Light Rye & Light Wholemeal Rustic Pain au Levain

shiao-ping's picture
Recently I asked LeadDog what bread he would pair with his favourite wine and he said Pierre Nury's Rustic Light Rye. This gave me the opportunity to have a good look at how this bread was made. The formula came from Daniel Leader’s [i]Local Brads[/i], page 150.  Main points of Leader’s formula are: 
  1. A stiff levain starter of 50% hydration is used, which has 5% whole wheat flour (LeadDog however used all whole wheat flour, except a small pinch of rye flour);
  2. The levain starter as a percentage of final dough flour is 25%;
  3. Final dough flours compose of 10% rye and 90% white bread flour;
  4. Overall dough hydration is 75.8%%;
  5. Bulk fermentation is 3 – 4 hours at room temperature (until dough doubles in volume); then
  6. Retard the bulk dough in the refrigerator for 12 – 24 hours;
  7. Two to three hours before baking, take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature; and
  8. Just before baking, shape the dough as you would a Ciabatta and immediately bake it. 


There is nothing so out of the ordinary in this formula; however, the bread that is produced is full of flavors according to LeadDog. Daniel Leader says in his book that this bread is Pierre Nury’s signature bread! I get the feeling that perhaps the 76% hydration is considered very high for Parisians whose standard baguette hydration is 67% and that that is the reason why this bread is shaped “rustic” – no shape at all!  So often you get a bread that has open cell structure but lacks flavors. The flavor profile of this rustic light rye is attractive to me and so I decided to embark on an experiment – my own version of a light rye, light wholemeal rustic pain au levain!  I wanted to see - (a) how difficult it is to shape this thing and(b) how little mixing/kneading/stretch-n-folds that I can get away with and still produce a loaf with reasonable dough strength.    A synopsis of my formula follows:
  1. My dough has 10% rye, 20% wholemeal, and 70% white bread flour on an overall formula basis (this combination of flours, incidentally, is quite popular among The Fresh Loaf home bakers);.
  2. My overall dough hydration is 76%;
  3. I do not like to use stiff levain, I use my usual 75% hydration levain, and therefore I use a higher ratio of levain to final dough flours of 35% (instead of Leader’s 25%);
  4. Very minimalist approach to mixing, no kneading, and only one set of stretch & folds (30 strokes);
  5. One hour bulk fermentation and six hour proving.



The Dough

Ingredient Metric Imperial Baker's Percentage
starter @ 75% hydration 280 grams 9.88 oz 35.00%
Rye flour 96 grams 3.39 oz 12.00%
Wholemeal flour 192 grams 6.78 oz 24.00%
Bread flour 512 grams 18.07 oz 64.00%
water 610 grams 21.53 oz 76.25%
salt 18 grams 0.64 oz 2.25%
Total Flour Weight:
800 grams

Percentages are relative to flour weight (flour equals 100%) and every other ingredient is a percentage of this. Flour from the starter is not counted. This recipe was originally in grams and has been automatically converted to other measures.


Place your starter in a big mixing bowl, pour just a small amount of the recipe water into the starter, say, 50 g first and thoroughly combine them before adding another small amount of water until all of the recipe water is mixed in with the starter (do not pour all of the water into the bowl in one go, it is harder to break up the starter that way, especially if you use a stiff starter).

Mix in the flours and salt, use a wooden spoon or a dinner knife or even two chopsticks, for about 30 seconds to a minute just until all flours are hydrated. Take down the time when this is completed then follow the time-line below: 
  • 00:00  dough mixing complete, transfer the dough to a clean and oiled bowl, start autolyse for 30 minutes
  • 00:30  with one hand holding the bowl, the other hand grabs a corner of the dough and stretches it as far as it can go without tearing and folds the dough onto itself.  Turn the bowl as you go round the dough and do about 30 strokes of this stretch and folds in total. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  • 01:00 sprinkle a lot of flour on your work bench, dump the dough on the surface; divide the dough in half, cover with a tea towel. 
  • 01:15 pre-shape the dough to a cylinder with minimum handling possible, place the pre-shaped dough seam side down and sprinkle some flour on the top of the dough, cover with a tea towel to rest; in the mean time, prepare a tray lined with several tea towels and dust the top with flour
  • 01:30 turn the dough over and shape it to a tight cylinder with minimum handling possible, place the shaped dough, seam side down, on the tray; sprinkle some flour on the top of the dough, cover with several tea towels (to absorb moisture that might come out during proofing) and place the whole tray inside a big plastic bag. (The dough will not have risen much at this stage.)
  • 06:30 one hour before baking, turn the oven on to pre-heat to 250C
  • (It was an unusually cool summer day; my temperature was only around 20 – 23C. Depending on your room temperature, your proving time may be a lot shorter, so you will need to watch your dough.  My dough was about 2 + 1/2 times the original volume when proofing was done.) 
  • 07:30 load the dough onto the baking stone and steam the oven with one cup of hot water, immediately turn the oven down to 230 C. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate the dough so it gets even browning, turn the oven down to 220 – 210C if need be and bake for a further 25 – 30 minutes. (There was a very good oven spring. Total volume was about 3+1/2 to 4 times the original volume.  I did not score my dough because it was full of bubbles and seemed to be very delicate to touch, but if I make it again, I will.)


I am very pleased with the result. Even without overnight retarding, the crumb is packed full of flavors. It is chewy and moist with almost medium strength sourness. (If you like your sourdough more sour, you can try using stiff levain or simply retard the dough overnight.) The dough was not hard to shape, and certainly if I had given it more stretch and folds, it would have been even easier to shape.   And yes, very little kneading, or no kneading at all, is required for making good bread. There seems to be a blind faith in kneading and in stretch and folds. Excessive stretch and folds are the same as over-mixing and over-kneading. Levain breads have a natural advantage over yeasted breads in that the acid in starter helps build dough strength. My method here would probably not work for yeasted bread. As I was writing, I suddenly realize how close this bread is to Chad Robertson’s Country Sourdough that I tasted in San Francisco back in August. The crumb structures are similar; his volume is less than mine, more flat (most likely because the French style of flour he uses has less protein than the one I use); but our flavors are so similar!! And the crumb color is so close too! I am very excited about this finding.   Well, LeadDog, thank you for letting me know Pierre Nury’s Rustic Light Rye is your favourite bread to pair with your wine!  [b]Grilled pancetta wrapped feta/ricotta cheese with[/b][b]Toasted Light Rye & Light Wholemeal Rustic Pain au Levain[/b] Shiao-Ping
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LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2009 December 4

 Oh wow is about all I can say.  Sounds like you really like it.  You should do a search around The Fresh Loaf and see how many people like it there.  I just wish you could have tried some of my wine with it but glad you liked the bread.

TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2009 December 4

It's the long school hols here, so, this is a good time for me to try making all the scrumptious breads in the forum. Thanks, all, for taking the time to write out your recipe and method. Muahhh!

ehanner 2009 December 5

I like your minimalist approach to this project. You did get very nice structure considering only one fold. Very nice post.


ehanner 2009 December 5

I thought I would take some of my own advice for a while. Always a pleasure to see your writings and work. I'm going to be working on some classic and neo-classical French bread forms that should be fun here.



Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2009 December 7

Lovely write up, lovely bread - thank you.

I made a couple of batches of a very similar bread (The Mill Loaf - Dan Lepard "The Art of Handmade Bread").  It also had a combo of white/wholemeal/rye flours.  The leaven was 50%, white flour 60%, whole-meal 30%, rye 10%, water 55%.  The first batch I retarded overnight, the 2nd batch I just put in the fridge for a few hours while I visited a friend.  Soft, moist, nice chewy crust, great flavour.  I'm really enjoying this combination of flours in the loaf as well - not too heavy, not too lihgt ...... just right!

Will try your version next. Thanks!


shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2009 December 20

The home bakers at The Fresh Loaf always enjoy a good discussion on sourdough baking and I get the feeling that many of them find both of your Pierre Nury's Rustic Light Rye and my version of it interesting. 

A few summers ago we were travelling in the south of France and stayed at a vineyard.  We had their Beaujolais and found that to be very much to our taste as a summer drink.   Since then we've been trying to find something similar in Australia without much success.   Most of Australian produced Rosé are too sweet for us.   Your pink sparkling wine looks like a very happy drink to me!


rossnroller 2009 December 20

When I was hitching through the south of France way back in the 80s, I was lucky enough to wander into the vineyard of the winemaker who had won first prize for his beaujolais for three years in succession. Evening was approaching and my travelling companion and I were really just after a place to pitch a tent for the night. Not only did the vigneron  allow us to camp on his land overnight - in the morning he took us into his cellars and treated us to some of his just-to-be-released new season beaujolais, straight from the barrels. It was truly divine.

He also explained to us that beaujolais is not meant for cellaring and is at its absolute peak for just 3 weeks after release. Most of it is consumed by the French, and most of what's left over for export is past its peak by the time it hits the stores.

I think it's one of the few wines that we really can't duplicate or better in Australia. However, just yesterday I noted a glowing recommendation by a Perth wine critic for a rosé from Margaret River - I trust this critic. He was been actively involved in the wine industry for years and knows his stuff. Will check the review and get back in case you might be interested to chase it up, Shiao-Ping...but of course, although it might be a close relative, it's not going to be a substitute for new-season beaujolais. You need an air ticket to France in September (from memory) for that delight!

OK - just checked. The label is Victory Point.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2009 December 21

Your ratio of combination of flours looks interesting too.   I think for people who like more nutty flavor from the wheat berries, yours is the go!   Thanks for your comment and sorry that it took so long for me to reply.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2009 December 21

...  or Siberian Husky you've got there in your bio!  (My daughter tells me that she is some sort of dog specialist but she can't be sure.)  What is his or her name?  

My daughter is the master of our Rottweiler, Polly:


She was the star supporting actress in one of my earlier post: [b]Molasses & Light Rye Crusty Sourdough [/b].   Even though it is our son who now spends most time with her, every time when Polly comes inside the house, she still waits outside our doughter's bedroom door, not our son's.  Isn't animal funny sometimes.

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2009 December 21

 I guess one of the subjects that I like to talk about more than bread is wine, at least both involve fermentation most of the time.

The Beaujolais Nouveau is an exception to that statement to some degree.  This wine is made from the Gamay grape by a method called carbonic maceration.  There are wineries here in the US that use the same method but with different varieties.  The whole clusters of grapes are put into a tank that is filled with CO2 and the lid closed.  The grapes are still living and start to use their own sugar to try and keep on living.  The grapes break down the sugar into alcohol and CO2.  The method because of this difference has a different flavor than a regular yeast fermentation.  The grapes skins will break as the cells break down and then the juice is fermented with the yeast that is on the skins.  Many of the grapes  that come out of the tank are still whole, and nice to eat.  The grapes/must is then pressed and placed into a tank where it will finish fermentation.  Because the grapes are never crush like a normal red wine there is very little tannins in this wine.  This also makes a wine that is very fruity.  Wineries use this method in red winemaking by dumping whole grapes clusters into a tank and then filling it up with crushed grapes.  This also helps add a fruity character  to the wine.  The official release date for Beaujolais Nouveau is the third Thursday in November.  This a very fast wine to make and get to market.  The wine is shipped all over the world so that the celebration of the new vintage can be had by all.

In Australia I would ask for wine that is made in the Beaujolais Nouveau style or made by carbonic maceration.  I did a quick google search and found this wine.

rossnroller 2009 December 21

Thanks for that explanation, LeadDog.

Evidently things have changed a bit since the 80s - as one would expect. Certainly the winemaker told us that new season beaujolais in its peak was mostly the exclusive privilege of the French, and that not much made it to international markets. Anyway, your knowledge is clearly up to date and on the ball, so thanks for that clarification.

Seems my recollection of the release month of Beaujolais was also slightly off...or maybe the cellar sample I had was a wee bit off its peak (which is scary, considering how good it was - at least as I remember it). I know the winemaker said it was close to release, and he was pretty proud of the way it was drinking. I wasn't about to quibble! But I have to say, I knew far less about wine then than I do now. I suppose there's got to be some advantage to middle age!

Incidentally, re your link: De Bortoli is one of the ever-diminishing family-owned wineries in Australia, and I have had a lot of their wines over the years. They are well-priced and great value for the money - very consistent. Not up in the rarified atmosphere of the very top Aussie drops, but well-respected, and I have no doubt the one you picked out would be worth a try. I do doubt it would match the gorgeous French beaujolais, but then again, perhaps that's not even an appropriate comparison.

What do you think about the contention that some wines don't travel well? The beaujolais winemaker was adamant about that. I've also heard from devoted Irish Guiness drinkers that their hallowed drop doesn't taste as good outside Ireland, even off the tap with the sort of long pour the Irish favour. All part of the tantalising mythmaking that is part of wine, and adds to its intrigue, but is there any scientific basis to these types of claims, do you think?

Apologies for hijacking the thread, folks - just happen to be into wine and it's not every day there's an opportunity to converse with a wine chemist like LeadDog. If this diversion off the thread topic is annoying anyone, maybe this wine discussion part could be transferred elsewhere?


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2009 December 21

 There are some wines that people claim they don't travel very well that I have drunk.  All I have to say is if they didn't travel very well then they must be really really good in their local market.  They are a few factors that are harmful for wine and they are temperature, light, and vibration.  Wine of course should be stored in a cool, dark, stable cellar.  The top of a fridge is the worst place to store wine it has heat, light, and vibration.  I figure when people say wines don't travel well that could be because of the vibration of the transit.  I have also heard that if you lay a wine down for a while after it is shipped it will recover from its travels.  Beaujolais Nouveau because it is meant to be drunk right away and not aged might never taste as good as in France.  I have had it before and it is a very nice wine.  It ruined my pallet for any other wines I was drinking that day, I just could get the taste of that wine out of my mouth.

rossnroller 2009 December 21

...and you've left some room for some enduring mysticism! 

I know what you mean about the lingering wonder of beaujolais - I've been haunted by that most fortunate of experiences sampling the best of the best in the vineyard of origin ever since! But I also know that I can tend to idealise landmark experiences through the lens of nostalgia. Impossible to know if that is the case here, but who cares? Magic is magic, and it happens little enough. I'm happy to preserve this experience as I recall it!

Cheers and thanks for the enjoyable exchange!

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2009 December 21

And, LeadDog, yes, you are quite right, wine was part of my original post!   Wine making is fascinating.  Wine makers, like master chefs, by definition, are talented people.  The relationship between wine makers and wine connoisseur is one like that between the best chefs and gourmets - they need each other to become better at what they each do.   Thank you for both of your information.

mlucas 2010 April 26

 I made this bread today and it turned out fantastic! Superb open crumb, crunchy crust and a great flavour. Thanks very much for the recipe Shao-Ping.

From rustic pain au levain

I actually made the dough late last night and it turned out that I finished mixing right at midnight, so your "00:00" time matched up with the 24 hour clock perfectly, which was handy. 

Final shaping at 1:30am and then into proofing baskets, meant I wasn't done cleaning up until 2:00, so it was a late night for me! I should've starter earlier but I couldn't decide which recipe to bake with my ripe starter! I was considering one of the stiff levain recipes from Leader's Local Breads, and googling ended me up here, and the pictures enticed me to choose this recipe.

Then I baked the bread around 9am this morning (my kitchen was coolish overnight, 19-20 C, so I figured I could prove a little longer than yours; I also put it outside @ ~10C, when I first got up, to keep it from overproofing). 

This was the highest hydration I've worked with, and my boule stuck to the tea towel despite what I'd thought was plenty of flour, so it ended up flattening out before I could get it into the oven. Still tastes great though, and kind of a neat shape! The two batards turned out pretty good (despite a bit of sticking here and there).


From rustic pain au levain
From rustic pain au levain
From rustic pain au levain


I scored the batards nervously, but they turned out well so I will be more confident the next time I make this. I'll also remember to use more flour on the tea towels & peel!

- Mike

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 April 26
It seems like a long while ago since I made the bread in this post.   I had a look at the photos again.  This bread was the one where I did not show any full bread photos because they don’t look nice (because the dough was not scored).   If I had retarded the dough in the fridge overnight, it would have been possible to score.   Your bread looks very, very nice.  The natural lighting is really lovely. Shiao-Ping
mlucas 2010 April 27

Thanks for kind words Shiao-Ping. You're right, the last loaf I baked (on the right in the last picture) was the easiest to score, as it wouldn't fit in the oven with the first two loaves so I had it in the fridge for about an hour while the others baked.

Oh, in case anyone is wondering I multiplied the recipe by 1.5 (actually 1.43 as I had exactly 400g of starter ready) to make three loaves instead of two.

Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 April 27

Mike someone gave me the tip to use a low/no gluten flour such as rye or rice flour for flouring bannetons/towels when proofing.  Because of the low/no gluten it is less likely to stick.  Since then I have been using rice flour for the final shaping of loaves and for coating my bannetons and couches.  it works like  dream!


Happiness is making bread :o)

Mr_Punchy's picture
Mr_Punchy 2010 May 22

Hey Mike, great post about your spiked starter.  Looks like it worked wonders!  Might give that a try myself.  

On the non-sticking front, I agree with Karnie, Rice flour works WONDERS in helping things not stick to bannetons/peels/couches.  Best advice I've ever had (thanks TP).   Happy baking.

Mister P.

peregrine 2011 February 10

Here are some photos of my most recent try with this recipe. Third time lucky! I reduced the water by 15g and it made quite a bit of difference - I think my unbleached organic white flour has a lower protein content than shaio-ping's, so I need to compensate for that. It seems to work in other recipes too.

After a couple of days, the sour tang seems to increase in complexity, but the bread is still delicious.

I baked the loaves on my pizza stone with an upside down ceramic casserole dish over the top of each one - what a huge difference that makes - it nearly doubles my oven spring!





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