Building a Levain

A beginners guide to sourdough

Building a Levain

A beginners guide to sourdough

This is a part of an in depth 'beginner's guide to sourdough baking' from CooklyBookly founder Freddy May. Click here to see the full collection. Feedback is very welcome, so please send comments to

What's a Levain?

It's the same as a starter except the quantity of it is large enough to make a batch of dough with, whereas the starter is something you keep going in small quantities and fro which you make your levain.

  • A starter is technically the thing you keep refreshing in small quantities. A while before you make the dough, you take as much starter as you need and build a levain from it.
  • A levain is like a starter refreshment except you make it in large enough quantities to bake with.

You take a bit of your ripe starter and then make your levain. You then put your starter back in the fridge or give it another refreshment so it's ready for the next levain you want to make.

Levain for the basic sourdough loaf

These are the quantities I use for 2kg of dough.

  • About 30g to 40g of starter
  • 180g of white flour
  • 180g of water from the jug (ideally not straight from the tap).

Follow exactly the same process as described in the Starter Maintenance section but with the above quantities.

For the photos below. I actually did my starter refreshment late in the day so I put it in the fridge overnight so it didn't overripen. If you do this, put it in the fridge an hour or so before it reaches its peak as it will continue to ripen even in the fridge.

Add the starter

In my case I used 30g but you could use a little more to speed things up a bit. The ratio is not an exact science and does affect timings and even taste down the line. However, this is a more advanced topic. I would say a starter proportion of anywhere between 5% and 15% of the total levain weight is acceptable. The less starter you add, the slower it will take to ripen.

You should experiment. Try using 40g or 50g and see what changes with timings of levain ripening and even fermentation and proofing times.

Add the water

I warmed mine to 30℃ as my refreshed starter was kept overnight in the fridge. I stirred up the starter to dissolve it.

Add the flour

Stir in the flour

Do this vigorously. Note I have a final temperature of about 25℃ which is about right.

Let it ripen (somewhere warm)

Now, we want to leave my starter to ripen. It really helps to have a warm place where the temperature is reasonably stable. Don't leave it in the sun. Seethe same section on the Starter Maintenance page for more details about this.

The amount of starter you use will affect the time it takes to ripen. If the amount of starter relative to the flour and water is very low then it will take longer.

What now?

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