The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

pain au levain

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.


varda's picture

A few weeks ago, I gave up on the starter I'd been tending and using for over a year, and made a new one from scratch.  Instead of trying to nurse my old starter back to health, I reminded myself that despite the considerable mystique attached to it, it's really not that hard to get a starter going - particularly a wheat one - assuming a sufficient degree of attention and patience.   I finally got it going and I've been baking with it for around 2 weeks.   I have not been disappointed, as I think I had just got used to an underperforming starter and had forgotten how a healthy starter behaves.  

At the same time I've been trying to shed same old same old practices and develop a formula that everyone in the family liked, that was repeatable, and relatively easy, so I could use it as daily bread.    I borrowed from this and that and here and there, and thank gods (I've been watching Battlestar Galactica) I think I've got it.  

The formula has a bit of spelt, a bit of rye, and the rest wheat.   I used wheatgerm and malt powder (Thank you Lumos) which seem to have a good effect but I'm not sure which does which.    The resulting bread bridges the difficult gap between light and substantial, has a light crispy crust, keeps for a few days (assuming it doesn't get eaten first) has a mild balanced flavor and isn't too holey for sandwiches.   I've made it a couple times, and it seems to be repeatable. 

But now, my biggest problem - how to keep from fiddling this to death.   I think the best way to do it is to name it but Sourdough with Spelt and Rye just seems boring.    Ergo Lexington Sourdough which is pretty boring as well.   Any tips on how to name breads?  

And now it's time to switch focus to biscuits, cornbread and pie.   Thanksgiving is nigh!

The formula:











Bread flour





Whole wheat





Whole rye

























Bread flour





Whole rye





Whole wheat





Medium rye

























Malt powder





Wheat germ











Take ripe sourdough - around 70% hydration - from refrigerator (should be domed and pitted) and feed as above to 100% hydration.   Ferment on counter (around 69degF) for around 7 hours until very active and bubbly.  

Mix flour and water by hand and autolyse for 30 minutes.   Add the rest of the ingredients and mix in stand mixer for 5 minutes starting at low speed and working up to highest speed.   Dough should adhere into a smooth mass during the mix.   Stretch and fold on counter twice during 2.5 hour bulk ferment.    Cut and preshape into two rounds.   Rest for 20  minutes.   Shape into batards and place in couche seam side up.   Refrigerate for 10-15 hours.   Place on counter and proof for 1.5 hours until dough starts to soften.   Bake at 450F for 20 minutes with steam, 20 minutes without.  

dmsnyder's picture

I finally got around to making Hamelman's "Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat Flour." For comparison, I also baked his Pain au Levain. The former was cold retarded overnight. The latter was not. However, I did retard the firm sourdough starter used for both breads overnight, and I believe this resulted in a tangier pain au levain than my previous bakes. 

On to some photos:

Pain au Levain boules

Pain au Levain crumb

Pain au Levain crust

If I were nit picky, I'd say this dough was slightly over-fermented, and I think the loaves were slightly over-proofed. However, it had a thin, crisp crackly crust that I wish I could reproduce at will, and the flavor was delicious, with more of a tang than usual, as mentioned.

Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat Flour

Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat Flour crumb

This bread had a more complex flavor that the "regular" pain au levain when tasted 2 hours out of the oven. There was a slight WW grassiness, which I do not enjoy, and a lingering sourdough flavor, which I do enjoy. This type of bread usually tastes better to me on the day after it was baked, and I trust this bread will follow the pattern.

It's hard for me to say which of the three version of pain au levain in "Bread" is my favorite. Experience suggests it's whichever one I'm eating at the moment. I really, really like all three.


varda's picture

I'm a sucker for flour.   Yesterday I went to the local korean supermarket to see if they had less than whole grain durum and I came back with something else.   All I know about it is it's "premium flour," has 3g of protein per 30g serving, and can be used for making noodles. 

I didn't want to make noodles - I wanted to make bread.   And use my new flour.   I  restrained myself from having this mystery flour be the main event and instead limited it to 15% of flour to support my standby King Arthur AP (80%) and Rye (5%).  

The result is a nice mild naturally leavened boule.

I am somewhat disappointed that my scores didn't open more.  

I baked indoors with plenty of steam, but the dough was tacky throughout fermentation and my razor snagged while scoring.   So I'll attribute it to the fact that my starter has still not completely recovered from being abandoned for a few weeks and left to ride out the hurricane (or resultant power failure) alone.   I've been babying it as much as I can, but perhaps not enough.

Anyone know anything about this flour?   Have I just paid an unreasonable amount (ok not so much) to import regular old AP flour across an ocean and a continent?  

Update:   I used this flour in pizza dough last night - 335g KABF, 165g Korean Flour.   It was absolutely and by far the best pizza crust I've every made.   Not sure if this is of general interest since I doubt many people have access to this flour, but I just had to add it to the post. 

Mebake's picture

This is my second take at Hans Joakim version of Pain au Levain with Whole wheat. Recipe can be found in Hans's Blog here.

The Recipe Differs from Hamelman's in The amount of Rye and Wholewehat added, in addition to the levain. In this recipe, All rye is in the levain, and  is mixed with the remaining ingredients for the 30 min. autolyze. Salt is added thereafter.

(Edit: I've increased % of prefermented flour to 17%)

I loved the idea of Rye Sour being the leavining agent, as it enhances sour flavor, which it did, and allows for faster bulk and final fermentation.

I stretched and folded the dough letter wise, as opposed to the S&F in the bowl in my previous attempt. The Dough was very smooth and lively, and developed extremely fast!

The Flavor was, as expected, slightly sour. This bread fairs really well if cold retarded for 8-12 hours. I like Rye sour levain, as it refreshes faster with 1-2 refreshments, as opposed to white levain's 3 refreshments.


Ghobz's picture

P. Reinhart ABED Pain au Levain - I think I failed again

September 6, 2011 - 8:01am -- Ghobz


I'm at my second attempt making pain au levain following the recipe and instructions from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day. I went easily through building the seed starter and then the mother dough. Every thing went very well, although the activity in the seed starter happened faster than what PR indicated in his bood, sometimes rose and bubled in as little as 4 hours.

codruta's picture

I baked Pain au Levain (page 158 from Hamelman's book) a while ago, and I wrote about it here.

Soon after that, I made another pain au levain, this time the formula with mixed sourdough starters (page 162). I didn't achieve the big-holes-in-the-crumb I was looking for, but the bread was good, it had a good oven spring, and the crust was delicious. I used whole-spelt flour instead of whole-wheat flour and I mixed the dough by hand. I kept the hydration at 68% and retard the dough overnight in the fridge. This bread was a guest post, and the formula is given here. Here are some pictures:

After that, I made another pain au levain, this time a combination of Whole-Wheat Multigrain and Whole-Wheat Levain. I used 31% whole wheat flour and a soaker of roasted black sesame seeds (for colour and texture), oat bran and (old fashioned) rolled oats. The hydration was 79.8%, but a lot of water is absorbed by oats. I liked working with this dough: is so pretty, smells so nice and I could shape it without problem.

My boyfriend's sister, who lives in Paris, and her husband, who has an italian origin, they were visiting us the next day I baked this bread. They both eat a couple of slices with evident pleasure, and they comment that my breads are getting better and better (we only get to meet each other twice, maybe three times a year, so they don't taste my breads very often. Their comments were welcomed and appreciated). Here are the pictures from the beggining

and the final product:

I have the complete formula on my romanian blog Apa.Faina.Sare. The automatic translation is very bad, but if anyone is interested, I can translate it for you.


Overall  formula:
- Bread Flour: 310 g ………………………………....... 69.4%
- Whole-Wheat Flour: 17 g …………………………… 30.6%
- Water: 357 g …………………………………………….. 79.8%
- Rolled oats: 45 g ……………………………………… 10%
- Oat bran: 22 g …………………………………………… 5%
- (black) Sesame Seeds, roasted: 13 g ……………. 3%
- Salt: 9 g ……………………………………………………. 2%
dough: 893 g ………………………………………………. 199.8%Liquid levain build:
- Whole-Wheat Flour: 64 g
- Water: 81 g
- Sourdough starter (100%): 6 g
  = 151 g liquid levain 125%For soaker
- Rolled oats: 45 g
- Oat Bran: 22 g
- (black) Sesame Seeds: 13 g – roasted
- Water: 100 g
  = 180 g soakerFor the final dough:
- Bread Flour: 307 g
- Whole-Wheat Flour: 73 g
- Water: 173 g
- Liquid Levain: 151 g (all of the above)
- Soaker: 180 g (all of the above)
- Salt: 9 g

I followed Hamelman instructions (from page 168), but I let the dough autolyse for 40 min (all the ingredients except salt). After the final shaping, I retarded the dough overnight, and I baked it next morning, directly fom the fridge.


dmsnyder's picture

Well, I'm back from a lovely week at the beach with family. I surely enjoyed the week, including Glenn's fabulous pastrami and corn beef with his and my rye breads. Glenn's Tartine BCB and my SFBI miche were also appreciated. 

Yesterday, I thawed dough made for pizzas 4 and 6 weeks ago and frozen. I made a couple of pies, one with each of the doughs made with Maggie Glezer's and Jeff Verasano's recipes.


Pizza using Maggie Glezer's dough

Pizza made with Jeff Verasano's dough

Glezer's pizza dough retained its distinctive crispness. Verasano's dough was still more elastic than Glezer's but not as chewy as it had been before freezing. I would say that neither was quite as good, but both were better than any you could get at the chains.

Today, I baked a couple bâtards of Pain au Levain from Hamelman's Bread. This has become a favorite. Today's tweak was to shape the loaves using the method portrayed on the KAF videos but proofing the loaves in cotton-lined oval brotformen rather than on a couche.


The loaves assumed a rounder/less elongated shape during baking. I wonder if, en couche, with lateral support but no support at the ends, the loaves spread longitudinally more. Hmmmm ….


I have dough for my version of Gosselin's Baguettes Tradition in the fridge to finish tomorrow. I'll update this entry accordingly.



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