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 not so typical with professionals but has shown some adoption in modern times, mostly by home bakers. Maintenance and the specific parameters of the “madre” vary according to each bakers’ practices but is typically rebuilt at a 1:1 (madre:flour) ratio at least once a day.
The micro-flora consists of a symbiotic set of indigenous acid tolerant yeasts and Lactobacillus bacteria, the dominant species, typically Lb. sanfranciscensis which is hetero-fermentative and produces lactic and acetic acid.
Warm temperatures above 25°C promote the ideal balance of acids; 4 parts lactic to 1 part acetic ideal for sweet leavened pastries. At cool room temperatures a balance of 3:1 (lactic:acetic) is ideal for bread.
Conservation / Storage:
To ensure viability, the madre should be rebuilt at least once a day while being held at a temperature of 15-18°C. Or once a week if refrigerated to around 4°C.
There are two common techniques for the conservation during this period.
- Bound. The lievito madre is wrapped in cloth and tied with rope.
- In water. The lievito madre is placed directly into a bowl of cold water.
In water and under more aerobic conditions the madre remains less acidic (less lactic development) than when bound and under anaerobic conditions (more lactic) which relates to the variation in specified pH optima.
Rinfreschi / “Refreshments” :
To reach the ideal parameters the madre is rebuilt or “refreshed” at temperatures between 25-30°C the ideal being 27/28°C lasting about 4 hours each time. Normally the madre is rebuilt only once or twice before making bread. But highly enriched doughs like Panettone require at least three refreshments to leaven correctly.
pH optimum: 4.1-4.5. But will vary according to formula and maintenance method.
Lavaggio / “Washing” :
After a period of storage the madre may be washed in bath of sweetened water (2g of table sugar per litre of water). Lasting around 20 minutes this is done to remove acetic acid and bring oxygen to the madre. There is a cold (20°C) bath commonly performed in conjunction with the bound method and a warm (38°C) bath commonly used with the “in water” method of storage.
Typical daily build procedure:
0940 Storage mother, pH 3.7-4.1, lavaggio
1800 Refresh – Storage, 12-16hrs @ 15-18°C
A selection of articles from Dolcesalato: Text in Italian:
- Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part I)
- Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part II)
- Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part III)
- Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part IV)
- A lesson in yeast
- The secrets of levitation
- Ingredients under the lens
- Lievito Madre in Croissants and large leavened
Conservation method per pastry chef / baker
|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|