Pain au Levain with Chia Seeds

shiao-ping's picture

Trying a new ingredient or a new formula excites me.  If I find a new method or a new ingredient to make my daily bread the next morning, I often feel too excited to sleep the night before.  I read about the Chia seed in Johnny’s post a long while ago and had tried Chia seeds with other grains and seeds several times but never on its own.  I was happy with the results each time but never stopped to think why the results were good; I just moved on to something else.  I treated the Chia seed as any other grains and seeds.


It just so happened that I ran out of all the grains and seeds, except the Chia seeds.  It  was one week before my family were due to travel again and I was trying to run the fridge down and not to bake any more bread before we leave – the freezer was already chuck full of sourdoughs to bring away with us.  But, I got excited over questions like:  what would it be like to have Chia seeds, and Chia seeds alone, in my sourdough?  and what would Chia seeds do to my daily bread?   


I chose a simple Pain au Levain recipe and added 7% Chia, pre-soaked in four times its weight in boiling water – only 7% because this is not like walnut bread where you want to actually bite into walnuts when you have the bread.  My starter was a liquid wholemeal starter, using Four Leaf’s 85% Light Flour which has 15% bran sifted off.  In the true French-style Pain au Levain, the levain is a stiff levain with a small portion of Rye in it.  In addition, only flour and water are autolysed; the levain and salt are added after the autolyse.  For convenience, I autolysed all ingredients (except the Chia seeds).  If there is appellation control over home sourdough baking, I probably fail.


I did not know how much water Chia seeds would absorb and I did not want trouble soaking the seeds in cold water the night before.  I knew boiling water would do the job on the spot.  I first poured double its weight of boiling water over the seeds; the water was gobbled up in seconds, so I poured a bit more, and a bit more again a few minutes later, totaling four times the weight of the seeds.  (I subsequently read in the article mentioned below that 8 parts water to one part Chia can be added to bread dough, but I think this will completely alter the dough's hydration profile and make the bread gummy.)


This is my Chia sourdough, sliced in half:



And, the crumb close-up:



 You cannot believe how [b][color=blue]moist[/color][/b] the crumb was.  It was so incredible.


I am so amazed at how good the bread was that I started to read up on the Chia seed.  There is an article [b]here[/b] that talks about Chia as [b][color=blue]the ancient grain of the future[/color][/b], but it looks at it from the angle of nutrition which is not my concern here.  I would recommend the article to anyone who is interested in the topics of omega-3 and other important nutrients for our health, and diet, antioxidants, vegan, or even gluten free solutions; but my concern here is bread, not nutrients. 


Chia has a very unusual property – a gelatinous, glue-like substance due to the soluble fiber in the Chia that is able to absorb up to [b]12 times[/b] its weight in water!  The seed’s hydrophilic saturated cells hold the water when it is mixed in with flour.  I picked up some Chia soaked in, say 6 times water, and I found that it did not wet my fingers one bit at all.  The moisture is well contained in its cells.  With this bread, I found that the hydrophilic colloids in Chia prolonged moisture in the bread in a most spectacular way.



* I used lukewarm water to bring the final dough temperature to 26 C as my room temperature was around 18 - 20 C.   This amount of water was for a dough hydration of 72% (not taking into account the Chia and the boiling water to soak it).  You could substitute 16 g honey, 16 g oil, and 311 g lukewarm water for added flavor for the crumb.

The Dough

Ingredient Metric Imperial Baker's Percentage
Flour (Laucke's unbleached bakers flour) 500 grams 17.65 oz 100.00%
Wholemeal Starter @100% hydration 125 grams 4.41 oz 25.00%
Lukewarm Water * 343 grams 12.11 oz 68.60%
Salt 11 grams 0.39 oz 2.20%
Chia Seeds 40 grams 1.41 oz 8.00%
Boiling Water 160 grams 5.65 oz 32.00%
Sesame Seeds for dusting 0 grams 0 oz 0.00%
Total Flour Weight:
500 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.


1. Pour 160 g boiling water over Chia seeds.  Stir and set aside to cool while you prepare the next few steps. 

2. Dilute starter by adding the lukewarm water a little bit at a time until all is added, or hold back 15 to 20 g water if you are using different flour.  (I find the Flour Leaf’s organic flour that I used very, very thirsty.)  

3. Add flour and salt into the diluted starter, mix to combine.  Cover.  Autolyse for 30 minutes.  (My dough temperature at time off mixing was 26 C.)   

4. Knead the dough in the bowl by way of stretching and folding the dough, about 25 strokes, or use your usual way of kneading.  Cover.  Rest for 30 minutes or longer until the dough is relaxed and extended.

5. Pat the dough out inside the bowl and spread half of the [color=blue][b]Chia gel[/b][/color] (Chia and boiling water mixture) over the dough; flip the dough over, and spread the remaining half of the Chia gel over it.  Flip the dough over again and start stretching and folding it inside the bowl to incorporate the Chia, about 25 strokes, being careful not to tear the skin of the dough on the bottom.  The Chia seeds won’t be evenly dispersed yet.  They will get more evenly dispersed in the following S&F’s.  (Alternatively, you can do this step on a work bench, which should work better.)  Lightly oil your bowl and place the dough back, right side up.  I find more dough strength develops if the dough rests right side up.  Give it 30 - 45 minutes rest until it is relaxed and extended.

6. Turn the dough over and gently stretch it between two hands without tearing it.  Fold 1/3 from one end to the centre and 1/3 from the other end to the centre, the same way as you would a letter; then, from the other direction, fold the dough again like folding a letter.  Place the dough back to the bowl, right side up.   Rest for another 45 minutes or for as long as it takes for the dough to relax.

7. Another double letter-folds.  Rest.  Repeat the folds and the rest, if needed.

8. Pre-shape and shape the dough.  By the time I finished shaping the dough into a batard, it was six hours from the time my dough was first mixed.  The temperature of my shaped dough had come down to 21 C.

9. I let the dough sit for 1/2 hour then I removed it to the fridge for overnight proof-retarding.

10. The next morning, my dough had nearly doubled in size in the fridge.

11. I pre-heated my oven to as high as it could go for well over an hour.

12. I sprayed the top of the dough with water (if you have no spray bottle, you can use a damp towel), then sprinkled lots and lots of sesame on the top.

13. I poured 1/3 cup boiling water onto the lava stones sitting in a roasting pan underneath my baking stone.  Then, I scored my batard and peeled it onto the banking stone.  I poured a cupful of boiling water over the lava stones.

15. Immediately I turned the oven down to 230 C and baked for 25 minutes, then I turned the oven down to 220 C for another 25 minutes baking.

16. Rest the baked loaf for an hour before slicing.


On day FOUR of this bread, the crust was soft to the touch, not hard and dry like most of my other sourdoughs.  The softness was due to the moisture retained in the Chia seeds, slowly released, like a low GI food slowly releasing its sugar.  This moisture is completely different from a super high hydration loaf like Ciabatta which will turn as dry and tough and as quickly as anything you can think of.  The moisture is similar to Hamelman’s [b]Five-Grain Levain[/b], due in part to the flaxseed, one of the five grains, which, once soaked, has a similar gel like substance like Chia.  I toasted a slice of my Chia sourdough on day FOUR:




The toast was exceptionally delicious.  We know that toasting a slice of dry bread temporarily gelatinizes the crumb and makes the bread crunchy and edible.  But trying toasting a moist bread!  Whew!  The [b][color=blue]soft[/color] crispiness[/b] you get is amazing.




[b][u]Updated 20 June 2010:[/u][/b]


Since I wrote the post above, I have done an experiment on two breads with 6 times water to soak the Chia seeds for two purposes: 

(1)  To see what it would be like to have further moisture; and

(2)  To see if the Chia seeds would be more evenly distributed in the dough if I mix the Chia gel with the starter/water; i.e., before adding the flour (one of the breads was done this way).  

 The article mentioned in the post says that the Chia gel can form a barrier between carbohydrates and enzymes that break them down, thereby slowing down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar.  This does not appear to be applicable to sourdough as both doughs fermented equally well and the crumbs from both breads were equally open:




The Chia seeds were much better dispersed throughout the dough when they were added to the starter/water mixture before the flour.   (However, I do not know if they would rob some water off the starter/water mixture, had I  used 4 parts boiling water to one part seeds.)

From the crumb shots above, you could see that towards the bottom crust, the crumb was gummy.  These two breads were [b]too[/b] moist to the point of gumminess, which I find very unpleasant.  It may be hard to tell just by looking at the pictures.  My daughter did not mind the gumminess, but my son and I did not like it.  This tells me that 4 times water to the Chia suits the bread better.


430 users have voted.


Brown-Dog 2014 April 26

I just finished baking this bread.  It wa,s by my standards a great success... meaning it looked great, tasted fantastic and offers room for changes and improvement to my efforts.

Next time I think I'd cut the water for the chia seeds by one-half.  I found gthe reulotant bread somewhat dense and I think reducing the water content may be beneficial.   Here is a picture of the reults of my efforts.


Thank you for taking the time and effort to present such thoughtful accounts of your efforts.


rossnroller 2010 June 22

Thanks for the post! I've noticed Bakers Delight advertising bread with chia seeds and have been wondering what they'd be like in a home-made sourdough. Must give it a try. I can't recall seeing chia seeds anywhere in my usual supply stores, but probably just didn't register their presence.

It's interesting, BTW, that even the big supermarket chains have started selling 'batards' and attaching the 'artisan bread' label to some of their bread products. As artisan as my _ _ _ _, I can mass-produced bread be categorised as 'artisan'? The main point I'm making, though, is that the fact that such terminology is on the mainstream marketing radar screens just shows the public awareness of quality artisan products has grown dramatically.

Look forward to more reports of your inventive and restlessly experimental bakes, Shiao-Ping!



shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 June 22

I don't know if you remember the Banneton Bakery that I once talked about in my Where is Waldo? post, but that bakery attracts crowd from the locals all the time now.   It is only a couple of Km from my home, whenever I drive past I always see people there almost any time of the day.  It is nice to see that sort of support for an artisan bakery from the neighbourhood.  On the other hand, there might be a light drop-off of trade at the Bakers Delight, as well as Brumby's, in my local shopping area.   They are catching on fast as you indicated.  Very soon the word "artisan" will be like any of those fancy words that lose their true meaning.

It has been a gloomy old day.  My kids have a friend visiting who is one year older than my son and one year younger than my daughter.  They have just gone long-boarding, after 3 big sourdough pizzas for lunch!

Occabeka 2010 June 22

Hi Shiao-Ping,


You did mention flaxseed as having similar properties as chia. I cannot find chia over here in Malaysia, but flaxseed is easily available.

I am wondering if flaxseed responds the same way as chia when soaked, ie, release its colloids and help the dough retain moisture. The only time I used flaxseed in bread, I lightly toasted it.

What is your experience regarding this?




shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 June 22

Johnny told me that he first heard about the Chia seeds from sharon (glutenfreesourdoughbaker) [b]here[/b].  I had not come across that post before, but it is a great post by Sharon.   Her suggestion is to just add two tablespoons of [b]the Chia gel[/b] into any bread you make.   The way she makes her Chia gel is by mixing two tablespoons of Chia seeds in 8 oz. of water - my guess is that this is like 10 parts water to one part Chia seeds in weight.  This is a simple, quick and easy way to incorporate Chia into your bread dough.  

The way I do it in this recipe would have a far higher percentage of Chia in the bread. 

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 June 22

in my experience, flaxseeds work wonders too.  You don't need to toast flaxseeds (because they are not nuts like walnuts where you want the toasting nutty flavour).  I think you can treat flaxseeds as you would Chia seeds. 

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 June 22

in my experience, they work wonders too.  You don't need to toast flaxseeds because they are not nuts like walnuts where you want the toasting nutty flavour.   You can treat flaxseeds as you would Chia seeds, and see if you like it.

Occabeka 2010 June 23

Thanks, Shiao-Ping,


The toasted flaxseeds I used previously were part of a mix in a multi-grain loaf.


It will be interesting to learn if it works like chia. I intend to try out the idea later.





Mr_Punchy's picture
Mr_Punchy 2010 October 5

Thanks for the recipe Shiao-Ping.  Your loaf looks fantastic!  This was far too tempting not to get into the kitchen and do straight away, so I have one proving on my bench as I write.  Though I only had black chia seeds, so mine will be speckled.   Can't wait to get it in the oven.  I'm going to fire up my brick oven for the first time this morning and see how she goes.  I'll post pics up when it's done.

Thanks again


Mr P.


shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 October 5

I have made this Chia sourdough many times, but I've decided that 3 times water to soak the chia seeds is plenty(or even 2 1/2 times if it is a white loaf).  If you make it again, you might want to try less water, and see which way you like it better.


Mr_Punchy's picture
Mr_Punchy 2010 October 6

OH MY GOD Shiao Ping, this is my new favourite bread.  I did a 65% hydration with 100% unbleached white organic bread flour, and added 6% chia seeds soaked in 4 times their weight in water.  The result is incredible.  It's 1am and I can't stop eating it!!!!!!!!!!  I'm going to try less hydration on the seeds as you suggested, but I also want to combine this recipe with a much higher hydration dough just to see what happens.  This will definately be the bread I bake next week when I fire up my woodfired oven for the first time (the render is still too wet to dare fire it, and I don't want it to crack).  

Thank you again Shiao-Ping, a-frikking-mazing.

Here's a couple of pics of mine...

The two loaves

The crumb.  Oh my, with butter it's amazing!  Have I said that enough?

Mr P. 

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 October 10

Hello Mr P

Your bread looks gorgeous.  Wow from here!

Have a closer look at the bread in my 20 June 2010 update in the post above.  At the bottom of the bread you can see some "glue" like stuff and compare this with that at the same spot of your crumb.  You will see that your bread is perfectly structured and right level of hydration, whereas mine seemed to be too high hydration.  You said your bread is 65% hydrated with 4 times soaking water for the chia seeds, whereas mine is 72%.   I would say if the flour is white (as in your and my case), then 65% and 4 times water is a good fit.  If you want to try higher hydration, then, less soaking water for the chia is perhaps better.   If the flour is whole wheat, then higher hydration would be good. 

kiwidave 2010 October 17

Thank you so much for this recipe Shiao-ping. This is officially my new favourite bread.

Only one question.

How on earth did you make a loaf last four days? My family demolished it in hours!!

Thanks again.




shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 October 17

Glad to hear that your family like the loaf.  Try less water to soak the chia seeds next time and see if you can notice the difference.


Rachel Melrose 2010 November 3

Hello shiao-ping,

Your bread looks really nice. I would really like to try making it.

I have a sourdough starter (100% hydration) made with plain white unbleached organic flour - would this be okay to use in the recipe in place of your Four Leaf light wholemeal flour starter?



shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 November 21

Hi Rachel

Yes, absolutely, but instead of 4 times hot water to soak the seeds, you might want to try less water (say, 2 1/2 to 3 times water).  Wholemeal generally needs more water than white flour.


Franz 2010 December 7

Hallo Shiao.

I have been reading your blogs for quite some time now with great interest. I admire your excellent writing, your expertise and dedication to sourdough or any kind of baking. I recently read that you made a rye bread, using the detmolder production method from Hamelman's "Bread" book. I thought that you may be interested in Samartha's Detmold 3 Stage Calculater which is available at If you are already familiar with is, so much the better. If not, you may also enjoy using the Sourdough Calculator, which makes working out recpies so much easier. I am using the Detmold method for all my starters which always gives me excellent results. If you are not familiar with this, you will probably enjoy it. Best regards, Franz

janisem 2014 September 5


I made this bread adapting the Polish country bread recipe which I use all the time now, I followed the advice to reduce the hydration and used a ratio of 1:3 boiled water from this recipe to 40g Chia seeds.  After autolyzing I added the salt and hydrated seeds at the same time and the mix was quite easily incorporated.  Did a few rests and stretches and retarded overnight.  the dough was slightly stiffer and could have possibly done with a couple more stretch and folds but the oven spring was good and the result very tasty.  Would try again with a bit more water to try to get a more open crumb.....thanks Shiao-Ping

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