Question, using Starter vs Levain

Does it matter in flavor or rise if I make a levain called for in the recipe or just use an equal amount of my starter?

This question has been bugging me!


If you keep little of your starter, feed it and use the same amount in a recipe which calls for a levain then no, there will be little or no difference.

If you use starter that is not recently fed and matured, that has been in the fridge, then yes. And if it’s been a little while since it’s last feed then it wouldn’t be good procedure to use the same amount if a large levain is called for. It will still work but it’s advisable to not use a very high percentage plus the timings and resulting bread will differ.

Also bear in mind that recipes play around with starter, feed ratio and timings to coax out sweeter of more tangy flavours. Young levains will be more mellow and will be less fermented so if feeding your starter and using when bubbly bear this in mind.

Building a levain has advantages of enabling one to keep little of one type of starter and build a preferment to any specification required for a recipe. Think of your starter as where you store the yeast and bacteria and a levain as a poolish (although technically they are different but has similarities).

Thank you so much for your reply. I have been taking starter out of the fridge, feeding 2 to 3 times, then building a levain. This does not make since because at the peak of the feed, I have more than enough to bake with.

Edit: sense

So, could you build a levain with your starter right out of the fridge?

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First of all I just wish to say that everyone has their own method. Here’s mine…

I only build 90g of 125% hydration wholegrain rye for my starter. When active it goes in the fridge.

From which I’ll take some off to build a levain.

When my starter runs low I’ll take it out of the fridge, give it a feed building up 90g again and back into the fridge it goes when matured.

It probably gets fed every two to three weeks and it’s ready to leaven a levain. Never had any issues when used this way.

TBH feeding your starter a few times, building up enough to use in a bread and then going onto building a levain sounds like a lot of time and effort to me. It’s over complicating a simple process. As I’ve said everyone has there own way but there’s mine for you to perhaps get some ideas from.

Should I do an off the cuff bake and it’s not been too long since the last feed sometimes I’ll just dip into the starter and use it straight into a dough. If I’m following my own recipe then I’ll just add in a tablespoon then watch the dough and not the clock. If I’m following a recipe then using a starter this way doesn’t suit using the same amount as a levain anyway. My starter will be far more fermented then a fresh levain so using a high percentage is not advisable. Plus I don’t keep so much anyway. So what I’ll do is keep the same amount of total flour and water minus the amount of flour and water of how much starter I use. Or because I’m only using a little of my starter I’ll just keep the total flour and water in the recipe and add in a little starter. Then I’ll watch the dough and not the clock. But I rarely do this as more often than not when going down this route it’s my own recipe.

P.s. if your starter has been dormant in the fridge for a long time then you’ll need to bringing back to full health. But if it’s been fed within a week or two then of course you can take from your starter in the fridge to use in a levain. I think a lot of people do unnecessary steps when it comes to sourdough and are slave to feeding it. Make it work for you and not the other way around. I use a wholegrain rye starter. They’re very hardy and are really easy to keep. Place in the fridge when fed and doubled. When it comes to feeding or building a levain it’s raring to go.

Thank you Abe for your detailed explanation, it is very helpful! I will try building a levain with my starter straight from the fridge and see how that works. My starter is fed after each bake and put back in the fridge or taken out of the fridge and fed al least weekly.

Thanks again for taking your time to help me think through this topic.