Peer into a teaspoon of Honeycomb’s sourdough starter
and consider the nearly 50 million yeasts
and five billion lactobacilli bacteria you hold in your hand.
This goopy batter of long-fermented flour and water represents 10,000 years of an evolving partnership with the microscopic world. The bread we make here at Honeycomb is only the latest iteration of that long tradition.
Our levain (a traditional French style of sourdough starter) is made from equal parts water and flour. Every levain is somewhat different, but generally contain probiotic bacteria responsible for much of the flavor, acidity, and nutritional benefit of sourdough; and wild yeasts, a fungal organism that metabolizes starches and sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol, making the dough rise during fermentation.
For the aspiring home baker, there is an abundance of contradictory and confusing information on creating and maintaining your own levain. Don’t worry, though! The technique is actually incredibly forgiving and simple. It is helpful to remember that your levain is a living ecosystem, and therefore contains a certain tenacity and will to live. If you make a mistake, often just forging ahead with patience and steadfastness will allow the organisms to resolve the issue by themselves. The key is consistency: do your best to feed the starter at the same times each day and keep it in a stable environment, preferably around 72*F. As it matures, your levain’s microbiome will adapt to your schedule and habits and gradually rise and fall with predictable regularity.
- 100 grams Rye Flour (organic preferred)
- 200 grams Water
Mix the rye flour and water together to form a batter. Store in a clean container with a lid at room temperature overnight. We love to use whole organic rye flour to begin a new starter because of the abundance of nutrients that will kick-start bacterial growth.
- 100 grams King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
- 300 grams All of day one’s mixture
Add the flour to yesterday’s rye mixture. Knead the flour in, making sure that there are no dry bits left, and transfer to a clean container with a lid. Store at room temperature overnight.
- 100 grams King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
- 150 grams Water
- 20 grams All of day two’s mixture
Measure out the small portion of the previous day’s stiff starter into the new measurements of flour and water. Stir everything together to make a smooth batter. The leftover starter should be disposed of. Transfer the fresh batter to a clean container with a lid that is big enough for the levain to double in volume. Let ferment overnight at room temperature
Days 4 through 7 (and Daily Maintenance Ratio):
- 100% King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
- 100% Water
- 20 % Previous Day’s Mixture
From this point on, you will be taking out a small portion of the previous levain to use in replenishment. If fully mature and strong, the remaining levain can be used to bake sourdough. If not, it can simply be disposed of.
When starting a new levain from scratch, it is usually mature enough to bake with in 7-10 days. It should be rising and falling with predictable regularity and able to triple in volume over a period of 12 hours.
Feeling guilty about throwing away the excess? Don’t be. Consider how each fresh feeding of levain triples in volume. If you never used or tossed the excess, it would triple and triple and triple again until your whole neighborhood is a yeasty swamp!
The key is to increase the feeding amounts when you are going to bake, and decrease when you are merely maintaining the levain so that you produce as little waste as possible. No matter the size of your feeding recipe, the above ratio should be used.
Does the responsibility of starter maintenance seem daunting? If you only intend to bake bread once a month or so, please reach out to us here at Honeycomb. We will happily share a portion of our levain for you to use at home and of course are always available to answer any baking questions that might pop up.
Sourdough recipes will be coming soon... For now, give your new levain a name
("Clint Yeastwood"? "Bread Pitt"? "Wheat-ney Houston"? All good options.)
and enjoy having this bubbly new addition to your family!