Lievito Madre

Bread making traditions in Italy commonly start with a sourdough starter called “pasta madre” or “lievito madre”. This is a firm sourdough starter maintained at around 50% hydration and continuously propagated with daily refreshments. The wet style starter is almost unheard of amongst professionals but has shown some adoption in modern times, mostly by home bakers.

Maintenance of the madre and refreshments vary according to each bakers’ practices but is typically fed at a ratio of 1:1 (madre:flour) daily or twice daily.

About Lievito Naturale / Lievito Madre:

A symbiosis of wild yeast and heterofermentative lactobacillus bacteria. The dominant species, usually L.sanfranciscensis is capable of producing lactic and acetic acid.

Keeping it warm (28C) promotes the ideal balance of acids; 4 parts lactic to 1 part acetic for sweet levened pastries.

At cool room temperature a balance of 3:1 (lactic:acetic) is ideal for bread.

Conservation:

At 15-18C to keep healthy and viable feeding every 12-24 hours is best. Or once a week if refrigerated. There are two common techniques for the conservation during this period.

1. Bound. The starter is wrapped in cloth and tied with rope.

2. In water. The starter is submerged completely in water.

In water (partly aerobic, with oxygen) the madre is less acidic than when wrapped (anaerobic, without oxygen).

Refreshments:

Refreshments are performed in the warmth (~28C). Usually only one refreshment is needed for making bread. For highly enriched dough like panettone, at least three refreshments are made. Optimum pH; 4.5 (madre in water) and 4.1 (madre tied).

More info:

Il rinfresco del lievito madre

A selection of articles from Dolcesalato:Text in Italian:

  1. Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part I)
  2. Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part II)
  3. Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part III)
  4. Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part IV)

Conservation method per pastry chef / baker

madre…
Iginio Massari bound / legato
Achille Zoia bound / legato
Carlo Pozza bound / legato
Giovanni Pina bound / legato
Leonardo Di Carlo bound / legato
Massimo Vitali bound / legato
Francesco Favorito bound / legato
Piergiorgio Giorilli in water / in acqua
Rolando Morandin in water / in acqua
Renato Bosco in water / in acqua
Francesco Elmi in water / in acqua
Sara Papa in water / in acqua
Alfonso Pepe in water / in acqua

12 thoughts on “Lievito Madre

  1. What is the gram measurements for your starter using flour, raisins and strawberries? You mentioned feeding every 4 hours for what period of time? How long does the starter take to mature.?
    I would love to give it a try this year but need a little more specifics, like a step by step process. I must give you props for an amazing job on the panettone. The best I have seen so far on the Internet.

    Thanks Ann

    • Hi Ann,
      If you have a regular sourdough already, it may be easier to convert it. This is a 50% hydration sourdough fed always 1:1 (eg. 100g leaven, 100g flour, 50g water). You’ll need to feed it daily (every 12-24 hours) keeping it at room temperature, wrapped in cloth and tied tightly. It will take at least two weeks to become mature.
      Once mature, feed 3 times every 4 hours at 28C before using for cakes like panettone. It must triple in size each time. If not, take an extra 10% leaven on the next feed.

      I’m glad you like my Panettone, Thank you.

      If you have any more questions, feel free to contact me over at thefreshloaf.com

      • Thank you so much for responding. I made a lot different kinds of sourdough starters last year, which led to a lot of waste with the excess sourdough. I have some that I have dried out, and some I have kept frozen, however I would like to try it at 50 % hydration and follow your method and see what happens. I did stumble on you at the fresh loaf where I am a member researching panettone. Thanks again.

        Ann.

  2. Hi Michael, I reread your master class on lievito it is excellent. I maintain a rye starter but mine is 1to1, Dark rye and bottled water. It is good but I like your method better for a white flour product. Thanks for taking the time to explain your process so minutely. I too love process. I struggled to get bread that tasted like European breads and am still learning. This post gives me a new look on leaven. Thanks for sharing the process. Pam

  3. Hello! Someone recommended your site to me, because I am trying to keep and make whole grain sourdough breads, but they are so used to sweeter breads that they can detect any kind of sour no matter how soft my bread ends up; they just don’t like it. I know I am risking having a slight sour taste by using whole wheat flour, but could I possibly use your starter with freshly ground wheat? I started a Peter Reinhart starter last week and I am up for my first refreshing, but it seems even at a 75% hydration, my family is still a bit sensitive. I know my starter is still young and that accounts for some of the taste, but I cannot afford to keep throwing out bread. I would like to have some winning breads with my duds as I keep experimenting. In any case, please let me know of any adjustments I would have to make to your process by using whole wheat flour?
    Also, since this is a 50% hydration, what adjustments do you usually have to make to recipes that call for 100% hydration starter and uses the sourdough as a levain? Thanks so much for any help you could give me!

  4. Hello! Someone recommended your site to me, because I am trying to keep and make whole grain sourdough breads, but they are so used to sweeter breads that they can detect any kind of sour no matter how soft my bread ends up; they just don’t like it. I know I am risking having a slight sour taste by using whole wheat flour, but could I possibly use your starter with freshly ground wheat (I have hard red winter wheat and hard white winter wheat)? I started a Peter Reinhart starter last week and I am up for my first refreshing, but it seems even at a 75% hydration, my family is still a bit sensitive. I know my starter is still young and that accounts for some of the taste, but I cannot afford to keep throwing out bread. I would like to have some winning breads with my duds as I keep experimenting. In any case, please let me know of any adjustments I would have to make to your process by using whole wheat flour?
    Also, since this is a 50% hydration, what adjustments do you usually have to make to recipes that call for 100% hydration starter and uses the sourdough as a levain? Thanks so much for any help you could give me!

  5. hi your panettone looks great. i have tried to follow your instructions for the natural yeast kept in water and i just have a couple of questions:-
    1. how long does it take for the yeast to become mature using the water method?
    2. when you start feeding every 4 hours are you still putting the yeast in the water or are you proving it just in a bowl.

    • Hi Carl. Thanks.
      1. When it floats in less than three hours at 18C it’s a good sign of maturity. Less than 1 hour it is very strong.
      2. This stage is not done in water. Just loosely covered with cloth.

  6. hi michael
    ok so my starter has been floating in water for a week and a half now, its had a feed every day of 500g flour (caputo) 500g yeast and 250g water at 20 oc. its kept in a bakery proover at 18oc but its not floating until 7 to 8 hrs??

    should i continue to feed it everyday until it floats in an hour??

    i have tried to make a panettone using this yeast. i feed it 3 times every 4 hours then made the 1st dough using cresci book ( modern panettone recipe). it was kept in a proover set at 28oc, the dough did move a bit but after 15hrs it had not tripled so i gave up. does this mean the yeast is not mature enough yet?

    • The method described on this page is a maintenance routine applicable to a starter that has already been established. 7-8 hours is far, far, too long. Allow the starter to mature before feeding again, there are many way to do this.

      Don’t run before you can walk. Also the quantities of flour and water you are using very wasteful at this stage.

  7. hi michael
    sorry me again, when i feed my yeast everyday before i feed it i slice it up and put it in water with a little bit of sugar in for 15 mins. is this the correct thing to do ??

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