Pesto bread with natural leaven

What I love the most in baking is to witness how fluffy the dough became, after certain time of proofing or right in the oven. I do remember when still in the baking class at Le Cordon Bleu, our favorite time was to stand by the proofing chamber or next to a huge oven just in order to wow when seeing how big our dough became. Our chef didn’t like it, when we were there, next to the oven!

But to get that fluffy we need a good yeast. So far we always use either fresh yeast or dry yeast, but to be honest I don’t like the yeast’s smell, it’s too strong. It happened that we were asked to take a bite of the fresh yeast in the class, no one liked it.


Today I’d like to share the “magic” that I probably will always use in the future for baking: the natural leaven (in French – levain naturel). We didn’t do it at LCB class but I got that from the book “Le pain – l’envers du décor” by Chef Frédéric Lalos and really love to try. To my surprise, it was a success right from the first time. The leaven is quite delicate to handle so I’m happy to get that right a way!

First time I made a natural leaven from the dried golden raisins by soaking them in the mineral water for few days, then use that juice to mix with flour to get the first yeast ( in French we call “la mère”), then the next day we mix “la mère” with bread flour and water again to get the second yeast (in French we call it “le chef“) and after that we use “le chef” to create a dough by some recipe, we have “levain naturel”.

when the bubble appeared…it’s ready to use!

Step 1  How to make “levain naturel”

  • Dried golden raisin  125 gr.  (please use raisin right from the box, don’t wash)
  • Mineral water  250 ml.  (it should be non-chlored water)

Put raisin in mineral water in the jar for at least 5 days or a week at room temperature (25°C), when we see small bubbles in the jar, use the juice from the soaked raisins and mix with bread flour. This’s named “la mère”. Usually I use only half of the below quantity as I don’t want to have the leftover.

  • Juice from soaked raisin  250 ml.
  • Bread flour  375 gr.
“La mère” – mixture of  bread flour with juice from soaked raisin (I use whole wheat flour)

I leave “la mère” at the room temperature for almost 10 hours then keep it in the fridge for next day use. Now time to create “le chef” by using “la mère”.  Again, I need only half of the below quantity to made “le chef”.

“la mère” after overnight at the room temperature
  • La mère  625 gr.
  • Bread flour  375 gr.
  • Water  250 ml.
Le chef – the mixture of “la mẻre” with bread flour and water.

Next day we can use “le chef” to make natural leaven, it could be baguettes or some other breads, I did baguettes before but today I’ll made pesto bread by using this natural yeast as I want to test how strong the natural leaven when many other ingredients in the dough, so next time I may try to made brioche – heavy dough with a lot of butter, eggs…with this natural leaven.

Le chef after one night, then I keep it in the fridge for next day use.

Step  2  Pesto bread with natural leaven 

  • Bread flour  500 gr
  • Natural leaven  250-280 gr.
  • Pesto  100 gr. ( I used mix herbs with basil, pine nut, garlic…)
  • Salt  10 gr.
  • Water  315 ml.
  • Olive oil  50-60 ml.
  • Bunch of fresh basil

Kneading all together except olive oil. 6′-7′ at the first speed, 10′ at the second speed or until the dough stops sticking to the side of the mixer bowl. At the end do add the oil gradually and fresh basil.

I used mix herbs with basil, pine nut, garlic…pesto sauce should be fine.
Leave the dough at the room temperature for 1 hour, then in the fridge till next day.

Step 3   Shaping, final proofing and baking 

I let the dough to rest for 1 hour before I put it in the fridge as I need to bake only by next day afternoon. Next day, right from the fridge I divide the dough into 4 balls (310 gr./ each), then a quick rest for 20′, after 20′ I shaped the dough into small ball. Now time  for final proofing. I let the dough resting from 7:00 am until 10:45 am,  longer time as I didn’t use any dry yeast then bake at 200°C for more than 20′.

shaping into small ball of 310 gr. per each
Pesto breads – smell is so good!
Pesto bread with natural leaven

You better keep in the box, or even in the fridge, and next morning toast it, it should be very very good! I love it!




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