Pain au Levain with Mixed Sourdough Starters

I have a passion for sourdough bread. It started with Maus saying she wanted to learn how to make it.  What she really meant was: she wanted me to learn how to make it. That was a while ago.

This is my everyday loaf.  I don’t think there is a better recipe.

It is from Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman.

The book is often described as more appropriate for professional bakers than home cooks but it is certainly one of the best books on bread – it just takes a little bit more effort than most to comprehend.  Bread has US, metric (both of which make about 20 loaves) and home quantities.  As the home column is in lbs and oz (it’s an American book) I divide the metric column by 10 and this gives just the right amount for 2 large loaves.

If you are an experienced sourdough bread baker, then all you need to know is that the recipe is an adaption of Jeffrey Hamelman’s  Pain au Levain with mixed sourdough starters.  The adaptions are for 100% hydration starters and a tweaking of the water to allow for the absorption rate of Australian flours.  If your starters are at a different hydration, you will need to modify the recipe accordingly.

If you are not an experienced sourdough baker, you will need to read on.

Before you begin, you will need a wheat and a rye 100% hydration sourdough starter.  (100% hydration merely means equal parts water to flour).  You can either make 2, a rye and a wheat or make one and create another using the first as a base.  I did the latter. I made a wheat starter and then later divided it and started feeding half of it rye flour. There are piles of sites on the web giving instructions how to make a starter.  I used this one: I looked at lots and thought this was the best.

If you are in Perth, or thereabouts, I am more than happy to give you a wheat starter and a rye starter.  It will save you 2 weeks, a fair amount of flour, heartache and stress.  Just remember, it is a commitment as it is alive – you must feed it once a week, whether you are making bread or not. I call mine Petal, short for Pet Alive to remind me that they are alive and need looking after.

You will also need:

  •  digital scales
  •  a pizza stone or unglazed tile (or 2 depending on whether you can bake the 2 loaves in your oven at once)
  • a plastic spray bottle
  • 2 cane baskets (Big Bubble sells them for a $1 or $2) or 2 bowls
  • Some cloth
  • A razor blade

When you are not making bread:  Keep your starter in a jar with a small hole punched in the lid (so it can breathe).  Feed your starter once a week: 50g flour, 50g water (rain water or bottled water – not chlorinated) and 50g starter from the fridge (throw the rest away).  Once mixed, put the starter into the cleaned jar and back into the fridge.

When you want to make bread:  Take your starter out of the fridge and build it up.  I always build up in proportion to what I feed it, ie 1:1:1.  Also, you must remember to make more than you need to keep your starter going.  If you throw it out, you will be in big trouble.  I did it once but remembered something I had read on the web.  I scraped out the jar as much as I could.  I got about ½ a teaspoon of starter.  I went from there.  I fed it in the ratio of 1:1:1, ie ½ teaspoon starter, ½ teaspoon water and ½ teaspoon flour.  After about 4 hours, I fed it again and before too long, I was back to my 50g.

Take your starter out of the fridge about 6 hours before you want to start baking and build it up.  I make up 240g rye starter (80g starter from the fridge, 80g water and 80g rye flour) and 270 g wheat starter (90g starter from the fridge, 90g water and 90g wheat flour) to make sure I have some left over to feed and put back in the fridge.  Wait until your starter has at least doubled in bulk and is all bubbly.  This will take less time in summer than in winter but usually somewhere in the vicinity of 6 hours.

Pain au Levain with mixed sourdough starters

  • Wheat starter 180g*
  • Rye starter 160g*
  • Bread flour 750g
  • Whole wheat bread flour 80g
  • Water (rain, filtered or bottled) 525g
  • Salt 18g

*Take 50g of the leftover starter, mix it with 50g water and 50g flour, put in clean jar and return to the fridge.

You can make the dough by hand or use a mixer with a bread hook.  I go for the latter as I am lazy but you certainly don’t have to.  Most bread books prefer hand kneading.

Mix all the ingredients (except the salt) in a bowl until just combined.

Cover the bowl and let it stand for 20 minutes.

By mixer

Sprinkle the salt over the dough and knead for 5 minutes.  When you start kneading, the dough will stick to the bowl.  As it progresses, the dough will slowly clean the sides of the bowl.  When it is nearly finished, it may begin to clean the bottom of the bowl as well.  I like it if the dough comes away from the bottom of the bowl just before the 5 minutes are up.

By hand

Sprinkle the salt over the dough and knead for 10 minutes or so.  The dough will be very sticky at first.  Don’t add more flour – just do your best with what you have.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, spray (dab, whatever) Glad Wrap with water and oil and place over bowl.  Leave for 50 minutes (put a timer on).

Stretch and fold

Flour your bench top quite generously and stretch your dough over about a 45cm square.  Don’t stretch too much and tear the dough – be gentle.

Fold the top third over to cover the middle third.  Brush off any flour you have picked up.  Pick up the bottom third and fold it over the middle third.  Again, brush off any excess flour.  It will now be one third the size you started with.

Take the right third and fold it over the middle third, brush off excess flour and then take the left third and fold it over the middle third.

Turn over the pile of dough and cup it with your hands.  Cup away until you have a neat ball.

Put it back in the bowl, making sure you still have oil and water on your Glad Wrap.

Leave for 50 minutes and do it all again.

Leave for another 50 minutes (2½ hours all up).

Divide your dough into 2 (measure the weight to ensure they are the same).

Knead each piece of dough to get a rough ball then stretch and fold each ball.

With each ball, cup your hands around it trying to tighten the skin of the dough as much as possible without tearing it.  Bring excess dough to the bottom.

Get your cane baskets (or bowls), line them with the cloth then spinkle the cloth very generously with wholemeal flour.

Put the ball of dough in each bowl bottom side up.

Now, depending on the time of day, you have a choice.  If there is a good 8 hours left, proceed.  If not, put your 2 loaves in the fridge.

The next day

Take your bowls out of the fridge.  Check the size of the dough and visualise how big they would be if they were nearly doubled.

Wait.  Remember the dough has to warm up before it starts rising so it will take a while (about 6 hours).

When you start getting itchy feet and thinking it is nearly there, put a tray (a Swiss roll tray is ideal) on the bottom shelf of your oven and your two pizza stones or tiles about a third of the way up from the bottom. If you have a small oven, you will have to bake one at a time (that’s ok).

Turn your oven to 250°C and preheat for one hour.  An hour is needed to ensure your stones are properly heated through.

When the oven is ready, sprinkle the bottom of the bread very generously with flour (make sure there are no moist spots showing).  Get a paddle, a piece of three-ply wood, a chopping board or a cake tray, put it over the bread then flip it. It is now right side up.  If you are nervous, you could line your tray with baking paper to ensure it doesn’t stick.

Boil the kettle.

Now get a razor blade and make a big cut across your bread and another at ninety degrees (or any other pattern you fancy but keep it simple the first time).

Pour about 2 cups of boiling water into the tray you put on the bottom shelf of the oven.  Close the door.  Pick up your bit of wood with your bread on it, open door and slide your bread onto the tile. (If you are doing two loaves, put your other one in now.)  Close the door.

Get your water spray bottle, quickly open the door and spray your bread and around the oven with water.  Close the door.   About 2 minutes later, do it again and, after another 2 minutes, do it again.

The water is to stop the bread forming a crust too early. If you can delay the formation of a crust, you should get much better oven rise.  (Bakers’ ovens have built-in steam jets for this purpose.)

Turn your oven to about 235 degrees Celcius.  Cook for 45 minutes.  If your bread is getting too dark too soon, cover with alfoil.  Try to resist taking the bread out early.  If it is getting really dark, turn the oven down.

Take the bread out of the oven, give it a tap to make sure it is ready (it will be) and then wait until it is cool before digging in.

If you live in Perth, the South West or thereabouts, you are more than welcome to my sourdough starters.  I have a wheat starter and a rye starter.


37 thoughts on “Pain au Levain with Mixed Sourdough Starters

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  3. Reblogged this on Our Cocooning World and commented:
    I still remember the wonderful sour dough bread I ate in San Francisco, California 38 years ago! I always wanted to make my own starter and this looks like a good recipe to start. I’m in College Point, New York and can’t stop by for this starter. LOL

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  5. Hi, loved this post about bread making. Are you current in Perth and do you have any starter available??

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  14. Oh! I’ve just found your blog and so glad to have done so. I too am trying to make as much as I can of the food I eat, both for the love of it and to have some quality control happening 😉 One of the things that I am needing health wise is fermented goods and have been scrounging blogs learning about them. I thought sourdough would be a great choice in breads and am trying to get a starter going (with little success so far – one never breathed, the next lived long enough for a loaf, not sure of its status at the moment) and to cook my own sourdough. If I commit to only eating what I make it will reduce my intake of nasties and I am sure to see some improvements.

    I was wondering if your offer of starters is still valid. As I have read that they get stronger with age, I am hoping that you are happy to part with some children to be cared for by others 🙂 I am near Dianella.

    Thank you

    • Hi Deb. Absolutely the offer still stands. We are off to Bridgetown tomorrow but will be back in Perth on the 31st. We are not too far from Dianella. Certainly close enough to arrange a pick up. I have a wheat and a rye starter. Would you like both or just the one? Email me and we can make arrangements.

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  19. Glenda,

    Lovely bread, I have started to make breads recently. I live in Perth CBd, can I also have some of your starters. Also where did you buy your stones in Perth?


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  23. Hello! I’ve been following your blog for a little while now (via Fig Jam & Lime Cordial) and very much enjoy your cooking/baking/gardening adventures. Not sure if the offer is still valid, but if so I’d love to partake in some of your sourdough starter to create my own “mother culture”. I’m located in Perth, near Midland. But if it’s too tricky to manage, no worries!

    • Hi Debra
      The offer is definitely still open. I am going down south tomorrow (where my starters are). I will bring them back with me next week. Email me and we can arrange for you to collect them. Midland is very close so it should be easy. Thanks for following my blog and all the very best for your sourdough experiences.

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    • Hi Sponge
      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Bread tastes as good as it looks, Sorry, you are a bit far away for me to offer you a sample.

  25. Great post, Glenda! Isn’t it amazing how much a part of our daily lives sourdough can become? I must confess to finding the Hamelman book frustrating (the pages and pages of errata don’t help), but I have made some great breads from it over the past couple of years. I particularly liked the braiding instructions. Love your everyday loaf, especially all the holes in the elastic crumb! I make pancakes with all my surplus starter – the boys love them. Let me know if you’d like the recipe… 🙂

    • Thanks Celia, I am lucky, I have a later edition of Bread and most of the mistakes have been corrected. Sourdough pancakes sound good!

  26. This is the sourdough we have for breakfast when we stay at Passion Fruit Garden visiting G & M and it really is a winner.

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