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Pain au Levain

I love to eat and bake all kinds of bread, so I thought I would start off my first post with the quintessential French sourdough bread.

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I picked a very simple formula, Jeffrey Hamelman’s Pain au levain (Sourdough bread) from the second edition of his book Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes.


Baker’s %         Grams
white flour 93.5 %            130
rye flour 6.5 %              10
water 60%              90
sourdough culture 20%              30
total 260g


white flour 730
light rye flour 40
water 500
salt 20
levain 230
total 1,52kg


Step 1: Build the Levain: Part 1
24 hours before starting the bread, start to build up the levain. Start with ripe culture and add half of the levain ingredients listed above (it will be pretty stiff). Cover the container with a lid or plastic and leave at room temperature.
Step 2: Build the Levain: Part 2
12 hours before starting the bread, continue building the levain. Add the remaining levain ingredients and knead to combine. Cover again and let the sourdough happily multiply.
Step 3: Mixing the dough (part 1: Autolyse the Flour)
Combine the flours and water. Mix only until all the flour is wet (no dry clumps). Cover and let the gluten form on its own for 30 to 50 minutes.
Step 4: Mixing the dough (part 2)
Sprinkle the salt over the dough and begin mixing the dough, adding the levain in pieces to help it mix evenly. After you add the last of the levain, continue mixing on speed 2.

The dough will need very little kneading (2 minutes tops!). The gluten has been developing from the autolyse, and the levain has been forming over the past day. You only need to work the dough long enough for all the ingredients to combine evenly.

Step 5: Bulk ferment (rise) for 2.5 hours (folding every 50 minutes or so)
To fold, transfer the dough to a well-floured bench. Stretch the dough to extend the gluten. Fold it over on itself – left over right and top over bottom.

Make sure that you always fold the same side over itself – one side always remains on the “outside” with the folds moving toward the middle.

Step 8: Divide and shape the loaves
Divide the dough into the individual loaves. Form into rounds. Allow to rest 20 minutes before forming to their final shapes (rounds, bâtards, turtles, airplanes, etc.).
Step 9: Final proofing (about 2 to 2.5 hours)
Good bread takes time.
Step 10: Bake!
Bake with all the steam you can in a hot (440 degree) oven for around 40 minutes. In my oven, I start at 440, but then turn the temperature down (to around 420, then 405) during the bake.

Added by: Joanna Sienkiewicz

Tags: Bread Sourdough

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