Image of Levain on Biancolievito

LEVAIN – THE LIQUID SOURDOUGH STARTER

Some call it Liquid Sourdough, others Liquid Starter, others call it by its real name: Levain.

Levain (Licoli in Italian) is undoubtedly one of the most popular preparations of these last years. There are many ways to prepare it and use it in recipes. Let’s know it better!

WHAT IS LEVAIN?

Levain is a starter with a high hydration rate, usually 100% (this means that the quantity of water is 100% of flour).

Levain is a Sourdough because it comprises yeasts and bacteria, producing gas (carbon dioxide) and increasing the dough’s volume. Moreover, the acidic substances produced (such as acetic and lactic acid) are fundamental to creating some aromatic notes that we typically found on freshly baked bread.

Have you ever had a close look at a good Levain? In case it is well balanced, it will appear as a dough having a soft and very honeycombed consistency. The color will be milky white, just like stiff Sourdough, and to the nose, you will smell a scent of bread with a slightly sour note.

Image of Levain on Biancolievito

LEVAIN VS SOURDOUGH: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?

The two ingredients are often mistaken, and I hear people improperly talk about Sourdough. Let’s try to clarify what are the main differences between these two preparations:

  • Consistency: Levain is a starter with a soft consistency because it is prepared with a very high hydration rate (from 100% to 110%). On the contrary, Sourdough is quite stiff because it is prepared with a hydration rate between 30% and 40%.
  • Acidity: because of its high hydration, Levain is more acidic than Sourdough and, in particular, develops a higher lactic acidity. This difference is one of the main reasons why Levain cannot replace Sourdough in more complex sweet dough such as Panettone, or Pandoro
  • Usage: Levain is easier to use than Sourdough because it only needs 1 refreshment before being used in the recipes. On the contrary, Sourdough must be feed at least twice before its usage.
  • Storage: Unlike Sourdough, which is mainly stored in the water or tied up, levain is kept in a pot and maintained in the fridge at +4°C (39°F).

MAIN ADVANTAGES OF LEVAIN

Compared to Sourdough, Levain has many practical advantages and meets the needs of many home-made bakers who do not use the start regularly. 

Here are the main advantages in my opinion:

  • Easy to manage: It can be stored in the fridge and feed every day or, as needed, every 5/7 days. We can also extend the storage period longer than a month by making an appropriate refreshment.
  • Easy to Use: 1 single refreshment and 3-hour at 30°C (86°F) (or 24 hours in the fridge) is enough to get the levain ready for the recipe
  • It Requires less flour: More days of storage and fewer refreshments means saving flour. Moreover, storing it in a pot (or a bow) allows you to manage a smaller quantity than the stiff Sourdough. By feeding only 100 grams of Levain, with 100 grams of water and 100 grams of bread flour, you will already have 300 grams of starter, which is an optimal quantity for home use.
  • The quantity is easily scalable: Do you need more Levain? No problem, make two close refreshments, and you will have 4 times the initial amount.
  • More Fragrance and Greater Digestibility of the baked product: The high acidity of Levain will bring a special sour note in bread or pizza, certainly more than the Biga or Poolish. Also, the long fermentation will help to have a more digestible product than fresh yeast’s use.

WHAT CAN I PREPARE WITH THE LEVAIN?

As I said, Levain is the ideal solution for making home-made bread or pizza. It is also suitable for all simple doughs not too rich in sugars and fats. You can use levain (with fresh yeast) to prepare croissants, viennoiseries, brioche, and other pastries’ recipes.

However, Levain does not replace the Sourdough for complex leavened products such as Panettone, Colomba, or Pandoro. The reason is simply its higher acidity, compared to Sourdough and its lower “strength.”  I can often see some Panettone recipes fully prepared with Levain (often improperly called Sourdough). Still, I can guarantee that the final result won’t be comparable to the original version.

Indeed, the high acidity of levain will make the preparation of the second dough extremely difficult (especially when you try to add fats)

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