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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sometimes all you need is a plain sourdough - Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat Flour


Sometimes, all you need is a plain sourdough and a splash of olive oil, maybe some dukkah thrown in.

The plain sourdough bread, i.e. without fruits, grains or any derivatives, is something I try to make more often and manage to forget to make it. Not that I don’t like plain sourdough, I just seem to get distracted by other concoctions and the idea that breads with grains or fruits are more interesting and tastier. Every now and then, I would just realize that I haven’t made the plain sourdough bread for a while, or sometimes S would remind me and make a request for it.

Vermont sourdough from Jeffrey Hamelman’s  Bread: A Baker's book of techniques and recipes is the plain sourdough I made most often. I liked it so much so that it is the only plain sourdough I baked from the book .

Well, one should expand one’s horizon a little and venture into the new plain sourdough territory. Flipping through Hamelman’s Bread cookbook, I came across Pain au Levain with whole wheat flour, which looked quite interesting. The recipe has slightly higher levain percentage, 20% versus 15% in other recipes. It contains mixed flour (rye and bread flours) in stiff levain build. It also has 20% whole wheat flour in the recipe.

This recipe also serves another purpose. As the recipe calls for stiff levain, it is a good timing that I can convert my liquid starter (100% hydration) to stiff starter (60% hydration) before I am going away in the next two weeks for a month and won’t have chances to feed my lovely pet starter, Jerry. I was afraid that he would be starving (for flour and water) and pass away while I’m away.

Thanks to a post on The Fresh Loaf about the sourdough starter feeding. Apparently, stiff starter is more resilient than liquid one. It is more likely that it will survive after not being fed for a while. I only need to feed Jerry a few times when I’m back from holiday to wake him up and come back to his cheerful and active self.

The bread has a pronounced sour flavour to it due to the stiff levain used and a small amount (6.5 %) rye flour in the levain. The bread achieved a good volume with a good oven spring. The crumb is moist and chewy, slightly chewier than usual. This bread works well with olive oil and dukkah (Middle East spice and nut mix).

Another great way to enjoy sourdough bread, dipping in olive oil and dukkah

The bread bottom was not as brown as I would have liked but the crust is shiny. It is probably the shiniest crust I had so far. This could be a result of too long an oven steaming. I got distracted and left the steaming for about 5-10 too long (I filled the cast iron pan with boiling water three times and left  the pan in steaming on for about 20 mins).

Relatively nice crumb:)

Recipe note:

1. I left the dough to autolyze for 30 minutes.
2.The dough was retarded overnight in the fridge
3. Two folds, during 2 hours and a half fermentation

Pain au levain with whole wheat flour

Make 2 large loaves

Overall formula
Bread flour 680 g
Whole wheat flour 182 g
Medium Rye Flour 45 g
Water 618 g
Salt 17 g

Levain build (60% hydration)
Bread flour 130 g
Medium rye flour 9 g
Water 85 g
Mature culture (stiff)  28 g
Final Dough
Bread flour 550 g
Medium rye flour 36 g
Whole-wheat flour 182 g
Water 533 g
Salt 17 g
Levain 224 g (all less 2 tablespoons)

Baker Percentage
Bread flour 75%
Whole wheat flour 20%
Medium rye flour 5%
Water 68%
Salt 1.8%

1. Stiff-levain build: Make the final build approximately 12 hours before the final mix.

2. Mixing: Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl except the salt and levain. Mix or stir the ingredients together until it becomes a shaggy mass. Correct the hydration as necessary; the addition of a bit more water may be necessary depending on the absorption of the whole-wheat and rye flours. The consistency of the dough should be medium - neither dry nor overly moist. Cover the bowl with plastic and let it stand for an autolyse phase of 20 -60 minutes. At the end of the autolyse, sprinkle the salt over the surface of the dough cut the levain into fist-sized chunks and place on top of the dough, and continue kneading until the medium gluten development is formed.

3. Bulk fermentation: 2 ½ hours

4. Folding: Fold the dough twice, at 50-minute intervals

5. Dividing and shaping: Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces, make a pre-shape dough balls and let it rest on the bench for 10-20 minutes. Shape the doughs into round (boule) or oblong (batard).

6. Final fermentation; Approximately 2 -2 ½  hours (alternatively, retard for up to 8 hours in the fridge)

7. Baking: with normal steam, 225C (440F) for 40 45 mins, turn the loaves half way through the bake.

Submitting this post to YeastSpotting.

So simple yet so effective, nice crusty bread with olive oil and dukkah


  1. weres the recipe??????????

  2. It's in the bottom section of the blog. Can you see it????

  3. That's a gorgeous crumb!

  4. Hi, What is dukkha? I know dukkha as suffering. But, in your recipe it looks like a herb.

  5. Dukkah is nuts and spices mix. It generally made from sesame seed and spices (cumin, clove, nutmeg). It is used in Middle Eastern cuinsine predominantly. It's nice with dipping with olive oil or meat rub.


  6. Hi Sue, thank you, I didn't read it properly. It's Dukkah in stead of Dukkha. I will make it to go with the ciabatta's. They are in the oven right now.
    I love your breads they look great. I will visit your blog for sure.

  7. Hi Connie,

    That sounds yummy, ciabatta with olive oil and dukkah.