t baked anything in almost a month (freezer inventory and a bit of dieting) and was itching to get a new bake started. So I thought that I’d document the following while building my levain.

Just for fun, if you want to call it that, I keep a few different levains alive and happy in the depths of my refrigerator. Among them are:

  • 100% hydration AP flour levain (last refresh Dec 30),
  • 125% hydration AP flour levain (last refresh Jan 10),
  • 125% hydration rye flour levain (last refresh Jan 10),

For those who think that you can’t keep a liquid levain alive without a frequent refresh, here is proof that you can, as it was 5 weeks without a refresh for the 100%, and it is still quite alive and at my service.

Lined up for each build as: 100% AP, 125% AP and 125% rye.

1st Build:

2nd Build:


  • I was a bit inconsistent for the feedings, my starter being either 80g or 100g of each. This wasn’t my Secondary School Science assignment and if I fudged a bit on the amount of the starter, so what.
  • All three levains were pulled from the refrigerator so they were cold and dormant for the 1st build.
  • For both builds the 100% AP was fed with 100g water and 100g flour. Each of the other two were fed with 125g water and 100g flour.
  • All builds were done concurrently, both at the start and end of each.
  • Due to the runaway growth of the 125% rye levain, I terminated the 2nd build a bit early.
  • I didn't bother to wait for peak growth and maturity, since they all peak at different times, so the build durations were completely arbitrary and met my own schedule.

The 1st build:

  • ~7 hours in my 78dF kitchen and the small black mark on the side of each vessel indicates where the mix originally came up to.
  • 100% AP didn’t quite double, had modest alveolation from the side, and small bubbles from the top.
  • 125% AP barely grew at all, but was quite frothy as seen from both side and top.
  • 125% rye, just about doubled and the alveolation is obvious from the side but did not exhibit from the top.

The 2nd build:

  • Skimmed off the excess levain to get back to approximately the 1st build's amounts before 2nd feeding.
  • ~5 hours in my overnight 75dF kitchen and the 2nd small black mark to the right of the 1st mark indicates where the mix originally came up to.
  • 100% AP came in just shy of doubling with similar side and top references.
  • 125% AP now showed significantly more growth on this build with a less forty, but very active bubbling on top.
  • 125% rye went bananas on this 2nd build, this time exhibiting the alveolation front the top as well.


None of this surprised me as I’ve performed these builds many times before. Rather it demonstrates that each differing hydration and flour content will yield differing results from refreshes and builds. Now it may be out there and well documented elsewhere. But generally I find write-ups in most formula notes to frequently be lacking, in whole or in part, in certain criteria, such as:

  • What to expect from the levain build,
  • What the dough should feel like and how it reacts as the process of mixing, bulk fermentation and folding proceeds,
  • How malleable the dough will be by the time it is ready for divide and shaping,
  • How wet/sticky the dough will be so that the appropriate amount of flour can be applied to the couch or banetton,
  • What to expect during the bake cycle.

All of these are helpful, at least to me, and as valuable to my experience as the baker as just about any other notations in a given formula. Well, anyway, that is my personal take.