Converting my sourdough starter from a wet starter to a dry starter was an absolute GAME CHANGER for my sourdough baking. The thing with a dry starter is that you’ll need to make levain from your sourdough starter before creating the dough for whatever you plan on baking. In this post, I’ll explain each step on how exactly to make a strong, bubbly and active levain from your sourdough starter. It’s so much simpler than you may think!
First off, what is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter is a mixture of flour, water and time. Time allows for the natural, wild yeasts and good bacteria (aka lactic acid) that’s in the flour to colonize and eventually ferment when added to water. This means your starter is alive and active! When these wild yeasts and bacteria get together, they give off CO2, gas, and alcohol. This is what makes your bread rise and gives your bread its distinctive taste!
Overtime, these wild yeasts colonize in your kitchen, on your hands, and throughout your home (yes, really!), which will ultimately make your sourdough bakes even better and BETTER! Time and care for your starter is the essence.
What is sourdough levain?
Levain is a wet dough and it’s about the consistency of thick pancake batter. This is the very first step in making bread (or if you decide to make pancakes, focaccia, bagels, etc – you will always start here).
Levain is the combination of an active, bubbly sourdough starter with more warm water and flour. This bubbly and active, batterlike dough means it’s now time to be baked with.
How to make sourdough levain
Making levain is like saying, “Wake up starter! Drink some warm water, eat some flour, and let’s make bread!”
Begin with 30g (3 Tbsp) of your dry sourdough starter in a clean bowl.
Add 130g (1/3 cup) warm water. Roughly stir with a fork to break up the starter a bit.
Add 120g (2/3 cup) flour. Stir again with fork until all contents have combined and the mixture is like a thick pancake batter.
Cover the bowl and sit at room temperature anywhere from 6-12 hours.
PRO TIP: I make my levain at night just before bed and leave it out on the counter until the morning. It’s best to use your levain within the 12-hour mark. If your levain sits out longer than 12 hours, the gases that’ve been developed in the levain will “expire” and deflate, meaning your bake won’t rise as well and you may even end up with a denser, collapsed loaf. Save this expired levain for easy recipes like waffles or pancakes.
What is a wet sourdough starter?
A wet sourdough starter is what you may be more familiar with. You know, the bubbly liquid in a jar sitting on the counter at room temperature that you have to feed once (or twice) per day, discarding a good portion of it, and sometimes forgetting the last time you fed it (and you’ve also probably wondered ‘is it supposed to smell like that?’).
I worked with a wet starter for the first 2 years of my sourdough journey. I had a tough time keeping up with the daily feedings and always hated throwing away the discard (“discard” means that you plop out a portion of the wet starter and re-feed the starter with fresh water and flour. There are many recipes to use your discard, though the discard builds up fast with daily feedings!)
After feeding, discarding, and attempting to bake successful sourdough loaves over and over for 2 years, my sourdough bakes still weren’t exactly what I wanted them to be. So, I looked for an alternative route.
What is a dry sourdough starter?
A dry sourdough starter is a dense, stiff, full-of-active-and-wild-yeast dough kept in a container with a tight lid, tucked inside your fridge, waiting patiently until you’re ready to bake. It’s thick and simply the consistency of a wet bread dough!
Once I came across this video by the owner and founder of Jovial Foods, I was intrigued and began working on my dry starter immediately.
I make levain with my dry starter just about every day and only need to feed or “refresh” my starter once a week or two. NOT every day. And definitely not twice a day!
This is MEGA!
A dry starter will only need to be fed once you have 10g (1 Tbsp.) left in your container. And it’s one of the biggest differences between a wet starter.
- 30g (3 Tbsp) dry sourdough starter
- 130g (1/3 cup) warm water
- 120g (2/3 cup) bread or all-purpose flour
Scoop out 30g (3 Tbsp) starter and place in a clean bowl.
Add 130g (1/3 cup) warm water and mix with a fork until roughly combined.
Add 120g (2/3 cup) flour and mix thoroughly until combined.
After mixing, the consistency will feel like a thick pancake batter.
Cover bowl tightly and sit at room temperature for 6-12 hours.
I make my levain at night just before bed and leave it out on the counter until the morning. It's best to use your levain within the 12-hour mark. If your levain sits out longer than 12 hours, the gases that've been developed in the levain will "expire" and deflate, meaning your bake won't rise as well and you may even end up with a denser, collapsed loaf. Save this expired levain for easy recipes like waffles or pancakes.