The following text is taken from the information pack given out for
the second Leaven Bread Workshop organised by the association of
Dutch leaven bakers (August 1984). It was written by Omer Gevaert,
the originator of the French leaven bread baked by the LIMA bakery in
Ghent, some forty years ago. He is now about 80 years old but is
still engaged in a rice-wafer bakery of his own and was judge at the
Dutch Leaven Competition held during these workshops. -- Master Baker
Leaven bread, the old French manner of baking bread
Having worked at dozens of bakers, I had the opportunity to study the
nature of leaven bread. I learned a lot and slowly I gained the
skills necessary to make traditional French bread though in fact
there are several methods used in that country.
I learnt that:
The enzyme is more important that the microbe.
The enzyme determines the development of the leaven.
The enzyme contains the source of germination.
We must work with organically grown grain and spring water.
Clean water and pure seeds.
Leaven. The production of leaven is best undertaken in the middle of
a young pine wood because of the pure atmosphere. That will give the
best leaven. You begin at dawn, when the dew lays on the ground, the
temperature is at its lowest and many bacteria are inactive.
You take the organic grain, wash it with spring water and soak it.
The seed swells. You flatten the grains and form a ball of this pap
(i.e. no grinding will be necessary). You cover the ball with meal to
protect it from the atmosphere.
After 24 to 36 hours you add a further quantity of pap, enough to
make four or five times the original mass. This second dough should
be a bit drier. Again you cover this with meal.
The dough will develop, without fermentation or bacteria, It is
solely an enzyme-effect. This happens quite quickly. The enzymes will
decide which microbes they will play host to and they soon form a
Making a leaven for a bread dough. At the outset, you should make it
difficult for the leaven [a combination of fresh flour, water and
some of the starter described in the preceding section] to develop;
later you ease the process. So first, make the dough dry and cold
C); store it in a linen cloth. Later, when you add the final flour
and water for the finished amount of dough, make it warmer (24°C)
wetter, so wet that a machine cannot bring it together. In the past,
leaven was always made with salt. My experience is that that it will
give better results.
Kneading.The old way of kneading by hand is no longer economic but a
machine must be kept at a slow speed (30 to 50 revolutions per
minute), for you should not work the dough too much. When I prepare a
dough by hand, every 45 seconds I take a piece of dough weighing 1.5
kg. This I stretch to maximum extension, bring it back together and
repeat the process three to six times until the dough has lost its
tension. Then I store it for about 45 minutes. Do not shape or break
the dough as that will take its power away.
This kind of working takes a long time and the loaves do not need
much proving. Most of the rising takes place in the oven itself.
The proportion of leaven to dough will depend on the age of the
starter; normally it is between 20 and 30 per cent of the final dough
Salt. Add salt as late as possible. It is a good idea to mix it with
oil (half a percentage point of the gross dough weight) -- this
causes it to be well mixed into the dough on the one hand and slows
down its dissolution on the other. The maximum salt content of leaven
bread should be 1% gross weight.
You can also add seaweed to reduce the strength of sourness. As
sourness inhibits all change in dough, seaweed should hasten the
Leaven has its life span. The micelium, a monocellular fungus, has
also its time of growth and flowering. Kneading not only stimulates
the gluten but causes the micelium to divide and generate. The life
span of a single leaven before it needs renewal is five ovens or
If leaven is left to itself it will sour completely and give off
ammonia. If then we remove the dry sediment and retain the liquid,
this substance may be used to generate a new leaven, proceeding in
the same way as above: cold and dry to wet and warm.
If you wash your hands in the bakery, make sure you rinse away the
scraps of dough from the sink waste. In such places may microbes
inimical to leaven develop. They will spread through the bakery and
you will have to ditch your present leaven culture.
Bread only comes alive with leaven, never with yeast or other
procedures. Yeastbread tastes like yeast, not bread.
(by Rolf Weichold )
When I read this the first time, I admit to wondering who could take
it seriously. Admission, too, that I did not test this leaven recipe
but nonetheless I don't have much faith in the pureness of our pine
Maybe the salty aseptic atmosphere of the Belgian seaside would
better fit the author's aims.
Soaking the grain in this manner activates the germinating enzymes
and hormones. The body of the grain unground but opened a first
chance to develop its own life instead of being digested by microbes.
This may be the explanation of Gevaert's curious temperature levels
for the development of the leaven (low to help germination, i.e.
enzyme activity, then higher to help microbial action, i.e. wild
In our bakery in Duisburg we do not use high output, high speed,
machines. We believe the dough cannot be mechanically hastened
without damaging its structure and taste.
The question of whether the dough should rise in proof or in the oven
may be a matter of choice. I would personally reject Omer Gevaert's
short proving idea. However, all will depend on the temperature of
your oven. (There is an old saw: a hot oven needs fully risen bread,
a cold one needs underproved dough.)
Omer Gevaert's idea of micelium seems vague. There are a lot of
microbes called '-myces': saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast), mycoderma
(cam-yeast), saccharomyces exiguus, etc. Obviously there is a
difference between leaven yeast cells and the structure of a molasses-
fed compressed yeast which Gevaert wants to stress by choosing a
One of the statements I really do not comprehend is that of using
overripe leaven liquid, i.e. off, to start a new fermentation. Its
acidity (containing indeed vinegar acid microbes) would stop any
germinatory impulse within the original seed ball. The rogue microbes
which he mentions when urging you to keep your wastes clean and tidy
are themselves vinegar acid microbes. I would stress the need to keep
the workplace clean of old, dried, scraps of dough for they will
cause spontaneous fermentation of flour if the conditions are just
Obscure it may be, but finally I enjoyed pondering on this 'leaven
poetry', more as an indication of creativity than as recipe or
scientific treatise. Maybe you will too.
[From "The Barefoot Baker "section of Tom Jaine's The Three Course
Newsletter, Number 5 - - Summer, 1987.]