A good pain au levain is all about time. Taking the time to make the levain, I personally prefer the bread when made with a very fresh levain. Time to gently mix the dough, let it ferment, then rise to optimize the flavor. Time to bake it in a very hot oven to obtain a nice caramelization of the crust, and finally give it time to rest before you cut into it.
2 days prior to making the bread, start feeding your levain or starter twice a day. Remember 1 part levain, 1 part water, 1 part flour.
The day before you plan to bake, feed your levain 3 times a day. On the 3rd feed, preferably the evening before you make the bread, do 1 part levain, 2 parts water, 2 parts flour. That way the levain will have plenty to eat over night and won't develop a sour flavor.
The day of baking, make your bread as follows:
- 400 gr of fresh levain
- 400 gr of whole wheat flour unbleached
- 400 gr of bread flour unbleached
- 450 gr of filtered water
- 25 gr of sea salt
- In a large mixing bowl combine the levain, water and salt. Mix until the levain and salt are fully incorporated.
- Add the bread and whole wheat flour, and mix by hand or with a mixer fitted with a dough hook until all the water has been incorporated.
- Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- Mix or knead for 10 minutes by hand, or 6 minutes with a mixer.
- Let the dough rest for 45 minutes then stretch for 5 minutes. While resting make sure to cover the bowl with a damp cloth or dish towel.
Repeat 3 times
- Let the dough ferment on the counter top for 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.
- Divide the dough into 3 pieces and shape it by stretching and folding to obtain a round or oblong loaf. Place in a baker's couche or proofing basket. Cover with a damp dish towel.
- Pre-heat your oven to 500° F if using a brick oven, or 450° F if you are using a regular gas or electric oven.
- Let the bread proof for 2 to 3 hours or until is has doubled in size. The dough should have a very soft spring.
- Place a metal pan with hot water in the back of the oven.
- Place the dough on a wood peel and score.
- Bake the bread for 45 minutes, or until done.
How do you know if it's done?
When done, the bread will sound hollow when tapped.
Remember to let your bread fully cool off before cutting into it or eating. There is a lot of moisture and CO2 trapped in the bread that needs time to escape.
Unlike commercial yeast bread, this bread will keep for 3 to 5 days, simply wrap it in a dish towel or cloth.