Caramelized Onion Levain Bread – BBB

The appropriate title of this bread should be: caramelized onion levain bread with whole-grain buckwheat, rye and wheat, which closely reflects its key characteristics. Yes, it is a long name. There is a lot going on with this bread. The taste of caramelized onions and the sweet earthy note of buckwheat give this bread a bold and exceptional balance of flavors, not to mention its dark and distinctive look. The recipe is adapted from the caramelized onion bread from Bien Cuit by Zachary Golper, Peter Kaminsky & Thomas Schauer.
The on-line baking group, Bread Baking Babes (BBB), is baking this bread this month. The host Tanna has selected this splendid recipe for the group. There are plenty to like about this bread. Can’t wait to join in for the fun. This month also marks the 8th anniversary for BBB. Congratulations and please continue bringing us good bakes and recipes.
I wanted to stretch myself a little for an improved healthful and tasty version. These were the directions I wanted to explore:


  • Reach for the sourdough starter (140 grams) that’s just been fed, instead of using a preferment that will take time to develop. My wild yeast colony was lively and ready for work. This sourdough starter is an 100% hydration levain, built with all-purpose and whole-wheat flours in equal portions. The natural levain is expected to improve the keeping and eating quality in breads. (No sourdough starter. No problem. The rye preferment in the Bien Cuit’s recipe is a good option.)
  • Use a blend of whole-grain wheat and dark rye flours (25%) to make the finished bread more wholesome. Lower the percentage of white flour (the powdery white endosperm–almost entirely void of nutrition) to less than 60% of the total flour weight.
  • Use buckwheat flour (15%), which has no gluten, to the highest amount feasible, to inject some bold flavors. In many ways, this bread reminded me of a similar sprouted buckwheat bread I posted earlier.
  • Include a larger amount of caramelized onions (70 grams) to heighten the sweet note of the bread. I used a whole onion for the recipe.
  • Try my hands on new scoring patterns I saw in Bien Cuit.
  • Meanwhile, keep hydration at a manageable (74%) level.


Delicious looking burnt crust

The highlights in red in the cheat sheet below showed all the changes I made to the recipe. Along the way, I had my share of doubts. The dough was very sticky and seemed to tear apart as I folded it. Should I be using bread flour instead of all-purpose flour? I held back some water and salt (reduced to 10 grams) until the first fold. The dough was not easily extendable until close to the end of the bulk fermentation phase. I wanted to give the dough as much time as it needed. All in all, it took about five hours. I should have expected that. It’s wintertime in the Northeast!

I was prepared to start from scratch and do over.

After 12-hours of cold ferment, the loaves did not seem to be ready for the oven. (Didn’t pass the dimple test.) I took them out of the fridge and let them sit on the counter for about two hours at room temperature. Next they went into the preheated Dutch ovens. Baking was the best part of the whole process; the aroma was amazing. The loaves turned out better than I’ve expected. It is one of the most full-flavor breads I’ve had for a long time. I can’t stop eating it. Savory and sweet in the same bite, with an incredibly moist, tender and delicious interior. The crust was rich and dark. Bien cuit (well baked, but not overdone), indeed!

Denser and darker crumb resulted from 40% non-white flour




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  • Reply
    February 18, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    Shirley! Wow, beautiful bread. So delighted to have you baking with us. Wonderful how you describe your "doubts". And yes is is a wonderfully delicious, bien cuit bread!
    You have a lovely blog here.
    Great baking.

  • Reply
    February 18, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks, Tanna. No sure about sending the link to the right email address. Your bread selection is fantastic. Love the flavor of this aromatic bread.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 4:38 am

    Wow! I love the colour you achieved. And the scoring pattern too. Beautiful!

    I too found it to be counter-intuitive that the bread doesn't rise normally. Mine NEVER passed the dimple test. I baked it just because I was tired of waiting around any longer….

    Your bread is beautiful! And well done indeed to use your sourdough starter. I bow down to you.

    Many thanks for baking with us.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 6:18 am

    Thanks, Elizabeth for your kind words. This bread was a big surprise to me, for the better. I credited it to the sourdough starter, which has done a lot of the heavy lifting and came through every time, like an old friend. I thought the bread was on its way to be a flop!

  • Reply
    Karen Kerr
    February 19, 2016 at 7:29 am

    I love how you've used your levain with this bread. I used 70 grams of the onions too and loved the sweet flavor they added. Gorgeous!

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    that sure is a pretty loaf! Love that wavy-scoring, very nice. I think this bread is really very suitable for baking with levain, great job on that too.
    THanks for baking with us!

  • Reply
    hobby baker
    February 19, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    Wow, bien cuit worthy of the photos in the book! Your scoring and color are wonderful, great job! So glad you enjoyed baking this loaf with us. 🙂 And mega bonus points for using your starter as well.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    The taste and smell of onion was remarkable. I'd have added more if there were more.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    This was the first time with the wave scoring. Now it opens new scoring possibilities. Thanks for your comment.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    My starter has become a trusty tool in my baker's toolbox. The photos in Bien Cuit were certainly sources of inspiration. Enjoyed the book.

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