Have you ever thought about growing a colony of bacteria in your own home? It may seem strange, but that’s exactly what the natural yeast, or levain, is! Called in English sourdough starter, since it yields these breads with the thickest rind and sourest flavor, levain is nothing more than a homemade yeast made initially with just two ingredients: water and flour.
Although it has become popular again in recent years, natural fermentation is not something that has recently emerged. On the contrary, levain was created long before chemical and biological yeasts that we know today. As far as is known, its oldest record is 3,700 BC. Thousands and thousands of years have been using this technique for preparing bread. This is an ancient tip to prepare delicious breads!
To have your own levain at home you need to care for it almost like a pet. He needs to be fed, stay in a cozy environment and receive constant attention. Precisely because it requires this series of care, many people end up giving up or even trying to start this production of natural yeast. However, it is much simpler than it looks.
THE secret is to have persistence and even affection for its mixture of flour and water, which most likely in seven days will become levain. This yeast will be formed by bacteria (yeasts and lactobacilli) that inhabit the environment and air in your home.
The process is as follows: you create the mixture, leaving it to rest for hours. Thus, the microorganisms present in the ambient air find in this combination a place to live. They are living beings that stay there, so it is even worth giving a name to your colony! Then, just create a food schedule for these people there. And if you’re still confused about how to feed and care for these pets, you can rest assured. We will explain, step by step, how to create your own levain. But first, how about knowing some of its benefits?
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
A lot of people wonder: “why grow a homemade yeast if I can buy ready-made options on the market?”We have several answers to this question, so let’s go in parts.
First, because breads made with natural fermentation have a completely different texture and flavor. They are more airy, sour and with an unmatched crunchy skin. They are usually the most rustic-looking breads we see for sale.
In addition, during the development of levain several other ingredients can be added that transform the flavor of the dough. Honey, wine, pineapple or grape juice, yogurt … There are countless options that make your bread even more unique and tasty. These ingredients also alter the speed with which levain grows, so it is important to always be aware of the feeding intervals and proportions.
And there’s more! As a type of natural yeast, breads with levain have a lower glycemic index, are rich in vitamins B1 and B2 and have a number of other nutrients. It is even good for the intestines, which digest this type of pasta better!
HOW TO DO IT AT HOME?
Now, it’s time to get your hands dirty. It usually takes seven days for the levain to get ready and go to the refrigerator, but only if it already shows growth activity during that time. We will share specific measures here, but you can increase the proportions or add those extra ingredients that we already mentioned in the post.
To have your levain at home, you will need a glass or transparent plastic pot, a small cloth or canvas to cover the surface, a rope or rubber band to tie the cloth around the pot and a small spatula.
The size of the pot needs to be large enough so that your yeast has room to triple in size! If you increase the indicated ratio, for example, you will need a larger pot. The rule and size is up to you, but don’t forget that it yields a lot 😉
1/3 cup FILTERED WATER
1/3 cup WHITE FLOUR (or whole flour, or organic flour)
TIP: There are exactly 50 grams of each ingredient. If you want, you can also prepare a mixture of flours, but keep the proportion equal for all.
FIRST DAY: THE CREATION
Now that you know the whole theory about levain, it’s time to make your own. It’s simple. In the transparent pot chosen by you, put the water and flour. Mix well until uniform, forming a sticky mass.
If you do not reach the ideal texture with this amount of flour, just add a little more until it is creamy. That done, cover the bowl with a cloth (no plastic film or paper), tie it with the rope and take it to a cozy place. Cold surfaces and windy spaces can affect the growth of your levain, so choose carefully the environment in which it will be located. Then, just leave it there for 24 hours.
SECOND DAY: FIRST DISPOSAL
Second day of life of your colony of bacteria (still a baby)! It is at this stage that you perform the first disposal of the levain. To do this, just remove half of the mixture that is in your pot. And don’t throw it away, see? Place in another container, cover and refrigerate. This can be done with all other future discards, which yield delicious recipes and hibernate in the refrigerator.
Returning to the pot with the “mother” levain, place the same measures of water and flour as before. In our case, ⅓ cup of each ingredient. Mix everything until smooth, cover and wait for another 24 hours. This process of adding more flour and water is what we call “feeding” the levain, and the ideal is that it is always done at the same time.
IMPORTANT: try to do this process always at the same time, because the Levain gets used to it and always waits at the same time of the day for his “food”.
THIRD AND FOURTH DAYS: FOOD
The next two days of the first disposal are simple. Just repeat the same process, respecting the proportions and keeping the levain in a quiet place in the house. And don’t forget to keep the discards together with the first one, agreed?
Over the course of those two days, your levain will begin to create more bubbles, grow and even wither. To find out if it has grown, make a mark with a pen or even with an elastic band. Use your imagination.
It is normal for it to create a layer of liquid on top. If this happens, just discard some of it and mix the rest with the clay. It is also common that, if he grows too much in one day, he will be without activity in the next. But do not worry. Keep feeding him normally!
If you find that the pot is getting very dirty, you can push the mixture with the spatula in or change the pot. This small change will not make much difference in the development of your levain.
Another important detail: if you notice that it is taking too long to grow, add only half of the ingredients. That is, 25 grams of flour and 25 grams of water. You can also add a little more flour if you notice that the dough is very liquid!
FIFTH DAY AND SIXTH DAYS: MORE CARE
From the fifth day on, the levain rest intervals will be shorter: every 12 hours. This means that you need to discard one part and feed the rest twice a day. Once again, respecting the proportions and keeping the disposal in a container and placing it in the refrigerator.
The ideal is that in this phase the levain is active, creating bubbles and growing. If you find that it is still not strong enough, continue to feed it with water and flour. If you want, add other ingredients to flavor and speed up the yeast development process, such as honey or pineapple juice.
SEVENTH DAY: FREEZER TIME
Your yeast is probably ready to visit your new home: the fridge! After days in a more cozy place, we will slow down its growth by keeping it in a cool place.
On that seventh day, repeat the process done in the previous two days, discarding and feeding the levain every 12 hours, always at the same time. However, with one difference: already in the first meal of the day, store it in the refrigerator right after the new mixture of water and flour. Repeat the same in the second feeding time.
After that, you will only feed your levain once every seven days! It will be strong enough and ready to be kept in the refrigerator, waiting for the moment when it is necessary to prepare the breads 😉
DOUBTS AND TIPS
Because we are dealing with living microorganisms and even a little luck, it is common to have several doubts about levain. So, let’s comment on some of them and give tips so that everything goes well with your yeast.
One of the biggest fears of those who cultivate levain is that it dies – and many have that impression when they realize that it is not growing. If this happens, know that he did not die, but is developing more slowly. Keep feeding it, until the right colony of yeast bacteria makes it grow and bubble. Your levain only dies when it gets moldy – changing the color of the levain and creating those little spots of mold.
If your yeast has
taking too long to grow or if you decide to start creating one in cold weather, use warm water (but not too hot)! Thus, you facilitate the growth process of the bacterial colony.
Although we have spent a seven-day schedule, some environments take the levain to take up to 10 days or more to develop. Therefore, the feeding phase twice a day may take a little longer to arrive.
GROWING A LOT?
And while some see a slow growth in levain, others comment that it grows too much. If this is the case, shorten the feeding intervals, discarding more of the levain and decreasing the proportion of water and flour. This usually happens with people who live in warmer environments and is completely normal.
After storing the levain in the refrigerator, it is also common for it to have a more liquid texture. Do not despair if you notice this process with your yeast. Just keep feeding with water and flour! Remember that it has a life of its own, so its textures can vary depending on the weather and the environment.
With the levain ready and grown, you can even donate your discards to others who are entering the world of bread. And, when preparing your own homemade bread, don’t forget to activate levain. Just divide it in half into 2 pots – one, which goes back to the refrigerator; and another for preparing bread. Feed them both and that’s it!