Wednesday 24 August 2016

La Pasta Madre: Italian GF sourdough starter experiment, Day 14

[I’ve been following instructions for the wild-fermented starter in A Tavola Senza Glutine - if you’re new to this series, see the first and second posts for introduction and more info about GF sourdoughs in general!]

When we last left off, I'd just given the starter its first refresh. As the book instructed, I continued to refresh the dough in the same manner every 1 ½ - 2 days, removing 50 g of the dough and replacing it with an equal total of fresh material (20 g rice flour, 10 g corn flour, and 10 g water). After a total of 5 refreshings in this way, the book said, the starter can be used for bread. 
Day 6...
Day 9...
Well, by the fourth refresh - a little more than a week in - the dough seemed pretty lifeless. A lievito madre is often more concentrated than the sourdough starters many of us are used to, and as such it’s generally used in quantities similar to fresh yeast - a spoonful, as opposed to sourdough bread recipes that use a few ounces of starter per loaf. So I knew that, like the similarly slow-growing yeast formulas found in old cookbooks, it wouldn’t be as active as my normal starters. But I expected more than this! There weren’t many bubbles visible and the increase in height in the jar was negligible. On the final refresh I also added in 5 g more honey, hoping the free sugars might spark some visible activity, but even that didn’t do much. I kept going only because the gradual changes in smell had hinted that something was still happening. 

Day 11...Not much going on here.
So finally, I tried it with one of the recipes in the book: the focaccia, as pictured on the cover, which you can see in the Day 1 post. didn’t work. The “dough” was a runny mess, it didn’t rise or develop much flavor, and the final product - far from the lovely springy-looking bread in the pictures - was a dense, tough cracker/pancake hybrid. 

I have some ideas about what might have gone wrong, and hopefully I’ll be able to fix it. For now, though, I put the starter in the fridge (note: the book did not instruct this, but at the stated 15 days between feeding of the mature pasta madre, I assume refrigeration is wise!) and will come back to it when I’m feeling patient enough to test a few things - I’ll keep you updated!


  1. Buon Giorno e Grazie Meg! I have read with interest, your trials with this sourdough recipe. I have lived in Italy for 20 years now and would like to tell you that, indeed, the rice flours we get over here are from the shorter, Japonica varieties, so we have more starches in ours than the longer grains. I read this on the label of organic white rice. I don't have a package of organic brown rice in house at the moment so can't confirm that one. I have tried many different types of staters and found that using rice alone, simply leaves you a slightly bubbly liquid, like a flat carbonated drink and has no effect whatsoever on the final product. Adding corn meal, well, that is tasteless to me. I have found that using teff or buckwheat gives a bump in flavor and in activity. This gives some strength in the final product, be it bread, waffles or pancakes. Also, you write about the temperature of the house. Most homes in Italy are kept cool in the winter and hot in the summer. The majority of people in Italy do not have air conditioners and heaters are usually kept at about 20°C in the winters (even though the law states we have to keep our heaters at 18°C for pollution concerns). I presume the book refers to temperatures and humidity if the starter were to be kept in a cantina or part of the kitchen that gets no sun or drafts (like a cabinet or under the counter-the treasure trove of the common Italian is under the kitchen sink). I have never seen a starter require being left alone for such a long time. The book sounds interesting and will check that out. Thank you again for your blog. It really helps those of us who like to know the "why" of baking and not just the "what". Here is my starter that I use all the time. I've had this one for about a year now.

    1. Hi Mel! I have added the information about the rice flour to an updated sourdough post which will be going up tomorrow. Thank you for all this interesting information about baking in Italy!