chef vs. levain & how to adapt my starter to other recipes


i received a chef from a friend who took a baking class (where he got his starter). the process he gave me is a little different than other starter i have tried. i think i have probably a lot of questions and am so appreciative to anyone who wants to take the time to spell it out for me! thank you in advance!

levain (fed once a week):

water 114g

chef 114g

flour 228g


once i've made the levain and fermented it properly (6-8hr room temp), i use that levain in farm bread dough. once i've made the farm bread dough & fermented it properly (approx 4 hrs with some folding in the middle), i save a cup of dough (my new chef) and store it in the fridge up to 5 days before i feed it again and turn it into more levain & begin the process again.


farm bread dough (from which i take a piece to become my chef):

water 568g

levain 141g

whole wheat flour 73g

flour 863g

salt 23g


1. how do i find out the hydration of my chef & of my levain (if there's always chef in levain and levain going chef- there is always an unknown)? 

2. is what i call "chef" equivalent to something else? should i look for it in other recipes by another name? i think if i know the hydration (is there a formula i can use), then i can plug it into other recipes? like rye or bagels or multigrain breads?

3. how do i adapt my chef OR (my leftover levain so as not to waste it) into other recipes in books and on the web?

4. how long can leftover levain (since i don't use all of it when making farm dough from the week before) live in the fridge? for me to revive and feed it, i have to be ready to make farm dough & bake more bread to get that chef.


confuse and annoy you yet? don't want to kill my chef baby :)

thanks a million little yeasties,


305 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2015 July 6

Hello Vanessa,

Hydration is just the ratio of water to flour expressed as a percentage, so if there are equal amounts of flour and water then the hydration is 100%.  Unfortunately, in some cases people take into account the flour and water in the starter/levain/chef and in other cases they don't.  In your levain recipe, the added flour and water gives a hydration of 50% on their own but as you point out there is the question of the hydration of the chef that goes into it as well.  If that was 50% then all would be well but when you do your calculations on the loaf recipe, if you use 50% for the levain, the loaf hydration works out at 60% which would change the hydration of your levain.  By repeating the calculation a number of times it would be possible to iterate to an accurate value.

However, what I don't quite understand is the discrepancy between the amount of levain prepared (456g) and the amount used in the recipe (141g) given that you say you take out the amount for the chef from the batch of dough to prepare the next levain.

The question of how long you can leave your chef is sort of open in that when the food supply runs out, the yeasts and bacteria don't die they just become dormant and will reactivate when a new food supply becomes available.  I have left a culture (admittedly not a chef) for over a month without feeding and it has come back to full activity almost immediately upon resumption of usage (feeding) and at most a couple of cycles to be as good as ever.

I have developed a couple of spreadsheets that you can down-load.  The first one will calculate the hydration of a dough mixture taking into account the starter and the flour and water added ( ).  The other will convert a chef/starter from one hydration to another hydration of a required mass.  This can be done in stages as described or in one go by summing the various flour and water additions (  ).  Hopefully the text on the pages  will be sufficient explanation but get back to me if you need further explanation.

Good luck with your projects.


Post Reply

Already a member? Login