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

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