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Pain au Levain a la Vanille

inlovewbread's picture

Pain au Levain a la Vanille

Pain au Levain a la Vanille ( sourdough bread with vanilla )

I recently was gifted some beautiful organic vanilla beans. They have been calling to me from my pantry for a few weeks now. I wanted to incorporate them into some sort of bread but couldn't think of something that would pair well with the vanilla bean and still be good in a bread. I decided to let the smell and taste of vanilla to shine through and just use it on its own. 

I found it most interesting that vanilla beans come from a type of orchid. The vanilla pod is the fruit. Vanilla beans are the second most expensive spice behind saffron; mostly because of what the cultivation entails. For centuries, only a certain type of bee was able to pollinate the vanilla orchid and the vanilla beans could not be grown outside of Mexico and parts of Central America. Until in 1841, a 12-year old french-owned slave developed a method of hand pollination with a bamboo stick. Vanilla was then able to be grown commercially. Although, the process is still painstaking as the vanilla flower only remains open for one day, the vines of the orchid must be inspected daily and the flower pollinated immediately. Harvesting the vanilla pods is labor intensive as well. After reading such a history, I was so appreciative of these beautiful "fruits" to use in my bread. 


The most wonderful smell was emanating from my oven as these loaves baked. 

The taste is very nice. Almost like cake batter but without the sweetness. The vanilla flavor was complimented by the subtle acidity of the french-style sourdough I keep. All-Purpose flour was a good choice with this bread because of the "fluffiness" it lent to the crumb- more of that cake-like quality :-)

This would make a great Valentine's Day bread. I served a slice of it today with fresh strawberries :-) 


Levain Build:

45 g Firm Starter

95 g King Arthur Organic All-Purpose Flour

5 g Whole White Wheat 

50 g Water


Final Dough:

350 g KA Organic All-Purpose Flour

125 g White Whole Wheat Flour (I used Prairie Gold from Wheat Montana, freshly ground)

25 g Rye Flour (I used finely ground whole rye)

350 g Water (I used warm water for a desired dough temp. of 76F)

All of Levain Build

10 g salt

Contents of two long vanilla bean pods



Elaborate your starter the night before you plan to bake. Leave at room temperature for 8-12 hours.

The next day, mix flours and water. Rest for 30 minutes, covered. 

Add levain in pieces on top of dough and sprinkle on the salt. Mix until incorporated and then add scrapings from two vanilla bean pods. 

Knead for about 8 minutes or until medium gluten development is achieved. 

Ferment at room temp for I hour, then fold.

Continue fermenting for 2-3 more hours. (Mine took 2 1/2 hours at 71 degrees F)

Divide and shape into two batards. 

Ferment en couche (or on flour dusted parchment which is what I did) for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (mine took 1 hour).

Pre-heat oven to 475F with steam pan in place.

Score as desired and load onto baking stone and bake with steam*. Immediately turn down oven to 450F. Remove source of steam and turn down oven to 400F after 15 minutes of baking. Bake 20-25 minutes more. I left my loaves in a turned-off oven w/ the door cracked for an additional 5 minutes.

*Steam by your method of choice. I used a loaf pan with river rocks in it, and poured 1/2 cup water on top.

Cool completely. Or, cut into one a bit warm if you want to! Warm and vanilla go very well together.


This post is being submitted to Susan at Wild Yeast Blog for YeastSpotting. Be sure to check it out for an amazing array of beautiful breads!



hansjoakim's picture

They look picture perfect! All dressed up for Valentine :)

So one vanilla pod per loaf hits the sweet spot?

arlo's picture

Your loaves look wonderful! Congrats on putting the beans to such a good use. The only way this could be better is with white chocolate incorporated into it as well! : )

Hope you enjoy!



Mebake's picture

Inlovewbread, I could only imagine how your house smelled!!

Very nice bread, excellent oven bloom!!

Bake on..

LeeYong's picture

I have a question... how firm is your starter in this recipe?


Many thanks!

Happy baking!


inlovewbread's picture

I keep a 50% hydration firm white starter. 

You could use one within the 50% to 60% hydration range and be fine with this recipe.

Let me know if you try it!

inlovewbread's picture

Yes, one vanilla bean per loaf seems enough. Although, I'm sure you could add more, maybe up to 4 vanilla beans. I wouldn't go less than two, and my vanilla beans were about 9" long and fresh.

I know you have a sweet tooth too.... a touch of honey in this bread would have been lovely.


DonD's picture

That is some fierce oven spring. Very creative touch with the vanilla too. Did you get any blisters on the crust? I always do when I leaven the dough with sourdough only.


inlovewbread's picture

Hi Don, 

It's hard to say on this loaf. It is covered with flour because it was proofed in a linen couche so any blistering would have been small.

I use my sourdough starter as the sole leavening agent in most of my doughs. I'll have to watch and see if I get blistering every time. I know I do on the high-extraction miche and on JH's Vermont Sourdough and such. This dough behaved a bit differently because of the organic ap flour and the small amount of vanilla acted as an enrichment (kind of). A lot different from the crumb I usually get. Good none the less. So maybe the absence of large blistering is due to this cause.

Interesting, I hadn't heard that blistering is from using sourdough only. Is that what you are saying? 


DonD's picture

Because I like my bread not overly sour, I find that if I reduce the amount of levain and add a touch of IDY to compensate, I do not get nearly as many blisters. I also notice that the difference in appearance between commercial sourdough and regular baguettes are the blisters.