The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pain au Levain, with sunflower seeds

pmccool's picture

Pain au Levain, with sunflower seeds

My wife recently picked up a copy of Leader's Local Breads, and I am part way through reading it.  I needed to bake this weekend, so thought that I would try a formula from the book.  Based on what I had available, I opted for the Pain au Levain, using my existing sourdough starter to prepare the levain for the formula.  I also chose to add sunflower seeds to the bread, following one of Mr. Leader's options.

It was enjoyable to work with a mostly-white bread dough again.  Much of my recent baking has been predominantly whole-grain breads (not counting RLB's focaccia that factored out at 113% hydration!), which tend to have somewhat heavier and stickier doughs.  This formula calls for small quantities of both whole wheat and rye flours, but they are fairly low percentages of the total flour content.

Here's the finished bread:

Pain au Levain batards 

And a shot of the crumb:

Pain au Levain crumb 

As you can see, there was plenty of oven-spring.  The dough was a little bit short of being completely proofed.  I may have been able to let it proof a little longer than I did, but I'm happy with the outcome.  The flavor is surprisingly (to me) mild; the wheat flavor comes through cleanly, along with the nutty sweetness of the sunflower seeds.  The last couple of sourdoughs that I have made had a high whole wheat content and a pronounced sourdough tang.  Other conditions were essentially the same, so it appears that the flour has an influence on the degree of sourness.

This is a very enjoyable bread.  I hope that others in the book are equally good.



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Paul.

Those bâtards look really good.

I made this recipe in a couronne shape a few months back. I found the taste much like you describe yours. Leader's formulas for pain au levain do yield rather un-sour breads, which are to the French taste.

My favorite breads from this book are his Polish and Czech rye breads. If you like rye, I recommend them. And, of course, "Local Breads" is the source for Pierre Nury's Light Rye, which is a favorite bread for lot's of Fresh Loafers. If you have never made it, you must do so. It is one of the best tasting breads I have ever made.

Enjoy your new book!


pmccool's picture


Thank you for your comments.

I've only gotten as far as the chapter on Auvergne breads, which includes Pierre Nury's light rye.  For once, I'm actually reading the book all the way through, rather than diving in and trying recipes at random.  Based on all of the rave reviews here in TFL, I'll definitely have to give Nury's bread a try.  Thus far, I'm finding the book to be very thorough, without being the least bit tedious.  Mr. Leader does a very good job of providing the technical details for each formula, along with an account of its origins, and making the whole thing an enjoyable read.  I've only noticed one typo in a bakers percentage in the formula grids, but the weight and volume quantities for the formula appeared to be correct. 

Even though I'm only part-way into the book, it is apparent that there are many paths to reach a desired degree of sourness in a bread.  Hot/fast, cool/slow, 1 stage, 2 stage, 3 stage, liquid, firm, variations in ingredients; just about everything can be manipulated to produce flavors that go far beyond anything I ever dreamed of when I was happily cranking out yeasted straight-dough whte sandwich loaves and patting myself on the back for being such an accomplished baker.  Hah!  If only I knew then what I know now.  Of course, most of the "sourdough" starters in the books that even bothered to mention it back then were really more of a poolish, begun with a large dose of packaged yeast and allowed to ferment at room temperature for days on end.  Ah, well.  Thanks to TFL and the new wave of bread books that actually focus on producing good bread, life is much more interesting now and I am happily learning about the differences and the similarities in levains, sourdoughs, poolishes, bigas and pate fermentees.

In looking at my bread books, I probably have more possibilities than I can ever exhaust.  Still, there's more room on the shelves . . .


Marni's picture

I really like how your slashes opened, you may have felt it was too much, but those look great to me.  I had the Leader book checked out from the library, I think I need to reserve a copy there again, and go back to it, I enjoyed his explainations so much. Thanks for reminding me of it.