Hello, I'm new to baking and trying to get a sourdough starter going. Mine consists of 40g that I keep each time, then I add 40g water, and 40g King Arthur bread flour each day (I plan to scale the daily feedings back once I get this all figured out.) It doubles pretty easily, probably closer to triples. So that seems good - but then I've read that to test if it's ready for baking one should do the float test (pinch out some starter and drop it into room temperature water - if it floats, it's ready, if not then it's not ready to bake.) Mine consistently fails the float test. So I googled a bit and am now more confused than ever - I turned up some results saying the float test doesn't apply to starter, but to levain.
So now I have two questions:
1) My understanding is that the starter IS the levain. I feed it before bed, and the next day when it's close to its peak volume I can stir it all back together, take away my 80g discard as normal - but instead of discarding it I use it to bake with that day. Am I mistaken here - is there an extra step I need to do in order to create a levain that's seperate?
2) Why is my starter failing the float test? I'm assuming I should be testing the starter before I smoosh it all back together to near its original volume - I'd suppose the idea is to retain as much of the trapped air pockets as possible to allow it to float (so that thus, the float test is really just a test of how much air is present?)
Like I said, I'm new to this, so please let me know if my understanding is totally off on anything here. I'm not just new to sourdough, but new to baking entirely - so I'm conducting lots of experiments at the moment (some of which even taste good!) ;) Thanks!