The leaven is alive and "feeds" on the exterior part of the grain so it's necessary to use "whole" or brown flours, like rye flour or wholemeal wheat flour rather than a very refined white one (like the French Type 45 or 55). It's much easier to succeed using leaven with a rye flour.
In theory a leaven is everlasting: you feed it, you use a little, and so on; but sometimes there's a drama: it "dies", and you need to start the whole process again.
Leaven is very sensitive to the environment, so it's necessary to avoid:
- Any contact with detergents or similar chemical products, you must rinse all utensils thoroughly.
- Low temperature, its preferred temperature is 26°C or 79°F.
- Contact with chlorinated water, you should use spring or filtered (Brita kind) water, and warm.
To store it, use a container which lets some air pass, and keep it in a warm place. The best place is normally high up, like on top of a wall cupboard in the kitchen for example.
The leaven is nourished by the outer envelope of the grain, so it's very important to use a flour with a high germ and bran content. This recipe is based on standard rye flour T170 which gives very good results. You can also consult some information on flours
There is not one, but several leaven recipes, each one having its own little tricks, tips, additions, and peculiarities. This recipe is a "soft" or "liquid" leaven, id you want "hard" leaven you should simply double the weight of flour.
If you'd like more information, you can consult this special page on making your own bread
When leaven is started, it's necessary to manage it, i.e. refresh it "when necessary" to obtain the right weight of leaven at the time you need it (typically, the day before you make leavened bread
). It's not easy to succeed, especially in the at first when there's an annoying tendency to make too much, and it is very sad to have to throw some away.
Bear in mind that with each "refreshing" the leaven triples its weight, which quickly builds up. If you only make bread (like me) on Saturdays, you should ask yourself the question: how much leaven do I need to make my final leaven Friday evening? and starting from this weight (to which you should add another 30/40 g to be on the safe side), calculate for one refreshing on Wednesday and another on Monday.
All these calculations can be summarised in the following table by supposing that you need 540 g leaven on Friday evening (of course these proportions should be adapted to your needs). You should have a little left over (40g), not kneaded into the bread, which will be the base for feeding the following week and so on.
|Leaven weight obtained after refreshing||60g||180g||540g|
|Soit||3 x 20 g||3 x 60g||3 x 180g|
Some common problems, and some solutions:
Q: A veil of liquid formed on the surface of the leaven, what can I do?
R: Your leaven has waited too long before being refreshing. Mix until homogeneous, then refresh as usual.
Q: My leaven smells strong, is it normal?
R: It means that it is "hungry", it should be refreshed.
Q: Mould has appeared on the surface of the leaven, what can I do?
R: Your leaven is dead. Start a new batch.
Q: Is it really necessary to feed the leaven before making bread?
R: Yes, if not your loaves will not rise properly.Checklist for leaven that will not start:
Your leaven won't start, it has been tragically flat for more than 3 days, or it's gone mouldy? Give up on that one, throw it out and start a fresh batch, paying attention to these essential points:
- Are you using organic rye flour? Organic quality guarantees you the absence of fungicides or other chemical products which could kill your young leaven.
- Are you using spring water? (chlorinated water could kill your developing leaven)
- Have you put it in a container which was carefully rinsed with hot water? (any traces of detergent could disrupt your young leaven)
- Are you keeping it in a warm place? (too low a temperature would prevent your leaven from "starting")
- Are you allowing the container to air, just covering it with a damp cloth? (It is necessary for the helpful yeasts bacteria in the air to "seed" your water and flour mixture)
I'm not very easy with fruits leaven, as an aficionado of rye flour as starter for leaven, so it's difficult to give you advice about your problems. Anyway, the symptoms you describe look like a problem of strength of leaven, which occur when leaven is very young, like only 1 or two refresh. Could it be your case?
You could not compensate the altitude I'm afraid, except maybe by increasing temperature but I'm not really sure.
Look at the pictures to see how a leaving leaven is.
Yes I use organic from Whole Foods and bottled spring water. The ambient temp here is around 68 degrees.
If it is the altitude, how would I compensate.
By the way, I got the last batch to start. However once I added flour, water, and salt, after 7 hours.....nothing. I just put it in my oven which is now set on 'proof.'
How can I tell my leaven is dead?
Well it's high and it could be a reason of your problems. Here is a few ideas to help you :
- Do you really use organic rye flour, and not chlorinated water?
- Start your leaven at friends or family places, lower and warmer, and then bring it back home. Once started, it is much easier to work with it.
- Start your leaven with a pinch of yeast, just a pinch, it could be a starter sometimes.
I'm afraid there is only one solution to slow the time for the bread to go stale (assuming that you keep it in a cloth bag, not plastic one) :
You can modify a bit your recipe to add more water, the more water there is, the slower it goes stale. But unfortunately simultaneously the bread dough become more soft and more difficult to work. The goal is to find a fine and equilibrate compromise. Not so easy...
thanks for getting back to me, I've left the leaven 4-5 days before a feed and it's surviving no problem.
The first loaf I made was a bit strong for our taste so I fed the leaven half rye and half strong white flour with no problems and it gave a loaf more to our taste.
The bread goes stale a bit too quickly for us so I was wondering if you know if there is a particular reason, other than perhaps a softer crust, that fat (butter or oil) is not added in sourdough bread recipes?
Of course, the better way is to make your own natural leaven, I'm sure with organic rye flour for the beginning you will easily succeed, come on!
I was a bit worried at first but when I did the first refreshing my leaven shot up within hours, I'll be doing the second refreshing later today so fingers crossed all goes well and I have a nice leavened loaf before the end of the week.
As I don't get through an awful lot of bread I was hoping you could tell me roughly how long I can leave my leaven before feeding it and how little I can feed it without risking it dying?
I don't want to risk my leaven dying or under-feed it but also don't want to be buying loads of rye flour just to throw it away.
Thanks very much for your recipes and your help.