Country Bread with Liquid Levain

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Country Bread with Liquid Levain

This country bread with liquid levain is crusty on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. I love the airy and most interior of this bread, which is made from 78 percent hydration dough.

“What does she mean by liquid levain?” you wonder…. It’s a sourdough starter that has an equal ratio of flour to water. If you only maintain one starter, this one is the most commonly used in sourdough recipes, is easy to maintain and feed, and can be converted to a levain with a different hydration percentage.

While most home baked sourdough will typically not have the strong flavor of store bought sourdough bread (which may be enhanced), I find that the breads that I make with a liquid levain have a more “sour” flavor than the ones leavened with a starter with a higher percentage of flour.

“What does she mean by 78 percent hydration dough?” you ask. That is the percentage of water to flour in the final dough.

What does all of this bread geek talk mean? I guess what I’m saying is that you can use levain of any hydration to alter the flavor of the bread you are making, and then adjust the flour and water in the rest of the recipe to maintain the hydration of the final dough. All you need is a calculator. For example, if you used an 80 percent hydration starter in this dough, you would just increase the water to 620 grams.

Oh… by the way, this bread is amazing.

Country Bread with Liquid Levain

The dough begins with a sourdough starter, but the fermentation is sped up just a bit by adding a tiny bit of instant yeast. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, no worries. I’ve included a recipe for a poolish, a starter that you can substitute for the sourdough.

The dough for this bread is completely mixed by hand, using the “stretch and fold” method. This method involves pulling the dough from the outside and folding it over itself at 30 minute intervals.

Once you’ve shaped the loaves, you stick them in the refrigerator to rise overnight to develop flavor. Then, you bake them straight out of the fridge the next morning.

Country Bread with Liquid Levain

Makes two 1 1/2 pound loaves

Suggested Schedule: 

The day prior to baking, feed your sourdough first thing in the morning, mix the dough in the afternoon, and shape and refrigerate the loaves about five hours later. Bake the loaves the next morning. 


700 grams unbleached all purpose flour
100 grams whole wheat flour
580 grams warm (95 degrees F) water
21 grams salt
2 grams instant yeast
400 grams active 100% hydration sourdough starter (it should have been fed between 6 to 12 hours earlier).

If you don’t have a sourdough starter, make a poolish about 12 to 14 hours prior to mixing the final dough (see note at the end of the recipe).


  1. In a 12 quart tub or large bowl, whisk together the white and whole wheat flours.
  2. Add the water and mix by hand until just mixed. Cover, and let rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with the salt and yeast.
  4. Add the levain or poolish to the dough. 
  5. Mix the dough with a wet hand by alternatively squeezing it and folding it, until all of the ingredients are fully mixed, and you don’t feel any graininess from the flour and yeast, about three minutes. I usually keep a bowl of water nearby and re-wet my hand periodically. You will feel the dough strengthen as you go along. 
  6. Cover the container, and let the dough sit in a warm spot for 30 minutes. With wet hands, stretch and fold the dough over itself from all four “sides.” Cover the container and place it back in the warm spot. Repeat 3 more times, at 30 minute increments. These stretch and folds help develop the dough’s structure and gluten. 
  7. Let the dough rise until about 2 1/2 to 3 times its original size. This should take about 5 hours from the first mixing (step 5). 
  8. Scrape the dough out of the bucket/bowl onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into two equal parts with a wet, oiled, or floured bench knife. 
  9. Generously flour two 9 inch proofing baskets or tea towel lined bowls. I used a mix of all purpose and brown rice flour. 
  10. Shape the dough into balls, spray with spray oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. After they have rested, reshape the dough again, creating a taut skin over the top. Place the shaped dough into each basket, seam side up.  
  11. Spray the top of the dough with spray oil, and cover with plastic wrap or enclose in large plastic bags.
  12. Refrigerate overnight for 12 to 14 hours. 
  13. The next morning, remove one of loaves from the refrigerator.
  14. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F with an empty covered Dutch oven placed on the middle rack. 
  15. Remove the plastic wrap from the top of the dough. 
  16. Remove the Dutch oven from the oven and remove the top. Place a piece of heavy duty parchment paper over the dough and place a plate over it. Flip the dough over, plate and all, and lift off the basket. Slash the top of the dough with a lame or a sharp knife. Lift and place the loaf in the Dutch oven by using the parchment as a sling (leave the paper under the dough). Place the lid back onto the Dutch oven and place it in the hot oven. 
  17. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the loaf and bake for about another 20 minutes, until the interior of the loaf reaches 205 to 210 degrees F. I usually move the loaf to a baking sheet after the first 30 minutes to prevent burning on the bottom. 
  18. Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. 
  19. Repeat with the next loaf after reheating the Dutch oven. 

Note: To make a poolish (if needed), mix 400 grams of white flour with 400 grams of 80 degree F water and a scant  pinch of instant yeast. Cover and let sit for 12 to 14 hours, until nearly tripled in size. Use 400 grams of the poolish instead of the sourdough starter. 

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