A Starter Named Joe Jr.

My baby was named Ed. He was a grayish white sticky mass of gluten and protein living in a plastic food service quart container with his name scribbled on the side in black marker. “You need to feed it everyday, and keep it warm, or it will die, just like a real baby!”, Chef Johnson uttered morosely to the class, illustrating the importance of daily care for our starters, making the class give our starter’s a name to stress that as well. As one of our last assignments, we were to develop a starter to take with us as we left school, a flavor and leavening foundation for future loaves of bread. People gave me odd looks on the train as I took Ed home, but a grown man carrying a plastic container with a name on it is not the strangest thing you’ll see in the subways of NY.  
Ed lived the high life for awhile, he was upgraded to a fancy lexan container as his new home, crystal clear to see the outside world around him. Daily feedings of flour and water kept him strong and active, he was ready. Able to bring flavor and volume to any dough recipe where his presence was needed. Ed made it into a couple of pizza dough recipes, and a boule or two. However, Ed wasn’t long for this world. The feedings became less frequent, and the deep sleep was soon to follow, the dreaded refrigerator. Final resting place for many a forgotten starter. Refrigeration is the only way to hold on to a starter that isn’t in constant use. Weeks of neglect turned into months, a pool of alcoholic liquid gathering on the surface of Ed, the waste products of yeast fermentation. He was suffocating, unable to feed on fresh sugars and starches. SOURDough just started working at the bread factory, and all the time spent learning about the daily routine meant Ed wasn’t being taken care of properly.  
An odd mix of green and red swirled colors followed by a funky odor was found when SOURDough opened Ed’s lexan container, and it was met with a sigh of despair. Ed was no more.  

After Ed, SOURDough went about his daily life, staying away from starter based doughs, making mostly enriched doughs like brioche and challah to satisfy his home baking needs. But it was a bit empty, crusty sour breads have their own magic, an allure that can’t be substituted with soft squishiness . A surprise early Christmas present (the FCI Classic Bread Baking Book, thanks Chloe!) has motivated SOURDough to grow and nurture a new starter, one named Joe Jr. He’s named Joe Jr., after SOURDough’s best friend and someone who helped remind SOURDough of one of his great passions in life, publishing. Joe’s kindness was the catapult that started this blog, which is created strictly on this IPad that he gifted me. The kindness of friends like Joe, Chloe, Olive and Pastry Monkey take away some of SOURDough’s bitterness, and he thanks all of them for the roles they play in his life, each one unique and special in their own way.
On the evening of November 27, 2011, Joe Jr. came into this world, full of promise and hope, the start of SOURDough’s crusty bread baking rebirth. Joe Jr. (liquid levain culture or starter) is a preferment that is made using a sourdough starter to produce breads with great texture, aroma and extended shelf life. It does require a bit of work in the beginning to strengthen the starter, but proper feeding can produce one that will last generations if maintained properly. Joe Jr., like many occurrences in my life this year, signifies the start of something great. Looking forward to making things better in the upcoming year, and this time, creating a starter that will last a lifetime. Just like good friendships and relationships.  

Liquid Levain Culture

Excerpt from The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking  

French Culinary Institute by Judith Choate  



Day 1  


Coarse Rye Flour 100 grams  

Water 125 grams at 80 degrees Fahrenheit  

Mix 50 strokes with a wooden spoon  

Cover with plastic wrap or tight fitting lid and leave out on countertop  


Day 2  


1/2 culture from Day 1-115 grams (discard the other half or make a separate culture)  

Rye Flour 100 grams  

Water 125 grams at 80 degrees Fahrenheit  

Mix 50 strokes with a wooden spoon  

Cover with plastic wrap or tight fitting lid and leave out on countertop  


Day 3 through 9  


1/2 culture from Day 2-115 grams(discard the other half or make a separate culture)  

Wheat Flour 100 grams  

Water 125 grams at 80 degrees Fahrenheit  

Mix 50 strokes with a wooden spoon  

Cover with plastic wrap or tight fitting lid and leave out on countertop  

Repeat daily until the culture is ready to use. By Day 8, the mixture should have sufficient ripeness for leavening bread. However, to continue developing it’s strength and complexity, it may be fed for 2 to 3 more days before use. When the culture is ready, it turns concave and has the right acidity and yeast content to leaven bread.  

Day 10 and beyond  

To continue levain upkeep, the basic refreshment ratio is 100 percent wheat flour, 125 percent water, and 20 percent liquid levain. This should be added to compensate for the quantity removed when making dough. If the levain is not used regularly, cover it and store in the refrigerator. It will last several months under refrigeration.  

5 responses to “A Starter Named Joe Jr.

  1. Very nice, thank you! I also dry my starter and I find that is the best way to keep it if you cannot use it in a while. It only takes two days to recover it and it keeps its ‘essence’. I got a San Francisco one in NY last summer and got home, made a lot, dried it all and use it regularly.



  2. I actually have the same book, have made most of the Italian recipes with great success…I’ve tried the liquid levain before, but it failed for one reason or another. I am trying it for the 2nd time now, and it seems to be more active than the 1st try (It expands to approximately double it’s volume every night, then collapses again), but as of day 11 I still have not seen it go concave…any possible idea why?

    • Hello Angelo,
      Sorry it took me so long to reply, have been away from blogging for a year but i am starting up again. I wouldn’t be so hung up on it getting concave, it’s more about the flavor and if it is providing rising action in your breads. The fact that it is rising and collapsing every day means it’s healthy and active. Hope this helps!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s