Cultivating a stiff levain, Sourdough bread-making methods, The Sourdough Journals
Comments 7

Making a stiff levain, Day 3

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Yippee! The levain grew a little overnight. In the photographs below, you see the levain as it was right after I fed it last night, just before bed.

In the photograph on the right, you can see that the levain grew in the last twelve hours, but did not quite double.

Behind the levain, notice the discards jar. Last night, I crumbled the excess levain into the jar, added a little water, and set it atop the fridge. Just look at all those spongy bubbles.

A clean, slightly yeasty scent wafts from both jars as I lift their lids. Carefully extracting the levain, I am pleased to feel how moist it is, although it is not the least bit spongy.

Once again, when I pull apart the levain, the interior reveals gas bubble holes and more stretchy strings

Once again, when I pull apart the levain, the interior reveals gas bubble holes and more stretchy strings

The temperature in our apartment is cool enough today that I need to wear layers on top of layers. We get no heat after ten in the morning (it’s a San Francisco thing), so I’ve decided to see how the levain will do in the oven, with the light turned on for warmth.

First I feed it, as before: 2 ounces levain + 2 ounces filtered water + 4 ounces whole wheat flour. Then I cover it loosely and set it in the oven. By bedtime, twelve hours later, the levain is disappointingly flat. The only sign of growth–a slight puffiness on top.

Despite the lack of progress, I feed the starter once more. This time, I change things up two ways.

First I use a larger jar. Second, I barely mix the levain. I don’t knead or pack it into a ball or puck shape. Instead, I break it up with the fork and mix just enough to moisten the new flour and incorporate it into the old. Then I set it all in the oven to incubate over night once more.

The levain, fed and loosely mixed in a larger jar, ready to incubate overnight once more

The levain, fed and loosely mixed in a larger jar, ready to incubate overnight once more

Nurturing the excess starter

Meanwhile, I’m still nurturing along my excess starter, which now completely fills its jar.

This morning, I experimented by crumbling the excess levain into the jar, adding a little water, but not breaking it up too much. I wanted to see whether the yeast and moisture would break down the chunks.

Now, in the evening, you can see the starter did not absorb all the water. The chunks seem to have broken down a little, but the larger ones, like the one you can just see in the bottom right of the photograph, are mainly intact.

A full jar of sourdough starter discards, with chunks of undissolved levain

A full jar of sourdough starter discards, with chunks of undissolved levain

One good thing: We have plenty of live yeast action throughout the spongy mass.

Side view of the full jar of excess starter, showing plenty of yeast action

Side view of the full jar of excess starter, showing plenty of yeast action

Tomorrow, I’ll use some of the starter to make a sourdough apple coffee cake we love.

Tonight, though, I’ll divide the starter into two jars. The first goes right into the refrigerator, to keep the unfed yeast from dying off too quickly.

The second jar gets tonight’s excess levain, broken up slightly with a fork. Then I’ll pour in some water, and set it, loosely covered, in the oven beside the stiff levain. I’m curious to see what happens to this excess starter overnight when I don’t mix it at all and let it incubate in a warm place.


  1. I dread the day I might decide to go to the paid version and have to go through converting my blog (like when I run out of space for pictures!). Until then, I’ll stick my head in the sand and try not to think about all of the work that will be involved!

    I’m glad you enjoyed Stuart’s story. He was an amazing man who celebrated the best in people and made a nation laugh and cry more times that can be imagined.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know which platform you use, but if it’s WordPress, you shouldn’t have this problem if all you’re doing is adding a domain name. I’ve done that successfully three or four times.

      Of course, if you change themes, you can run into problems. That may be what happened to mine. The two site themes may have had some incompatibilities or anomalies that caused these weird changes to my photographs and copy when I merged them. I just wish they had shown up when I did the initial post-conversion checks. Hate to think how long these problems have been sitting out here!


      • Well, that’s good to know. I’d been dreading making the change, because I thought there was a lot of work involved!

        Maybe the people who have said that also changed their theme. I will continue to keep things as simple and painless as possible, I’ll tell you. If it’s not fun, I won’t be doing it.

        To be honest, I’d have to go back to the post to check to see what problems you’re referring to. Maybe I was just too interested in the levain itself, but nothing really jumped out!

        Liked by 1 person

        • The Happiness Engineers are great to work with and will walk you through it. They’re amazing.

          I’m working on fixing that post, and related posts now, but for reasons I cannot fathom, some of the original pix were inexplicably replaced with totally unrelated pix from other blog posts. Some of the formatting and copy is messed up too. Thank goodness for the Wayback Machine. Without it, I’d almost have had to rewrite some of these posts.


          • I have had great help from the Happiness Engineers in the past. Truly fantastic! I no longer need to live in fear of the conversion!

            Less time on the computer, more time cooking. Ha ha

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I can not get past the “no heat after 10 in the morning” bit. WHAT? Wow. baffled face

    I’ve never even heard of levain, so you are really educating me, here. Fascinating stuff.

    I just have to share something with you. Stuart McLean was a very beloved writer and broadcaster who died recently. Fortunately, we can still enjoy his stories, through the miracle of technology. I know that you’ll enjoy this story, even if you aren’t familiar with the characters in it; CBC Radio listeners have been enjoying the stories of Dave & Morley for many years. I hope you’ll enjoy this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my goodness, I laughed so hard. Thanks for that, Leah. Yeah. Doesn’t matter if the temps drop below freezing or rise above a hundred here, we get heat four hours in the morning and four hours at night. No more, no less. The landlord says it’s a city law.

      Thank you for checking out the stiff levain page. Because you mentioned it, I took a look and discovered that it’s a mess! Back in 2016, I incorporated The Sourdough Journals, until then a standalone web site, into YayYay’s Kitchen.

      At the time, I spot checked a dozen or so pages, and with minor exceptions, they seemed to have come over pretty well. As time permits since then, I’ve updated posts and pages to conform with YYK, but good lord. How many other pages have I missed that are scrambled as badly as this one? I’m looking at some short sleep nights for awhile.


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