Pain a l’Ancienne (two modified versions)

shiao-ping's picture

This sourdough was inspired by Johnny's Cibatta Integrale.  In making this sourdough, I also referenced Peter Reinhart's Pain a l'Ancienne formula in his [i]The Bread Baker's Apprentice[/i], page 191.   Reinhart's formula calls for one night retardation only; however, I used Johnny's timetable as described in the Method below.   For a full description of how I came across Johnny's post and Reihhart's formula, please see [b]here[/b].


I made two versions of this levain bread, one using white bread flour, the other wholemeal flour.  The overall dough hydration for the former was 78% and for the latter 85%, as wholemeal flour is generally more thirsty than white bread flour.  


The ingredients immediately below are for the Wholemeal Pain a l'Ancienne.


The Dough

Ingredient Metric Imperial Baker's Percentage
starter @ 75% hydration (5% rye) 182 grams 6.42 oz 38.32%
Wholemeal flour 475 grams 16.77 oz 100.00%
ice cold water (or room temperature water) 414 grams 14.61 oz 87.16%
salt 11 grams 0.39 oz 2.32%
Total Flour Weight:
475 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.



The night of Day 1:  Refresh the starter (in 2 feedings over 24 hours to arrive at the quantity required)

The night of Day 2:  Combine all ingredients (except salt) and autolyse 20 minutes, then add salt, mix by hand for 1 to 2 minutes, then place the dough [b]straight[/b] into the refrigerator overnight

The morning of Day 3: Take the dough out and fold [b]once[/b], return to the refrigerator

The night of Day 3:  Take the dough out again and over the next 4 - 5 hours stretch & fold the dough [b]once[/b] every hour; then shape and place the dough in a banneton, proof at room temperature for one hour, then move it into the refrigerator again overnight

The morning of Day 4: Pre-heat oven to 250C; once the dough is loaded, steam the oven with 1 cup of hot water and turn the heat down to 230C.  Bake for 15 minutes; rotate the dough so it gets even browning; turn the heat down to 210C and bake for a further 30 minutes. 



                                                               [b]Wholemeal Pain a l'Ancienne[/b]


The ingredients for the White Pain a l'Ancienne are:

  • 182 g starter @ 75% hydration (5% rye)
  • 455 g Unbleached bread flour (11.9% protein)
  • 358 g ice cold water (room temperature water would work fine too)
  • 11 g salt



                                                                    [b]White Pain a l'Ancienne[/b]


I find folding the dough in a clean and [b]oiled[/b] bowl the easiest.   The oil seems to protect the skin of the dough from sticking and tearing.   Also, I try NOT to wash the bowl with washing detergent as the mild antiseptic may harm the yeast.    


Happy baking!



                                  Grilled Pain a l'Ancienne with buffalo ricotta by Australia's Paesanella

                               Cheese Manufacturers, drizzled with honey and garnished with honeycomb



436 users have voted.


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2009 December 1

 Everything looks great here on my end.  Did you feel doing the bread this way helped the flavor?  I have been meaning to try something like this but haven't gotten around to it yet.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2009 December 1
I think you have brought up an interesting point.  I had always been a multi-grains and wholemeal type of person before I caught onto the sourdough fab; since then, however, my taste has been more white than otherwise.  The levain white bread when made properly is so beautiful, there has been as yet no desire in me to try to find out the potential in wholemeal. In general, I feel wholemeal is harder to make well. What this method has shown to me, surprisingly I might add, is that the delayed fermentation coupled with the high hydration which I employed has loosened up the flavour compounds in wholemeal flour. It has opened up a flavor possibility in wholemeal flour which I was hitherto unaware of.  The Wholemeal Pain a l’Ancienne is really delightful to have.The White Pain a l’Ancienne, on the other hand, is somewhat lackluster in comparison. This may sound strange, but I think a plain Pain au Levain is better (recipe on page 158 of Jeffrey Hamelman’s [i]Bread[/i]).  Thank you for your comment.
TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2009 December 1

They certainly look good! Thanks for the detailed process...this should help me...I've yet to get nice holes in my wholemeal sourdough breads.

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2009 December 2

I make multi-grain whole meal for my lunch bread.  I also mill my own flour.  My current bread is 90% wheat and 10% rye.  The hydration is at 100% just to get the dough so that it feels normal, any lower and it is to dry.  The weather is cool now so it fermented about 18 hours out on the counter before I baked it.  I had that with left over Turkey yesterday and it was just great.  Lots of fun to explore these areas of bread.  I enjoy reading about your explorations too.

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 December 2

A customer has asked me to develop a small, aerated bread to serve with cheese.  I'm going to try this method  because I think that the mild (long, cool) bulk proof may produce a dough that has good recovery after scaling and shaping (finally a solution to make light sourdough rolls?)

Thanks Shiao-Ping for this beautifully presented recipe.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2009 December 2

I find that just using water at room temperature will work with this recipe too because the dough is placed into the refrigerator straight after it's mixed. 


shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2009 December 2

That's really interesting.  I read somewhere that whole wheat flour can take up to 20% more water than plain white, so I am thinking if I can do 80% hydration on white (not this post), I surely can do 96% on whole wheat.  But your 100% hydration is even a step further than that.  I bet the loaf is really lovely and moist. 

Do you have a favourite wine in California?  What sort of sourdough bread would you pair it with?

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2009 December 2

 It depends on the flour I guess.  The first wheat I made bread with I did at 90% hydration, I had 100 pounds of that wheat.  I'm using a local wheat now and it just needs more water.  I like working with wetter doughs anyway but it wasn't always that way.  Lovely and moist?  When I eat it I think it is just right.

Do I have a favorite wine?  Have you been reading my profile?  I'm a wine chemist.  I work for a very large Australian drinks company.  If you drink you most likely have had one of our products.  My favorite wine that is on a store shelf right now is Meridian Late Harvest Reisling.  I work for Meridian just so you know.  My favorite wine that I drink all the time is made from my Zinfandel grapes that I grow myself.  This wine goes good with lots of food.  My favorite sourdough bread to pair with it is Pierre Nury's Rustic Light Rye.  Bread and wine go very well together it is just hard to mess that up.


shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2009 December 2

Your Pierre Nury's Rustic Light Rye is lovely.  I imagine the bread is full of flavor with the addition of rye and wholemeal flours, as well as the overnight retardation.

I don't think I've ever had a red wine made from Zinfandel grapes and I wonder if there is any resemblance to the Australian shiraz grapes, also known to produce robust red wine.   I can understand why you'd like to pair your favourite wine with Pierre Nury's Rustic Light Rye -  the wheaty taste from the wholemeal flour as well as the added dimension from the fermented rye flour would make this bread complex enough, and yet not too heavy at all, to enjoy with red wine. 

My husband generally likes aged Riesling.   I have tried to grow grapes in my yard unsuccessfully to date.  Hobby farms rarely make sense unless to an experienced person.   The wine you made from your own grapes must be delicious.


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2009 December 3

I had to read the post on the light rye again to see what I had done.  I think the whole wheat starter devlops concentrated flavors gets infused to the whole loaf.  Like you noted it is full of wonerful flavors.

Zinfandel is from Europe but until recently the origin wasn't known.  The grape is even called something else in Europe.  The largest planting of this grape is in California so we like to think it is our grape.  The grape got its start here right after the Gold Rush 1849.  I have never heard if anyone has ever figured out how it got its name.  With all of this taken into account Zinfandel didn't have a European wine style to copy like almost all other grapes.  Zinfandel can have many different styles.  I use mine to make a nice dry red wine.  This year I'm going to be different and make a sparkling wine with the grapes.  My vineyard is a little bit more than a hobby, I currently have six acres planted.


I bake my 100% hydration in a cast iron roasting pan, same as a Dutch oven but a different shape.  This makes a bread that is shapped some what like a regular loaf.  I love cooking bread this way as the crust is just great.  I have also done small free form breads in the roasting and they turn out great too.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2009 December 4

 Do you prove your dough in the cast iron pan and then just bake it as is?  What do you use to line the cast iron pan, baking paper?  Or, just some oil?  Are you able to get the bread out easily when it is done?

Your vineyard sounds really beautiful.

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2009 December 5

I have proved Rye Bread in a Dutch oven but for my lunch bread I don't.  There is information out there that the acid will eat the metal away.  I figure once in a while would be okay and I coated the Dutch Oven with butter.  My lunch bread's dough is just turned out into the roasting pan anyway it lands.  The roasting pan is in the oven and preheated to 460 degrees F.  I have found that I don't need to worry about making sure the dough is level in the pan, the oven spring expands the dough so it fills out the pan very nice like.  I used to oil the roasting pan but don't now.  Cast Iron when it becomes seasoned is old fashion non stick.  The bread just falls out of the pan when I take it out of the oven.  When I do free form breads in the roasting pan I use parchment paper.


I'm working on making the vineyard beautiful but it is a lot of hard work.

Dyer Baker's picture
Dyer Baker 2010 February 19

The night of Day 3:  Take the dough out again and over the next 4 - 5 hours stretch & fold the dough once every hour;

Hi, I'm a begginner and I wanted to try this recipe. Right now my dough it's in the fridge, waiting for tonight foldings. What I wanna know, is where should I rest the dough between those foldings ? In the fridge or on the counter ?



Dyer Baker's picture
Dyer Baker 2010 February 24

Well, I have to admit, my first try for this recipe, I can call it a " bake-off ".

The " disaster " started when the dough sticked on the proving basket and rapidly become a muddy mass which I should bake it in the pot. But I was sttuborn and wanted to do it on the stone and the stone was. The result was a flat but full of flovour bread, very edible, but far away from what it should be. I don't know what I did wrong, cause I followed the steps, but although I made the mistake to not flour enough the basket, I also suspect the flour can't handle so much water as the recipe calls. Would be posiblle that a flour can't " drink " so much water, due to poor quality ? 


shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 March 1

It is NOT that your flour is poorer quality; it may just be that your flour is a softer flour - lower protein.  All you need is to cut down hydration by at least 5%, or even 10%.  Also, if you are not used to handlying high hydration or very soft dough, you will need to (1) dust ample flour on the bench before you dump the dough onto it; and (2) try NOT to handle the dough too much, picture (in your mind's eyes) how you are going to fold or shape it before you actually do it, so that you handle it in the least possible way (and still get the job done).

Dyer Baker's picture
Dyer Baker 2010 March 4

Hi Shiao-ping, thanks for your opinion.

Because it's not the first time when I noticed that flour which I'm working with, can't handle so much water as in many of the recipes found on various artisan baker forums or blogs, I was thinking that my flour it's low in protein.

Unfortunately most of flours here in Romania are low in protein, so I will take your advce and I'll reduce the hydration ( as I did in some other recipes that I tried )





pattycom 2011 July 30

Hi Shiao-Ping,

I'm right in the middle of this recipe and just noticed that you don't call for letting the proofed dough come to room temperature before baking?  I've proofed dough in the refrdigerator before and always let it come to room temp before baking.  If I don't need to - great! 




farinam's picture
farinam 2011 July 30

Hi Patty

Shiao Ping might have a different view but I think it depends a bit on how much rise you get while it is in retard.  This can be influenced by a lot of factors so it might be best to be guided by your eye as to whether the loaf is 'ready' to bake.  The poke test is a bit subjective at the best of times and probably quite unreliable on a cold refrigerated loaf.

If you have the time, then letting it come to RT probably can't do much harm and might be of benefit.  Most people probably give it at least an hour out of the fridge anyway while their oven and stone get to temperature.  It would take much longer than that for the core of the loaf to get to RT I expect.

Keep on bakin'


bethesdabakers's picture
bethesdabakers 2012 April 23

Hi Shiao-Ping (I hope this reaches you)

Just wanted to thank you for the two recipes. I know you posted them some years ago but I finally got the time to mess around with them. It got me experimenting for myself again - something crucial for my own creativity.

 Results on the blog

 Best wishes



BleuCheesy 2012 May 7


I have been baking sourdough 100% whole wheat sandwich bread for about 4 years now just about every other week (slicing and freezing in the meantime so the kids & I have bread for sandwiches), and have gotten it down to a science (or is it an art?).  Anyway, a friend loaned me Peter Reinhart's book and I was inspired to try something new.  In high school, I stayed with a family in France for two months, and have been haunted ever after by the taste of the baguettes. 

I tried your formula and used Reinhart's baguette-shaping and baking instructions for pain à l'ancienne, and it came out great for a first try, although very dark and wheaty (I'm using hard red wheat because I couldn't get hard white wheat last time I ordered my 25lb bags), and very sour.  Not exactly like what I'd find in a Parisian bistro, but still delicious with sliced saucissons or marmalade, and fantastic for a whole wheat sourdough--very holey, the inside tender, outside crispy and a bit chewy (I poured boiling water in a dutch oven in the bottom of my oven, and my pizza stone on the middle rack for baking on).  I suspect the sourness comes partly from the long cold-fermentation periods, but of course that is also very convenient.  Is this the "flavor" everone is talking about with the delayed fermentation--sourness?  Thank you for providing these instructions!  They are exactly what I've been needing to get out of my chair and try baguettes.

Even so, I have been reading off and on for a couple years the section in the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book about French Bread.  What I think I would like to make is the first "French Bread" and convert to sourdough, but am intrigued by the description of the Desem Bread not being sour.  Does anyone here have any experience with this? I'm specifically wondering whether there are any thoughts on whether baguettes made in the desem style with my non-desem starter might yield a less-sour bread? I usually keep it at 100% hydration, and refresh over 36 hours with 3 feedings at room temperature before baking, but was thinking to do refreshing at lower temperatures for few days, at lower hydration to sort of replicate the desem environment described in Laurel's Kitchen.




farinam's picture
farinam 2012 May 12

Bonjour Bleucheesy,

Just a thought that perhaps try the recipe without the cold fermentation if you don't want the sour taste that you are getting.  Whilst they might not be boulangerie quality, I have made perfectly acceptable baguette with a high hydration dough (perhaps not quite as high as this) with bulk ferment and proving at room temperature.  The product had only a hint of sourness but also with a hint of sweetness.

Nothing to lose and every thing to gain.

Let us know how you go.


BleuCheesy 2012 May 17

Thank you, Farinam--before your post I tried again (twice), and I believe I have perfected it!  The second time I tried it (recipe here) I did not get the sour taste, it was very good, and the third time, with the correct hard wheat to soft wheat ratio, it was PERFECT!  Here is the ingredient list for the 3rd time that was the charm:


208g starter @ 100% hydration

317g hard red wheat (I'm not sure if it's spring or winter)

158g soft white pastry wheat

388g water

11g salt



kevinnoe 2012 June 25

My GOD the structure on that Whole Wheat is just unbelievable. This is what I've been waiting for - a breakthrough that combines the depth of flavor of the L'ancienne, with a natural leven for complexity and lasting power. I truly don't think I've EVER seen a structure in a whole wheat bread like that. Nicely done.



dmkentish 2012 July 10

Hi all,

I'm a newby.... just 4 months of sourdough baking but I'm hooked. I have tried this beautiful looking wholemeal Pain a l'Accienne  three times now. The flavour is good but the loaf is heavy, very heavy and doesn't have the lovely airy texture of Shiao-ping's loaf. I have followed the recipe to the letter but no success. Some digging around on this site has revealed that wholemeal flour is low in gluten. This sounds like a reasonable cause but how did Shoa-ping achieve such great results if tha's the case. Anyway am I better to add some wheat gluten to the recipe and in what quantities or better to add some white flour? I would really love some ideas.

Thanks... Coleen

SlackerJohn 2012 July 13

If it makes you feel any better, I have made another of Shiao-Ping's recipes and not got close to the airiness pictured.  It's only to be expected, there are too many variables involved.


Using only Wholemeal flour did not hinder Shiao-Ping, so I doubt that is the problem.


Why don't you try the White version instead and see what happens?




isand66 2012 July 29

There are many reasons why your bread may have ended up on the heavy side.  If you handle this type of dough too much you will squeeze out all of the bubbles or CO2 that builds up in the fermenting dough.

This will cause a dense bread.  Also if you underproof the dough and bake it too soon you could also end up with a heavy dense loaf.  The key with this style of bread is to handle the dough as little as possible once you develop the initial gluten strength.

Keep trying and practice until you get it the way you like it.

dmkentish 2012 July 30

 Thanks for the feedback. I will persevere, maybe I am being a bit rough with it but I not feeling that lovely silkiness that gluten gives you when it has developed.

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