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Pain Au Levain… Naturally Fermented French Bread

Pain Au Levain

Pain Au Levain

I received a new starter from a woman in Macairiere Boulogne, France. She wanted to remain nameless, but I do want to thank her for her wonderful French sourdough starter. I made the Pumpkin Sourdough in the preceeding blog with it. It is a midrange sour flavored,robust, five hour proofing starter (medium range proof). I thought it would be great to bake up some French Bread with it so I modified a formula from Raymond Calvels book “The Taste of Bread”.  

I very loosely followed his version of Pain Au Levain by doing two builds and then the final dough. The first two builds are around 60% hydration, the final dough is 65 % hydration. There is Rye flour added to AP flour and Bread flour. Please don’t compare what I have done to Dr. Calvels, as it is a very loose interpretation, mostly of the builds.

The first build:

  • 3 oz 166% vigorous French starter
  • 3 oz water
  • 7 oz flour (Bread flour)

Add these ingredients to a medium covered container and stir well with a heavy spoon or by hand. Allow the dough to ferment for five hours- six hours if you have a 6 hour starter ( suggest 10:00 am to around 3:00 pm) at room temperature. The dough should be around 78 degrees and is at 60 %  hydration and weighs 13 oz.

Second build:

To the first build dough add:

  • 3 oz whole Rye flour
  • 10 oz flour (half All Purpose half Bread)
  • 8 oz water

Stir well with a heavy spoon or by hand, by hand is easier. Loosely cover the container and ferment for five more hours around 8:00 pm. The dough is now 2 lbs 2.0 oz and is at 61% hydration. If the dough can be kept around 78 degrees, that would be great. You don’t want to get the dough too warm though. Keep it near a warm stove or on top of a water heater. Use a dough thermometer to make sure it doesn’t get over 80 degrees.

Final Dough

To your dough mixer add: (don’t add second build dough until after autolyse)

  • 26 oz water
  • 3.6 oz Whole Rye flour
  • 35 oz flour (half AP flour, half Bread flour)
  • 1.2 oz salt (add after autolyse)

Mix these ingredients on medium speed for about 2 – 3 minutes or just until incorporated. Now let the dough rest for 20 minutes (autolyse). After autolysis add the salt and tear off chunks of the second build dough and mix together with the final dough on low speed until all of the second build dough, final dough and salt are mixed together. This should take 1 – 2 minutes. Do not mix too much at this point as the gluten will further develop during fermentation. Allow this dough to ferment for an hour or two until around 10:00 pm and then put it to bed in a cool place around 48- 50 degrees in a loosely covered container. If you don’t have a dedicated refrigerator, then use a refrigerator, but it may take a little longer to warm up and proof next day.

Next morning take out the dough and uncover it and allow it to warm up around 3 hours, make sure the top of the dough doesn’t dry out by loosely covering it with a moist cloth or very lightly misting it with a little water. Do not have the water running off the dough, just keep it slightly moist. After three hours, shape loaves into batard style loaves. To stagger the loaves for baking, I weigh and shape the first loaf, then put it in it’s couche and set the timer for 25 minutes.

French Batard

French Batard

Then after 25 minutes I weigh and shape the next loaf and so on. That way they are not all ready to bake at the same time. This works well for us home bakers who cannot bake ten loaves at the same time, but only one! Allow the loavs to final proof for 2 – 3 hours or whenever the dough is done proofing then bake according to the roasting lid method – spray dough with water and then bake at 450 degrees F for fifteen minutes with a roasting lid on. Take off lid , turn down oven to 425 degrees F and bake for 15 more minutes, turning once for even browning. For slashing the dough, I took a sharp pair of scissors and cut deep v shaped slashes with the points of the scissors across the dough top in a line. The slashes were cut pretty deeply, about 1 inch or so.




Here are some additional pictures:

Three Pain Au Levain

Three Pain Au Levain


Pain Au Levain Crumb

Pain Au Levain Crumb


Pain Au Levain

Pain Au Levain


Crumb Closeup

Crumb Closeup

 This is a very nice moderately sour Pain Au Levain, with flecks of Rye and a crisp tasty crust.

If you haven’t yet seen Susan’s blog at Wild Yeast, and her fun Yeast Spotting page, make a mad dash, something good is always baking there.

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  1. Jenna Jenna
    April 23, 2013    

    How many loaves do you get out of this? I have started my levain and suddenly realize that later, this recipe calls for 35 oz flour and 26 oz water. Can I halve it in the morning and only use part of my levain? I only have two people to feed and we struggle to keep our loaves in good texture through out the week – either they get too hard or spongy.

    • April 23, 2013    

      Hi Jenna, it makes about 6 lbs of dough for three 2 lb loaves. You can certainly half the amounts and make 3 lbs of dough to be used for two 1.5 lb loaves.

  2. Ebony Ebony
    April 3, 2013    

    I have newly found your site and would love to get started making lovely breads but I don’t understand what 166% vigorous French starter is please explain thank you.

    • April 3, 2013    

      Hi Ebony, any sourdough starter will do. 166% starter means a starter that has the same volume of flour and water, like one cup of flour and one cup of water. It is a very wet starter. Most starters are kept at 100% hydration which means the same weight of flour and water- like 4 ounces of water and four ounces of flour.

  3. Brenda Mumm Brenda Mumm
    December 3, 2012    

    Just new to the whole sourdough journey! In most of your recipies you refer to taking a chunk of starter to reserve for the mother dough. Is this ‘chunk’ a quarter cup, size of an egg, softball, etc. I think I have the converstion of my 100% to the 166% figured but not sure about how much to save back. Thanks!

  4. Andreea Archip Andreea Archip
    June 11, 2012    

    Hello! When it comes to water, is it measured in fluid ounces? I am from Europe, so I’m not accustomed to these measures. I measured fluid ounces but the final dough is very liquid, so I guess i was wrong. No way my dough can be 65% hydration. Can I do something to repair it?

    • June 11, 2012    

      Sorry Andreea, I suspect it is the flour. A lower protein flour will not take up as much water. If you used the standard measurements, it should be accurate.
      My more recent blog posts contain metric as well, however that won’t help you right now. If your dough is already fermented, perhaps you could make some focaccia or ciabatta?

      If you want to knead in some additional flour until it feel right to you and then let it ferment longer, that should work as well, but it is hard to do that with dough that is already ripened.

      • Andreea Archip Andreea Archip
        June 11, 2012    

        Thank you Theresa! I suspected it might be the flour, so I kneaded more flour right away. How much protein should a good bread flour have? I currently don’t live in my home country and it’s so hard to chose the right flour.
        Thank you for your fast answer! Now I feel better for adding more flour.

  5. Archer Yates Archer Yates
    December 12, 2010    

    This looks a bit like a bread from,The Taste of Bread by a professor Carvel, but with out the tedious steps of building the starter. I have had problems controlling the final volume
    despite my attempt to scale it down.
    I am anxious to try it.
    Best regards

  6. Tony Tony
    January 14, 2009    

    Thanks Teresa, my starter actually grown three times in about 6 hours at 66F !!
    Whats the procedure to keep ?
    Do i need to feed the starter and wait till double before to take away the part for the recipe (6.77 oz) or just take away the part and then feed my starter to replace it ? Thanks.

  7. Tony Tony
    January 14, 2009    

    Hi, thats a great bread. I started few days ago and i’m glad of my 100% Hydrated starter.
    Just a question, i use to take to room temp my starter (actually 66F) feeding every day 1:2:2 ratio.
    In this recipe should i transform my 100% to a 166% starter ?
    How can i do it ?
    One more question, the starter is ready to use in any recipe or its better feeding and after bubbling take out the part for the recipe ?

    • January 14, 2009    

      Hi Tony, for a cup of 166% starter, use 6.77 oz of your starter at 100% and add 2.23 oz of water. I hope this helps,Teresa

  8. November 13, 2008    

    Really beautiful batards! I like the scissors slashing and the crust is such a beautiful color. Thanks for contributing to YeastSpotting!

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  1. YeastSpotting November 14, 2008 | Wild Yeast on November 14, 2008 at 12:03 am

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