The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

First attempt: Pain au levain

cdnDough's picture

First attempt: Pain au levain

Here's my first attempt at making Leader's Pain au levain.  Caveats: This is only the 2nd bread I've baked and my first attempt using levain.

 First sourdough

Pain au Levain: First sourdough 

To me, the dough felt somewhat wet and needed 18 minutes of kneading before it would pass a window-pane test.  After a few minutes of kneading, it felt sticky again and I felt compelled to flour my hands and scrape the board.  The rise during fermentation was small, consistent with Leader's estimate of 25%.  I Fermented for 1 hr, folded and then for another 3 hrs (76F-80F).  At this point, I was out of time for the night and put the dough in the fridge for 6 hrs.  I took it out first this this morning, let it warm for an hour and divided it.  The dough still felt cool when dividing and shaping and proofed slowly in my kitchen (79F).  Shaping looks easy on youtube, but I found it more difficult in practice.  I'm not convinced that it doubled, even after 3 hours of proofing.  A finger test suggested it was ready (or as good as it was going to get) so I slashed and put in the oven.  This was my first time using an oven stone (a piece of 1/2 granite).  My only complaint about the instructions are that it wasn't clear what size of a loaf I was making.  I didn't realize they would be so small.  It states the expected weight of the divided dough, but not the size of shaped and/or finished loaf.  Mine finished out at 4'' w x 9'' l x 2.75'' h.

 The apartment smells great but I haven't cut into them yet (still too warm).  A few things to work on for next time: (1) The bottom of each loaf may have burned slightly, (2) I need to work on my shaping and slashing technique as they aren't the prettiest loaves I've seen, and (3) I think I might double the recipe next time and make two larger loaves.

Tips, comments, advice all greatly appreciated! 

blockkevin's picture



As this is only the second time that you have baked bread I would call your loaves a great success. As far as slashing and shaping are concerned I am sure even some of the more veteran bakers here on this site will tell you that it takes a LOT of practice to get anywhere near "professional" type results.


Keep up the good work, and keep practicing!


Soundman's picture


For your second time baking bread you did really well! And using sourdough to boot, that is a fabulous job. Those look like very nice batards.

A couple of questions: What temperature(s) did you keep the oven at? How long did you preheat the oven?

If the bottom is truly overdone your stone is probably absorbing a lot of heat and perhaps you might remedy this by lowering the temperature somewhat, or maybe shortening the preheat time. That said, a slight color difference between bottom and top is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the bottom didn't char. Your taste buds will tell you the answer.

Keep up the great work!

Soundman (David)

cdnDough's picture

Starting temperature was 450F for 15 min and then 400F for 20 min.  Measured with an IR sensor and a thermocouple.  My stone is quite dark so I think I'll try a lower temperature next time.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I got good news and bad news

The good news is you did great! lovely loaves and no one will believe that this is the second time you baked bread.

The bad new is, I wouldn't use granite as a baking stone. Sorry to drop that on you. Granite is not good. It is fine for counter tops, mixing dough on it, floors and tables and bowls but should not be heated up in the oven with food on it. I'm sure one loaf is not too much but heating this stone would present a problem. Sorry.

Granit baking stone <click here

Mini O

Soundman's picture

MiniOven, Thank you for pointing that out about granite! Yikes, I'm glad I just have a regular old baking stone.

Nice archive digging by the way!

Soundman (David)

dougal's picture

If granite is fine for a worktop, or kneading on, then its fine in the oven.


It really doesn't decompose on heating to oven temperatures.

The stuff was formed by being cooled from the liquid state. And it only melts/freezes well above 1000C/1800F. A temperature of 225C or 550F in an oven rather than 20C or 70F (room temperature) for an hour or two really makes damn all difference to it.

Nothing is going to significantly dissolve out into the dough. (Granite buildings don't suffer from acid rain erosion like limestone does.)

Regarding radioactivity, nuclear decomposition rates simply do not change on heating.

Any danger from Granite comes from the tiny amount of Radon gas that it gives off (whatever temperature its at). There's some Radon in the air that all of us breathe. But if you live in a naturally high radon area (like where there's granite below ground), and live in a house made of local stone, and insulate it so well that there's little ventilation -- then you could find that you were building up a dangerous concentration of Radon. Being much heavier than air, it tends to collect in unventilated cellars and basements. Remember, we are all breathing some Radon, every day - danger comes when you breathe a heck of a lot of it.

And I cannot see a few kilos/pounds of granite baking stone as changing your exposure significantly. Especially not if ten, twenty or a hundred times as much is just fine as a kitchen worktop.

Granite is spectacularly similar in its properties at room temperature and at oven temperature.

If the material is safe for a worktop, then its safe in the oven.


I'd suggest that you avoid chipped or cracked pieces, as the action of non-uniform heating and cooling will be to worsen the damage. That apart, its a pretty good choice as a baking stone.

cdnDough's picture

Perhaps in some areas you'd need to worry about granite.  In these parts, however, the uranium content in natural stone is quite low.

For what it is worth, I'm a chemist/physicist and maintain radiation sources and a linear accellerator for use in cancer therapy and diagnostic medicine.  If anyone is interested in a home radon/radiation testing kit see:

Many thanks for the kind words on the bread :)