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Feb 12, 2014

Pain au Levain (Sourdough) with Caramelized Onions

Pain au Levain (Sourdough) with Caramelized Onions

Pain au Levain is made with a sourdough starter rather than cultivated yeasts. It takes longer to make because the starter works more slowly, but the result is a much more flavorful bread.

Pain au Levain (Sourdough) with Caramelized Onions

One of my favorite foods is caramelized onions. I love them. Pissaladiere... French onion soup... on burgers...  caramelized onion jam... onion and goat cheese tarts... and this bread.

Pain au Levain (Sourdough) with Caramelized Onions

This flour is a combination of 2/3 bread flour and 1/3 whole wheat flour. The water to flour ratio is about 62% but likely increases with the addition of the caramelized onions.

The crust is thin and crisp, and the bread is slightly sweet from the onions. As my friend David (who gave me this formula) suggested, the bread makes amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.  The aroma of the caramelized onions in the bread is wonderful.

Pain au Levain (Sourdough) with Caramelized Onions

Pain au Levain (Sourdough) with Caramelized Onions



227 g bread flour
227 g water
45 g sourdough starter

Caramelized Onions

1 large onion (I used a sweet onion)
1 T olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp sugar

Final dough

372 g water
454 g levain
457 g bread flour
228 g whole wheat
17 g salt
Caramelized onions


  1. About 8 to 10 hours before mixing the dough, mix the levain ingredients and cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit at room temperature. 
  2. Coarsely chop the onion. Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet, add the onion, salt, pepper, and sugar. Saute the onions on medium low, stirring regularly, until lightly browned, but still very soft. Let cool. 
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the levain and the water with a spoon to break up the levain. Add the flour and mix on low until the flour and water are mixed, about a minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. 
  4. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix on low with the dough hook for three minutes. Mix on the second speed for 3 more minutes, adding the onions during the last minute. 
  5. Place the dough in an oiled bowl or dough rising bucket and allow to rise for 2 1/4 hours, with two stretch and folds at 45 minute intervals. 
  6. Divide the dough in half and pre-shape it into boules. Cover with plastic wrap to rest for 15 minutes. 
  7. Flour two 9-inch bannetons, brotforms, or towel lined bowls. (I use a combination of wheat and rice flour to prevent sticking)
  8. Shape the dough into boules and place them into the baskets/bowls, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 2 hours. 
  9. Preheat the oven with a baking stone to 450 degrees F and prepare it for steam (see this post). 
  10. Bake the loaves for about 40 minutes, until they reach an interior temperature of about 200 to 205 degrees F. 
  11. Cool on a rack before slicing. 
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Would you like to comment?

  1. Beautiful recipe Karen! We love the idea with the caramelized onions! :)

  2. This bread looks wonderful! I love a good bread recipe, and this is on my list to make. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Pain au Levain is one of my most favourite breads. Throw in some caramelized onions? MOTHER OF PEARL!

  4. I do love caramelized onions and in a sourdough they are heavenly! Mother of pearl, great discription!
    Karen have you ever done them in a crockpot? It's so easy as there is no stirring, uses less fat and the taste is fabulous.

  5. Strange ratio: 912 g flour total to 599 g water...which looks like 65 % hydration (not 62%) before the onions. Why not bump up your flour to an even 1000 and make the water total 650 g (easier on math dolts like me). Otherwise, can't wait to try this...this weekend!

  6. I'm sure you could make it 65 percent! I hope you like it!


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