Pain Au Levain Made With Only One Hand (Sourdough Bread)




Introduction: Pain Au Levain Made With Only One Hand (Sourdough Bread)

About: I live in Montréal, I am interested by almost everything except science fiction ;)


For one year now I do my bread without failing (one bread once a week) and I succeeded the very first time. If you follow exactly all the steps and the quantities you will have a bread like the one on the picture (it was my first one).

The idea is to have a bread like the one made by french artisans in a small scale ie in your kitchen and with north american flour (they are not exactly the same as french one). You can watch this video, even if you don't understand french, you will see all the necessary movements and the evolution and consistency of the dough.

He makes around 50 breads, you will do "only" one.

You only need your hands: one to keep the bowl in place and one to mix the dough. It is not heavy nor difficult.

The steps and initial proportions come from James McGuire recipe published in No. 83 of The art of eating

Step 1: You Will Need


    • Metric scale
    • A timer
    • A bowl at least 1 gal capacity (4 to 5 litres) and a smaller one
    • A large basket around 10 in (25 cm) inside diameter (I use the basket of my salad spinner)
    • 2 kitchen towels (in linen or cotton)
    • A pizza peel or a metal tray
    • Parchment paper
    • A razor blade
    • Some plastic jar or bowl
    • Masson jars (for the levain)
    • A baking stone or a large cast iron skillet I use the skillet)
    • A roasting pan


    • All purpose flour
    • Whole wheat flour
    • Rye flour
    • Salt
    • Water (room temperature)

    Step 2: Making the Levain

    First and the most difficult is to start the « levain »

    Use organic flour, it will be easier

    Pour in a jar (half pint or half liter masson or equivalent) :

    • 25 g of all purpose flour
    • 25 g of whole wheat flour
    • 33 g of room temperature water (not directly from the faucet because there is some chlorine, so let it rest some hours before using it)

    Mix together, cover the jar with it’s lid and keep in a warm place arround 25 °C (77 °F) (on the top of water heater for example).

    Next 2 days, once a day:

    Take 25 g of the previous mix (discard the rest), and add:

    • 25 g of all purpose flour
    • 25 g of whole wheat flour
    • 33 g of room temperature water

    If the culture has started, you may see that the mass rises (with a lot of bubbles inside) and falls after a while, then repeat the feeding preocess every 12 hours.

    The day after and indefinitely:

    Then if the culture stays very active replace the whole wheat by all purpose flour and do it once a day.

    To keep the culture active feed it once every 1 or 2 days and keep it at room temperature.

    Don’t go under 15 Celcius otherwise you will have an acidic fermentation and you will have to restart it one or 2 days before using it.

    Then the levain (sour dough) should look like the two last pictures: before fermentation and 4 hours later

    Step 3: Now You Are Ready to Begin a Bread

    You will need 24 hours to do the complete process (to have a baked bread) but in fact it is around 20 min of work.

    You will also have to wait for a night before tasting the bread...

    You will need to have:

    • All-purpose flour: 50 g + 150 g + 405 g + 250 g = 855 g
    • Whole wheat flour: 200 g
    • Rye flour: 200 g
    • Salt: 22 g
    • Water: 35 g + 100 g + 740 g = 875 g

    Use organic flour, the results will worth it.

    Step 4: The Rafraichi and the Levain Build

    10 PM: Wakeup the levain (made the Rafraichi):

    In a bowl larger than the one used to keep the levain add:

    • 40 g levain
    • 50 g all-purpose flour
    • 35 g room-temperature water

    Mix, cover and store at 24,5 to 26,5 °C (76 °F to 78 °F)

    Prepare the water for next step and store it at the same place as the levain so it will be at the good temperature: 100 g room-temperature water

    6 AM the next day: the levain build

    add to the Rafraichi:

    • 150 g all-purpose flour and the previously
    • 100 g room-temperature water.

    So you have a levain build of 375 g

    Mix, cover and store at 24,5 to 26,5 °C (76 °F to 78 °F)

    Prepare the water for next step and store it at the same place as the levain so it will be at the good temperature: 740 g room-temperature water

    Step 5: The Final Mix: the Dough

    Arround 1:45 PM: The final mix of the dough


    • 22 g of salt
    • 405 g of all purpose flour in a bowl

    add the salt to the 740 gr of room-temperature water and mix well

    In the big bowl pour:

    • 200 g rye flour
    • 200 g whole wheat flour
    • 250 g all purpose flour

    and mix the flour together

    • Then add 310 g of levain built to the flour (keep the leftover to continue your levain for next time)
    • Add the salted water to the flour and dough

    Mix with one hand (stirring and grasping) while the other keeps the bowl. The mix should become more homogeneous after 1 to 2 minutes.

    • Finally add the remaining flour (405 g) and continue to mix untill all the flour is absorbed (3 to 4 minutes maximum).

    The total weight of the dough is: 2127 g

    Wait 5 minutes and fold the dough 8 to 10 times.

    Fold technique:

    Hold the bowl with one hand, slip your fingers between the dough and the inside of the bowl and grasp the dough, pull it and and lay it on the top of the dough. Turn the bowl and repeat the movement. (on the pictures you see only one hand because the other one was holding the camera)

    Wait another 5 minutes and repeat 8 to 10 times. It should begin to look like a real dough and begin to detach from the bowl.

    Cover with a towel and keep in a warm place for 1 hour: 24,5 to 26,5 °C (76 °F to 78 °F)

    15 PM: Fold the dough 8 to 10 times

    Cover and keep in a warm place for 1 hour: 24,5 to 26,5 °C (76 °F to 78 °F)

    16 PM: Fold the dough 8 to 10 times

    Cover and keep in a warm place for 1 hour: 24,5 to 26,5 °C (76 °F to 78 °F)

    17 PM: Fold the dough 5 to 6 times

    Cover and keep in a warm place for 1 hour: 24,5 to 26,5 °C (76 °F to 78 °F)

    Step 6: 18 PM: Last Phase of the Raising Procedure

    Loaf form

    Fold the dough 5 to 6 times in its bowl.

    Then verse the dough on a floured surface, fold it 2 to 3 times and give it a round shape.

    Line the basket with a towel, sprinkle flour on the towel (not too much, just enough to avoid the dough sticking to the towel).

    Place the dough in the basket bottom up (you will see the future base of your bread (la clef), the upside will be in the bottom of the basket)

    Cover and keep in a warm place and wait 1.5 to 3 hours. The dough will be ready when the total volume will be 3.5 times the initial volume.

    After 1 hour, check every 30 minutes: To verify if it is ready, enter a finger in the dough, when the dough is ready, the hole must close itself in 2 to 3 seconds.

    1/2 hour before the end of the rising:

    Prepare the oven

    • on the bottom rack place a roasting pan (empty)
    • in the middle of the oven place a pizza stone or a cast iron skillet
    • preheat the oven to 210 °C (in convection), 230 °C in conventional (450 °F).

    Prepare the material necessary to put the loaf in the oven

    • A pizza peel or a metal tray lined with parchement paper
    • A razor blade
    • 2 cups of hot water

    Step 7: The Baking Procedure

    When the oven has reached the good temperature

    Place the paper on the top of the loaf and turn it upside down on the metal plate.

    Quickly incise a losange pattern on the top of the loaf, not too deap (arround 1/8 inch)

    Open the oven and quickly slide the loaf on the stone (or in the skillet).

    Close the oven door.

    Pour 1 cup of water in the roasting pan as quickly as possible

    Close the door.

    The steam will help to obtain a better crust.

    So we are around 8 PM. Note carefully the hour.

    After half an hour (8:30 PM)

    • Turn the loaf in the oven
    • Decrease the temperature to 175 °C (350 °F)

    After 50 to 60 minutes (8:50 PM - 9:00 PM)

    The loaf should be brown, and look cooked. But it is too early to stop the baking procedure. Even if it looks baked wait 5 to 10 minutes.

    To know if the bread is ready it should have an hollow sound when knocked on the bottom.

    9:10 - 9:15 PM remove the bread from the oven and put it on a rack

    It should weight around 1890 g

    Don't cut it now, you have to wait at least 6 hours before tasting it. It is very difficult because it smells so good in the house.

    Step 8: The Eating Procedure

    The next morning

    Have a good french breakfast with some honey, marmelade and butter and a cafe latte.

    The first days the bread is better not toasted.

    You will be able to keep it 1 week (if you don't eat it) ...


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    Question 1 year ago on Step 7

    Hi There,

    I only have the use of one hand due to having a stroke a few years ago. I recently started baking sourdough bread but have had to adapt the traditional stretch and fold technique to one more like yours. I've found that most technique instructions say to use a cast iron Dutch oven. That's much too heavy for me to manage one handed so instead I've been using a stainless steel Dutch oven. I'm interested getting a pizza stone and trying your method though. Do you have a hard time managing the pizza stone one handed?



    Answer 1 year ago

    Hi, In fact I have my 2 hands... I was thinking of my brother in law who has only one arm.
    I think it will be easier to use a pizza stone, also you can use fire bricks. The idea behind the stone or the cast iron is to maintain the temperature level as constant as possible under the bread. So with bricks you should be able to add them in the oven one by one as they are smaller than pizza stone or cast iron pan.


    2 years ago

    Sounds delicious, but a lot of work. I live in Greece and we have fresh Bakeries every block, so it's super easy to get fresh hot bread with out all the work, in fact my daughter eats almost half a loaf on a daily basis, so I would be baking a lot of bread, hehe. Thank you for sharing the recipe and process.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you for your comment. It is not so difficult, only need to be at home all the afternoon. Also I don't do this in summer as baking is too hot in the house. We also have some good backeries but I like the idea of doing things from the begining, it is a little bit magical.