Pain au Levain Made Easy (A Fantastic Sourdough Bread)

Pain au levain is the benchmark in sourdough bread across the world. Rivalled with San Francisco sourdough bread the pain au levain is one of most popular breads in the world.

Strictly speaking, we should be using french flour. I use T55 bread flour, but any bread flour will work, even all purpose flour can give fantastic results. French bakers will not use rice flour or semolina to line the bannetons, so for an authentic pain au levain, use plenty of flour when dusting.

Whether you call it a pain au levain or a sourdough boule, this bread is a “must learn”. I hope you enjoy baking it at home! This is a great sourdough bread recipe and should take around 20 hours to make. If this is your first sourdough recipe, you may prefer my sourdough bread recipe for beginners.

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You can also try this recipe using a no-knead method. Simply stop mixing once the ingredients are incorporated and continue on with the same method as above but adding another stretch and fold after 2 hours.

pain au levain recipe
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What you need to make pain au levain

To make this amazing sourdough bread, you’ll need the following equipment:

Using a thermometer will help you with controlling proofing times. For accurate dough temperature readings try this thermometer from Gdealer. Aim for dough temperature between 25C and 30C (77-86F).

What if I don’t have a baking stone?

A baking stone conducts heat into the loaf. Using one increases the height of the oven spring and helps to give an even bake on the base of the loaf. If you don’t have a baking stone, preheat the thickest baking sheet that you have.

Can I use a dutch oven to make this recipe?

Yes, if you would rather use a dutch oven to make this pain au levain recipe you won’t need to add steam to the oven. Simply preheat the dutch oven and drop the dough inside on a sheet of parchment paper to bake. If you are looking to get a dutch oven, I recommend getting this one from Challenger.

Can I make pain au levain without a banneton?

Banneton proofing baskets are readily available these days, you can see the banneton I recommend here. If you don’t have one, you can use a large bowl lined with a tea towel. A wicker basket will do just the same task as well and are sometimes sold with a cloth cover.


Changing the size of the recipe

This recipe makes 1 medium sized bread. If you want to change the size of the recipe, use the bakers formula.

1)  Weigh the ingredients

In a mixing bowl, weigh the water and tare the scale. Next, weigh the sourdough in the same bowl. Weigh the flour and the salt separately and add to the water & sourdough bowl. 

2)  Mix the dough

Set a 6 minute timer. Using a dough scraper start to gently combine the ingredients and when the bowl is starting to hinder the kneading technique, take out the bowl and onto a workbench. Continue the slow kneading using a slow, stretching technique until the timer sounds. Next fast knead using the stretch and slap technique, again setting a timer for 6 minutes.

Using a dough mixer:

Add all the ingredients to a dough mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix for 3-4 minutes at a slow speed to incorporate the ingredients and then move to fast speed for 3 minutes.

The dough should be extensible with a slightly tacky feel. 

3)  Bulk fermentation

Place back into a mixing bowl, cover and bulk ferment in the fridge for 12 hours.

Sourdough develops faster and creates a more sour taste when proofed at 32 - 34C. Cooler than this creates a more universally accepted sourdough bread.

4) Stretch and fold at 4 and 8 hours

Stretch and fold by stretching all four sides and folding over itself, one by one.

4)  Pre-shape

After bulk ferment, remove the dough from the fridge and pre-shape into a ball. Lightly flour dust an area of the workbench and use this to rest the dough for 15 minutes. Line a banneton by dusting flour on it. 

5)  Prepare the proofing basket

Dust a layer of flour and rice flour (if you have it) on the inside of the proofing basket. Too much is better than too little, you don’t want the dough to stick!

If it’s a new basket, wet it with a water mister first so the flour has something to cling onto.

6) Final Shape

Reshape into a ball shape. Do this gently to try and retain the gas bubbles in the dough. Place the dough into the proofing basket with the steam side facing upwards.

Dust a bit of extra flour around the edges of the basket if you are worried about the dough sticking.

7) Final Proof

Proof for 8 – 10 hours, this time depends on the temperature of the dough and the room. It can take longer than this on a cold day. 

8) Preheat the oven

Preheat the oven to 250C (480F) with a baking stone and a baking sheet on the shelf underneath.

9) Testing if it’s ready

Once the dough has risen to the top of the basket and doubled its size it is ready to bake. Lightly flour a bakers peel (or a chopping board) and tip the baneton upside down.

The bread should release, give it a bang if it doesn’t. 

10) Score the bread

Cut a cross shape using a bakers lame and slide the dough into the oven. 

11) Bake with a baking stone or tray

Add plenty of steam by pouring a cup of boiling water into the baking tray and quickly shut the door. Drop the temperature to 230C (440F). After 20 – 25 minutes, open the oven door to release the steam and consider dropping the temperature down to 210 – 200C (410 – 390F) if the crust is already well coloured. Bake for another 15 – 25 minutes until the crust is a golden colour.

12) Remove from the oven and cool

Take out the oven using gloves or a peel and turn out onto a cooling rack. To check the bread is fully baked, test by tapping the bottom and if it sounds hollow.

Cooling allows moisture to escape and the crust to harden. It is best to leave the bread to cool for a couple of hours before cutting.

Make pain au levain with a video tutorial

Nutritional information per loaf

Calories: 494kcal | Carbohydrates: 110g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 0g | Saturated Fat: 0g | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 0g | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 6mg

Other bread recipes to try:

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  1. Cover with a bag ideally, or you can mist the bread with a little water every 30 minutes.

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