Jeffrey Hamelman’s Five Grain Levain

This is one of my all-time favorite breads, and judging by the reactions I got when I served it as rolls at the party last weekend, it’s a big hit with others as well. I like it best in roll form, partly because it freezes so well that way, so that’s what I have documented here, although I’ll give you bake times for loaves as well. Jeffrey Hamelman is a Certified Master Baker and Bakery Director at King Arthur Flour. (I buy all my flour at King Arthur, by the way, and highly recommend it.) I’m always pushing Peter Reinhart’s bread books on you because I think his books are the absolute best for beginner bakers, but my other favorite bread book is Hamelman’s Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. It comes off a bit more advanced than Reinhart’s books, and with recipes scaled for both bakery and home use, it seems aimed towards very serious bakers, but he does have some really great, well-written chapters on technique – it just lacks all the pretty pictures Reinhart’s books have. I’ve never made a bad loaf of bread from this book, and every single one has come out of the oven crackling and beautiful.

Because I found this recipe on The Fresh Loaf and several other websites, I decided it was okay to share with you. But I must repeat that this is an excellent book, and if you make and like this recipe, I highly recommend you buy the book.

Jeffrey Hamelman’s Five-Grain Levain

Liquid Levain Build

8 oz (1 7/8 cups) bread flour
10 oz (1 1/4 cups) water
1.6 oz (3 Tbsp) mature sourdough starter * –> I explained how to make your own here, and you can also buy it from King Arthur Flour, which is actually where my current starter came from, which I guess means I’m baking with the same starter Hamelman is!

* I can’t vouch for the flavor because I’ve never done this, but if you are dying to try this bread and don’t have a starter and aren’t interested in growing one, you could use 1/4 tsp yeast here and essentially make a pâte fermentée. Also, I use more starter than what Hamelman calls for here. Instead of just 1.6 oz, I use half of my current starter so I’m doing a regular feeding of it; this is about 4 oz. Because I do this, I reduce the instant yeast in the final build somewhat.


2.9 oz (5/8 cup) cracked rye (when I don’t have rye, I use millet, as I have done with this bake)
2.9 oz (5/8 cup) flaxseeds
2.5 oz (1/2 cup) sunflower seeds
2.5 oz (3/4 cup) oats
.2 oz (1 tsp) salt
13 oz (1 5/8 cups) water, boiling

Final Build
1 lb, 8 oz (all of above) soaker
1 lb, 2 oz (all less 3 Tbsp of above) liquid levain*
1 lb (4 3/8 cups) high gluten flour (you could try using bread flour if you can’t get high gluten)
8 oz (1 3/4 cups) whole wheat flour (I usually use white whole wheat)
.6 oz (1 Tbsp) salt
.1 oz (1 tsp) instant dry yeast
8.4 oz (1 cup) water

* The reason Hamelman calls for “all less 3 Tbsp” of the liquid levain is he expects you to reserve that 3 Tbsp to perpetuate your starter; however, since I’ve already saved half of my starter, I just include all of the liquid levain build in my final build. I have to make small adjustments in my final build – namely a little less water and/or more flour – to account for this.

The night before baking, build the liquid levain by mixing together all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover (I use a plate to save on plastic wrap) and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours.

Also the night before, prepare the soaker by mixing together all the dry ingredients and then covering with boiling water and stirring well. Cover and let sit at room temperature with the levain.

My covered bowls:

Here is the levain the next morning, nice and bubbly:

On baking day, place all ingredients, including the soaker and levain, in the mixing bowl.

I had a helper. Remember on the first day we got the kittens I said I thought Torticia might end up taking Tigger’s place as my kitchen assistant? Turns out I was right.

If kneading by hand, stir until it comes together, then knead for probably about 10 minutes (Hamelman doesn’t even assume you’ll be doing this and I’ve never tried, so I’m guessing here). If using a mixer, mix on first speed for 3 minutes, adjusting the water or flour as necessary. You want a fairly tacky dough; it may seem pretty wet, in fact, if you aren’t used to high hydration doughs.

Then mix on the next highest speed for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.

As this dough is a bit sticky, I spread a very light layer of flour on my workspace …

… then dump the dough from the bowl onto the flour, pulling it into a nice ball and coating it very lightly with the flour to make it easier to handle.

At the risk of looking like an advertisement for King Arthur Flour, here is my dough in their Dough-Rising Bucket, which I find indispensable for rising large batches of dough. Of course you can also use a large bowl, covering with either plastic wrap or a large plate as I demonstrated above. In either case, spray lightly with oil, then put the dough in.

Let rise for either 1 hour or 1 1/2 hours. (Although he doesn’t go into detail in the recipe, the difference in rising time would be due to different ambient temperatures; you’ll require longer rises in colder rooms.) If 1 1/2 hours (which is what I always do regardless of the temperature), stretch and fold after 45 minutes. This is how you do a stretch and fold: Remove the dough from the bowl and stretch out like this:

Fold it like a letter, that is, fold 1/3 down towards the middle …

… and then the other 1/3 up towards the middle …

Then stretch it out in the other direction …

… and repeat the process.

Return to the bowl (folds down) and let rise for the second 45 minutes. It should about double.

Remove the dough and shape. This recipe makes three 1.5 pound loaves, which you can shape into round or oval freestanding loaves. You can also make larger loaves. My favorite, though, are rolls. I divided the dough into 16 pieces about 5 ounces each.

Then I formed rolls by pulling together the dough on the bottom and forming a seam, pulling the dough so the surface is taut on the opposite side. This is hard to describe and photograph, but both Hamelman and Reinhart do a better job than me in their books. This roll is upside down (seam side up). The other side should be smooth and full of surface tension.

I panned 8 to a tray (now they are right side up – seam side down).

Cover and proof for an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 460 degrees Fahrenheit.

To bake, I steam the oven by placing 1 cup of hot water in a cast iron pan (which I have devoted to this exclusive use) I keep on the bottom rack of my oven. If you don’t want to do that, spray the rolls with water and/or spray the oven walls with water just after loading the rolls. I had to bake each half-sheet pan separately, but you can bake 2 (possibly 3 if your oven is large) loaves at a time. Rolls take 20 to 25 minutes, 1.5 pound loaves 40 to 45 minutes, larger loaves a bit longer. Don’t underbake this dough; the seeds retain a lot of hydration and it takes extra time to bake. It should be a dark golden brown. One of the biggest mistakes most novice bakers make is not baking long enough; they get nervous when they see dark browning. I had to train myself to let my crusts get darker than I thought I wanted them to be. I think I read somewhere that you should bake bread until the crust is as dark as you expect it to be, then let it bake five more minutes. I could have let these get even darker.

Let cool for at least an hour (maybe 45 minutes for rolls) before slicing. Don’t be tempted to ignore this step! The cooling process is nearly as important as the baking process and you can ruin a loaf by slicing it too soon. For most of the breads I make, keeping Mark from slicing it too soon is the hardest step!

The crumb:

Simple sandwich of perfectly ripe tomato from the farmer’s market, freshly ground salt and pepper, and a little Vegenaise. Heaven!

If you freeze these, we’ve found that microwaving them for 30 seconds at normal power to defrost is perfect. There is little to no taste difference between fresh and frozen, so I love making a batch of these on the weekend and having “fresh” rolls on weeknights or for lunches for the next few weeks.

The kittens went outside (on leashes!) yesterday, but this has been a long, photo-heavy post, so I’ll fill you in on it in a later post, which will be soon because I’m cooking up something special today.


  1. Tiana Said,

    August 4, 2010 @ 11:25 am

    They look delicious! I’m incredibly new to bread baking (thanks to you for inspiring me to venture out) and am trying to build my starter for the 3rd time. If it turns out I’d like to try this.

  2. Josiane Said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

    This looks like my kind of bread! Thank you for the link to your post about making our own sourdough starter; this is something I’d like to try some time this year, and your clear explanation will be very useful. Now, the perspective of being able to make this Five Grain Levain bread recipe motivates me even more to get a starter going!

  3. Jain Said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 8:20 am

    O, High Priestess of the Kitchen,

    What kind of oats do you use?

    This is a GREAT post, thank you!

    I started baking about a year ago, first with Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (edible but not all that satisfying), then Laurel’s whole grain Bread Book, then on to Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. I’d planned to try Hamelman next and also wanted to try a multi-grain bread. So… perfect timing for this tutorial!

    Your note about not underbaking is just what I needed. My primary flaw is pulling loaves out too soon for fear of burning what took so many hours to make.


  4. renae Said,

    August 11, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

    Jain, for those rolls I use regular rolled (not instant) oats, though I often consider trying steel-cut. I’m glad you found this post useful!

  5. Jain Said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 7:13 am

    Thanks so much, Renae!

  6. alaric Said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

    Hi Renae,

    i would like to ask for your permission to use the photo of the carolina red rice in the bag ( for an article on Carolina rice that will appear in the October issue of Rice Today magazine.

    Rice Today is published by the non-profit International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in the Philippines. For more information about the magazine please visit:

    The photo will be credited to you.

    By the way, it would be great if you could provide us with a high resolution file of that photo and I hope you still have the original copy.

    Thank you.

  7. renae Said,

    August 27, 2010 @ 9:46 am

    Hi Alaric, I tried to email you but the email was sent back to me “address unknown”.

  8. alaric Said,

    September 5, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

    hi Renae

    Sorry about that. I got my email address wrong.

    My correct email adds are: or

    We would greatly appreciate if you could you provide us with a hi-res file of the photo as well as to whom we will attribute the photo to.

    We already have a mock-up layout of the article using the said photo and I can send it to you by email.

    Thanks a a lot!

  9. Jain Said,

    December 26, 2010 @ 1:57 pm


    I just pulled these out of the oven — and they are Perfect.

    Wow! I’m a Baker!

    Thank you for the superb tutorial and inspiration!

    Happy new year to you, Mark, Torticia & Gomez!


  10. renae Said,

    December 29, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

    Jain, Nice to see you again! I’m glad you enjoyed the tutorial – I hope they were as delicious as they looked!

  11. Amanda Said,

    September 25, 2015 @ 2:46 pm

    Thanks so much for the roll instructions! I love this Hamelman recipe so much, but had only done loaves until now. Today I did two loaves and 6 rolls, following your instructions. They came out superb! Can’t wait to serve them with some lamb stew tomorrow.

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