The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why no overnight retard on Hamelman's basic Pain au Levain?

varda's picture

Why no overnight retard on Hamelman's basic Pain au Levain?

I have been making a few of Hamelman's sourdoughs.   I notice that on several of these, he includes an option to retard for 8-18 hours, but not for the Pain Au Levain (5% rye) on page 158.   Does anyone know why not?   This is not a theoretical question.   I would like to bring a couple loaves of this for a visit, and the timing works much better if I can retard overnight, and bake in the morning.   Thanks.   -Varda

ericb's picture


I believe he suggests not doing an overnight retard because it will change the way the bread tastes. The term "Pain au levain" is generally used to describe natural leavened breads that are not sour. Letting the dough rest overnight won't ruin the dough, but you will basically have made "Vermont Sourdough" instead of "Pain au levain."



varda's picture

Ah, I see.   So I might just as well make the Vermont Sourdough instead.   Thanks a lot for your answer.

LindyD's picture

If you look at the sidebar on page 159, JH notes:

Retarding overnight is not recommended as many of the more graceful and delicate characteristics of the bread will be lost during the long cold time in refrigeration.

Your schedule -  your call.

varda's picture

One of the reasons I keep coming back to this particular bread is because of those "graceful and delicate" characteristics.   So no point if I'm going to lose them.   I haven't tried Vermont Sourdough yet, which he describes as an "everyday" bread.   Everyday can be good too, especially if it's Hamelman.   But I am a bit perplexed.   Awhile ago a lot of people on this list were enthusing about overnight retard as a way of developing and enhancing flavor.   I guess there is no right or wrong answer here - just taste and schedules.   Thanks! -Varda

suave's picture

When you spend a bit more time with us you'll realize that jumping on the bandwagon is the favorite sport here.  Truth be told, I think that pain au levain is a far superior bread.

LindyD's picture

Awhile ago a lot of people on this list were enthusing about overnight retard as a way of developing and enhancing flavor.

I still do and the majority of my breads are retarded overnight.  It fits my taste and most important, my schedule. 

Many of us have full time jobs and when you don't get home until 6 p.m. there's not much time available to mix a dough that isn't going to be refrigerated overnight.  Unless you enjoy baking after midnight.

In my case, doughs that are mixed and baked the same day have to be saved for the weekend.  And on beautiful summer weekends, I prefer being outdoors versus a hot kitchen.  Thank goodness for freezers.

I'm not sure if you've ever baked, then moved the bread to the freezer (properly deli-wrapped) after it had completely cooled, Varda.   The bread, once thawed, still tastes fantastic.

You could try that approach for your upcoming trip; just allow a few hours for the Pain au Levain to thaw.

varda's picture

LindyD, I have not tried freezing as of yet.   I have been baking small amounts frequently - it is just easier for me to manage that way - so it hasn't come up as of yet.   But when it does, I will ask you what "properly deli-wrapped" means.   Thanks.  -Varda

rossnroller's picture

I tried Hamelman's pain au levain, following his directions to bake the same day, and then again retarding overnight.  If anything, I preferred the retarded one, but to be honest would have been hard pressed to discern the difference between's not night and day. Anyway, both were nice. I wouldn't hesitate to retard overnight if that suits you better.


hanseata's picture

I made the same experience as Ross. Maybe the difference is like tasting $50 wine and a $60 one - my palate is not exquisite enough to taste the difference.


kenyerpek's picture

I agree with Ross here.  The difference is not that significant.  That said, one reason I like to retard in the refrigerator--beyond the issue of timing--is that the firming your loaves get make them more forgiving and sturdy when you make your slashes.  I find they don't deflate as easily if I'm being clumsy.

varda's picture

Many interesting comments.   Based on the last few, I should probably have just retarded the pain au levain, but I went down the road of making a liquid levain instead of a stiff one, and will try the Vermont sourdough.   Hopefully it will be glorious in its everdayness.   But next time I'll have courage and simply retard the pain au levain if the scheduling works better.  -Varda

jkandell's picture

Commercial bakers are imprisoned by the need for conformity at high volumes.

Home bakers--baking one or two loaves--are liberated to experiment with small differences.

Retard, not to retard, a little more or less of this, etc.