Chad Robertson's Starter and Levain

December 16, 2013

This week's guest editor is Chad Robertson, the man behind San Francisco's über-popular Tartine Bakery. He'll be walking us through how to make one of the Porridge Breads from his latest book, Tartine 3, and sharing bits of baking knowledge along the way.

Today: Chad talks to us about the importance of growing and maintaining a good starter -- it's the first step to making his signature loaf. 

Porridge Bread on Food52

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Bread baking is all about managing fermentation, and the starter and leaven are integral to this process. Leaven imbues both flavor and form to the final loaf. I have found that a “younger” leaven with very little acidity is ideal. Here, it lends a sweet, almost nutty undertone rather than the sour, vinegary notes often associated with sourdough breads. In order to manage wild yeasts and bacteria, you must maintain a consistent routine and “feed” your starter regularly, thereby “training” it to be active and predictable. Feed it once every 24 hours, ideally in the morning, and watch it rise and fall throughout the course of the day. 

Tartine Starter on Food52

The leaven is a portion of your starter. When the leaven is ready, it will float in water, a testament to the internal carbon dioxide activity. The leaven should smell sweet, in an overripe fruit sort of way. Ultimately, the leaven imparts a nuanced depth of flavor to the final loaf of bread and helps give it its springy form.

Testing a Leaven on Food52

Tartine Bread Starter and Leaven

625 grams white bread flour
625 grams whole wheat bread flour
Slightly warm water

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Chad Robertson

1 Comment

JimCooks December 14, 2014
Thank you for this series of tips! This one was especially helpful by describing the smell and characteristics of a good leaven. Every book I've read only says "it should smell sour" but nothing more. I'm anxious to try this now.