The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

pain au levain

rossnroller's picture

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon where I am - good time to tap out a post. Besides, it's 10-10-10...gotta commemorate that somehow!

Like many here, I suspect, I love trying new breads, and have a never-diminishing must-bake list of breads I want to try - never-diminishing because no matter how many I try, I keep adding more! Thanks to Shiao-Ping's current posting hiatus, I've managed to get through most of hers now (any newcomers looking for a great source of new breads, put her name in the search window and just take your pick from any of her amazing bakes). But then along comes TXFarmer!!! Sigh...

Much as I enjoy trying new breads, I have identified 5 or 6 of the 50 or so different breads I've baked in the last couple of years that I keep coming back to as my favourites. These now comprise my core repertoire, all 100% SDs: pain de campagne (my version), Gerard Rubaud's formula (thanks to Shiao-Ping), Norwich Rye (Wild Yeast Susan's adaptation of Hamelman's Vermont SD, which I also tweak in various ways), San Joaquin SD (DM Snyder), and my version of pain au levain.

It's the last that I want to share today, because of all my favourites, if I had to pick a number 1 this would be it. Why?

  • the flavour profile - the rye component comes from the starter, which seems to add a different quality of flavour from rye that is added to a dough at mixing stage, and the small amount of wholewheat flour sweetens it up a little, while the white flour component keeps it light

  • the hydration level ensures it is a relatively easy dough to work with

  • ever-reliable

  • versatile - compatible with both savoury and sweet accompaniments, toasts well

  • the crust - nice rustic look when done as a batard (my favourite shape), but not as thick as, say, the San Joaquin, or as thin as my pain de Goldilocks would like it!

  • the crumb - the combination of bakers' flour and AP flour keeps the structure strong, but open and slightly spongy

This pain au levain developed out of various breads that I tweaked until I ended up with the formula that follows. There's nothing remarkable about the formula: pretty typical SD bread. Actually, if I recall correctly, the formula I initially based this bread on was a camp oven SD bread that someone posted on the Sourdough Companion site. Not sure how much I've ended up deviating from the prototype, but after a lot of experimenting and tweaking, the formula that follows is the one I have found myself returning to again and again. It just seems 'right' to me. Of course, feel free to try your own tweaks. My taste may not equate exactly with yours.

So, to the recipe. Be aware that this is scaled to the weight I prefer. I like to bake batards that my partner and I can finish in 2 days, so I can then move on to another bread, and it is always fresh. If you have a larger household, you might like to scale this up accordingly.


  • Ripe starter (100% hydration: 30% whole grain organic rye/70% organic unbleached AP flour): 150gm

  • Filtered water: 300gm

  • Wholegrain organic flour: 25gm

  • Premium organic bakers' flour: 200gm

  • Organic unbleached AP flour: 275gm

  • Pure sea salt: heaped teaspoon (or 2% if you want a standard measure of salt...I slightly undersalt my doughs)

Note: This recipe assumes an ambient temp of 22C/72F (adjust proofing times up or down, depending on your own ambient temp)


  • Mix all ingredients other than salt, autolyse 30-40mins.

  • Mix salt into dough

  • Bulk proof 3 hours, with 2 stretch-and-folds 30 mins apart initially, then S&F once per hour thereafter

  • After BP, preshape and rest 10 mins

  • Shape

  • Final Proof: 30 mins (dough covered in plastic), then retard in fridge overnight

  • Bake straight out of fridge next day


  • Heat oven to 250C/480F with pizza stone or baking tile, and with metal tray in bottom for ice. Bake in lower-middle of oven.

  • When 250C has been reached, drop 3 ice cubes into heated tray in bottom of oven just prior to loading slashed dough. Immediately after loading dough, spray surface of loaf and around oven with water, and shut door. Wait 2 minutes and spray again around oven. Shut door and drop oven temp to 225C/435F.

  • Bake 15 mins starting from time you loaded dough, then drop oven to 215C/420F

  • Bake 12 mins @ 215C, then drop oven temp to 200C/390F

  • Bake 14 mins @ 200C, then take bread out of oven and rest for minimum 2 hours on cake rack or similar.

I'll leave you with a couple of pics of a pain au levain I baked this morning.






breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hey All,

So my mother keeps pestering me to send my brother a birthday card for his birthday on September 22nd...  Personally I think sending a $5.00 card + $0.44 postage that just says Happy Birthday is sort of lame...  I don't think sending birthday cards is really a guy thing either...  So what's a guy baker going to do for his brother who lives on the West Coast?  Bake bread and ship it to him via USPS Priority Mail...  So here's the project.  How to bake a loaf of bread large enough to survive the 2 day trip out West without drying out and getting stale, and fit into the large priority mail package box which is 12" x 12" x 6"...   Hmmm...  Here's what happened:  I had some lasagna pans that were as close to square as possible, and my floured linen couch fabric...  Here goes...

Here it is!  It's about 13" x 10" x 5" and weighs about 1800g after bake...  Total dough weight before bake was about 2150g...  It took a little work getting it into the box, but it worked...  The cool thing about this big priority mail box is that you can ship up to 20lbs for $14.70...

Side profile and crackly crust!

More crackly crust!

Close-up of crack!

Some little ones for me and my friends at work...

Crumbshot of one of the little ones...  I hope the big one as a nice crumb like this one...  Maybe my brother will be nice enough to send me a crumbshot when he gets it...



breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hey All,

I had a friend Russ in town from LA that I haven't seen since his wedding about 5 years ago...  He finally made it out to NYC, 13 years after we had first met in college...  Funny thing is that last Christmas, I send a loaf of bread to another friend Greg in LA that we both know.  Greg was raving about it to Russ and his wife...  Anyway, many months pass, Russ finally makes it out to NYC, and his wife jokingly asks him to bug me for some bread...  Of course as an obsessive baker, I don't turn down many opportunities to bake for my friends...  I have been baking Poilane style pain au levains for the past fiew weeks trying different things with levain, flour combinations, hydrations...  I've been playing around with 68% hydrations levels which was inspired by Dominique Saibron of Le Boulanger de Monge:

He says on his website that they use 68 parts of water:

So here's recipe and process:


1576g Total flour (5% Rye/10% WW/ 85% AP)

1072g Water

38g Kosher Salt

316g Liquid Levain (100% hydration fed night before and refrigerated.  I keep mine an ever changing mix of rye, ww, AP)

3000g Approx total dough yield

Method To Madness:


4:45pm - Place all ingredients in large mixing bowl in the following order: water, levain, flour, salt.  Mix with large rubber spatula until a shaggy dough is formed.  Mix with wet hands to ensure all lumps and dry bits are gone.  Place bowl in large plastic bag and let rest.

5:00pm - Rest

5:30pm - Turn dough, divide into 2 equal pieces (1500g), transfer to lightly oiled plastic tubs, cover, let rest.

5:45pm - Turn dough, cover let rest.

8:30pm - Turn dough.

10:00pm - Turn dough.


12:40am - Shape into boule, place in well floured linen lined banneton, flour top of dough, place kitchen towel over each banneton, place bannetons into large plastic bag, proof for approx 4+ hours.  (Be sure to flour the bannetons very well as this is a very long proof with a wet-ish dough.  I had to be very careful when turning the boules out as they did stick a little and I had to be very patient for the dough to unstick itself and drop...)

5:00am - Place 2 baking stones on 2 levels along with steam pan with lava rocks.  Place a few cups of water in steam pan.  Preheat oven to 500F with convection.

6:10am - Turn off convection.  Turn boules out onto well floured peel, slash as desired, place in oven directly on stone.  When last loaf is in, place 1 1/2 cups water in steam pan, close oven door.  Turn oven down to 450F, bake for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove steam pan, rotate loaves between stones, turn oven down to 425F, bake for another 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes are done, turn off oven and leave loaves in for another 10 minutes...

7:10am - Take loaves out of oven, check internal temp and weight.  Should be around 210F and 15-20% lighter than the prebaked weight.  Cool completely before cutting and eating...

These are by far the most open crumb that I have ever achieved using levain only...  I have no complaints here other than I should have used more levain to speed up the dough...  This was about 14 hours from start to finish...



breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hey All,

Me again.  This whole baking and blogging thing is a little nutty...  It's something one of those things that's fun, tedious and addictive...  Anyway, let's get on with this post...  How long can you cold bulk retard a dough and still have some good bread?  I've done 24 hours with good and bad results.  How about longer?  Why cold bulk retarding vs cold retarded proofing?  Well, from my experience, cold retarded proofing in a linen lined banneton seems to dry out the surface of the dough, so after baking, the crust becomes thick and tough...  This is my experience.  Also, I have a small under the counter refrigerator that has enough room to bulk retard maybe 4kg of dough in 2 X 4L plastic tubs.  So bulk retardation is my only option short of not sleeping if you've been following my baking schedule these days...

Here's my recipe:

Liquid Levain:

150g White Whole Wheat Flour

50g Rye Flour

50g Liquid Sourdough Storage Starter (100% hydration)

200g Water

450g Total Liquid Levain


Final Dough:

1000g AP

616g Water

30g Kosher Salt

450g Liquid Levain

2096g Approx Total Dough Yield



8:15pm - Mix liquid levain, cover and let rest on counter overnight.


8:00am - Mix final dough (in large mixing bowl put in water first, then levain, flour, salt).  Mix with rubber spatula until shaggy dough forms.  Cover and let rest 20 minutes.

8:25am - Knead for few minutes with wet hands until relatively smooth dough forms, transfer to lightly oiled container at least 4L, cover and let rest.

8:45am - Turn dough in container (stretch and fold), cover, place into refrigerator (40F), go to work.


6:30pm - Come home and take the dough out of the refrigerator and find that it was working on escaping the container

Divide into 2 equal pieces, shape into boules and place into linen lined bannetons and proof for 3 hours.

8:40pm - Arrange 2 baking stones on 2 levels, put steam pan in oven, preheat to 500F with convection.

9:45pm - Take bannetons out of plastic bag, lightly flour and give poke test...

10:00pm - Turn off convection. 

Turn boule out onto a lightly floured peel, slash as desired and place into oven directly onto stone.  When last loaf is in, pour 1 1/2 cups water into steam pan, close oven door.  Turn oven down to 450F and bake for 50 minutes, rotating between stones half way.  Then turn off oven and leave loaves in for another 10 minutes.

Loaves are done when the internal temp reaches 205F or higher (210F preferred), and they weigh at least 15% lighter than their prebaked weight.  Mine were 1050g before baking, and around 870g after, which is about a 17% weight loss...

Cool completely before cutting and eating...  Crumbshots tomorrow morning...  I wonder it this is a less stressfull baking schedule...  You tell me...


breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hi All,

So I was up really late waiting for some Pain au Levain to rise...  Maybe a little too late, which is why I don't feel so hot right now and should be getting to bed early...  Way, way before 2:00am like this morning...  Anyway, just wanted to share with you some Pain au Levain in a pan that I baked very late last night...  They turned out really well, but I should have used smaller loaf pans...  Enjoy!  Recipe and method will follow the pics and the obligatory crumbshot...  Also, this recipe was inspired by one of the Pain au Levain recipes in Le Pain, l'envers du decor by Frédéric Lalos.



Final Dough:

1110g AP (KA)

555g Stiff Levain (63% hydration)

700g Water

38g Kosher salt

2400g Total Dough Yield (approx)


Stiff Levain

304g AP

192g Water

60g Sourdough Starter (I used a stiff one)

556g Total Stiff Levain Yield


Method to the Madness


3:50pm - Mix stiff levain, place in covered container, let rest on counter.

430pm - Place stiff levain in refrigerator.


6:50pm - Mix final dough in large bowl using a large rubber spatula, plastic scraper, wet hands.  Knead for 5-10 minutes.  Cover bowl, or place in plastic bag and let rest.

7:30pm - Knead dough for 2-3 minutes in bowl with wet hands.  Do not add any extra flour.  Cover and let rest.

7:45pm - Turn dough, cover and let rest.

8:45pm - Line loaf pans with parchment paper, or grease them if you like.  Divide into 3x800g pieces, and shape into loaves, place into pans, place pans into plastic bag, proof for 4 hours.


12:00am - Place baking stone and steam pan in oven, preheat to 500F with convection.

1:00am - Turn convection off.  Lightly dust loaves and slash as desired, place into oven on stone.  When all pans are in oven, pour 1 cup of water into the steam pan, close door.  Turn oven down to 450F and bake for 45 minutes.  Halfway through bake, remove loaves from pans and return to oven and place directly onto stone.  Turn oven down to 425F for remainder of bake.  At end of baking, check internal temp and weight loss.  Should reach 210F and lose approx 15% weight.  Turn oven off and put loaves back in for another 10 minutes.  Cool completely before cutting and eating...  Also, get some sleep...

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hi All,

I seem to be baking a lot these days...  It's still hot though here in NYC so things are rising fast around here...  Last night I was reading Local Breads by Dan Leader, page 105 which talks about the Poilane bakery loading their breads into the oven every 2 hours...  I wanted to see how quickly I could make a pain au levain, assuming the levain was ripe and ready...  Also, a have recently converted my storage sourdough starter from liquid to very stiff (50% hydration).  Here's what happened:

Stiff Levain Recipe:

400g Stone Ground White Whole Wheat Flour (King Arthur)

200g Water

80g Stiff Sourdough Starter (50% hydration)

680g Total Stiff Levain


Final Dough Recipe:

1374g AP (King Arthur)

926g Water

32g Kosher Salt

680g Stiff White Whole Wheat Levain (approx 50% hydration)

3012g Total Dough Yield


Method of Madness:


5:30pm - Mix stiff levain, knead into ball, cover and let rest.

5:45pm - Knead stiff a few times until smooth, lightly coat with extra virgin olive oil, place in covered plastic tub, refrigerate at 40F 23-36 hrs.  If you are going to make the dough within 12-16 hours, and it's not too hot, then you can probably leave it out on the kitchen counter...


6:35pm - Come home from work, get settled, take stiff levain out of fridge, measure out all ingredients using a digital scale.

6:55pm - In a large mixing bowl, pour in exact amount of water, then cut up the stiff levain into small golf ball sized pieces and place it into the bowl in the water.  Then add all the flour on top, then the salt.  Start mixing with a large rubber spatula until a shaggy dough forms.  Then using wet hands, squish the dough until the levain is well combined, knead for about 10 minutes.  Do all kneading in the bowl without adding any extra flour.  If your hands get sticky, use a plastic scraper to scrape the dough off your hands, then dip your hands in water and continue kneading.

7:10pm to 7:30pm - cover and let rest for 20 minutes.

7:30pm - Turn dough in bowl, and knead for about 15-20 seconds, cover and let rest.

8:00pm - Turn dough in bowl, and knead for about 15-20 seconds, cover and let rest.

8:30pm - Turn dough, cover and let rest.

9:00pm to 9:10pm - Divide dough into 4 pieces, preshape into boules, place them seam side down on a proofing board with no extra flour.  Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.

9:30pm - Final shape into batards, place them seam side up in a very lighty floured couche, cover with tea towels and plastic bag, proof for approx 1 hr and 30 minutes.

10:20pm - Place 2 baking stones in oven on 2 different levels along with steam pan, preheat to 550F with convection.

11:10pm - Turn off convection.  Turn out loaves onto peel/flipping board, slash as desired, place into oven directly on stone.  When all the loaves are in, place 1 1/2 cups water into steam pan, close door, turn oven down to 450F, bake for 45 minutes rotating batards halfway through the bake between stones.  After 45 minutes, check weight and internal temp.  They should be about 15% lighter than their pre-baked weight, and the internal temp should be between 205F to 210F.  I prefer 210F.  Turn oven off, and place batards back into oven for 5 minutes.  After this, let batards cool completely before cutting...

12:00am - Done...  Time for sleep...  Pics up tomorrow sometime...

8:50am - Upload pics...









breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Hi All,

Just wanted to share with you my bake from Monday, 9/5/10...  I had some friends in from San Francisco, who have never had my bread, so I wanted to make them something special to take home with them after brunch...

Here is a pain au levain, that I will call my 5/10/20 pain au levain...  It was inspired by JT's 85x3 bread that Farine blogged about here:

I did not have any T85 flour, but I could make 3 starters...  This bread is basically 95% AP (king arthur) 5% rye (hodgson mill), approx 66% hydration, 2.4% kosher salt.

Starter 1 (Rye Sour): All of the rye flour (5% of total flour) prefermented at 83% hydration for 24hrs at room temp.  Use 4% sourdough starter.

Starter 2 (Liquid Levain): 10% of total flour (AP) prefermented at 100% hydration for 1 hour at room temp, and 23 hours at 40F.  Use 20% sourdough starter.

Starter 3 (Stiff levain): 20% of total flour (AP) prefermented at 55% hyrdation for 1 hour at room temp, and 23 hrs at 40F.  Use 20% sourdough starter.

I'll continue this if anybody is interested...  The result I think speaks for itself...

This is the walnut raisin pain au levain using the same dough as above but adding buttermilk powder, a little sugar, butter, toasted walnuts and raisins...  I think it turned out really good...  Note to self: Mix this dough separately...  Trying to knead in powdered buttermilk is an excercise in futility.  Some of it combined OK, but the stuff that didn't clumped in the dough, and I had to spend about 15 minutes kneading and picking out the clumps before kneading in the butter, walnuts and raisins...



varda's picture

It seems to me that if you are trying to gain proficiency in baking bread that it helps to pick a formula and make it over and over again until it starts to seem natural and easy.   I'm not there yet with Hamelman's pain au levain but it ain't for lack of trying.  My biggest difficulty with it so far has been something that should be simple - following the instructions.   When I first started making it I viewed the rise times as something like suggestions.   2 hours seemed like a ridiculously long time to do the final rise, and I would do 1 hour and then wonder why the bottom split.   Last week I did an experiment.   I split the dough into three 1 lb loaves and tried doing a final ferment of 1.5 hours, 2 hours, and 2.5 hours respectively.   The 2.5 hour rise won the looks test, but the 2 hour tasted the best.   And surprise, surprise, the 1.5 hour loaf was a mess.   Today, I followed all of Hamelman's times with 2 hours for the final ferment (the book says 2 to 2.5 hours.)   I still can't get as pretty a loaf as my model in all this (and the post that set me off on this particular quest)   But that doesn't mean I can't keep trying.   And the great thing about practicing on a bread like this is you get to eat it. 

SaraBClever's picture

Dan Leader's Pain au Levain and Local Breads

August 21, 2010 - 12:39pm -- SaraBClever

I love this bread!  See my blog post.  I also successfully converted my wet starter to a stiff dough starter.   Has anyone else baked much from this book?  I know about the errata but any other thoughts?  Any "must-try" recipes?  How about that Pane di Altamura with its special semolina sourdough?


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