Overnight country blonde

Overnight country blonde: a beautiful levain loaf

This bread recipe is the one that I keep going back to again and again in Ken Forkish’s book Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, as the result is truly lovely. This recipe is a pure levain dough, which means that there is no added commercial yeast as a rising agent. I love this recipe because it consistently produces a good rise and crumb, and the dough has a subtle depth of flavours thanks to the fermentation.

Sometimes I replace the rye in the base mix with 50g spelt flour, which gives the dough a lovely softness. On this occasion I have kept to the original recipe, and included 50g rye flour.

I have been experimenting with how to achieve large air holes throughout the bread and how to maximise the rise. This time I tried sifting the flours using a sieve when weighing out, and spritzing the top of the final dough with cold water just before covering and baking in the Dutch Oven, which seems to have helped add a bit of extra lift. Either way, this bread is a keeper.


Bulk fermentation: 12 to 15 hours

Proof time: ~4 hours

Sample schedule: feed the levain at between 7am – 9am, mix the final dough at between 3pm – 5pm, shape the loaves the next morning, and bake at noon.


Makes two loaves.

  • 804g white flour
  • 26g whole wheat flour
  • 50g rye flour (or spelt)
  • 684g water, 32°C to 35°C (90°F to 95°F)
  • 22g salt
  • 216g 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 7 to 9 hours before mixing the final dough.

1b. Autolyse

After 7 to 9 hours, sift together the 804g of white flour, the 26g of wholewheat flour and the 50g of rye flour and mix 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 684g 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 22g of salt evenly over the top of the dough. Transfer 216g 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. Because overnight levain dough expands very slowly, it can be folded anytime that’s convenient before you go to bed, perhaps once every half hour in the first two hours, or two or three folds during the first hour and the final fold whenever convenient that evening.

When the dough is nearly triple its original volume, or possibly a bit less in winter, 12 to 15 hours after mixing, it’s ready to be divided.

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 for around 4 hours.

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. Spritz the top lightly with a little cold water then immediately 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.

Lunch with two slices of the overnight country blonde! The day old loaf makes a mean grilled cheese, with a combination of smoked cheddar and extra-mature Davidstow. Best enjoyed with a dollop of tomato ketchup on the side (Heinz, of course).

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