Friday, November 24, 2017

Retarding Your Levain

Picture this: The sky has gone black, the day is done, and you've just begun a levain for tomorrow's bake. It's gonna be a good one, with walnuts and all that. You're buzzing with anticipation, and tomorrow you have no intention of leaving the house. At. All. All you want to do is bake your loaf, fill up the house with that smell that a) reminds you that you're a bad ass and you might even be a little magical, after all, you bake amazing bread which is kind of like bringing forth life, plus, you make it all seem so effortless b) brings you back to center, to the root of your being. You feed yourself and those you love, and dammit, you could feed the world if you wanted to, with just a little flour and water. Yeah. Magic, you.

18-hour retarded levain

With dreams of golden loaves dancing in your sleepy head, you suddenly receive a text. It's your bestie inviting you to go apple picking. But you have to leave at 7am. WTF? And hello, how dare she? That's right in the middle of dough day! I can't... but wait, it's apple picking... How can you pass that up? You can't. So you push out a sigh of resignation. You'll go apple picking, pacifying yourself with some crazy idea, like maybe you can make some sort of apple bread that will redeem the intrusion. Alas tomorrow, no walnut magic bread smell that makes you feel like Ghandi inside. No feeding the world for you. You'll have to just pitch the levain in the trash. Hey, it's just a little flour and water. Big deal. So you do it. You crawl out of bed, take your dough scraper and in one deft movement, you scrape that alchemical seed right into the bin. You do it now because you can't bear the thought of doing it in the morning when it's puffy and ripe, your sweet little cherub come to life. Hey, it's no big deal, you think. But secretly you die a little inside.

Well, NO MORE my friends! I have made a delicious new discovery....


Did you know this? Or am I the only one who has missed the memo on this? I've pitched many a levain in my life, yeah, many little pieces of me have died those terrible little deaths. Maybe there are scores of you right now thinking 'well, duh, we all know that you can retard your levain, rye girl...', but maybe there are two or three of you out there who didn't know, and so this post is for you. I say, you can feed the world and go apple picking! Isn't that ever so splendid!

24-Hour Retarded Levain

I'm posting three of my weekend experiments here, a seeded loaf with a levain that was retarded for 18 hours, a walnut bread whose levain was retarded for 24 hours, and a plain Jane with a 40-hour retarded levain. This is what made me want to come back to the page, actually. I had done a 40-hour retarded levain many moons ago, and it came out so swimmingly that I wanted to share the tasty little epiphany with you.

40-Hour Retarded Levain

I baked all of the loaves with an hour and a half autolyse, a 3.5-hour bulk, and an 18 hour final fermentation in the fridge.

I didn't record the formulae because the post is meant to be more about the possibility of retarding your levains, but they are all just 88g of freshly milled spelt, 412g BRM Artisan, and around 360g of water (my sort of default starting hydration now) with an added splash during salt (so, total, probably at 385g water or so, but don't quote me on that) to balance the consistency of the dough, 10g of salt, and the usual dealeo with the levain measures. I did not weigh the nuts or seeds, so, you'll have to go with your gut on that. And man! The texture of the breads was phenomenal! Light crumb, uber shattery crust. Some of the best loaves I've baked in a while.

Let me know if what happens with your breads if you've found yourself faced with retarding your levain. I hope this post saves those few loaves that might otherwise be forsaken. I'm keeping this conveyance short and sweet, but I wanted to get it in before the holiday craziness in case some of you are faced with unanticipated schedule changes that may be hampering your bread baking.

18-Hour Seeded

24-Hour Walnut

Oh, one last thing. I wanted to say thank you, dear Reader, for linking arms with me on my bread journey. For welcoming me back to the page. Thank all of you who have emailed me and told me that this little corner of the internet, Girl Meets Rye, is what helped you learn to bake bread, make a starter, start a bakery (!) Thank you for telling me that these loaves have made your special occasions more special, or that I helped you to turn something scary into something not only 'doable', but something that absolutely thrives. Thank all of you for reaching out to tell me that this blog has never failed you. May your starters live long and feed many. This has been one of the most magnificent experiences that I've ever had in my life, and I'm honored that you have all continued to meet me here at the page.

To the staff of life!

The Vanity Shots

 walnut, perfectly steamed
 seeded, perfectly steamed


  1. Wonderful post.

    Cold retarding of levains is also used by many bakers to make San Francisco-style ultra-strong sourdoughs. I create a levain three days ahead of the dough (and then cold retard the dough for a further 12 hours). It's one of my best-selling loaves, but so tangy it is probably not for people trying sourdough for the first time. The Weekend Bakers ( have published online an excellent recipe for San Fran SD made this way.

  2. OMG Martin, bookmarked, noted, and about to spend the weekend with the weekend bakery blog. THANK YOU! I'm so glad I've come back to the page. There is so much more information, and so many more blogs sharing techniques, people sharing their vision, their methods. I'm really excited to explore new possibilities with my breads. You know, my breads, even with their long fermentation, are so mild. But I do long for that SF sour that I grew up with. I'm from the Bay Area, so for me, ultra tangy is what I'm familiar with. Chad's breads are quite tangy, so full of depth and amazing flavor. Thank you for the link, because I would like to try my hand at some tangy breads. Have a lovely weekend, and thank you for reaching out! xo

  3. You were my guide to sourdough, and I have had countless great successes at home with everything I learned from you. You laid everything out so wonderful...Your gift has reached far, most directly my wife gets to enjoy the results, as do family, friends and neighbors...My wife traveled to SF last May and brought a country loaf home from Tartine, which turned out, to taste strikingly similar, to what comes out of our oven!

    1. Al Mohr, you totally TOTALLY made my night! Thank you for your kind words! I'm so happy that I'm able to be there with you on your bread journey, and how lovely that so many people get to share the fruits of all your labors :) I can't wait to share more fun things. I wish I could try one of your loaves of bread! xo

  4. Hi there! Love your blogs!
    Big big thanks for all the inspiration and taking us along your bread adventures! Tried making starter a bunch of times but havent seen much success until I stumbled on your rye starter guide and now I’m 8 days in and so excited!

    Question regarding retarding the levain. Are you starting the levain and putting it in the refrigerator right away or are you popping the mature levain in the fridge? Thank you and sorry if i missed it in the blog. All the best with the book!

    1. Hey peter. I put the levain in the fridge when it was 'up an running' for a bit. Scenario: I made a levain at 8am, say, around noon or 2pm I realized that I would not be able to make the bread on the schedule that I thought I could, so I popped it in the fridge. It has always occurred when the levain has 'gotten going' for a bit and I had the realization that I couldn't make bread. I've never mixed up a levain then popped it in the fridge right away. Hope this helps! xo

    2. (thank you for liking the blog/your well-wishes!)


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