Creating Your Own Sourdough Leaven

Are you new to sourdough baking? Find out more about the process, from how to make your own sourdough starter to what is a leaven and how to use it for the best sourdough breads ever!

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A leaven (or levain or levain starter) is a rising agent (such as yeast, baking soda, or baking powder), that will make your dough rise. 

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In short, the leaven is the first step in sourdough baking – when you take a bit of sourdough starter and mix it with water and flour to ferment. It’s also what gives a loaf its characteristic tanginess!

What is a leaven?


The Ambient method for making a leaven involves mixing flour and water and allowing the mixture to ferment at room temperature. This encourages natural yeasts and bacteria to grow, creating a bubbly, active starter ideal for sourdough baking.

Ambient method


This involves a similar process of mixing flour and water, but with the additional step of refrigerating the mixture for an extended period. This slows down the fermentation process, allowing for more complex flavors and aromas to develop in your sourdough starter.

Retarded method


The resulting leaven is best used right after fermentation – that’s when you’ll get the most flavor, texture, and nutrients for your bread.

Why you should only use fresh leaven


You can test your leaven using the float test.

How to test your leaven


The ambient temperature can significantly impact the activity level of your leaven. Warmer temperatures speed up fermentation, while cooler temperatures slow it down. Aim for a room temperature between 68-75°F (20-24°C) for optimal results.

Temperature Matters


Maintaining a regular feeding schedule of equal parts water and flour helps keep your leaven active and ready for baking. Consistency is key to fostering a healthy population of yeast and bacteria.

Consistent Feeding Schedule