Friday, May 27, 2011

A fishy way to build a levain

Thought you bakers would appreciate this recent posting to the Bread Doctor feature of my 52 Loaves website. This reader has come up with an - um - creative way of aerating his sourdough starter, or levain during the building stage. (A mature levain does not need oxygenation). I file this under "wacky ideas that should become part of the breadmakers'  canon." Bravo, Chris Kmotorka!


While I'm sure my wife will be less than enthusiastic...I used to keep a sourdough pot then stopped, but not before drying and freezing some starter. I am pulling a Frankenstein as I revive it--I hooked a small aquarium pump (with a new hose) and am using it to keep air bubbling up through the starter. Do you foresee any problems? I'm thinking it will take care of the stirring part. 

He followed up, at my request, with a photo and a further explanation:

The Birth of the Aquarium Pump Levain

Let it be known that I am a man of leisure. This means that if I think something can be done more easily, in a way that will save me effort, I will inevitably work twice as long and twice as hard to find out.

Do I want to stir my infant levain every few hours and risk inadequate oxygenation? Of course not. Do I want my Frankenstein Starter, resurrected from dehydrated and frozen sourdough to return to the land of the living through such mundane means? Of course not. Something mechanical and unnecessary is certainly required. Thus the birth of the Aquarium Pump Levain.

The set up could not be simpler. A small aquarium pump, quarter inch hose, and my tub of levain. Unfortunately, I already had the aquarium pump and some unused hose so I wasn’t able to turn this into a several hour project with multiple trips to the pet store, and if lucky, the hardware store to boot.

Apparently I got lucky. It didn’t take long for my levain to start bubbling and begging for food. It was while stirring in another feeding that I hit on the idea of the aquarium pump and I immediately gathered the pieces (all two of them) and plugged one end into the wall and the other into the belly of the beast. Bubbles. Big bubbles. Oxygen bubbling up from the bottom of the tub to the surface. This certainly seemed like it would work. If I wandered through the kitchen I would sometimes move the hose around a bit to make sure air was hitting different spots, but other than regular feeding, I didn’t spend any time whisking and stirring.

But I can’t help thinking that they probably make some kind of octopus fitting the would allow me to sink the hose into the starter with three or four of more pieces of hose radiating throughout the levain and feeding the oxygen to all corners at the same time. I might have to do that. You know, for those weekly feeding sessions. Time for a trip to the store.


  1. In your search for odd bits of aquarium fixtures, you can afford to be so picky that no suitable item is found after several days of searching, and then-and-only-then reveal the triumph: seal the end of the tube, cut 2 or 3 notches in it at 1-inch intervals, and let the notched portion of the tube curl on the bottom of the levain's lair, releasing bubbles all along the way. Or just use a taller, narrower container and let the individual bubbling location be closer to all parts in the vertical dimension.

  2. Home brewers have been using an oxygenating system for years. It might just work on a levain if someone is willing to pay the extra money and do the extra work.

    It utilizes a pressurized bottle of oxygen that looks like the disposable propane tanks, plastic tubing, and an oxygen stone, a porous brass cylinder. You merely open up the tank and the pressurized oxygen is released through the "stone". This works great for getting a batch of wort ready for fermentation before pitching the yeast culture during home brewing beer.

    Not having indulged in such an expenditure myself, I can only suggest that this idea would work in a large batch of rather liquid levain.

    As for myself, I'd rather let my levain build itself in two stages over 18-24 hours on the counter top with minimal adult supervision required.



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