Pasta Madre is a traditional Italian sourdough starter which is much thicker and stiffer than a liquid sourdough starter.
If you have an active, bubbly sourdough starter you can use this to make your own Pasta Madre in just a few short days.
This stiff starter has a softer, more rounded flavor profile.
How Is Pasta Madre Different From A Sourdough Starter?
Pasta Madre or “Mother Dough” is a classed as a “stiff starter” and is somewhat different to a traditional liquid sourdough starter. It has a much lower hydration and also uses honey to sweeten the starter.
Because of its lower hydration (generally under 50%) and the technique used to ferment, Pasta Madre is said to have a more mild flavor profile.
It’s best if kept at a constant, warm temperature – this is said to encourage the right type of bacteria to flourish, giving the Pasta Madre its rounded flavor.
Convert Your Sourdough Starter to Pasta Madre or Stiff Starter
Using your existing sourdough starter to make the Pasta Madre will make the process much faster than starting from scratch (although you can do this too).
This is because you already have the bacteria and yeast necessary to establish your Pasta Madre (also called Lievieto).
In order to make the Pasta Madre from your sourdough starter, your sourdough starter should be active and ready to bake with.
Ideally, a mature sourdough starter will work best, but as long as it’s doubling consistently and bakes bread it will be ok.
I decided to try making my own Pasta Madre because one of my favorite Christmas traditions is eating Panetonne – a love which I discovered after living in Milan, Northern Italy as a teenager. Nothing takes me back to Italy more than the taste of this traditional Italian Christmas Cake.
Pannetone is made using a Pasta Madre and is something I’ve wanted to try for so long!
A Few Interesting Things To Note About Pasta Madre (Lievieto)
- Many Italian bakers store their Pasta Madre in a water bath and/or wash their Pasta Madre with a sweet water mixture to inhibit the acidity of the starter. You can store your Pasta Madre in water if you’d prefer. I find it easier to store it “dry”.
- It is said that you can “train” your Pasta Madre and that you should try to feed it or refresh it at exactly the same time every single day.
- Many Pasta Madre starters are begun with fermented apples. It is said that this encourages the right type of strong yeast colonies needed to rise Pannetone. Whilst this might be true – I’ve done the hard yards with my sourdough starter and fed it for longer than I can remember. The yeast and bacteria have adapted to my Pasta Madre with no issues.
- Keeping your Pasta Madre at an exact and constant temperature will help to ensure that the correct yeast and bacteria thrive. Ideally you should keep it between 28C and 30C. This can be problematic though if you live somewhere that is much colder.
Using Your Pasta Madre Starter
You can use your Pasta Madre just like you would a regular sourdough starter – it will give your breads, cakes and rolls a much milder, more rounded flavor profile.
You’ll find that your stiff starter or Pasta Madre needs feeding less often and will tolerate being unfed on your kitchen counter for a few days.
Of course you need to feed it regularly if you are going to be using it, but you don’t need to store it in the fridge when you’re not using it as it is much more hardy than a liquid sourdough starter.
The discard from your Pasta Madre will work very well in this Easy Sourdough Discard Sandwich Loaf.
Equipment Needed for Pasta Madre
To make a successful Pasta Madre, you’ll need the following:
- active and bubbly sourdough starter (100% hydration)
- a squat, wide mouth jar (like this one)
- flour and water
- raw, unprocessed honey (optional)
- paper towel and elastic band
Pasta Madre (Lievieto) / Stiff Starter Instructions
- Digital Scale
- 20 g Active sourdough starter
- 100 g Flour all purpose, bread flour, baker's flour – they are all fine
- 50 g Water
- 3 g Raw Honey
- DAY 1:Take 20g of your active sourdough starter, 100g of flour, 50g of water and 3g of honey and mix together in a small bowl until they form a dough. Turn the dough out onto your counter and knead together until it forms a smooth ball. Score a cross in the top of the ball and drop into a clean, wide mouth jar. Place a sheet of paper towel over the top and secure with an elastic band. Leave the starter in a warm place for 24 hours.
- DAY 2:After 24 hours your stiff ball of dough will have fermented into a marshmallowy sponge with lots of bubbles on the sides of the jar. The top might have formed a dry skin. Remove the Pasta Madre from the jar, discard all but 50g of the starter and mix with 100g of flour, 40g of water and 3g of honey. Bring it together into a shaggy dough. Tip the dough out on to the counter and knead into a smooth ball. Now, roll the dough out into a strip and then roll into a log. Score the log with a cross and place into a clean jar.
- DAY 3:Leave your Pasta Madre alone today. You'll notice that it is fermenting, it may have peaked or perhaps not yet – depending on the temperature you're keeping it at. Just leave it be – do not stir it.
- DAY 4:Today you will refresh your Pasta Madre by discarding all but 50g and feeding it with 100g of flour, 40g of water and 3g of honey. Bring it together into a shaggy dough. Tip the dough out on to the counter and knead into a smooth ball. Now, roll the dough out into a strip and then roll into a log. Score the log with a cross and place into a clean jar.
- DAY 5:Your Pasta Madre should peak within around 24 hours and you can use it from today. You can leave it on your counter for a good few days unfed and then refresh it when you want to use it.