Wheat and rye levain bread

Wheat and rye levain bread

This is the first time I have experimented with putting rye flour into a dough. This is going to be a new favourite recipe and flour to use, because boy does it produce a gorgeous loaf. Baked to medium – dark, the crust is full of flavour, while the inside has a lovely soft texture from the rye flour and depth from the fermentation. Levain breads do require a time investment, and a slow but attentive approach, but the end results are so worth it.

The recipe and method is from Ken Forkish’s book Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza. As for the pain de campagne loaf, this bread mostly uses levain as a rising agent, with a tiny bit of dried yeast (2 grams) for a little added lift.


Bulk fermentation: ~5 hours

Proof time: 11 – 12 hours

Sample schedule: feed the levain at 8am, mix the final dough at 3pm, proof the loaves overnight and bake at around 7 or 8am the next morning.


Makes two loaves.

540g white flour

175g rye flour

85g wholewheat flour

620g water, 32°C to 35°C (90°F to 95°F)

21g salt

2g fresh or dried yeast

360g mature levain

A little rice flour (for shaping)

1a. Feed the levain

About 24 hours after previously feeding the levain, discard everything but 100g of levain, leaving the remainder in your container. Add 400g of white flour, 100g of whole wheat flour, and 400g of water at 29°C to 32°C (85°F to 90°F) and mix by hand until incorporated. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours before mixing the final dough.

1b. Autolyse

After 6 to 8 hours, mix the 540g of white flour, the 85g of wholewheat flour and the 175g of rye flour by hand in a large mixing tub.

(The flour should be at room temperature. If it feels chilly, you can warm it beforehand in an oven on its lowest setting for 5 – 10 minutes. If the bowl it’s in becomes too hot, tip the flour into another).

Add the 620g of 32°C to 35°C water and mix by hand until just incorporated. Cover and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Mix the final dough

Sprinkle the 21g of salt and the 2g of yeast evenly over the top of the dough. Transfer 360g levain from its container to the dough mixture.

Mix by hand, alternating between using a pincer method and folding the dough to fully integrate the ingredients. The target dough temperature at the end of the mix is 25°C to 26°C.

The pincer method involves making four or five pincer cuts with your thumb and forefinger across the entire mass of dough. When folding the dough, ease the edges of the dough free of the container, gently taking lifting a quarter to a third of it, pulling it as far as it will stretch without breaking, and then folding over the mass of dough to the opposite side. Then repeat for all sides of the dough. The idea is to build tension in your dough without kneading, which helps give the dough its strength and contributes to good volume in the final loaf.

3. Fold

This dough needs three or four folds. It’s easiest to apply the folds during the first 1 ½ to 2 hours after mixing the dough. When the dough is about 2 ½ times its original volume, it’s ready for dividing.

A good cue for when the dough needs a next fold is when the dough has relaxed from being a ball with structure to flattening out in the bowl.

4. Divide

With floured hands, gently ease the dough out of the tub and onto a lightly floured work surface. With your hands still floured, pick up the dough and ease it onto the work surface in a somewhat even shape. Use a bit of flour to dust the area in the middle where you’ll cut the dough, then cut it into 2 equal-sized pieces with a bench scraper.

5. Shape

Dust two bread proofing baskets liberally with rice flour, making sure you catch all the sides with flour. If you don’t have a banneton basket, you can line a colander with a non-linting kitchen towel and dust it liberally with rice flour.

Doughs made with rye flour are stickier and need a bit more strengthening that doughs made without. To compensate, fold each segment of dough by pulling floured sections of the dough over and across, eventually enclosing the sticky inner surface of the dough. Then shape the dough into a tight ball.

Place the dough seam side down in the proofing basket and dust the top of the loaf with a light coating of flour, and repeat for the other section of dough.

6. Proof

Place the baskets in a nonperforated plastic bag and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, 11 to 12 hours after the loaves went into the refrigerator, they should be ready to bake, straight from the refrigerator. The loaves don’t need to come to room temperature first.

6. Preheat

At least 45 minutes prior to baking, put a rack in the middle of the oven, and put a Dutch oven on the rack with its lid on. Preheat the oven to 245°C (475°F).

7. Bake

For the next step, please be careful not to let your hands, fingers, or forearms touch the extremely hot Dutch oven.

Take a piece of greaseproof paper and scrunch it into a ball (this will stop the loaf sticking in the Dutch oven). Flatten the greaseproof paper on the countertop and invert one of the proved loaves onto it, keeping in mind that the top of the loaf will be the side that was facing down while it was rising. At this point, you can slash your bread if you want with a razor blade / lame, which will help to control how it rises.

Remove the preheated Dutch oven from your oven, remove the lid, and carefully place the loaf in the Dutch oven seam side up. Cover and bake. If you prefer a golden-brown loaf, bake for 45 – 50 minutes with the lid on the Dutch oven the entire time. If you like your crust baked dark, bake for 30 – 35 minutes then uncover and bake for 15 – 25 minutes, until medium dark to very dark brown all around the loaf.

Check the loaf after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot.

Remove the Dutch oven and carefully tilt it to turn the loaf out. Let cool on a rack or set the loaf on its side so air can circulate around it.

Repeat for the other proved loaf.

Let the loaves rest for at least an hour before cutting into them and enjoy this magnificent bread!

Lunch for Mr and Ms Salford Kitchen!

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