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Author Topic: Confused: Starter vs Levain  (Read 8865 times)

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Offline hotsawce

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Confused: Starter vs Levain
« on: September 28, 2017, 02:53:56 PM »
Can someone help clarify the difference between starter and levain?

When I hear starter, I think a small amount of flour and water colonized by natural yeast that can be used to leaven bread in straight doughs (like Craig's Neapolitan pizza) or used to create Levain (prefermenting a portion of formula flour, like in a poolish.) In this instance, I think of Una Pizza Napoletana, where a small amount of starter is used to preferment a large portion of flour the day prior before doing a final mix.

However, books like Tartine No.3 and Flour Water Salt Yeast talk about maintaining Levains - not starter.

Can anyone help clarify? I want to get my starter going, but I think I want to use it to make Levain (in the sense I would keep a starter active and fed, and use a portion of it to make a poolish.)

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2017, 03:13:28 PM »
Lou,

Several years ago, when Steve and I decided that it would be nice to have a pizza glossary on the forum, I did a fair amount of research on things called starters, levain and preferments (including poolish, sponge, biga, prefermented dough, old dough, and chef/pate fermente), and found that there was significant bastardization of the terms in the literature. I also found that there were versions of preferments that were leavened with commercial yeast but also natural or wild yeast. So, sometimes people made up their own terms, like natural poolish or biga natural.

What I ended up with is shown in the forum's "new and improved" Pizza Glossary at https://www.pizzamaking.com/glossary.html. You might start with the term biga and work your way down the Glossary until you get to the last of the above terms. Take your time, there will be no final exam ;D. If you find any errors, please let me know.

Peter

Offline hotsawce

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2017, 03:45:07 PM »
So starter and levain are basically interchangeable - natural yeast used to leaven.

When tartine talks about maintaining the leaven (from the starter) that's what most people would refer to as "starter"

If I were going to make a poolish/preferment using starter/levain I would take a portion of my active starter/levain and use to it leaven my poolish/preferment

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2017, 04:29:05 PM »
All these words are so often misused that they have become all but meaningless.
"We make great pizza, with sourdough when we can, baker's yeast when we must, but always great pizza."  
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Offline hotsawce

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2017, 05:13:44 PM »
Which is why I'm trying to make sense of it all before I start the journey of naturally leavened pizza ;D


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Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2017, 05:19:36 PM »
Where you run into problems is when you reading two different people using the same word to mean two different things. I think we need to dispense with the fancy words and just describe workflows.
"We make great pizza, with sourdough when we can, baker's yeast when we must, but always great pizza."  
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Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2017, 05:35:34 PM »
I agree with Craig, so when I have used the terms mentioned earlier in my posts I have tried not only to list all of the ingredients but also their amounts and their purpose.

I don't know if this will help but King Arthur has an article on preferments at http://www.kingarthurflour.com/professional/preferments.html.

Peter

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2017, 05:58:56 PM »
Lou,

Years ago, when I was trying to learn about preferments, including natural ones, I did a lot of playing around, not really knowing what I was doing but trying to apply basic science and biochemistry principles to my various experiments. In that vein, you might take a look at these posts where I tried to adapt the basic Lehmann NY style dough formulation to use natural preferments:

Reply 165 at https://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=576.msg12644#msg12644, and

Reply 175 at https://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=576.msg12748#msg12748.

It was actually quite fun to reread the above posts, given that they were originally posted so many years ago.

Peter

Offline hotsawce

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2017, 06:57:29 PM »
Craig's post in his Np dough thread helped clarify some things. I was a little confused regarding the inclusion or exclusion of an intermediate step from fed starter to dough. The tartine "leaven" is really just active starter, which makes sense, given book no. 3 discusses how to maintain it and lost breads contain 15% of this leaven (and given the dough is baked in about 24 hours or less, this makes sense it's used basically just like bakers yeast.)

Thanks again for helping me get that straight!

Offline Dangerous Salumi

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2017, 07:15:53 PM »
For me the link below cleared up much of the confusion I had. I also spent quite a lot of time talking to the professional bakers they have a KA who specialize in sour dough bread.

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/professional/preferments.html

I grew my own levain and it gives my pizza a very flavorful crust and a great rise. I use Varasano's method to develop the dough. No oil no sugar, just water salt flour and levain. It's so good I doubt will never use industrial yeast again. It is not super sour like San Francisco sourdough however it does have a little tang. There is a richness and flavor complexity unlike any pizza I can remember eating.

I use 10 ounces of my levain to make 4 pies. Its 50/50 water/flour. I use it after its been fed a couple times and it's really active.
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Offline corkd

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #10 on: October 01, 2017, 01:38:34 PM »


If I were going to make a poolish/preferment using starter/levain I would take a portion of my active starter/levain and use to it leaven my poolish/preferment
This is how i understand it. I wake up my starter, then use a small portion (20g) once active, added to 100g flour + 100g water to make my preferment. In Tartine 1 he refers to this end product as "levain" if I remember correctly. But i agree with you that this end product is really just a large batch of active starter, but just a bit less acidic.

Offline mitchjg

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #11 on: October 01, 2017, 02:21:27 PM »
This is how i understand it. I wake up my starter, then use a small portion (20g) once active, added to 100g flour + 100g water to make my preferment. In Tartine 1 he refers to this end product as "levain" if I remember correctly. But i agree with you that this end product is really just a large batch of active starter, but just a bit less acidic.

I think you have it and I agree with the various comments that the words are ending up subtracting.  My impression has always been that you start with the SD starter.  When you have fed the starter so that you have a fresh, well fed, lively portion that will be incorporated into the dough - that portion which is directly incorporated into the dough changes its name to levain.

« Last Edit: October 01, 2017, 03:35:56 PM by mitchjg »
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Offline hotsawce

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #12 on: October 02, 2017, 06:33:04 PM »
Got it.

For reference, Jeff at Pizzahacker once said in an interview he "has a mother starter and makes a fresh levain for every batch of dough." He follows the Tartine method and his pies are awesome.

So that's what I'm working on now. Cultivating my starter from scratch so I can make a levain (small portion of preferment flour and water with the starter) for my dough!

Offline Dangerous Salumi

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2017, 09:28:25 PM »
It may take 4-6 weeks and more than 10 lbs of flour to make a good levain from scratch. It is well worth it. Don't get discouraged if it is not doubling in size in a couple weeks.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2017, 09:33:48 PM by Dangerous Salumi »
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Online jsaras

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #14 on: October 02, 2017, 10:07:08 PM »
Or you could buy a dried culture from sourdo.com and be up and running in a few days and use less than a pound of flour. 
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Offline hotsawce

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #15 on: October 09, 2017, 02:30:03 AM »
Finally got my starter up and running. I split it off during the first couple of feeds...so instead of discarding "the other half" I just fed it with different flour...So I've got a rye starter going and a bread flour starter, and backup mother starter in the fridge. I've seen different feeding volumes..1 to 1, 1 part starter to 2 parts flour and 2 parts water... long story short whatever amount of starter I save, I'm feeding equal amounts of flour and equal amounts of water.

I haven't made my levain yet (and I'm unsure of how much active starter I would use in the levain/preferment) or if I would just use my active starter as yeast...

My goal is to create noticeable acidic flavor/aroma but not vinegary flavor. I think the Rye starter is going to help with that, and building a levain with some rye or whole wheat might help get me there as well. Or I may just use craig's method and skip the levain completely but include some whole grains in the final dough.

In any event, I'm going to let the bulk rise quite a bit and retard the balls and hopefully I'll get the flavor I'm looking for. I tried a naturally leavened pizza the other day and couldn't detect any sourness - so if I'm going through the trouble of maintaining a starter I definitely want to taste it (particularly with pizza, as the toppings can muddle the crust flavor.)
'

Offline hotsawce

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #16 on: October 09, 2017, 02:34:36 AM »
Yes, that's what I'm gathering.

Based on the naturally leavened pizza I had recently, I'm wondering if this less acidic levain/preferment is the right thing for pizza.

I assume between a larger amount of starter vs the preferment/levain with a small amount of starter, the final dough with the larger portion of starter will have a more pronounced flavor?

This is how i understand it. I wake up my starter, then use a small portion (20g) once active, added to 100g flour + 100g water to make my preferment. In Tartine 1 he refers to this end product as "levain" if I remember correctly. But i agree with you that this end product is really just a large batch of active starter, but just a bit less acidic.

Offline Dangerous Salumi

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #17 on: October 09, 2017, 07:44:44 AM »
Finally got my starter up and running. I split it off during the first couple of feeds...so instead of discarding "the other half" I just fed it with different flour...So I've got a rye starter going and a bread flour starter, and backup mother starter in the fridge. I've seen different feeding volumes..1 to 1, 1 part starter to 2 parts flour and 2 parts water... long story short whatever amount of starter I save, I'm feeding equal amounts of flour and equal amounts of water.

I haven't made my levain yet (and I'm unsure of how much active starter I would use in the levain/preferment) or if I would just use my active starter as yeast...

My goal is to create noticeable acidic flavor/aroma but not vinegary flavor. I think the Rye starter is going to help with that, and building a levain with some rye or whole wheat might help get me there as well. Or I may just use craig's method and skip the levain completely but include some whole grains in the final dough.

In any event, I'm going to let the bulk rise quite a bit and retard the balls and hopefully I'll get the flavor I'm looking for. I tried a naturally leavened pizza the other day and couldn't detect any sourness - so if I'm going through the trouble of maintaining a starter I definitely want to taste it (particularly with pizza, as the toppings can muddle the crust flavor.)
'

Are you saying that you are feeding your levain with rye flour or you started your levain with rye flour and are now feeding with wheat flour?
Have a Dangerous day!


“They say that competitive eating is the battleground upon which God and Lucifer wage war for mens souls my friends, and they are right.”  - George Shea, Chairman, Major League Eating

Offline Dangerous Salumi

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #18 on: October 09, 2017, 08:04:35 AM »
Yes, that's what I'm gathering.

Based on the naturally leavened pizza I had recently, I'm wondering if this less acidic levain/preferment is the right thing for pizza.

I assume between a larger amount of starter vs the preferment/levain with a small amount of starter, the final dough with the larger portion of starter will have a more pronounced flavor?

In some papers I read they say there can be more than 40 flavor compounds these natural cultures produce. Our levain creates a richness of flavor and a slight sour.

My bottle of culture mix (levain) is large enough to take 10oz from it to make dough for 4 pies so I don't need to create another batch with it off to the side and use that side batch as someone would if they were making 100s of pounds of dough everyday. I feed my culture twice (16 hours) at room temperature with KA flour and then make the dough with it.
Have a Dangerous day!


“They say that competitive eating is the battleground upon which God and Lucifer wage war for mens souls my friends, and they are right.”  - George Shea, Chairman, Major League Eating

Online jsaras

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Re: Confused: Starter vs Levain
« Reply #19 on: October 09, 2017, 10:13:56 AM »
Finally got my starter up and running. I split it off during the first couple of feeds...so instead of discarding "the other half" I just fed it with different flour...So I've got a rye starter going and a bread flour starter, and backup mother starter in the fridge. I've seen different feeding volumes..1 to 1, 1 part starter to 2 parts flour and 2 parts water... long story short whatever amount of starter I save, I'm feeding equal amounts of flour and equal amounts of water.

I haven't made my levain yet (and I'm unsure of how much active starter I would use in the levain/preferment) or if I would just use my active starter as yeast...

My goal is to create noticeable acidic flavor/aroma but not vinegary flavor. I think the Rye starter is going to help with that, and building a levain with some rye or whole wheat might help get me there as well. Or I may just use craig's method and skip the levain completely but include some whole grains in the final dough.

In any event, I'm going to let the bulk rise quite a bit and retard the balls and hopefully I'll get the flavor I'm looking for. I tried a naturally leavened pizza the other day and couldn't detect any sourness - so if I'm going through the trouble of maintaining a starter I definitely want to taste it (particularly with pizza, as the toppings can muddle the crust flavor.)
'

I'm firmly in using the starter as yeast.  Different cultures produce different flavors.  I have a Calmoldi culture that I purchased that always has a very mild-neutral flavor.  I also have an heirloom culture that has an interesting funky nose when it's rising (earthy and lemon-y) and it has a present note when it's baked but definitely not vingerary like a SF bread loaf.  In both cases the flavors come through the most when I can ferment in the 64-75 temperature range.
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