I have a bit of a kitchen confession to make, and that is that I’ve never made traditional bread. I’ve made croissants, I’ve made cornbread, I’ve made cakes, muffins, and the like, but I’ve never made a straight-up old-fashioned loaf of fluffy and crusty bread. This is especially lame since I actually spent an intensive few days at King Arthur Flour headquarters a couple years ago learning to do just that, but just never carried through on making any once I got back home. But now, all that has changed. Yes, the years of storing away random bread facts and knowledge have finally come to fruition in the form of these beautiful loaves from the Model Bakery Cookbook.

The recipe is a very straightforward and traditional one. It requires patience, but little else. The ingredients are almost suspiciously simple; flour, water, salt, and yeast. And yet they make a bread with such rich and deep flavor that you’d swear that there was just some sort of seasoning or extra ‘oomph’ in there, but that’s just time doing its job. You start the levain or ‘poolish’ the day before, this is a very yeasty and watery dough mixture that is allowed to rise and fall overnight to allow the flavors to develop and deepen. Almost like aging a wine in oak barrels, the yeast needs time to interact with the flour to create nuances in the taste and texture of the final product.

The next day you add more flour, water, and salt to the levain to make the actual bread dough. There is a process of folding the dough, once every 20 minutes, for 1 hour. The dough is then transferred into a banneton and allowed to rise for another 2 hours before baking. A banneton is another word for a proofing bowl, which is the last container bread dough is allowed to rise in before baking. Traditional bannetons are made from wicker that is shaped into a spiral and heavily floured, which is where the bread gets its swirly pattern from. Once the bread has finished proofing, you can pop it in the oven onto a baking stone. Baking stones help bread and pizza retain a firm crust and similar baking environment to a professional baking oven, lending extra heat to the normal home oven. Just make sure to put the stone in the oven *before* you preheat it.

The result of all of this effort is a baked good unrivaled by any other. I will be the first to admit that I was damn proud of this bread. For my first legitimate loaf, the taste and texture was excellent and well worth the extra time it took to make. I can’t recommend trying this method of bread-baking highly enough, and now that I’ve had a taste I am most certainly going back for more. If you’re looking to dive head first into bread-baking (and the holidays are certainly the time to do it!) take a peek at Chronicle Books Eye Candy sale for their e-reader cookbooks, the Model Bakery cookbook and Tartine Bread cookbook have both been making appearances there for suuuuper discounted prices.

Homemade Bread | Pain au Levain

This is a traditional recipe for homemade bread that involves creating a yeast-based started that ages overnight. This develops the gluten within the dough and creates a deep and rich flavor that rushed bread recipes just don't have. The overnight rest is worth it, I promise!

Course Appetizer
Cuisine French
Keyword bread
Servings 12 people
Calories 265 kcal

Ingredients

Levain

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 2/3 cup bread flour

Bread Dough

  • 3 1/3 cups water
  • 5 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour plus more as needed
  • 2/3 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt

Tools

  • 2 8-inch bannetons
  • baking stone

Instructions

Levain

  1. The night before baking, begin making the levain. Mix the water and yeast together in a small bowl. Add the flour and stir to make a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

Bread Dough

  1. The next day, combine the water and the levain in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment at low speed until combined. Add the flours, a little at a time, until a sticky dough forms. Turn off the mixer but do not remove the paddle from the dough. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to rest for 20 minutes.
  2. At low speed, add the salt until incorporated. Turn off the mixer and remove the paddle. Cover the bowl and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  3. As the flour absorbs more of the water, over time it will begin to look firmer. With wet hands, pull up one corner of the dough (still in the bowl), stretching it about 10 inches tall and fold it over the top of the dough. Repeat, once quarter of the bowl at a time. Cover the bowl and allow to rest 20 minutes.
  4. Repeat the folding process and 20 minute resting period two more times.
  5. Empty the dough from the bowl onto a well-floured work surface using a dough scraper. The dough will be tacky and ire, do not punch the dough down. Cut the dough in half and place one of the halves in front of you. Cupping your hands a bit, tuck down the sides around the dough, tucking them underneath the now round dough. Repeat with the other half of dough.
  6. Generously flour 2 (8-inch) bannetons, or line 2 (8-inch) colanders with linen and flour them. Turn each dough ball upside down and place it in the banneton. Cover loosely and allow to rest until the dough has risen but has not quite doubled, about 2 hours.
  7. Place your baker's stone in the oven on the lower 3rd rack. Fill a large casserole pan 3/4 with water and place it on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. If you have a baker's peel, you can dust it with semolina flour and gently turn one loaf out onto the peel, then transfer the loaf from the peel to the baking stone. Or you can turn the loaf out directly from the banneton to the baking stone, but this has to be done quickly so as not to let all the heat out of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for another 20 minutes.

  9. Remove the loaf and allow it to cool on a wire rack. Repeat this process with the other loaf. The bread can be wrapped in aluminum foil and stored at room temperature for up to 1 day, or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Nutrition Facts
Homemade Bread | Pain au Levain
Amount Per Serving
Calories 265 Calories from Fat 9
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 2%
Sodium 877mg 37%
Potassium 94mg 3%
Total Carbohydrates 53g 18%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Protein 9g 18%
Calcium 1.4%
Iron 4.7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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