Pain au Levain, a Simple Sourdough Bread That Works

Home 9 Sourdough Bread 9 Pain au Levain, a Simple Sourdough Bread That Works

Pain au levain simply means ‘bread made with levain’ in French.

So, it is the simple, yet complex bread recipe that should be in anyone’s book. This is my go-to when I do not know what to bake. Or when I do not want to experiment. It just works. Always remember that every starter is different and the conditions in every kitchen are different so it may take longer or less time to ferment in your case.

A simple pain au levain is also the perfect sourdough bread for beginners. The relatively low hydration makes it easy to knead and easy to work with. It is a very forgiving dough. You can also cold proof it instead of baking it on the same day. Just pop it in the fridge around 1 – 2 hours after final shaping. If it is fermenting rather rapidly, then you can refrigerate it right after the final shape.

You can play around with different flours too. Use wholemeal flour instead of rye flour. You can use larger amount too. In that case just adjust the hydration because more wholemeal mean drier dough.

A healthy and active starter is the key for any bake. To learn more about keeping your starter active and building a leavain click here.

Watch the video down below for detailed instructions.


For the levain

60g (2.1oz) strong white bread flour

10g (0.35oz) active sourdough starter

40g (1.4oz) water at around 21C (70F). My kitchen is 21C (70F) so I used room temperature water. If your kitchen is warmer, then you may want to reduce the water temperature or keep the levain in a cooler spot.


For the main dough

310g (11oz) strong white bread flour

30g (1oz) rye flour

7g (0.25oz) salt

220g (7.75oz) water at around 5 – 6C (41-43F)

To learn more about dough temperature when using a preferment click here.


  1. Make the levain by mixing the water, sourdough starter & flour. Ferment for 10 – 12 hours. It should more than double in size and be nice and stretchy not runny!
  2. Autolyse the remaining flour by mixing it with the remaining water. Sprinkle the salt over the dough, cover & leave to hydrate for 30 – 60 minutes.
  3. Add the levain to the dough & knead for 5 – 6 minutes. Desired dough temperature 25 – 26C (77-79F). If your dough is cooler, then it may take longer. If it is warmer, then it may take less time.
  4. Ferment for 1.5 hours.
  5. Fold.
  6. Ferment for 1.5 hours.
  7. Shape into a loaf, place in a dusted bread basket smooth side down.
  8. Ferment for 3 hours. During the final hour of fermentation preheat your oven and baking vessel to 230C (450F) fan off.
  9. Score the dough & bake with the lid on for 25 minutes.
  10. Remove the lid & continue baking for another 15 minutes.

Watch the video here

Understanding the principles of bread making will let you be in complete control every time you make bread. It will reduce the failure rate and turn you into an even more confident home baker.

I highly recommend you check out the Learning page where I have detailed, easy to understand explanations on each step of the bread baking process and the principles behind it. You can find all the equipment I use and recommend in the Shop (UK) & Shop (US) pages.

Show/Hide Comments (8 comments)


  1. Ashkan

    I just finished making this and it turned out amazing. I had tried 8 different recipes and measurements but this one is spot on. Super excited. Thanks

    • ChainBaker

      Nice one! I’m glad you like it 🙂 on to many more great bakes!

      • Stan Edwards

        Thank you so much for the great video. It was very helpful. My bread is getting better. Info like this is great. I live in Queensland Australia, and self isolating at present, so enjoying making wonderful sourdough.

        • ChainBaker

          Hey Stan,
          I’m glad you found it useful. Oh yes I was in your shoes at one point too. Self isolation and baking all the time to keep my sanity :)) On to many more great bakes! Cheers!

  2. Kelly

    Is it possible to get a sour sourdough
    that still has a light, chewy crumb and thinner tender crust?

    Thanks for all your awesome content!

    • ChainBaker

      A thicker crust and chewier crumb are the main characteristics of sourdough bread. This bread should be pretty light because it is fermented relatively quickly and baked on the same day. You can try adding 10% fat to the dough to tenderize it more. But if you want really soft loaves, then perhaps look into yeasted bread.

  3. Kyle

    Love this bread, such a nice flavour to it! One question… I love a rosemary and garlic flavour with my sourdough… When would you suggest adding these flavours to the dough? I tried right at the start but I think I killed the bacteria as it did not rise lol (may have been the garlic powder haha)

    • ChainBaker

      I would knead them in towards the end of the mix. And I’d suggest using roasted garlic instead of garlic powder. Trust me, that will change the game. Take a whole bulb of garlic, cut the bottom of it off just to expose the cloves inside. Rub it in olive oil and wrap in foil. Bake in the oven at 150C for 45 – 60 minutes. You will be able to pop the softened roasted cloves out by squeezing the bulb. They will be buttery smooth and so sweet that you can eat them alone 🙂


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