The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

pain au levain

nadira2100's picture

I decided to attempt Pain au Levain again, but this time with a few changes. 

1.) I added Flax meal, Corn meal, and Rye to make my own "Country" Pain au Levain. 

2.) I baked it as 1 huge boule instead of 2 smaller ones. 

3.) I proofed for 4 hrs BEFORE retarding in the fridge this time. 

4.) I had to significantly increase the baking time due to the size of the boule.

5.) I used the starter I had stored in the freezer because I managed to screw up the one I had going in the fridge. I refreshed it 2 times before using in this recipe. 

Ok, so now that I've stated the changes, let me say that this is the first time I've ever experimented with a loaf....and by that I mean alter the flour composition and types of flours used. I think this turned out better than my first loaves in that it's definitely prettier....but I'm not overly pleased with the crumb yet. The crust is also significantly better than my first attempt. 

The day before I mixed the dough, I cut my starter into 6 equal pieces (weighing a total of about 7oz). I kneaded in 1/3 c water with 4.5oz unbleached bread flour and let that develop for 4 hrs before refrigerating it overnight. 

The next day I made the final dough by cutting the starter into 6 equal pieces (about 11.5 - 12oz) with the flours, water and salt. Here are the percentages I used....

100% UnBleached Bread Flour (18 oz)

89% Water (16oz)

64% Starter (11.5 oz)

11% Rye (2oz)

11% Flax Meal (2oz)

11% Corn Meal (2oz)

1.7% Salt (0.3oz)

I hope I did my calculations right...please tell me if I didn't. The decimal demon still gives me problems every once in awhile. Ok...maybe all the time. 

I kneaded the dough and let it rise in a lightly oiled bowl for 3 hrs. It seemed to swell a little but I couldn't tell if it was a "flattening out" compared to a swelling. Before....


But either way I continued on to shaping. Before I made my boule, though, I did do a few stretch and folds to help with structure because the dough was soft and a little wetter than my first attempt. I was nervous and decided it wouldn't hurt. So then I made my boule and put it back in my clean glass bowl to proof. I let this go for 4 hrs....I had made this at night so when I went to bed at 10pm I set my alarm for 2am to stick it in the fridge. 

The next night, I turned my loaf onto a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal and scored it, topped it with a little Flax meal and popped it in the oven.

I baked it at 475 degrees with a pan of hot water for 2 min., spritzed the oven and loaf with water and then lowered the temp to 450 for 30 min. At this point I could already tell I was a step closer to getting the loaf I want because of the oven spring (even if it wasn't as much as I would have liked to see it was still there). I kept increasing the baking time by 10 min. until the loaf registered 195 degrees. This took about 1hr 35 min.

I left it to cool until the next morning.

The crust was "crustier" and more crackly than last time (MUCH BETTER!) and the taste was great....I was able to get the mild flavor of sourdough with the nutty flax.

However, this bread is still pretty dense and I noticed it was more moist than the first loaves I made. A little more than I'd like. I'm guessing I should cut back on the hydration? As far as getting a softer/lighter crumb....should I let it proof longer? Add some instant yeast for added boost? Knead it longer? Make a better/more active starter even though when I was refreshing it, it tripled in volume within 8 hrs each time? I'm not sure what to do or what to try next so any suggestions would be very helpful!

PiPs's picture

I bought a new book. Yes! another bread book. I wasn't planning to ...  and thinking back I'm not completely sure where the inspiration came from, but sometimes inspiration just happens. (or in Nat's version of events ... self indulgence just happens...)

A week ago a second hand copy of ‘The Taste of Bread’  by Raymond Calvel, Ronald L. Wirtz and James J. MacGuire was delivered to my doorstep and I have been trying to absorb as much from it as I possibly can. I find it such an interesting read─on so many levels─from heavy discussions on the effect mixing has on dough maturity to small soulful snippets on French bread.

The chapter that captured my attention most and had me obsessively re-reading it was the chapter on flour. The classification and choice of flour available in France intrigues me. Finding such depth within a seemingly simple ingredient as white flour was something I wanted to explore and as luck would have it I had recently been given the name of a bakery─‘Uncle Bob’s Bakery’ that was stocking imported French flour.

Not only that, but the owner of ‘Uncle Bob’s Bakery’, Brett Noy was recently given the honour of being a jury member for the 2012 Coupe du Monde del la Boulangerie─the Bakery World Cup!!! … mmm … another French connection to this story it seems.

In France the purity level of flour is determined by mineral content measured by the ash level. So at different extraction rates you may have different ash content depending on the type of wheat, procedures used, mill equipment and the skill of the miller. As the ash level rises you will have flour that is richer with bran particles and darker in colour.

Choosing flour was the easy part but trying to make a final decision on what to bake was a bit trickier and in the end the flour dictated the final choice.


This flour is normally associated with viennoiseries such as croissant, brioche and specialty breads containing high fat, sugar and eggs. As winter is slowly creeping upon us, it was time to revive one of my favourite traditions over the cooler months─brioche for weekend breakfasts with café au lait. 

The formula I worked with was Raymond Calvel’s ‘Brioche Leavened with Sponge and Dough’. It has a butter content of 45% (I used a cultured butter) and a small sponge of flour, yeast and milk which is mixed into the remaining dough after 45 mins of fermenting. As is usual when mixing this type of bread by hand I was kneading at the bench for at least 30 min by the time the butter was fully incorporated smoothly into the dough. Day-by-day a mixer looks increasingly tempting! (only if Nat gets to pick the colour!)

The dough was rested in the fridge overnight and shaped in the morning for the final proof. Oh, it has been such a long time since we have had brioche around our house. The  soft golden crumb teared so easily and when dipped in coffee─made my soul smile.



T130 Rye

For my experiments with this medium rye flour I took inspiration from photos of the amazing crusts of the tourte de seigle found in the boulangerie windows of Paris. It’s the contrast I love─the dark well baked crust scattered with flour coated islands.

Tourte de Seigle adapted from Denis Fatet’s formula at





Total dough weight



Total flour



Total water



Total salt



Prefermented flour






Sourdough build: 1h 30 @ 35°C



Levain at 60% hydration



T130 rye flour



Water at 70°C









Final Dough: 1h 45 @ 40°C



Rye flour T130 sifted or T85 rye



Water at 70°C











  1. Prepare sourdough: Stir hot water into rye flour then add levain and mix until smooth. Sprinkle with rye flour and allow to rise for 1hr 30 at 35°C. Cracks will appear on the surface of the sourdough. 
  2. Prepare final dough: Stir hot water into rye flour and salt then mix in sourdough until smooth. With wet hands round the dough and flatten into a round disc. Set to proof seam side down on floured parchment paper. Dust with flour and smooth with hand to ensure an even coating.  Proof uncovered and away from draughts.
  3. Proof for 1h 45 at 40°C. Cracks will appear on surface during proofing.
  4. Load into oven with steam at 270°C for 10 mins then reduce temperature to 250°C and bake a further 60 mins.

I have to be honest, I was a little nervous about the idea of mixing the levain into the hot water and flour mix. But my worries were unfounded. The hot mix cooled as I stirred it and cooled even further when I added the levain creating a warm sourdough sponge that really went off fast.

I have heard that keeping a correct proofing temperature greatly assists with even cracking over the surface so the tourte de seigle proofed in our tiny bathroom under the heat lamp. I pushed the proofing to two hours but think next time I will reduce it to the specified time as the crumb shows some signs of slight over-proofing.

This is a crust lovers bread. The crumb is smooth and mild with only a hint of sourness. After many bakes of whole-grain ryes this bread is a pleasant change─A perfect balance of flavour and texture. But most importantly I love the way it looks. Dramatic bread! Breakfast during the week has been slices of this slathered with cultured butter.




The classic French bread for a classic French flour. Looking again to ‘The taste of Bread’ I used Raymond Calvel’s Pain au Levain formula substituting the T55 flour with the T65 I had on hand. At 64% the hydration was quite a bit lower than what I have been mixing recently but after an autolyse and solid 15 min mix by hand it produced a smooth and silky dough. It certainly felt different to the Australian flours I have been using but I am not sure how to put it best into words. Softer to the touch perhaps?

While the book uses a spiral mix followed by a 50 min bulk fermentation I was mixing by hand so opted for a gentler mix followed by a longer three hour bulk ferment to build strength and maturity in the dough. The final proof stretched out through the afternoon as the temperatures dropped but all the time increased the flavour of this delicious bread.

Nat is torn. She loves the flavour and texture of this bread, more so than the some of the Australian organic flours I have been using …  but it has come all the way from France … sigh. We are mindful of our footprint ...

I love the flavour as well so I am keen to keep experimenting with it … for the time being anyway.


isand66's picture

It's great to be back home from my 11 day trip to China for business.  I couldn't wait to get home to my wife and my 5 kitty cats.  We recently adopted another furball named Cleopatra and she has lived up to her name taking over the household like she's been with us forever.

Anyway, I was chomping at the bit to bake some bread so after refreshing my starter I decided to make a simple sourdough Pain Au Levain, but of course I needed to add something different to the formula to make it a bit more interesting.

I had recently purchased some coconut flour from Whole Foods and decided to try adding some to this concoction and see what happens.  I also added some wheat germ, Durum flour and pumpernickel flour along with bread flour.   The levain starter was made with my standard 65% AP starter along with some whole wheat and bread flour.  I also added some dried toasted onions which I rehydrated in the water used for the dough.

The resulting dough turned out very interesting with a nice nutty flavor but a bit dense.  The coconut flour really soaks up the water and in hindsight I should have uppped the hydration level of this bread even though it is already 71%.

Starter (Levain)

71 Grams Seed Starter (65% AP Starter)

142 Grams Bread Flour

85 Grams Whole Wheat Flour

151 Grams Water (90 Degrees F.)

Final Dough

458 Grams Levain from Above

260 Grams Bread Flour

65 Grams Pumpernickel Flour

75 Grams Coconut Flour

25 Grams Durum Flour

35 Grams Toasted Wheat Germ

17 Grams Sea Salt

4 Grams Toasted Dried Onions

15 Grams Walnut Oil (You can substitute your oil of choice)

336 Grams Water, 90 degrees F.  (Note: If you want a more open crumb I would increase the water another 15 - 20 grams)



Combine the ingredients for the Levain and mix by hand or in your mixer for 1-2 minutes.  Place it in a covered glass or plastic bowl and let it sit for 9-10 hours at room temperature.  If you are ready to bake you can use it immediately, otherwise you can refrigerate it for at least 1-2 days.

Final Dough

For the final dough, using your stand mixer or by hand, mix the water with the Levain to break it up.

Add the toasted onions to re-hydrate them in the water and then add the flours and oil and mix on the lowest speed for 2 minutes.  Let rest for 15 minutes.

Now add the salt and mix for 4 minutes more on medium speed, adding more flour if necessary to produce a slightly sticky ball of dough.

Remove dough to your lightly floured work surface and knead for 1 minute and form into a ball.

Leave uncovered for 15 minutes.

Do a stretch and fold and form into a ball again and cover with a clean moist cloth or oiled plastic wrap.

After another 15 minutes do another stretch and fold and let it rest again for another 10 - 15 minutes.  Do one last stretch and fold and then put it  into a lightly oiled bowl that has enough room so the dough can double overnight.

Let the dough sit in your bowl for 2 hours at room temperature.  It should only rise slightly at this point.  After the 2 hours are up put in your refrigerator for at least 12 hours or up to 3 days.

When ready to bake the bread take your bowl out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for around 2 hours.  After 2 hours shape the dough as desired being careful not to handle the dough too roughly so you don't de-gas it.

Place it in your bowl, banneton or shape into baguettes.  I used my new banneton I found in a thrift store and made one large loaf.

Let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours covered with oiled plastic wrap or a moist cloth.

Pre-heat oven with baking stone (I use one on bottom and one on top shelf of my oven), to 500 degrees F.

Slash loaves as desired and place empty pan in bottom shelf of oven.

Pour 1 cup of boiling water into pan and place loaves into oven.

Lower oven to 450 Degrees and bake for 25 - 35 minutes until bread is golden brown and internal temperature reaches 200 degrees.

Shut the oven off and leave the bread inside with the door slightly open for 10 minutes.  This will help dry the loaves out and keep the crust crunchy.

Let cool on cooling rack and enjoy!

Feel free to see some of my older posts at my other blog:

copyu's picture

Hi everyone,

It's been a long time since I've been able to contribute anything to the community here at TFL. Clinic and hospital visits (as a patient) most weekends, some overtime work at my main job and a lot of editing work up until the end of the fiscal year here in Japan have kept me too busy to post anything.

I remember cursing my inability, last year, to make a respectable pain au levain without blow-out on the sides and/or the bottom of the loaves. I was really inspired by the wonderful advice that the folks at TFL offered. I did thank them, but never showed them why I was so happy with their excellent guidance. This photo is of my most beautiful P-A-L, which also tasted great. 

Crumb shot follows:


dmsnyder's picture

I haven't baked anything but some of my personal "comfort food" breads for the past few weeks. These are just good almost any way - plain, with butter, toasted with almond butter and apricot preserves, French toast, as garlic bread, for panini ....

Hamelman's Pain au Levain

Hamelman's Pain au Levain crumb

SFBI Miche (made with half AP flour and half CM Organic Type 85)

SFBI Miche profile

SFBI Miche crumb

We have been enjoying them all week.


theuneditedfoodie's picture

Hamelman's Pain au Levain


 Reinhart's Pain au Levain

More recently, I have being doing a comparative analysis on two different kinds of Pain au Levain’s. The two Pain au Levain’s, I have been working on over the coarse of last few days were Jeffery Hamelman’s Pain au Levain (sourdough bread) from Bread- a baker’s book of techniques and recipes, and Peter Reinhart’s Pain au Levain from Peter Reinhart’s artisan breads everyday.

Having said that let me start with Hamelman’s Pain au Levain that had an interesting new twist that was different from the previous three sourdough breads that I have baked. The final build (Levain build) is basically built 12 hours before the final dough. Usually, I have noticed in Reinhart’ several recipes including his version of Pain au Levain that the starter is built only about to 6 to 8 hours or even lesser period before the final build. Another difference between the two Pain au Levain’s was that Hamelman’s version required some rye flour other than the bread flour, and Reinhart’s version required whole-wheat flour other than the bread flour. Although, Hamelman does have another recipe where he uses whole-wheat instead of rye. Frankly, speaking it doesn’t really matter much, I mean Pain au Levain is naturally leavened bread, which usually requires some amount of whole grain and that could be substituted with any whole grain such as rye or whole-wheat.

Another major difference between the two recipes was the different autolyse periods. Hamelman preferred anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, while Reinhart insisted on just about 5 minutes. Also, Hamelman prefers to mix his levain build right after the autolyse period into the so called final dough, unlike Reinhart who asks to cut the levain build into 10 to 12 pieces and mix it with the final build, only then leaving it for an autolyse period after that.

The other variance I observed between the two recipes was the bulk fermentation periods. In Hamelman’s recipe, the period was for 2 and half hours, where in-between you had the folding to be addressed after every 50 minutes.  While in Reinhart’s recipe the so-called bulk fermentation was for 40 minutes, where in he asked to fold the dough at every 10 minutes. Of course in Reinhart’s case he asks you to put the dough back into refrigeration for 8 to 12 hours for some more delayed fermentation and then a final fermentation on baking day at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours. In Hamelman’s recipe the final fermentation takes place the same day as bulk fermentation for 2 and half hours.

As per baking is concerned, I took a new route on both the loaves, unlike what their authors had suggested. Having recently read Tartine by Chad Robertson and also having experimented several times with Jim Lahey’s No Knead breads, I personally have come to the conclusion that atleast in my oven the best approach to get a good crust can only be reached through the process of a dutch oven. Thus, I decided to bake both the Pain au Levain’s in the dutch oven.

In my conclusion, I would write that both the Pain au Levain’s turned out excellent with probably one of the better crusts in recent baking, thanks to the dutch oven. As per the crumb, I thought both were delightful, though I think I may prefer the whole-wheat over rye, but then that could purely be to the reasons that I have had more whole-wheat in my life than rye.  The other problem, I had faced more so with Reinhart’s dough was that it was a really wet dough, it had a hydration rate about 68.12%, while Hamelman’s recipe which had a 65% hydration rate was in some ways slightly easier to work with. In the end it is hard to say, which was a better recipe, but if I have to go back and choose from the two, it would probably be Hamelman. 

varda's picture

Today I went back to Andy's Pain au Levain with Light Rye which I made last spring.  At the time I didn't know there was a difference between light rye and white rye.   I know it now, but I still have access only to White, so that's what I used again.    This bread acted like a balloon all through the preparation - I was very careful not to puncture it, and quite worried that it would deflate instead of rise in the oven, but it didn't.   Just spring and more spring. 

When it was time to shape, I didn't really - it's hard to shape a balloon -  just kind of pressed it a little and then folded it up and flipped into a lined basket.   I didn't think it would score, so I just ran my razor over some lines that had opened up during proof.   So not a tidy bread.  

After it came out of the oven, the sun was out and it was sort of pretend warm, so I took it outside to photograph.   When it hit the colder air, the loaf started singing like crazy.   I set it on the table and a hawk flew overhead.   I wasn't fast enough to catch it on the wing, but then it settled down in an oak to rest.

Then walked back through the garden, which is looking more like a garden in waiting this time of year.

My oven is waiting too it seems.   When will it be spring?

Didn't have to wait long to cut into the bread though, as it cooled quickly what with its trip outside.



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