The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help with pain au levain crust

philosophe's picture

Help with pain au levain crust


I recently got Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday. I've tried the pain au levain recipe 3 times and have had the same problem every time. The crust of the bread is a kind of pale gray color on top and a nicer golden on the bottom. And, although the bread does have a good spring, the crust doesn't really crack open on top (even where I've scored it). (See pictures below).

I'm wondering if anyone has any idea of what's going on.

I should say that I am using King Arthur French Style Flour (11.5% protein); I am using both starter and instant yeast; the dough is fermenting in the fridge for about 18 hours before baking; I preheat the oven to 500 Farenheit with a baking stone in the oven for 45 minutes; I pour a bit less than a cup of boiling water into a preheated baking pan on the rack under the stone; and I open the oven door for a couple seconds after 13 minutes and then bake for another 15-25 (depending on the size of the loaf).

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

cranbo's picture

Your photos suggest proofing problems, possibly overproofing.

the dough is fermenting in the fridge for about 18 hours before baking; 

Can you describe exactly what's happening in the fridge? After 18 hours, has the dough doubled in the fridge? Or more? 

Did you shape before or after putting the dough in the fridge?

How long did it sit after removing from the fridge before baking...and at what temperature did it sit? 

When you slashed the bread, did it deflate it all? 

Also, not sure what temp you're baking at: 450F for 40-45 min is usually how I bake rustic loaves, for a nice dark brown color. 


jcking's picture

I'll go with cranbo; lower you bake temperature and bake a little longer. The important point; how does it taste?


timbit1985's picture

I just finished baking a pain au levain from PR, and I'm not having this problem. I preheat to 500, lower to 450. bake for 13, open door ROTATE the loaf bake another 15 minutes. comes out dark. I also shape mine into batards, knock a good portion of the air out, and then proof on a couche for 4 hours until the dough dents and rises back slowly and incompletely.

amolitor's picture

That loaf definitely looks overproofed to me! It could also be that your dough is underdeveloped, I have noticed that under-kneading also produces this sort of appearance.

Knead or mix it until it's fully developed, for sure (windowpane test) and then bake it sooner -- I bake when the dough springs back after being poked, but slowly over several seconds, leaving a slight indentation. You may be letting it rise a little too long.


philosophe's picture

Thank you all for the input. I haven't had a chance to give it another shot, but I will try to implement the suggestions soon and will post new pctures if I am able to figure it out.

Amolitor, if I may, what about the appearance tells you that the dough is underproofed and underdeveloped?

amolitor's picture

Well, it looks either OVERproofed or UNDERdeveloped, to my eye, and to be honest I can't actually tell the difference.

The slashes open in a particular way, they wind up just being an area that's more or less even with the rest of the loaf, but of a different texture. I think of it as "looking like a scar". The surface of the loaf is "flat" instead of having a sort of deep canyon where the slashes are.

The cause in both cases is basically the same: The dough doesn't have the structural strength to create the deeper opening, it's basically flaccid and flows back to a smooth curve in the oven. In the case of over-proofing, it has LOST its strength, and in addition the yeast is tired so it cannot expand the loaf rapidly (oven spring). In the case of underdevelopment, the dough never developed the structural strength it needs. So, they look pretty much the same, although I'm sure a more expert person could tell the difference.


philosophe's picture

Thank you for the clear response––I'm most definitely a novice and appreciate/need the detailed explanation. 

Since I followed the instructions carefully (first used a stand-mixer for about 6 minutes total and then did 3 stretch and folds at 10 minute intervals), I will assume for now that it was overproofed. After reading another thread today (, I'm also starting to wonder if my starter is active enough...

If anyone else knows what the signs of underdevelopment and overproofing are, I would be interested to know.

Thanks again!

cranbo's picture


  • poor oven spring
  • greyish crumb
  • greyish dull crust
  • dense gummy texture
  • sometimes unpleasant yeasty smell and/or flavor
  • when slashed before baking, loaf significantly collapses
  • dough feels sticky and flabby after bulk rise or final proof*
  • dough collapses when poked with finger (more than just a little indentation)


  • dough explosions (out of the side, bottom, etc), extreme oven spring
  • poor crust color (light-brown or grey)
  • Some bubbles in crumb with dense dough around them
  • Unevenly distributed dense areas of crumb
  • Dough immediately springs back when you poke it with your finger
  • Dough feels very firm and dough-like, no sense of lightness. 
* some wet doughs, like focaccia, are naturally sticky, but when you learn how they're supposed to feel, they still don't feel "flabby"Here's another way to think about it: imagine you're chewing a piece of bubble gum, and you blow a bubble. 
  • If you blow a really big bubble, it's flabby and collapses: that's overproofing.
  • If you blow a really tiny bubble, it's really firm and unpopable: that's underproofing. 
  • Somewhere in the middle is the perfect bubble, with good surface tension, that won't immediately pop if you were to poke it, and can hold its shape: that's correctly proofed.