Image of Levain on Biancolievito

my easy recipe for the homemade levain

Making Levain at home, like making Sourdough, means starting a fermentation process, capturing yeasts and bacteria from the air, and letting them ferment! This may sound very abstract and complicated, but nature can make things much simpler than expected!

Levain’s recipe is straightforward, but you have to pay attention to 3 factors if you want to succeed:

  • The fermentation temperature is definitely a crucial factor because it affects the yeasts’ reproduction, and it should always be between 27°C (80°F) and 30°C (86°F). To attain this temperature outside the summery season, I recommend letting the levain ferment into the oven and placing a bowl of hot water in it. This trick will help you to maintain a lukewarm temperature.
  • The Flour for feeding your Levain has to be rich in proteins, like bread flour, with a W around 320 (in Europe). I also recommend using a wholewheat flour to start the initial fermentation and use a good quality bread flour for all the following steps to better control the acidity.
  • Time is always a precious ingredient. In preparing starters, such as levain or Sourdough, it is essential to follow the time the yeast itself will need. Therefore don’t worry if your starter does not fully respect the recipe’s timing. It is very important to understand this aspect because the starter conveys the particular bacteria, the Flour you are using, and your room temperature.

THE RECIPE FOR HOME-MADE LEVAIN

The preparation I am describing is an adaptation of the American method, typical of the San Francisco area. After trying several different methods to prepare the levain, I am persuaded this is easier to apply at home. Moreover, It allows you to have your starter ready in 7 – 10 days.

This method is based on creating a fermented dough, feeding it twice a day for 7 to 10 days and letting it ferment for 8 to 16 hours at 27°C (80°F) – 30°C (86°F).

Moreover, we will use a greater quantity of Flour than the starter. This will allow you to better control the acidity.

Like the Sourdough’s recipe, I prefer not to use any starter such as honey, fruit pulp, or even yogurt. Indeed, a good quality flour contains all the elements needed to naturally start the fermentation process.

In the following steps, I have included a baseline time to better let you choose the timing that suits your needs.

DAY 1: LET’S CREATE THE FERMENTED DOUGH

10:00 am

Take a bowl and mix:

  • 100gr Wholemeal Flour
  • 100gr of Still Water at room temperature

Create a rough dough, pour it into a jar, cover it with a kitchen paper sheet, and secure it with a rubber band. Ferment for 24 hours at 27°C (80°F) – 30°C (86°F).

Levain's Recipe on Biancolievito - Day 1 Preferment
Here’s what the preferment looks like, once prepared

 

DAY 2: FIRST REFRESHMENT

10:00 am

After 24 hours, you will already notice a significant increase in volume, characterized by many air bubbles as evidence that fermentation has started.

Levain's Recipe on Biancolievito - Day 2, first fermentation
Here’s the preferment after 24hours of fermentation

Remove the top layer from the dough with a spoon, take 200gr of preferment and weigh:

  • 100gr of water at room temperature
  • 100gr of Bread Flour (containing 14% to 16% of proteins)

First, add the water to the dough and whisk to oxygenate it. You will see a lot of air bubbles forming on the surface. I suggest using a simple hand whisk and not using a mixer or immersion blender.

When the starter is wholly dissolved in the water, add the flour and mix it with a spatula. The consistency will be slightly sticky.

Then pour the levain in a well-cleaned pot, cover once again with a sheet of kitchen paper, fixed with an elastic band, and let ferment for 8 hours at 27°C (80°F) – 30°C (86°F)

Levain's Recipe on Biancolievito - Day 2
Day 2: After the first Refreshment

 

DAY 2: SECOND REFRESHMENT

06:00 pm

After 8 hours, remove the top layer with a spoon and take 100gr from the inner part. Now you can feed the starter with the following proportions:

  • 100gr of Levain
  • 180gr Water
  • 180gr Bread Flour (containing 14% to 16% of proteins)

Proceed as explained above and once the dough is ready, wash the jar (preferably without using a dish soap that it could interfere with the yeasts), pour the starter into it, cover again with a sheet of paper, fixed with an elastic band and let ferment anew for 16 hours at 27°C (80°F) – 30°C (86°F).

DAYS 3 – 10: 2 REFRESHMENTS PER DAY

10:00 am and 6:00 pm

During these days, you will feed  the Levain twice a day have (ideally keeping the same time) and let the starter ferment at 27°C (80°F) – 30°C (86°F)

For all the refreshments, the proportions to use will be:

  • 100gr of Levain
  • 180gr Water
  • 180gr Bread Flour (containing 14% to 16% of proteins)

Here’s what you’ll notice over the next few days:

During the first few days, you will notice that the starter will have a liquid consistency because of the increasing acidity. Going forward, you will notice that the consistency will change and turn more viscous.
Moreover, many bubbles will appear day after day. The smell will also change from being like “wet flour” during the first 2-3 days to becoming sour with a lovely acidic note (around the 4th – 5th day).
Because of its acidity, in the beginning, the increase of volume will be “irregular,” and you will observe that after 8 or 16 hours, the starter will have doubled its volume and started to decrease.

WHEN IS THE LEVAIN READY?

The most unmistakable sign to test if the levain is riped will be the time it takes to double its volume: If it doubles in 2 to 3 hours at 27°C (80°F) – 30°C (86°F), then it will be ready to be used and stored!

Moreover, it has to smell a bit sour with pleasant acidic notes.

Levain's Recipe on Biancolievito - Day 8
Day 8: Here’s the aspect of the Levain before the last refreshment

 

WHAT DO I DO WHEN THE LEVAIN IS READY?

Once the Levain is finally ready, you can feed it one last time before store it. For this final refreshment, we will use:

  • 100gr of Levain
  • 100gr of Water
  • 100gr of Bread Flour (containing 14% to 16% of proteins)

Once refreshed (as explained above), you can pour it in a clean pot and store it in the fridge at +4°C (39°F) from 1 to 5 days.

After at least 24 hours, you can use the Levain to prepare your recipe, but always remember to keep a small quantity to use in the future.

FROM SOURDOUGH TO LEVAIN

Suppose you have your Sourdough and you want to change it into a Levain (because it is more practical and easier to manage). In that case, you simply have to increase the quantity of water every time you feed it.

Suppose you maintain your Sourodugh using the method in water. In that case, your starter will have a 30% hydration: in fact, on 1kg of Flour used in the refreshment, you will usually add 300gr of water.

To obtain a levain, you will need to increase the amount of water by 10% on each refreshment until you reach 100% (equal weight of water to Flour).

Below is a table that can help you plan your work

DAYS% of WATERgr of WATER for 1 Kg of FLOUR
Day 140%400 gr
Day 250%500 gr
Day 360%600 gr
Day 470%700 gr
Day 580%800 gr
Day 690%900 gr
Day 7100%1 kg

The Levain on Biancolievito

I REPLY TO YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT LEVAIN

How long does it take to prepare Levain?

The time needed to make the Levain depends a lot on the yeasts themselves and other factors like the Flour used and the temperature at which you let it ferment. For this reason, there is no fixed time.

With the method I describe on Biancolievito, you can obtain a good levain in about 8 - 10 days.

To facilitate your starter's production, I recommend you be constant in refreshments timing, in the Flour used, and in the leavening temperature!

Can I use the exceeding parts of Levain that I don't feed?

Until the 2nd - 3rd day, the levain will be very acidic, so I recommend not using it.

However, after the first few days, you can use the surplus of unrefreshed levain to flavor doughs, such as bread, pizza, or Italian Piadina.

In this case, you will need about 100gr for each kg of Flour.

Can I make Levain with Sourdough?

Yes, if you have the Sourdough, you can easily convert it into Levain. Simply increase the percentage of water on the weight of Flour by 10% each time you feed it until you reach 100%.

What do I do once the Licoli is ready?

Once the preparation of Levain is over, you need to do a final refreshment and place it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

After this time, you can use it for your recipe or keep it in the fridge for up to 7 days before feeding it again!

Which Flour should I use to make Levain?

I recommend using high-quality Whole Wheat Flour or Semi-Wholemeal Flour to start the fermentation process.

These flours will promote fermentation due to the high content of fibers and enzymes.

However, for all next refreshments, I recommend using Bread Flour, with a W between 320 and 360 (if you are in Europe), to keep the acidity of the Levain under control.

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