The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pain au Levain (stiff Levain)

davidg618's picture

Pain au Levain (stiff Levain)

Folliwing Dan DiMuzio's guidance (and others) re creating a more sour levain I prepared a 500g, 50% hydration levain, and then fed it every 12 hours for two and a half days. I maintained it at 55°F, in our wine closet, thoroughout. Subsequently, I used DiMuzio's Pain au Levain (firm starter: 480g, 60%) formula with two changes. 1. The aforementioned 50% hydrated levain vs. the formula's 60% levain; and, 2. I encreased the whole-wheat flour percentage to 20% vs. the formula's 10%. Yes, I knew the increased whole wheat flour content would alter the flavor, but I reasoned the whole-wheat alteration wouldn't effect the sour component of the finished bread. My objectives were threefold. Maintain the same excellent ovenspring with the stiffer levain as I've been experiencing with the 60% hydrated levain. Increase the perceived sourness in the flavor profile. Finally, I wanted to practice batard shaping and scoring, a shape I haven't made very often. Except for the batard shaping, as nearly as possible, I replicated all the mixing, bulk fementation, final proof, and baking steps I've used before baking the basic formula.

Just for fun, while the stiff levain was fermenting after its final feeding, I used the 250g of levain that would otherwise been discarded to make a single, all white flower batard.

The results of both bakes are shown in the photos.

As hoped for, the pain au levain is distinctively sour, but not to the extent of many of the commercial San Francisco sourdoughs I've tasted. The ovenspring was preserved, and I'm satisfied with my batard shaping and scoring.

The leftover starter loaf.

and its crumb--closed more than usual.

David G


Pablo's picture

Deliciously rustic loaves David.  Sounds like you're in pursuit of the elusive sour. Good luck!  I keep looking myself.


ehanner's picture

Looks Good to me!


Nomadcruiser53's picture

Good job on the SD. Dave

dghdctr's picture

David, are you telling us that the loaf pictured was made entirely of levain?  And that levain was made at a 50% hydration?  With KA's bread flour, or their AP?

--Dan DiMuzio

davidg618's picture


The first loaves pictured are your Pain au Levain formula with the two changes mentioned, and the 50% levain maintained at low temperature (but not inactive) for 60 hours, feeding every 12 hours, before making the dough. I was following your suggestion for increasing acetic acid generation in a stiffer levain. The cooler temperature 55°F was confirmed as OK from an online paper about modelling yeast and bacteria activity in a sourdough culture as a function of temperature, pH, lactate, acetate, and salt-- And it helps that that's the temperature I keep my wine closet;-)

I first built a 500g of starter, using three builds that tripled the mass of the original seed starter (100%, refrigerated), and the mass of each intermediate build while decreasing the hydration of the levain by one-third. As a consequence at the end of the third build I had a ripe levain at 50% hydration, weighing 500g (27 times bigger than the original seed starter.)  These builds were all conducted at room temperature, and it took approximately eight hours for each build to peak (determined visually). I reasoned this would give me good yeast concentration. I use this 3-build method for all my sourdoughs in an attempt to realize a levain similar to one kept at room temperature, and fed at least daily,i.e. trying to emulate the professional baker.

Subsequently, I halved the 50% levain, fed it 1:1:1, and put it in the wine closet. I repeated this every twelve hours, three more times--it at least doubled in volume each time. I recall that the levain I used (480g) to make the dough had increased approximately 3-1/2 times. I concluded I had preserved good yeast activity.

Each time I fed it I threw away 250g of ripe levain; on the last time, on impulse, I scaled your formula to make one 800g loaf, 68% hydration, I used all white KA Bread Flour and used 240g of the discarded levain.That's the second loaf shown. Nothing dramatic.

All of these loaves--as is true for almost all my breads--are made from KA Bread Flour and KA Whole Wheat flour.

I know all this time and attention seems obsessive, and it is, but I'm retired. Every day is Saturday, except Sunday.

I hope this clears up my muddy post. If you have comments on my obsessive starter build, I'd appreciate it. It's working gangbusters for me, but I'm still open to changes if they support the K.I.S.S. principle.

David G