Activate and Refresh Natural Leavening

Dr. Dough’s Old World Natural Leavening


Natural Leavening. Getting started with 3 Ingredients: flour, water, dry natural leavening.

Days 1-2

Activate Dry Leaven

Mix 1/4 tsp. of Old World Natural Leavening Dry starter with 1 1/2 cups of whole grain flour and 1 cup water in a quart container.  Cover with a lid and leave at room temperature (68-78’F) a total of 36 hours. Stir Leaven every 12 hours.

•There is no need to add sugar, potato peelings, pro-biotics, etc.

•Use non-cholrinated and non-softened water.

•When fully active and cultured, Leaven smells good and appears more voluminous, airy, structured, fluffy, and light.

Natural Leavening can be perpetuated indefinitely.  You’ll never have to activate dry starter again.

Natural Leavening Whole Wheat Waffles.

Days 3+


Make a batter bread like “Easy Naturally Leavened Pancakes and Waffles”, “Amy’s Cornbread” or “Blue Berry Muffins”.

Retain some uncontaminated Leaven to “feed” for for your next use.

Wet Whole Wheat Natural Leavening. Bubbly, active, and ready to cook natural leavening!

Refresh Wet Leaven

Pour off any liquid that may have formed on top of the Leaven.

Stir 1 1/2 cups whole grain flour* and 1 cup water with the Leaven remaining in the quart container after use.  Cover and leave at room temperature to culture. For culture time, please see below.

For optimal health, research is showing that all flour you are consuming should be cultured with natural leavening for at least 8-12 hours.  When making “Batter Bread” with fully cultured Leaven, culture gluten-free grain flour for up to 12 hours.  Culture glutenous grain for about 12 hours or more.  When making leavened “Flat and Loaf breads”, simply culture until the Leaven is doubled in volume, because you will be adding this to more flour and culturing the bread dough itself.

Storing Your Leaven


Cover cultured Leaven and refrigerate to put “on hold” until ready to use.  For best results, use Leaven often.  Leaven will keep in the fridge for months, but will continue to sour–requiring some additional refreshments to return to sweetness.

Countertop Alternative

Allow the remaining Leaven on the sides of the container to air dry with the lid off.  Refresh the same day or up to a week later, as if it were wet Leaven!  See “Refresh Wet Leaven”.


so far.

  1. Dianne Esplin, RD says:

    Your “room temperature” is not our tropical room temperature– we’re about 86F and humid, 24/7 in the Northern Marianas. Will holding natural leaven at warmer temperatures work?

    • Amy McClean, R.D. says:

      Natural leavening cultures thrive in warmer temperatures. The trick is to catch the leavening at peak performance, when it’s doubled in volume, for loaf bread making–before the leavening begins to compress and compact. The rising and the falling of your leavening will happen quickly when it is warm. For bread making, choose a large, multiple quart bowl that can be covered to allow for dough expansion. In temperatures over 80′, grains will culture and ferment rapidly. At these high temperatures, you still want to let the dough rest at room temperature for about 4 hours minimum before shaping. You may let the dough culture and ferment longer than 4 hours to increase digestibility for people with gluten sensitivity. Longer ferments will also produce a more sourdough. I’ve mimicked your climate as best I could by placing my start outside in a sealed jar on a warm day. I have spoken about loaf bread making above. However, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of basic quick bread mastery first. Get to know know your leavening during the process. When you can predict the rise and fall of your leavening at your house, then move on to flat breads. When you are successful with flat breads, make loaf breads. We’d love to hear how the leavening does for you in the tropics.

  2. Noel says:

    I just received your old world start in the mail and began activating it according to instrucions on Friday, Sept 7. Once is has cultured for 36 hours I understand that I can put it in the fridge. My question is: How often do I now “feed” my start? And when I “feed” my start do I need to let it sit out on the counter for 36 hours each time or do I just “feed” and refrigerate?

  3. Amy McClean, R.D. says:

    Good question.

    ACTIVATING. You’ll never have to wait 36 hours again, unless you are activating dry starter again.

    COOKING. After you have waited the 36 hours,your Old World Leaven is cultured. You may begin cooking! Make some pancakes or waffles right now, if you can. If it’s not the best time, put the Leaven on hold in the fridge. You can make pancakes, crepes, or waffles with refrigerated Leaven.

    REFRESHING. After taking Leaven out of the storage container for your recipe, “feed” the remaining Leaven with more flour and water in the same container, if you wish. You will know you need to feed the Leaven if:
    -your Leaven is almost gone
    -your Leaven is flat, compressed, past it’s prime (and you want to make muffins, cake, or bread).

    CULTURING: To make a healthy (“quick”) batter bread, leave Leaven at room temperature for 8-12 hours after refreshing with a non-glutenous grain. Gluten containing grains may be left longer for increased digestibility if needed.
    To make a healthy flat or loaf bread, leave Leaven at room temperature to culture just until airy and doubled in volume. The grain flour will further culture when the bread dough is rising. The total amount of time the bread dough cultures is 8-12 hours or more for increased digestibility.

  4. I am very interested in learning more about the start and using it in recipes. I look forward to attending some classes and buying a recipe book. I took your class in 2009 and loved the dough that we made there. I can’t wait to get another start and start using it again down here in St. George Utah.

    Thank you for helping to get this information out. And thanks for being willing to work with the wheat so that we have answers when things are so changed in the world. I can tell we will depend on your experiences and knowledge for our future and out children’s future.

    Jody Lynn

  5. Kelly Ann says:

    On day 3, after culturing the leaven until it doubles in size, can you use it immediately to make loaf bread? If you put in the refrigerator at this time, what needs to be done before it is used for bread – i.e. does it need to come to room temperature, or be fed and cultured until it doubles again, or just immediately used while cold?

    • Amy McClean, R.D. says:
        Learning to use your Natural Leavening

      You received your dry, Old World Natural Leaven starter in the mail and activated it as instructed. Your wheat Leaven just about doubled in volume by 36 hours. It looks bubbly, airy. The Leaven is cultured and ready to use immediately! Make waffles, pancakes, cornbread, muffins, cakes, cookies, biscuits, sweet bread, crepes, or any Natural Leaven batter recipe. After use, replenish your Leaven with a simple refreshment of water and freshly ground flour and wait. We strongly recommend that you get to know the rise and fall time of your Leaven while making Naturally Leavened Batter Breads. Notice how long it takes for your wheat Leaven to double in volume and be airy, structured, light, and fluffy. After mastering Naturally Leavened Batter Breads, our recommendation is to follow with flat breads. Make bread sticks, pitas, focaccia bread, cinnamon squares, or any Naturally Leavened Flatbread. After mastering flatbreads too, you will have gained the natural leavening skills for successful loaf bread making. Last, we recommend making Naturally loaf breads of any kind.

        Temperature of Leaven for Use

      Previously cultured and subsequently refrigerated, cold Leaven may be used for pancakes, waffles, biscuits, cookies, crepes, flatbread dough, and loaf bread dough.
      Freshly cultured, room temperature Leaven is ideal for muffins, cakes, and sweet bread.

  6. Peggy says:

    My leaven is raising very nicely to double in volume, I am just not quite sure what the peak is. My muffins didn’t raise as high as I thought they should and were kind of spongy inside. I am seeing my leaven turn into all bubbles and the brownish part on the top lightens when the bubbles develop all the way up…does that mean it is peak, or is it supposed to drop slightly?

    • Amy McClean, R.D. says:

      The peak volume for any Leaven is the maximum height that is will rise. For ancient and common wheat Leavens in general, the doubled volume is the peak volume. For gluten free grains, most Leavens will also double in volume but some will just approach a doubled volume. When Leaven cultures grain, it often lightens up. You may notice that Leaven that has cultured longer, may produce a lighter colored batter product. The Leaven is often past it’s peak volume and is very healthy. When making muffins and sweet breads with pre-cultured Leaven, a natural Leaven “quick bread”, they are spongy. You will fill the muffin cups up more than half full. I know that appears scary! Then, the muffins will “peak” normally, while baking, like any other muffin. Remember to use freshly cultured, non-refrigerated, Leaven for muffins and quick breads. Later we can talk about other culturing methods for batter breads.

  7. Peggy says:

    Thanks for the extra info Amy! My start is looking better every time I feed it. I missed the peak rise yesterday and it had dropped just a little, but I decided to make the flat bread dough anyway, and it worked up really nice, and this morning it had doubled and it looked really good–like real bread dough (LOL)! So I rolled it on my pizza stone, brushed melted butter on it and sprinkled sugar & cinnamon and baked at 550º for 6 minutes. It puffed just slightly but it was good! So I feel like I am finally ‘getting there!’ 🙂

  8. Peggy says:

    I know you have answered this question from the above comments, but I just need some clarification: If my yeast doubles in say 6 to 8 hours, (sitting on the counter after being fed) and I put it in the fridge at this point til it can get to the 12 hours for gluten grain (white wheat), then at the 12 hour mark, straight out of the fridge, I can make bread with it?

  9. patricia says:

    i began my starter it has now been 24 hrs and it has very few
    bubbles i have stirred it twice in this time because it quits bubbling and developes liquid on top and it never increases in
    size also it is knot lite and fluffy it is like a glob that is
    heavy and sticky
    what did i do wrong


    • Dr. McClean says:

      Thick and gloppy is normal when your dry leavening is rehydrating. Wait the complete 36 hours from activating your dry natural leavening starter. You should see a difference. I have a few questions for you? 1. What type of flour did you use? We have seen early separation with store bought whole wheat flour. 2. How much flour and water did you feed it?

  10. Linda says:

    Forgive me if these questions have already been addressed…

    When refreshing wet leaven, what is the recommended amount of leaven to use for the 1.5 cups of whole grain flour and 1 cup of water?

    Also, due to the many variables in measuring whole grain flour by volume, is there a recommended weight to use for the 1.5 cups of whole grain wheat flour?

    Thank you.

    • Dr. McClean says:

      Linda, that is very insightful of you to ask about weight. In fact, in our home we usually always measure by weight. If using whole wheat we recommend of a ratio of 7oz of whole wheat flour to 9oz of water. You also asked how much leaven to use. You don’t need much at all. You only need a Tbsp. or as little as a tsp. will work well. We use other weight ratio for different types of grains but for most types of wheat the ratio is 7oz to 9oz.

      Dr. McClean

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