The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

pain au levain

varda's picture

Last month, while experimenting with durum flour, I hacked together a loaf that turned out to be surprisingly tasty.   Fortunately when I'm hacking around, I'm disciplined enough to write things down just in case.    Yesterday, I made it again, with a few minor changes, and it came out more or less the same as last time, so I'm declaring it a keeper.  










w. 68% starter










Bread flour






Whole Rye






Whole Wheat






Atta Durum
























Total grams













Mix all but salt and autolyze for 1 hour.   Mix in salt.   Bulk ferment for 2.5 hours with 2 stretch and folds.   Shape into boule,  place in lined basket, and proof for 1 hour.   Then refrigerate overnight (9 hours).   Place on counter and proof until ready.   Bake at 450F for 20 minutes with steam, 25 minutes without.

The last time I made this I did not retard overnight.   This time I added a small amount more durum.   Neither change seems to have had much of an impact.   

dmsnyder's picture

We've been traveling a lot the past few months, and I haven't had many weekends at home to bake. Now, we'll be home for a few weeks, and I can bake more regularly. This weekend, I baked two of my current favorites – the SFBI Miche and Hamelman's Pain au Levain. (See: Miche from SFBI Artisan II - 2 kg. The formula for the Pain au Levain is found in Hamelman's "Bread.")

After a long, cool Spring, we're starting to get some Summer weather. It's been in the low 90's. Temperatures of 105ºF are predicted for the middle of the coming week. Frankly, I could do without the 105º days, but my starter and doughs are enjoying the warmer kitchen temperature. My old dictum - “Watch the dough, not the clock” - was applied. For example, the pain au levain, which Hamelman says to proof for 2 1/2 hours was ready to bake in 90 minutes after shaping. I feared the bâtards were a bit over-proofed, but the oven spring and bloom I got suggest proofing was pretty much on target.

SFBI Miche

Miche crust

Miche crumb

Pain au Levain

Pain au Levain, up close

One thing I learned and applied for this bake of the pain au levain: The last few bakes of this bread have had many excessively large holes. I suspected this was due to insufficient de-gassing before pre-shaping. So, this time, I de-gassed a bit more vigorously. I like the results.


Pain au Levain crumb

Happy Baking! And Happy Father's Day to all you fathers!



Mebake's picture

I have eyed Hansjoakim's post : here ever since he blogged about using his excess ripe rye as a leaven for a Pain au levain with Wholewheat from Hamelman. Hans has generously posted his recipe, and i, sickened from my failures with liquid white levain, and attracted by the description of the flavor, finally decided to try it yesterday.

I used Waitrose Organic Strong white bread flour for 80% of the white flour, and 20% all purpose - plain flour. Whole wheat was waitrose organic plain flour, and Rye was Doves Farm organic Rye.

Brushed the flour off:

The Ovenspring was substatial. Was it the Rye? or i was growing impatient with my dough at 11:45 pm? fermentation was faster with this Rye leavened bread. Though i would add 1 hour more to the bulk fermentation. Final fermentation was 2 hours.

The Bread was chewy due to the 12.9% protein flour. The flavor was superb, as described by Hans! Thank you Hans for the solid recipe, this is one new favorite of mine.





MadAboutB8's picture

 Inspired by Dmsnyder's SFBI Miche, I made another wheat germ sourdough weeks ago and loved it. This time, I wanted to increase hydration and include rye flour in the dough.  Instead of calling them wheat germ sourdough, I’d like to call it Pain au Levain with wheat germs (pain au levain is literally sourdough bread, only with fancier name). Taking the idea from Susan at Wild Yeast Blog, I shaped the dough into 3 Bs, three basic shapes; boule (round), batard (oval) and baguette. The bread had 2% toasted wheat germs, 72% hydration (amount of water comparing to total flour), mixture of bread flour (80%), whole wheat (15%) and rye flour (5%). I used the mixed flour sourdough starter (whole wheat & bread flour at 50/50 ratio) as I wanted pronounced acidity for the bread.  The bread didn’t disappoint. It was good all-round bread. It was great for toast, soup and sandwiches. I made Croque Madame using the bread and it was delicious. This recipe has now become my go-to plain sourdough bread.  It was also interesting to see the differences of the same dough into three shapes. Of all three shapes, I like the baguette shape the least. Baguette has high crust to crumb ratio and I am a crumb lover rather than crust. We froze the batard and haven’t got the chance to have it yet but I’m sure it will be as wonderful as the boule.  Full post and recipe is here.  Sue

codruta's picture

by George, I think I've got it!

I find it difficult to follow a recipe whitout making a few small modification, even though I don't intend to in the beginning. This time i've increased the whole-wheat and rye flour quantity given in the formula (by ~10%), decreased the amount of bread flour, which in consequence made me increase the quantity of water.  I'm pleased with the result, even if the couronne didn't expand as much as I would of wanted (I suspect it was a bit underproofed, and maybe a little underbaked??). I tried to slice the loaf after 3 hours, but it was still a bit warm in the middle, so I gave up and decided to wait until tomorrow. The crust is thick, and it shattered in pieces under the knife when I cut it.

I don't know about others, but since I bought hamelman book, my breads improved a lot. (I started baking bread about 2 years ago, having my starter since then, and I purchase hamelman's "bread" a month ago)

Recipe in romanian can be found here, translation available on the sidebar:


varda's picture

The other day, I accidentally picked up the wrong flour.    I thought I was grabbing the Bob's Red Mill White flour but instead ended up with BRM whole wheat pastry flour.   I'm not much for making pastry and the whole concept of whole wheat pastry eludes me, so I decided to try this flour in yet another variation on the pain au levain I've been experimenting with for the last few months.    On my first try I used the pastry flour as 12% of the total flour with 87% White flour and 1% rye from the starter.    The bread came out with a very nice crumb texture and not bad in other respects but the taste was so mild as to be uninteresting.    Then my son swooped in for a surprise visit for Mother's Day and ate the whole thing so it was good for son feeding at least.  

Try number 1 - tried to get fancy with scoring - didn't really work.

To enhance the flavor, I decided to mix in some regular whole wheat.    So this time I did exactly the same thing but went half and half on the pastry whole wheat flour and Arrowhead whole wheat.   

The latest production of the vardomatic 3000:

As you can see, it blew a gasket.   Not quite the nice controlled expansion that I'd hoped for.    And Mt. Hood from the side:

but even better crumb than the last one and the flavor is much enhanced.

There were both 68% hydration and retarded overnight.   Also I've increased percentage of prefermented flour to 23%.  After going all the way to 33% with Andy's light rye formula, I'm not afraid of these higher percentages anymore.     Has anyone worked with this type of flour before?   The BRM bag says soft white wheat, and there is no discernible bran.    I don't feel like I have a handle on the fermentation yet and would love some suggestions.  

dmsnyder's picture

I think I know at least 6 different ways of shaping bâtards. I often choose how I shape them on impulse. This weekend, I decided to be a bit more reflective and consciously chose 3 variations to try. I think I gained better control over bâtard shaping as a result.

I made two loaves of Hamelman's Pain au Levain from “Bread” and two loaves of my San Joaquin Sourdough.

The first loaf was shaped using one of the methods learned from the San Francisco Baking Institute. I can't recall seeing this method demonstrated elsewhere.

Pain au Levain from Hamelman's "Bread," shaped using Method 1.

Method 1

  1. Pre-shape as a log. Rest 20 minutes, seam side up, covered.

  2. Place the piece on the board with one short side closest to you. De-gas.

  3. Take the far edge and fold it towards you about 1/3 of the length of the piece. Seal the seams.

  4. Fold the left side 1/3 of the way towards the middle and seal the seams. Repeat for the right side.

  5. Starting with the far end, roll the piece towards you, sealing the seam with the edge or heel of your hand at each turn. Seal the final seam well.

  6. Turn the loaf seam side down and roll it to even out the shape and achieve the desired length.

This method is suitable to make a bâtard with a fat middle and little tapering, as pictured.

Pain au Levain from Hamelman's "Bread," shaped using Method 2.

Method 2

  1. Pre-shape as a log. Rest 20 minutes, seam side up, covered.

  2. Place the piece on the board with a wide side closest to you. De-gas.

  3. Fold the far side to the middle. Seal the seam.

  4. Rotate the piece 180º.

  5. Fold the far side 2/3 of the way towards you. Seal the seam.

  6. Grasp the far edge and bring it all the way over the piece, to the board and seal the seam. (Essentially, this is the method traditionally used to shape baguettes.)

  7. Turn the loaf seam side down and roll it to even out the shape and achieve the desired length.

This method makes a longer, thinner loaf with more tapered ends.

The two loaves of Pain au Levain after shaping and scoring - ready to bake. Note that these loaves were of identical weight.

San Joaquin Sourdoughs, both shaped using Method 3.

Method 3

  1. Pre-shape as a ball. Rest 20 minutes, seam side up, covered.

  2. Place the piece on the board. De-gas.

  3. Proceed as in Method 2, steps 3 through 7.

This method results in a loaf similar to that from using Method 2, except a bit thicker in the middle. It solves a problem I have had shaping bâtards with higher-hydration doughs with excessive extensibility. They tend to get too long and thin as I shape them, even before the final rolling out. Starting with a round piece of dough, rather than a log, helps me get the shape I want.  

Thanks for listening.

Happy Baking!


Mebake's picture


This is my second attempt at this recipe, my first attempt is HERE. I'am very content, as this is the best Pain Au levain i've baked so far. I've made changes to the Recipe and procedures as compared to the earlier attempt. The changes were:

1 - I increased the % of prefermented flour from 15% to around 20% (THANK YOU ANDY!)

2 - I was meticulous about the last 3 refreshments of the starter prior to building my levain (THANK YOU LARRY!)

3 - I used an all white starter, instead of the Mixed flour starter i used earlier.

4 - I stretched and folded (letter-wise) on a bench instead of in the bowl, twice.

5 - I milled the sea salt to a fine powder.

6 - I did not include a freshly milled WW flour, instead, i used a strong WW flour.

7 - I made sure the final dough temperature was 76F or 25C, by means of immersing my hands to mix the dough, which gave warmth to the dough.

8 - I patted down the dough to redistribute the fermentation bubbles after initial fermentation.

9 - I steamed the oven for 10 minutes, as the bread started taking color quickly.

10 - The doughs fermented exactly as per the book instructions, i.e. 5 hours Total fermentation.

11 - I divided the dough into two 1.5 lb pieces.

And this is how the breads turned out!

The flavor was Superb, with subltle acidity, and wheaty aroma from the wholewheat. This is a keeper.


gcook17's picture

Pain au Levain

April 18, 2011 - 3:44pm -- gcook17

Ever since DonD posted the info about the pain au levain article in the Art of Eating (unfortunately I can't put in a link because for some reason this forum won't accept it--it says the spam filter was triggered) I've been using the formula in the article.  I think it is second only in flavor to Hamelman's Point a Calliere but it's first in terms of crumb and texture.  Right after DonD posted this I ordered a copy of of the magazine and make a loaf every couple of weeks.  Here's today's loaf:


Subscribe to RSS - pain au levain