This pain au levain is an authentic French-style sourdough made with flour, water, sourdough starter, and plenty of patience. Its distinct tang and chewy crumb are well worth the wait.
Like many of the best things in life, this pain au levain cannot be rushed. However, the distinct sourdough tang, tender crumb, and rustic elegance of this homemade bread is worth the wait. Well worth it.–Angie Zoobkoff
Pain au Levain
- Quick Glance
- Quick Glance
- 2 H
- 21 H
- Makes 2 loaves
Special Equipment: Bowl scraper or bench scraper; baking stone
IngredientsEmail Grocery List
- For the wake-up feed
- For the final feed
- For the dough
If your starter is already active, proceed to step 2.
☞ TESTER TIP: The dough will be very wet. This is normal for pain au levain. Resist the urge to add more flour.
☞ TESTER TIP: If you don’t have a funnel for getting water to your steam pan, fear not. Just open the oven door and pour the water into the pan as quickly as possible and close the door.
SHOP THE LOOK
- Love the look? Click to bring the LC Lifestyle into your home.
- 3 1/10 Quart Multi Bowl by Le Creuset
- 18-inch by 40-inch Turkish Tea Towel by Turkish Dowery
Recipe Testers Reviews
This is a beautiful sourdough bread. It does its final rise in the oven to form a crusty, nicely browned loaf. The flavor is certainly sourdough, but the taste is smooth and subtle. This bread will not overpower the remainder of the meal but will complement it beautifully.
I used my own starter for this bread and followed the directions to wake it up, give it a final feed, and build the bread. This is not a quick bread by any means. I began the first wake-up at 8 pm, started the final feed at 8 am, and took the loaves from the oven at 6 pm the next day. This is a bread that will not be rushed, and it will require your attention throughout the day. Make this on a day that you will be home doing other things.
It should be emphasized that the dough will initially be much too sticky to seem like a viable bread dough, but the texture transforms when it rests. I was sure this recipe was not going to work and had to refrain myself from adding more flour. DO NOT ADD MORE FLOUR. This recipe will work and work well.
Step 9 was the miracle step. After leaving the dough to rest for 15 minutes, it was finally a good bread dough consistency. The directions were clear in this step.
The last rise took 1 hour 15 minutes. The loaves were about double in size but still on the small side. I cooked each loaf for 35 minutes and they were perfectly done. Each loaf would have 8-10 hearty slices.
The instructions for this pain au levain recipe look daunting and long-winded. However, the recipe works as stated and if you are patient and follow the recipe, you get good bread which has a slightly sour taste and a crunchy crust. The bread had some big holes in it but overall a tighter texture than my sourdough made only with strong flour.
This recipe made 2 round loaves. I did this recipe just as stated. I had a mature sourdough starter in the fridge which I fed with the wake-up feed. Then I gave it the final feed, then I made the dough. The dough did not need all of the water indicated, I stopped adding water when the dough was quite sticky. I used rice flour to dust the bannetons. It made a huge difference as previously I had always used plain flour. My loaves fell out of the baskets this time, instead of having to be slightly pulled out when using plain flour.
I used a glass Pyrex casserole bowl to bake my loaves on, which I used upside-down. I put a piece of parchment paper on the lid, with some rice flour on it and then tipped the dough onto the lid and enclosed it with the upside-down casserole dish. I baked each loaf for 30 minutes, then took the top off the bake and continued baking the bread on the lid for another 10 minutes to increase the brown color. I would make the bread again and would be happy to give it to other people.
This is one of the best levain based bread recipes I have ever made. And I am a bit of a bread nerd! My husband announced that this is among my top 3 loaves of all time. The crust was chewy without being tough. The crumb was open and airy but not so open that you couldn't spread something delicious on it. It is sour without being distractingly so. Basically, it is a flawless bread.
Truly the only thing I could even begin to say as a possible criticism, is that this recipe is not for the faint of heart. However, I would say that about all levain-based breads. Bread is alchemy unto itself. Baking with a levain is alchemy with a bit of madness. I joke that it is "the art of domesticating feral yeast!"
This recipe does a fantastic job of going into the detail needed to make the bread properly, even if it means being 12 pages long.
I started feeding my levain a couple days prior because I hadn't baked bread in a couple weeks and I knew she would be sluggish. (Yes, “she.” Her name is Willie Mae.) Also know that my proofing times will probably be different from most folks because my house is quite cold and so everything takes a lifetime to prove properly. I did my last feed at 4:30 am. And I began to make the dough at 7:30 am. I pulled the loaves from the oven a bit past 5 pm. So total time was 13 hours. And worth every minute in my humble opinion. If the recipe author has a book, I will buy it now!
The dough was a wet sticky dough. But I never mind wet sticky dough. It almost always turns into my favorite breads.
I used all-purpose flour on one loaf and on the second loaf I used semolina flour (just to see). Both were fine. I could have sworn I had some rice flour but couldn't find it in my pantry.
As for a number of servings, you mean you aren't supposed to eat a whole loaf in one sitting???